Putting the Problem First: Why Starting with Strategy Won’t Get You Results—and What to Do About It


by | May 10, 2017 | Business Core

Creating beautiful videos or engaging in any other kind of marketing just for the fun of it or because it’s something you think you should be doing won’t guarantee results. To get the outcomes you want, you need to take a more deliberate approach. A well-executed marketing strategy doesn’t start with great production or creative flair; it starts with a clearly articulated problem and a great reason why that problem needs to be overcome.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the importance of putting strategy first. And, yes, of course strategy is important but I want to push back against this mentality. If you ask me, in most marketing campaigns putting strategy first is a huge gamble and won’t guarantee the returns you or your client are expecting.

And there’s a very simple reason for this: unless you can identify a clear problem, then jumping right into strategizing will either lead you to waste time and money or leave you with inferior results.

So what should you do instead? Here are the three steps I follow to get real results.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

This should almost always be your very first step. And I’m willing to bet that if you take a long, hard look at yourself and your business, you will discover that this is what’s stopping you from getting the outcomes you want.

If you’ve been putting strategy first, you likely had a moment when you realised that you have so much more potential as a company but something is stopping you from tapping into it.

Here’s a little bit of cold comfort: most of your potential clients won’t know you have this problem. But it’s not because you’ve managed to project a really good image. In fact, it’s the opposite: the reason they don’t know you have this problem is that they don’t even know about you. Either they’re not aware of your company or they have no idea you could solve the problems they’re facing, especially if you haven’t helped them understand those problems.

Think for a moment about how powerful putting problems first is. If you can identify the problems you’re having, you’ll be in a better place to help your customers identify their problem. And that is a crucial step in turning a member of your target market into an actual client or customer.

To help get a clear sense of where to go from here, I’ll use as an example a problem many of my clients struggle with: “Our business is not growing financially.”

Step 2: Find the Purpose that Motivates the Problem

Once you’ve identified the problem, the next question you should ask is, “Why is this a problem worth fixing?” If you can’t find a compelling answer, then it’s more of a small nuisance than a genuine problem. If you can’t find a strong reason to take action on a problem, then you will never sway your your potential customers, no matter how innovative your marketing.

One of the best ways to find a motivation for overcoming the problem is by figuring out what would be the ideal outcome of solving the problem. If you manage to paint an attractive enough picture of the results, then you can make a great case for investing in a solution.

Let’s go back to the problem we identified above: “Our business is not growing financially.” The next question you’ll have to ask your customers is, “Why do you want to grow this business?”

If they only want to grow it because they heard that was the thing to do in one of their college business courses, then they’re not going to be very interested in taking serious steps to solving the problem. They might as well just go work on their golf swing instead of dealing with marketing professionals.

But if they want it because they place a lot of importance on being a dynamic company and they think growth is the way to keep coming up with fresh and original ideas, then you’ve found a problem with the right kind of motivation.

Before moving on to the next step, make sure you want get a clear picture of the results your customer wants to achieve. Knowing they want to grow their business is great, but you’ll get much further if they tell you, “We want to grow our business by 15% each year so that we can keep generating new ideas, help more people outside our company, and help our team members grow professionally.”

Step 3: Strategize to Overcome the Problem and Attain Results.

So, now that you have a problem, a motivation, and a clear picture of the desired results, it’s finally time to work on a solution. The solution is really a package so to reflect that we’ll call it a strategy.

A strategy’s purpose is to create a map to guide you from your problem to your results, and to help you stick to the plan the whole way through. And that gets to the core of what’s wrong with putting strategy first: a map is entirely useless unless you know where you are and where you’re going.

Any given strategy will have a lot of variables that you need to carefully consider and monitor. It’s easy to get complacent about these things once you’ve drawn up a strategy. After all, once you’ve made a plan, you’re likely to feel like you’ve already done the work. But the last thing you want to do is go on auto-pilot at this stage. You’ve probably heard of the one degree mistake: if you fly from JFK to LAX but your trajectory is off by just one degree, you’ll wind up 50 miles off course. It’s the same with any company and keeping a close eye on all the variables in play makes a huge difference (I don’t think I have to tell you how expensive it would be for your customer if their business outcomes were 50 miles off course!)

Now, let’s say that part of your strategy is gaining more awareness of the problems your target market is having. And let’s assume that part of your method for doing so is creating case studies of your past clients to help you guide your target market through a systematic and strategic journey designed to educate them, build awareness to your solutions or company, and clearly show the results you can help them obtain. With that information in hand, you can start to create a marketing campaign that models the journey your customer can expect to go on when they opt for your solution:

Desire – Identify an outcome they wish to achieve
Conflict – Pin-point the problem that stops them from achieving that outcome
Journey/Solution – Show them how your assistance (product or service) will help them overcome that problem
Results – Paint a vivid picture of the results they’ll get through your solution

I think you’ll agree that in a perfect world this simple formula would work and that would be the end of it. But things are a little more complicated than that.

What we’ve done so far is identify the need to create Case Study Stories based on past clients and the results they have attained through the company.

Now we have to continue crafting the strategy and have to ask other questions like, “Who will this case study be?” “What are the key messages we need to get across?” and “How do we want our target market to feel when they interact with our content?”

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough: don’t waste your money! A strong case study that engages the audience with a message that guarantees further interest in your company is an ideal outcome. But unless you have a strong story (with each element in place: Desire, Conflict, Journey/Solution, and Results) you shouldn’t even bother creating case study stories. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here, but there’s really no point in putting in the expense unless you know you’ll get a return.

But if you do it well and it moves your ideal customer closer to the sale, well, then the case study will be invaluable. That’s the power of strategic thinking—backed by a solid problem and motivation.

A Genuinely Strategic Approach

Always make sure you can clearly identify the problem and motivate the need to overcome it. If you can’t find a really compelling ‘why,’ then you’re probably just going to waste your time and money. Being genuinely strategic doesn’t mean putting strategy first. It means taking every step and taking them at the right time. So, start by figuring out where you are and where you want to go before you start drawing up a map.

About the Author


Corné Lategan

Corné Lategan is the Co-Founder and a Executive Producer at Bizvideo. In his down time he enjoys hanging out with his wife & doggie, family, playing squash & golf and traveling the world. He's been in the industry since 2007 & obtained a Bachelor of Film & Television at Bond University.

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