Traditional marketing many times mimicked traditional product development. In traditional product development, a team of “experts” created a solution that – 1) they were enamored with, 2) represented a departure from current products in function, usability and/or experience, and 3) they hoped had commercial viability. Companies then turned those products over to traditional marketers who touted the features and benefits of the new offerings in hopes that someone would be willing to part with their hard-earned money and give it a try. In short, a solution in search of a problem. Once those few, brave early adopters surfaced, the marketers could look for others like them – target clients.
For decades, the bulk of “marketing science” was built around this approach. We learned about market segmentation, customer profiles, demographics, psychographics, geographics, behavioristics, and a host of other ways to segregate and talk to people who might be interested in our products or services. I’m not advocating that we abandon or unlearn all or even any of this, but instead broaden our field of knowledge. In recent years, new research in product development and marketing have the potential to make us much more effective in creating new offerings and communicating with those who are willing to buy them.
In Competing with Luck, Clayton Christensen helped us understand that the key to innovative product development is problem solving. Yogi Berra reminded us that, “you can observe a lot by watching.” Together, these two pieces of information give you everything you need to know to create a successful product. Carefully survey your slice of the world for a problem to solve. Then solve the problem better than anyone else.
Problems and the subsequent solutions can be simple – your smartphone slides across the dashboard or seat when you’re driving. You need a bracket that fits in your cupholder with a slot on the top to hold your phone. Or the problems can be more obscure – so obscure that you didn’t know you had the problem. Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple discovered that you needed a device bigger than your smartphone, but smaller than your laptop and viola, the iPad was born (along with a host of Android competitors). You didn’t know you needed a tablet, but, so far, about 1.5 billion of them have been sold worldwide. The potential upside of a product is in direct proportion to number of people that are afflicted by the problem that the product solves.
That brings us to this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge.
For this week’s exercise, I want you to create a detailed definition of the problem you’re effectively solving (what is the cause, how does it manifest itself i.e. what are the first, second and third order consequences, what is the personnel impact, what is the financial impact, what is the emotional or psychological impact, what is the social impact) and identify the people who have that problem – those people are your target clients.
As you start the exercise, the most disturbing discovery could be that you’ve created a solution for a non-existent problem (or a problem that afflicts a number of people so small, that it’s not commercially viable). If that’s the case, it’s time to survey the landscape and look for a problem to solve.
Assuming you have a superior solution to a real problem experienced by enough people, the assignment becomes, how do you effectively communicate with the people afflicted by that problem. I want to offer up some bullet points –
- Discover where the people who have that problem look for information to solve it – Google search, friends on social media, LinkedIn, from others in their industry, cold sales calls, email solicitation, Yelp, Angie’s List, networking groups.
- Begin interacting with them, using their preferred medium, with information that convinces them you understand the depth of the problem – discuss multiple manifestations of the problem and discuss the impacts of the problem.
- Empathize with them. To prove the depth of your understanding, discuss the way the problem makes them feel – frustrated, insecure, uncertain about the future.
- Start being useful. Offer initial solutions to the problem. If you give away valuable information you show your care for your target clients and your commitment to solving their problem. And you build credibility as a trusted resource.
- Explain your value proposition – you have a good, workable solution that makes sense economically. You can’t charge them $10 to solve a $1 problem
- Let existing clients build your credibility. Show that you’ve successfully solved the problem for others by sharing testimonials, case studies, and white papers.
- Reach out to individual target clients with personalized emails (or for B2B, LinkedIn messages). Invite them into one-to-one conversations where you can probe for information on how the problem you solve impacts them.
As you explain your intimate understanding of the problem, your understanding of those afflicted by the problem, the pain they feel as a result, the epiphany that brought you to your solution to the problem, the thoroughness of the solution, the economic value of the solution, and the passion you bring to delivering the solution, you will gain recognition among those with the problem and will be seen as a valuable resource. You will find those who, as Simon Sinek would say, “share your why” or as Seth Godin would say, belong to your tribe.
In every interaction, probe for additional opportunities to listen and deepen your understanding of the problem and how it impacts potential target clients. And, in every interaction, if the target client is ready to buy, make your products or services available with an easy-to-follow call to action.
During this week’s thirty-minute exercise, gather your team together. After you’ve defined the problem in sufficient detail, make your initial pass through the list above. Make notes. Decide on your initial medium and messaging.
As you get started, resist the temptation to be perfect. Just start. Experiment with messaging and medium. Every time you get a response, increase your understanding of the problem and how it affects your target clients. Soon you’ll be effectively communicating with the people you’ve built your business to help.