7 Digital Marketing Skills That Never Go Out of Style

Skill #6: Asking Questions

Invest in the individual instead of investing in trends.

In this single shot episode, Matt compares the popularity and emphasis on trends to the skills that are in demand, and have always been in demand. Both employers and job seekers can build powerful, sustainable marketing teams when they focus on the essential skills, rather than the current or “next” tactic.

In this episode, Matt brings his #6 skill, Asking Questions

Question are the best tool we have for accessing information, yet this skill is most likely the most underutilized and under-valued skill of all. Why? Because questions can be bothersome. Questioning can be perceived as subversive, and questions create accountability. Let’s face it: Questioning is dangerous!

In organizations where questions are discouraged, poorer decisions are made, and there is less accountability. Questions lead to discovery, they lead to improvement, they lead to understanding. Developing a skill in question-asking naturally creates an atmosphere of testing, curiosity, and value.

Questioning is the only way that companies can get past lock-step obedience to notions, opinions, or the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. Many companies are held captive to beliefs about their operations, their marketing, and what defines success.

Episodes in this series:

Part 1: 7 Digital Marketing Skills that Won’t Go Out of Style

Part 2: 7 Digital Marketing Skills That Won’t Go Out of Style: #1 Media Literacy

Part 3: 7 Digital Marketing Skills That Won’t Go out of Style: #2 Writing

Part 4: 7 Digital Marketing Skills That Won’t Go out of Style: #3 Analytics

Part 5: 7 Digital Marketing Skills That Wont Go Out of Style: #4 User Experience

Part 6: 7 Digital Marketing Skills That Won’t Go Out of Style: #5: Business Acumen


7 Skills that’ll never go out of style

#6: Asking Questions

How do I know if someone will be a great digital marketer? Simply by the questions that they ask.

Asking good questions is a skill. According to Neil Postman, “question-asking is the single greatest tool humans have, Is it not curious, then, that the most significant intellectual skill available to human beings is not taught in school?” Yet valuable this tool is usually left to rust, as people are afraid to ask questions – especially in a corporate or business environment – Either from fear of looking foolish or unprepared. What an unfortunate turn! Good questions, asked appropriately, can put you in a position of influence and authority.

It’s a common question: “How can I work with my agency without asking stupid questions?”  The fear of looking stupid prevents many companies from actually getting the work they need from their agencies. Have you ever been in a meeting where an agency or someone is presenting the campaign data, and at the end there are no question?

Probably for a few reasons: 1st, no one wants to look stupid.  2nd, everyone is ready to get off this zoom meeting, and back to work! If you ask a question, you’ve just extended the meeting another 5 minutes.

This is fear. The fear of looking stupid or foolish keeps the agency relationship or campaigns from reaching their full potential.

Here’s the reality – if you were to ask a question – even a simple one. The person presenting may not be able to answer it! A company reported back to me that they started asking questions about their paid search campaign – simple questions, such as: how many ad groups are we running? How many keywords are we bidding on and how are we matching them? What tests have been done to increase the CTR or the conversion rate? Or What have you learned from running this campaign? Interestingly, their rep presenting the data was unable to answer the questions – because they were not the person actually running the campaigns.

Too many of our meetings are simply data dumps. We show up, listen as someone walks us through slides of charts and graphs – that nobody cares about. And then they finish, no questions are asked, and everyone goes about their business – status quo is achieved. I’ve heard many managers and even VP’s admit that they use data-dump presentations as a way to suppress questions!

But what happens when you ask questions? It rocks the boat! It challenges people. It focuses the spotlight on aspects of operations and enlightens all who are involved. Neil Postman, the author I quoted earlier, is one of my favorite authors. As an educator and a media theorist, he observed how technology changes us. One of the most significant ways that he observed the change in society is that people have lost the will or the ability to ask questions. He noted that questions asking is a subversive activity, as questions will naturally challenge the status quo!

