How do you get traction behind
A million dollar idea is worthless if it remains just an idea. So, how to get a decent thought some decent backing? It’s an interesting question for designers and marketers alike (and the bigger the organisation, the greater the challenge). I have a mixed track record over quite a few years of seeing ideas either soar or roll into the long grass, so I thought I might humbly share five observations picked up along the way. All are about convincing others, as this is the basis of building ‘traction’.
1. The less ego you have, the more traction you get
Let’s assume you are in possession of a great idea and all you need to do is convince others of its worth. I think the first step is to look in the mirror and ask yourself what you really want to achieve. Are you already envisaging ‘your’ idea taking off and you, as its author, becoming a bit of a rock star? Or would you be happy to get little credit, despite the idea becoming an outstanding success for the brand you work on?
If you prefer the first option good luck – you will need it, as your desire for personal gain is going to make it far harder to get buy-in. Probably best go off and set up your own company. For the rest of us, the humble realists, we know the adage about success having many fathers and failure being an orphan is broadly true.
Check your ego at the door, put yourself at the service of the idea without expectation of praise or reward and you are on the right track. You’ll know your idea has traction when, a few meetings after the one where you put the idea ‘out there’, someone explains it to you as if you’d never proposed it in the first place. Try to see this in a glass half-full manner.
2. Timing and ‘emotional intelligence’ are everything
Like asking someone on a date or telling a great joke, it’s all about sensing the mood of the room. If you want to win hearts and minds, it’s best if you don’t just slap the idea down fully formed and stand back for the applause. It has to feel like a natural build on others’ thoughts. Yes, this sounds Machiavellian, but your idea needs all the help it can get. Keep the idea close to yourself until the right opportunity arises. Don’t keep banging on about it until everyone is bored and sees it as your hobbyhorse. Instead save it for that brand brainstorm in a few weeks. Take it into the room and wait for your moment. This is towards the end of the session. Nobody can listen properly to a flow of ideas until they have vented their own stuff – bide your time. Your idea has to build off someone else’s insight.
We all like to feel that our input is appreciated and acknowledged. The most influential people are those who listen and converse, not those who proclaim. So use the ideas going up on the flip chart as a springboard. This means listening very actively. ‘As John was saying X and Y and Z. It made me think what if we did W…?’ John now thinks it’s his idea. This is a good thing.
3. Join up the dots
The idea has to connect to as many objectives and issues that the brand in question has as possible. Make it nimble and multi-dimensional – from its core ‘point’, show how it plays to your sponsorship strategy, your CSR mission, your innovation pipeline and so forth. Show how it is cheaper and more relevant for your customer and consumer. Show how it is an idea that uniquely chimes with your brand’s equities and values – that it is ownable. Show how it amplifies your brand essence, rather than taking it off in a weird, new direction. If you can show the idea’s relevance across departments, then everyone knows they can ‘wet their beak’. The people you want traction from need another notch on their CV – show what’s in it for them.
4. Add a little emotional topspin and tell a story
The ‘Hollywood pitch 1-2-3’ approach is worth considering. Supposedly there is a rhythm that pitchers take when they go to sell a new movie idea to the cigar chomping Exec. Set up the danger. Then set up the challenge. Then set up the team who are going to rise to the challenge and avert the danger. I borrowed this insight from the brand-gym blog and it features a great illustration of the process:
Challenge: “Mr Murdoch, you are the biggest guy in media on the entire planet. You’re nowhere when it comes to the Internet”….
…. Struggle: recognizes how Murdoch has been trying to avoid web publishing owing to the expense of new content creation and complexity of online distribution of this content…
…. Solution: “MySpace is the perfect media company. You spend nothing for content because users create it. And you don’t pay for distribution as they create the traffic.”
Read more here.
5. Don’t try to boil the ocean
As a mentor once explained to me, the two magic words are ‘pilot scheme’. If the idea requires Capex and suchlike, consider a trial that uses co-packing. Try and keep the idea under the radar while it is stress tested and nurtured. Think of it as a small acorn whose time as an oak might come if it proves its worth. Don’t try and kick it off at a grandiose level. Sweat the small stuff and prove its worth. Big bets tend to get polished to gain mass appeal until all the interesting bits are shaved away. But the best ideas have knobbly bits – starting small means you might avoid the wind tunnel that makes a great idea more ‘mass’ and average.
And yet…there are many great examples of ideas that get traction by doing the opposite of all this. Ones that triumph through the tenacity of their maverick’s creators. Or that succeed by being simple and good. Who came up with top-down squeezy bottles? I bet it was an engineer who just showed a prototype to marketing. They were probably able to dispense with the joining up of dots or winning of hearts and minds. Still, if you do go for the ego free approach, keep a sketch – it’s nice to prove the original notion came from you.
Below is an entirely worthless idea – a few years ago I noticed that Café Nero’s cups carried sponsorship that had little to do with the properties of the cups. There was a Buster Keaton season on at the NFT. I drew this design up for my own amusement and showed it to nobody (until this post). Worthless…but then sometimes playing with ideas can be personally satisfying without having to be worthwhile. It all depends on your ambitions.
N.B. The cartoon at the top was pilfered from Tom Fishburne’s ever enjoyable site. If you have not been, give it a look.