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The problem/solution structure in B2B content marketing

Structuring a B2B content marketing argument

When it comes to structuring a B2B marketing argument, it’s hard to beat the good old ‘Problem/Solution’ structure. It’s stood the test of time for some very good reasons:

  • It gets the target audience nodding in agreement – if they recognise the problem you’re describing, they’re much more likely to lean forward and give you the chance to pitch your solution.
  • It filters out the people you don’t need to talk to – in the same way, if someone does not recognise the problem you’re outlining, the chances are you won’t want to waste time with them. Best to find out fast.
  • It sets up your offer – done properly, a well-spun ‘problem’ section will seed all of the key messages you’ll deliver in the ‘solution’ section. You’re essentially tilting the playing field your way – and you’re doing it before you get into sales mode.
  • It de-positions competitors and substitutes –it’s good to include the main substitutes and competitive approaches in the ‘problem’ section — so you can explain why they fail (or create even worse problems). The idea is to lump them in as part of the problem not part of the solution.

Of course, your ‘problem’ summary has to meet a few critical criteria or you won’t get the chance to get to the good bit. It has to be:

  • Recognisable – if your audience doesn’t instantly identify the problem as one of theirs, you’ve lost them.
    Use the language of the target audience to describe their problem – not the fancy jargon you use in-house.
  • Detailed – the problem has to be as specific as possible. A general ‘your costs are out of control’ message will be lost in the noise. Talk about ‘the money wasted by needlessly repeating your data entry’ or whatever.
    Drill down to the guts of the problem, don’t generalise.
  • Urgent – it’s no good telling someone about a headache they might have one day; you need to talk about the one they have right now.
    Show how important it is that they address this problem right away; Emphasise the cost of delay;
  • Credibly solved – if they see the problem as ‘just a cost of doing business’ they won’t be primed to hear your solution.
    Don’t over-hype your claims by picking too big a problem. Focus on what you really can fix.
  • Interesting – just harping on about a problem the industry has suffered for decades won’t win you air time.
    Zero in on the real cause of the problem: something they may not have thought about but is behind everything.

Most of all, your ‘problem’ section has to capture all of the key penalties caused by the issue. Don’t leave money on the table here. Identify all the bad things that are happening to your audience right now… then show them blessed relief.

The Solution side needs to sing too.
Once you’ve set up the problem in the best way, it’s time to deliver the pay off.  The rule here is ‘never disappoint’. Make sure your solution ticks all the boxes. Make sure it’s:

  • Credible – your floor cleaning product will not double in-store customer satisfaction. Get real.
  • Supported by logic – it must make sense that this solution will really fix this problem.
  • Supported by data – you need to prove it does what it says; cases, testimonials; facts; data.

A lot of B2B marketers obsess about the third point but forget the second.  If you build a really good case, your solution will feel authentic and credible. If you don’t, no amount of support in the world will help.  The data is important but the logic is critical.

An example: Camwood video
I’m sure you’ve got dozens of effective Problem/Solution arguments to hand, but here’s one we did earlier, that I think does a good job of outlining the problems suffered by companies with huge application estates (up to tens of thousands of applications) and a sensible solution: Application Intelligence.

It’s only a 3-minute video so don’t expect every bullet point from the above — but most of it is here:

Thoughts?
Any experiences with the Problem/Solution structure we could learn from?
Any points I missed?

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