While rereading a 10 years old book by Tom Kelley, describing the success ingredients of his design firm IDEO (one of the most innovative firms over the last 30), I encountered the description of one of the most common problems that he and his team are facing within the design practice: Fuzziness. Kelley described it as encountering a fuzzy instead of a clearly defined problem which seems to be the cause of many failed design solutions, or in our world marketing programs. Quite often challenges that we are trying to solve were never clearly defined, they remained fuzzy despite (or because of) the team’s anxious eagerness to work on a solution. It becomes very obvious while watching the numerous commercials during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
This famous and unique media property (the most expensive not just in the US but in the world) is the same visual location in time (CBS between 6.30 and 9pm EST) but the problems that these different brands are trying (or sometimes pretending) to solve is very different from each other. My guess is that most marketers could not describe succinctly of what their presence in the Super Bowl is trying to attack or solve as a problem. It seems that this is driven by a few factors:
- Pressure of mainstream spending behavior - Everyone else likes to be on the Super Bowl, so let’s do it, too. They all can’t be wrong.
- Immediate solution focus - Let’s start working on the solution now, we are already behind schedule
- The misunderstood power of reach – the brand can reach as many people as nowhere else without realizing (or admitting) that most of the brands advertised are at best only for 10% of the
Too often we love to work as fast as possible on a solution without spending the time, energy, and intelligence to understand the problem. The enemy in our marketing discipline is more often the eagerness to create something interesting without the focus and filter of understanding and defining the problem.
Fuzzy problems are expensive. Most problems can be scored on a scale between 0 and 1. At 0 one does not even realize that there is a problem, at 1 the problem is clearly defined and understood. Everything in-between is a higher and lower degree of fuzziness. The Marketer’s obligation is to get as closely possible to 1 and not stop already when they have barely moved above 0. It might be a good exercise for any marketer to judge in any given project where one is on this 0 to 1 problem fuzziness scale. My bet is that we would be surprised of how low we would score very often our clear understanding of the problem, all translating into a high degree of fuzziness. And fuzziness is expensive.