These 23 Marketing Questions Send Products Through the Roof

Marketing questions — The obvious ones

Conventional marketing research all too often asks “obvious” but useless questions and takes the answers at face value:

  • Why did you buy this product?
  • Why didn’t you buy?
  • What would get you to buy?
  • What are your needs?

Nonsense! Most of the time, people don’t know why they do these things, and they make up reasons to please marketing researchers. You have to get at these things indirectly.

It’s more important to know some of the questions than all of the answers. — James Thurber

Secret “not-so-obvious” marketing questions

Over the years, I have developed special techniques to find out, quickly and at modest cost, the answers to certain not-so-obvious questions. Sometimes the answer to even one of these not-so-obvious questions can have an astonishing impact on sales. Having the answers to many of them at the same time can often devastate a competitor. Having the answers to all of them will probably mean that you will dominate your market.

Warning: If these questions are asked directly, they elicit defensive answers that often mislead marketers into major blunders. So, these are the questions you need answered, but not the questions you want to ask directly. You need to infer the answers by getting people to talk about their experiences, then read between the lines for the emotional and logical issues that are driving them. Other times, you need to do a/b testing on web pages. There are many techniques to get below the surface to what is really driving people, but first you need to know what it is that you need to know.

I’m currently writing a guide to probing these depths. Subscribe to my blog feed at the top of the right column of this page to get the announcement.

For more general marketing questions relating to business, as distinct from the following, that relate to the customers themselves, click here and here.

Notice: reading these questions is likely to be intensely frustrating, since you don’t know the answers to most of them. If you knew the answers to these marketing questions, you would probably be the market leader.

What’s turning customers on and off?

1. What are the rationalizations that people use to justify using your product? What are the real motivators driving the use of your product? How can these hidden motivators be harnessed to increase sales?

2. Why have people recently switched to your product? Why did they reject the competition? Why did they almost reject your product in favor of which competitor? What are the problematic parts of your marketing that almost caused them not to buy?

3. What are the excuses and smokescreens that people give to your salespeople, in conventional focus groups, and in surveys, to justify not using your product? What are the real reasons they have rejected either during the sales process, or rejected after trial or adoption? How can these real reasons be neutralized even before they come up?

4. What are the deep, fundamental, non-obvious needs and desires that you can tap into? How important are the hidden things that people don’t like to talk about, such as prestige, professional image, fun, wanting a change for change’s sake, fears, and self-doubts? More importantly, how can these be used to cement customer loyalty?

5. What are the subconscious turn-offs to your product? What are the qualms, discomforts, negative reactions that prospects themselves don’t realize that they have? How can these negatives be circumvented at this same subconscious level?

6. What are the turn-offs that are hidden in your ads, brochures, sales presentations, demos, exhibits, events, and your customer service? What are the subconscious images of your product that are killing sales? How can they be changed?

Multiply the effects of your persuasion

7. What are the compelling arguments that will get people to change their minds and use your product? In what sequence do these need to be presented? From what sources?

8. What are the things that you can do to put your seemingly similar product into a class by itself? How can you disqualify the competition, reset the rules, redefine the standards, reorder priorities, change the decision criteria and transform the game?

9. What are the seemingly petty frustrations about products in the class that can be turned into major advantages?

10. What are the surprising things that would get people to pay 10-20% or even 100% more for your product? What product changes are relatively inexpensive and easy for you, but of extremely high value to the customer? What product augmentations can transform a me-too product into a winner?

11. What are the overlooked niches that could dramatically increase product sales?

Discover your missed opportunities

12. What are the missed opportunities that your marketing materials don’t address, but that your customers want to hear about?

13. What turns customers and prospects on? What are the hot buttons, the claims, language, concepts, promises, images, pictures, challenges, that really get their juices flowing? What excites them about the most mundane products, what arouses their emotions?

14. What are the deeply held fundamental beliefs, values, attitudes and emotions that will lead customers/prospects to use your product?

15. What are the most effective things that your competitors are doing that you should be doing or countering? What are your competitors? vulnerabilities? What are your competitors? Achilles heels?

