Cracking the Big Idea. A Marketing Brainteaser.

Preparing for the End of the Web. A Prophecy for Marketing Executives.
February 26, 2010
Beating the Competition to Market with Rapid Product Innovation
June 13, 2012

Three marketers are standing on the side of a fast-moving creek they’ve been instructed to dam using only the materials lying around them. High above them is a big boulder lodged in the hillside. At their feet are hundreds of baseball-sized rocks scattered around the shore, a match, and a stick of dynamite. They talk through their options:

“I know,” says the self-elected leader of the group, “let’s light the stick of dynamite and, since I have the best arm, I’ll hurl it at the boulder. That should blow it loose, it will roll into the water, and I’ll be a hero.”

The other two marketers frown.

“How about I climb onto your shoulders, since you’re so much stronger than me,” the second gushes to number one, while winking at number three, “and that will get us closer to the boulder, giving us a better shot at breaking it loose. I don’t mind sharing my glory with you.”

“Your chances still aren’t that good,” says the third. “I say forget the boulder and let’s just pick up all these rocks on the shore and toss them into the river. We can stop the flow that way.”

“Won’t work,” says the boss man. “First off, it’s a ‘creek,’ not a ‘river,’” he smirks as he corrects him. “Secondly, it’s moving too fast. The rocks will be washed away too quickly.”

So what’s the answer?

For discussion purposes, let’s call the boulder the “big idea,” and the small rocks represent all of the research, studies, interview notes, and intelligence locked away in the minds of our subject matter experts. The match and fuse represent our desire to quickly check things off our list, and the dynamite—our ego.

“Boss man” in our story above isn’t right. We all too often go with our gut. Not to say that’s bad, but in something as critical as developing a big message for marketing, why cross your fingers, hurl your stick of dynamite at the boulder and hope you get lucky? The reward for success can be great, sure, but your chances of failing while you ignore your foundation of all the findings, tactics and data (those small rocks all around you), aren’t worth the risk.

“Number two” isn’t right either. Collaborating, just to say you work well with others, or to try and impress “boss man” isn’t the answer. Although a small team of marketers relying on intuition alone have a better chance of landing on a right answer than one person alone, it’s still incredibly poor odds. No, shooting for the big idea without using those small rocks in the right way is still ignoring your biggest asset for the sake of hoping to get things done quickly.

“Number three” got shot down for good reason. Developing a great central idea is not about just tossing the rocks into the fast-moving river. Errr, “creek.” Believing that any number of small rocks—research, data, tests, and analysis—are going to result in something larger and compelling, is creating a message from “now” behavior. What people like now, what they are responding to now, what data shows us is working now. This strategy leads to being relevant now, but you’ll quickly be overcome by the stream of changing consumer interests and competitors who leapfrog your efforts with something better. No amount of perspiration, without a degree of inspiration, will make marketing successful.

The answer isn’t any of the three options presented above, but an aggregation of all of them. Marketing needs the small rocks. We need to use all the data we have at our disposal. We need sufficient research. We need tests. We need to quickly execute small tactics, and learn from them, contributing to a larger pile of rocks—a base of knowledge to support our ultimate direction. But we also need a leader and a vision—someone to lay out the course, who is a great problem solver, who thinks outside the box, who can see a bit downstream, and who intelligently considers what we already have. Someone who can also get us so close to the big idea that anyone can access it. It makes sense. And everyone buys into the direction because there is no better alternative.

The answer to our brainteaser, like the answer to our biggest marketing challenges, is to come together as a team and gather the rocks. Prop them up against the side of the mountain with the goal being the boulder above. When it’s within reach, it doesn’t matter who accesses it because it’s accessible to all of us. Send whichever person has put in the most work, or who has complained the least, or who needs to feel a victory under their belt to keep the person engaged—have them walk comfortably up the ramp we’ve built together, plant the dynamite, and blow the boulder loose.

Published at: Rosetta’s Currents Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *