Six Honest Serving Men

what where when who why how

Today we have a philosophical question for you. Of the following questions, which do you think are the most important in market research surveys – what, who, where, when, why and how (we call them the 5Ws + 1H)?

Here at B2B International we are forever intrigued by the question “why?”. It is the most difficult of the six questions to answer and yet, it can also be the most insightful. The question “why” gives us an understanding of what is going on and arguably, how we can provide a suitable solution. Of course, answering the question “why” isn’t always easy. Ask yourself “why are we here on earth?” and most of us will find there are no easy answers. Sometimes we can get the answer from asking the question “how”. Understand how something happens, may enable us to infer why it happens. So, “why” and “how” are the most critical questions in market research. Importantly, they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.

But wait. Whenever we pick up a newspaper or turn on the news, the stories begin with answers to the other questions. A news item will typically say “Yesterday morning, a 35-year-old man dived into the river to save a car that had been carried away in the flood”. In other words, the item begins with some milieu provided by answering the questions who, when and what before it begins to explain why and how.

So it is in market research. Nearly every market research presentation begins with a description of who was interviewed, what respondents do for a job, which industry they work in and so on. This is necessary context and is required before we can answer the questions why and how.

Our opening philosophical question is simply a tease to get us to acknowledge that every question is important. It is the interrelationship of the answers to all these questions that helps us arrive at the truth and explore opportunities. It is why they are so crucial to us as market researchers. Through understanding answers to these questions we can explore cause and effect and therefore find solutions.

In 1902, Rudyard Kipling highlighted the importance of these questions in his “Just So Stories” when he wrote “The Elephant’s Child” which finishes with the following verse:

I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five.
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men:
But different folk have different views:
I know a person small–
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends ’em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes–
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

A hundred years on, things haven’t changed. Check that you have your six honest serving men in every survey.

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