One of the more useful ways to look at the world through your customer's eyes instead of your own is to ask what problem you're solving.
If you're Apple, you can create a product that solves the "I don't have that object, and now that I've seen it I desperately want it" problem. Jimmy Choo solves that problem (or did when the brand was launched in the 90s), and so does Hermès and the Bugaboo. If you have the talent and the marketing budget, it's not a bad route, but it's closed to most of us.
Seth Godin solves that problem as well. He gives you answers to problems you didn't understand you had until you read him. Smaller marketing budget, but there's still the talent thing.
(Godin makes the excellent point in this video of a speech to Google that if the problem you're solving isn't compelling, you've got a rough road ahead. No one cares much about their "I'd like a slightly better version of something that is already just fine" problem.)
Some useful problems to solve
Aaron Wall solves the "I want to be on page one of Google" problem. Copyblogger solves the "my writing doesn't make people do what I want them to" problem. Ed Dale solves the "I hate my life in a cube farm" problem.
eBay solves the "my mom threw away all the great stuff I had when I was a kid" problem. Blogger and WordPress and TypePad solve the "Web coding is hard" problem. Google solves the "Internet is too big" problem.
I started out solving the "writing is hard" problem for my employers and customers. Somewhere along the line I also started to help people with their "making Web sites is hard" problem.
The problem that's interesting to me now is "our customers don't love us enough" problem. How to take a company with a really great product and ease that light out from under the bushel. How to tell the world what you're already doing right. How to communicate respect and integrity . . . with words on a page or a screen, and with a million other things, small and big.
At some point, you need to ask what problem you're solving. (Whether that's with your business, your nonprofit, your project, your committee.) What problem do you wish you solved? Is it a real problem? Does it matter to someone other than you?
This can be a terribly scary question. You might find that your answer is, well, weak. It's not going to get any less painful to figure that out tomorrow.
Peter Drucker once asked: What problem are you able to solve rather easily, that would be hard for most people?
Now, who could you help with that?
Timothy Coote says
Great post. No one can find the right answers if they are not asking the right questions.
Great advise as always!! I just finished watching the Seth “Google” video. I think I’m becoming a fan of his. 🙂
By reading your article I realize that what I can easily help people is not what my blog is about!
Thanks for the article. Really incisive and quite true. We need to offer a solution if we are to sell ourselves.
Jon Peltier says
“What problem are you able to solve rather easily, that would be hard for most people?”
So true. Once I started answering this question, I have seen income from my blog/website expand dramatically. I wrote a few little utilities that make life easier for people trying to make complex charts in Excel. In only a couple months, this income stream has zoomed well over the AdSense stream.
I didn’t follow anyone’s advice to start selling solutions, if I had I’d have started years ago. But it’s been fun, and now I can’t stop thinking of additional utilities to develop.
Gareth Plummer says
Great article and advice, do you have any tips for B2B blogs? Do you have any advice on how B2B blogs can specifically solve problems?
Gareth Plummers last blog post..Reuters Cover Arsenals Planned In Stadium Sony PSP service.
Shaun Kieran says
One problem for “humanistic” folks like me is that we don’t “solve” problems so much as “help with” or “lessen” or “ameliorate.”
Language is important. The loss of modesty in the marketplace can have a negative effect on the culture, but I’m not complaining – it’s just the way it is.
Shaun Kierans last blog post..A Good Case
Paul Hassing says
I love how you write, Sonia; so clear & undertsandable. Your Drucker quote is the perfect summary to a timely article. Many thanks! P. 🙂
Make Money Fast says
That’s definitely true! Since I read this post, I’ve questioned the real value of what I blog about. You’re right, if it’s something people don’t really care about, it’s weak. There are many things people don’t care about improving even if I personally care about it. Now I’m on exploring something I thought would greatly benefit others. How to make money fast through blogging! (or even just faster than we thought we could) Maybe we could all use a bit of it, especially if it’s safe, legal and a bit fun 🙂
Joey Brannon says
This is the number one issue we face with new clients who come in wanting help with a startup. They usually have a product or service all fleshed out, but cannot tell us what problem it solves, how many people have that problem or how painful the problem is for people who have it. This is a great post. You do a fantastic job of breaking down a topic our clients confront on a daily basis and providing some examples that make the issue very easy to wrap your arms around.
Joey Brannons last blog post..3 Things I learned about the CPA Profession from Twitter
Kealah (KEE-la) Parkinson says
I just learned this week that I can help solve the “speaking (or writing) is scary” problem for people. Now I’m updating my blog to reflect this!
