Every customer has a problem. That’s one of the most important marketing basics to remember.
Not a personality problem like fear of emotional commitment (although have those as well) or a customer service type problem like a major complaint about your return policy. Instead they have a problem that you or your product can solve.
It’s your job to figure out what that problem is, how to help them solve it, and to let them know you can.
That’s what effective marketing is. Getting in front of a potential customer to let them know about your service or product, how it can solve their problems and how they can get that solution (usually by buying it).
Of course, when you get down to it business is about solving problems too. But marketing is the part where you take your solution to a problem and help people find about and apply those solutions. If you can remember this and have it guide your marketing strategy, you’ll do well.
Think about any item you own or any service you subscribe to. Every one of those serves a specific purpose (or set of purposes) in your life. For your bath towel that purpose could be to make you dry when you are wet. It could be to make you feel pampered while you dry yourself off. Or it could be to look nice on a towel hook.
The point is, it has a purpose and although that purpose may be different to different customers, it’s your job to understand what that purpose is for them. If your customer’s goals are to be clean, dry and have a color-coordinated bathroom and you sell a variety of different colored bath towels, then you have the solution to their problem.
Making sure they know you have the right towels for them (and how they can buy them) is your job as a marketer.
Try to avoid the trap of getting caught up in what your product is. It’s easy to start competing against other companies who offer a similar product as you, but once you do that you are risking losing the focus of where your marketing really should be.
When I was CMO at Musicnotes.com, the product we sold was downloadable sheet music. That’s not what customers wanted to buy though. What they wanted to buy was the ability to play a certain song. Their problem was “I want to play a certain song, but I don’t know how.”
It just so happens that for most musicians, sheet music is the product that helps them achieve that goal. It’s the instruction booklet or recipe for a song, but just like when using a recipe, the point isn’t to be reading a recipe – it’s to make delicious food (or become a better cook).
This is where understanding your customer’s goals is so crucial, and is key in how you market your product or service. Although most musicians know that sheet music is the means to an end for learning a song, and most people know that a towel will make you dry, as a marketer you want to appeal to those base needs. You need to help them realize and understand that your product will in fact help them achieve their goal.
At Musicnotes the base customer problem was simply that the customer wants to learn to play a song. The reasoning behind that may differ from customer to customer – one might want a song for an audition, another for a wedding and another to play at home just for fun. But playing a song was the main problem we were dealing with solving.
So, while we positioned the brand as a “sheet music store” from a functional branding selection, our marketing strategy encompassed much more than this. It focused on key brand features there we determined were important for customers in their quest to solve their problem, features like helping the customer learn faster with our apps (quicker goal completion), showcasing breadth of catalog (if there’s a song you want to learn, Musicnotes has it) and quality of the product via reviews and samples (ensuring the product will meet the actual requirements to fulfill their goal).
But this doesn’t mean that your marketing must be dry and utilitarian either. Most of the ads you see on TV or online aren’t just bulleted lists of product features. In fact, many of them hardly talk about the product at all – but even though the “how does this solve my problem?” question isn’t being addressed directly, even in these indirect advertisements a successful marketer understands this question of base needs or desires.
Pepsi and coke are great examples of what brands attempting to solve what I call “fuzzy problems.” As a product, all soda (or pop, for you heathens) basically does a few things: stops you from being thirsty, excites your taste buds, cools you down (and maybe gives you a caffeine high). That’s it. Not much different from almost anything else you can drink. Definitely not much of a difference when it comes to Pepsi vs. Coke.
What makes Coke and Pepsi both have effective marketing, and each one their own set of die-hard brand loyalists is the deeper understanding of what problems they are trying to solve for the customer.
As you watch ads for Coke or Pepsi you’ll notice that a lot of it focuses on how the brand positions itself within a customer’s lifestyle. For example, Pepsi aligns itself with pop stars (see their campaigns with Beyonce, Britney Spears or Fall Out Boy) and along with it their brashness and independence.
Coke on the other hand aligns itself with the cross section of individuality and community (see all the different names or slogans you can find on a bottle or can so it fits your “personality” – or the classic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” campaign).
What they’re doing here is looking at the deeper question of what the customer problem is.
Since it’s common sense that they both taste somewhat the same, and the Coke vs. Pepsi “taste test” is well past its prime, they’re instead focusing on how the customers want to present themselves to the world. How do they identify within our culture?
When a friend takes their picture and uploads it to Instagram, what does the can of soda they are holding say about them?
Now most customers don’t specifically think about their brand choices in this manner, but instead it’s a bit more of a subtle unconscious part of their buying decision (although some people do make considerations of brand at this level). The point is, Coke and Pepsi are looking at this question of self-identification and building their brands around that.
They understand that while a customer problem may appear to be “I don’t want to be thirsty” that’s not the only problem they are attempting to solve. Yes, they still address this base need in many instances by showing people in the ads drinking their colas and enjoying it. But they also know that they’ve positioned themselves as lifestyle brands, and therefore need to differentiate their product from other competing products. To do so means finding the fuzzy problems of the customer (even subconscious) and showing they offer a solution.
A Content Marketing Approach to Problem Solving
Another brand I’ve spoken with recently, Revant Optics, has built a lucrative business around the idea of solving a problem, and focused their marketing around this. Revant Optics sells replacement lenses for sunglasses. In and of itself, it’s not that sexy. But what they’ve done with their marketing has understood that while the primary need for a customer is to make their sunglasses work again, the actual problem for customers is more akin to wanting to be able to do the things they love doing – such as mountain biking, fishing, etc. and have build their brand around those lifestyle activities.
What better way to show that your product will get you back outside doing the things you love than by showing customers out there doing those things? That’s a lot of where their marketing is focused. Yes, they get across answers to questions like which sunglass brands are supported and that they have many colors, etc. but they’ve taken it a step farther than simply offering replacement parts to where they are offering the customers a quick return to the lifestyles they love.
Above all, when you’re building out your marketing strategy this problem identification is one of the biggest marketing basics to always keep in mind. It’s easy to get distracted by new channels, technology or approaches – but unless you keep this core “problem solving” question in the back of your mind, you’re likely to lose focus.