The path of innovation is not the road most traveled. From film to music to architecture to, yes, even advertising, history is littered with brilliant minds that just couldn't navigate past the corporate layers full of naysayers. Selling a unique idea can seem like pulling teeth. As Howard Aiken, creator of the IBM/Harvard Mark I computer said, "Don't worry about anyone stealing your idea. If it's truly original, you'll have to ram it down their throats."
Of course, to many in this business, that's all more nuisance than deterrent. And while selling innovative work is rarely a breeze, how it's presented and the point of view it comes from can have a big impact on whether it dies in the desert or makes it to the promised land.
So if you're having trouble pushing an idea through, here are a few things you might want to consider.
Diagram your campaign touchpoints
Campaigns were once very linear (or, at least, people thought so). The reader clicked on a banner, went to a landing page, then clicked on the button to be shot down the conversion path. Today, you can barely fit all the campaign touchpoints on a single-page diagram.
A good diagram of all your campaign touchpoints is like stepping back and taking a 10,000-foot view of whatever you're working on. It should not only take into account all the potential places someone could interface with your campaign, but also help you identify any places you've overlooked.
Outlining those touchpoints will also help your client see how your campaign idea can more fully integrate into the brand's existing marketing plans. And that can make your campaign appear all the more relevant and valuable.
It can also help generate interest from other people within the company. And the more people in the company who rally behind your idea, the more likely you are to get buy-in.
A campaign flow from several years ago. It was simpler times than now, but you get the idea.
Emphasize the benefits of being first to market
Being an early adopter can be a lonely and unrewarding experience. Just ask the guy who bought the first fax machine. But digital marketing is one area where you'll find a number of great examples for why you should always try to be first. In short, it generates a lot of buzz and gives you the earliest access to valuable data that know one else has.
Consider Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. He started using Twitter in June 2007 -- well before most people. And waaaaaay before most CEOs.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and early Twitter adopter
Now, Mr. Hsieh wasn't saying anything outrageous or extreme on Twitter by today's standards. Yet his tweeting became huge news. A CEO, keeper of the company's most guarded secrets, was regularly opening up his mind via the same channel on which people were telling everyone what they just had for dinner or who they just ran into at the dry cleaners. His 140 character tweets generated pages of text about him in return. Not to mention, he ended up with more than 1.6 million followers.
Now consider the CEO who starts using Twitter today. Is it going to generate the same press it did for Zappos' CEO back in the day? Not as likely. It's not that CEOs today shouldn't tweet. But they have to realize it doesn't have the same news impact.
There are many more examples. Squarespace's iPhone giveaway on Twitter that made the brand's name the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter that week. General Electric's Smart Grid augmented reality app and even American Apparel's Second Life store seemed to have generated more PR value that what the projects cost to develop.
The beautiful thing about technology is it's always presenting us with this opportunity in some new form. We just need to grab it. (Or convince the client to grab it.)
Minimize client-side man-hour requirements
One of the most consistent comments I hear from companies is in regard to the challenge of getting projects through their internal IT department. And granted, it can't be easy to run the IT department, manage your own site with a lean staff (isn't every company running lean these days?), and then have marketing people coming in with all sorts of new projects they'd like to have live before the next banner impression is served.
If there are ways you can reduce a client's IT requirements, they're worth exploring. From setting up your own subdomain for handling site maintenance, to using open source solutions that will hopefully reduce initial setup and ongoing maintenance requirements, it's important to keep the client-side IT department in mind.
And even if IT time requirements aren't the difference between whether or not your project sells, it could have a big impact on how smooth it runs, or if it goes live in a timely manner. And as we all know in marketing, timing means a lot.
Try an agile approach to project development
If you're not familiar with agile project development, it might be easier to first review the waterfall approach to project development. Everyone's probably seen a waterfall project plan.
Diagram of waterfall production process
Waterfall was all about trying to account for every conceivable detail that the project would run into, from start to finish. And that's great in theory, as you want projects run as tightly as possible. But companies ranging from IBM to Microsoft have also found that it's nearly impossible to predict all the potential issues or feature requirements months or years in advance. And so they've adopted a process called agile development.
Agile emphasizes getting the first version of the project up quickly, in a working state, and then adding features going forward, based on observations of how people are using it.
Now, most marketing campaign assets don't demand anywhere near the time or complexity that companies like Microsoft deal with in getting a new OS or product to market. But marketers need to start thinking more like they're launching companies and less like they're launching campaigns. And as the industry moves toward marketing solutions that place long-term value over short-term spikes, the types of solutions we pursue will change. And an agile approach starts to make more sense.
Make the big idea a series of little ideas
This industry certainly still needs big ideas. But perhaps the biggest idea is to produce more ideas and see what takes hold. At first glance, this sounds anathema to a high-brow creative mindset -- the idea that you should be 100 percent confident in the single best idea you can come up with, and put everything you have behind it.
That works in theory, but not always in reality. It's not unlike how large companies with massive resources will often get trumped by a few guys who strike upon a winning combo of relatively simple technology, strong brand identity, and good user experience (think YouTube, Digg, Facebook, and Twitter).
I'm not saying you don't need big ideas. In fact, you need more of them. And then take advantage of the constant drop in production costs to bring a higher number of projects to fruition. And as far as selling work goes, it's easier to get buy-in on a project with a smaller budget.
From the clients' perspective? They will more than likely feel they're getting more for their money, they'll be present across a greater span of customer touchpoints, and they'll be more informed as they see how their brands play out in different media channels and experiences.
On top of that, you'll likely end up with more work produced and a bigger portfolio. Social media offers companies a lot of opportunities to plug into existing platforms and technologies and get campaigns up quickly and cost effectively. Consider recent campaigns like Tasti D Lite's promotion on Foursquare and Twitter.
Also consider FCUK's Chatroulette promotion.
Outline the learnings and insights you'll gain
I'll make an assumption up front that most innovative campaigns these days have a strong social media component. Even if the concept or content lives on the brand's site, social media will factor in somewhere in the distribution.
That said, social media is well-poised for a big leap forward in insights gained from data analysis. Much of this new data will address the more emotional side of the business -- like customer insights and commenter sentiment. My belief is that the better you understand communication tactics, the better you can interpret communication metrics. So if you're close to the strategic or creative process, you should have the inside track on delivering the real insights from this data.
This should lead to fresh new perspectives for assessing online campaigns. And just like the first people to use banner and search metrics gained enormous advantage over their less-aware competitors, so will the brands that learn how to interpret this information and feed it back into their marketing process. (You can probably hear the echo of tip 2 regarding being first to market in this section.)
Example of a company asking its Facebook fans a question where the collective answers can provide insights for future messaging and promotions.
Follow your instincts
From data to open-source technologies to social media tools, things are progressing faster than ever. Just consider how many new social media apps and technologies have been introduced in the past year. Considering we haven't seen any real pullback in social media activity, we can expect investor interest to continue; thus, the innovation curve should continue upward. More change ahead.
Flipping through award books won't pave a reliable path to your next great idea. The more you know about where the market has been and what the recent changes involve, the better your judgement will be. The gap between past campaigns and current realities has never been greater.
So while it's imperative to absorb what's going on and the technologies that enable that action, remember what investment firms repeat over and over about their market assessments: Past performance is not an indication of future results.
At the end of the day, your instincts and judgement will be your best guide.
Selling great work is nothing close to easy. Yet it's imperative for this business. I only hope that anyone reading this article has found some nugget that will at some point help them push their best work through. This industry needs it, and every innovative campaign that any one of us sells makes it a little easier for everyone else to get their best work produced.