Solving marketing problems is difficult. I don’t like doing it – unless I know a solution or have a good, educated guess about what could work.
A client situation emerged which serves to illustrate the challenge. We reached an impasse. I had offered advice, our progress was smooth until we got to the point of marketing to new customers who don’t yet know the brand. And one of the client team was deeply opposed to the tactic I proposed. I’ll explain how we got through this later.
Solving marketing problems
One of my podcasts summarised three types of problem – messes, problems and puzzles. These are ‘complex’ problems – ones with multiple factors affecting the situation. Modern marketing gets more of these – because with omni-channel promotions it’s increasingly hard to isolate a single input-output signal to explain an outcome.
The author paraphrases Gerald Ashley as he describes the different approach needed for each type of problem
- Messes are ill-defined in form and structure and so are most like real life.
- Problems have a defined structure with potential solutions, but none are absolutely clear and right.
- Puzzles are well defined and have specific solutions that can be worked out.
Marketing problems are frequently perceived to be puzzles, but in actual fact are probably messes. The big insight is in this quote:
Most of us crave certainty and as much control as possible. Politicians and business leaders are just the same and perhaps even more so. ‘Bring me facts and experts. I want a solution now!’ By implication, those in positions of authority tend to treat most issues as puzzles, sometimes problems and never messes. As a result they tend to seek shortcuts to answers that are probably wrong. The biggest mistake is to carve out part of a mess, treat it as a problem and then solve it as a puzzle. This can lead to very bad decisions.
Back to my client ‘problem’
We reviewed the situation and whether it was a complex problem or not. It was.
It wasn’t a puzzle because the structure of marketing activity was reasonably clear-cut.
It wasn’t a mess because there was structure, there was a framework of activity and the desired output was prospects who hadn’t previously known about the brand. And so we decided this was an actual problem.
I thought hard about what to do. This was the series of steps
- I asked the client what they did when they were advising someone and had disagreement
- I reviewed the steps we’d taken thus far and gained agreement around the success of the process, method and outcomes to date
- I narrowed the discussion to the point where the “leap of faith” sat. What were the inputs we had prepared (there were 2) and these were acknowledged
- Then I walked away and left the client team to discuss.
They have not specifically told me what they discussed or what they decided. But it’s clear we are still working together. And so I am presuming the first (tentative) step towards the leap of faith activity has been taken and I’ll hear what the outcomes are in due course.