How to Clearly Define A Direct Marketing Problem

by Dean Rieck

A creative director in his mid-fifties and a young pup from his creative department took a weekend off to hike in the woods. They were enjoying the crisp air and the quiet of the forest until they walked into a wide clearing where they saw a giant grizzly bear. Both men stopped cold, afraid to move.

The bear raised its head, sniffed, and with a thunderous growl, charged them. The two men took off running as fast as they could but soon realized that the bear was gaining fast. It was frighteningly clear to both men that they couldn't outrun the bear.

Suddenly, the young man stopped, dropped to the ground, yanked off his hiking boots, and pulled his running shoes out of his backpack.

"What are you doing?" screamed the creative director. "Those shoes won't help you outrun that bear!"

The young man tied his running shoes, jumped up, and sprinted away, leaving his boss huffing and puffing far behind.

"I don't have to outrun the bear," the young man shouted back over his shoulder. "I just have to outrun YOU."

Funny story. But the point is deadly serious: How you define a problem will determine how you solve it. Elementary? Yes. However, it's a fact that all too often gets lost in the bustle of daily business.

Creating advertising is fun. Solving problems is not. And we're all under tight deadlines. So when faced with a challenge, there's a tendency to jump to solutions quickly, to begin writing and designing immediately. For those of us in direct marketing, there is an even more nefarious tendency to rely exclusively on past solutions and bypass problem definition altogether. "Need more sales? Okay, let's mail a size 10 envelope with a six-page letter. Here's the teaser copy I'm thinking of ..."

Every marketing project should be approached as a problem to be solved. And for every problem, you should create a problem definition. Here's how.

1. Define your big problem first. Let's say you use television ads to generate leads for a financial product. You offer a free book to all callers. However, while the control spot is bringing in plenty of inquiries, lead quality and sales are down. How do you generate better quality leads? This is your big problem.

2. Create a written problem definition. Continuing with our example, your initial problem statement might be:

Our conversion percentage has dropped. We need a way to increase lead quality.

3. Restate your problem simply and directly. Lose the jargon. Use plain English. Just come right out and say what you mean.

Plenty of people are inquiring, but fewer are buying. We need a way to weed out tire kickers so that we can close more sales.

4. Underline the key words. This is the first step for breaking your problem into subproblems.

Plenty of people are inquiring, but fewer are buying. We need a way to weed out tire kickers so that we can close more sales.

5. Replace key words with specifics. This will help you clarify your subproblems.

About 400 men, ages 25 to 55, are calling every day to ask for our free investment book but only 10% buy our product (compared to 20% last year). We need a way to weed out those who aren't going to buy so that we can close 20% or more of all inquiries.

6. Summarize your subproblems. You now draw conclusions based on the information at hand.

7. Ask questions about your subproblems. I've listed four, but you could have dozens. When you find the answers to these questions, you will be well on your way to solving your big problem. And you may discover hidden opportunities. In this example, you could develop a new product for younger callers or sell the book to younger men while still giving it away to your ideal prospects.

A great man once said, "A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved." It's true. Just ask that creative director. He's developed some firm opinions on the matter.

Copyright © 2001 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
Click here for reprint policy.

Send a link of this article to a friend.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Home    Services    FAQ    Bio    Kudos    Samples    Contact
Learning Center    Site Map    Blog    Products

Copyright © Direct Creative. All Rights Reserved.