How To Avoid The “Solutions That Matter” Trap

Strategic marketing messages aren't complicated

It’s message development, not rocket science.

For this post on strategic marketing messages, I was trying to invent a vague and completely meaningless example. The result: “Solutions That Matter.” 

Then I Googled it, just for fun. I invite you to do the same. 

I’m not sure how “Solutions That Matter” could add value to any brand, in any situation. Is it supposed to contrast with “Solutions That Don’t Matter”? 

Major brands can spend millions developing strategic messages to use throughout their marketing.  And still they get it wrong. Your business can do better, even if you’re bootstrapping it.

So with no further ado…


As a business owner or manager, you should be able to fluently articulate ideas that can make an emotional connection or start a conversation. If you can’t, you risk killing relationships before they begin.

Here are a few types of messages every business should develop and refine. Think of them as tools in your messaging toolkit. They’re based on knowing your audience and the choices that compete for their attention. 

Message tool #1: Company story

Think about your company story as just that, a story. Stories are more powerful  and memorable than a dry recitation of facts or history. Use it on your About page, in sales presentations, and in hundreds of conversations you’ll have.

Some points to remember:

  • Great stories have great characters with interesting motivations, an interesting plot, an emotional climax, and an uplifting plot resolution.
  • It’s not so much about you, but about your customers and their crucial problems that you’re solving.
  • Define your customers in flattering, even heroic terms. What are they like?  What do they need and why? And don’t forget – how do they feel? A great story appeals to their emotions.
  • Why are you or your solutions different?

A company story can be as long as a novel, but you should have a two-paragraph version practically memorized.

Message tool #2: Positioning statement

A positioning statement says how you’re different, and better, than other solutions or competitors. It’s your position vs. theirs. The original marketing guru of Silicon Valley, Regis McKenna, made this format famous:

 For [a particular group of people], [our product] is a [category name] that provides [main benefit], unlike [main competitors] which provide [lesser or irrelevant benefits].

Easy huh? Here’s an even easier form, from Marty Neumeier:

Our [offering] is the only [product category] that [benefit].

Could a bold, well-supported positioning statement improve your home page?

Message tool #3: Value proposition

When you must get someone’s attention fast – in a sales letter or phone call – you have to express some significant, specific, credible value that they can’t ignore. That’s the value proposition. One value prop may not fit all.  You can create versions for your company, for particular offerings, and for different kinds of prospects.

Jill Konrath is a master at value propositions. She advises using metrics or numbers to express the most important results your customers can expect.

  • Employers in Eastern Washington are 75% more likely to grant job interviews to students in our programs than to other non-graduates.
  • In a company similar to yours our HR solution reduced paid sick days by 43% in the first year of implementation.

Sometimes you can’t express benefits quantitatively. Consumer goods often express emotional value.

  • Old Spice makes you feel like a man
  • Red Stripe captures the fun and attitude of Jamaica.

Value propositions aren’t always easy. But if you can’t express value, maybe you need to go back to the drawing board, and design some value into your offering.

Message tool #4: Key benefits

A benefit is a desired result or outcome. Don’t confuse benefits and features, which are components of your offering, and are often poor selling points. Benefit are often expressed as performance measures, cost savings or time. They’re similar to value propositions, but on a smaller scale.

  • Your car will hug the road like never before.
  • Mow your lawn in 20% less time.

Features are less compelling

  • Improved Diamond-Form™ tread design
  • New 22” cutting diameter

List all the benefits you can think of, prioritize, and create consistent language to use in a variety of communications.

There are other key messages worth developing

But these three are good starters. They address important issues that your audiences want addressed. And you can fine tune them with time.

What do you think? Are these helpful, especially for small and midsize businesses? What would you change or add?

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10 thoughts on “How To Avoid The “Solutions That Matter” Trap

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  2. Deanna, it’s so great to see your comment here, thanks for the nice words! I should add a note for anyone (especially you, as the honored guest comment writer) that I have a deck on this topic that goes into a lot more detail. If you’re interested, just email me through the “contact” page.

