There’s a basic marketing strategy that goes something like this:
1. Figure out what problem your product solves.
2. Find people who have that problem.
3. Remind them that they have this problem and why your product is the solution.
This line of thinking is so pervasive in marketing culture that we’re even taught to manufacture problems that our customers might have in order to sell to them.
Now, to be fair, there are plenty of products out there that legitimately solve problems. (For some people, that’s why they’ve created a product or went into business in the first place. Because they had a problem or saw a problem that needed solving.)
But lately, I’ve been fed up with this kind of thinking, because at the end of the day, not everything that’s for sale needs to solve a problem. And this problem solving school of marketing actually creates a really narrow view of why people buy what they buy.
And not only that, but this kind of thinking is damaging, particularly for artists and makers, because not only does it not acknowledge the myriad reasons people buy from us, but it devalues the intrinsic value of art by forcing us to come up with “legitimate” reasons why someone might buy from us.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow artists and makers express frustration that their work doesn’t solve a problem (and how many times I’ve felt this frustration myself) but it’s taken me a long time to really rebel against this method of marketing.
Three things in particular have really driven my frustration with the problem solving school of marketing:
1. It assumes that art can’t exist on (or be sold from) an emotional or visceral place.
Some things are purchased purely because we love them. You don’t need a specific blank space on your wall to buy a painting or a special occasion to buy a beautiful piece of jewelry or clothing. But problem solving marketing makes this assumption.
But art (and here, I take the broad view of art that includes craft and design in addition to the visual arts) exists to do more than solve problems. It exists to stir our emotions and give us a jolt of beauty or meaning or feeling. And the desire to own a piece of art may be about nothing more than wanting to experience those emotions again and again in our everyday lives.
That’s not solving a problem, it’s creating a meaningful experience.
And when we feel the need to manufacture problems that our art solves, we’re devaluing this other (and I think, more important) purpose of art.
2. It forces us to manufacture problems for our marketing, which ultimately ends up shaming our potential customers.
When I teach my class, Market Your Selfie, we talk about how to address our “flaws” when photographing yourself for your marketing. But I’m always quick to point out that we only perceive ourselves as having flaws because somewhere, those flaws were pointed out by a marketer to get us to buy something.
This is actually the root of so much of what is wrong with marketing, particularly in industries like coaching, beauty, and fitness. And while it may feel like a far cry to move from “My jewelry helps you solve the problem of what to wear to work” to “You need this anti-wrinkle cream because aging is bad,” I think it’s actually a slippery slope.
Having to manufacture a problem (when your art or product wasn’t created to solve one in the first place) means identifying things in your customer’s life that are “broken.” That leads to the need to make your customers feel like something is wrong with them. And that’s a dangerous and harmful path that I don’t think anyone should be taking in their marketing.
3. It holds artists and makers back from simply sharing their work.
As I mentioned earlier, many artists and makers feel shame around their marketing because what they do doesn’t “solve a problem.” This is actually a result of problem solving marketing directed at you and your business. (Which is why #2 on this list is so problematic.) And it’s one of the real reasons I’m so frustrated by this school of marketing thought. Because artists and makers who create amazing work feel hesitant to share it because it doesn’t “solve a problem.”
This shame holds artists and makers back in so many ways, from keeping them from emailing their lists when they’ve created something new to pitching the press about their work to simply being able to talk about their work in a meaningful way. (Or from feeling like you have to say something at all. Personally, I’m becoming more inclined to let my work speak for itself on social media without feeling the need to sell through invented problem solving.)
So today, I’m giving you permission to stop worrying about what problem your art or products solve. And instead, I want you to celebrate them for the beauty, meaning, or emotion that they do provide.
Because those things are equally as valuable as solving a problem. Plus, they don’t force you to rely on sleazy marketing tactics to sell your work. And that’s a win for you and your customers.
Curious how to sell without resorting to problem solving marketing? Click here to read Part 2!
Struggling to see how your work has value if it doesn’t “solve a problem”? Check out this post!