The Simple Art of Solving Problems

The famed inventor and the head of research for GM, Charles Kettering, once said “a problem well-stated is half-solved.” How many of us in the marketing / media / communications industry really care to heed this simple observation?Question words

We often come across many professionals, who are quite kind and quick enough to suggest solutions first. These could be as simple as from generating awareness, to as complex as kick-starting a growth for the brand through revenue generation. Most probably, the simple logic is that unless you’re able to offer solutions, nobody listens or respects you. Or sometimes, it could even be motivated by a wish to explore free-of-cost ideas from media / advertising / creative professionals.

The solutions in most of these cases, arguably, are driven by new business development objectives of the idea proposer, which justifies his time costs. While all this may continue, the whole process itself is a bit flawed! It fails to heed the rigour and vigour that characterize the Art of Defining the Problem.

A typical Case…

One of my prospective clients – then the national marketing head of a famous insurance brand – once called in the senior team members for a briefing. The one line brief was to launch an image campaign on TV within 3 months.

Naturally, asked about the need for such a campaign, and why TV only! What was the business / marketing problem he was facing? It turned out that his half-yearly accounts closing was round the corner, yet he was still far off from the target, in generating new buyers.

So far so good! But why did he think an image campaign on TV would accelerate sales? Because, he felt that a top of mind recall on a mass media like satellite TV will help in driving sales.

Now, insurance is a high involvement category. It’s usually is a matter of solicitation, and for this to happen, one really needs to work deeper, develop “assurance” values of the brand. It cannot (and should not) be treated like a toothpaste or a snacks brand, where top-of-mind recall at the shop level gains high priority.

Therefore we tried probing further, asking questions about its hero products, competitive advantages / disadvantages, the process of selling / mobilizing them through various channels, the core values of the brand and and above all its differentiator in the market. As expected, the director did not have the time (or most probably the necessary patience) for delving deeper into this.

Back in our office, on careful in-depth analysis, we discovered that in the past, the brand had experimented with every type of approach, to develop assurances of dependability. However, one or the other competitor was able to neutralize each of these approaches! As a result there was no specific differentiator available for the brand!

So the communication problem was clearly defined as a case of gradual loss of Identity within insurance category!

Once defined, the solution approach was very easy – i.e. developing a strong differentiator founded upon the core values of the brand, which would transcend competition, time, market forces, and would be very unique for the brand. Needless to add, when we presented our strategy, our esteemed client could not find any way to challenge our direction.

The Take Out

It’s a fact that while every advertising problem starts as a business problem, not every business problem ends up with an advertising solution. Therefore for any marketing or advertising to be truly doing its job, it’s very important to dedicate some time and energies into the first step of Strategy Development – i.e. Defining the Business Problem.

This problem is not just restricted to an “attitudinal” or an “image” issue – but there’s a commercial reason associated with it. While working on it, one needs to be a detective – i.e. sequentially following the analytical rigour – as well as be a doctor – i.e. utilizing the value of experience while marrying the analytical with the imaginative skills.

One needs to be assertive, asking probing questions on all fronts, to cross analyse, extrapolate and then synthesize data. Only then one would be able to truly identify the problem. Needless to say solutions follow fast! This is what I call “Art of defining a Solution”


How to measure effectiveness against ad sizes?

  • How do you measure the effectiveness of a print ad – in terms of sizes? I’ve looked at both Nielsen and Gartner for this data, to no avail. I’m hoping that my fellow networkers can shed some light on this topic. If a Client elects to shift from running one full-page print ad to running three separate quarter page ads, repeatedly, what type of results would this typically yield? Question by: Carson Hornsby

An interesting question indeed, and till today I’m yet to find some formally researched numbers or formula that establishes the ad-size to campaign-effectiveness. However, any advertising specialist or media strategist would tell you that the rule of the thumb is: “Make Impact with Size; Gain recall with frequency“.

Following the simplest of communication processes, AIDA (Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action), when any new campaign is launched for the first time, the primary media objective is to first draw attention and impact among the defined target audience for the campaign. Unless attention is drawn memorably, it’s more likely that the Interest in the campaign messages will not be developed.

Therefore, every campaign – whether print type or multimedia type – usually is launched with a bang, drawing attention among the target audience and more! In Print, the IMPACT is ensured through bigger sizes, teasers before the launch day, special operations (covers, peep-ins, or any other means) or a combination of 2-3 modes together.

Next, it’s important to generate and retain interest. Part of this objective is met if the launch ad is impactful. However it’s necessary to sustain the interest level for some time, in order to develop desire. Ways to sustain interest are – interesting creative in terms of copy, visual, delivering same messages in different modes and formats, engaging the audience, etc.

