This is one of the most well-known and most ignored marketing adages on the planet:
I don’t know who coined it originally, but I can find reiterations of the idea from greats like Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson.
And the truth is, this concept keeps coming back around because IT WORKS.
“Wait!” You’re thinking, “My customer already knows she has a problem! She doesn’t want to be reminded of that! I need to sell her my product!”
And as the owner of a local business that sells a THING (in my case, websites and social media management services) I really struggled with this for a long time. I knew the problem I solved but I didn’t know how to market my idea.
The psychology behind selling a solution
Let’s be honest here: no one wants to suffer. It’s in our DNA to search out relief from pain, hunger, loneliness, boredom, or whatever else is bothering us. Our human nature is constantly on the lookout for ways to make our life easier, simpler, and more pleasurable.
Selling your customer the solution to his problem speaks right to this primitive instinct. He wants his problem resolved as quickly and easily as possible. If you show him the solution and explain in simple terms how easy it is to obtain the solution, he will buy your product.
Price and Quality are Secondary
This strategy is true even if the same product is available for less money, or if a superior product is available. If you market your product as the solution to a problem, and you make it easy to get, people will buy it.
The most well-known example of this is from the Xerox Company in the early 1980’s. As the story goes, Xerox sold an inferior product at a higher price than the competition, but they successfully branded their product as the best solution to the problem of messy ditto machines. In just a few years, they built a million-dollar brand using their solution-based model.
How to Sell A Solution
Once I started studying the marketing campaigns of well-known companies, I began to see this idea of solution-selling in action. Here are just a few:
- Coke doesn’t sell you soda; they sell you relief from a busy digital life by inviting you into a rare in-person moment with a friend in their “Share a Coke” campaign.
- McDonald’s doesn’t sell you food; they sell relief from hunger at a great price with food you’re “lovin’.”
- AllState doesn’t sell you insurance; they sell you protection from mayhem. AllState’s commercials are phenomenal on so many levels. They’re clear, they’re funny, the slogan is catchy, and they involve you in the story (something we’ll get to in another post).
- Geico doesn’t sell you insurance; they sell you convenience and time-savings by being able to get insurance in just 15 minutes.
Those companies are the top of the top in their industries, so it’s easy to think that any marketing they do can be effective. For us small businesses, it can seem more difficult.
How to Market a Solution
I like to think of selling a solution as a three-step process.
First, figure out what sets your product or service or business apart from others in the same industry.
- Does your product save your customer time or money? What could he do with his extra time? What else could that time go to?
- Does your product make life more convenient? Does it eliminate challenges or discomfort?
- Does your product save your customer money? What else could they spend that money on? What could they accomplish with their savings?
- Does your product raise your customer’s self-esteem? Will he be more confident, more successful, more attractive, or more credible?
Second, pick a message that speaks clearly about how your product helps your customer solve her problem.
- Identify the common pain points of your customer. What is your customer struggling with? What makes him scared, worried, uncertain, angry, or uncomfortable?
- Pick just one of these problems that your product solves. Your product can, in time, be marketed different ways to different audiences, but focus on one at a time.
- Create a short message that really focuses on getting to the point of your solution. It needs to be short and catchy so that there’s no question as to what you do or how you help.
Third, use your message consistently in all your marketing efforts.
Make sure it’s on your website, your social media bios, your print ads, even in your store. Use it when you answer the phone or put it at the bottom of your receipt. Anywhere your business name is, your solution should be stated.
This make sense, but how do I do it?
Let’s put this into practice for a small local business. Say you’re a salon. You sell haircuts. But so does every other salon. Selling haircuts isn’t unique to your business. Here’s how you can make sure your marketing efforts tell your customer how your product solves her problem.
Determine what sets your business apart
- Is not a value-priced salon
- Doesn’t save time or money
- Offers haircuts by trained stylists
- Has stylists who are required to attend yearly trainings
- Employes stylists who help walk a customer through exactly how to style their haiur after the cut
- Has stylists trained to ask lots of questions
These traits of our stylists can work together to make our customer more confident with her haircut from our salon, raising her self-esteem. That sets our salon apart.
Pick a marketing message
1. Identify common pain points.
When a customer is looking for a salon, it’s not just for a haircut. She might want her salon to be a refuge from a hectic day. She might want a salon with outgoing stylists who offer styling tips to prevent a bad hair day. She might want a whole new look, including cut, color, makeup, and more to go with a new persona. Or she might just want something affordable and efficient.
2. Pick one of these to focus on.
Your business cannot be all things all the time. Pick one problem to focus on. For our salon example, let’s say that the stylists pride themselves on their ability to talk to their clients about their hair and to help them figure out how to recreate their salon-fresh look at home. The solution this salon offers can help prevent bad hair days.
3. Create a short message that really focuses on getting to the point of your solution.
This needs to be quick and to the point. Our salon’s original slogan could have been, “The best haircuts are at Salon Q,” but that’s not really telling the customer much. Something like, “Have your hair cut at Salon Q and never have a bad hair day again” is much more impactful. Now, our salon in selling the solution to the problem of bad hair days.
Put your message on everything
Our salon has a website, so the header of their site now has, directly under the Salon Q logo, “Never have a bad hair day again!” They add that as text to their social media banners. They add it to their business cards, their receipts, the aprons the stylists wear, and cute tote bags that they give to clients to carry home their haircare products.
Eventually, everyone in town will know that Salon Q is the place to go for no more bad hair days!
So, what problem do you solve? How are you improving the life of your customer? What is the solution you offer? Let me know in the comments, and we can brainstorm some ways to turn that into a great slogan for your business.