Are you fixing a problem or fixing a solution?

fixing_myself-1280x1024Many years ago, I was sitting in a university  theatre awaiting my first marketing lecture. In walked the lecturer and, for the next 40 minutes or so, he spoke to us about the fundamentals of marketing and the marketing mix.
One thing he spent a liberal amount of time on was the manufacturer model versus the consumer model.
He explained how the former was all about people making products firstly, and then selling them to consumers secondly (i.e. Henry Ford’s “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black”). On the other hand, the consumer model was all about listening to what the consumer wanted or spotting a need for something, and then creating a solution accordingly.
The lecturer than explained that the Henry Ford approach was old and that the new way was the consumer model.
Well, some days I’ve sat at my desk and felt like I’m still waiting for those words to ring true.
I say this because I’m firmly of the belief that we should be spending our time coming up with solutions to help propel businesses and organisations forward. Yet in reality, a huge amount of time and effort is spent  making someone else’s ‘solution’ actually work.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve looked at a brief and thought ‘Someone, somewhere, has decided that the requested solution answers a business problem. But how?’
Take the brief for an online banner ad. How many times have you actually clicked on one? I recently read that, statistically, you have more chance of surviving a plane crash. So why do we persist with trying to make them work? Sure, for some particular products or relevant placements, they do. But for the most part, they don’t. Aren’t we better off focusing our efforts elsewhere?
I’m not singling out online banners. The problem exists whether it’s traditional TV, press, outdoor, whatever. Put simply, sometimes ‘the solution’ isn’t a solution at all – it just becomes another part of the problem (i.e. how do I solve the real business problem using the ill-fitting solution that has been pre-determined?)
Sometimes this problem comes about by a mixed agenda within the client organisation. For example, I’ve seen the ‘product people’ do a side deal or partnership arrangement with another organisation and then throw a hospital pass to their marketing team with a ‘make this work’.
Over the years, I’ve even been asked to provide a post-rationalisation of why the solution they’re briefing me on to fulfill is the way to go.

Imagine how much better the solutions could be if you focused all  your time and effort finding the right one, rather than trying to make the wrong one work. That’s where the best work always comes from.

Maybe next time you take a brief that’s requesting a pre-determined solution, you could ask this:
‘Before I touch it, can you tell me why this TV/outdoor/print/banner ad/sponsorship/promotion/web page/app etc will be the right solution?’

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