Workplaces are much like marketplaces. They’re filled with people pitching—effectively, trying to “sell”—ideas and competing to get the go-ahead from their bosses, the “buyers.” Even CEOs have to sell ideas to their boards.
If you want to get the green light for a project, you can’t just put together a presentation and rely on your ability to make a rational argument. You need to think like a marketer. And that means appealing to the subconscious of the decision maker.
For more than 25 years, I’ve worked with Fortune 100 brands to get them to rethink their marketing strategies. We teach marketing leaders to influence the hidden purchase drivers that lie beneath the surface and dictate instinctive purchase behavior. As Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman has argued, 95 percent of consumers’ purchasing decisions take place in their subconscious.
This is because inside the mental shortcuts that people use to make quick decisions lies an ecosystem of accumulated associations and memories that have become glued to certain brands over time. We call this hidden matrix the Brand Connectome. Michael Platt, a professor of marketing, psychology, and neuroscience at Wharton, and I coined the term after discovering that these networks bare similarity to the human connectome, a map of the brain’s neural connections. We found that the larger the Brand Connectome is and the more positive associations it has, the more likely buyers are to choose the brand. Michael saw this through his work studying neuroscience and marketing; I saw it through proprietary work on behalf of clients exploring the subconscious associations of those who do and do not buy certain brands.
So how can employees leverage what we’ve come to understand about effective brand-building? How can you build your own brand matrix in the workplace? To maximize your chances of getting your ideas green-lit, act like a marketer and follow these three rules:
Start early. The sooner brands begin building positive associations in the subconscious minds of customers, the better. In the workplace, the “first-mover advantage” is just as valuable. The more time you spend accumulating positive associations about your idea, the larger its brand matrix will be by the time the decision is made.
I learned this the hard way. Early in my career, a colleague and I had different approaches to pitching ideas to our manager. My colleague planted seeds about her idea across a couple of months, while I kept mine close to the vest until I felt my presentation was “perfect.” In the end, my boss chose her idea over mine, even though she offered little in the way of substance. (It also didn’t work out well in the end.) But this is not sour grapes. I learned a great deal from her about how to sell ideas in the workplace. And I never made the same mistake again.
Create positive buzz. When a brand aggressively promotes itself, customers can grow skeptical. But when someone else endorses the brand, positive associations grow in the subconscious of prospective customers.
Business people need “influencers” too. These supporters should ideally come from different parts of the organization. When the sales department tells the CEO, “We’re looking forward to seeing this idea executed because it could help us reach new customers” and R&D says, “We think this could be a game changer,” it helps the brand matrix grow and sets your idea up for greater success.
Develop ad campaigns, not presentations. Just like consumers, business leaders have positive subconscious associations and memories that can be leveraged when making a pitch. Try comparing your plan to a successful, historic business development that your boss tends to reference. Use compelling metaphors that evoke images of success. When there’s a match between the cues you provide and those that already exist in the mind of the decision maker, you’re more likely to make the sale.
It would be nice to think that people in positions of authority consider all the facts and always make the most rational, optimal decisions. But they’re human. They can’t help but make many decisions on instinct. So even if you’ve got the data and facts on your side, don’t rely just on those elements. Think like a marketer and tap into your decision-makers’ subconscious as well. To win at work, just like in the marketplace, your business ideas need to win the largest share of mind.
Author Leslie Zane is the founder and president of Triggers Growth Strategy.