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Don’t Fall Into the Idea Trap

Emily Swinkels
Digital Strategist

“A Vision Without Execution Is an Hallucination” – Stephen Case

I’ve always wanted to be an evil genius like you see in a Bond movie. Not really because I like the evil part, but more because they get to plan and build these elaborate contraptions with unlimited time and budgets. If you have an idea to put a frickin’ laser beam on top of a shark, then you get to do that.

Pew Pew Shark

You can understand my disappointment, then, at learning Bond movies are fiction, and not documentaries.

In the real world, good ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them all the time. How many times do you hear your drunk uncle, or a friend (or yourself) say, “I had that idea decades ago!”? Well, here’s the thing; you don’t get points in the real world for having an idea. Having an idea doesn’t help the bottom line. An idea by itself is essentially worthless if there isn’t action tacked on to the end. An idea can actually COST you time and money if it distracts from better strategies, or if it’s tossed in once a strategy is being executed.
Here at eROI, we have a very specific project process that allows us to spend time dreaming up all of the pie-in-the-sky ideas that we think could work. As a strategist, my job is to filter through the ideas and find the ones that will work, the ones that won’t, and if you’re lucky, the ones that are just crazy enough they might work (sock puppets anyone?). This gives us the best of both worlds.

So, how do you go from “just an idea” into a full-fledged strategy that will bring you fame and riches?

eRoi Office

Context, Context, Context.

The main pitfall of an idea is that it exists in a vacuum. There are no opportunity costs, no other things going on for it to get in the way of, and it’s all fake money and time you’re spending to implement it.
To evaluate its effectiveness as a strategy, you have to add in context. What’s happening in the world around the idea? What are you giving up to do this? Where are the hours and dollars coming from? Do we have the skills and talent to make it excellent? Is this the best way to reach our audience?

Quick Tip

Ideas that come in halfway or two-thirds of the way through a campaign can become particularly costly when you look at them through this lens because you lose the efficiencies and quality checks you’d normally have if you had months to plan and execute. You can also do negative work by stalling or hampering the progress of other pieces in the campaign.
In the end, some of the best strategies can seem obvious in hindsight. The low-hanging fruit that’s ripe for picking is almost always the best place to start.

Adding in execution

An idea doesn’t have all of those pesky little details that can drag down a strategy, like dates and content and design. As strategists, we have to figure out how exactly to make a great idea into a reality. We build personas, dive into performance data, work with Accounts on schedules, make sure Design and Development can actually build what we are promising in the hours allotted, and figure out what we are going to measure so we can tell how well it worked. Strategies also need to be flexible enough to handle the inevitable speed bumps you encounter in the real world and degrade gracefully based on technology, last minute changes, or unforeseen events.

Phone Quiz

Common pitfalls

Good strategy takes pains to avoid common mistakes that can happen if you rush an idea into execution. Here’s a short (and by no means comprehensive) list of pitfalls good strategies try to avoid

  • Cognitive biases that creep into decision making and content creation. Common ones are outcome bias and projection bias. Did you know there is something called the IKEA bias? You should.
  • Short-sightedness. Very often ideas can be the shiny new object that distracts from the longer-term goals and health of a campaign or brand.
  • Gimmicks that are just really, really overdone. Enough said.

In the end, I haven’t quite been able to hypnotize a harem of women out of their food allergies quite yet, but using these strategies we’ve consistently been able to create campaigns that push our partners outside of their comfort zones, pick the low-hanging fruit, and create lasting gains.

Emily Swinkels
Emily Swinkels, Digital Strategist at eROI.