Pitch Perfect: Why Great Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure Yours Don’t

Posted on September 7, 2017 · Posted in Creativity, Innovation, Marketing, Storytelling

September 7, 2017

by Carla Johnson

None of us got into B2B marketing to do boring work.

Let’s think about our first jobs; we were fresh out of college…a bright-eyed, 22-year old excited about changing the world. Maybe we started working for a boron mining company and we had fabulous ideas! We were going to do things that the mining industry had never seen. We get a chance to pitch our brilliance to our boss – a YouTube series about all the things in life boron impacts. But our boss killed the idea because boron buyers don’t watch YouTube. But they do read sales sheets, so our boss told us to write some sales sheets.

Or maybe we dug into medical devices when we joined the company that sold heart catheters. We came up with a fun and innovative idea for an Instagram campaign and that would forever change how people took care of their health. How could our boss resist this? But she said that cardiologists don’t use Instagram, they read whitepapers. And she told us to go write whitepapers.

Perhaps it was the forensic accounting software company that gave you your first taste of B2B marketing. You knew that you would knock the socks off of accountants with a blog that would forever change how they looked at white collar crime. But our boss said that forensic accountants don’t read blogs, but they do read accounting magazines. And he told us to write some ads about the features and benefits of our software.

It didn’t matter what we pitched, every great idea we had ended up going back to the same boring things that B2B marketers have always done.

Why we lose our mojo

At 22 we’re fresh out of college. We’re bright eyed and bushy-tailed and we’re excited to share every creative idea we come up with. We have a high tolerance for risk and rejection because we don’t have anything to lose. We’re in the groove and we’re pitching five great ideas every week. We’re working the law of averages…we know if we swing enough times, we’re certain to get a hit.

At 32, we’ve gotten a bit jaded. We know the likelihood of someone saying yes to anything that’s massively different is pretty small, but we still have hope. We take more time to pitch ideas and we test the waters first. There’s the wacky YouTube video that’s we thought was wildly creative and when we email it to our marketing team, everyone tells us it’s ridiculous. That’s an easy litmus to know to kill the idea before we waste time going any further. By this time, we’re pitching new ideas about once every six months and we’re pretty careful about how ‘out there’ our ideas are.

At 42, a lot of things have changed. By now we have a mortgage. We have kids to put through college. And we’ve invested 20 years in building a stable career. At 42 we’re only going to pitch the best ideas, the ones we know have a high likelihood of succeeding. The ones that we know will get accepted. At 42, we’re only swinging at the slow balls. We’re only pitching a new idea about every other year and even those are just a revamp of something we’ve already done. By 42 we’re frustrated from getting a “no” to every great idea we pitch. And, to be honest, we’re kind of embarrassed about the not being able to do the earth-changing work we thought we’d be doing by thing time in our career.

Bad pitches not bad ideas

It’s no wonder that we get jaded.  Over the years our bosses have convinced us that we can’t do creative work in the B2B world. But that’s not true. The truth is that we’ve just been beaten into believing that B2B marketing is boring.

I’ve come to realize over 20 years working with B2B marketers is that we can all be incredibly successful. The real problem isn’t with our ideas. The problem is that we’re pitching great ideas totally wrong. We need to learn to pitch our ideas way better.

It doesn’t matter if we’re 22, 32 or 42, we all pitch ideas the same way. We walk into our boss’s office, and we say something like this…

“LEGO is doing amazing stuff with their magazine and I think we should do a magazine too!”

Or…

“Marriott has an entire group of people who pump out videos that looks like Hollywood movies….I think we should make videos like that, too!”

Even when we bring in a B2B angle is doesn’t get much better…

“IBM took Watson on prime time TV and had their computer play a game against the smartest people in the world. I think we should go on prime-time TV, too!”

It doesn’t matter if we’re sitting in the hot seat in our boss’s office, or talking to our coworkers or in a brain-storming meeting, this is how we come up with and pitch ideas. But whatever we talk about, we end up going back to the same boring B2B things we’ve always done.

The problem isn’t with our ideas. The problem is the process we use to pitch. Marketers are filled with things we want to create, but we’ve never been taught how to properly pitch them. And a bad pitch will kill even the best idea, because nothing great can go anywhere unless we’re able to get people to support it. We all learned the 4 P’s of marketing – product, price, place and promotion. But it’s the secret 5th P – pitching – that leads to brilliant work.

Follow the framework

How many times have you had your boss walk in and tell you something is changing direction. There’s no explanation. There’s no rationale.

Believe it or not, this is a pitch. A really awful one, but a pitch, nonetheless.

How excited, enthusiastic and supportive are we of our bosses ideas? We all know the answer…

The best, most brilliant marketers in the world all follow the same framework for pitching ideas, whether they realize it or not. It doesn’t matter if they’re 22, 42 or 62, here’s what they all do…

Observe

They start by painting a picture of what they observed. They go beyond a magazine, a content studio or a game-show-winning machine. They share details of what they observed and why it caught their attention. Sharing observations helps people understand the inspiration for an idea. It creates an experience to which people can relate.

Distill

Even if you go into great detail about what you observe, that won’t give people context. That’s why successful pitches take the essence of an observation and distill it into a broader them. It’s not about the magazine, the video or the game show, it’s about the value behind any one of those. Quality. Connection. Optimism.

Relate

Once we understand the bigger meaning of what we’ve observed, look at how it relates to our brand. If what you observe is all about optimism, how can you show new ways to express optimism? Relating connects the dots between the essence of any great idea into our marketing world.

Generate

People struggle with coming up with ideas that feel original rather than “me-to.” It’s because we haven’t emotionally connected our inspiration, what we observed, to the ideas we generate. When we move generation later in the process, we can keep our excitement about the same idea as someone else, but now we have our own unique take on it and what it means to our brand.

Pitch

The biggest key to a successful pitch? Bringing people along for the journey. When we do that, we give people context and trigger anticipation for what’s next. We spark excitement and make people want to stand up and say YES to our great ideas…even the really weird ones.

When you follow this simple formula, you’ll get closer to a “yes” much more often. And when you feel good about the process, you’ll have more confidence. And when you start hearing yes, that creates confidence for you to pitch another creative idea, which builds momentum. Because success breeds success.

As you continue to use this framework, you’ll discover that amazing pitches aren’t something that come from divine inspiration, they’re something that are refined over and over by following a process.

Try it, and let me know how this pitch process works for helping you move big ideas forward.

 

Are you interested in learning how to craft the perfect pitch perfect for your ideas? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

About Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands hasn’t gone unnoticed and the latest of her seven books, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketingsets the benchmark for a new era in marketing. Named one of the top 50 women in marketing and the chair of the ANA’s Business Marketing Association, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.

Today, Carla travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.