Even the brightest and most intelligent of my clients (marketing and communications leaders in financial and professional services) can be guilty of pursuing an idea that hasn’t been fully thought through. This isn’t a reflection of their abilities and experience. Rather, it’s more likely a reaction they’re having to internal pressures, goals or other externalities – or maybe they just woke up inspired that day. As someone who spent two decades in senior marketing roles, I lived this – I get it. This is a judgement free zone.
So, when I hear an ask or a problem posed without a clearly defined outcome, I will often utilize an old root cause analysis process pioneered by Toyota in the 1930s to gain clarity. It isn’t a magic formula, nor will it win you any friends at a cocktail party, but when done right, it achieves three things:
- It opens the mind and encourages us to question our assumptions;
- It provides a framework and helps avoid group think by asking open ended questions; and
- It helps reach a shared understanding of why we are pursuing a goal.
This root cause analysis focuses on how a typical campaign objective doesn’t go as in-depth as it could. This happens often and is a good working example of how we can apply this methodology to a campaign launch. (Entirely made up for illustrative purposes):
“We need a campaign. Our firm needs to be known as a leader in value investing”
On the surface, it may seem like a clear goal, but it is missing the necessary depth required to take action. So, lets ask the Five Whys and dig in further.
Why #1: Why do you want to be better known as a leader in value investing?
Response #1: Because it will help soften the ground for our second half sales push.
Why #2: Why is value investing a focus of your second half sales push?
Response #2: We believe there will be a general flight to safety and that growth will fall out of favor.
Why #3: Why is your firm in a unique position to capitalize on this?
Response #3: Our product team estimates that we will achieve a 5-star overall rating this summer, and we think our approach to identifying value will resonate– it will also improve our credibility.
Why #4: Why do you need to improve credibility?
Response #4: Well… we’re new to value investing– we just started a few years back, so we don’t have the legacy that some of our competitors do in this space.
Why #5: Why do you think a campaign will help you overcome this perception?
Response #5: If we can tell Financial Advisors about our 5-star rating, and couple that with how we approach value, we really think we’ve got a shot at winning market share.
This conversation (albeit illustrative) demonstrates how much we can learn by taking 5 minutes to ask 5 whys. And if the answer still isn’t obvious after five, keep going. Keep asking Why until you’ve run out of useful responses – that’s when you know you’ve exhausted the process. In this case, what started as a brand building program, has become a specific mandate to drive sales of a specific fund. This will impact the strategy, the creative, the media buy and the measurement plan. And while it all seems so obvious, this sort of thing happens all the time. So please, stop for a moment and ask Why.
Dan Allocca is a marketing and strategy leader with nearly two decades of experience leading digital and brand teams for Fortune 500 asset managers and banks. He is currently a Managing Director at integrated communications and marketing agency, Prosek Partners.