Brand Matters: Now That’s a Good Question!

How to use questions to strengthen your brand image

As an outsider-insider to my clients, my role is often “questioner-in-chief” (to use a borrowed term from management expert Tom Peters).

Recently, I was leading a brandstorming session with a financial services client when one of the employees pulled me aside during a break and said, “I didn’t want to ask this question in front of the group because I was afraid it would seem silly …” and then proceeded to ask me a very important and profound question pertinent to our strategic planning work. I encouraged her to ask the team that question when we regrouped, as I wanted her to experience the collective “aha!” that would arise as it did for me with her provocative question.

Since then, I’ve been pondering the importance of questions and the cultural dynamics that enable some companies to encourage healthy questioning behaviors while other companies seem to squash them without saying a word.

Questions Welcome
Questioning is so often the precursor to innovation. Alfred North Whitehead, a British mathematician and philosopher, said, “The ‘silly question’ is the first intimation of some totally new development.” After more than two decades of questioning, I have come to believe that there really are no silly questions.

Even Jerry Greenfield’s (of Ben & Jerry’s fame) lighthearted question, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” is one of utmost importance to its brand. Fun is an attribute at the top of Ben & Jerry’s brand and product fit charts. It is even a tab on the Web site. Having worked with this brand, I know firsthand that fun is something taken seriously and that this question frames its decision making.

In 2003, Frederick F. Reichheld wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review called “The One Number You Need to Grow.” His research showed if brands concentrated on improving just one measure, it should be the answer to this question asked of their customers: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

Since that time, a whole business based on this simple question has been launched (Net Promoter), and several books (“The Ultimate Question” and “Answering the Ultimate Question”) have been published.

Author James Thurber wrote, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” What other questions is your brand grappling with, or perhaps should be grappling with, these days?

Andrea Syverson is the founder and president of IER Partners, which has guided and strengthened brands of all sizes with savvy best practices for creating customers for life. Combining her passion of adventurous listening and working across diverse industries, her "outsider-insider" creative branding and merchandising expertise and objectivity has been valued by companies as diverse as Spanx, Ben & Jerry's, Celestial Seasonings, CHEFS and Boston Proper.  She holds an MBA and has dedicated more than 20 years to providing clients both domestic and international with innovative approaches to branding, product development and creative messaging. She is the author of  two books in which she shares her hands-on approach for both brand building and creating customer-centric products that enhance brands: ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators, and BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants. You may reach her at