Here’s the question that most companies still don’t ask themselves at the start of a project: what problem am I trying to solve?
Start with that, and you’re 80% of the way there. Blow it off, and you can be sure that you and your organization will waste a shit-ton of time and resources on something that won’t yield any concrete results.
For instance: discussions at planning & management meetings increasingly point towards three “projects” that seem increasingly inevitable – Your CMO wants to revamp the logo. Your CEO wants to get into social media. Your SVP Digital wants to redo the website.
Now what? Well, now begins the process of getting the projects approved. What questions will be asked? Well…
Why are we doing this?
How much will it cost?
Who will be in charge?
Who will do the work?
And that’s about it. That’s as far as it goes.
Why are we doing this? Because it’s been a while. Because it’s time. Because we need change. Because our competitors are doing it. Because it will improve our image.
How much will it cost? Somewhere between $x and $y.
Who will be in charge? Fill in the blanks.
Who will do the work? Fill in the blanks.
Except here’s the problem: companies have limited resources. When you think of resources in terms of money, talent, technology and man hours (and you should), you quickly come to realize that focusing a significant percentage of those resources on Project A rather than Projects B, C, and D means that you’ve just introduced an opportunity cost into your planning. In other words, choosing to monopolize these resources on Project A could limit your ability to really kick ass with Projects B, C and D.
If Project A is necessary or really smart, that’s probably a good thing. You’ve prioritized possible outcomes and you’ve decided that Project A has a high potential for ROI or impact on x, or whatever it is you’re after.
But of Project A isn’t necessary, what you’ve done is you’ve just taken essential resources away from essential projects… to feed a wasteful endeavor that won’t yield a whole lot of benefits to your company.
You know what question helps determine whether or not a project is worthwhile? This one: what problem am I trying to solve?
A practical overview: new logo.
We need a new logo.
Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?
If you can show that your old logo is hindering your sales, you might be on to something. Do your customers complain about it? Do your competitors’ customers make fun of it? Okay. Time to consider an upgrade. In your considerations, ask yourself this: will the new logo solve a real problem for consumers? Will it solve a real problem for us?
If the answer is yes, and you can identify these problems clearly, move forward.
What problems will the new logo aim to solve?
If the answer is no, or you can’t quantify the “problem,” consider what else you might be able to focus on this quarter or this year that will solve a real problem. (Like customer service, R&D, packaging, messaging, shopping experience, etc.)
A practical overview: new website.
We need a new website.
Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?
What problems will a new website aim to solve?
If the answer falls along the lines of “It’s been two years since we redesigned it, and I want to rebuild it in Drupal,” then that meeting is adjourned. (No offense to Drupal. I just needed to throw something in there real quick.)
A practical overview: new social media strategy/program.
We need a social media strategy.
Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?
If the answer falls along the lines of “we physically can’t continue to do business without it anymore,” then you’re on to something. Dig deeper. Your next conversation should include items like these:
47% of our customers prefer to engage CSRs through Twitter and Facebook than by calling a toll-free number now. We can also serve 5x more customers per hour via these channels than we can via traditional call centers, so we’ll even save money that way.
We’re losing traction in category and keyword searches because we have no fresh content for the Googlenets and the Bingwebs to index. If we had a blog and some social media properties, we could potentially double our web traffic and digital exposure.
We can’t really get into mobile commerce without it. It’s already costing us $23,000,000 per quarter, and we’re even losing customers and market share as a result. if we keep operating like this, we’ll be out of business in 5-7 years.
We’re spending $12,000,000 on outsourced digital marketing research every year that we could do ourselves if we just assigned two people to monitor the web using social media monitoring platforms.
Our PR department can’t anticipate, monitor, respond or manage PR crises without it. The cost to the company each year in lost revenue is $x, and our brand image is suffering more and more each year as a result.
40% of our net new customers leave us after 12 months. We think we can use social media to engage them, find out why they’re think of leaving, and give them a reason to stay. Potential impact on the business: an additional $xM per year.
