A recent discussion in a LinkedIn group led me to consider an interesting question, even if academic: What’s more important, the answer to the question WHY or the question HOW?
I’m sure you’re thinking, like I was, it totally depends the intended application of the answer to those two questions. Are we talking about doing something ourselves (why should I? vs. how do I?)? Are we interested in understanding someone else’s behavior (why did you? vs. how did you?)? Or, are we trying to teach someone else something (why do you want to? vs. how do you?)?
Just thinking about it top-of-mind it’s easy to see that both questions (why and how) can yield meaningful answers.
In my professional life we are always trying to understand human behavior in order to innovate marketing and/or product solutions with and for our clients. To me, I’ve come to find that the answer to WHY has significantly more meaning when understood within the context of the HOW. I’m specifically referring to the answers to these questions in this way: WHY do you do something, want something, or believe something; and, HOW do you do, seek, or believe something. Looked at in this manner, the answer to HOW you experience that journey (think of a purchase cycle, a career decision, choosing a doctor, etc.) is most important because it shows you at what points and in what ways you have a chance to play a meaningful role.
As a company or a brand, you are in a much stronger position to create relevance, interaction, and utility in the lives of your audience (consumers, customers, prospects, etc.) if you understand HOW their journey is experienced; then the answer to the WHY has some meaningful context. It is in the context where powerful innovations come in terms of how to connect with people through your marketing, products, and/or services.
Consider this example. Smoking cessation has been studied for decades. Clinically, doctors know why people continue to smoke because of the addictive power of nicotine, etc. Socially and functionally and emotionally, however, there are many more reasons why in terms of the benefits a smoker derives from the behavior. At the same time, many organizations have studies why people quit smoking — health concerns, family pressure, etc.
As a result, smoking cessation marketing for years focused on scaring people about the health concerns. Everyone today knows that, so the most recent trend for several years has been to promote the use of tips and tricks (mostly pharmaceutical) such as the patch or nicotine gum, etc. It works for many, but far more try to quit and then end up returning to smoking.
We focused our study for the American Legacy Foundation on HOW people successfully quit so we could understand WHY they do what they do in context. The result was a clear pathway toward resolve that must be followed for a successful quit attempt: desire to quit smoking, eager for life without cigarettes, acceptance for changes I must make, ready to make those changes, and confidence you will succeed. If a smoker skips this path to resolve, it’s highly likely they will not succeed in a quit attempt.
So, what did it mean to marketing and product innovation? The American Legacy Foundation developed the Re-Learn campaign as part of their EX initiative. Instead of telling people to quit, they created TV ads, OOH executions, an online community, and other experiences that help smokers first identify why you smoke and then determine how to re-learn life without cigarettes. If you go to BecomeAnEx.org you’ll find a community of people sharing triggers for smoking and methods for replacing those triggers with healthier solutions. Once you’ve built resolve in this manner you’re asked to set a quit date.
When you understand HOW a decision is made, the WHY has the needed context to help you know how to connect. When you do this, you have a real chance to create relevance, interact, and add utility in people’s lives that results in a meaningful relationship with you (brand, product, company, cause, etc.).