Not a problem: success pivots on what you solve, not just what you know

If you’re not a fan yet of the Scattershot blog, then I’d like to suggest you should be. In a post published earlier this week, Rajant discusses the concept of “ground truth”. Ground truth, as its name suggests, is the view on the ground that verifies and informs the satellite view. It’s a great way to separate a problem from a truth.

What’s interesting about this is that the perspective that brands have of situations gained from afar can be very different from the reality closer to home. In fact, those on the ground may not see that they have an issue at all. That’s a significant hurdle when your cue for action is something your audience doesn’t recognise. Rajant gives the telling example of P&G’s launch of Febreze, which initially failed. The reason? You only need an air freshener if you understand that you are surrounded by bad smells. The problem with that: “even the strongest odours fade with continual exposure … And Febreze’s reward (an odourless home) was meaningless to someone who couldn’t smell offensive scents in the first place”. If my house smells fine to me, then my truth as a consumer is that scent is not a problem and therefore there is no reason to take action. There’s literally nothing to fix. That premise isn’t going to fly.

The actual problem for most marketers is seldom the problem we’re presented with or that we think we have. Often what we’re seeing, or thinking we have to solve, is either something we’d like to solve or a trigger action, the last straw that convinced everyone looking on of the need to take action. If you take either of those literally though, you’re breathing in the wrong air.

Selling what you want to sell is wishful thinking. And that’s all it is until you establish need, habit and (probably) scale.

As for trigger actions – falling sales are not a problem, they are a symptom. Same for increased competition, lack of market share, consumer antipathy … Any solution based on addressing that data alone risks the same outcome as Febreze. It solves something that no-one but the brand owners recognises or feels pain over. It’s not an answer. It doesn’t actually address the real underlying need. The one based on the ground truth.

Most brand strategists run a discovery process, at which they seek to uncover the facts and get to grips with the situation they are being asked to solve. They fact find. And of course that’s necessary. But the real purpose of the discovery process is not to gather information. The purpose of the discovery process is to overlay what you’re learning (facts) over what’s happening (symptoms) in order to unearth the real problem or opportunity (driver).

One of my favourite reminders is that it is not the job of a marketer, or anyone else for that matter, to revive sales, close out competitors, lift customer survey results or increase the Klout score. Because those are all things outside of a brand’s control. They are customer decisions. The role of people who work for a brand is to really understand why those things are happening and to address them in ways that delight, surprise, engage, provoke, and/or motivate buyers. The sign that they have done that well is when sales lift, market presence increases, customer survey results climb and the social media metrics increase.

As HL Mencken once remarked, “There is always an easy solution to every problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.” Marketers love to look for simple answers to easily identifiable problems. The ground truth is that consumers aren’t simple people.

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  2. Thanks a lot Mark for the encouragement. I am honoured. Loved the way you extended the idea and took it from where I left. Cheers!

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