How to quickly solve any marketing problem

How do you approach a marketing challenge or problem and methodically go about solving it?

In this post I will quickly address this as the principals that I use whenever I approach a digital marketing, user experience or even product marketing problem.

I use this method as a fundamental way to approach any marketing or business related problem. Of course, there are other specific methodologies out there that I do employ, but generally speaking if I have been given a challenge and had to explain how I would approach it, this is the sequence I would use. 

It’s called the 4Ds and you guessed it the method is separated into four ‘D’s - Discover, Define, Design and Deliver.

I’m not the first to use this method, and I won’t be the last, but in my experience, I find most stakeholders who I will be answering to will generally understand this approach far better than other methodologies that sound cool like Design Thinking, Diamond, Double-Diamond and Lean Design. 

Same goes in sales, that’s why most of the ‘old guard’ of CMOs can understand the basic funnel or ADIA approach rather than a circular wheel of sales or See, Think, Do model. 

The following is how I would approach a situation, you can actually use this approach towards virtually all business related problems, whether that’s digital marketing, social media, product development, sales, fulfillment and much much more. 

The four phases run in this order

  • Discovery
  • Define
  • Design and,
  • Delivery

Now, during the Discovery and Define phases there will be situations where you will be going back and forth. In addition, if you add in ‘Testing’ and updates to incorporate feedback loops, then you will see yourself going back to your Define phase and potentially further back in your Discovery phase.

The point is, don’t worry if you go through phases over again, it’s part of the process. 

What is the Discovery phase?

In virtually any business or marketing situation you are in you will need to go through a ‘Discovery’ phase. 

This will typically involve, but not limited to the following 

  • Identifying your core primary and secondary audience
  • Identifying and creating your customer persona(s)
  • Market environment (the opportunities and threats)
  • The competitors
  • Your product or service strengths and weaknesses
  • Reviewing any industry white paper relevant to your product or service
  • Interviewing your existing and potential customers
  • Creating an empathy map

The reason why doing this phase is so important is because the background information on the current landscape of the market to future predictions on customer behaviour help you properly define your challenge, which will have a positive cascading effect when you begin to ideate and come up with solutions in the proceeding phases. 

By putting in the work during the ‘Discovery’ phase you separate yourself from going into solution mode as it forces you to look at the facts, investigate WHO your audience is, WHAT is the market like in order to discover opportunities and WHAT has current performance telling you.

How to create a simple customer persona?

A persona is a fictional character which represents your target users. 

Personas are a really valuable tool in UX (user experience) and wider marketing as it allows you to understand your customers better by encapsulating your key target audience likes and dislikes, to the way they consume media and highlighting the pain points in their journey researching and eventually booking your service. 

By running this exercise it will allow you to really identify and uncover your audience, and help you make some clear business decisions. 

Adobe does a really good job of helping you create a persona if you are not familiar with it. Again, this is something that can be refined and updated as your marketing and business matures.

The most important part is to take that first step to create one!

How to create an empathy map for your situation?

An empathy map is a visual representation of how a customer feels and behaves. This is very visual and works really well if you have some solid research data with you. 

The idea is to place yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself:

  • What do they think and feel about your product or service?
  • What do they see when they experience your product or service?
  • What do they say or do when they use your product or service?
  • What do they hear as they experience your product or service?
  • What’s their pain points? Fears or frustration?
  • What is the benefit they feel when they use your product or service? What do they gain?

Creating this empathy map can also help you refine your persona.

Check out the image below as an example of an empathy map

In my experience the first two phases (Discovery and Define) will overlap each other once you have identified and agreed to your core customer prospects. 

But let me explain what I mean. 

What is the Define phase?

In this phase you will absorb the knowledge and notes that you’ve gatherer in the ‘Discovery’ phase and begin to unpack the initial problem or challenge that your boss or client has placed to you and then repackage in a way that will actually be the challenge that you’re looking to design a solution. 

Also part of this phase is not only redefining the challenge to solve, but also begin to define how you might go about solving it. This will eventually lead into the third section, Design but more on that a little later. 

To help you with this ask yourself:

  • What exactly is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • Is this the right problem to solve? And why?

