Need One Idea? Ask Many Questions

“What kind of animal is this?” asks my 2 1/2 year-old grandson Nico. He and his one-year-old sister Ava are sitting on my lap while we’re reading a children’s animal book. Nico is pointing to the photo of  a strange-looking creature.

“That’s a platypus.” I say after double-checking the caption. Why this book shows a platypus instead of a plain old penguin, I can’t fathom.

Nico studies the picture for a while and then says, “Yeah.” — as if he is agreeing with my assessment.

Ava is not interested in the book. She’s pulling my ear and nose and poking me in the eye. But Nico moves his finger across the page and points to another creature. “What kind of animal is this?” he asks.

I check the photo caption and say, “That’s a meerkat.” I think that’s something like a mongoose but I’m not sure. Nico sucks his thumb, studies the picture, nods his head and again says, “Yeah.”

Kids ask questions because they are naturally curious. They ask question after question to be sure they understand. It’s how they learn. That’s how we all learned a large portion of what we know today and take for granted.

But somewhere along the line, many of us stopped asking as many questions as we should.

Famous inventor Charles F. Kettering said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” 

I don’t know about science or other fields but that statement is so true when solving marketing problems.

Many times I’ve sat in a meeting with a client and our marketing team and he’ll describe his main goal — “We need to move more of product X,” he’ll say. Or, “We need to rebrand this line,” or “We need more leads.” Whatever the main goal may be at the moment. He’ll write it on the board and then ask our team: “Any ideas?”

The temptation is always there for creatives and everybody really to just start “spitballing” ideas. But I don’t get paid for spitballs. I get paid for getting results. and to get results you usually have to get more information. Much more than is usually put forth at first.

Have you been in situations like this? Instead of just looking for ideas, ask questions. Lots of them. Questions can pull out the details and information that leads you to the idea you need.

At the risk of aggravating your boss, client or staff , you need to go one step further.  When you ask your main questions, ask the follow up “proof” question also. A proof question qualifies the answer by telling you where the answer was found.

Here are some examples —

“Who does this product appeal to most? — How do we know that?” (Were there focus groups, surveys, customer ratings and feed back on the website?)

“What matters most to our target market?”— How do we know that?”

“What is unique about our product or service but also important to the buyer?””— How do we know that?”

“What is our competitor doing that we are not?” ”— How do we know that?”

When I meet with a prospective client for the first time, it’s not unusual for me to ask 20-30 questions and then follow up with a phone call or email to ask even more.

Remember, the more questions you ask, the easier it is to find that ONE good answer; that creative solution you’ve been seeking.

And you’ll know when you’ve found that one good answer— because everyone who hears or sees it will pause and then say, “Yeah.”

About The Author

  • Author | George Farris
George Farris is CEO and Senior Brand Coach at Farris Marketing. Email questions and comments to and connect with George on LinkedIn using the icons above.

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