Social media can help drive word-of-mouth recommendations. We want to use social media as an in-network lead generation engine. The impact we expect: a) more leads. b) more qualified leads. c) a higher conversion rate (prospect to customer).
It will help us recruit better talent. Period.
It will amplify our advertising’s reach and make it stickier. Look at the numbers that Coca Cola, Pepsi, Ford and Old Spice have been getting against companies that only use traditional (paid) media.
If done properly, engagement = loyalty. Right now, only 23% of our customers consider themselves loyal. We want to bring that up to 60% over the next four years. Some of it will be offline, but we need an online piece as well.
69% less expenditures on each new product launch.
All of these suggestions solve one or more of the following problems:
1. Not enough leads? Doing this will attract net new potential customers.
2. Not enough new customers? Doing this will convert net new prospects into net new customers.
3. Short term customer attrition? Doing this will develop net new customers into returning customers.
4. Long term customer attrition? Doing this will develop returning customers into loyal customers.
5. Budget cuts getting in the way? Doing this will cut costs while delivering equal or better outcomes.
6. Frozen budgets getting in the way? Doing this will keep costs level while delivering better outcomes.
7. Wasting money on outdated services you feel locked into? Doing this will help you free your operation from unnecessary burdens.
8. The chasm between you and your customers has been widening? Doing this will shrink it.
9. Feeling less relevant than you were 10 years ago? Doing this will help you find your way again.
10. Shrinking profitability is an increasing concern? See 1-9 (above), particularly 5 and 6.
11. Not reaching enough potential customers? Doing this fixes that. See 1 (above).
But if the answer to “what problem are we trying to solve with a social media program” is never asked (or worse, answered incorrectly,) then you will basically end up with an endless churning out of cheaply produced, keyword-optimized “content” that will vaguely boost web traffic and online mentions without ever yielding particularly helpful results. Say hello to crap metrics like “likes, Return on Influence, and all of the rest of the bullshit that still plagues the digital world and social business these days.
Because… we need to be on Facebook so we can engage with people and have conversations.
Because… we have to have a social media strategy.
Because… “content is king.”
Because… our competitors are doing it.
Because… our agency told us we should be in social media.
Because… something about owned, paid and earned media.
Because… we need followers and likes.
Because… we don’t know, but we’ll eventually figure it out.
Okay. Good luck with that.
The reason why snake oil, incompetence and irrelevant metrics are still so prevalent in the social business space is because they fill the gap created by the absence of proper questions and answers at the start. Starting with: what problem am I trying to solve?
Which is to say: what is the purpose of doing this in the first place?
New product feature? What problem am I trying to solve?
New packaging? What problem am I trying to solve?
New logo? What problem am I trying to solve?
New branding strategy? What problem am I trying to solve?
New campaign? What problem am I trying to solve?
New Facebook page? What problem am I trying to solve?
New blog? What problem am I trying to solve?
New hire? What problem am I trying to solve?
Don’t just go through the motions of doing something or going somewhere just because the rest of the herd is shuffling that way. I know it might make you the annoying guy in the room to be the one who asks the question (so… do so judiciously), but the question MUST be asked by someone. And more importantly, it must be answered. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting resources and a chunk of your potential for real success.
* * *
Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.
(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)
CEO-Read – Amazon.com – www.smroi.net – Barnes & Noble – Que
Wait, don’t people complain about your website all the time?
Just the odd three or four who know what they’re talking about.
One problem I have with clients is that before we start creating a new online presence for them including let’s say Logo, website, and coaching on social outposts many of them can’t answer clearly why they are doing it much less tying it to business goals.
As I learned from you on this blog, our interactions, and in your book everything needs to be tied to a business decision.
Sometimes individuals think that just wanting to do something is the business decision itself. It might be a decision but at the end its not a very business decision it is triggered by their ego or immediate need to have something not necessarily to solve a problem.
Over coffee one time, years ago, an SVP marketing (effectively the company’s CMO) joked that he was already looking for his next gig. He explained that he never spent more than 3 years with a company, which wasn’t enough time to change anything substantial. BUT, in that time, he could change the logo or the tag line or the website. Something cosmetic that put a stamp on his stay there.
