The Shape of the Juice – A Marketing Nightmare

Posted by on Dec 23, 2013 in Kel's Corner | 0 comments

While reading Cramer’s blog post Collaborative Writing – The Shape of the Juice, I felt a small ball of stress developing in my lungs. I really liked the article. He had great points for helping other writers who might need to collaborate and I was having a smooth and happy day prior to reading – so where was this ball of stress coming from?

As I reflected, it dawned on me that I’ve experienced the dreaded “Shape of the Juice” more times than I’d like to discuss. Just the very thought of it gave me anxiety. The difference from a marketing standpoint was that in most cases this ridiculous request came from a paying client. And this was typically a client who very strongly wanted to sell their product, service, or institution in the most nonsensical way possible. Eep! What to do?

This type of dreaded nemesis client should have a different name. In fact, I’m just going to call them nemesis clients. They’re the type of client whose emails cause your computer itself to shudder in fear. Just setting eyes on their name causes the lights in your room to dim. And even though they initially appear quite pleasant, you swear there’s a little bit of demon in their voice. You are fairly certain they were put on this earth to ruin your day. This is the type of person that makes you want to do flips of joy when you actually get a client who says something like, “You’re the expert, what do you think would be the best plan of action?” But I digress.

After years of dealing with nemesis clients, I’ve learned a few tricks you can use to help your project turn out well, ensure the client’s happiness, and actually keep yourself sane. Say for example your client comes at you with this little nugget of joy…

“Kel, we really feel that the biggest selling point of our juice is its shape. The flavor is like a five-star meal exploded onto your palette. It basically heals your cells from the inside out ensuring you’ll never develop any type of cancer and after you drink it for a week, you’ll actually become bilingual in the language of your choice. But never mind all that. What we feel really sets us apart from our competition is the SHAPE of our juice.”

1) Listen.

“Ok, I hear you. Sounds like your product has a lot to offer. Tell me more.”

During your first meeting or phone call, do as much listening as you can with as little negativity toward their idea as possible. In fact, be excited – not about their idea exactly, but about what you are helping them try to sell. The more you listen, the more you will start to understand what they should actually be doing to sell their product. With this information you can start to nudge them and their campaign in the right direction.

2) Ask Why.
“So with all those incredible benefits, it’s really interesting to me that you want to focus on the shape. Especially since your product is a liquid. What makes you feel this is the direction you want to go?”

There are two types of responses you’re going to get here. One is going to be something just as absurd as their original pitch and will make you want to die a little inside. It will start out with the nemesis client saying “I saw” or “I heard about” or something along those lines. In this case you’re dealing with a client who was most likely out drinking with their coworkers when they saw a random infomercial or hilarious YouTube video. “Oh man, our product (service/institution) would work perfectly in this exact scenario! We’ll go viral! People will love us! We’ll make MILLIONS!”

The second type of response will be more along the lines of, “After doing some market research we found customers really care most about the shape of juice rather than the benefits of the product itself,” or “Our biggest competitor launched a campaign about their juice shape and it doubled their sales.”

Both responses will give you valuable information about your client, what they want, and how far you’ll be able to push them toward a better idea.

3) Never initially tell them that their idea is awful or impossible (even if you make it sound really nice).
“There are definitely some things we can work with here.”

At this point in your meeting you’d love to say, “This is a really fun idea, but from a customer standpoint, I’m just not sure it’s the best direction for your product.” With certain nemesis clients, this is also the point where you’ll want to flat out call them a moron. But instead, hold your damn tongue and bitch about them at happy hour. Unfortunately, the only thing that will come of you outright telling them their idea is lame is that they will hold onto it even harder and likely make it worse.

4) Adjust.
“The headline will read, Shape Up Your Life With Juice!
“We’ll start the video with a close up of the juice, panning up to show it in all its shapely glory.”
“Your spokeswoman will have the same blob-like shape as the juice.”
“We’ll run a Show Us Your Favorite Juice Shape Facebook game.”

Thankfully bad ideas from nemesis clients are often quite vague. This will give you the latitude to get creative. Rather than trying to make the entire project about the juice’s shape, use it as an element within the whole. When explaining the idea to your client, focus on this element in small ways throughout your pitch. It will help the client feel like they were heard and that they’ve added something essential. Hopefully they will be so blown away by the overall awesomeness of your idea that they won’t even notice that the “shape” is not the central focus of the campaign and may, at this point, suggest dropping it all together.

5) Make your ideas their ideas.
“When we spoke on the phone last week what you said about your dog now being bilingual really got me thinking…”

And then go on to give your pitch. This is where you will use all the information you gathered in the first two steps. Somewhere in your conversation with your client, they likely gave you some really incredible information about their product. While you may not be bringing them exactly what they requested, you’re still bringing them something that they can feel was their idea.

Remember that a lot of nemesis clients who are paying you to do something creative for their company have hired you for a reason. It’s because they lack those creative genes themselves. Many of them simply want to feel like they’re a part of all the great creative action. Remember this as you work with them. It’s likely just a job for you, but for them it’s time away from the mundane everydayness of what they do for a living.

6) If all else fails make the best of it.
“So the Shape of the Juice it is then! Forward march!”

Occasionally there will be a client who can’t see past the outright stupidity of their idea. OR you might just be too jaded to see the potential of the idea itself. Yes, I said it. The stupid one might be YOU! Just because the idea sounds crazy, looks crazy, and feels crazy doesn’t mean it is. It truly might be the next big thing. It might even turn out to be one of your favorite projects because you get to venture outside your comfort zone in an attempt to make something work that has absolutely no business being a success. You actually get to be CHALLENGED! Eep!!! How exciting!

Then again it really might just be an awful idea. If this is the case do the best you can. In the end, as long as your client is happy, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve given them options, you’ve shown them better ideas, and if they reject them all, they still give you money when it’s all done. End of transaction.

I hope these few tips help you with your own nemesis clients. In the end you’ll end up with one of two things- a project that ended up being really fun and challenging, or a ridiculous story to use in your own blog someday.

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