State Problems Before Solutions

Not getting enough readership and response from your marketing materials? Robert Middleton explains how focusing on the solutions your business or product provides to potential client's problems will help you improve reponse.

Are you feeling a little frustrated that very few people seem to be responding to your marketing materials? Perhaps people look at them and read a little but you get very few "tell me more!" or "that's for me!" responses. Does it seem that no matter how much you write, nobody seems interested? Perhaps you've you come to the conclusion that marketing materials don't really work.

This is a topic I seem to return to often because it's so key to overall marketing effectiveness. In a workshop I led [this past weekend] RECENTLY it was the theme I returned to over and over. What you need to do to get more attention is very simple: Always lead with problems and follow with solutions. Sounds simple but very few Independent Professionals are doing it.

Take a look at any marketing materials or web site. Look at the opening paragraph of text. It is almost always a solution -- "We help you improve ABC by doing XYZ" -- or even worse, a process: "These are all the services we offer." Nobody really notices. It seems OK. But it's not. Because it simply doesn't get any attention, let alone response.


Because a solution or a process is not what we are thinking and feeling. We are thinking and feeling about our problems, predicaments and pain. So if those are mentioned in the first words in your marketing materials, people say, "Yes that's me" to themselves and continue to read further. For instance...

"Last year insurance companies lost an average of 7.8 million dollars due to attrition. When top talent walks out the door it costs much more than people realize." (management consultant)

"Do you feel you're doing OK in your job but you have the nagging feeling you could do a whole lot better? The thing is, you have no idea what's not working and where to start looking." (career counselor)

"Did you know that the average data entry company makes an average of 3% mistakes on every single project? Doesn't seem like much, but with a million entries, that's 3,000 errors." (data processing company)

When you read those opening statements, don't you want to know more? It's a bit like an author setting up a mystery. The crime has been committed; who did it and who can solve the case? It's almost impossible not to read on. However, if we start with the solution, this is what it comes out as:

"Retention Management Consultancy helps your insurance company reduce attrition. We offer programs that ensure you retain more of your top talent, saving you thousands of dollars every year."

OK, that's nice. It is a solution, but it brings up the question for the reader, "Why do I need this solution in the first place?" So they don't continue to read further. Especially if the next part goes into detail about all the services.

No, you need to lay the groundwork for solutions by making it crystal clear that trouble is brewing that they may not even be aware of. And the more you can do that, the more your prospects will continue to read your materials.

This "problem theme" can be repeated virtually everywhere in your written materials. Here are a few examples.

The Home Page - Start with a summary of the problem as outlined above. But don't tell what you can do next. The following solution should be a scenario of what it could be like: "Despite the huge attrition rate in the insurance industry, many companies are bucking the trend and retaining a high percentage of their most valuable employees. How do they do it?"

Services Page - Don't just list all the services you offer, open with a paragraph that reiterates the problem in a somewhat different way, and then present the services as a solution to that problem. "These services are designed to not only reduce attrition but to increase customer satisfaction and profitability."

Clients Page - Don't just list all your clients, tell what kinds of problems they were facing before they came to you, or give a more complete list of the problems your typical clients are facing.

Case Studies - Every case study starts with a problem: "Before we started working with this client, their situation was like this..." Then tell what you did for the client, and finally, tell what results they produced as a result of working with you.

Contact Us Page - Don't just list your company name, address and contact information. Come back to the problem: "If you are tired of losing money from employee attrition we can help...."

Articles - Start your articles with a problem paragraph that sets the tone. Notice how I started this [eZine] article? Discuss what issues people in the industry you work with face every day.

Talks - I start my talks with a question: "Why do we tend to hate marketing?" That warms up the audience because that's exactly where they're coming from. Then I build permission to suggest solutions so that marketing can be fun.

Audio Logo [EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE RELATED STORY BY SHEL HOROWITZ] - This is when people ask you what you do. Notice that everyone is talking mostly in processes or even worse, labels. Some are using solutions, but very few are using problems. I've found the best formula is as follows:

"I help (such and such companies or people) who are (struggling, frustrated by, tired of, etc) with XYZ problem." Try this formula with your business.

Take a look through your marketing materials and see if your messages are falling flat by opening with processes and solutions, and then replace those messages by opening with problems. I guarantee you'll get more readership and response.

Marketing Flashes on The Problem Solution Dilemma

* Many ask if starting with problems isn't a "negative approach." Not really. You're just stating it as it is. I often like to think of this as the "burning, itching, swelling syndrome." That gets their attention and they are eager to learn about the solution.

* Make sure you don't start your problem paragraph with a long list of questions. This isn't the third degree. Questions are fine but you want to balance them with statements.

* If you have solid facts, figures and statistics that you can enumerate in your problem statement, you'll be even more believable. If you talk about general problems, you won't have as much impact.

* The aim of the problem statement is to grab the attention of your readers and lead them to the next section of your materials. The problem should always raise the question, "What's the solution to this problem?" You want to make them want to know more.

* Work at finding words that mirror the feelings of your prospects. "Are you struggling..." "There's a lot of confusion about..." "Frustration is growing..." If you zero in on just the right feeling, you get resonance and immediate attention.

Robert Middleton publishes his weekly ezine "More Clients" exclusively for independent professionals. You can subscribe and at the same time get a free marketing plan workbook at


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