Hidden Value: Curiosity Is the Most Powerful Tool in Marketing
As marketing leaders, we have a natural tendency to instill a commanding influence.
We’re idea generators. Communicators. Alpha personalities. Experts.
And that leads to authoritatively sharing our opinions on many topics.
But the most powerful tool in marketing comes from a very different place in our psyche — curiosity.
Here is a perfect example. I helped lead a “Value Proposition Workshop” and “Quick Win Intensive” for a direct-to-consumer company last week. The opening part necessitated expertise, to help shape the meeting based on the MECLABS Institute methodology. And at the end, expertise was important to craft compelling headlines and wireframes.
But sandwiched throughout the two-day meeting was the necessity for curiosity. Like many companies, this organization had a lot of hidden value. It wasn’t evident on the company’s landing page. Or in the extensive backgrounder information they sent over. And we could have easily skipped over it if we just marched through a creative brief.
It takes probing and questioning. Challenging and investigating.
So be careful of having too quick of a sprint or too straight of a line when building your marketing strategy, campaigns, and websites. Look under some rocks. Ask unlikely people what they think.
You’d be surprised where you find hidden value. On the factory floor. Over seemingly innocuous lunchtime chats with someone from another department. When challenging a marketing claim to really understand the specifics behind why it is true. Or one of my favorites of all time — Target Marketing magazine writer Denny Hatch even wrote about finding hidden value in an obituary.
Why Curiosity Can Be Hard for the Marketing Leader
I don’t think public curiosity comes naturally to many marketing leaders, because it can signal weakness or ignorance. We tend to be well-rounded and thoroughly educated. So we usually know at least something about almost everything. And it is human nature for a high performer to want to sound knowledgeable on a topic — really, any topic. Put simply, we always want to sound like we know what we’re talking about.
And we often do it without realizing it. I know I used to. Sometime in college, I was pontificating on a topic and a good friend of mine called me out:
“You’re so I.B. (International Baccalaureate, an advanced high school program we were both in). You have to know everything about everything.”
Ouch. But a great ego check. Just because you were in some fancy program in high school (or have other, more impressive credentials) doesn’t mean you have to prove to everyone you meet that you know everything.
And it was a great marketing lesson, as well.
Because since that time many years ago, I’ve replaced the know-it-all demeanor with a genuine curiosity about the brands, products, and people I was working with. And what you learn by doing so is marketing gold. You learn how things are made and why they are made that way. You learn how your company creates and delivers value. And you learn how to credibly communicate unique value beyond a mere marketing claim.
So feel free to ask “stupid” questions and let your curiosity flag fly. And if you’re worried about the ego hit, keep in mind the smartest person I know (of) once said:
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” — Albert Einstein.
Some Curiosity Questions to Ask to Uncover Hidden Value
Here are a few questions to get you thinking about the curiosity you can bring to your company. And don’t feel like you can only ask them in an official meeting like a "Value Proposition Workshop" or "Quick Win Intensive." In fact, I learned some interesting hidden value while simply chatting at lunch during a break from the official meeting.
- What does that mean?
- How does that work?
- Why is that important?
- How was the product developed?
- How is it tested?
- The product (or service) does X, how do we actually make that happen?
- How was the company founded?
- Why was it founded?
- Who founded it and what expertise did they have?
- We claim we can do X while the competition can only do Y. How is that possible?
- Why do we think (product feature or marketing claim) is important?
- What assumptions are we making and what are they based on?
- Can I go on the factory floor and see how the product is made? OR Can I sit in on a call or ride along for an appointment to see how our services are delivered?
- How much are we doing, simply because the competition is doing it, as well?
- Can we ask front-line employees (customer services, store associates, service reps, etc.) their opinion about this topic?
Listen Out for the Dog That Doesn’t Bark in the Night
Don’t just hear what people tell you. Listen closely for what they don’t tell you, as well. Listen out for the dog that doesn’t bark when you thought it would.
While we were going through the "Value Proposition Workshop" and I was asking questions about the appealing value the company offered, I noticed the elements they thought were most appealing were all surrounding the transactional elements of purchasing the product.
The core value for why people bought the product in the first place was being overlooked.
In this case, my curiosity led me to followup on what wasn’t being said.
This is a common challenge. People who work in every company have a blind spot from being so focused on their own products.
And focusing on transactional elements isn’t necessarily wrong, it just depends on a product’s degree of commodification. But it is worth challenging and asking about. Because another reason that a team of marketers might focus on transactional elements is they focus on transactional elements every day as marketers, not the core product value itself. They don’t truly live the purchase experience like a customer does.
Have a Human Conversation, Not an Interrogation
The below slip of paper was a very helpful tool in this two-day meeting …
DANIEL BURSTEIN: MECLABS Institute, "Quick Win Intensive"
Our project manager made sure everyone had a name tag at their place on the table. This seemingly inconsequential step is actually very impactful. I will not remember the names of six people I’m just meeting the first time without a nametag.
When someone addresses you by your name, the intimacy level of the conversation increases. That is important. If you approach curiosity in the wrong way, it can come off as doubting or challenging the people you’re with.
That causes people to shut down. And get defensive.
The goal you want to reach is to spark their own curiosity:
“Good question. Why are things that way? Let me see if I can explain … ”
That’s where you find the true gold.
In a first-time meeting, name tags are a simple way to instantly increase intimacy and have a conversation. Working within a company every day, look to build relationships throughout different departments, so you have trusted colleagues you can deeply query about the ongoing operations of the business.
The type of people you can be curious around.
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Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.