January 19, 2022
What’s the difference between a HUGE problem and an EXPENSIVE problem?
There are plenty of HUGE PROBLEMS, in the world.
You could probably list a dozen right off the top of your head.
But HUGE PROBLEMS are rarely what I would call EXPENSIVE PROBLEMS.
I know that sounds like a paradox, so let’s break down exactly what I mean by the term EXPENSIVE PROBLEM.
Expensive and problem.
Let’s talk about the word “problem” first.
Calling global warming “a problem” is kind of like calling the loss of a loved one “a bummer” - it’s technically accurate, but off by orders of magnitude.
I think it would be more accurate to call global warming an EXISTENTIAL THREAT, not merely a “problem”.
It’s huge and diffuse and well... global.
So no, I’m not a climate change denier.
And no, I’m not saying global warming isn’t a huge problem.
And also no, I’m not saying global warming won’t cost trillions of dollars.
Which brings us to the word “expensive”...
- If the website for your mom and pop pizza place goes down, you’ve got an INEXPENSIVE ANNOYANCE.
- If the e-commerce site for your national retail brand goes down on Black Friday, you’ve got an EXPENSIVE PROBLEM.
- If the polar ice caps are melting and the intricate web of life on earth is in danger of collapse, you’ve got an EXISTENTIAL THREAT.
Probably nobody is going to pay much to have you solve an inexpensive annoyance for them because they don’t really care about it.
And probably nobody is going to pay much to have you solve an existential threat directly (i.e., positioning yourself as: “I help businesses solve global warming”) because:
- They know it is too big for you to personally solve the whole thing, and
- It’s unclear how exactly your expertise would help with something they’re struggling with
An expensive problem is like the “Goldilocks Zone” between problems that are either too small or too big.
It’s big enough for the client to really really want it fixed, and it’s small enough that it’s reasonable to imagine that hiring an expert could actually solve it in the near term.
In other words, an expensive problem is one that a buyer would gladly write a big fat check to solve ASAP.
With the possible exception of a head of state, existential threats like global warming are too complex for any one buyer to tackle directly by writing a check.
For a business owner who wants to start attracting more and better clients so they can do higher value, higher impact work, it would probably be a mistake to orient their marketing only around giant existential threats.
Because giant existential threats affect everybody.
And selling to everybody is the same as selling to nobody.
And if you don’t sell to somebody, you’re not going to be in business for very long.
Does this mean I think business owners should’t care about global warming?
No, not at all.
I think “decreasing the effects of global warming” would make a great mission statement for a business.
But a mission statement is not the same thing as a positioning statement.
So how could you use an “end global warming” mission to inform your positioning?
My advice would be to find a particular kind of buyer who is experiencing a very expensive problem as a result of global warming and position yourself around that.
What might that look like? Maybe things like:
- “I help wind farm operators decrease turbine downtime”
- “I help shipping companies remove icebergs from trade canals”
- “I help cryptocurrency mining pools convert to 100% renewable energy”
Condensing your high level mission into a positioning statement that is digestible for your ideal buyers is a great way to start making the world a better place WHILE getting paid to do so.
And the “getting paid” part is pretty important.
Because if you’re not getting paid, it’s going to be pretty hard to continue on your mission.