In most cases, due to the shortage of time or money, agencies / advertisers are unable to test out campaign creatives among test audience before release or engage audience in other ways and in other media. Therefore the next best method – that of repeating the same messages in the media – ensures recall plus generates interest in the advertised product / brand.

However due to high media costs in almost every market, multiple repeats are possible only if the ad sizes are reduced in such a way that optimum sizes are maintained to have the repeats throughout the campaign period.

Now to answer your question, assuming your creatives are okay, the campaign effectiveness will surely depend upon impact and recall.

Assuming that you have sufficient budgets, you need to have bigger size print ads for IMPACT – at least during the launch stage. For RECALL, you need to increase the “Opportunity to See” or more simply the frequency of the ads – preferably in reduced sizes, to save on budgets.

However, if your budgets are limited, you should aim to have more frequency through smaller sizes, since it has been proved in the past that even below-average messages get well registered and recalled if they are hammered again and again. In such a case, the IMPACT of the campaign is actually developed by the sheer power of repeats – even if slowly, and definitely, by huge numbers that run for months.

In case you’re forced by a situation to run either one-ad or a 3-ad campaign within the same budget, you should be successful if you go in for the latter, since this would ensure the minimum frequency* required for recall – however small! But then the frequency gained at the cost of minimum size further can also affect the campaign by its noticeability, as well as affect brand image adversely.

*It has been proven by research that 1st insertion of an ad gives impression, 2nd gives registration while the 3rd one gives recall.

(Also Look for Other answers; Also posted as a link under Answers@LinkedIn page)

Finding the effective tools to communicate with customers

What do you think is the most effective way to communicate with your consumers? LinkedIn question by: Fang Lu

This is a very broad question, for which there’s no one-line answer! In marketing communications planning, the tools to communicate are often the last things to decide. I’d try to give a perspective which might empower you to decide for yourself, the most effective ways to communicate.

Here’s a step-by-step methodology you MUST consider, before deciding upon your various options:

1) Gain a perspective of your battlefield – What’s the business environment you’re in? what’s the product category? Who are your competitors? How are they communicating? Is there anything eye-catching about their tools? Is there anything that you think is not right about them? Is there any rule or law that encourages or discourages certain type of communication? etc. More the knowledge you gain about your marketing battlefield, more empowered will you be in making your decision.

2) Gain differential knowledge of your product – By this I mean the strengths and opportunities your product have / offer, vis-a-vis competitors. Does your product really enjoy an exclusivity? Or is it s me-too? Does it really force customers to think different, or is it just a “better” product? Is it a category killer? Is it a price killer? Is it a market innovator? etc. etc. More the knowledge you have on your own product within the given market perspective, more empowered will you be in deciding on the effective message, which incidentally is as important as the tools to communicate.

3) Gain insights about your customers – This is the most crucial of all steps. In social media, it’s a part of the LISTENING process. Who’s your ideal customer (not “consumers”)? What’s his / her demographic and psychographic profile? How does he / she consume your proposed product? Is there any gap area, which still exists in his / consumption pattern? What are his/her hidden motivations, desires, ambitions? if you do not have a ready knowledge about him/her, you may need to have a Qualitative Research to find these out. Once done, you’d have more clearer indications about ways to communicate with your customer.

4) Develop key messages – All the above 3 steps would give you enough perspective to draw the unique product message that would make sense to your customer(s) within the battlefield of your product category and competition. Every type of message has its own best / optimal ways of communicating, for effective comprehension by the customers. For example, some messages are better delivered by means of an Audio Visual (TVC) while some by means of a web banner ad.

5) Identify the effective tools to communicate – Once you’re done with developing key messages and insights about customers, you may need to re-explore the current means by which the customers gain their product / market knowledge. You may realize from step (3) that though a net-gen individual falls within your customer profile, is actually not interested in using the websites reviews for product knowledge. Rather he/she is getting this info. through his closely held cafe-club network. So your most ideal tool could be perhaps a cafe-club event that engages these captive customers for about an hour and a half!

Therefore, to reiterate, effective communication tools / ways cannot be decided unless you explore steps (1) to (4) above. Not to forget that you can also consider any kind of “co-creation” tool before-hand (during steps 1-3), to let your customers decide the ways and means they would like themselves to be addressed by your company / brand.

Given the complex and ever-changing nature of the customers today, it’s natural and more effective to design a communications plan, which makes use of a combination of tools and media consumed by your customers.

Also look for Other Answers in LinkedIn. and Strategies for Effective Business Communication

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