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Making Agency Pitching More Effective With Kaizen Principles

There wasn’t a ton of creativity when Toyota coined its now famous system for ensuring quality and efficiency.  Case in point – they named it the Toyota Production Method (TPM).

Behind TPM was a principle called Kaizen, literally translated to GOOD CHANGE. Kaizen has been able to do a lot for industrial production.  It helps cut down errors and increase output exponentially.  It has been widely adopted across organizations from Sony to Amazon but the question is what could it do for the service industry in general and the agency world, specifically?

Certainly, in the agency world, process tends to run contrary to the free-flowing spirit of creativity. However, with the increased pressure to show return on investment for marketing spend, perhaps it’s time to see how Kaizen principles can apply?

Being a geek like that, here are two Kaizen principles in particular that I think could easily be rolled out in the agency world:

1) Simplify Pitches Into Two Categories

Agencies tend to thrive on mess in the pitching process.  It’s the continual input of creative inspiration that sometimes spawns the greatest innovation. However, all this mess tends to not only mire an agency in disorganization, it distracts from a central vision for the work product and the pitch. While digital files are easy to organize, experiential learning and feedback is not.

For instance, when an ideas is pitched and rejected agencies tend to discard it or file it away. Very infrequently is there a post-mortem on the creative process.  No one stops to ask why an idea failed to win client approval. Was it the idea itself or was it the way it was pitched? Is there sometime fundamentally wrong in the pitch process that can be identified and corrected to ultimately increase close rates and revenue?

Instead of organizing by client, often the preferred file structure, why not reduce the total number of folders you have to deal with? In fact, you really only need two categories of ideas – pitches that worked and pitches that didn’t.

2) Dive Deep Into The Layers Of “Why?” The Pitch Didn’t Work

This brings me to my second principle.  Now that you have two categories, what the hell do you do with them?

Well, how about going through them and asking why they are in one folder and not the other? In fact, Kaizen talks about asking the question “why?” five times.  It helps to determine the root cause of an issue beyond “it just didn’t work.”

For instance, take this process…a pitch was just turned down?

  1. Q: Why was the pitch turned down? A: Because the client didn’t like it.
  2. Q: Why didn’t the client like it? A: They thought it was too expensive.
  3. Q: Why did the client think the pitch was too expensive? A: They didn’t see how it connected to sales.
  4. Q: Why didn’t the client see how the pitch was connected to sales? A: It wasn’t in the pitch document.
  5. Q: Why wasn’t sales referenced in the pitch document? A: We don’t have data to support it.

Granted this is a simple example but the logical change is apparent – get the data or suggest the data to support a connection to sales.

Many times, agencies fail because they think they can only learn from what they did right. On the contrary, failure is a rich, rich library of insight. Agencies should be mining failed ideas as if they were gold.  Instead of just trying to “churn and burn” why not reduce costs, get smart and examine failures as much as successes?

The answer is pretty easy – agencies like what agencies like.  Kaizen principles are an outside production concept that tends to run contrary to the usually insular world of the agency mindset.  This isn’t a critique, per se. It’s stating a fact that navel-gazing is a favorite pastime of agency leadership.

Maybe if this ever changes the agency world could shed its stereotype of being aloof, averse to intelligence and unable to articulate its own return on investment.

Asked & Answered: What Is Strategy Made Of?

My friends in grad school used to joke that if you didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life, you should just major in “strategy.”  It sounded professional, it sound cool but it was a nebulous enough concept that anyone could be good at it.

Flash forward to real life and it turns out that’s not the case. Not only is strategy not a given skill set in business, it turns out that much more thought and process goes into constructing good (READ: effective) strategy.  I sat down and tried to outline what strategy was made of and came up with two distinct parts:

Part #1 – The Vision Thing

The first element of good strategy is a vision of what could be.  This vision is honed through research, analysis and a detailed consideration of the market conditions surrounding a business. Great strategists spend hours pouring over every piece of data and background documentation they can find.

The goal is to cultivate an understanding of the risks and players in a situation that is so in-depth that the opportunities leap off the page. If this sounds a little hokey that’s because it is.  Great strategists are masters of opportunity.  Osmosis with information, as strange and as intangible as it may seem, triggers a honed set of judgement criteria.  When the “holes align” a strategist’s mind sees the opportunity and that’s what you call “The Vision Thing.”

Part #2 – Organizing & Articulating That Vision

The second part of good strategy is the ability to take that vision and put it into not just words but a relatable model.  More good strategy goes to waste because the concepts don’t resonate or can’t be understood by their intended audience.  Great strategists know how to explain a vision in both words and pictures in a way that can not only be easily understood but easily applied.

Though I deplore the over-use of Microsoft “SmartArt,” it is a powerful tool for communicating strategy.  Using hierarchy, relationships and processes, great strategists can piece together a vision for how to capitalize on an opportunity and a road map for getting there.

Ultimately, not everyone was cut out to be a strategist. Some minds may have one part of what strategy is made of but not the other.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be learned. If you want both sides, find out what you’re good at and identify the areas you need to work on.  Then, go out and find inspiration.  Read books about strategy, visit a museum to see how artists communicate an idea, do anything that allows you to step out of yourself.

Just remember that strategy is not a skill set that comes overnight.  It’s a set of skills, put together, that are honed over many many years and the only way you improve is by doing.

Maslow, Consumers & Motivation in Social Media – Part I

If Abraham Maslow, father of modern consumer psychology, were alive today I am fully convinced he would take one look at what’s going on in social media and rip his famous Hierarchy of Needs to shreds. From over-sharing on Facebook to 140 character trends on Twitter (like We Want Justin [Bieber] Shirtless Tour), the psyche of the online consumer is so warped that even Maslow would agree we need a new model of consumer motivation.Continue Reading

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