The power of questions

This column is the fifth of a series where we explore the seven principles that I’ve identified as vital to Walt Disney’s success as he built one of the world’s most iconic and profitable brands.

Here are the seven beliefs/habits that I believe led to Disney’s success:

  • Your vision must be so clear and so well-articulated that someone else can complete it perfectly, even if you’re not there anymore.
  • No detail is too small, and in fact, the smallest details have the biggest impact.
  • Obstacles are roadmaps to innovation.
  • If the team is happy, the customer is happy.
  • Ask the best questions because you need to keep learning.
  • You’re never done.
  • Never forget who you serve and why you matter to them.

Perhaps it comes from being creative by nature, but Walt never saw what others thought was a finished project as being done. He saw it as being ripe for some questions to make it even better. He believed that if you asked yourself and the team the right questions, you could level up everything you created.

He also believed that questions allowed people to explore, and in that exploration, there were fresh ideas and connections to be made. Walt’s Imagineers were always waiting for Walt to say, “What if we looked at this another way …” and then they’d be off to the races.

Questions can be a fantastic marketing tool to help you attract and connect with your audience. Here are some ways we can use questions in our marketing.

Check your assumptions: One of the most dangerous habits we can get into is accepting our own assumptions. As you’re developing your marketing strategies, make a point of asking, “Do we really know this is true?” Another question to ask yourself is “How would I prove this in a court of law?” You’re going to discover that much of what you believe to be fact is indeed supposition, guesses, or long-held beliefs that may not be accurate anymore.

Query your clients: One of the biggest compliments you can get from a prospect or current customer is “No one has ever asked that before.” It demonstrates that you’re thinking about them in a deeper, more meaningful way. It also indicates your genuine interest in helping them solve their challenges, and it reminds them that they can count on you to always be thinking about their business.

Use questions in your advertising: Questions make very effective headlines. They draw the audience into your ad, and when someone asks you a question, your brain is hard-wired to answer that question. They’re already engaged and considering your question before they get to the key message points.

Ask your customers to imagine: Asking your best clients to help you visualize the future takes some deft moderation and insightful questions. But if you can get them in a mental state where they’re helping you imagine how you could be of more service to them, that’s a goldmine for your R&D, sales and marketing teams.

Marketing timelines are always aggressive, and it’s tempting to skip the discovery time and get right to producing the work. But that work is far more effective when you take the time, as Walt often did, to look at the problem, the audience or the messaging in a new way.

The right question can lead to a profitable and powerful breakthrough idea. But it’s rarely the first question you ask. The key to asking that right question is to ask many questions and let those initial inquiries open up new avenues for additional questions.

Allowing yourself the space to be curious will yield some potent questions that will lead to marketing that feels authentic, speaks directly to your consumer’s heart, and reinforces your brand.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.