What problem are you trying to solve?

During two decades in corporate land and now seven years in consulting, I’ve seen my fair share of frustrated (and frustrating) projects. The collective misspent time and energy can be enormous and the hit to morale can out-last the project itself.

Often – but not always – the cause of this frustration can be traced back to a lack of clarity or absence of agreement about what we’re trying to achieve. Start off on the wrong foot and all subsequent choices are made off a platform of instability.
This simple assertion sounds like a motherhood’ statement, but it’s a surprisingly common issue that almost always slows things down and reduces the likelihood of achieving the ultimate goal.
The good news, is that there is something we can do about it.

A simple solution

The key is to spend quality time defining the challenge. Then build in a check step – with our boss or other key stakeholders – to get clear and unconditional agreement on the challenge. Only after you have agreement, do you search and present back solutions. Make the agreement of the challenge and evaluation of solutions two distinct elements – don’t try to amalgamate them.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions” – Einstein

In practice

Example 1: When brand planning, once you’ve done the early work to review the context and work out the business/marketing goals, have a meeting with key decision-makers to get them to review, build and ultimately agree what problem you’re trying to solve. The more specific, the better. Then (and only then) move to the phase of developing brand plans. Remind the audience of the objectives that were agreed as an introduction to presenting back the proposed plans. That way, you establish clear criteria against which plans can be evaluated.
Example 2: If you’re contracting out work to agencies, spend time defining the business and consumer/customer challenge that needs addressing. Do a written brief, make it simple and ditch the jargon. Be single-minded & don’t allow multiple objectives to creep in. If you ultimately need others’ agreement to the work, then get them to sign off the brief before the final version is given to the agency.

Common problems

Watch out to avoid these common mistakes –

  • Jumping straight into ‘solution mode’ – acting too soon risks generating a bucket load of mis-guided activity
  • Undervaluing thinking – colleagues may not recognise the dividend in both efficiency and effectiveness that comes from investing time in upfront thinking
  • Being ambiguous – we use language which is waffly or jagonistic, everyone might believe they agree but the problem definition is so vague that any number of interpretations are plausible
  • Lacking focus – too often group discussions avoid trade-offs so too many objectives are incorporated to appease people.  As advertising guru David Ogilvy said “give me the freedom of a tight brief”.
  • No clear link between our marketing objectives and those of the business – how do you ensure you’re tackling something that ‘ladders up’ to company goal

At Brand Ambition, we aim to help marketing leaders & their teams to make better, faster, more focused choices. Leveraging a variety of tools – like facilitated workshops, coaching, decision frameworks and planning processes – we’ll help you deliver commercial benefits from early investment in thinking. If you have a challenge and would appreciate a chat, please get in touch.

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