Now, I could go on and talk about the lack of education in teaching students how to question. I see many good teachers and good programs developing this curiosity and innovation – but it starts by allowing and encouraging children to question the world around them and how things work.

Yet somehow, when we become adults, questions become irritating, discouraged, and quelled in a corporate atmosphere. Questions are uncomfortable, as they create accountability.  But without questions, how can we be sure that we are doing the right things, the best way that we could do them?

Questioning is the only way that companies can get past lock-step obedience to notions, opinions, or the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. Many companies are held captive to beliefs about their operations, their marketing, and what defines success.

We are obsessed with gathering data. It was Big data a few years ago, but the drive didn’t stop there. Companies accumulate cast quantities of data because they believe it will help them solve problems, or that AI will enable new solutions.

The problem is that for data to be used appropriately, questions have to be asked! Start asking if this is the right data – where it came from, what is it’s purpose, and what is expected? Without questions, there are no baselines, no comparisons, no expectations.

But I also see this in people reading headlines or studies – and simply taking them at face value. Someone said it, or claimed research, but is it true?  I see this all of the time in marketing media, and you would be right in questioning the headlines and conclusions of much of the information published. But it’s not just in marketing – we have a right, and we need to continually exercise that right to ask questions. How else will you find out if the claim is legitimate, how else will you be able to know if the data is reliable? How else will you know if there are other interests affecting the conclusions?

Our industry – and many others – are so full of advice and recommendations that you’ll need to have a basis of understanding to build from, and then to evaluate these dozens of claims that are made every day.

This is why I love contrarians that challenge the status quo and ask great questions that make people think.

This is why I love science fiction, as it is a genre that typically tends to take a pessimistic view of technology and shows the “what if” that scientists, technologists, and billionaires have never considered. The original Jurassic Park is my favorite example.  It also has one of my favorite quotes of all time given by Jeff Goldblum when his character Ian Malcom says: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Here’s the unique power of asking questions. It is the beginning of influence – the beginning of leadership. You see, If you didn’t care, you won’t ask questions. If you care about a campaign, a company, a job, then you’ll ask questions to find ways of making it better, more effective, more profitable!

We know the dangers of leadership who surround themselves with Yes-men. They become blind to problems, failings, and ignore everything around them. They suppress question. Questions are dangerous to someone like this. So they surround themselves with people who don’t question anything, as they are more afraid of losing their position than being wrong.

I love studying classical philosophy, Plato, Aristotle – both of whom were students of Socrates – to whom who we attribute the Socratic method.

Socrates tells us that “the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” This is foundational. And it’s a great place to start.

As I mentioned in the skill of analytics – the question “are we all using the same term to describe the same thing?” If we aren’t then there is a breakdown in the process. Simply ensuring that we are all using the correct definition of our terms – that’s not foolish – that is wisdom. If you read any of Socrates dialogues, this is where he starts – by defining terms and what they mean. He doesn’t force the conversation or lead a person – he asks questions that enable his audience to reach their conclusions – many times to a different place than where they started, but now backed with reasoning, reflection, and logic.

This isn’t a belligerent questioning, it is a method of talking towards a solution, rather than “talking at or to” a person. It is asking open ended questions that create discussion, allow for reflection, and develop expectations.

Socrates also said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I believe that the unexamined campaign is not worth running… the unexamined website is not worth hosting…I could go on…

Asking questions is like exercising a muscle. It takes practice to develop question-asking skills. But you can start with the basics today, by making sure that everyone has agreed to the definition of terms. Then you can move on to asking about expectations, comparisons, and beliefs. I’ve also added a few resources in the show notes that will help you build your question-asking skills

So, what do you think? Am I on track, or do you disagree? I’d love to know what you think about this skill – or any of the other skills that I’ve covered so far in this series. Go to the show page and leave a comment – or email me at matt@sitelogic.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Until then – I look forward to our next coffee and conversation on the Endless Coffee Cup -thanks for listening!

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