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Using the Organizational Format

Let’s fill in the organizational format, outlined earlier in this chapter, using the Vicks Vaporub example so that you can get a better feel for how the pieces fit together. Here is how the ideas were narrowed down, researched further, honed and polished, and finally presented at a meeting to Vicks senior management:

1. Problem Cause

The goal here is to look beneath the obvious problem. In our example, Vaporub’s sales were dropping. That would seem to be the obvious problem, wouldn’t it? But it’s too broad. It’s not directional. It shoots us off in all directions. We need to dig deeper and find the cause of that obvious problem. What is causing the decline of sales? That’s what Charles Kettering meant when he said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.”

The initial research provided a real target to work on. The problem cause in this case is a slowing in the use-up rate of the product: it now took fourteen months, instead of ten months, to use up a jar. So the problem cause statement is:

The jar, which is in 93 percent of the homes, takes fourteen months to use up.

Is that a perfect problem statement? Probably not. But it’s pretty good. The focus is entirely on use-up rate. Notice that no person or department is attacked. The problem is almost detached from its contributors or its perpetrators. I could sell that statement of the problem inside the corporation because no one would be defensive about it.

The Problem Statement Reveals an Insight

The statement of the problem almost always represents an insight, beyond what is superficially obvious to the onlooker and thereby creates real interest. Obviously you should have additional information that supports the problem. In this case we could share the following:

Half the users (mothers) dip two fingers into the salve and spread the product lightly on the child’s upper chest only. They don’t spread it on the back or the nose. They are less satisfied with the product than those who use more.

Also, they stated that they had never thought of the possibility of applying Vaporub beyond the upper chest. It had never been suggested.

These facts were followed by the good news:

Forty percent of the users spread Vaporub on the back as well as the chest. They are more satisfied with the product and the results than the first group.

On average they use twice as much as the first group. The most satisfied users are those who are most lavish in the amount of Vaporub they spread on the sick child. This group, on average, uses up a jar in seven versus fourteen months.

Those facts are important. Notice how they amplify the problem. They don’t compete with it or muddy it.

Why should we spend so much time on identifying the problem? Because this is the most important step in developing the idea solution. When the problem is presented with great clarity, the listeners understand it better than they ever did before. The listeners can accept the fact that the problem is a worthy one. Ultimately, the solution will fit, hand in glove, into this new understanding.

In effect we will have “sold” two important parts of our idea format to the assembled listeners. The first is a new perspective on the problem. The second is the germ of the idea that will solve it.

2. Negative Effects

Negative effects are the signs that something is wrong.

In our example:

The overriding negative effect is that sales have been declining for the past five years.

Notice the negative effect is what we first misidentified as the problem. You can often list a number of negative effects, but be sure they all are caused by the same problem. Negative effects are often painful. They tend to cause a wringing of hands, a gnashing of teeth. They are the bad news, as well as the setup for the next step in the format.

3. The Idea Recommendation

The idea is your recommended solution to the problem. You should be able to state your idea by completing the sentence, “The idea is . . . ” Naturally, you will want to go further and describe the various features of the idea. But make sure your statement of the idea is crystal clear and as simple as you can make it.

In our example:

The idea is to change our advertising emphasis one- hundred-and-eighty degrees—from purchase to usage.

Notice how simple the statement is. It’s easy to understand. It’s dramatic. Yet it flows directly out of the problem and the negative effects.

Give an Example to Flesh Out Your Idea

It’s always important to give an example of an idea. It increases understanding. Don’t worry about letting the cat out of the bag. This is no place for coyness. So in our case:

An example of the kind of advertising copy that would flow from the new strategy is this: “Apply Vaporub to the back as well as the chest for two times more soothing warmth, two times more vapor medication.”

Include Negative FallOut from the Idea

We should also be clear about the ramifications of the change we are suggesting. We don’t want to mislead by omission. By all means, outline some of the negative fallout involved in enacting the idea. By being up front at this early point we demonstrate that we have examined the total picture and are making the recommendation with eyes fully open. We come across much stronger for doing so.

In our example:

But we need to recognize that the enactment of this change in copy is not without some difficulty. It would mean that all existing advertising would have to be mothballed and new advertising created for television commercials, print ads, billboards, and point-of-sale materials. The unbudgeted out-of-pocket cost would be significant. At the same time, the benefits would seem to far outweigh the costs.

4. Benefits to the Audience

When selling anything—especially an idea—it’s always good practice to clearly state what the benefits will be to your audience. It doesn’t matter if your audience is one person or a roomful of senior managers: Tell them how their life could be better if they sign on to your plan.

In the Vaporub presentation, it went something like this:

The benefits of this change in advertising would be:

  • A conversion of 20 percent of the “front only” users to “front and back” would translate to a 10 percent increase in volume used. Sales would increase commensurately.

  • Our advertising would concentrate even more on the mother-child relationship, since Vaporub application by the mother would be the main idea and the new focus of the ad campaign.

The result would be:

  • The user satisfaction with the product would increase.

  • The efficacy of the product on the sick child would be greater, since more of the salve would be applied, and more vapors would be inhaled.

The benefits of your idea solution should reverse the negative effects and perhaps provide added or unexpected value. Here, the unexpected value is a real heart-warmer: Little children with sniffly noses will feel better because Mother used more of the product!

5. Evidence

Here is where we demonstrate that our idea will work. As we discussed in Chapter 2, there are five forms of evidence: Personal Experience, Analogy, Judgment of Experts, Examples, and Statistics and Facts. You can remember them all with the simple mnemonic, PAJES.

Selecting from the Five Forms of Evidence

Personal Experience—First-person testimony. An incident out of your life that supports the point you are making. In a business presentation, this narrative can be a report of the research you did on the problem or an anecdote relayed from the folks in field sales.

Analogy—A point of similarity between two unlike things. For example, the tip of the iceberg analogy conveys a warning about seeing only a small portion of something and missing the significance of the whole. The racehorse analogy used in Chapter 2 illustrates how effective even a brief analogy can be.

Judgment of Experts—A statement by a recognized authority that appears to be supportive. For example there are two experts quoted earlier in this chapter who would fall into that category (James Kinnear and Charles Kettering—see how easy that is?)

Example—A specific situation with various key factors similar to those of your premise. Examples are persuasive to the extent audiences see them as paralleling your own case. In this chapter, we’ll show how an example is used.

Statistics/Facts—Numerical or other facts arranged for analysis and interpretation. Graphs help your audience appreciate relationships between numbers. Choose pie charts if you want the audience to see percentages, bar charts for comparisons, line charts for trends.


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