It's not you. It's me.

I led an all day seminar this past Saturday at General Assembly in Atlanta. This class was a 6-hour event in which we compressed the 60 hours of the GA Digital Marketing class down to 6 hours, lunch from Chipotle included. Here’s a good description of the class and here’s a follow up to the last time we ran this class.

This past Saturday had some challenges, and hats off to the folks at GA for pulling out all the stops when the Ponce City Market power went out on Friday night, leaving GA with no air conditioning all day Saturday. You heard that right. It reached 80 degrees in our classroom, but the many oscillating fans and ice cream sandwiches and popsicles made us feel loved anyway.

And we used this problem to discuss the first aspect of digital marketing: branding. One of the most visible aspects of your brand is your message. What you say matters. Every word matters, because your brand is everything you do. The exercise we used to illustrate this point is outlined in this post on the General Assembly blog. It’s a good way to find out (a) if you know your brand and (b) how well you know your brand. We walk through this exercise because if you, as the founder or entrepreneur or brand ambassador don’t know your brand, how can you communicate that brand to anyone else, inside or outside the company?

We start with – and for purposes of this post, we end with – the second part of this exercise: “what is the industry or market problem you are solving?” In creating this little exercise, the inspiration for this step is Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk and his book, “Start with Why.

The class did this exercise, taking about 15 minutes to create the 4 tweets. Where we ran into the most trouble was this step number 2. It is a trend that I have seen throughout my teaching experience at GA and for 2 years at Pitch Practice that entrepreneurs have great difficulty distinguishing the problem statement from the description of their business. In other words, when I ask “what problem are you solving?” the answer I get most often is “we do this and that, creating value here and there and saving our customers time and money with these benefits,” and then they proceed to list all the benefits.

This answer is completely wrong, and it starts with the first word, “we”. The problem you are solving has absolutely nothing to do with “we” or “you” or “I” or “me”. The problem you are solving is a problem in the market that your customer has. When you are talking to a potential customer and that customer hears (ad nauseum) what you do, you’ve lost them. When you start with the problem that your customer has ever day (start with why), you make a friend. They now know that you see and understand their problem. Oh, and by the way, we solve that problem.

This situation reminds me of this clip from Seinfeld:

When you’re stating your problem, remember “it’s not you, it’s me”, and “me” is your customer. It’s all about the customer’s problem. Your problem statement has nothing to do with you. Rather, it’s why you exist. Start with why. Start with the problem, and solve it.

What do you think about that?

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