Recently, something sparked a long-buried memory of a folk song I learned in elementary school. I knew the first line, had a good guess about the second line, but was stumped beyond that. So I did what anyone does today: I Googled it. The more I looked through the search results, the more I wondered about the song: Why did we learn it, and why was it feeling relevant now?

There’s a Hole

The song is known by a number of different names, but the most popular appears to be “A Hole in the Bucket.” Its origin story is murky, with some attributing it to a German song and others to a Pennsylvania “Dutch” song, which would also make it German. A 1960 popular recording by Harry Belafonte and Odetta increased its audience. You can listen to their performance or perhaps the Sesame Street version is more your jam. (Fair warning, you may find yourself humming it for the rest of the day!)

The song is a call-and-response story. Henry is asked to fetch water and can’t because he keeps finding a problem that must first be solved. Liza replies with specific actions to solve each problem Henry raises. The lyrics paint Henry as incapable of taking decisive action. Liza’s responses appear helpful but don’t actually solve the problem. As the song nears its conclusion, Henry finds himself back where he began, which struck a nerve with me.

Well, Fix It

Aside from making me wonder about my elementary music education, Liza and Henry’s predicament and strategy struck me as typical 2020 marketing. Liza, or those in charge of corporate decision making want something done. “We need to sell more widgets,” Liza conveys to the marketing team. “Sure,” says Henry, “How do you propose we do that?” Liza’s response is to start a blog, create better social media posts, or update the website’s content. “How about Google ads, or maybe we should start a podcast?” For each action, Henry says, in effect, we could but…. We need more of this, someone to do that, or a larger budget.

Both Henry and Liza are following the blueprint in the song. Henry’s hole in the bucket becomes code for “We would do that, but….” The call and response continues as a slew of new activities are proposed instead of addressing the actual problem: selling more widgets. Social media posts won’t drive significant traffic to your website. And even if you capture the number one spot on Google search, only about 31.7% of searchers will actually click on the first result according to Backlinko.com.

The Hole Matters

Let’s get back to Liza and Henry. Imagine Liza asking Henry to fetch water, and instead of dodging the request, Henry responds by asking Liza why she needs the water. By asking the right question, Henry is now in a better position to take a productive step to help Liza reach her goal. If Liza is simply thirsty, Henry can fetch the water in a glass instead of using the bucket. If she’s doing laundry, then she needs a bucketful. Henry must understand her needs in order to assess what issue the hole presents accurately: how big it is, where it’s located, and if he needs to actually fix it in order to deliver the water Liza needs.

When he understands the why, he can make smarter choices about whether he needs to patch a hole in the bottom, or just develop a temporary workaround (e.g., make two trips if the hole is in the side of the bucket above the halfway mark). Knowing the why behind the request will allow Henry to make informed decisions. And when he does that, Liza doesn’t need to continuously supply “solutions” to the litany of challenges. She can get on with her day without micromanaging Henry.

New or Make Do

The one solution never offered is simply using a different object to accomplish their goal. Henry and Liza are caught up in a never-ending cycle because they both assume Henry can use only the bucket to fetch the water. And they both stick to that premise throughout the song. She offers a solution, and he rejects it because of another issue in a never-ending cycle. While it’s fun when it’s a folk song, for marketing teams, repetitive, non-productive cycles are frustrating. So it’s time to ask yourselves: Are we doing what we’re doing because someone asked for it or because it’s the right thing to do?

To break the cycle and deliver the water, EVG is here to help you think about your goals and the best possible way to achieve them. As your marketing partner, we’ll ask the right questions and offer solutions that actually deliver the results you seek. And unlike the hapless Henry, your Liza will thank you!

Kathleen Gossman – Project Manager

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