The Big Marketing Question Your Company Must Nail


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One Big Marketing Question Your Company Must Nail

Source: Video Screen Shot

The Big Marketing Question Your Company Must Nail

It’s a comical scene right out of one of my favorite new shows, Silicon Valley, where I grew up (of course, it was mostly cherry and apricot orchards then, but hey…). The scene: brilliant technical founders of a company that can tell you all about their technology down to excruciating and often mind-numbing minutiae. Yet, they can’t tell you in one or two clear and compelling sentences what big human problem their “solution” solves for customers. In episode 4 of Silicon Valley, one of the developers, Dinesh, bluntly says to a befuddled nerdy Richard, the creator of the compression algorithm and company’s founder, “You turned down $10 million to develop something that you can’t even describe to another human being!”

And, in an earlier episode, Erlich, the quirky, pot-smoking adviser, goes on a vision “quest” to find a better name for the company than Richard’s “Pied Piper.” During a drug-infused meditation, he starts spewing out vapid, jargon-filled names that include buzzwords such as “collaboration,” “cloud,” and “cross-platform,” until he finally shouts in defeat, “It’s all just f…..g meaningless words!” Comically, Erlich ends his rant exhausted and says, “making the world a better place” before he passes out.

There’s truth in comedy. Boom. There it is: too many meaningless words that don’t say anything. That unfortunately is a lot of the marketing out there today. We wonder why we have a deficit in trust. That’s due to a confluence of issues, among them way too much non-human messaging chasing a paucity of meaning.

This happens all the time – and not just in tech. I had three of these same conversations in just the past week alone where execs gush about every detail of their products. Yet, these same execs cannot tell you clearly and cogently how their products solve big problems and leave customers better off. It’s the most important question you must answer in your marketing – What human problem are you solving for customers that leaves them better off both personally and professionally?

Moreover, your products and services will change and so will customers’ needs. If you don’t track their needs, you cannot create meaningful offerings or communications.

Don’t Marry Your Products and Services – Just Take ‘Em Out for a Few Drinks

Companies fall way too much in love with their products and services – even their company and product names – and not enough in love with understanding customers’ big needs. And you have to find the right BIG problem to solve. Far too many “offerings” don’t map to real customer challenges. That’s a huge problem for your credibility, differentiation and longevity.

And, if you can’t articulate how you fix a problem the customer agrees he or she has, you’ll lose to the toughest competitor of all: the status quo. I recently saw one company, for example, tout that they solve the big problem of excel cycle time. Really? Because here is the issue – their ideal customers don’t see this as their big problem. That means there is no incentive to change what they are doing. A corollary to answering what problem you solve is solving the RIGHT problem – the big hairy one your customers know and agree that they have.

The Big Marketing Question: How the Hell Will You Make My Life Better?

Yes, there are other important questions your company needs to get right. This big marketing question goes to the heart of why a company or product exists in the first place. It’s not about your products and services; so quit drowning people in them.

When people ask what your company does (or even your personal brand – yes the same is true here, too), they are really asking what problem do you solve?

More than that: In human speak – people are hungry to know the answer to the following, “How the hell will your stuff make my life better?” If I don’t see a reduction of time using excel by 50% as a life-changing event, for example, your message on reduced cycle time misses the mark. What’s the personal, human need here? If your product actually helps me get promoted by increasing my credibility and visibility – there you go. THAT is a big human need filled.You have to dig deep to understand what human problem you are really solving. It may not be obvious at first and it takes work to excavate. The rewards are worth it.

Don’t fall in love with any of it. Fall in deep like if you want; just make sure you fall in love with the idea of how you make customers’ lives better, so you can clearly communicate it.

The Big Marketing Question

The Big Marketing Question

If you can’t clearly tell me how you leave customers better off, then how is any of your marketing going to be credible? How can you possibly build great customer relationships?

And, as Erlich demonstrated so well, if you can’t articulate it clearly, how can you make the world a better place?

