Three Ways to Sell an Idea

Over the years, I’ve come across three ways to create confidence in the ideas that are being presented. What I like about these methods is that they’re not only helpful in developing an argument for the idea, but it also helpful for focusing an idea. I should note that these ideas were shamelessly stolen from bosses, colleagues, and mentors, so I can’t take credit for them.

  1. Use case studies

Case studies create a sense of familiarity with the situation and opens up possibilities for the solution. The trick is using case studies effectively. It starts with defining the problem at the right level of specificity. Too specific and you won’t find anything to reference. Too broad and the case studies aren’t relevant. It’s important to get it just right so you have clarity on why you’re choosing the case studies. This will allow you to go outside the category for inspiration without losing relevance.

2. Develop projections

Sometimes the best way to an MBA’s heart is with numbers. If the idea has clear CTAs, you can build a projection of how the idea might drive ROI. I say “might” because it’s hard to predict the performance of some creative ideas without testing. If you can do testing, then your projections will be even tighter. If that’s not available to you, then use the best benchmarks you can find — past performance data, industry benchmarks, etc.

Sometimes thinking through a projection helps you understand the mechanics of an idea and whether or not the behavior you’re encouraging is valuable. If there are too many parts, your projections will reveal steep drop offs in ROI at each step — forcing you to tighten up the user experience to convert better.

3. Propose a Test

The biggest issue with client feedback is that it’s subjective, albeit informed, but it’s still subjective. Sometimes the best way to get an idea sold is to let consumers decide if it’s good. Facebook, Twitter, Google all offer us quick and cheap ways to run A/B tests on creative against targeted audiences. This “small bet” approach leaves room for potentially more daring ideas that may not have passed the client’s sniff test.

The key to doing this right is presenting a framework that makes an argument for why all the ideas need to be tested. One of my favorite ways to do this to frame up ideas under various creative approaches (see “Anatomy of Humbug” by Paul Feldwick). You have to demonstrate how learnings from the most “extreme” ideas can help inform decisions across the board.