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Channeling Your Inner Two-Year-Old: Why “Why” Is The Most Important Question Smart Business People Ask

By March 16, 2012June 26th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
Channeling Your Inner Two-Year-Old: Why “Why” Is The Most Important Question Smart Business People Can Ask

If you have a kid, know a kid or have ever been a kid (hard to remember sometimes, isn’t it?) then you know that those precious and terrible twos require the most effort from an adult brain. Two year olds never tire of asking, “Why?” and they do it with sincerity and enthusiasm.

I often wonder when we stop asking why – or maybe the more pertinent question is why  we stop asking why – and simply accept and move on. As business people and marketers we’d do well to take a lesson from a two year old and start questioning again.

I guarantee that if you do, you’ll uncover ways to save time and money, to better market your business and to avoid being baffled and swindled by the less ethical among us.

Why Am I Writing About This?

There is a recurring theme in my business. Every so often a prospect will come to me who is already working with another company on some aspect of their marketing. My new prospect will begin telling me what Vague Marketing Company is doing and inevitably I will ask, “Why?”

Many times – too many times – my prospect sort of shrugs and says, “I don’t know.”

Now, there are a lot of bad answers to that question but not knowing is probably the worst.

Why did you choose Vague Marketing Company ?

Why are they doing Vague Marketing Thing?

Why are you still using them?

“I don’t know.”

It makes me want to pound the not-knowing out of them. In the end, I just feel sorry for them. Could things be going really well with Vague Marketing Company? Could my prospect be getting a fantastic return on his investment? Well, considering he called me, I doubt it, but how would he ever know? It makes me crazy every time someone says it.

By now I’m 51 cards short of a deck thanks to people who don’t know.

So I’m writing this because if I can help you escape the quagmire of not knowing, then it will have been worth it.

Why Don’t You Know?

A wrong answer is better than not knowing. A convoluted answer is better than not knowing. A stupid answer is better than not knowing. But not knowing means you haven’t even shown intellectual curiosity or an emotional investment in your own business. That simply doesn’t make sense.

I get it. We’re busy and we want to hand the reins to an “expert” who will just deal with it and leave us to our jobs. Or sometimes we just go on autopilot because we heard that we’re supposed to be doing something and so we follow the leader. But this is truly a recipe for disaster.

You don’t need to be a marketing expert to understand what someone else is doing in the name of your business. You don’t need to micromanage to be confident in your marketing plan.

I’m a believer in letting the professionals do their jobs. When I call the electrician to my house I don’t ask why he’s twisting the little wires together or why he’s capping the ends. But when he tells me I need to do a $3,000 overhaul, I ask why.

Don’t think it’s not the same as marketing and running a business. I’ve watched people do $3,000 overhauls on their websites without the faintest notion why they were doing it. Or run a $3,000 print ad with no way of measuring its return.

True story: a prospect once told me he was running ads in a certain publication to the tune of several thousand dollars a month. He told me how unsuccessful the campaign had been over the past several years – Years! – and how he didn’t know why he was doing it.

All joking aside, I asked him, “Why are you doing it?”

His answer: “I don’t know.”

This doesn’t have to be you. You don’t need to micromanage any more than you need to relinquish all common sense. You just need to ask why.

Don’t Wait For The Experts To Tell You. Ask “Why” Now.

I really want you to become a two year old for a minute and start asking questions about your business and your marketing. Ask why until you want to roll your own eyes and say, “Because I said so, that’s why.” And then I want you to ask why again.

Pick anything. Pick everything. Ask yourself why you’re doing it. Don’t assume that just because you’re doing something that you have a motivation for it.

True story, again: About a year ago my company was looking at redesigning its brochures. We had made a few business changes and wanted to update the copy on the brochure to reflect the changes.

Some time and money later, we had a real eye opening moment when someone stopped mid-tri-fold and asked, “Why are we doing brochures? We’re a web company. We still have 800 leftover brochures from the last batch we printed.” Blank looks all around. Why, indeed? Because.

