The Most Important Question in Marketing


This simple 1-word question - succinct, pithy and provocative - is the essential question in marketing.

Why do consumers do what they do, buy what they buy, prefer what they prefer, decide what they decide and feel what they feel?

Why do consumers readily accept lime green packages in one category but utterly reject lime green in another? Why does consumer acceptance of one brand of Greek yogurt skyrocket while another brand stalls and another declines? Why does one brand of boxed mac & cheese communicate to consumers a sense of “fresh and contemporary” while another brand, with nearly identical ingredients, communicates “old and dated?” Why do shoppers make huge purchases based largely on emotion – for example, cars – then proceed to create, after the fact, a series of seemingly rational reasons for their emotional decision? The infinite variability of consumer dynamics makes the marketer’s task both exciting and daunting.

The spirited and continuous study of the “Why” of marketing is a key driver in the successful marketing of consumer products. Understanding “Why” compels to marketer to explore – relentlessly – the behaviors and decision processes that consumers use to make their choices. The pursuit of “Why” makes the marketer’s visit to the supermarket or the mall a sociological safari. Marketers are teased by their families for the five-minute quick trip to the food outlet that somehow becomes a one-hour marathon as the marketer surveys the entire store, aisle by aisle and shelf by shelf, looking at different products and gaining new insights into the consumer mind.

In order to explore the “why” of consumer behavior, marketers need to cultivate one skill above all others: curiosity. The curious marketer is always observing, always noting and comparing, always keeping track of the evolution of consumer dynamics. Marketers speak of “connecting the dots,” but in order to do so one must first identify and understand the dots themselves (i.e. the key trends and elements of consumer behaviors), then make the connections between dots. Identifying the dots means being continually observant with a sense of curiosity and an intense interest in consumers and what makes them “tick.” From the furthest shelf in the back of the store to the front checkout counter to the shopping basket and what’s in it, every consumer purchase and interaction provides the marketer with information that builds a useful body of market knowledge. Good marketers also take the time to read articles, industry news feeds, weekly and monthly publications, and other materials, webinars, trade shows and conferences. There are multiple methods with which to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding of the complexities of consumer behavior.

The marketer's knowledge of consumer behavior increases via observing, reading, thinking, connecting and synthesizing ideas and implementing these key insights in the market. This process if followed by more observations and studying, along with further revisions and enhancements to make products and programs more effective. A virtuous cycle, always growing, always improving, and pursued with a relentless curiosity and a drive to answer the essential question - "Why?"