He would use that to leverage a better job (and compensation) at his next gig by packaging it as “I’m the guy who revamped (Company XYZ)’s brand. He told me it always impressed the shit out of people. Even he knew it was a complete waste, and rarely motivated by actual need. He didn’t care.
He drives very nice cars and is now a CMO for a Fortune 100. Again. he’s due to move to another one in the next 10-16 months. His current rebranding project is almost ready to launch.
I just threw up a little bit in my mouth…
(Great article, BTW, thanks)
The problem I see most often is when leadership and management can’t agree on a) whether or not something is actually a problem, and b) whether the expense creates a fresh new problem that will have more impact than the solution.
We’ll do all the conversations leading up to a proposal and end up with a clear charge from the person requesting the scope to solve a tangible problem… and then they hand it to the president of their organization or a gaggle of VPs, and they all go, “Well, sure, I see what you’re getting at, but I don’t think it’s as big a deal as you’re making it look here” or “the board is going to scream at me if I approve this expense, and then good luck getting anything done.”
Then you have the people we deal with saying, “How do we get them to understand how big a deal this is? Do we have to fall apart before they’ll notice we’re ripping at the seams?”
Too often, the answer is a resounding yes.
So I’ve taken to asking, after your question: “How are you making your problems real to your leadership?”
That’s a very good question (and direction). Thank you.
the “problem solving” question was always the first in previous industries I worked in – including software development and very large databases (BI) — So i’m always shocked when people don’t proceed that way. Even if it’s a political problem, you still need to have some “resolution” problem to go after — otherwise you’ll fail. Mind you, interestingly enough, this “problem solving” approach is a specificity of the male brain. Women don’t naturally think that way. I don’t say this in any demeaning way at all. Just something one might consider as an agency and/or consultant — the wiring can vary depending on the audience 🙂
Right. I come from a military background, so everything had a purpose. Determining the outcome we wanted to produce always was the very first step.
Then I worked in sales, and the outcome there was always the same: sell more stuff. In order to do that, we needed to identify, reach and close net new customers, and keep them coming back for more. Everything worked logically backwards from that.
Then I worked in marketing, product management and product design, where basically the same thing happened but things became more complex. Suddenly, those outcomes had to serve as many departments and teams as possible. Buying needed cheaper parts. Manufacturing wanted easier/cheaper assembly. Finance wanted higher profit margins. Sales wanted more features and a lower price point. Customers wanted perfection. 😀
But all in all, the process was always the same. You always had to start by determining why you wanted to do something in the first place. If some VP in a meeting said “I’d like us to make this in pink,” the question had to be “okay, but why?”
“Because it would look cute” wouldn’t be enough.
“Because my daughter would love one in pink” wouldn’t be enough.
“Because 17% of our customers would pay an extra $0.50 for a pink model and the net profit would amount to $25,000 extra revenue per month) would be a pretty good answer.
I don’t mind hunches. Someone just needs to do the work and see if it’s substantiated by the market.
“But what about Apple and the iPod? There was no evidence that iPod would be successful. People didn’t even know what an iPod was” I’ve heard people argue.
Apple’s decision to create the iPod was a bet, but it wasn’t a blind bet. The problem it was attempting to solve was twofold:
1. Internal: How do we get into (and ultimately dominate) an already saturated portable music/media player market without having to compete against Sony, Philips and the rest of the gang?
2. External: How do we provide the market with a cool, handy, pocket-sized media player that gets rid of those bulky, skippy CDs and annoying AA batteries?
As Jobs famously explained, the public had no idea they wanted a new kind of media player. If asked, they would have said a thinner, lighter, better CD player. But in identifying all of the problems with that particular direction, Apple was able to create a completely new product that so effectively solved a number of key problems that it completely rebuilt the entire category.
