Is Your Marketing Solving The Right Problems?

By Lee Roth | Featured in Forbes


The challenges for marketers today can be overwhelming. Beyond the usual issues of competition, spending and market share, at this time we have to navigate a cultural climate with ever-expanding trapdoors, from Covid-19 to a recession to political division. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Where there is seismic change, there is opportunity, but success lies in starting at the very beginning, which as we all know is a very good place to start.

And the beginning is identifying and defining the right problems to solve.

One of history’s smartest thinkers, Albert Einstein, is often quoted as having said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

As with most things Einstein said, he made problem solving seem simple, but it’s important to put in place the right problem definition process in order to be good at it.

While selling your product might not be as important as saving the planet (but don’t underestimate the power of business to do so), when we define problems properly, we are reframing them so that we can see the opportunities contained within them that previously might have been hidden.

And as Einstein reveals in his quote, when we define them properly, we get to great solutions that much quicker, which can save us money and energy. This is the essence of what makes a great brief. Defining, identifying and framing problems in the right way enables other people to see the opportunities and get excited about solving them.


And here’s why I think that we, as marketers, need to foster this art of problem definition. Among the 100 senior marketers polled last year for a report we commissioned, only 18% agreed that their teams are good at writing concise briefs. Poorly written briefs in turn often lead to confusion, misery and the same old solutions that don’t even come close to the problems we really should be solving.


But all is not lost. Here are some ways to ensure that problem definition sits at the heart of your marketing:


Resist the urge to race to solutions.

Identifying and defining problems require discipline and an approach designed to stop you and your team from falling into the trap of coming up with solutions first and retrofitting a problem.

Use a framework for the identification of problems, not the generation of solutions. They are hugely different. Create the space and time to investigate properly; you can’t rush it.

Emphasize the importance of identifying the problem and get the important people in the room. A quick way to do this is to ask yourself who can say no to the solution, and make sure they are there.

Inject objectivity into the process through outside help and diverse thinking.


Shift your investment to understanding the broader context, rather than validating solutions.

Testing has always been a route to making sure that the idea resonates with the consumer. But testing executions is only justifying the solution. More marketers are understanding that they need to tap into a broader understanding of the cultural landscape to identify the right problems to stay relevant in consumers’ lives. As one senior marketer told us in our poll, “We’re making a big effort to spend more time and money on empathy work and really understanding consumer tensions and consumer needs rather than validating things. ... That’s one of the changes that I’m seeing and for me that’s the right approach.”

Another said, “For me it keeps coming back to our ability to know if we are focusing on solving real people’s problems.”

The most essential part of your problem definition process is making sure that what you are trying to solve is an actual consumer problem. Solving consumer problems drives growth; solving internal business problems tends to save money.


Once you’ve identified the problem, open your mind to the solution.

Adopt a growth mindset:

• Don’t allow muscle memory to snap you back into an old solution set.

• Go wide and use a diverse set of minds that are focused less on agenda and more on creativity to bring you a richness of solutions, but stay laser-focused on the problem you are trying to solve.

• Remember that success lies not in the subjective world of “Do I like it?” or “Will the boss like it?” but in the objective world of “Will this solve the problem my consumer has in a way that will drive value for both of us?”

As Einstein said, once you’ve identified the problem, solving it should be simple, really.


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