What is Your Customer’s Problem?


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Does your business have a DropBox problem?” This is the question I was asked in the subject line of a recent email. I almost deleted it; but stopped short since I was looking for something to write about. It’s clear that anyone can get into marketing these days. I can appreciate misleading headlines designed to spark outrage, or any kind of emotional response; but this headline just bugs me because it is so lazy.

Our customers are struggling to get their problems solved. They may not articulate it well, but they need our help well before they contact us. With the explosive growth of Web 2.0 and all of the new ways we can research products, a simple truth still exists: we are failing to provide content that is aligned with the true needs of our customers. And when we fail to do this, the solution to that unidentified problem starts to look like our product.

I may be nit-picking a bit here, but a product is supposed to solve problems. Wouldn’t associating your brand or product with the word problem be the last thing you want to do? I had to dig deep (beyond the headline is deep for me) to find out what they were talking about. And yet, they still frame the problem around today’s solutions.

In the world of getting jobs done (JTBD), the job we are trying to get done remains fairly static and the response to the “needs-based” metrics will shift over time; as new solutions come to market and old solutions no longer satisfy. I’m not so sure DropBox is the best solution for my job of storing files, accessing files and using files in the many contexts that I currently experience and certainly not the contexts of the future. In fact, with this problem they discuss, I just might begin looking elsewhere altogether! With this line of thinking I’m now expecting further innovative marketing messages like “Do you have a SugarSync problem” or “Do you have a Google Drive problem?”

I’ve learned over the years to tune most messages out. I know all the jingles from watching television, but cannot tell you what the commercials are about. I delete emails before I read them. I completely ignore banner ads, or promoted content on social platforms. I’ve become great at this, as most people have, because I cannot possibly consume that volume of irrelevant content. However, I will stop when something aligns itself to a situation I’m currently experiencing and problems I face that are associated with it; if the message is crafted properly.

I don’t know what your problem looks like; we all have different problems and contexts. However, I do know how to find out. Unfortunately, it’s much harder work than sitting on a conference call talking about cool ideas; cute (and misleading) infographics and basically coming up with ideas designed (fingers crossed) to elicit the short term responses read about in the latest book on behavioral economics. In my opinion it’s much harder work to elicit responses using a short term approach when you really want long term results than it is to do a more thorough job of needs identification up front; the kind of work that aligns with the entire purpose of your organization (product development, marketing and fulfillment).

A problem looks like a job that your customer needs to get done at a specific time, in a specific situation and in the proper context. The problem looks like the important unmet needs your customer uses to measure how well the job gets done. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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