Three Kinds of Problems You Should Be Solving For Your Clients
We are all in the business of solving problems for our clients,
even if we don’t use the moniker “Solution Provider.” These problems are keeping our clients from what they want in their business or personal life, and the solutions we provide largely define our value proposition. Deepening (and using) our understanding of the problems we solve for our clients will allow us to put the focus on the customer as the hero of the story, making our marketing all the more compelling.
For that reason, let’s analyze the three different kinds of problems we should be solving for our clients, and how to incorporate them into our messaging and marketing.
The External Problem
The external problem is the tangible thing you offer that your clients need at face value. They need X, and you provide X. Home insurance, ice cream, a marketing solution, employee benefits, lawn service, consulting, etc. As simple as this sounds, failing to actually provide what you say you provide means you are not fulfilling your brand promise. This happens with many companies, and if it’s your problem, you’ve got to fix this first before moving forward. More on what happens if you don’t to come.
But successfully providing X does not guarantee success. Brands who market and sell on the basis of solving external problems alone (better mousetrap, etc.) may find themselves undifferentiated and/or competing on price. This is a race to the bottom and recipe for failure. The most successful brands have moved beyond selling tangible offering; they have learned how to sell the intangible.
The Internal Problem
The internal problem refers to the emotional/internal reality accompanying or caused by the external problem. I buy insurance, not because of the risk itself, (external) but because the risk makes me feel anxious, nervous, or stressed (internal). I buy employee benefits (external) because I fear the legal or personnel-related consequences of not having it (internal). I pay for ongoing lawn service (external) because I don’t want to be embarrassed about my lawn or I don’t want to feel constrained or stressed by a lack of time (internal).
One of the key things to know about buying psychology is that people don’t ever buy for external reasons; they always buy for internal or emotional reasons. Always. Yes, even in compulsory situations. I must carry auto insurance in the state of California, but that’s not why I buy it (there are some who break this law). I buy it because I don’t want the actual or potential emotional repercussions of breaking the law. These repercussions may carry financial, practical, or psychological risks that I’d prefer to avoid, and so the cost of insurance is less than the cost of not having insurance for me. Others may have an entirely different threshold and decide to break the law (speeding, anyone?) because, at the time, it feels less risky emotionally.
We are constantly making decisions, procuring products or services, in order to find an optimal emotional state, either by promoting emotional pleasure (the carrot) or by avoiding emotional pain (the stick).
We might end up being wrong about how effectively the newest widget will help get there emotionally, but if we believe it, we will find a way to get it. We might even knowingly choose to endure pain if we believe it’s an emotional win in the end. For instance, paying a 3, 4, or 10X premium for a luxury product makes me feel elite, accomplished, or special. The is evidenced by the fact that such industries exist and often thrive. We are buying a feeling. This is why Disneyland isn’t really selling rides and overpriced food. Their slogan says it all. “The happiest place on earth.”
In order to get to the heart of the internal problem your customers are facing, ask yourself two questions: “What are my customers’ feelings about their problems (that I solve)?” and “What is the emotional payoff for my solution?” The answer to these questions is really what you are selling.
The Philosophical Problem
The philosophical problem goes further into the intangible by recognizing and resonating with the universal sense of right and wrong, justice, or reason common to us all. This often comes out as “should” or “shouldn’t” language. “I pay good money in premiums every month; when I need to file a claim, I should be able to depend on my insurance company to come through for me” or … “I just spent $250K on my custom kitchen. I shouldn’t have to settle for cheap, dinky looking GFI plates that don’t match the aesthetic I paid for.”
You’ll also hear this problem expressed as just plain wrong. “I pay good money in premiums every month; when I need to file a claim and all I get is the runaround, that’s just plain wrong.”
When it comes to your messaging, this is an opportunity to differentiate your brand by thinking about the “why” that Simon Sinek made so famous. Think about what you believe about your product or service and it’s contribution to the world, and how you can connect it to the philosophical problems your clients are facing. For instance, you might say,“You work hard for your money and you pay your premiums every month. We believe that when you file a claim, you deserve to have your claim resolved quickly, and you shouldn’t have to put up with the runaround. That’s why we guarantee claim resolution in one week or less.”
Showing that you understand the philosophical problems your clients are facing, and connecting their ideals, beliefs, or even indignation to your differentiators, can help you tap into to something very deep and powerful and makes you very hard to ignore.
Bonus: The Villain
Most of duration of a story is concerned with seeing the hero struggle with the internal, external, and philosophical problems. In many stories, these problems are consolidated and personified into a single individual: the Villain. Dum-dum-dum! Also known as the antagonist, he is the person we love to hate. When he dies in the climatic scene, all three problems are solved, our sense of justice is satisfied, and the world is made right. Talk about emotional payoff.
In your brand storytelling, you too can setup a villain as a personification of the external, internal, and philosophical problems. The Villain’s function is to create a common enemy with your audience, giving them the sense that you truly understand their problems. You are on their team and you are going to help them slay the giant.
Allstate Insurance has done this in a comical way with their villain “Mayhem.” Set up a Villain you can help your hero kill and you’ll encapsulate external, internal, and philosophical problems into one person.
But beware. Human beings can be fickle creatures. If you cross our customers or fail to make good on your brand promise, you may find yourself in the middle of a PR disaster, painted as the Villain yourself, facing the ire of disgruntled customers who won’t stop until justice is done. It’s truly amazing to see the lengths people will go to kill the Villain.
Understanding the different facets of problems our customers face is critical in crafting messaging that connects to the story they wake up in every day. In your marketing, be sure to incorporate the external, internal, and philosophical aspects of your clients problems, and set up a Villain if you can. If you do, your corporate story will definitely be worth paying attention to.
Want to learn how to tell your company story so that your clients is the hero and you are the guide? Get the free Brand Script Training here.
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Founder + vCMO
I tech help brands grow through story-based marketing. When I’m not doing that, I’m stopping my two boys from burning down the house.