You know you have a new solution to offer; the challenge is your clients do not recognize a problem that needs fixing.
The mission: Make them understand its advantages. Get your target brand to want to be the first to use it! For the purposes of this article, “it” is that bright, shiny, new piece of printing technology.
As a designer and design strategist, much of the media I work with is packaging, and my clients are typically marketing leaders and managers for big brands stocked in retail outlets. In recent years, I have become convinced of the benefits of digital print in delivering a more creative and agile approach to how marketers use the media of packaging, so I have worked with HP, creatively experimenting with digital print capability and talking to the group of print suppliers and the brands that use it.
Getting busy people on board to try something new can be hard work. These are not entrepreneurs, they are business professionals trying to meet their targets efficiently and effectively. They are not prone to moving away from tried and tested approaches. It’s not an easy sell.
Here are some common-sense suggestions for persuading clients to have a go, to be bold, to try something new. Hopefully, they can act as general principles for how to make things happen.
The “new thing” you have to offer won’t be for everybody. The majority of customers will be happier as followers of a proven approach than as innovators of something less tried and tested. So, the first task is to find among your contacts those people who like to feel brave and who get inspired by trying something different.
The ideal candidate is someone young enough to want to make their reputation, but senior enough to make their own decisions! The individual needs to be passionate about what’s being done and genuinely wants to make it better, not just more efficient.
Having found this rare person, you now need to identify and understand two things about his or her professional working life. What is it that keeps him/her awake at night, and what is it that would make him/her jump excitedly out of bed? Once you understand the big problem and the big “I wonder” questions, you can then figure out if the innovation you are championing can be overlaid onto these things as a potentially smart solution.
The principle is simple: Ask the right questions of the right people and listen to the answers—look for the win-win! One other thing: You need to be a passionate, informed and inspiring spirit yourself. You won’t convince others if you are not a true believer!
Lead by Example
As Henry Ford put it, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” In order to ignite interest, you will need to show successful applications of the tech you are championing. The reality is that getting to these first concrete examples often comes from the initial work being given away to prove its worth. In blunt terms, you have to put some skin in the game—on your own time and from your own energy.
The Smirnoff work I developed with HP and the famed designers the Yarza twins (Marta and Eva, who own a London studio), came from an email I sent the Diageo design team headlined, “Free Lunch?”
I simply asked them to lend me a brand on which I could prove the equipment’s capabilities. I was asking for a chance for us to prove ourselves. Happily, they obliged.
“We can deliver better, faster and cheaper, but can only do any two of these at a time,” is a classic way of explaining one’s offer to clients. But more and more, those clients are demanding “all three, please.”
The value the innovation can bring needs to hit several targets in order for your client to become truly interested in it:
- In cost and speed, it should be competitive or provide an affordable alternative to typical processes
- In output, it should produce something of equal or greater quality to typical alternatives
- In application terms, it should enable the client to do something that could not be done before
How can you creatively “up your game” with the final product? Will people pay more for it? Love it and buy more of it? Notice it, when before they were blind to it? Will it make your clients’ competition look average by comparison? Answered affirmatively, these are key prompts to action.
If you can offer comparative evidence against these basic points, you have a good position to then look at how to tailor your pitch to your client.
Only the reckless would bet their career and core business, or brand, on an untested new approach. There are two magic words that can unlock the proposed project: “Pilot scheme.”
Start small and think of the first steps as a low-risk experiment—if it fails, the only thing it has really cost is some time and energy. But if it works, the process can be reviewed, streamlined and made fit for larger and larger projects. Build trust, learn on the job, and there’s a good chance more work will develop organically from the process.
Be it with competition amongst creative agencies (e.g., Silas Amos Ltd and Yarza Twins) or solution providers in the print world, we are all used to a “dog-eat-dog” approach to business. But with innovation, if you only stick to selling the one thing that you alone can do, there is a chance you will become disconnected from your clients’ bigger challenges and processes, especially when looking forward. So, if you can learn to play ball with other key suppliers or teams, you will more likely get to bigger and bolder solutions that can be truly game changing.
My analogy is the stained-glass window, arguably the world’s first example of mass communication:
- Engineers figured out how to put big holes in lead-bearing walls using flying buttresses
- Craftsmen figured out how to color glass and work it into images
- The marketing department had a whole story to tell about “I am the light”
- Put together, Sunday worshippers got to see the world of their faith in a whole new way
Smirnoff & SmartStream
When I wanted to promote HP’s SmartStream software that underpins its digital printing solutions, I would have been nowhere without recruiting the talents of a great artist—Sir Peter Blake—a great design studio team—Marta and Eva Yarza—and a great printer—F E Burman—to help connect the dots.
Together with some HP Indigo software developers, we pushed the tech and opened up a conversation about the cultural relevance of the technology. Connect the dots with the help of others and you can truly change the business in which we work.
Marta and Eva Yarza explained the concept for FLEXO Magazine: “We partnered with HP and Smirnoff to create a limited-edition bottle, based on the concept of diversity. Each bottle is unique to the others, thanks to a plug-in by HP, the Smartstream D4D, with which we could create millions of variations at a click.
“To create these series, we portrayed 21 people from all parts of the world and mixed them with 21 hats, patterns and bodies,” the sisters continued. “The number 21 comes from Smirnoff No. 21 Vodka. To print these vibrant colors, we used the HP Indigo technology and seven colors: CMYK plus green, purple and orange (expanded gamut or EG print). All patterns come originally from the iconic Smirnoff eyebrow logo, reflecting well on the concept of diversity—how one thing can be the same, but different.”
Success in promoting any radical leap in technology, like the one espoused by myself, the Yarza twins, HP and ultimately, Diageo, relies on very simple human values.
Have passion, be positive, embrace new technologies, be open for partnerships and teamwork, and care about genuinely resolving your clients’ challenges. That way, you’ll be well set to pick up new business while also having some fun along the way.
This article was drafted in collaboration with drupa and its Essentials of Print series that promotes the April 20-30, 2021 edition of the international event in Düsseldorf, Germany. Amos relays an encouraging message to readers: “Do visit drupa, since this will be the place where many innovations can be seen and touched.”