Name the problem

A trigger bundles together your problem and a solution to it, and it does so *just* for you. Learn the difference between a compact trigger and a deep trigger – and why it matters for your business

Dear friends,

Earlier this month, I wrote about the period to make a point. That little, valuable marketing ideas, which might come in sets of 1000 not dozens, are what make or break a marketing campaign.

Not funnel design, not tech, not the big idea, not even expertise of those implementing your campaign. It’s ideas that matter – their volume and their quality. 

The “trigger” is an important idea that can generate many more useful ideas in turn.

If you do your own marketing, hire a marketer, or want to bring out marketing value in your products, web copy, designs, etc., then you should learn to recognize trigger when you see it – or feel them.

And you should understand how the texture of a trigger differs in B2C vs B2B marketing (I know that most of you are more concerned with the latter).

Fundamentally, a trigger is what it sounds like – the element that gets people to act.

In his digital marketer’s must-read, The Brain Audit, Sean D’Souza defines the trigger element as a feeling – alertness, curiosity, and readiness-to-act – that conditions you to take action.

The most effective trigger feelings are built on three components:

  1. A problem that you, the prospect, experiences
  2. A solution that would alleviate that problem somehow
  3. Positioning cues that affirm that both the problem and solution are specific to you and your business

Sometimes, you can craft triggers that fit into very small spaces and work on all three elements – problem, solution, positioning.

That’s the ideal, at least. It’s not easy.

Here’s an example trigger headline for a digital marketing firm specializing in SEO/SEM for consumer tech and media brands – NeilPatel Digital:

The three key trigger elements are all here, to a degree:

  • Lack of desired amount of web traffic (implied) – Problem 
  • Digital marketing agency specializing in consumer brand organic traffic – Solution
  •  Logo bar and “top companies” claim are cues that affirm for whom this agency solves the traffic problem (corporate tech and media companies) – Positioning

The problem is weaker when it’s implied like this – and not directly spelled out as a negative, painful problem.

But it’s much safer and frankly easier to avoid using negatives, one of the reasons you rarely see them built into compact triggers.

If you don’t believe that it’s difficult to compose a compact trigger that names a painful problem, go on and look at the headlines for for the top 50 firms in any category.

Don’t stop at the headlines – for each of those brands, you could also examine the other places where you can fit a compact trigger that spurs action:

  • Tweets
  • Display advertisements
  • Email subject lines (if you sign up for a newsletter)
  • Slogans
  • Home page headlines
  • Pitch deck blurbs
  • Product/services page headline

In the B2B world, very rarely will you find the “holy grail” of direct marketing: a compact trigger (ie one of the above) built on a clearly stated painful problem, solution to problem, enveloped by positioning cues. 

By the way, If you do find a painful problem, it’s usually buried in a bullet.

Case in point: the homepage headline for NewFangled, a content marketing & strategy firm whose own clients are other B2B knowledge firms:

As you can see, it’s quite a ways down the page before you see a problem or a negative emotion (“sick of”) explicitly stated.

Often when a firm hires me to come up with a slogan or trigger headline or email subject, it’s already been written by the client –  but has been buried somewhere in the small print.

This is not a knock or teardown of Newfangled at all, however. And overall their homepage is excellent. Better than mine, let’s put it that way. And better than most.

More to the point – it’s not all about their homepage.

Because triggers are emotional experiences that evolve over time. That feeling doesn’t necessarily need to stuffed into one discrete location.

Deep Triggers: In B2B Marketing, Triggers Are Subtler and Deeper

You’ll often see watered down triggers (with no explicit statement of a painful problem) in software and services companies that sell to other organizations.

Even more watered down (if completely non-existent as you’ll note on than in the two examples above.

Now in my opinion, you want triggers embedded everywhere in your marketing, including in the “top of the funnel” (roughly meaning where people first learn about you).

It’s OK to develop the trigger later on “in the funnel” (where people know you better) – within longer form content, such as videos, blog posts, podcast episodes, marketing emails, and the like. 

In fact, that’s where it has the most value by far – the more deeply your prospects experience your trigger, the more likely it is to cause action.

And of course, they’ll experience it more deeply the more engrossing your content.

I remember reading a book by the founder of Newfangled at least 10 years ago, speaking of funnels and engrossing content.

Books like that, thematically focused email marketing and podcasts, and research-based reports, analysis, case studies – this is where the high-value trigger is often buried in B2B firms’ marketing.

The pain, agony, and sheer stupidity of writing 30-page custom proposals and sending them off to a stranger’s email address.

Do you know it? Nowhere was this problem better wrapped into a deep trigger than in Blair Enns’s book, Win Without Pitching.

In that book, he told a group of people their problem and their solution. And in doing so he created a far more powerful trigger than could be ever be packed into a headline.

But if writing a book isn’t on your to-do list, try it in a smaller piece of content – start with your homepage headline (but first read the article on ideating a slogan, because it’s there to help with the positioning part of your trigger).

Actually you should try it if you have a website. If nothing else, it’s a fun ideation exercise. And let me know what you come up with.

My best,