Ask and You Shall Perceive: How the 5 “Ws” Applies To Marketing Strategy

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

How can the 5 Ws inform marketing strategists to formulate a winning plan? If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, this concept is very familiar to you. Gathering information for a news story requires answering these questions:

Who is it about?
What happened?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen?
How did it happen?

Taking this concept and applying it to acquisition marketing allows the strategist to gain a 360-degree overarching view of the entire marketing challenge. However, the marketing questions are slightly different:

Who is the target? The 40-40-20 rule of marketing states that 40% of marketing success is dependent upon the list or targeting, 40% is dependent upon the offer and 20% is dependent upon the creative. Understanding who the target is requires understanding the buyer and how the buyer thinks during his or her journey.
What is the offer? Again, this question accounts for 40% of marketing success, so it’s important for the strategist to understand what the offer is. And the offer doesn’t necessarily have to be a promotional or discount offer. The offer, in basic terms, is what the product or service offers the buyer. What does the product or service provide to the buyer that he or she will find valuable, desirable or necessary?

When is the best time to communicate with the buyer? This question informs the strategist about when the buyer is most likely to be receptive to a message from the marketer. The “when” question can be applied to media, email communications, social content or any communication that is directed at the buyer. Increasingly, the advent and evolution of the empowered buyer requires marketers to provide content to the buyer on the buyer’s own terms and timetable. To always have relevant content available for this new consumer, the “when” means “always on.”

Where is the best place to communicate our message to the buyer? With all the channels available to the modern buyer, answering the “where” question has become much more complex. “Where” can be anywhere within the paid, earned and owned media of a marketer. There are entire marketing organizations that specialize in the “where” question.

Why does the product or service prove meaningful, helpful, desirable or necessary to the buyer? Why will the buyer be moved by the marketing communications? Why does the product or service solve a problem, issue or challenge for the buyer? Why are the products or services better than those of a competitor? The “why” question is answered during the brand- or product-positioning and messaging phase of the marketing strategy, to provide the best possible platform for the service or product.

I’ve added “how” to the five Ws. “How will the marketing strategist use all of the information and insight gained from answering the five Ws to build a marketing campaign that will accomplish the goals and objectives of the organization? How will the strategy be translated into actionable tactics? How will the plan be carried out logistically? How will the success of these efforts be measured? How will the KPIs be determined? How will this all work together? As you can see, there are a lot of questions associated with “how.”

Using the 5 Ws allows marketing strategists to consider, contemplate and ultimately design a program or campaign that is well-thought-out and provides a robust solution to the marketing challenge or issue. There’s one more “W” though that marketing organizations need to be cognizant of: the word “well.” As Ben Franklin once noted, “Well done is better than well said.” All of the above needs to be done well in order to achieve marketing success.

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