Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlashSM Name Development

If you have kids, you know that they all pass through the “Why Phase,” where they keep asking “Why?” until you ultimately resort to the conversation-ending phrase “Ask your Mother (or Father).” You probably are also familiar with the “5 Whys” technique of asking “Why” at least 5 times to get to the root cause of an issue. So why do most marketers decide on the “What” instead of understanding the “Why” behind the “What?” Why don’t marketers work harder to understand the fundamental consumer insights that are represented by the “Why behind the What?” and use those as a basis for decision-making?

Here is a real world example (names and ingredients changed to protect confidentiality). I recently helped a food company develop and test a multitude of concepts for new flavor combinations on a traditional product line. In consumer testing, flavor combinations that contained a certain ingredient (let’s call it “chocolate”) blew everything else away. The client was happy and quickly said “thanks, now I know what to launch.” But that was deciding on the “What,” and not the “Why.”

They were not interested in conducting additional research to understand why consumers felt this way, but I felt that this was a mistake. The inclusion of “chocolate” in these products was unusual, and I, for one, was curious as to why consumers responded to it so positively. The research I designed captured consumer comments, so we had a little bit of guidance, but I wished we had had the opportunity to learn more.

I did some additional digging on my own and found some “food trend” syndicated research that established “chocolate” as the new hot ingredient, which helped support the case. I also explored some recipe forums and observed that “chocolate” was a hot topic of discussion. However, that was simply additional support for the “What,” not the “Why.”

So what could be the consequences of focusing on the “What” and not the “Why?” Well, we all know the statistics on new product launches–over 80% fail within the first six months. What if “chocolate” was a fad just like those teeny cupcake shops? That could mean that the fad could be over just as your new product shows up on the shelves. What if people liked “chocolate” in these products as a novelty item, i.e., “I’ll buy this once just for fun, but I won’t make this a regular menu item”? That could lead to a quick spike in sales for the novelty effect but a severe drop-off as the
number of repeat purchases approaches zero. What if people were picking the flavors with “chocolate” because they were the “best of the worst” choices that were offered to them? That is an accident waiting to happen!

Deciding on the “What” is dangerous. Understand the “Why” behind the “What,” and you will make better decisions. You need to understand the consumer insights behind the actions, or
you are taking a significant risk!