What Does This Crazy Professor Mean When She Says, "Dig Deeper"?

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At the end of every semester, I like to look back and think about the feedback I’ve given our marketing degree students. This semester, I noticed that I’ve written the words – “Dig Deeper” quite frequently. Putting myself in my marketing students’ shoes, I imagine getting that feedback could be confusing. So, let me explain what I mean.

In the simplest terms, “dig deeper” could be likened to a treasure hunt. When someone buries treasure, they rarely bury it shallowly so that any interloper can easily find it. Instead, they hide it in a deep hole so that anyone wanting it will have to work for it.

The same idea holds in business analysis and planning, especially marketing – the easy and obvious facts and ideas are rarely very interesting. Instead, these ideas should tantalize you to try and figure out why they exist, what they mean and what the real implications of them are. You can turn facts into insights when you “dig deeper”.

Said differently, “dig deeper” is all about applying critical thinking. Okay, so what’s critical thinking? According to the Critical Thinking Community at www.criticalthinking.org, critical thinking has 2 components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using these skills to guide behavior. They go on to say that critical thinking requires you to not only know how to get info, but also know what it means and actively practice figuring out what it means.

I think we can simplify that - “dig deeper” means you have to be able to take basic data and be curious about why it exists, how it came to be and how it would make you change your plans. Let’s take a classic example: Sales are down and you’ve got 3 different proposals to fix this – run more ads, launch a new product, or drop price. You can’t possibly make the right choice until you “dig deeper”. Okay, so why are sales down? Here are some possible reasons and the next layer of digging:

  1. Customers are buying less
    1. Have they switched to a substitute product?
    2. Are they buying from a different place, where your product isn’t? In Consumer Electronics, this was the “Wal-Mart” effect
    3. Do they just need less of your product?
    4. Are they outsourcing to a service and no longer buying any product in this category?
  2. Competitors have become more aggressive
    1. Are they running more ads than you are and you have less “share of voice”?
    2. Did they drop price?
    3. Have they introduced new products with better features?
    4. Are they running sales promotions that reduce the net price paid?
    5. Have they incentivized distribution channel partners to switch customers to their brand?
  3. Your marketing programs are off
    1. Are ads focused on the wrong message? Are they in the wrong media?
    2. Have you priced wrong for the value the product offers? Are your features outdated?
    3. Is your salesforce incentivized appropriately?
    4. Are your distribution channel partners really familiar with your product and appropriately incentivized to sell it?

Thus, “dig deeper” really means be curious and ask yourself – why is this happening? What info do I need to figure it out? What does it mean I should do? I’ve sometimes heard of this as “Asking 5 Whys”. By the time you’ve asked “Why” five times you’ve dug as far as you can and found all the treasure that’s there. And honestly, digging deeper is a key component to quantitative marketing. So, get curious and don't accept the simple "facts".