What to Do When Your Boss or Client Has a Bad Idea
So I’ll admit it. Sometimes I’m that guy.
In the “there are no bad ideas” brainstorming meeting, if the idea is bad enough and I know the person well enough, I point out that some ideas are in fact bad. And pretending there are no bad ideas actually isn’t helpful. (It’s called regression to the mean, says Harvard Business Review).
There are bad ideas. And as marketers, it’s our job to do battle against them.
Because ideas are the essential stock in trade of a marketer. “Let’s go to the moon!” That was just an idea at first, part of a marketing campaign that led our nation to devote massive resources to conquer a task that was seemingly impossible.
But then there’s also… “I bet I can jump down into the gorilla enclosure and steal his banana before he even notices. Make sure to film this. Better yet, live stream it to all my friends on Facebook.”
I’m exaggerating of course. Somewhere between the Apollo missions and a viral #ZooFail video are most of the ideas we confront on a daily basis.
And these ideas are not bad because executives and clients aren’t as smart as you. The ideas are bad because of a gap between their understanding of the customer and yours.
Here are five tactics to close that gap and kill those banana-stealing ideas on the way to your own moonshoot.
Bad Idea Killer #1: Educate About New Technology
“So, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” Senator Orrin Hatch asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg replied, unable to hide his smirk.
Business executives and leaders are often older than their target customer. Hey, it takes time to pay your dues and climb the corporate ladder. For that reason, senior leaders’ ideas may be bad because they’re out of touch with technological usage or constraints.
Digital marketers can sometimes look down on anyone who doesn’t understand the latest search algorithm update, social network, or mobile specification (“n00b!”).
But don’t hate on execs because a tech misunderstanding means their idea is bad. Help them. It’s hard to keep up with all the technological changes, and often they have much bigger concerns to worry about.
Educate execs on the latest technology and how it affects their idea. Let them see for themselves why it could fail. For example, at MECLABS we’ve recently created a free mobile optimization course to help marketers understand what considerations they should take for conversion optimization and messaging specifically in a mobile environment.
The last time a senior-level exec got hands on with marketing he or she might have been working on print ads. Taking the time to non-judgmentally explain the technological limitations of her idea, and building on the idea so it works in the current technological environment, can pay dividends for both your results and your career.
Bad Idea Killer #2: A Clear, Well-defined Value Proposition
Some ideas are bad because they are disconnected from why customers actually buy from the company. Here’s an example of a brand extension that drifts significantly from the customer value expectation of a brand: Zippo perfume.
“When Zippo, which makes lighters, decided to move into fragrances in 2014, with a perfume bottle in the shape of a lighter, consumers were bewildered. Women bristled at the thought of pulling out a perfume bottle that looked like a lighter and spraying themselves in public. Also, many envisioned a Zippo fragrance smelling like lighter fluid, even though the scent was fruity,” Janet Morissey reported in The New York Times.
Companies must craft clear, well-defined value propositions to help guide their business and marketing decisions and reflect why they can win in the marketplace. When they’re crystal clear on that value prop, they communicate effectively through their marketing and foster the right value expectations in the customer’s mind.
Well-crafted value propositions should serve as the North Star for the brand. They should help guide every decision that affects the customer. They should help the company determine where they should invest because they can serve the customer better than anyone else, but also what areas they should avoid.
Use the value proposition statement (that the executive should have originally helped to create in a value prop workshop) as the reason why the company should not invest in pursuing the bad idea.
Bad Idea Killer #3: A Competitive Analysis
In a vacuum, many ideas are great.
However, no brand exists in a vacuum. We all have competition.
A former colleague of mine worked at a company whose leaders had the idea to launch a way for people to connect and interact with each other on the brand’s website. This is something that people do want and value. And yet…it was a total flop.
Because Facebook. And LinkedIn. And Twitter. And the list goes on…
In a vacuum, it was a good idea that served a customer need. But there wasn’t a true understanding of the competitive landscape. Because of that, an essential question wasn’t answered – if all of these other options exist to connect and interact socially, what is the unique value proposition for launching our own version of this?
So conduct a competitive analysis. And let your business leaders and clients discover for themselves all of the competitors to their idea.
Bad Idea Killer #4: Live the Customer Experience (At Least For A Moment)
Sometimes a leader’s idea is bad because they are disconnected from the customer experience. For example, GM executives in the 1980s.
“Wouldn't GM executives learn more about the problems that customers face, [exec William Hoglund] was asked, if they had to drive used cars and deal with repair problems like everyone else,” James Risen wrote in the LA Times.
That is an extreme example, of course, but it’s very common in business for any insider to have a different experience than an outsider. That is very difficult to change. However, you can – just for one meeting – use photos, video, mystery shopper reports, survey data, presentations, and other communication tools to explain the lived customer experience and why the customer may not be receptive to the bad idea.
Bad Idea Killer #5: Experiment With A/B testing
Sometimes you need straight up data to prove an idea is bad. A/B testing is one way to get that data.
We launched a short, fun video series about 10 years ago explaining this concept, and these old videos recently made the rounds at MECLABS (giving me the idea for this article).
We called it — Fight The Squirrel. In the video series, the executive just loves squirrels and wants them featured in marketing and on the website. Our two intrepid marketers fail to convince him it’s a bad idea.
They run an A/B split test, and show him exactly how much revenue his squirrel idea is costing him. Then, he drops the squirrels like a bad habit.
A squirrel-loving executive? Ridiculous I know. But is it really any more ridiculous than Zippo perfume?
The Bad Idea Caveat: It Might Be a Good Idea
I started by saying that bad ideas don’t come from bad or foolish people. They’re bad because of a customer gap the business executive or client has.
The customer gap may be yours, my friend.
Sometimes when we perceive an idea to be bad it’s because we’re wrong about the customer, not the executive. I’ll drop my ego and admit that I’ve had it happen in my own career.
If you’ll notice closely, the above steps aren’t first and foremost meant to change an executive’s mind. They are meant to get more data, a clearer understanding. When you’re right, that clearer understanding can help change the minds that need changing.
However, in going through that exercise you may determine that you judged too soon, and it’s actually a good idea worth trying.
Now that you’re primed to kill all those bad ideas (or better understand them), get some good ideas for your next campaign. Learn how to increase your mobile conversion rates in the five quick video sessions of MECLABS free Mobile Optimization Micro Course.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.