What do you like best?

Way back when – when I first began providing marketing services – I remember proudly walking into a client’s office one day to present a marketing campaign concept that my team and I thought would be right on target. We believed it was exactly what the client asked for and that it was definitely worthy of a test.

With great confidence, I set a couple of layouts containing headline copy on the client’s desk. As I always do, I watched to see what his initial facial expressions and body language would tell me.

I couldn’t tell. In fact, it was as though he was staring at a blank wall. So I asked, “What do you think?” He hesitated a few minutes, looked up at me, and then said, “I don’t like it.”

I paused, took a deep breath, and quietly asked, “What don’t you like?” He couldn’t specifically tell me. He simply shook his head and said, “I don’t know, I just don’t like it.” Clients rarely like to pay for something they don’t like no matter how good it is. So, with my tail between my legs, I pulled the plug on a concept that we felt was worth testing.

What we personally like isn’t necessarily what other people like. What others like, we may not like. That’s human nature.

But when it comes to business and marketing, it seems to me (my opinion, of course) that opinions too often get in the way of making better decisions. This is particularly true in smaller businesses –– those that aren’t large enough to have entire departments and staffs devoted to branding, marketing, market research, and so on.

Ultimately, I learned never to ask, “What do you think?” I learned that even someone that did not necessarily have a specific opinion to share would, nevertheless, feel obligated or compelled to provide one, no matter how uninformed he or she might be about the subject.

So I changed my question to “What do you like best?” That seemed to allow people to focus their attention more narrowly on the question at hand and without feeling obligated to provide an in-depth narrative about something they really didn’t understand or weren’t interested in.

I also learned that in business and marketing everything is about testing. Personally, we may prefer one headline, but the market might respond better to another. We cannot assume that our opinion – that our personal view of the universe or the headline we prefer – is what others will respond to. But invariably, we can be a whole lot more confident when we scientifically test our hypotheses.

Oh, and one other thing about asking: Asking people we know to provide feedback is definitely not scientific. Asking people that we know about what they like best only serves to stroke our own ego.


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