B2B creative campaigns are hard to predict. Many elements have to be accounted for and executed with skill. But if you don’t know what these elements are, or how to capitalize on them, how can you be certain your brilliant idea is going to work?

We recently pitched an ad campaign to one of our clients, a managed services provider.

The concept introduced a character we called “Brad” who was a proxy for our client’s target audience: overworked IT pros who need help with the network.

Without getting too far into the weeds, the idea we came up with seemed to hit all the marks. It was eye-catching. It told a story. The copy kept people reading. To top it off, it was funny.

All according to the client.

But something wasn’t right with Brad.

About a week later, despite that early enthusiasm, the client changed their mind and vetoed the ad.

We were stunned. Where did we go wrong?

Well, if we had used this checklist, our client would never have even blinked.

I’m talking, of course, about the PROBLEM method.

The PROBLEM Method for Testing Your Idea

The PROBLEM method refers to an acronym and framework invented by an Emmy-winning screenwriter to help him pitch story ideas. This interview provides a brief overview of what it is. And his book offers a deeper dive.

But here’s the basic idea.

Writing things like screenplays and novels is hard. You can do everything right when it comes to structure, pacing or dialogue. But if your story idea is flawed, it might be hard to convince people to come along for the ride.

Enter the PROBLEM method. The PROBLEM method helps you hone your idea by giving you a checklist of sorts (the problems you need to solve) that you can use to QC your story (or B2B creative campaign).

The acronym looks like this:

  • Punishing
  • Relatable
  • Original
  • Believable
  • Life-altering
  • Entertaining
  • Meaningful

The goal is to see how your idea holds up to the PROBLEM method.

The characters in your B2B creative campaign or ad must struggle (punish them) and be easy for the viewer to invest in (make them relatable).

Your story should have life-altering stakes and not be a rip-off (be original).

You should abide by the rules and logic you establish (be believable).

And finally, you should give people a reason to stay involved (entertain) and reward them for doing so (give it meaning).

If these elements are present, your idea is, theoretically, sound. And if your idea is sound, there’s a better chance your campaign will resonate.

B2B Creative Needs to Tell a Story

Ad concepts, brand identities and other forms of B2B creative aren’t that different from movies or books. It’s still storytelling; just a different form of it. The function remains the same.

Marketers want an audience to get invested in what we have to say. And we want what we have to say to make an impact on them. It’s just that in our case, we want that impact to result in some kind of action – like a phone call, email sign-up or purchase.

This is why the PROBLEM method lends itself to our line of work. In fact, it’s fairly simple to draw parallels. So instead of using it to predict how a movie or book idea will be received, we can use it to predict how creative will be received.

The PROBLEM method for B2B creative campaigns

Using the PROBLEM Method to Test B2B Creative Ideas

Want to know if your idea is strong enough? Ask yourself these questions.

Punishing: Is their problem painful enough?

You should be able to articulate, illustrate or reference in some way how painful your buyer’s problem is. And don’t understate it. It’s a big deal to them so it should be a big deal in your ad or messaging.

Why else would they be looking for a solution? You should know their problems better than they do.

Relatable: Can they see themselves in your creative?

Your audience should be able to identify with what your work communicates. Mirror their experiences, how they talk and think about their problems and what they look like.

If the ad focuses too much on you and your solution, the audience has nothing to invest in. You’re telling their story, not yours.

Original: Are you doing something different?

Is your ad concept outside-the-box and lateral? Is your brand identity fresh but inevitable? You want to make people think that you solve problems in an interesting way.

If your B2B creative campaign looks and feels like something people have seen before, it’s a signal that they can ignore you.

Believable: Do your claims seem realistic?

Advertising is exaggeration. But beware of the claims you are making. Can you back them up with facts or statistics? Or are you just telling your audience what you think they want to hear?

Your solution or approach might be bold, but it should still seem logical and, above all, true.

Life-altering: Are the stakes high enough?

What happens if your target buyer never solves their problem? Will they go out of business? Will people lose jobs? Are lives at stake? Or is it not that big a deal?

Stakes help people decide whether or not to pay attention. If yours are too low, it’s like telling the audience that nothing bad will come of skipping your ad.

Entertaining: How are you keeping them involved?

Find the emotional strings and pull. You can use humor. You can use sentimentality. But whatever you do, keep pulling them. The best B2B advertisers capture and hold your attention so they can tell you what they really want to tell you. If you quit trying after a killer creative headline, your audience will too.

Meaningful: Why should this matter to them?

What makes something meaningful? If it’s related in some way to what you value most. Family. Purpose. Progress. The best ads tap into these things in small ways and become meaningful in big ways. This is what makes them stick. Tap into what matters to your audience and they will remember it.

So what happened to Brad?

After talking with the client, we realized the Brad character came across as younger than the target demographic. Also, the portrayal itself, while funny, could be perceived as being judgmental.

As a result, the audience would have trouble relating. If we had used the PROBLEM method, we would have been able to fine-tune the ad or, at the very least, our pitch.

Conclusion

It’s tough to find reliable ways to judge B2B creative campaigns. Especially before you run with it. The reason I like the PROBLEM method is because it provides guiderails.

It’s not perfect, but it can help creative teams get to a minimum viable idea, so to speak. This, in turn, helps you cut through the clutter of opinions and win creative arguments based on principle.

If your B2B marketing team is unsure about an advertising campaign or creative direction, try using the PROBLEM method. You should notice right away which elements need attention. If nothing else, it can help prevent an outright flop or embarrassment to your brand.