The best customers search for the problem

Warning: this content is older than 365 days. It may be out of date and no longer relevant.

Marketing Over Coffee

On Marketing Over Coffee yesterday, one of our callers, Steve Dale, was lamenting that despite his best efforts at getting nearly every aspect of inbound marketing operating, he was still seeing no results from his digital marketing efforts for his window covering business. I took a quick look at his website today just to see what had been done and spotted the core problem around his inbound marketing.

Steve’s focus was clearly and logically around the solution his company provided – shutters, blinds, and other ways to cover your windows, and he had done an admirable job as a small business owner in optimizing his digital marketing efforts around that, for which I congratulate him. The only problem is, Steve optimized for the wrong focus. (sorry, Steve)

Think about your own search patterns (or look in your web search history). What do you type in more often than not? When you’re searching for answers to a problem, you search using words that describe the problem, not the answer. After all, logically, if you knew the answer, you wouldn’t have to search for it.

Think about how our minds work to solve a problem:

Stage 1: I don’t know there’s a problem.
Stage 2: I know there’s a problem but I don’t know what the solution is.
Stage 3: I know there’s a problem and I know what the solution is.
Stage 4: I know there’s a problem and I’m ready to implement the solution.
Stage 5: I have solved the problem (or not).

If you optimize your marketing for Stage 1, you’re attempting demand generation – trying to create awareness of a problem and then being the purveyor of the solution. This can be an intensely painful uphill battle since there’s no pain point to address – you have to create the pain.

If you optimize your marketing for Stage 2, you’re at the sweet spot: the customer has pain, but has no way out of the pain. You provide the doorway out of pain and if the pain is bad enough, they can’t leap through the door fast enough – or pay enough to do so.

If you optimize your marketing for Stage 3, you’re now competing on all the factors that diminish your profits or make you lose to competitors. The customer is shopping around or has shopped around, and you now have to beat your competitors on price, value, convenience, etc.

If you optimize your marketing for Stages 4 and 5, you’re fighting the customer. You’re fighting a decision that has been made and you now have to convince the customer that their decision was the wrong one, which is an even tougher battle. It can be done, but ultimately you have to create dissatisfaction with the chosen decision. The only time I’ve found I win business this way is when a competitor has royally screwed up and created the dissatisfaction for me.

Steve optimized his marketing around stage 3. He offers solutions at unbeatable prices and encourages people to buy local. The catch is that in his industry, home improvement, most people stop searching once they know the solution to their problems and go to the nearest big box home improvement store instead, so Steve isn’t even in the running for search once people get to stage 3.

His challenge will be to identify what people have pain about in stage 2 that he provides solutions for. After all, window coverings exist for a variety of reasons – you could want to prevent sun damage to your belongings, you could want privacy from outside eyes viewing into your home, or you could want something to accentuate your decor. Steve’s challenge is to ask prospective and current customers why they have pain and then re-optimize his marketing around the questions people are typing into search engines that showcase their pain.

Here’s another example – when I first started lending a hand with the Boston Martial Arts Center website, it was optimized and focused around the name of our tradition, Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu. Even the domain name was solution-focused, Unfortunately, the only people who even knew what that was in order to search for it were already students at the school.

We took a step back and looked at why someone might be interested in the martial arts. Self defense, fitness, awareness, stress reduction, etc. all came to the top of the list, and so we went on a campaign to rewrite the site’s content to focus around the problems people would be searching for, rather than the solution we offered. The results were immediate and powerful: new students started showing up at the door to try out classes.

Look carefully at your marketing. Are you focused on the solution, or are you focused on the customer’s problem?

You might also enjoy:

Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

AI for Marketers Book
Take my Generative AI for Marketers course!

Analytics for Marketers Discussion Group
Join my Analytics for Marketers Slack Group!


2 responses to “The best customers search for the problem”

  1. mankul65 Avatar

    Selling 101. Strange but true- the obvious always eludes us.

  2. Very, very smart. We are told to answer questions customers commonly ask, but we do focus more on ‘our solutions’ and not ‘their problems.’ Joe makes a good point about searching for the ‘right problem’ – I know I’ve had to take a few cracks at Google to figure out what my problem really was, before I could start looking for a solution. The reason ‘why’ – that’s true influence, motivation; possibly the hardest to identify but as you show, it can have a stronger impact. FWIW.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This