Should marketers ask open or closed questions?

In high school, my instructor had us do a mock trial. Our teacher informed us that we didn’t want to be asking our witness yes or no questions because it limited the story they could tell. Similarly, you wanted to ask the other side’s witness close-ended questions so they couldn’t tell a story.

Then in journalism school, I learned that the key to a good interview was to refrain from asking a question that could be answered with a simple yes or no. You want the interviewee to tell the story, not you.

The goal of questions in marketing is to get the target audience to start thinking about your brand and seeing it as something they want to add to their own internal story. This can be achieved using both open-ended and closed questions. Both types of questions should be utilized in marketing, and each has its distinct advantages.

Open-Ended Questions

The key selling point for asking an open-ended question in your content is you give your readers many more options than just yes or no. That’s the risk for closed questions. If you ask someone, “Are you tired of eating fast food?” and they answer “no” you know for a fact you won’t be selling to that person.

But if you ask, “How much fast food do you eat in a week?” then a person is more likely to start considering the answers to your question instead of coming out with a flat out no.

And that’s the appeal of open-ended questions. You’re asking for an answer other than yes or no, so the reader is less likely to come out with an answer like no.

It also forces the reader to think of an answer. Forming an answer takes a level of interaction that makes your content that much more engaging.

Closed Questions

These are the questions with predetermined answers, typically yes or no. These questions can be dangerous because if someone answers “no” to your proposition, chances are they won’t open your email or download your file.

But if they answer yes at each step (the micro-yes) and creep ever-closer towards the macro-yes (the buy), then you are doing your job.

Getting your audience to answer yes at each step can be more than a little difficult, which is why so many marketers and advertisers work so hard to make their questions rhetorical or impossible to say no to.

Want to save $1,345 a year?

I mean, of course they do. Who wouldn’t? Unless they’re well off enough for that amount of money not to matter, everyone wants to save $1,345 a year.

That’s what makes questions so powerful; they can hit on a specific pain point that immediately makes the reader see that the logical solution to the problem they just realized they had, happens to be your product.

By that logic, all you need to do is make your argument so irresistible that it would be ridiculous to say no (obviously within the scope of what you can deliver). This is easier said than done, of course. And it is also much easier in B2C marketing where a single customer is the decision-maker, but in B2B, the decision-maker happens to be five different people with varying interests.

If your question is good enough, it will have widespread appeal amongst your group of potential clients and, combined with the rest of the copy, convince each team member that they need your product or service.

This may take more than one question, easing potential customers closer and closer to the actual act of buying. Ask the right questions, and they’ll give you the right answer:


When to Ask

Email subject lines and content titles are where it all starts. Your first opportunity to pull a micro-yes out of your customer is when they open their inbox and see your email sitting there. Or when they are surfing the web, and they see your piece of content. This is where your brand will get to ask your customer the first question. Often, this could be the first question your brand asks.

You can also pepper your copy with questions, not too many, asking just the right ones to lead your buyer through the series of micro-yeses towards your call to action.

In content, such as a blog post or whitepaper, questions are suited to pull the reader through the piece, forcing them to engage with it even if they were only casually reading or skimming through the article.

Using more significant questions at the end of articles and the copy can be a compelling way to hook in the reader and get them to follow through your call-to-action. But as mentioned above, the trouble with this is if you ask a question at the very end of your copy, no matter what it is, and the reader says no, every single micro-yes that you attained up until this point would be for moot.

Why Questions Work

By nature, questions are engaging. Even if a reader wasn’t planning to engage with your content, a question forces them to. You ask them about something that hits one of their pain points, and all of a sudden, they have started down the path to becoming a potential customer. You can do this through positive and negative questioning, which is gone over in more detail in this article.

But while questions often work better than most other types of copy, they also are polarizing. Ask something that makes your reader say no, you’ve lost them. Ask them too many questions, and their answer might be no. Questions are like anything else, overuse them, and they lose effectiveness.

And one last key thing. Not everyone will say yes all the time. Some people will buy what you’re selling, and others won’t.

Do you use questions in your marketing?

What sorts of questions make a difference?

Do certain types of questions work better for you?

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