Kealah (KEE-la) Parkinsons last blog post..WEEKLY UPDATE: Beyond Talk Announces Change for the Better
It’s a nice article, and given me a new vision of the word or the phenomenon, in my sense, i call “Problem”. I’ve given a long time to think that what could be the problem that people need to be solved, but i never found and answer. Now looking at this article i feel, like i really never new the exact meaning of problem, indeed i made it a bit more complicated, than it is. But in the end i will say that the article is a greater help, at least for me. Thanks
I’m glad I came across this article. I entered the blog scene in a rush to see some form of monetary outcome. It’s become clear to me that to make a successful site, one has to solve problems. Thank you for this insight.
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Harrison Schmidt says
Good article Sonia.
People don’t buy products, they buy solutions to their problems. Love your work here, at copyblogger, and marketing for nice people.
Sonia, Great article. Very down to earth, you’ve explain it perfectly. I think phrasing the questions that readers have just as you’ve done will help me find a good niche!
Premium Finance says
Nice Post. I really like it.. Thanks for sharing..
So true, but sometimes this can be a difficult question to answer and once you do – then sticking to it on your blog or website. I think it can be so temping for people to go down the “I” road – it’s like a bad habit that can be hard to break – so we must hear this “it’s not about you” message over and over to really find our place in the solution equation. We bookmarked this as our reminder.
.-= Eightwomendream´s last blog ..Double the Teenagers: Quadruple The Food Bill =-.
Lathe Tooling says
Great read, kind of articulates what I’ve been suspecting for a while, in a concise way. There a few parallels with the basics of supply and demand – you can be sure that when there’s demand for an important problem to be solved, anyone supplying a specific, targeted solution stands a high chance of succes.
Natural Stress Relief says
What’s interesting is you can think you are solving a specific problem for your readers but if too close to the subject, it may be only in your mind that the problem is being solved……it that makes sense to anyone 🙂
I am to help solve my customers problems based on what I’ve learned by having experienced some of those problems. Now, I’m hoping it’s not just me trying to help myself!
.-= Natural Stress Relief´s last blog ..Manage Stress With These 4 Areas =-.
Mike Cleveland says
I agree. Forgetting when we were there, we can assume people have a base for what we are writing about and they don’t. Then as you add more, more, and more content, the point become more confusing.
An eye-opener of an article.
Kate Robins says
How simply put and smart was that? Nice post. Thanks.
Pooja Chatterjee says
Again,Great advice!!!!Never thought about it quite this way.
I want to have a web site based on food or baking. How do I find out what the problem is, so I can help it be solved?
The approach is as simpel as effective. Because is’s hard work, only a hand of bloggers will get the big attention.
As stated, ‘Great Read’. Rather than continuing thoughts of how to differentiate my blog from the sea of similar blogs (As I have been for the past year), I have now discovered the problem is the blog itself. After this read, I am contemplating elimination of the blog, as it’s purpose does not uniquely solve a problem in it’s current conventional form (Just another ‘Me too’). I believe ‘the problem’ could be solved by simply changing the method of delivery. My blog will now become a Podcast, which will allow my information to not only stand out, open new revenue opportunities, but will also allow users to consume at their leisure. Problem solved.
Linda White says
This is so true. I have seen so many people say they are going to start a blog because someone says they should, or they think it is a necessary component of a marketing plan, or whatever. I tell them they will sink within six months. They ask why. We talk about their strategy and they give me tactics. It’s not thought through. When I went into business, I thought I would be doing something else. But I kept getting referrals for this one service over and over. So that is my main thing now. I love doing it and it is easy for me. Plus not many people are doing it, at least in my area. It’s been a year now and my only marketing has been launching my website. But I know that can’t last forever, so this week I sent a brochure to the printer and I’m running a small ad in a target market publication. It’s going well. So there you go.
Mike Cleveland says
I see the problem with some marketing is, it throws stuff down people throats and there always a resistant to being feed something they don’t want. “Awk” comes to mind. Like the little kid, who is being feed green stuff. It might be healthy and good for him, but he’s saying I want sometime else.
Now like a wise parent, who would share all the benefits of eating this God awful tasting food, we must use the same tactics. Most people don’t know what they don’t know. It is our jobs as blogger to en-light others of better ways and taking others by the hand ,metaphorically speaking, with our content, and walk them to the finish line.