Why had it occurred to no one to ask why sooner? Because we were all caught in groupthink, in “because that’s what you do” think. If you have a business, you just have a brochure. We were too busy thinking about how it would look, what it would say and what photos we wanted to use to wonder what the point was after all.

Fortunately, we canned the brochure project before we could waste any more time and money on it. Unfortunately, we’d already wasted time and money because we’d failed to ask the most basic question of all.

I hope you’re feeling a little better now that I’ve admitted to doing the very thing that drives me nuts when other people do it. Nobody is exempt from mistakes, but let’s learn and vow to ask why from now on.

Some Important “Why” Questions That You Should Be Asking

As they say in all good recovery programs, you must first recognize and acknowledge your weaknesses before you can address them.

So here is my plan for recovering “I-don’t-knowers”.

Next time you’re about to start something new, whether it’s jumping into email marketing, redesigning your website or something as small as adding a single additional post to your Facebook timeline, ask why.

Once you get to the root of why, you can start making some value judgments and really evaluating whether you’re doing things for good reasons, and whether those things are working.

Why am I redesigning my website? (Is it old? Broken? Failing to covert? Or did someone tell you it “needs” to be redesigned?)

Why do I even have a website? (Sounds like a strange question, but… why do you? Branding? Showcasing products? Generating sales? Building an email list? Is it actually doing any of those things or just floating around somewhere among the interwebs?)

Why am I using that font? (Does it make a statement? Reinforce your brand? Or did it just look cool in the list of the other 500 fonts that came preinstalled on your computer?)

Why did I choose that color? (Is it part of your brand? Creating an emotion? Or does it just match your shoes?)

Why is my newsletter signup box at the bottom of the page? (Did you find it was the best place for getting sign-ups or was it the only space left on the page after you were done sticking in the rest of the content?)

Once you know the reasons you can begin evaluating their validity. You’ll have a better understanding of whether your site is meeting its goals and what you can do to improve.

Why do you have a Facebook page? (To generate leads? Communicate with customers? Or because someone told you social media was the cool thing to do?)

Why do you post there as often as you do? (Do you get the best engagement that way? Do you have a lot to share? Are you bored?)

Why do post there at the times that you do? (Do people respond best at the times you’ve chosen? Does it fit into your daily schedule best? Or are you just sticking a few sentences in the status box because you happened to remember?)

Why do you post the types of content that you do? (Do people like what you post? Do they comment? Or do you hear the sound of chirping crickets?)

Be honest. Don’t pretend it’s a great marketing opportunity if you’ve got 63 fans, all of whom are your old high school friends and your mom, none of whom bother to comment or engage, except for that one crazy girl who borrowed your math book that one time…

These are just a few ideas, but don’t stop there. Ask… Why am I sending an email newsletter? Why am I running that print ad? Why am I printing business cards? Why am I blogging?

It doesn’t matter what the strategy or marketing piece, you must know why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve. Otherwise you could end up with 800 leftover brochures and halfway into a project to nowhere.

I’ll leave you with one final thought as long as we’re acting like (smart) two year olds. And it’s as easy as ABC: Always Be Challenging.

Never accept and move on. Not when your time, money, reputation, brand and business success are at stake.

Now you tell me… have you ever had a “why the heck am I doing this” moment? Misery loves company. Share your story in the comments below!

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • This is a really important issue for most marketers that I coach, Carol Lynn. 

    They often love the fact that they’ve dedicated themselves indelibly to a consistent daily plan of action, and they’ve been following that plan for months sometimes.

    But when I ask them what they’re trying to accomplish at the end of the day with this steadfast strategy, it’s amazing how often they just have no idea.

    We must apply ourselves to a dedicated action plan on a consistent basis, but it MUST be an integral part of a WELL-Thought Out overall strategy.

    Otherwise, maybe it’s time to change your M.O. 🙂

    • That’s an interesting point, David… I think part of the trouble is that people do get very comfortable in a certain routine – and they’re also pretty happy that they have a plan they can stick to – so there is some sense of inertia that takes over. Hopefully this is a little bit of a wake up call. And good thing there are good coaches who can tell people when to  change it up!