So I totally agree, and am actually wired in an operational/military way as well from a tactical standpoint (and I certainly don’t have your MIL background — for me it’s more of a genetic wiring thing) — That being said, with experience and as time passes, I find that “what problem do we need to solve” isn’t always necessarily the best strategic outlook — Art, for example, isn’t often driven by a problem to solve. Sometimes a lot of what we do in marketing and social is “artsy” — or should be. Or could be 🙂 — I would never have said this but a few years (or months) ago but now I feel, if a business leader gets up one day and says you know what? Today, I’m gonna say fuck it to quarterly earnings, goals, “problems to solve”, daily battle plans/field reports, and I’m just gonna do something “good” because I can — then that’s valuable too. No problem to target or kill. Just pure, unadulterated or financially-motivated good because, well, you can. Yeah I know…a little on the tree-hugging side but maybe I’m getting softer in my old age 🙂
Well… art is different. Art isn’t meant to solve a problem. (It can, and often does, but art isn’t motivated by problem-solving.) 😀
We’re talking about business investments here. Business planning and decisions. They’re driven by other motives than art, athletics, philosophy, religion, etc.
The intersection of functional and artsy (adding a little art into your social media, for instance), is still driven by outcomes: you need some art in your social media because people respond to it better than if it were just dry and uninspired. because it’s stickier that way, more effective. So you inject it with intangibles because you know they’ll yield better results.
If I wanted to be even more analytic, even the guy sitting in his loft, working on a painting about his childhood, is trying to solve a problem:
a) an empty spot on his wall.
b) an empty spot on someone else’s wall.
c) giving form to an idea or emotion that he needs to give form to.
e) it passes the time.
f) needs to sell a new piece to sell the rent.
g) wants to impress a girl.
h) needs a gift for his mom’s birthday but can’t afford to buy one.
I don’t think the question should be focused on solving problems as much as it should be focused on adding value. Consumers aren’t broken.
What if the value you add solves the problem?
Really, Facebook set out to solve a problem – we aren’t well-enough connected. That was a problem because Zuckerberg couldn’t meet the right girls. Or whatever. But it was a real problem.
Olivier – great post as always.
No, Facebook didn’t set out to solve a problem. People didn’t realize their social lives were broken to the point of needing an online solution to connections. Facebook sought to innovate how people connected period. Big difference between problem solving and innovating through added value. The former simple places you at a more stable point prior to when something was actually broken while added value (innovation) makes the break (and it’s ‘fix’) obsolete.
Not disagreeing with you, but adding value is a secondary question. it isn’t THE question.
Why are you adding value? Why do you need to add value?
Because something you’re doing now isn’t cutting it with your customers.
Adding value is like building a better website or providing cleaner bathrooms:
What problem am I solving by providing cleaner bathrooms? Customers dislike my dirty bathrooms, this impacts their perception of our stores, and subsequently their propensity to shop with us or recommend us.
What problem am I solving by “adding value?” Insufficient or inadequate value in our current model. We’re not meeting expectations or not giving customers enough of an incentive to shop with us.
So… what’s my purpose for adding value, then? To attract more net new customers and retain existing ones. That’s the problem I am trying to solve. Adding value, Jeffrey, is one way to solve that problem. 😉 The question stands: what problem am I trying to solve?
If I fail to ask the question, or if I substitute it with “how can I add value” without thinking about what problems need solving, I’ll either…
a) add “value” that may not address my business’ actual weaknesses, or
b) focus my efforts on areas that won’t affect my customers’ transaction behavior.
In other words, I might completely miss the problem and spend money and resources on solutions to nonexistent problems.
As for the customers not being broken, I agree completely.
It’s totally THE question. If not, then Henry Ford would’ve simple focused on breeding faster horses.
Henry Ford didn’t start Ford because he was looking to “add value,” Jeffrey.
The external problem were: 1. How do I help people get around without the need for horses, stables, fields, hay and carriages? 2. How do I do I build the best cars possible, so people will want mine instead of everyone else’s? 3. People think that an automobile is a luxury. How do I shift perceptions so people regard automobiles as being useful and necessary? 3b. How do I drop the price of my automobiles so people will start thinking that they can afford them?