So how would we redefine a problem?

Say for example your sales director has come to you and said: 

“The problem we are getting is that we need more leads to help us close our sales”.

If we looked at this at face value you would think, the solution would be to increase your leads and perhaps increase your media spend and channel spend to drive traffic which will in turn create leads and help the sales team close more.

But what if you did the background research in the Discovery phase and discovered a number of symptoms like:

  • Low percentage conversion rate between paid media spend vs organic and referred channels  
  • High traffic visiting the sales page, but a disproportionate number of “low” quality of leads to convert
  • Target audience defined and actual customers acquired do not match
  • You find out that your existing customers chose you because you solve a particular need for them
  • You find out by interviewing potential customers that your product doesn’t meet their needs, or doesn’t clearly demonstrate how it solves their problem
  • Or, you found that people were leaving your brand because there was a disconnect between what was said by the brand versus what they experienced once they became a customer 

There’s many other insights that can be derived from your Discovery phase, hence why that phase is so important and has a cascading effect on the following phases. 

So, coming back to the situation, you taken all of these insights you have of your existing customer and developed (or updated) persona, and now you have realised that there is a need to craft a new problem statement. But how do we do that?

In design thinking, we typically use a “How might we …” statement. 

To do this, I recommend you have the following:

  • Post-it notes (lots of them) - as you’ll be scribbling down your thoughts and,
  • Sharpie pen

To help you narrow down your focus, I also recommend capping the time to come up with your “How might we” statement. 

This helps because you are constricted in time and therefore you’re forced to focus on an outcome before the time runs out.

In my experience, I like to perform a couple of rounds. Typically when I facilitate these workshops and look towards unpacking and redefining the challenge to solve, most of the participants are not familiar with this and will find it challenging to come up with some problem statements in a constricted time frame. 

So if you are attempting a “How might we” problem statement for the first time, I suggest doing this in two rounds:

  • 1st round - Scribble as much “How might we” statements as you can for 5 mins
  • De-brief and ask yourself: Is this too broad or way too specific?
  • 2nd round - Refine your statement(s) into one or two statements. Again, keeping the time frame to 5 mins
  • Share with your group, debate and refine to a singular statement

I typically find that the first round is a round where we just all scribble, and you’ll come up with a whole bunch of statements. Some might be too broad others can be too specific.

Then after that first round, and once you’ve shared and debriefed with the other participants, the second and typically the final round, is much more refined and focussed.

Then after that you as a group can come up with a singular statement that’s agreed to by the group.

If we go back to our initial situation earlier around sales, a statement that might be too broad could be:

How might we create more leads?

The inverse example of being too specific in relation to our example could be:

How might we use Facebook advertising to target more people to create more leads?

You might find after going through the two rounds and refining the statement you come up with something similar to this:

How might we improve the quality of leads and nurture them through the sales funnel to close?

This statement is not too broad nor isn’t too specific. There’s enough room to ideate in order to “improve” the quality of leads (could be the communication messaging, the channels used or a combination of both) and at the same time identify the touch points in the sales funnel as the user journeys through from a prospect, to a lead then finally becoming a customer (close).

To close out this phase once you’ve defined the problem, either through validating the initial problem, or redefining the problem, you can begin to add some visibility towards timings and costs for stakeholders, for example a simple Statement of Work (SOW) to the client. 

What is in the Design phase?

So this phase is broken down further into two separate stages:

  • The ideation part where you come up with solutions and prioritise them
  • Design/prototype part where you visualise the approach for your key stakeholders

How to come up with ideas?

There’s various ways of ideation, some like to do techniques like Crazy 8s, Mindmapping, or Cover story. 

In my experience, I like to use a modified approach that combines traditional brainstorming with post-it notes, and playing a simple game to get your ideas flowing by flipping the notion of coming up with good ideas by firstly coming up with bad ideas.

The rationale why I do this is because in most cases when I run a workshop, most of the participants do not come from a visual design background, so asking them to sketch out ideas will be difficult. 

I find that it is easier for participants to scribble on post-it notes first, then once the solution is crafted we can get the designers or coders to bring it to life through a prototype. 

