You feel your blood pressure rising.
A key stakeholder has scuttled your marketing plan in favor of methods from the previous decade … or century.
Whether working with your own team or a client’s team, how can you persuade hesitant stakeholders to embrace modern marketing, such as TikTok, Instagram stories or influencer marketing?
Rather than throwing up your hands in frustration, recognize that stakeholders are just another audience.
And as a marketer you know how to research an audience. That’s what you do every day.
Apply those same skills to communicating with stakeholders.
Take the time to understand them. Get to know them well enough that you can guide them from what they already know to what they don’t know they don’t know.
Every situation is unique, but here are some principles that can help:
- Be observant. Ask questions. Listen empathetically.
- Help them understand modern media consumption.
- Reason by analogy.
- Be prepared to provide proof.
- Build confidence in the team/process.
- Help them learn the right lessons from past success.
- Connect them with helpful marketing resources.
Be observant. Ask questions. Listen empathetically.
Why it matters: The effectiveness of your advice suffers when you don’t understand the thinking of the person you are trying to persuade. The credibility of your advice suffers in the absence of empathetic listening. What you learn at this stage informs everything else that follows.
How to do it: With observation, research, and tactful questions, see if you can answer the following:
- How does the stakeholder define success?
- Why is the stakeholder attached to specific marketing methods?
- What are the perceived risks of changing those methods?
- What language or concepts does the stakeholder already understand (even if those terms or concepts seem out-of-date)?
- How would they explain the modern method? Does that explanation reflect any knowledge gaps or misconceptions?
- What is their personal history in their industry? What is the history of the company as a whole?
Help them understand modern media consumption.
Why it matters: Stakeholders with an old-fashioned approach to marketing often have an old-fashioned approach to media consumption. Many wrongly assume that everyone consumes media the way that they do and that anything else is just a passing fad.
How to do it: You will likely need a combination of good data and good storytelling to help them overcome this hurdle. Here are some examples:
- Gather 3rd party data regarding the media consumption of their target audience.
- Send media consumption surveys to the stakeholder’s existing customer base.
- Create a “day in the life of” infographic or slide deck walking the stakeholder through all the ways a member of their target audience is (and is not) consuming media.
- Help them connect what they already know about the media habits of friends and family to the media habits of their audience.
Tip: Create a culture of “reverse mentoring.” This frames the discussion as a subject of mutual concern, rather than a personal challenge. You aren’t trying to criticize their personal media consumption, you are hoping to broaden their viewpoint with accurate information about how their audience consumes media.
Reason by analogy.
Why it’s important: To help someone build a new understanding you need to start from what they already know. Analogies are the bridge between what a stakeholder already knows and what they need to know.
How to do it: Educate yourself about their current methods and marketing vocabulary, even if these seem woefully outdated. This can give you a shared point of reference to start from.
- Personify a digital or automated solution to make it more relatable. (Imagine you have a salesperson who already knows what products your customer has been browsing … )
- Help them see the similarities between what they are doing now and what you are proposing. Brick and mortar concepts, manual processes, and print media can be compared to their digital counterparts.
- Once the similarity has been established, show the contrast. Help the stakeholder see how the method you are proposing has advantages over the traditional method.
Tip: Choose analogies from inside and outside of the marketing world. Make comparisons related to their hobbies, interests, favorite movies or whatever else you already know about the person. Your goal is to take them from what is familiar to what is unfamiliar.
Caution: Make complex concepts simple, but don’t be condescending.
Be prepared to provide proof.
Why it’s important: Don’t be surprised if they place a greater burden of proof upon you than they have placed on themselves or the old methods. Old-fashioned methods are often trusted without scrutiny. What’s new seems uncertain and risky and will need to be proven.
How to do it: “Make sure you understand what’s most important to them,” said Cammie Dunaway in a Q&A session at the Yearly Carnage. “The way you get more resources is by getting results and getting traction. So pick something you both agree is really important to the business and then shows how that starts to move the needle.”
- Make sure you are clear on what metrics matter to the stakeholder.
- Be prepared in advance to measure those metrics.
- Set realistic expectations at the outset. Make it clear if there’s a minimum budget or amount of time that would be needed to see results.
- What will resonate with your stakeholder: A spreadsheet full of data, an anecdotal customer success story, or a combination of the two? Know your audience and present your evidence accordingly.
Tip: If necessary, find creative ways to measure performance. For example, our agency has engaged our development team to gather data from antiquated point of sale systems, allowing us to track metrics that weren’t otherwise available.
Build confidence in the team/process.
Why it’s important: Effective leaders know they don’t need to understand every nuance of a new platform if they trust that a team or process is proven to get results.
How to do it: With sincerity and sympathy, show them that you trust the team and the process. If you can do so truthfully, say things like:
- “I used to have the same doubts, but do you know what convinced me … ?”
- “I was really grateful that one of my new hires brought this tool to the table … ”
- “A member of our team wrote a really great piece that explains why this works … ”
- “We’ve seen other clients in your sector use this method and increase [insert metric here] … ”
Help them learn the right lessons from past success.
Why it’s important: Even the most old-fashioned methods were once new. Did the stakeholder really get where they are by always doing the same thing? Probably not.
How to do it: Consider what you know about their personal business history:
- Often the real lesson to be drawn from past success (whether personally or as a company) is not the specific method that was used, but the value of making tough calls, trying new things, and adapting to change when implementing those methods.
- Some legacy brands literally survived the Great Depression or navigated other historic shifts in consumer behavior over the decades.
- Help the stakeholder connect the dots from success that came from adapting in the past to the success that can result from adapting in the present.
Tip: The pandemic has been an object lesson in the need to adapt to changing circumstances. Even old-fashioned stakeholders may have felt compelled to try new ways of interacting with their favorite brands. They may have come to respect and appreciate brands that were able to pivot quickly. Help them make the connection between this recent history and the need for brands to adapt to changing circumstances.
Connect them with helpful marketing resources.
Why it’s important: This is more of a long game, but the most profound changes of mindset result when stakeholders reach their own conclusions.
How to do it: Point them in the direction of accurate information that will demystify modern marketing methods and help them make informed decisions.
- Encourage them to sign up for a daily marketing email.
- Share helpful YouTube channels or podcasts that have inspired or informed you.
An old-fashioned stakeholder is simply another audience to research, to understand, and (hopefully) to persuade. There’s no singular technique that guarantees success. Instead you will need to patiently employ the art of asking the right questions, perceiving the underlying concerns, and providing the right kind of explanation and evidence that will satisfy your audience.
When dealing with a stakeholder who is hesitant to adopt modern marketing methods, take the time to consider:
- Why does the stakeholder have a concern about the proposed marketing strategy?
- What marketing concepts does the stakeholder already understand?
- What additional background information does the stakeholder need to understand and accept the proposed strategy?
- What kinds of evidence or metrics will be most convincing to this stakeholder?
- How can you present the evidence in a simple, appealing, respectful way?
Be prepared to show considerable patience while you wait for your audience to come around.
You may also need to accept the fact that no amount of persuasive reasoning will satisfy some stakeholders. In which case you will have to decide if you can live with supporting the old methods as best you can or if you need to move on to another client, brand, or team.
But if the relationship is worthwhile and you can afford to wait for the ship to change course, you might just end up with an incredible case study that will help you make your case the next time you encounter an old-fashioned stakeholder.
Looking for some backup in your efforts to promote modern marketing methods on your team? Carney is a full-service agency that can help. Let’s chat and see what we can accomplish together.