How to Sell an Innovative Marketing Idea Inside Your Organization
by Adam Luckeroth, on Dec, 10, 2013
Being a creative is hard work. It's not simply the re-imagining of everyday solutions and perceptions, it's the fact that being a creative professional often means speaking a completely different language. One of the biggest challenges arises from the need to translate your hard work and innovation into understandable, analytical, and financial terms. Effectively, you spend half your time as a creative, and the other half as a pitch-person.
Until Rosetta Stone develops a program to bridge the gap, the onus of sale will continue to fall on the innovator. Thankfully, sales has its own techniques and body of knowledge that can be applied to this exact role. The key, as it turns out, is not the intrinsic merit of the creative idea, but the presentation and perception of the innovator.
By presenting your idea to your CEO, CFO, or other executive stakeholder, you leave yourself vulnerable to two things. The first is misinterpretation. The challenge of communicating creative works lies in converting theoretical and ideological frameworks into business language. Due to the potential for devaluing the original creative intent, this step poses a real danger of sinking hard work before it surfaces. The second pratfall is personal judgment. When people lack sufficient knowledge to assess complex ideas, they can and do resort to personal evaluations to assess their worth. This phase in the process introduces politics and personal conflicts into what should be an analytical and objective process.
For better or worse, the job of translating creativity into dollars and cents falls to you. Confront the problem with the same intuition that led to your design: consider the concerns and questions of your audience and look for elegant solutions. Bean counters are consistently calculated beings that prefer to make major business decisions on a mathematic basis, so give this to them.
Frame your ideological construction in terms of facts. Know, prior to your presentation, the relevant facts and figures surrounding your motivation for change. Quantify marketing efforts in terms of dollars and historical ROI. Bring case studies to the table that illustrate the precedent for your ideas. Most importantly, do not avoid topics of risk. Businesspeople hate two things: loss and lying. Failing to properly describe the risks involved in an innovative approach creates a void of trust that will make future pitches even harder.
Capitalize on the new wave of media when making your pitch. Outline the facts: Internet users are bored with conventional, valueless content and prefer multi-channel, creative engagement to banal old sales tactics. Today, perhaps more than ever, creativity is an asset and the facts reflect that. Simply bring your tools to the table and present the circumstances in plain English.
Innovation presents an inherent risk: if it's never been done before, then what precedent is there to assure its effectiveness? With a lack of marketing or creative knowledge, anxious businesspeople will resort to personal assessments when determining the value of an idea. In fact, research shows that humans categorize perfect strangers in as little as 150 milliseconds, crafting often inaccurate character assessments in as little as 30 minutes.
However, this decision making model, flawed as it is, possesses traceable trends that can be used to your advantage. Kimberly Elsbach of the Harvard Business Review studied the pitch processes of Hollywood screenwriters, some landing multi-million dollar movie deals and some bombing altogether. According to her work, successful pitchmen are perceived in one of three categories: the showrunner, the artist, and the neophyte. The showrunner combines creative inspiration with production know-how, establishing authority in the eyes of superiors. The artist acts in a theoretical, sometimes detached framework, possessing an air of transcendent know-how that carries a concept. The neophyte leverages their idealistic naiveté in order to appeal to the sensibilities of decision-makers. In each case, the specific role and power differential between the creative and the executive is utilized to maximum effect.
But one of the more poignant discoveries of the study was the importance of involving your decision-makers in the process. By making your audience feel as if they are a part of the development of an idea, their vested interest and thought creates a connection that can mean the difference between a yes and a no. In this case, it is advantageous to listen to their feedback and make concessions on that basis, meeting them in the middle so that they do the same.
Keeping it Real
Above all though, stay grounded. Innovation's ultimate value comes in its conversion of ideological aspirations into real-world results. Executives and managers warm to concrete and measurable objectives because of their tangible value. Talk dollars and cents, use any available research to fortify your position, and set attainable goals. Ideology has its place, but the rubber must meet the road, and doing so increases the probability of your idea's acceptance.
While it is unlikely that creatives will be alleviated of the burden of salespeople any time soon, real tactics exist that can increase the effectiveness of an innovative marketing pitch. Highlight the need for creativity in marketing and present yourself as a knowledgeable and intelligent thinker. Keep the conversation in terms of ROI, sales goals, and real dollars and appeal to the analytical side of your executive board. Art may be transcendent, but money is very real, and any creative solution to the acquisition of money needs only a talented vehicle for its presentation to receive acceptance.