I got ‘99 problems and your product ain’t solvin’ none…
With apologies to Jay-Z for slaughtering his catchy hook, I want to talk about problems.
Not about the problems you have, but the problems you can solve. And how by solving the right problems, you stand to make a lot of money.
Sound good, Rainmaker?
I thought about this on the season finale when I was watching the season finale of Shark Tank the other day…
There was a business on there called Shark Wheels.
The guy started his pitch basically saying that because we’ve been using the same wheel for the last 5,000 years, we needed a new one.
He did offer up some other problems we might have… Narrow wheels are rigid and roll faster, wide wheels offer better grip but at a loss of speed. Longevity of a wheel could be improved.
And this guy purportedly invented a new wheel that gives the speed performance of a narrow wheel, with the grip of a wider wheel… And that lasts longer, to boot.
In short, a better wheel…
Before we go farther…
Have you heard the phrase, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door” … ?
Here’s a little secret. This has actually been disproven thousands of times over.
You see, that phrase has actually stuck in inventors’ minds. And if you do an analysis of all the patent applications that go into the US Patent Office, you’ll find something that may or may not surprise you…
There are more patent applications for mouse traps than any other item!
In fact, as of 2011, there were 4,400 approved patents for what the inventors presumably thought were better mousetraps…
And every year, more than 400 patents for mousetraps are submitted…
(I’d either be really annoyed or have great pity if I was the person at the patent office processing all these dang “better mousetrap” applications!)
And yet, I’d be willing to bet that in 95% of cases, the last mousetrap YOU bought was of the same style James Henry Atkinson invented in 1897!
You have to believe that somewhere in there — in all those hundreds of applications submitted every year — in the 4,399 other approved applications — that there’s a “better mousetrap.”
It doesn’t matter.
Unless you as a consumer have a major problem with the current mousetrap (e.g. you don’t want to kill them, you want to catch and release them), that you have no desire at all for any “better mousetrap.”
It’s not a real problem in your book.
Back to the wheel example — do we need a better wheel?
Here’s the thing. Until I watched that episode of Shark Tank, I didn’t have even the seed of an idea that anything was wrong with current wheels.
And frankly, even though I recognize that to an engineer with exacting demands of a wheel that the benefits listed would matter… I’m still not convinced AFTER Shark Tank that a new take on the wheel is needed.
YES, if you watch the episode, you’ll find out that they ARE selling these wheels. They launched them into the skateboard market, and have been making some sales.
And he THINKS it’s because the skateboard market is crying out for better wheels.
I don’t think that’s the “problem” he’s solving. Even if he can scientifically document their performance improvements.
The “problem” that shark wheels solve for skateboarders is “look at me, I’m cool.”
With no disrespect intended, most skateboarders are young men and boys who want to show off. Those that are not young or not men mostly still want to show off.
This includes all sorts of things.
The clothes they wear. The style of their boards and other gear. The tricks they know. And so on.
And here’s something about the Shark Wheel that speaks to that…
It looks really, really weird. It’s not round. It’s square-ish, with rounded corners. It looks wobbly. It rolls smoothly, but it looks wobbly even when rolling.
Even if it provides better performance, it’s unique, attracts attention, and is comment-worthy.
Shark Wheels solve the problem of “look at me, I’m cool…”
Because as soon as those skateboarders get the Shark Wheel installed on their board, they’ve got something that gets noticed and talked about.
Which means THEY are getting noticed and talked about.
Which is exactly what they want.
(Frankly, it’s what WE ALL WANT.)
Now, sometimes, as is the case with Shark Wheels, you’ve got a good chance of selling your product even if you think it solves a superficial problem when really it’s solving a deeper one.
I think it often makes for a fad business. Skateboarders will only want to buy Shark Wheels as long as they’re cool and different, and even with greater performance they won’t stick as a wheel of choice once they’re no longer cool and different.
This was reflected, I think, in the deal the sharks made — spreading risk between three sharks, making the money received primarily a loan, and only taking a small piece of equity in the business. It limited their downside risk while still giving them substantial upside if the Shark Wheels were more than a flash in the pan.
But it’s worth taking the deeper lesson from.
Knowing the problems you solve can help you make more money from whatever business you’re in…
Let’s say I’m doing marketing for Shark Wheels.
If I think they solve the “need a better wheel” problem, I’m going to take them to all sorts of markets where I believe there’s a need for a better wheel or wheel-like mechanism.
These will be primarily performance applications — but I’d include less-obvious markets like industrial conveyor belts, etc., where the incremental performance improvement of the patented wheel design could be appreciated.
In that case, I’m selling performance to people who care about performance — and the “problem” I talk about in my marketing an sales materials is all around performance.
Alternately, if I think they solve the “look at me, I’m cool” problem, I’m going to take them to markets that use wheels and that care about that.
Skateboarding — where they had their first big success — is great for this. And while I can talk about performance enhancement in marketing to this crowd, my biggest message I’d try to get across in my marketing (subconsciously — this message is not credible if you’re overt about it) is “buy these, they will make people like you.”
With that in mind, I’d go straight to celebrities, and design custom wheels for different celebrities in the market. I’d also basically follow Red Bull into most of their markets, and try to sponsor events that they’d frequently be seen sponsoring.
I’d also go to other markets where people show off their wheels. The Shark Wheels folks may have been on to something going after the stay-at-home-mom market with their stroller demo on Shark Tank.
But there would no doubt be many more markets I could find if I looked hard enough.
Here’s the good and bad news…
If you can get the “look at me, I’m cool” market to work, it’s actually way bigger and there’s way more money floating around there than the performance market.
We all want to believe we buy on performance, but that’s mostly not true.
BUT, it’s also a more fickle market, and it’s often where fortunes will come and go the quickest.
If you’re in that market, you have to be as ready to get OUT as you were to get in. When your 15 minutes of fame are over, you can lose the fortune you’ve just made really fast if you don’t know to stop pouring money into the business to try to relive your glory days.
That said, here’s my final takeaway…
First, it really pays to know what problem you solve. If you know this, can pinpoint it, and really understand it, you can know exactly what markets to pursue — both with marketing your current products, and with expanding your product line.
Second, once you know this, use it. One of the single-best things you can do to start an advertisement is to meet people at the conversation that’s already going on in their head. And there’s no more emotionally-charged, solution-seeking conversation in their heads than that of their biggest problems. Show them how your product solves their biggest problems, and making the sale is very, very easy.
Alright, that’s a big ol’ life-changing breakthrough for you, Rainmaker.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Chief Rainmaker, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets
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