Solving a Problem vs Serving a Purpose | How to ensure your business grows sustainably
I’ve seen a lot of pitches over the last few years, both as an investor and an entrepreneur.
The million dollar (often literally) question many people ask of entrepreneurs is, “What problem does your business solve?”. With traditional thought stating that without solving a problem your business won’t foster loyalty amongst customers and survive. Until very recently, I thought like this too. But what I failed to recognise was that it isn’t the “problem” entrepreneurs need to solve to run a successful business, rather they need to serve a purpose.
Let’s face it most businesses don’t actually solve a problem. Real problems are things like poverty, climate change and fighting illnesses and if the only businesses that survived were the ones that solved these problems, then there would be far less businesses out there and the majority of the global population would be out of work.
Yet the use of the word “problem” is rife in business meaning entrepreneurs are often focusing on the WHATs and HOWs rather than the WHYs. They build brands focused on “solving a problem” and thinking about the features of their product rather than its intrinsic values.
They come to the table with a pitch that says we are better than our competitors because we have this feature on our app, or we’re a more affordable option, or our customer service is better; but these aren’t problems, these are WHATs and HOWs that business owners think will appeal to their customers and solve their problem. And although these features might well be appealing, they aren’t going to foster long term loyalty and are always going to be at risk of being replicated by your competitors.
This is often how businesses get themselves into dangerous cycles of price wars, constantly under cutting their competitors or discounting. Yes, these tactics will lure customers in in the short term (because who doesn’t love a bargain?!) and if you are in your business for the quick win, pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap will work.
But if you are in your business for sustainable growth, you must do much more than solve “the problem of price”, you need to connect with your purpose and the intrinsic reasons and values that will make someone buy from you time and time again.
Think about the brands and businesses you are loyal to and now ask yourself why.
An easy example, and the most referred to is Apple. Apple’s products are more expensive, more inconvenient to use (hello using iPhone 7 and the loss of the headphone jack) and annoyingly as soon as we have finally got up to date with our tech and have the latest version, a newer one is instantly released leaving us feeling like our newest purchase is now a little bit redundant. Yet we still buy from them. Time and time again. As you read this you will have either have thought, yes that’s me, I love Apple and I could never use an Android or a computer. Or you will have thought “that’s why I hate Apple”.
Apple isn’t focused on differentiation on price or features, they are completely focused on why. Apple’s why is to go against the status quo, and as a result, they attract customers who have this value in them too. Whether you work in the City, or you’re a creative entrepreneur Apple’s customers are those who like to go against the grain a little and champion the underdog.
Of course, there will always be those who like to follow the crowd and will buy because they have been influenced by someone they respect, or because they like the “design” or “user-experience” but these aren’t the customers Apple is focused on. Apple is focused on hard-core, die hard Apple fans, early adopters who can relate to their why, and then they let them do their marketing for them through influencing those around them to also buy.
So how do you shift from addressing a problem to serving a purpose?
Your business purpose is the change you want to make in the world. It is bigger than money and it connects on a deeper emotional level with your customers. It appeals to who they are and their values. It is what you want to do for them not for yourself.
Now you may be thinking, great Helena, this makes a lot of sense and I get it, but how do I do this in practical terms?
Step into the shoes of your customers and ask yourself the following questions to unlock your purpose.
What do your customers really care about?
What causes do they connect with?
How do they want other people to see them?
What do they believe in?
What inspires them?
How do you want your customers to feel as a result of doing business with you?
Now ask yourself the same questions. Do your answers match up? They should. Because your sense of purpose is what makes people authentic. Authenticity inspires trust, trust inspires action and action equals sales.
Your competitors will always be able to replicate your WHATs and HOWs but they will never be able to replicate your purpose, it is the one thing that only you have. Let’s go back to the Apple example, Apple are by no means the only producers of computers or smart phones or portable music players, but they are the only ones who do so with such a strong sense of purpose as their foundations.
By purely focusing on the problem you solve you remain fixated on short-term features which aren’t defensible in the long term; by shifting this focus and serving a purpose that connects with your customers you will create a business that is not only sustainable in the long run, but motivates and inspires you to take huge action to get there.
If you are looking to work with someone to help you uncover your purpose by asking the right questions that will translate to sustainable growth for your business, contact me here to book a free strategy session and find out how we can work together to grow your business.