The “five whys” is famously a technique developed by Taiichi Ohno to ask “Why?” exactly five times, to find exactly one root cause. While rigid application of the technique has come in for criticism (root cause analysis is rarely linear, there is rarely a single root cause, there are rarely exactly five issues, etc.), the fundamental concept is sound.
That is to say, the first high-level attempt to describe or define a problem is rarely helpful in solving it. Getting to the root cause requires digging deeper.
Here’s an example of one possible (and common) scenario to show how the application of the five whys might play out in digital marketing.
Your company announces that layoffs and budget cuts are likely. So, your first “why” is simply, why is the company in financial trouble? There could be any number of reasons, from finance or investment decisions to competitive developments or changes in the market.
Let’s say it’s because sales are down—not an uncommon scenario, particularly heading into a recession. Recognizing that problem sets up our second question, our next why.