The Five W's of Marketing

©IDG Communications, Inc. Photo contributed by Matthew Mikaelian.

Bloomberg Businessweek, 10/15/10

When developing a marketing program, it’s not enough to know who, what, when, where, and why. You need to keep them in order, says Steve McKee.

You’ve heard of the Five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why. They’re the elements of information needed to get the full story, whether it’s a journalist uncovering a scandal, a detective investigating a crime, or a customer service representative trying to resolve a complaint. There’s even an old PR formula that uses the Five W’s as a template for how to write a news release.

Most of the time it doesn’t matter in what order the information is gathered, as long as all five W’s are ultimately addressed. The customer service rep’s story may begin with who was offended, while the journalist may follow a lead based on what happened. The detective may start with where a crime was committed while details of who and what (not to mention when and why) are still sketchy.

The Five W’s are helpful in marketing planning as well. But unlike in other professions, the development of an effective marketing program requires that they be answered in a specific order: why, who, what, where, and when. The reasons may not be obvious, but by following this pathway you can avoid a great deal of confusion, trial and error, and blind alleys, preserving your company’s precious time and resources.

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