Selling In and Selling Out
Your ideas are only as good as your ability to explain them.
Picture this… Here you are at the client’s office. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this one idea that’s going to change how people view their product and push their brand over the top. You’ve written the perfect lines. You have the perfect visual in your head. The only thing standing between you and a your vision is your client’s approval.
30 minutes later, you exit the conference room scratching your head. Despite your brilliant idea, your client just couldn’t wrap their head around it. Instead of going with the inspired masterpiece you’ve been toiling over for 48 sleepless hours, they’re going to scrap it all and go with the one semi-creative idea the President’s spouse came up with during a rerun of Grey’s Anatomy.
What happened in there? Why couldn’t your client see the genius you just laid before them? Because one way or another, you didn’t sell your idea with any justice.
Before you help your client sell out of their products, you must first sell your idea into the decision makers who are paying your invoices. As creatives, your ability to explain your concept to clients is nearly as critical as your ability to execute your concept for consumers.
Good Ideas Have Lonely Childhoods
In his book, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, cartoonist and copywriter Hugh MacLeod explains:
The better the idea, the more “out there” it initially will seem to other people, even people you like and respect. So there’ll be a time in the beginning when you have to press on, alone, without one tenth the support you probably need.
Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.
When you come up with a great idea, you’re going to have to explain it. You’re going to have to defend it from scrutiny at all levels.
What’s an Explanation?
An explanation describes facts in a way that makes them understandable. The intent of an explanation is to increase understanding. It’s a process built on empathy.
Great explainers have the ability to picture themselves in another person’s shoes and communicate from their perspective. They are students of the details. They can see all the hangups and problems with their product before their customer does. They can simplify. They can engage. They can even entertain.
Here’s a video of a great explanation that launched DollarShaveClub.com into the spotlight.
We work in an industry where the best story typically wins out. A good explanation is a good story. It’s a way to package ideas creatively that promotes a deeper understanding and relationship with your brand or idea.
Teaching Your Idea to Speak
It’s sort of a shame. Not everyone is insightful, witty and creative. Which means you can’t always show your idea and expect your client to immediately get it. Some people need a little help to see things from your point of view.
The following is a system for setting up your creative ideas. When it’s time to show your work, this system helps your idea speak for itself.
Anchoring can be as simple as repeating the communication problem that you’re trying to solve. The idea is to root your initial statement in something indisputable. Don’t give anyone an option to refute your premise. This means anchoring your explanation in a fact or facts. Like ABC Daytime’s ad that's anchored on the fact that its viewers love cheesy soap opera plot lines. It's their guilty pleasure, and ABC knows it.
After you’ve set an airtight foundation, offer another thought that introduces your idea. You could ask a question or pose a hypothetical situation. Anything to help your client understand where you’re going with this. Get them into your frame of mind. Help them to take that leap with you.
Take this example for Foundation Rwanda, which provides education for children born from rapes committed during the 1994 genocide.
It might be anchored with: “The history of this region is stunted with violence and rape.”
Then your creative leap might ask: “If we were to write the future, what might change look like?"
This part begins with an answer to your communication problem, and ends with a setup to your idea. You’ve helped your client make the leap. Now it’s your turn to go as crazy as you’d like. Enough to tickle their curiosity without giving away the whole farm. When it’s time to show your work, your idea should speak for itself.
Anchor: Wind energy is a great alternative energy resource, but no one is giving it its due.
Leap: If wind were a person, they would feel so lonely.
Go: To bring wind energy back to relevance, we hired someone to show just how much the wind gets overlooked.
Starting With Why
One of the best ways to start your explanations and steer your client to your point of view is to remind them what drives their brand. That is, to remind them why they do what they do. Starting with WHY makes your argument far more endearing than starting with WHAT, as is the case with most companies.
The only thing standing between you and a your vision is your client’s approval. Giving our ideas life requires strategy to sell your ideas up the pipeline of jurisdiction (Just wait until the lawyers get their mitts on your work).
Many times, creativity and strategic thinking just don’t mix. Don’t feel like you have to be both at once. There is a time to be imaginative and let your freak flag fly, and there is a time to button up your thoughts and anchor your ideas to steady ground. Be mindful and respectful of both processes. Give time for each. If you can’t prepare to sell your ideas in, then how do you plan on selling out?
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