How to get your ideas ‘over the line’
Note: This is most applicable to marketers when your immediate boss does not come from a marketing background.
One of the major pains an in-house marketer has to go through – call it an occupational hazard – is the process of getting our ideas over the line. You know what I’m talking about: explaining your meticulous market research and your inspired creative process to your boss who doesn’t come from a marketing background. Knowing that even with 10,000 hours of professional experience and a record for success, you still have to jump through these hoops.
Phillip Kotler opened his keynote at the Chicago Humanities Festival by defining a marketer’s purpose as CCDVTP: Create, Communicate and Deliver Value to a Target market at a Profit. To date I have found no better prescribed definition of marketing more concisely delivered than this from my favourite doctor of international marketing.
Allow me to paint your picture:
- You’re an expert,
- you’re at your desk, and
- you’re pondering the success of the business you represent.
Then that fateful moment – the cartoon lightbulb pops out brighter than ever… EUREKA!
Inspired thoughts and ideas strike you like lightning and you hit the writer’s flow, begin work immediately throwing yourself into the academically-fuelled strategy evaluation process, which you were taught for three to five years. Perhaps you’re drafting your proposals for the cross-promotions with complementary businesses, designing your posters and flyers, your campaign and marketing budget. How far do you go?
I used to go really far to the point where the only task left is the CEO saying ‘yes.’ I mean, all the resources are invested into it… but instead she says, ‘no, it won’t work.’
How could it not work? Your test group says it’s brilliant – then a few months later your competitor finishes off a project that looks just like your idea and it is extremely successful.
So what is going on here?
Do you feel like your best ideas fall on deaf ears?
Picture one of your best ideas that you didn’t get over the line that you were sure would have seen great ROI, and answer these three questions:
- Were they creative?
- Were they original, or at least had not been done within the industry or among the usual communications your research tells you are shared with the target demographics?
- Were they time-sensitive (eg. leveraging a social nuance or trend)?
If you answered ‘yes’ to one or all of the above – from experience these are the ideas I’ve found that have had the most friction when trying to ‘move them over the line’.
At the beginning of my career I couldn’t move one tenth of my ideas over the line. It was incredibly frustrating. I took it personally. It made me angry. Yet on the flip side of that coin I remember more than a few times getting congratulated on the successful implementation of my less creative ideas, even if they were a home-run they weren’t smashed out of the park, like some of my other ideas may have been, which kind of annoys you too. You can’t win.
Once I learned these lessons, however, I’ve greatly improved the conversion rates of ideas to action and stakeholder buy in.
The first lesson that I learnt the hard way
Do not power through your idea to the point you’re starting to lose enthusiasm about it. See how far you can get till you slow down, when the inspired writer’s flow begins to abate.
Now stop, collect your proposal and think about the benefits. Imagine the effects of implementing your ideas.
Are you getting yourself fired up again?
Great! Now sell it to your boss, follow the sales principals that you know – market it! Follow the principles of understanding what they want and where they’re coming from, feed it to them in their language and put them first.
For this period of time when you’re trying to convince your boss to take a leap of faith and carry out an original or creative idea – the idea is (for the time being) your product in and of itself, you’re about the benefits your product (your idea) is going to deliver 100%.
You must be completely sold on your idea and then sell it to your boss.
- Tell a story on how it came to you,
- why you know it will work, and
- show them data and research (do what it takes depending on your industry/purpose).
I remember my first marketing role. I had this mode when I was marketing and selling, this great professional façade, for some reason I’d switch it off when I’m speaking to my boss. Suddenly humble, not as confident, not as systematic – why?
It came from a place of lacking self-belief. I didn’t believe that I had the experience or the authority to suggest that my idea was good even though I believed it. I didn’t think I deserved the authority to suggest how to run even an aspect of the business, an aspect I was employed to be responsible for!
I’m not more creative now than I was then. The key difference now to then is the belief in the result of my ideas, removing the fear of failing, and realising that selling to your boss is a key skill that gets better with practice.
If you’re living and breathing marketing and business principles, then you’re thinking about this more than your boss is.
If you’re hired to do this role you’ve been handpicked to be the generator of value. Your position, however, is not unique. There is someone else else in your competitors’ company who has likewise handpicked someone to do what you’re doing.
The human brain creates ideas by making connections you might be exceptionally creative and clever, your counterpart in another organisation might be a bit slow, which in contrast means you’re the fast one but if you’re both in the same race and the slow one starts before you and finishes before you’re done arguing with the coach then they might not have been as creative, probably weren’t as smart, weren’t as fast, yet they’re still going to beat you to it.
I once said to my boss: “The problem with great ideas is that everyone has the same ones eventually, the only one our customer will remember however is the first.”
If we’re all in a similar race, running down a similar road, many of us are going to notice some of the same opportunities, make the same connections and have the same or similar ideas. The principle of urgency can be applied to motivate yourself and your boss. Sneaky, but necessary – your sole purpose as a marketer is to create value. If I can borrow a phrase from Grant Cardone – ‘It is your duty, your responsibility and your obligation.’
If you accept that responsibility and are confident in your ability to deliver, you need to get your ideas over the line, because your position is at stake in this employment climate. Don’t take that lightly.
You must sell your ideas. Don’t make the mistakes I did and ‘drop the sale’ because they’re in a higher position of authority.
Once you’ve hit a few home runs in a row you will have set the precedent as someone who takes responsibility, takes charge and has proven value in the organisation.
In a word, what would that make you?
Seven key points for getting your ideas ‘over the line’:
- Be prepared to present data supporting a formal proposal for the ideas you believe in.
- When it’s a big one, or especially early on, I recommend expressing your idea in a powerful, but open for dialogue presentation. (Walk them through an infographic or PowerPoint.) Don’t just shoot an email or dump a booklet on their desk.
- Educate your boss about the risks of not taking action.
- Have conviction in your belief, evaluate the risks yourself; do your research.
- Assess your ideas with a test group.
- Don’t get angry or take it personally; when faced with an objection, treat it like a direct sale, inquire as to what they’re concerned about and discuss how you and the team will handle any risk or challenge they predict. Brainstorm with them when they predict challenges and allow them to build and own the idea with you.
- Remember success starts with failure. If they’re not convinced tell them you’d recommend testing it on a small group or for a limited time. At the very least you’ll be able to prove that your company was the first to implement the idea.
Turn your best ideas into your best results.