“Half of my marketing is being wasted.  I just don’t know which half.”

Sound familiar?

I am often approached by clients seeking help with their marketing, but they struggle to articulate what ‘help’ means. Or, through the course of a conversation, we uncover that the initial issue they thought they had, isn’t actually the real or pressing problem.

Albert Einstein famously said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes resolving it.” While that may sound extreme, it highlights the importance of defining problems. Only by asking the right questions up front can you get to the heart of what you want to achieve and have a chance to succeed.

Put another way, the quality of the solutions you come up with will be in direct proportion to the quality of the description of the problem you’re trying to solve. Not only will your solutions be more abundant and of higher quality, but they’ll be achieved much, much more easily.

It also hints that a well-defined problem often contains its own solution within it. By defining your problems properly, you make them easier to solve, saving time, money and resources.

You wouldn’t visit a doctor and ask them to fix you without describing the symptoms or cause of your visit. And similarly, your doctor is armed with a set of diagnostic questions to get to the root cause of your pain or illness, rather than a scattergun approach to managing your most obvious symptoms.

Barney and Griffin reminds us that goals serve four basic functions;

  • They provide guidance and direction
  • Facilitate planning
  • Motivate and inspire
  • And help evaluate and control performance.


Let’s look at this through the lens of your business:

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It’s little wonder defining problems has been called “the most important business skill you’ve never been taught.” Getting to the SOURCE marketing problem is the only way to finding the optimal marketing solution!  

Symptom or cause?

A useful tool to stress test that you’ve identified your core marketing challenges is the “5 Whys” technique, made famous by Sakichi Toyoda and used in the Toyota Production System.  The “5 Whys” is a process for finding the root cause of an issue by asking successive iterations of “why did that happen?”. I often expand the question to, “why carry out that activity” or “what will be better if that is carried out” when I am working with a client to identify their core objectives and outcomes.

While that number was limited to five why’s, the truth is sometimes it takes only one why. Other times, it may take 17. Ask as many times as needed until you get to the source problem.

Taking the time and asking the right, and enough, questions, to deeply understand your marketing issues is the very first step.

If you need help to assess your marketing, or to get started, call or email us today.