Our client was fed up with PR firms and consultants by the time he came to us.

He was a highly successful businessman who passionately despised the influence of money in politics and had bold political ambitions.

For the past few years, he had been trying to drum up awareness around his political ideas. He had a solution, but no one was really paying attention.

After some initial brainstorming, we came up with a plan: It was time to declare war on money in politics. 

This was the problem that he wanted to see solved and we set out with a plan for him to lead the charge against the problem. But there was a lot of noise around this conversation and we needed to find a creative way to breakthrough.

Our answer?

120 life-size cutouts and a ballot initiative that would require politicians to wear the logos of their top ten donors whenever they appeared in public.

On a sunny August morning, we arrived — along with our cutouts — at the state capitol building and held our first of many “protests” across the state.

As the politicians made their way into work that morning, this is what they saw:

The campaign was a massive success, and over the next six months it went on to generate over 1,000 media hits, including coverage in outlets like Vice, Washington Post, and The Today Show.

Most importantly, it thrust our client into the national conversation around money in politics, positioning him as a leading advocate ready to fight to solve it. The campaign also made sure that everyone in politics knew his name, building his foundation of awareness and name recognition. 3 years later, he would become the runner up to Governor.

This is the power of publicly declaring war on the problem you solve.

The Challenge All Companies Face 

It’s hard for a startup to stand out.

There’s more competition, more content, and more noise than ever before.

In this post, we’ll cover in detail how you can overcome that challenge by declaring war on the problem you solve.

The Strategy: Evangelize the Problem 

You can break through the noise by becoming the leading advocate for a problem that’s remained unsolved for too long.

This means you must scream from the mountaintops: “Enough is enough! This is a problem that exists, but it shouldn’t. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and those who experience the problem deserve better. It’s time for this problem to be addressed and we’re going to lead the charge to make sure that happens once and for all.”

With this approach, you focus on the scale of the problem, humanize the people who the problem affects, and position yourself as the leading advocate that is ready to fight to make sure it finally gets solved.

Solving this problem becomes your battle cry.

Why does this strategy work?

There are three key reasons why this strategy works.

#1: Gives your organization a why

Everyone wants to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves.

As Simon Sinek said in his now-famous TEDTalk “Start With Why”: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

When you publicly declare war on a problem, you give your company a mission and a sense of purpose. This can help motivate your team, reach more customers, and attract more investors.

#2: Allows you to join the conversation

The primary objective of your communications strategy should be to become top of mind for the conversations that matter.

If a conversation is taking place, your company should be who people think of. Instead of waiting around for news to release that will help you join the conversation, declaring war on the problem opens up opportunities for you to proactively create brand awareness.

#3: Builds trust and credibility early on

You may have identified a problem and built an incredible solution, but why should customers trust your solution? Why should they believe that you are the one who can solve it?

Declaring war early on positions you to become an expert in the problem you are solving. By becoming the leading advocate for the problem you solve, you can position your company as the logical solution that can solve it.

Step-by-Step Battle Plan 

Step #1: Get clarity on the exact problem you solve. 

Dig deep into the problem you solve for customers. Take a step back and really think about life from their perspective. Think about how the problem impacts them and the second and third-order effects that come from the problem.

You can guide your thinking with questions like:

  • What’s just completely f*cked in your industry?
  • What’s unacceptable?
  • What’s your industry’s “dirty little secret?” (Problem that people know exists but no one talks about).

Step #2: Understand the problem better than anyone else. 

After you identify the problem, make it your primary mission to understand the problem better than anyone else. You can apply first-principles thinking here to break down the problem in order to see all the different factors that are included.

You aren’t trying to be the first person to ever identify the problem. You are simply trying to be the first to sound the alarm about the fact that it exists and needs to be solved.

Step #3: Create content and sound the alarm. 

Begin creating content that breaks down the problem and helps others understand it.

Use existing third-party data that highlights the scale of the problem. The more numbers you have, the more you can get the point across: This problem is too big and must be solved.

Types of content: 

  • Blog posts
  • eBooks/white papers
  • Guest posts contributed to media sites (Founder Insights, as we call them)

Step #4: Begin launching creative campaigns to raise awareness. 

This will vary depending on your industry, but here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Launch outdoor billboards or media.
  2. Launch an association or non-profit focused on bringing people together to address this problem.
  3. Conduct original research to put some numbers behind the problem.

One big thing to note, as you plan campaigns, it’s important to identify ways to stay relevant in the conversation because you can only do big campaigns so often. For example, our war on money in politics featured daily posts like this below and a website we created and managed that collected and analyzed data from campaign contributions.

Final Thoughts 

As you read through this, you may be thinking, “This sounds interesting, but that could never work for my industry.”

Think your industry is too “old school” for this? Maybe too boring?

Well, find me an industry more boring than enterprise software, because this strategy is exactly what Marc Benioff used to build Salesforce into the juggernaut it is today.

In the 2000s, Salesforce declared war on the problem they solved: Software.

They used ads like the one below, where the Salesforce-branded jet shoots down a red plane with the name “Software” on it (also a subtle jab at Oracle).

They conducted fake protests at events (thank you for the inspiration, Marc! We’ve used this idea!):

And at one point they even considered driving a tank down the streets of San Francisco, but eventually called that off.

If they were able to make this strategy work for enterprise software, what really makes your industry any different?

Right now, the world is a crazy place, and it’s clear where we are headed. B2B is dead. B2C is dead. What we have now is B2H — business to human. You are in the business of communicating with and serving humans. It doesn’t matter if that human works at a business, is a stay-at-home father, or is a college student. They are human and humans crave a sense of purpose.

Give your brand a sense of purpose by declaring war on a problem you care about.

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