🤐 Marketing's problem problem

Many startups don't do a good job of articulating the problem they solve. That's a problem itself

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Marketing has a “problem” problem

All you need to create your own marketing plan?


I’ve previously written about the challenges facing marketers these days. Everyone’s a brand, and everything is content.

It’s never been easier to start a company, yet —by definition— it’s also never been harder to stand out.

Ads have never been more expensive. Or less effective.

In this context, the more I look around, the more I realize that marketing does not have an efficacy problem, or a relevance problem.

I think marketing has a “problem” problem.

Hear me out.


Defining a clear and common audience “problem,” so that a brand can communicate how they solve it to potential customers is one of the most basic tenets in marketing.

Unfortunately, the tactic seems to be underused.

And I’m not the only one thinking about this. A number of LinkedIn posts —all about brands defining “problems”— recently caught my attention.


A LinkedIn influencer I follow recently sold his instant coffee business in order to go back to the working world.

He did some simple math, and realized that his income potential was higher in his old career of B2B software sales than continuing to run his coffee company.

This is notable because it's not the typical story that gets celebrated —or even talked about much— on LinkedIn.

But he seems to be loving his new (old) life in B2B software sales, and his posts are full of signals that he’s thriving as a result of the career shift.

He’s even sharing lessons in greater detail than he was doing as a founder.

You just love to see it.

One post that caught my attention was about sales message personalization.

I think personalization in sales outreach is way overrated.

Relevance is way more important.

I've sent and received my fair share of sales outreach and I’ve never gotten or [given] a response because I mentioned their LinkedIn post, their dog on IG, or the city they live in.

I have, however, received many positive responses because the message I sent was relevant to a problem the prospect currently was facing and trying to solve.

Zach Frantz via LinkedIn

This bears repeating. This professional sales person has never bitten on (or recieved a bite on) a personalized sales message —but he has seen success with sales messages that clearly articulated the problem his customers are experiencing.

This dovetails really nicely with something that I've been thinking about on behalf of one of fate v/ future’s clients: how to articulate their brand’s problem and solution in a hyper clear way that communicates their offering.


Then another post grabbed my attention, from another accomplished LinkedIn user and marketer.

His succinct advice to founders, before they even begin their journey, was to avoid creating a product/starting a company that solves a problem that needs to be explained to people, or —as he put it— people who don’t know they have a problem.

Brands that do this are setting themselves up for a tricky double challenge:

  1. they need to explain, or at least identify, the problem, and then

  2. they also need to articulate how and/or why their brand, product, or service is the solution to it.

That is literally twice the effort, and of course requires twice the cognitive load from potential customers.


All this feels very relevant and top of mind for me because we at fate v/ future have been working on a product ourselves that is designed to solve a common marketing problem.

Year after year, we hear that —of all the open items and questions facing founders— marketing feels like the most mysterious, and overwhelming one.

And so, fate v/ future went ahead and created a marketing plan playbook for startups.

We didn’t write it because there's a lack of information out there, but precisely because there is too much information available.

Look around. Marketing experts are everywhere. And they're overwhelming their potential clients.

SEO experts will tout SEO. Social media marketers will say social matters above all, and heavyweight brand strategists will say that your new brand’s “why” needs to be figured out before doing anything else.

Who's right? Well, all of them, but between all of the different disciplines and practitioners, many founders literally don't know where to begin.

Enter the playbook. We took the streamlined, efficient process that fate v/ future uses when early stage founders come to us for marketing services— and put it in PDF form.

The playbook was developed organically, in response to the range of questions that our company has consistently heard from founders that we work with.

Over the years I've personally worked on more than 150 brands. And this playbook is an attempt to put that expertise into a clear, easy to follow guide that shares the exact process and standard operating procedures that consultants charge thousands for.

In it, we break down a range of essential marketing components and to do's, starting with what any new brand's overall pitch or argument to the marketplace should be.


Zoom out: most early stage startups aren’t in brand building zone. They’re in survival mode. I’ve seen and heard this time and again, even from founders who are experienced marketers, and recognize the power and value of high level brand strategy.

While building a brand through semiotics, or positive associations, or high level concepts is valuable —and has merit— most early stage startups jsut aren’t ready for that kind of marketing.

They need sales. Today. To simply survive until tomorrow.

Which is why their pitch to the marketplace should be a simple formula: a problem that your brand, product, or service solves, and then your answer to it.

That's it.

Most founders get (in the words of one of my favourite brand consultants) lost in their own sauce.


This bears repeating: early stage startups can create an effective pitch by doing two simple, vital things before doing anything else marketing-related.

  1. Define in plain, clear, simple, universally understood language the specific problem your brand, product, or service solves.

  2. Then, using equally plain clear and simple language, articulate the answer.

Only once these two steps above are properly complete, should you move on to anything else.


Look around again: how many early stage startups can you see across your feed that don't seem to follow this simple two step process to basic marketing?

So, we’ve taked our own advice, and have used fate v/ future’s playbook… to market fate v/ future’s playbook.

Here’s our playbook’s problem and solution (that I wrote using the playbook’s instruction):

Problem: Startups find marketing overwhelming (confusing and expensive).

Solution: We put 15 years of experience into a 40 page, step-by-step playbook that walks startup founders through how to create a clear, practical, and actionable marketing plan themselves.


The very first section of the very first chapter of the playbook will walk you through the best way to create an effective problem solution statement like this one yourself, including the criteria you should use to judge what you come up with.

If you'd like the introduction, table of contents, and first chapter of this playbook free, I'm offering it to any and all fate v/ future subscribers.

Simply reply to this email with the word ‘playbook.’

And, feel free to forward this email to any early stage founders in your network, or family that may find it useful too.

Chances are they’re feeling this problem as well.


“I think personalization in sales outreach is way overrated” »»

“If you are a solo founder do yourself a favor and don’t create a product for unaware customers” »»

Written by Jon Kallus. Thanks for reading.


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