Solution or Problem?

Image from Flickr user Susan Renee

Image from Flickr user Susan Renee

Marketers are always looking for the next solution. This is especially true in the digital realm. We obsess on Zappos, Nike, Amazon and other proven solutions to find the magic mix that we can drag in front of clients as proof. The 2008 presidential election was no different. Digitally, the Obama campaign outperformed the McCain campaign. There’s already been a good deal of writing about the campaigns. 60 Minutes did a piece this past weekend. The Republican Party has begun to recognize the need to rebuild around digital. But is there a chance we’re looking at this all wrong. Is there a chance that we’re looking for solutions where we should be looking at the problems. There’s always a chance.

I believe the best solutions are, in fact, not solutions. What has proven most successful in the digital space is addressing problems. There is a fine line between delivering a solution and addressing a problem.

Solutions assume an omnipotent view. Only then, can one declare with authority that we have fixed the problem. The product or service is now the best on the market because it addresses the critical needs.

Of course, this is rarely (if ever) the case. While a solution is usually a good fit for a handful of customers, it rarely provides the big idea we are so desperately seeking. The McCain campaign delivered many solutions. Each of these solutions spoke to a base equally dedicated to the problem. Where there was agreement, there was no problem. Where there was dissent, another solution was needed.

Addressing problems offers a better approach for marketers. When the Obama campagin addressed problems, it removed its role as authority. Instead, the campaign acted as a leader. They brought the issues to the forefront and moderated the discussion. They provided guidance and understanding. The result was a dedicated group of loyal followers that did not need to agree with solutions to support the source. They only needed to be passionate. The Obama campaign was about facilitation and community. They used their digital resources to facilitate discussions and connect communities.

In the end, both approaches look similar. The ultimate goal is a solution. The difference in the approaches is in how that solution is reached. Either a company can take charge or a community can take charge. Companies can meet the needs of some individuals. Communities serve themselves.

What may be most telling about the Obama campaign will be their ability to keep the momentum they have built during the campaign. Putting the responsibility of solving problems in the hands of the community requires constant attention and adjusting. We will know rather shortly whether this was a campaign stunt or a new form of government.

For companies like Zappos, Nike and Amazon, we know there can be success in addressing problems. We also know it is not easy. What approach is the best to take for digital marketers? Are there situations where a solution is required, or do customers now demand their say?

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