    I hope you come back again!
    barrett recently posted..Rethink B2B Marketing

  3. Barrett,

    Awesome post! I love the simple yet succinct nature that you have outlined these tools.

    Storytelling is so key! As soon as you can imagine your business as a story, it comes to life. People connect with stories and it builds resonance.

    Also, stories are passed on between people and eventually communities which is a great way to create advocates and build brand awareness.

    Here’s a question for you: How do we get more marketing managers to begin their message from a foundational level? In my experience, managers tend to jump right into it when creating a marketing message but rarely step back to ask why or consider their core values, purpose and vision. How do we shift thinking to increase the likelihood of the above being utilized?
    Geoff Reiner recently posted..Why Is Accountability Scary?

    • You will see by the length of this response that I consider this a great question. I hope this is a decent answer.

      The quick answer is: education. Often you have to educate your clients if you’re an agency, and you need to be prepared to do it from the start.

      Here’s the longer answer.

      It’s tough when you’re working with a marketing manager IF she’s unaware of the importance of strategic messaging, or if she doesn’t think there’s a messaging problem.

      Agencies and consultants have to integrate message strategy into their own offerings, at a very fundamental level. It doesn’t matter what discipline you represent.

      You have to ask insightful strategic questions right up front, to guide the conversation. Ask about the nature of the customers and competition, about the company’s positioning and its business plan. Then you have to be prepared to follow up with some demonstration of your understanding of these issues. (It helps to have some materials ready for following up this kind of discussion.)

      This serves the purpose of letting the client know (1) There are strategic issues that are very important that must be considered, (2) We think on a strategic level, and we can answer questions you may not have even considered, to give you an advantage going forward, and (3) This job is not really about creating, for example, a website, or an event — it’s about communicating key ideas to important customers, and positioning you in a way that’s going to grow your business.

      Example: I have some friends at a small but highly regarded interactive development company. Clients come to them for development, and a lot of them just assume they’ll populate pages with existing content, which was never very strategic to begin with. They have no desire or budget to pay for a cohesive messaging approach, which is labor intensive. So the developers must be clear from the start about the expectations for success of the websites, etc., if they’re not based on a cohesive strategy.

      Sometimes, they might send this kind of client to me. But most of these clients never even considered the message development part of the process. They don’t have a budget, either for hiring a professional, or the time to do it themselves.

      Now this is just a generalization, but I think reasonable one: Even though major brands can get the message spectacularly wrong, most of the time at least someone is responsible for developing strategic messages. They understand it’s something that you do in a professional marketing organization, whether there’s one person in the marketing group or a hundred.

      The problems are mostly in small and midsize businesses. You have marketing managers who have never heard of a value proposition, or a buyer persona, or a brand personality. In a lot of tech companies, they’ve never even talked to a real customer. They have no idea what pushes these people’s buttons. It’s up to marketing agencies, no matter what the precise discipline, to begin educating people BEFORE you accept their money. That’s what my developer friends are learning to do.

      Honestly, I could write about this problem all day, so I’ll quit now while I’m ahead. But let’s continue this. You asked a great question Geoff. And I’m so glad you did.
      barrett recently posted..Musical Advice For Bloggers

  4. Hey Barrett,

    Great response and I love your thinking here. It’s very true, education is key!

    And there are so many people that don’t have the strategic capacity to take a step back. For me, it’s all about the why. I’m sure you have seen this but Simon Sinek has a great TED talk about starting with WHY (

    Every point you mentioned above that marketing managers are forgetting all stems from asking why! And very few people do this.

    I too am extremely passionate about this topic as there’s so much room for improvement and such an opportunity. So yes (the short answer), we have to continue this conversation!
    Geoff Reiner recently posted..Be a Risk Taker

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