I have a marketing “framework” that I use extensively with small business marketers. Part of this “framework” involves creating a Business Model Canvas for a particular product (which may also be a service).

A Business Model Canvas is a brief document that helps owners describe, design, and understand the key elements required to market, sell and deliver a product.

The Buisness Model Canvas I use is adapted specifically for marketers. This one-page document helps marketers understand the business behind the products they market.

The first section in the Business Canvas Model deals with the problem a particular product solves. I’ve learned in my 20 years of marketing experience that most small business marketers struggle to articulate the problem their product solves precisely.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” While I’m not certain a marketer can take this literally; it does emphasize the importance of needing to understand the problem.

If you want to separate junior marketers from senior marketers, ask them what problem their product solves.

Why is it important to understand the problem?

Emotional value: Problems inherently have some negative emotion attached to them and, as a marketer, if you’re able to provide a solution that solves the problem, you turn a negative emotion into a positive emotion, and that’s good for business.

Business value: I don’t believe a business can offer maximum value to their clients with understanding the core problems their product is designed to solve. By understanding the “problem,” a business will naturally strive to provide the best solution possible, and this means value for your customer. A satisfied customer is a repeat customer and good source for referral business.

Outperform your competition: As mentioned, in my experience, most marketers struggle to identify the “problem.” Those marketers that do understand the problems their product solves will typically out-perform their competition who doesn’t.

How to define your problem?

Defining a problem isn’t a complicated process. However, it can give your brain a good workout depending on your circumstances. Whatever the problem may be, I highly recommend keeping it simple, and that means defining the problem in a single sentence. The more text used to describe a problem the more challenging becomes the task of marketing it. Keep it simple.

Many methodologies can help define a problem. I like to keep things simple, and so I gravitate towards the “5 Whys” principle developed by Sakichi Toyoda and adopted by the Toyota Motor Corporation. The technique consists of asking “why?” and to keep asking “why?” until the root of the problem is identified.

The “5 Whys” technique says that if you can ask “why?” five times you’ll typically identify the root of the problem.

Here’s an example:

Product: Time Tracking Software

Why is time tracking software important?
Errors are made when time is tracked manually.

Why does it matter if errors are made?
Customers are under-billed for the time spent on their project.

Why is it important customers are billed correctly?
Billing dictates the revenue generated by the company and under-billing means lost revenue.

Why is lost revenue important for the company?
The company has expenses to meet and profit margins to achieve. Lost revenue impacts the financial stability of the business.

Why is financial stability important?
A lack of financial stability means staff layoffs, potential bankruptcy, unhappy investors and difficulty to grow the business.

In this example, the problem time tracking software helps solve is ensuring a company can meet their financial obligations enabling them to grow and expand.

So you have defined the problem. Now, what?

From a marketers perspective, understanding the problem drives the positioning, or messaging, of the product. Positioning helps create good sales presentations, write targetted white papers, post engaging messages on social media, execute well-attended webinars and more.

Next time you get dragged into a product management meeting make sure you ask “why?” and leave the meeting having a thorough understanding of the problem the product solves.