4 Questions Every Communication Should Answer

Banksy was a struggling graffiti artist. His biggest challenge was that although he was creative, artistic and passionate he was slow. He found that when he would start a new piece on a wall his attention to detail and lack of fluidity dramatically affected what he was able to produce.

And while he had admired the street art that he grew up in, he aspired to make a statement that would be far reaching rather than another quick spray can shout out to no body who would listen.

Instead he asked himself how we could achieve his goals in a different way. He believed society needed to hear his message but understood that typical graffiti was considered by most as an eyesore. What if he could create art? What if he could create something on a wall that would stand out and make a statement.

Sketching down in his pad he drew pictures and imagery. Playing with colours and moods until he was satisfied with a couple of designs. They were ambitious. They were unlike anything that was currently on the streets. They were street art.

But how could he possibly get these images onto a wall in such a short space of time before someone called the police. And in that moment he remembered the speed of cut outs. If he was to prepare everything ahead of time, create a stencil that he could simply spray over the result would be the same.

As he sat cutting out the stencil he thought he must be mad but proceeded anyway.

The night came when he stood in the darkness of the early hours of the morning he placed the stencil against the wall and began shaking his black can with the unmistakable tinny noise. Several minutes later he stood back from his masterpiece.

What he hadn’t realised was that in those handful of minutes Banksy had just redefined what was possible as an individual who had a message to share.


If It Doesn’t Sell, It Isn’t Creative – David Ogilvy

Whether we are selling a political message, a service, product or an idea we all need to be convinced differently. In the 1970s a kindergarten schoolteacher called Bernice McCarthy noticed that she would teach her class the exact same lesson and the class would learn the same lesson by asking 4 fundamental questions to understand.

1. Why?

Popularised by the Simon Sinek TED Talk the question of ‘Why’ lies at the heart of communication when conveying from a leadership position. Leaders who will stand up in front of their employees will communicate their decisions starting by answering the question of why we are doing x, y or z.

A marketing message may begin by answering why they are different to their competitors – their USP perhaps, or why the world has changed and now only their product and service can improve the lives of their audience.

However, when the message fails is when the communication stops at “Why” we are doing this.

2. What?

Once the ‘Why’ is established the ‘What’ is critical. Martin Luther King Jr did not stand up and simply say “I have a dream that one day…” and list off why things need to change. Instead he instilled in the million man march on that day ‘what’ needed to happen next.

Standing in the sweltering heat on that late August day Martin Luther King Jr didn’t not wallow in the ‘Why’ of the oppression and injustice. Instead he roused the tired crowd by instilling in them ‘what’ needed to happen next. ‘What’ the amassed crowd needed to do. What those listening across the country must not settle for.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

3. How?

The devil is in the detail. There are an alarming rise of those who promise riches and rewards by following the ‘Why” and the “What’ but in truth the money and success are in the ‘How’.

We are currently facing an acceleration in the world’s global climate temperatures that are having an unprecedented impact in human history. We know ‘why’ we should address the global problem, we know ‘what’ should be done but the question of ‘how’ we are going to globally achieve this still remains unanswered and as a result, regardless of UN resolutions, 2016 saw the highest temperatures ever recorded.

Putting to one side our opinion on climate change the challenge of how to agree a way forward as a global community has failed to have any positive impact. How do you reduce CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere in a way that is profitable? How do you reduce our reliance on CO2 intensive industries and lifestyles in a way that doesn’t negatively affect people? How do you align countries and industries to a common, agreed goal?

Unicorn Founders vs Non-Tech Founders

Want to know one of the secrets of Silicon Valley – in 2015 Tod Francis and Nikhil Basu Trivedi of Shasta Ventures published a report detailing the founders of the top 25 tech Unicorns (tech companies worth over $1bn).

Interestingly, 59% of founders were non-technical but by far the majority had at least worked within a software and IT company, for on average, 6 years.

This is important for one simple reason – all of them were able to answer the question – “how are we going to do this?”. That level of experience and environment allowed them to have knowledge of the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’.

After 10 years of working with tech and non tech companies on accelerating their growth as a growth hacker it is easy to quickly spot who knows ‘how’ to do something rather than someone telling me ‘why’ and ‘what’ needs to be done. This is why the hall of fame of tech unicorns is a small group. They all have the ‘how’ figured out.

4. What If?

Lastly we find the question of ‘what if’. In the recent US presidential election we had a very real example of someone who engaged supporters by leveraging the question of ‘What if’.

While his opponent, Hilary Clinton, adopted a more measured tone in her speeches, Donal Trump created an air of uncertainty playing to people’s insecurities around jobs, immigration and globalisation. Referring to Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists‘ he framed the neighbours as a country infesting the US with their worst communities.

This strategy worked on many psychological levels: fear and anger primarily.

All achieved by putting the question into the mind of the voter – ‘what if he is right and we vote in the wrong person?’

Nearly 100 days into his presidency we shall see how this plays out. Whether we agree with this strategy or not we cannot argue with the fact that it was effective. Meanwhile Hilary Clinton failed to address the ‘What if Donald Trump becomes President’ sufficiently as part of her communications and as a result lost on election night.

The Power Of Questions

With each marketing message or communication that you are set to deliver first ensure that it answers these 4 fundamental questions:

Why? What? How? and What If?

Or you may find yourself wondering through the woods wondering what happened?