What Problem Do You Solve?
Remember the TV commercial with these lines?
- Boy: What’s this stuff?
- Brother: Some cereal. It’s supposed to be good for you.
- Boy: I’m not gonna try it.
- Brother: Let’s get Mikey.
- Boy: He won’t eat it. He hates everything.
- Both: He likes it! Hey Mikey!
How about the TV commercial with this line?
- Elderly woman: “I've fallen and I can't get up.”
These ads are famous for these lines. The first contributed to enormous success for Quaker’s Life brand breakfast cereal; the second, for the Life Alert Emergency Response pendant that auto-dials an emergency dispatcher. Importantly, they also share an uncommon though effective approach to marketing: Identify the problem that you solve considerately, then identify your solution.
Many affluent parents struggle to get their children to eat a good, healthy breakfast every day. For some, this includes a struggle to resist breakfast foods that offer little nutrition and better resemble candy. Likewise, many adults worry about their mother, aunt, or other elderly family member who lives alone and could suffer a fall or other calamity from which help would be needed to recover.
In the cereal ad, after the boys discover that the hard-to-please Mikey likes it, a voice-over describes Life as a “nutritious, delicious” cereal that even picky children like Mikey enjoy eating. In the pendant ad, less memorable is the dispatcher’s reply, “We're sending help immediately, Mrs. Fletcher.” Both ads offer to save consumers from the difficulties that they credibly portray. Both also triggered many people to buy what they were selling. So, why is the same formula not used in more advertising?
not for creative ad execs
When marketers take the route of simple, truthful authenticity – such as sympathetically demonstrating that they understand the problem that their product solves – consumers often reward them with success. These ads are good examples of this. Yet, the supreme status of creativity is so deeply ingrained in the ad industry that advertising executives often refuse to pay attention – or feel that they can do much better.
medals or sales?
Of course, there are many companies that might never advertise on TV. Even so, their decision makers could entrust their marketing budgets to creative people who think like big advertising executives. Too often, this means that their advertising is based on creativity and lacks a strong grounding in real user experience. Then, a new problem arises: Creativity wins awards for ad agencies. To win an award for creativity, an ad need not be effective at generating sales.
tell the truth
Before your company takes the creativity-first route in its marketing, remember that people want truth in advertising and that consumers want their problems to be solved. These basic consumer priorities carry more weight than being entertained by creative ads. Meeting these priorities effectively can be more profitable for the advertiser, too.
listen for it
So, how does a company with products or services to promote get to the truth and express it so that the market responds positively? Key messages in the words that the market uses come simply from attentive listening.
As a key-messages specialist, I coach my clients on how to listen to their customers, staff, and suppliers to learn where the value comes from. Then, what sources of value distinguish them from competitors. Listen attentively to enough people over a sufficient period and the truth of market perception becomes abundantly clear. Then, distil those sentiments for an effective, authentic key message.
give it to them straight
Authentic problem/solution key messages can be way more valuable than cartoon characters promoting colourful, candy-like breakfast cereal as fun to eat (what Quaker was up against with Life). When you credibly demonstrate genuine understanding of the problem that you solve, and present your product or service as reliably solving that problem, then plain facts can win over the skeptical – even the hard-to-please like Mikey.
– Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.