So how I would set this up would be to have:

  • 1st round - 5 minutes to come up with “the worst idea possible” to the challenge you defined earlier
  • Debrief and share after the round
  • Now flip it for the next round and go for the ideas that will solve the challenge
  • 2nd round - 5 mins, go blue sky and come up with any ideas (no idea is a bad idea) on post-it notes 
  • Debrief and share with your colleagues
  • OPTIONAL: 3rd round - 5 mins refine your thoughts with some more ideas to help solve the challenge

After this, you should have a couple of good ideas from each participant.

From here we can begin to prioritise which solution to go for. 

How to prioritise which idea to execute?

There’s various ways to go about prioritising your ideas into a list of order to focus on, but in my experience facilitating workshops, there’s generally two that works well:

  1. Impact to effort matrix using time as a potential added element to help
  2. Venn diagram approach - Desirable, Feasible, and Viable

How to use the matrix approach to prioritise your ideas?

Ideas are great, but execution is worshipped! 

Part of that execution is approaching it from the lens of impact to your primary audience or target customer, and the amount of effort is needed to bring that solution to life

To do this create a simple X Y matrix like the image below, on the x-axis is your effort and your y-axis is your potential impact to the customer. If you split them up into four quadrants and begin debating with the group as to the position of each solution relative to the effort needed and the impact it will have on the customer. 

What you want to do is challenge each solution:

  • How impactful will this solution actually be?
  • How much effort do we need to plan for in order to bring this solution to life?
  • Is the impact still high? Or low?

Hopefully once you’ve completed this, your matrix should look like this

Using a matrix to help prioritise ideas

How to use the Venn diagram approach?

This one is more a question to your group broken down into three areas of the business:

  • Is this solution desirable? - Is this solution something that your customers actually want?
  • Is this solution feasible? - Does the business have the tools and technology to bring this to life? 
  • Is this solution viable? - Is the ROI acceptable?

What you want to do is find the solutions that fit in the overlapped sections of the Venn diagram. 

Ideally you want your solution to fit right in the middle of the overlapped parts of the venn diagram. 

If the solution overlaps between Viable and Feasible, then the solution will be deemed as unlikely to be adopted by your customers.

If your solution overlaps between Viable and Diresable, then the solution will be deemed as a solution that shouldn’t be built.

And finally, if the solution overlaps between Desirable and Feasible, then the solution might be a good idea but it is something that will most likely cannot be sustained. 

Once the primary solution is identified and agreed to this is where it moves to the next and final stage - Deliver.

What is in the Delivery phase?

In this phase and in most cases, we look towards bringing this to life either through high-fidelity design to create the proper look and feel, then move towards building the various assets and co-ordinating the build of a website and paid media to drive traffic to it and convert.

Sometimes, if you have designers or developers participating and you have enough time during your workshop, then you can create a prototype to showcase to the key stakeholders. 

This typically happens if you were running a 3-5 day design sprint, but in most cases if you are running a small business or a small team with an existing product, then you might sketch a lo-fi design concept and present and gain internal endorsement before going into full design and development.

So by the time you get to this phase, all of the major thinking has been done. 

You have defined:

  • Your audience
  • The main pain points that your audience is facing
  • The challenge that you want to solve for your target audience
  • How you would approach in solving the problem
  • How you would prioritise the primary solution in order to solve the challenge
  • To some degree how you would measure the success of your approach once it goes into market

Now that these elements have been defined, you are now already to begin the build and delivery. 

In some cases with clients what i have had to deliver included, but not exclusive to:

  • Wireframe designs for apps
  • Full website builds
  • Lead generation website builds
  • End to end backend to front end system set up for sales 
  • Content marketing outputs (i.e. short vids, design, webinars, blogs and more)

Hope this helps to understand the 4Ds of problem solving. Happy to chat more, or follow me on LinkedIn where I post constantly in regards to personal branding, marketing, sales, branding and more.

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This is Andy Tran

A strategist, marketer and problem solver. 

Focusing on sharing topics and resources to help students and business professionals in leadership, branding, marketing and sales 
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