Why Marketing Solutions Are Often Obvious

Derrick DayeMarch 6, 20184 min

In the dangerous profession of space travel, astronauts have a saying to give context to the problems they sometimes face; “no problem is so big that you can’t make it bigger.” As brand stewards in an age of disruption we all know that expanding problems are not confined to space travel. In fact the opportunities to make our problems bigger are quite plentiful here on Earth.

Sometimes in our search for solutions, and strategies for that matter, we have a tendency to discount what is right in front of us – the obvious.

Several years ago I was having a conversation with Jack Trout about the struggle for some to overcome common brand problems. He told me of a book published more than 100 years ago that claimed solutions are not as elusive as they seem. The book was Obvious Adams. The Story of a Successful Businessman, written by Robert R. Updegraff. Jack went on to share its direct relevance to marketers.

“Why do I like this book so much? Well, because the search for any marketing strategy is the search for the obvious. Consider the dictionary definition of the word “obvious”: easy to see or understand, plain, evident. With that definition you begin to see why an obvious strategy is so powerful. It’s simple, easy to understand and evident. That’s why it works so well.

Interestingly, when presented with a simple, obvious strategy (or solution), many clients are not impressed. They are often looking for some clever, not-so-obvious idea.

What I often hear is something like, “That’s something we already know. Is the solution that simple?” I then have to go into my evident speech, which goes like this: “You’re right, it is evident. But if it’s evident to you it will also be evident to your customers, which is why it will work.”

Mr. Updegraff warned of this reaction when he wrote, “The trouble is, the obvious is apt to be so simple and commonplace that it has no appeal to the imagination. We all like clever ideas and ingenious plans that make good lunch-table talk at the club. There is something about the obvious that is–well, so very obvious!”

Let’s say you are facing a marketing challenge today. How can you leverage the obvious to overcome it? Start with Mr. Updegraff’s “Five Tests of Obviousness”:

1. The problem when solved will be simple. The obvious is nearly always simple–so simple that sometimes a whole generation of men and women have looked at it without even seeing it.

2. Does it check with human nature? If you feel comfortable in explaining your idea or plan to your mother, wife, relative, neighbors, your barber and anyone else you know, it’s obvious. If you don’t feel comfortable, it probably is not obvious.

3. Put it on paper. Write out your idea, plan or project in words of one or two syllables, as though you were explaining it to a child. If you can’t do this in two or three short paragraphs and the explanation becomes long, involved or ingenious–then very likely it is not obvious.

4. Does it explode in people’s minds? If, when you have presented your plan, project or program, do people say, “Now why didn’t we think of that before?” You can feel encouraged. Obvious ideas are very apt to produce this “explosive” mental reaction.

5. Is the time ripe? Many ideas and plans are obvious in themselves, but just as obviously “out of time.” Checking time lines is often just as important as checking the idea or plan itself.

Accept The Validity Of The Obvious

The search for any marketing strategy is the search for the obvious. When considering the dictionary definition of the word obvious: Easy to see or understand, plain, or evident; you understand why `obvious’ is so important.

When a marketing message is simple, easy to understand, and evident – it works really well. The author goes on to talk about people’s hesitation with this concept, because of the misconception that the obvious is too simple and does not appeal to the imagination. Likewise, we often think a marketing message has to be very clever and intellectually stimulating to be successful.

Jack was so inspired by Mr. Updegraff’s book from 1916 that he wrote In Search Of The Obvious, The Antidote For Today’s Marketing Mess. A book he said; “explains to marketers what their real problem is. Only then will they begin to look for the obvious solutions that will separate their products from their competitors — in a way that is equally obvious to customers.”

Applying the obvious sounds good in theory but what about in practice? Jack gave me an example of a pizza brand that he helped with a concept that is easy to see, understand, plain and evident: ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. – Papa Johns.’

Where will you find the solutions to your marketing challenges? Where will you find your next marketing strategy? The answers can be as close as the obvious.

The Blake Project Can Help You Discover The Obvious in: The Brand Positioning Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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