Solutions in need of a problem.


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One of the universally accepted foundations of building a successful brand is to stick out from the competition. To be different than any other option out there.

A proven way to do this was made popular by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their 1981 landmark marketing manual Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. In their book, Ries & Trout popularized the concept of Share of Mind–that basically, consumers have room in their consciousness for two or maybe three brands per category, and if you are not one of them, you must find a way to supplant one of the brands already there. And the way to do this, according to the authors, is to find a customer need that is not being addressed, and make your product the solution to that problem.

Many a successful brand has been launched using the framework Ries & Trout championed more than three decades ago.

But as with a lot of things in marketing, some marketers have taken this “search for a solution” bit to questionable extremes. They have found ways to make their products different all right, but not in a way that answers any real problem its users seem to have.

A few popular examples that come to mind are Freshness Dating introduced by Diet Pepsi in 1994, and Coors recent Cold Detection Can that lets you know that your beer is, well, cold. Here’s the Diet Pepsi spot that introduced Freshness Dating.

It’s hard to imagine users of either brand asking questions beforehand like “You know, I wonder when this can of Pepsi was made?” or “Is this beer cold enough to drink?”

What these marketers have done, in effect, was create solutions to non-existent problems.

Now it appears Google is getting into the act as well, with its new Gmail message filtering system. Put simply, Gmail now breaks your emails down into five tabs – primary, social, promotions, forums, and updates – and automatically determines where to place incoming emails. On its blog, Google justified the change by proclaiming, “Sometimes it feels like our inboxes are controlling us, rather than the other way around.”

On the surface, that might make sense. At least until you talk to real Gmail users.

The idea that consumers are constantly worried and deeply affected by the scores of emails plugging up their inboxes completely ignores the facts. Figures from the DMA’s Email Tracking Report 2012 show that about 40% of consumers who receive brand emails (which get filtered out of the stream) are getting no more than three a day on average, and about 2/3 receive no more than six. Add to that the fact that 74% of consumers report preferring to receive commercial communications via email, and you can quickly surmise that “Inbox Overload” is a creation of Google, not a legitimate need of the marketplace.

In my opinion, creating solutions that require fabricating a phantom problem is a gross form of mismarketing. It deceives consumers into thinking they have a problem they don’t even know they have (“Gee, how many cold beers did I drink in my life that weren’t really cold?”). Given that all of us have plenty to concern ourselves about, we don’t need marketers trying to raise our anxiety levels just so they can stand out in the marketplace.

The good news is that in these days of user-controlled conversations, mismarketing tactics such as these are easily exposed and outed for what they are.

If you’re looking for a meaningful way to make your brand stand out, get ready to burn up some shoe leather. Get out into the marketplace and spend some time in your customers’ shoes. Experience what they experience. Understand the context of your product offerings.

That’s really the only way to find legitimate holes in the customer experience. Then be prepared to alter your offerings so these needs are directly addressed. To create a better customer experience, and not to just “be different.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check my shirts for Ring Around The Collar.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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