Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Your Next Bad Idea Might Be Your Best Friend

"In all science, error precedes the truth, and it is better it should go first than last."

The history of marketing and advertising is loaded with blunders, big and small.
One of the biggest I remember as the day I took a sip of a New Coke... and nearly sprayed it all over the front of the vending machine.
I'll bet you remember it too.
Coca Cola poured $4 million into nearly 200,000 taste tests nationwide. Based on results, they decided to sweeten up the winning formula that had built their empire.
Just under 80 days later, they were tucking tail and reintroducing their now "classic" Coke. They got lucky, because backtracking actually boosted sales.
Then there's the identity theft company, LifeLock. We protect your credit and bank accounts from criminals, went the pitch. We're so good at it, said one TV commercial, here's the real Social Security number of our CEO plastered on the side of a truck.
Go ahead thieves, take your best shot. And they did.
One used it to open an AT&T wireless account.
Another used it to take out a loan.
And LifeLock's CEO was none the wiser, says one CNBC reporter, until the collection agencies called.
You might also remember the SanDisk "e200."
Or maybe you don't. It was their answer to the iPod.
SanDisk tried to get iPod users to switch over with the "iDon'" campaign, telling their target customers not to be "iSheep" like all other iPod buyers.
Um... good way to insult your prospects.
Oh, and did I mention? Nowhere in the ads did SanDisk show or describe their own product. Whoops.
Then there was the time that Pizza Hut hired Jessica Simpson to hawk their pies... only to have her tell a magazine soon after that she's allergic to wheat, cheese, and tomatoes. Whoops again.
And the Dr. Pepper $10,000 treasure hunt in 2007 that accidentally sent contestants into a 350-year-old graveyard with pickaxes.
Of course, I'm picking on the big guys to make a bigger point, which is...
I've invested plenty of time in failing ventures too.
And I didn't always figure out right away what went wrong. In some cases, I still haven't.
But what can you do, right? Here's an idea: Get up, dust yourself off, and go find some way to fail again.
An old mentor of mine calls it "accelerated failure."
If you're not failing, he likes to say, you're not trying hard enough.

Why not just plan more carefully to guarantee success instead? Because it's all too easy to get lost in the planning, for one thing.
What if, for example, Columbus never set sail because he couldn't settle on the best way to pack his bags?
Obsessive planning fails, too, when you run into the unexpected. Some things you just can't see coming.
Others you imagine you'll see happen, but never do.
Better, in both cases, to encounter and recover. At least some of the time. (Obviously, there are cases where advance planning comes in handy - say, a mountain climbing expedition or a trip to the moon.)
Until recently, those were the only reasons I ever gave to recommend the "accelerated failure" approach.
But I just came across another good one worth sharing.
This one comes from Daniel Pink, author of a book you might want to read called Drive. And Pink, himself, takes the insight from cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert."
Adams, it turns out, used to write for TV. And he told The Wall Street Journal that he learned a technique in the writers' room that stuck with him.
It's called the "bad version" technique.
And it's as easy to use as it sounds. Says Adams, "When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can't yet imagine it, you describe instead a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better one."
It's that simple.
Feel stuck? Instead of holding back until you get the perfect idea, get the bad one out there in the open.
Write it out, dress it up, talk it up. Write "Pre-Sub First Draft" at the top if you have to.
The idea is that it's a lot easier to remold a lumpy piece of clay than it is to perfect the masterpiece you haven't even started.
I can tell you that this works just as well with sales copy, because I've tried it myself.
In fact, I've just had reason to "tweak" a couple of sales pitches that I put out there recently.
Neither did as well as I'd hoped. On second pass, I saw both a lot more clearly. I've since rewritten them and they're both due to roll out again.
We'll see how they do.
Give the "bad version" technique a try yourself next time you have to write something. The key? Throw out the idea of "perfect."
Instead, aim for quantity and velocity. Write fast, fill paper, fix later. You might surprise yourself.

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