Where is the “Who, What, and Why” in Marketing?

Pick up any book in the Marketing section of your local bookstore, or a current magazine on the newsstand and you are sure to see at least one article about one of the following"how to"  topics – such as:

Pick up any book in the Marketing section of your local bookstore, or a current magazine on the newsstand and you are sure to see at least one article about one of the following”how to”  topics – such as:



  • leverage social networks for business,
  • use Twitter to sell,
  • use SEO to reach prospects,
  • make better use of “search” to market your product,
  • lay out your customer websites to make them more appealing, etc. 


At a recent analyst conference, there was even an entire session dedicated to redesigning a customer website’s layout to be more successful. In short, there is a ton of advice about “how.”


Far less is being written about the “who, what, and why” of marketing– namely, “what are we selling to whom, and why would they buy it?”  In marketing terms, this comes down to correctly positioning an offering and building effective messaging. Even the slickest ad, gadget, or social campaign will fall flat if the “who, what, and why” are wrong.



Perhaps it is assumed that that marketers have the basics “down” and all they need to do is to find the right new Web 2.0 venue to get the message out. Yet, from empirical evidence, in the form of targeted campaigns, offers and promotions, I think this assumption is incorrect.


So here are some tips for the “who, what, and why” of reaching out.


One simple exercise that I rarely see put into practice in small companies, is something I call a “Pain Sheet.” The Pain Sheet is a table that has the following questions:


  • What pain does my product/service solve?
  • Who has the pain?
  • How painful is the problem (how much is it worth to solve)?
  • What is this individual/group doing today to solve the problem?
  • What alternative solutions exist to solve the problem?
  • Why would people select my solution?
  • Why would people select one of the alternatives?
  • How much would people pay to alleviate this pain?


By the way, the flipside of a pain sheet is an “Opportunity Sheet,” that asks the same questions for innovative products, for example:


  • What opportunity does my product/service solve that didn’t exist before?
  • For whom is the opportunity relevant?


An example where an Opportunity Sheet would be useful, would be a new product category like the iPod – here it would be difficult to talk about solving a pain; rather the new category offers new opportunities. A digital camera, on the other hand, can be evaluated using either a Pain Sheet or an Opportunity Sheet; a Pain Sheet would cover the pains associated with film cameras, such as: the cost of developing film, the uncertainty about quality of pictures taken until they get developed, the hassle and inconvenience of having to develop film, etc.



Filling out a pain sheet also allows you to compare several options side by side, which provides an easy way to try different potential solutions.


Furthermore, when you fill out a Pain Sheet, a lot of the questions about messaging should become clear. The primary customer values can be fleshed out. The next step involves testing the messages – this will be covered in another post.


If anyone is interested in a completed pain sheet, let me know and I can provide one in a future post.


About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.