Preventing stakeholders from diluting creative bravery

Animation of businessman superhero

The problem

So, you’ve collaborated with a creative agency to come up with a brilliant new campaign strategy or idea. You know it’s bold, beautiful, and really has the potential to cut through the noise to make your brand stand out amongst the rest. After lovingly choosing, crafting and, nurturing the idea for months, you finally relinquish it up to your stakeholders for feedback. Gulp… so what happens next?

Well, if you’re lucky and your bold idea isn’t killed instantly

…you’ll probably instead watch it gradually be revised over and over and over… until it slowly sinks into a barely recognisable puddle of mediocrity.

Does this sound familiar?

I love and also cringe at this spoof example shared to us by Doug Kesler at event once or how one of the best B2B ideas of the last 20 years ‘Dumb ways to die’ could have been be watered down to something really tragic, with a few seemingly simple word changes.

The animated campaign video with its catchy tune quickly went viral on social media back in 2012. But what if the stakeholders had gotten to it first…

Maybe the Head of Customer Experience wants to broaden the audience and suggests changing to: ‘Dumb ways to injure yourself’. But then the Head of Corporate Comms doesn’t think that ‘dumb’ is the best word for such a serious campaign, changing it to: ‘Inadvisable ways to injure yourself’. The Head of Services might then want the messaging to be more direct: ‘Don’t get hurt by a train’ and legal want to protect Metro Trains against any liability: ‘Be safe: always expect a train’…. You get the jist!


As Doug Kesler pointed out these kind of ‘sensible’ but devastating changes are typical of the daily stakeholder input faced by marketeers’ industry wide – and why 80-90% of all marketing lacks creative bravery and impact, yet 80-90% of marketers are smart, talented, committed people with great ideas, about . And it’s even worse in the B2B and Finance sectors, and even more severely worse so when you combine the two! When it comes to these more ‘serious’ topics, decision makers are often even more scared to go with a big idea, for fear of not appearing like a safe and trustworthy choice.

So the big question is, how do you help prevent the dilution of an idea once it goes through the internal sign off process?

This is obviously a topic we’re very passionate about, and we’re fortunate to work with many clients who are brave enough to push the boundaries. From our experience, and speaking with our clients, here are a few tips to help prevent idea dilution in sign off.


Some top tips to avoid the dilution of great idea

  1. Re-frame the process

As a client-side marketeer perhaps consider stakeholder approval not as a barrier to doing your job, but as a key role of your job. We are in the communications business after all. And if you’re constantly facing barriers to innovative ideas, ask yourself if there could be a better way to communicate your ideas to your stakeholders?  Or maybe involving them earlier in the journey, so that they feel part of the new idea? Engaging and aligning key stakeholders as early as possible in the proposition and creative decisions will make them feel more engaged in the process, and therefore also the ideas that evolve from it. Some stakeholders will always react negatively to new ideas unless they feel that they’ve contributed to the approach or journey – even if it’s just the brief – and this is something that can be fixed fairly easily.

  1. Strong instincts, strong ideas

You and your stakeholders will always look for supporting data or customer insight to support any marketing strategies. But if you want to do something genuinely different that out-shines the competition, it’s not always possible to find the data at the start – as no-one has done it that way before! Less innovative ideas can often be easily supported by robust data and analytics, but genuinely different ideas will often need more fighting for. But every successful business person or marketeer needs to back their gut to reach new heights. If you’re meeting internal resistance to an idea that you can’t support with data, perhaps launching or testing with a small audience is a good way to appease concerns and give you time to build your case. So, if the data isn’t there, hang on to your gut instinct and don’t let your idea go down without a fight or proper audience testing!


  1. Market your successes

As the paragraph above suggests -in the rapidly evolving world of marketing, data is king. More than ever before data shows what is and isn’t working, and every other detail in between. By showcasing previous successes you’ll build a profile of marketing excellence within your team – and it’ll gain stakeholders trust when you stumble across that game changing idea which is less easy to support!

  1. Fight for the customer

When it comes to a new idea, who’s the most important stakeholder of all? Yep, it’s the customer. Other stakeholders will have different agendas, priorities and insights, and invariably they will be totally different to those of your audience. As the marketeer, it’s your role to fight for what’s going to work best for the customer. Every argument and debate can always come back to this point, and if you’ve got the time and budget then research can help you evidence this.

Financial services and B2B really doesn’t have to be the graveyard of creativity

In fact, with intangible services we think you can be far more creative with how to make an emotional connection with your audience – whether that’s with Secret Agents, or making a wealth manager feel more like a Lifestyle brand, finding a new way to talk to millennials about money or simply coming up with a strong single minded proposition. Our track record of winning Marketing Effectiveness Awards is testament to that.

And a strong creative approach always starts with a powerful single-minded proposition. The simpler the proposition message, the more you can be creative in finding a way to bring it to life.

And if you’re a client-side marketeer, we appreciate it’s easy for us to say all of this on the other side of the fence! So we’d love to hear from you on any ways that you’ve found the inner strength to be bold, and ways you’ve been able to achieve that internal sign off without the dilution of the original idea.