Golden questions, green potatoes, being 64

Some people stay with you for a long time because they say or do something that you remember after they’d moved on. Take, for example, Rebecca Caroe, a UK based marketing consultant who spends, it appears, her time and talents helping her clients get their brand message out there. I know how it feels; I have been doing that for 20-odd years.

Rebecca Caroe tickled my imagination by quoting Don Peppers , the Sir Alex Ferguson of direct marketing. Peppers is the person behind a lot (maybe most?) of the marketing speak of the last 30 years. Rebbeca Caroe reminded me of Peppers’ masterful concept of Golden Questions in a piece she wrote in her blog “Creative Agency Secrets.”

There is an old court story that is still doing the rounds: a shyster lawyer, out to discredit a hostile witness, asks: “Mr Jones, when did you stop hitting your wife?” This, more to the defendant than to Mr Jones, is a clear example of a Golden Question. (In another version of the story, the lawyer asks the witness “when did you stop believing in the Spanish Inquisition?” … nasty!)

Rebecca’s example comes from the master himself. “A ‘Golden Question’,” she says, “is one in which the answer tells you more than the question itself would imply….[Don Peppers’] classic was to find out whether a customer had a high propensity to buy premium brand pet food. The question was “Do you buy your pet a Christmas present?”. Neat, isn’t it? Those who do, are more likely to lavish spend on their animals than those who don’t. Simple.”

Forming part of a survey, poll, feedback form or questionnaire, Golden Questions include a set of assumptions that, answered, highlight important details about customers’ lifestyle and choices. From the book “Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic Framework” By Don Peppers and Martha Rogers: “In many cases, an enterprise will use Golden Questions to understand its customers, and thus achieve needs and value differentiation […] quickly and effectively. Golden Questions are designed to reveal important information about a customer, while requiring the least possible effort from the customer.” (p.180)

Consider the following Golden Questions (p.181):

“Is it OK to wear jeans when you go to the movies or do you prefer something dressier?” [Matching a retail clothing outlet, with women who are motivated to spend large/r amounts of money to shop for something special.)

“Have you ever used your savings to play a hot stock?” [Matching a brokerage firm that is looking for existing clients who would be interested in consolidating their assets under a single management system, with customers who are solid savers but still have enough money left to ‘play’ with stocks.]

“Do you check your e-mail on Saturday?” [Matching a service provider who wants to avoid clients moving over to competitors, with customers who are technology-abled, are excited by technology and interested in being ‘wired.’]

The idea is powerful and useful; no wonder the concept has been such a massive turn-on for marketers for so long.

Is there a science devoted to questions? The term “Questionology” is Googleable, but points to low-grade information. While I wasn’t able to find any work of substance on Questionology (can you?) I unearthed a few interesting takes on the topic. Obviously, some questions have a life of their own:

In an almost ToingToing’ish manner, the International Herald Tribune’s Sam Roberts, set out in June 2006 (Paul McCartney’s 64th birthday) to find out if the questions he asked in his Beatles’ hit “When I’m 64” have in fact been answered when “many years from now” became simply “now”. Roberts found that the answer to the question “Will you still need me?” is no — “three-quarters of men married in the late 1950s celebrated their 20th wedding anniversaries with their first wife, compared with about half who married in the early 1970s.” Will they be able to rent “a cottage in the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear”? Not really, because many American own their own holiday home in much more glitzy destinations. Read the rest here.

The New Scientist came up with “Does Anything Eat Wasps?” — a host of [really quirky] questions from its column “Last Word.” Here are a few examples:

Will you die from eating green potatoes? [possibly], how fat do you have to be to become bulletproof? [About 60 cm of fat might save you from a bullet, but will probably cause a fatal coronary.] Can cats be dropped from any height without dying? [Not higher than 30 storeys.] Why do bruises go through a range of colours before they fade? [You observe the breakdown products of haemoglobin (which is red), these are biliverdin (green) and bilirubin (yellow.)]
Will you contribute to ToingToing?