For Effective Marketing, Work the Problem


About one day a month I mentor startups at MIT and in the process I’ve had a deep exposure to its engineering culture. Like the Matt Damon character in “The Martian”, they pride themselves on a dispassionate approach to working the problem. Marketers can gain a lot from this approach, too.

Roughly, working the problem entails:

  • Define the problem/establish a goal (what will success look like). In business terminology, this often involves creating a set of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
  • Create a list of possible alternative methods to achieving it
  • Evaluate the possible methods, including possible unintended consequences
  • Choose one or two to test, based on the initial goals
  • If the tested method helps achieve the goal, implement it and stick with it
  • Re-evaluate at some point to make sure it’s still working, using a process of continuous improvement

The alternative to this, which too many marketers do, can involve jumping right to the tactic or program that you think is a good idea without first establishing goals, considering alternatives, etc. On the content side, this can result in what Bob Johnson at IDG Connect describes as “random acts of content”. Or it may mean a search ad program without consideration for the offers, the conversion experience, or how you’ll continue to engage with people who respond to the ads, etc.

When done well at the highest level, working the problem will result in an integrated, cross-channel marketing strategy that delivers predictable results.