16. Where are you wasting huge amounts of money on worthless advertising, sales promotion, and other marketing elements that aren’t doing their jobs?

17. What are the customer-empathic words, phrases and concepts that will immediately get the prospect on your side, and gain you a receptive hearing? What are the questions that your customers and prospects are avoiding, or afraid to ask? How can you give them the answers that will satisfy them without raising these questions?

18. What are the unexpressed expectations of your customers, and how can they be brought more in line with what you will actually deliver?

19. How can negative perceptions of your product be changed without mammoth advertising campaigns?

Capture, harness, tame and domesticate word of mouth

20. What are the users and rejectors of your product telling other interested prospects? What are people saying behind your back and what can be done about it? How is this word of mouth affecting adoption decisions? When one of your customers convinces someone to use your product, what are the actual words that are used, the concepts stressed? How can word of mouth be harnessed?

Lock in repeat business

21. What are the specific steps that can be taken to increase customer satisfaction? What are the non-obvious benefits that people are really looking for? What are the non-obvious things that service, fast response time, and quality really mean in the real world? How can problems be turned into opportunities?

Increase the effects of your sales force

22. Are your sales people really sold, or just putting on a show of enthusiasm? What are their unexpressed qualms? What are they most uncomfortable about? What are they not telling management? What is working best that they are not sharing with their colleagues? What are the specific techniques that the top 10% of the sales force are using that is working best?

23. What do your prospects think of your sales people, their approaches, and their materials? What negatives are they too polite to express?

These are the high-payoff questions, not the usual marketing research questions.

The answers don’t come from simple responses to questionnaires and off-the-cuff remarks in conventional focus groups. The answers come from a fundamental understanding of the psychology of persuasion and decision making, an ability to use special techniques that uncover subtle indications of the answers, and skill in developing these subtleties into marketing strategy and tactics.

Ordinary marketing research often stops way short because it is separated from product development, so it is often doomed to failure. Often, it is started after the product is already developed. Research, feedback, call it what you will, is best done while the product is being developed. If you just collect data after the fact, you are driving through the rear-view mirror.

I believe in turning data into information, and information into knowledge, and knowledge into the strategy and tactics it takes to structure a marketing campaign into an effective persuasion system, WHILE the product is being developed.

How to get the info

My preferred method of doing this is through face-to-face and telephone focus groups (I invented telephone groups in 1969), the latest techniques for getting beneath the surface (see my article ‘Getting Beneath the Surface in Focus Groups,’ and ‘Getting to the Right Psychological Level in Focus Groups,’) and other interviewing techniques. I use focus groups not only to uncover information, but as laboratories in which to actively develop persuasion. Don’t get hung up in the superficial. Concentrate instead on developing the specific strategies and tactics that will make the most impact on your product.  As you progress, have a series of idea generation sessions with your entire marketing team to apply and develop what you have learned.

Let’s face it: The same old things in the same old ways don’t work in marketing anymore. Advertising, sales people, PR, and direct mail have all drastically changed, because the customer has changed. Radically.

There is an important lesson to be learned from the world of online marketing: The changing of even a word in a headline, a different arrangement of paragraphs, and other simple changes can cause the tripling of response. Order-of-magnitude changes are not uncommon. I concentrate not only on tapping into the buried information, but on developing strategies and tactics that will leverage all elements of your marketing.

Imagine what can happen when you really tune into the above deeper issues and dare to ask the difficult, seemingly unanswerable questions. Imagine what can happen when we take a customer orientation and develop an approach that is based on the psychology of persuasion and decision making, rather than the creative hunches of someone at an ad agency.

I’ll bet that there are plenty of high-payoff questions on the above list that you and your competitors haven’t investigated. I’ll bet that you are not satisfied with the answers to those that you have. Either list them below or send me an email at, I’ll give you some ideas about how to approach these issues at modest cost.

Need Help? Want a Consultation?

By the way, if there are any other high payoff questions whose answers are eluding you, I’d like to hear them. I love to show people how easy it can be to find seemingly elusive answers to tough questions in difficult territory. That’s why I named our company Market Navigation!


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  1. Thank you very much it has help me to solve my business problem

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