So how do you answer the big marketing question?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kathy Klotz-Guest
For 20 years, Kathy has created successful products, marketing stories, and messaging for companies such as SGI, Gartner, Excite, Autodesk, and MediaMetrix. Kathy turns marketing "messages" into powerful human stories that get results. Her improvisation background helps marketing teams achieve better business outcomes. She is a founding fellow for the Society for New Communications Research, where she recently completed research on video storytelling. Kathy has an MLA from Stanford University, an MBA from UC Berkeley, and an MA in multimedia apps design.


  1. Your blog contains some excellent points. But, even though I hate the word ‘nuanced,’ but here I go again using it: I think the answer is more nuanced than what you have described.

    First, a couple of points of flaming agreement – 1) yes, it’s annoying when companies glowingly refer to their products as (for example) an ‘inter-fibrous friction fastener’ when it’s most commonly known as a nail. and 2) many sales strategies go off the rails because marketers and salespeople (for brevity, I’ll just call them ‘business developers’) fail to define the correct problem.

    Jacqueline Novogratz poignantly described the latter issue in her excellent book, The Blue Sweater, when she shared her impatience with policy makers and social entrepreneurs who endlessly debate whether access to water is a fundamental human right, or whether it is fair for companies to profit from selling it. Her point is that when problems are not framed correctly, issues will not be solved. The answers to these tangential questions don’t dig wells, build pipelines, or irrigate crops. She wrote that the right question is, ‘how do we get water to people who need it?’ I see the same situation happening ad nauseum in business development. “The customer’s main problem is that they haven’t optimized their social media platform!” Not!

    Which brings me to my points of disagreement: 1) I don’t think that solving the right problem is a corollary, it’s central to the mission of buyer-seller engagement. Given that the right problem is defined, a solution can be aligned against it (as we like to say in the consulting world).

    But what really ignited my interest in commenting on your blog was the big marketing question, “how the hell will you make my life better?” – which is where the nuance comes in. I have sat in on countless sales presentations that dedicate the first 15 minutes of precious pitch-time to highfalutin messaging like, “we provide happiness . . .!” Substitute almost any word for ‘happiness’ – health, profits, productivity, human talent – and you begin to glaze over, because these platitudes are undifferentiated from what competitors (and non-competitors!) say, and they are utterly bland.

    I’ve seen senior executives shift impatiently in their chairs until the PowerPoint gets to the ‘Questions?’ slide. Invariably, someone in the room raises his or her hand and says, ‘You know, I STILL don’t get what you guys do,’ or ‘I don’t understand. Exactly WHAT does your company provide?’ On the one hand, it’s great to create curiosity, but when there’s a mushy message, curiosity and overt annoyance can be hard to distinguish.

    When I sold barcoding technologies, my company’s marketing department often provided “high-level” messages – eg “we provide productivity solutions,” or “we offer our customers best-in-class automation.” There was a long list of equally-vague sound bites – to save space, I won’t share all of them. Eventually, I found that my empathy kicked in. I remember thinking, “these prospective customers are participating in this meeting, and they want to concretely understand what my company does. Why not just tell them?”

    So, I modified my conversation to work for them in those instances. Instead, I just said, “my company manufactures barcode printers, scanners, and handheld terminals – and we provide all the software and services to make them work together.” The prospect’s reaction was often wonderful, and I could see the lightbulbs excitedly turn on: “Oh, you mean like grocery stores and retailers? We can do that? Cool!”

    Business developers walk a fine line in communicating with customers. Being too specific about your offering risks being pigeonholed. Using too much jargon is a frequent turn off. But being too vague or too high-level is an equal deal breaker. A bad sales outcome is to have your prospect say, post-meeting, “I still don’t get exactly what they do.” ‘Big picture’ or ‘brass tacks’ – you make the call. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

    A related article that might be of interest to your readers, ‘Do You Know What Your Customers Are Really Buying from You?’


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