Even that drink is solving a problem

As a B2B messaging expert for mainly service based companies, I keep harping with clients about what pain point they are solving. The interesting thing is, that even a product is a solution to a pain point.

The Milkshake That Soothes

Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor and author of the bestselling The Innovator’s Dilemma proved that this was true when he was hired by McDonald’s to increase the sales of their milk shakes. When his team asked consumers what pain point this milkshake was solving for them, it was a stunning discovery: people with a long and boring commute to work were picking up the milkshakes and sipping them as a solution to the boredom of the drive. And all along, McDonald’s was thinking that they were simply selling milkshakes.

The Vodka That Motivates

This finding was no surprise to me. After all, for years I marketed alcohol brands like Smirnoff, Tanqueray, Gordon’s and Johnny Walker. Especially in the case of vodka, where there’s no taste or smell or colour difference in the entire category. To be relevant to the consumer, we needed to attribute certain characteristics to the brand to ensure that young hot shots (our prime target) who ordered it in bars felt more confident and motivated to socialize. Similarly, I can’t tell you the number of alcohol brands that try to position themselves as the sexual lubricant in a social setting (no pun intended).

Clueing into the Problem

So if you own a business that sells products, how do you figure out what problem you solve? Well the first job is to look at the whole market of buyers and segment them into commonalities: like what industry they come from or what interest they share and so on. For example, when I managed a stationery brand, we found that the pen buyer segmented according to how much they loved the product-a third stole the thing from work, the other third were cheap moms who coupon clipped and the last third would kill you if you touched their pen. The second step is to understand what problem you solve for your most desirable segment. We clearly wanted to own the loyal pen lovers in the case of this example. Then all our messaging and marketing was done on that basis.

So if you think that you’re simply selling a product, you’re missing a huge opportunity to connect deeper and to sell more. Until you understand what problem you’re solving and for whom, you’re playing in the dark.

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