  • Dear Carol Lynn, 

    Way to dish the truth and a dose of tough love! This is the same style I really resonate with. I love that you’re bold in driving home a point and sharing it in ways that are relate-able to others. 

    The point you made about taking a lesson in asking the RIGHT question to get the RIGHT answer by taking a tip from a 2 year old is brilliant! 

    I nodded through this entire post catching the “A ha” moments over and again. lol

    We must rise to the level of professionalism in our own businesses if we care to experience any real and/or lasting successes. I’m not at all shocked at some of the responses you’ve witnessed from your clients. I feel that this is just evidence that many will venture out on nothing but unbridled enthusiasm, making emotional push/pull decisions, without taking the time to get down to the nitty gritty PRIOR to spending a wad of money on stuff they may or may not need – or worse, even comprehend. 

    Great post, Carol Lynn! Loving your style and realism! 

    Hope you’re having an amazing weekend!


    • Did I drill that point home enough 🙂 Sadly I do see this a lot, especially with things people don’t quite understand, like SEO and social media. They basically throw money at the problem figuring someone else knows what they’re doing. That may be true, or it may not! The only way to know is to ask questions. Any reputable person or company will be able to educate their clients on what they’re doing and what the goals and results are.

  • Adrienne says:

    Hi Carol,

    As I’m reading through this I can understand why some clients would answer they don’t know. Just like your example of the electrician, we have no idea what they are doing to fix our problem we just know that it does.  
    But like you said, if they told me they had to do a complete overhaul and it was going to cost me a bundle I would darn sure ask why and you better start explaining it to me.  Now, I may not understand still what they are saying but what I would then do is call someone who would and tell them what’s going on to get their opinion before dishing out the mula.  

    Asking yourself all those questions is really a good idea.  I love now that I have so many friends online who are experts in so many different areas so I would go to them for advice as well.  

    As you said, it’s our reputation that we’re talking about so let’s continue to do the best we can and actually understand more of what we’re getting into.

    Thanks for this Carol, great tips.


    • You made a good point which is that we now have so many more resources at our disposal to ask for advice! Between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, there are so many people who are available if only someone reaches out and asks for help. Too often people just give us the reins to some expert then stop asking questions. But it’s important to know what’s going on, especially when your business is at stake!

  • Dr. Bob Clarke says:

    This is such an excellent post, Carol.  I see so many people going about their lives on autopilot, not really knowing why they’re doing it.  This is true for business and many aspects of their life.  Why are you still in this job you hate?  I don’t know.  Why are you still with this guy who mistreats you? I don’t know.  Why are you representing this company whose products you aren’t passionate about?  I don’t know.

    I hear it alot too, and it always stops me in my tracks.  I want to shake people!   But I remember a time not all that long ago when I was stuck doing some things in my business that weren’t profitable and I was not passionate about, but I did them anyway because… it was easier than to think of new things.

    How lame is that!

    I love you example of a 2-year old.  I remember my kids driving me crazy asking why all the time.  But perhaps we should learn something from their curiosity, and wonder where ours has gone!

    Thought provoking and inspiring post, Carol.  Well done!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Bob, and you’re so right – this is not only a business thing but also a life thing. It’s easy to keep doing “the same old” because change can be hard. Sometimes you just need a good shake and someone to ask you what you’re doing. I think we’ve all been there, and can still get stuck there. Hopefully I’ve given a few people a little shake 🙂

  • Hi Carol,

    First let me tell you  if I haven’t yet, that you are an excellent writer. 

    This is a great subject. Don’t you hate it when people answer “I don’t know” all the time? I actually have started noticing that a while back… a lot of people say I don’t know a lot, no matter what you ask them.

    I agree with Bob, so many people live their life on autopilot. Not thinking, not questioning anything. I should know, I’ve grew up among them 🙂  That’s why I was known as the little black sheep, always had to put my nose in everything and act different than anyone else.  Turned out I was right, right?

    Thanks for your excellent post, Carol. Great insight 🙂

    • Thank you, Sylviane, I appreciate the compliment! And you just keep being the black sheep, those are the people who will always ask why and get to the bottom of things 🙂

  • ashwath.s naik says:

    why should important marketing?