Marketing communications and ads of all shapes, types, and sizes are designed to persuade somebody to change their understanding, attitude, preference or behavior. Every message sent is filtered and understood in context. The new concept, idea or product is compared with ideas, choices or behaviors in-place today. Context directs the content and cadence of marketing communications needed to persuade.
In most cases, changing minds or actions is an uphill battle of substitution. Most of us are reluctant to change. Evangelizing something completely new requires inordinate amounts of time, energy and money and works only intermittently. Many of us are professionally skeptical. We’ve been teased with a thousand shiny new objects and their grandiose claims. We’ve also bought into suites of cloud-based tools loaded with functionality which, more often than not, have not been fully utilized to maximum effect.
To break through the status quo and its usual companion, inertia, you must position the new thing against the old thing and proactively answer 6 basic questions.
What Exactly is it? While this seems obvious, explaining a new technology or a new technique can be extremely challenging. Is it a data platform or a software tool? Is it a breath mint or a candy mint? What process is it used in? By whom? When or how often? To achieve what business objective? Most of us sort unknowns against what we know. What should we compare this with or what category should we sort a new thing into?
How Does it Fit into What I’m Doing Now? Most buyers react to new pitches like the announcer in the Ragu TV commercial thinking or saying “it’s in there” meaning we already have something like this, even if we don’t use it. New things have to align with the general direction of what the prospect is already doing. Leaps into the unknown or radical turns are rare. The new thing has to fit into the existing business or technology plan.
Does it improve or Replace the Status Quo? New or different isn’t necessarily better. The new thing must have a measurable business payoff. You must credibly show a realistic ROI in terms of reduced costs, time savings, speed to market, competitive advantage, revenue growth, or customer satisfaction.
Does it Make Sense Financially? Money is the great killer of new options. The hard and soft costs of acquiring something new are critical to persuasion. Ideally, the new thing is something that has been generally planned and can be priced so that mid-level executives can make the deal. The focus on cost brings out everyone with a point of view or a cross to bear. As a rule, the more people involved in assessing cost versus value, the less likely a purchase will be made. Budgets are generally fixed, though frequently wiggle-room funds can be found quietly hiding in one budget line or another. But getting prospects to give up their hidden reserve requires a precise cost estimate and clear return on investment.
What is the Cost of Implementation? Installing something new and teaching people to use it is a two-fold process. You have to convince them that the new thing is faster or easier than what they know how to use. Then you have to gently put them into a new environment where they are unmoored, uncertain and uncomfortable.
Everyone talks a good game on implementation and training. Very few actually do it well. Disrupting well-established patterns and routines can quickly kill morale and reduce rather than improve productivity. You cannot ignore the day-to-day operational realities of installing, training and using the new thing. Presenting a clear, believable step-by-step glide path for implementation is table stakes.
Is there an Opportunity Cost? Buying one new thing often eliminates the option to buy a different new thing. Understanding not only the benefit but the opportunity cost is critical in closing a deal. The payoff --- in financial, operational and business terms, must significantly outweigh other choices. Parity products perish in this process.
Another unspoken but practical consideration is the reputational costs to decisionmakers. Will the new choice enhance or degrade their internal standing and likelihood of promotion? Here’s where the old canard about picking IBM (because it’s the safe choice) kicks in. There are not many profiles in courage in corporate suites. Part of the job is subtly persuading the decisionmaker of the wisdom and lasting career value of his or her choice, especially if the choice isn’t a name brand.
In the communications process, context is everything. It seems basic. But too often we get caught up in our own rhetoric and blinded by the promise of something new and we forget these six essential hurdles. Without a keen understanding of context, content is hit or miss.
NB: I’m indebted to Arnab Gupta of Opera Solutions who got me thinking about these issues in this way
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.