The internal problem was: Automobiles cost way too damn much. How do I make them cheaper so I can drop my price-point, increase adoption, capture more market-share, and own this market?
The result: modern assembly and manufacturing.
Ford was successful because he understood what problems he was trying to solve. Jobs did the same thing. Disney as well.
Adding value is great, it’s necessary, but it’s a means to an end, Jeffrey.
Necessity first. If it doesn’t exist, inspire it. If the hunger isn’t there, invent it. If the lust isn’t there, strike a match and ignite it. If the problem isn’t a problem yet, then create it. Adding value is part of the process. It comes later. It isn’t the catalyst. Ever.
Another outstanding article/post by you!
Nice post! Trying to extrapolate for my firm, and the sites that we manage. We often are asked by customers to do something that distracts us from the goal. . .”What problem are we trying to solve?” is a great question. Another one is “How does this get us closer to our goal?” (Assuming, of course, that you have a goal!) Thanks for another post providing some food for thought…!
Yep. Same question, different wording. Works equally well. 🙂
I used to run into this all the time in Corporate America KM.
Question #1: Why are we building a community of practice for this group? How are they going to use it? What do we want them to do?
If the answer is: We want them to collaborate where we can capture knowledge and drive question/answer conversation among professional peers, then we do NOT hide all our discussion platforms behind the somebody-thinks-we-have-to-have-it announcements section which merely announces the odd, inspirational quote once or twice per quarter.
Why people don’t get that you share your announcements in the social stream instead of that always-in-the-way, one-way, digital bully pulpit is beyond me. Literally. I took my skills elsewhere. 🙂
Darn. I was thinking this was going to be the post where I could rip you a new one and call you a stupidy stupe stupe. Unfortunately, this might be your best blog post that I’ve read.
I think your strongest argument is that the failure to ask the right questions explains why so much false information is able to spread in the online world. I’ve been asked and have tried to figure out why so many people believe stuff they read when it comes from certain people, and you know, I think it’s the same reason we believe fortune cookies and Madame Cleo or whatever her name was. We aren’t looking for knowledge, we’re looking for the right-sized peg to fit the hole we have been tasked to fill. As you say, if someone is out there looking to “increase engagement,” well, finding people who say “Everyone needs a Facebook page” becomes super important. And those folks seem credible because they’re saying what you’ve always suspected.
The truly great companies not only ask what problem they are trying to solve internally, but they also are trying to determine what problems their customers are experiencing. A manufacturer of capital machinery isn’t going to help a customer by saying, “Look at the cute kitteh we have on our company Facebook page.” Better machinery, tips on how to increase efficiency, classes on safety regulation – that’s what those folks care about and need.
Well as per usual I could go on for a mile. I’ll shut up. But this is gold.
Loving the post and the comments as well. It goes back to customer value add. What is the customer wanting and willing to pay for. I deal with it with photographers who only know the whats and hows, but never ask the why’s. Thanks for this post today!
Reblogged this on LeightonD, Photographer and commented:
I love this post because of the great business sense it has. To often we do things to our business that kills it. We try to fix what is not broke. This is a great read!
Reblogged this on Thoughts from Leighton D. .
What about when goal (b) the website or ecommerce blog is also part of your content strategy for (c) social engagement. Is this a chicken and egg question?
Well… yeah. Kind of.
What’s the point of the social engagement to begin with? Why does the company feel that it needs to devote time to it?
Well, in my case I feel that social can get me more traction. Maybe I’m too naive- I need to see if other direct advertising can accomplish just that. This post really made me think. I guess part of my personal push for social is that as a small business owner with a limited advertising budget I see it as a way to generate traffic at the least, sales at the most. And its something i can hild the reins on. Hard to compare on Analytics when I haven’t found an advertising outlet I feel meets my needs. So I guess the answer to my question would to make the niche I am filling. And give people what they didn’t know they needed. Like I said, naive.
Great post, Olivier. Indeed, the leading cause of mistakes and problems in ALL aspects of business is the focus on answers, rather than the right questions.
We put up a cartoon about this around the same time you wrote this post …
Comments are closed.