Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tell me why

I’ve had a collection of experiences of late – pitch meetings with entrepreneurs, strategy sessions with executives, daily conversations with my five-year-old – harkening back to my infancy as a journalism student. One of the first things you learn in copywriting courses is to dissect and construct a story, particularly in your creation of the lead, based on the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and one H (how). Articulate these and the remainder of your composition is blocking and tackling verbiage.

Here’s how the aforementioned experiences evolve: The discussions (an entrepreneur’s pitch is the most cardinal example) jump immediately to the what (they’re doing: their product, service, approach), how (they will do it), when (their plan), and the where and who (their market/customer segmentation; the team that will make it happen). All antes, particularly if you’re a get-shit-done entrepreneur; but, something’s missing.

Tell me why, I engaged my comrades, echoing a bad 80s pop band, Bronski Beat. Whadya mean, why, they asked. If my five-year-old son was present, he would have beat me to the punch: Why (fill in the blanks), daddy? he posits daily. (The what, when, where, who, and how have little relevance to inquisitive kindergarten pupils.)

I harkened back again, this time to the late Harvard marketing sage Theodore Levitt, who I wrote about back in May. Levitt: People do not want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. It’s the result, the experience, the utility consumers desire. It’s your unique ability – your reason for existence – in generating such results/experiences/utility/holes that matters. At the end of the day, customers are ambivalent regarding the what, when, where, who, and how of your business; they do business with you because of the why.

Back to my contemporaneous experiences: The entrepreneurs and executives were, rightly so, donning blinders, intensely focused on doing it. They could smell and see the barn, soldiering forth on plan. After all, that’s what creators do: They create. Philosophers (and bloggers?) live in the land of contemplation, of theoretical why thinking.

But, execution is irrelevant – a waste of time/senseless opportunity cost – if you have not clearly defined and acutely focused on the why of your business, as viewed and valued through the lens of your customers. Makes it a lot easier to pitch a product or plan, let alone communicate with a five-year-old.

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