The Most Powerful Question in Business: “What’s in It for Them”

The Most Powerful Question in Business: “What’s in It for Them”

Five words. Seemingly simple. Remarkably powerful.

There’s a saying in the business and design-thinking world that invites strategists to “solve the right problem.” Most business leaders are good at solving problems. Solving the right problem makes all the difference in your business outcomes. Asking the right questions leads us to solving the right problem. I’ve used “What’s in it for them?” as a guiding question for much of my strategic work over the last couple of decades with remarkable results.

Allow me to explain.

Your “what” is your product or the service that the company is offering. It’s the thing you make, the service you provide. It needs to be clear what the “what” is and clear what the “what” does. If the thing that the brand is offering isn’t clear, obviously, confusion happens.

Staying true to your “what” is staying true to your offering. Doing too many things creates confusion in the marketplace and within your organization. Know your “what.”

(is in it)
Every product or service has to solve some type of problem or satiate some desire in order to be valuable. It might be a security device or a delicious craft beer or a new and improved smartphone or a consulting service. But it must solve something, even if that something is a desire.

The “in it” is the value. It’s the solution to the problem or the offering of the desire. If there’s nothing in it for them, then your “what” has no value and will likely fail in the marketplace.

Example solutions:

  • Southwest Airlines: Low cost, convenient air travel filled with “love.”
  • Apple iPhone: A smartphone that’s beautifully designed and highly reliable.
  • Airbnb: A trusted home rental system where everyone belongs.
  • Lyft: Convenient, safe and easy alternative to the taxi.

So, when you’re thinking about marketing or selling your “what,” do so with the clear story of selling the solution to the problem or satiation for the desire, not the product or service itself. Ultimately the product you produce or the service your business offers is not what you sell. You sell the solution to the problem is solves. Do this with a clear intellectual and emotionally compelling brand story and the right customers will buy in droves.

(for them)
“Them” is your audience and your intended audience. It’s the demographic, psychographic, geographic, technographic target audience that you want to offer the product or service to. Said differently, “them” is the people you’re serving and who’s problem your “what” is solving.

C-level executives, marketers, and brand builders must know “them,” must understand how to reach and move “them,” and must speak their language. Marketing the right “what is in it” to the wrong “them” will get you only disappointing results.

Simple question, powerful results
This little and magical question when frequently asked, and clearly and repeatedly answered will guide businesses through the chaos and complexity of marketing and selling their product or service. So, when you’re stuck thinking about the complex media environment or the sea of competition, get back to basics and ask yourself this powerful little question.

This question and its various forms are asked and answered regularly. Its impact on businesses, brands, cultures, and marketing programs is immeasurable when asked and answered frequently enough to inform and guide.

Join 24,000+ readers by subscribing to my newsletter.

    If you want a more trusting team, a culture of belonging or a magnetic brand that attracts more of the right customers, I can help. If you'd like to explore if working together makes sense, drop me a line.

    Let’s Talk >