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Why Is It So Hard to Sell Really Original Ideas?

Why Is It So Hard to Sell Really Original Ideas?

The advertising and design industry prides itself on being able to bring forward original ideas to help clients sell products and market brands. The problem has always been, however, convincing risk-averse clients that those original ideas will do the job, fulfill the brief, or deliver the desired results.

Some of this resistance is as simple clients not fully trusting creative types to serve up good business advice. It is the client’s money that is at risk, after all, so agencies must prepare presentations carefully to reduce client perceptions of risk, as well as adopting at least some risk through performance guarantees.

We’ve also written about how creative agencies must work harder at selling their great ideas. Now, some recent research verifies that being better at explaining how a creative arrived at an idea helps clients accept that idea as potentially rewarding for their business.

Thanks to the team at Contagious for sharing this report from the Journal of Advertising Research. The university-run study worked with two ad agencies to develop ideas for the project, but employed graduate students as the judging panel. That weakens the results a bit, but the research still highlights the finding that agencies pitching big ideas need to address clients’ sense of the idea’s fitness for their businesses, not just risk-aversion or how the creative team arrived at the idea.

Per the folks at Contagious, the researchers theorize:

“If a creative comes up with something new by connecting existing bits of knowledge, ‘the resulting moment of insight reshapes his or her memory categories.’ The people judging the work haven’t gone through that mental process, and so they struggle to make the same links.”

Clients may agree that an idea is original and distinctive, but often get stuck on whether that idea is appropriate for their brand, company or product. What is obvious to the creative team is not obvious to clients, because they didn’t take the creative journey with you. They’re seeing it for the first time, and need to be convinced. They don’t know how you arrived at insights through research, discussion, lengthy rumination, or other creative development steps. Too often, creatives have to fabricate those steps, because we don’t know ourselves exactly how we made the intuitive leap from a research finding to a germ of an idea to the result presented to the client. That’s why so many proposals tend to sound like B.S…. because they are.

Derek Walker of brown and browner advertising, Columbia, SC, tweeted a wonderful thread about the chaotic creative process. How do we explain an idea to procedure-minded clients who already largely distrust marketing and creative advertising because it relies on affecting irrational human behavior and emotions, not on data or spreadsheets?

Creativity, we like to claim, is a process. We try to reveal that process to clients as a way to reassure them that we aren’t goofy creative people out for creative award glory, but trustworthy business advisors who can help steer marketing dollars into profit-generating, customer-attracting pitches. The truth is, our creative, right-brain minds just work differently than left-brained business types. We don’t really know why. It’s “magic” to us, too. That makes explaining our “thinking” to clients difficult, to say the least.

The challenges remain: figuring out how to persuade clients that original ideas have greater impact, and therefore potentially greater returns; and helping clients go from “that’s too risky/inappropriate” to “OK, I agree that it meets all of the requirements in the creative brief, and you have helped me understand how you got from A to G on your thinking.”

Selling a great idea is as much about reassuring risk-averse clients as it is about framing the proposal correctly [link - 2533] or simply offering a really powerful demonstration for how the idea stands out in the chosen media execution.

Creative pitches should consider how an idea “fits” with the client brand, its business needs, and the desired results. Failure to consider appropriateness in the mix could mean another tabled big idea falling flat. And remember that clients don’t ask dumb questions about our great ideas. They need you to explain why the idea itself isn’t dumb… because they didn’t take the creative journey that makes it so obvious to you.

Read more about creative pitches and presentations.

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