I am astounded by the anecdotal evidence of sales organisations that are still putting the cart before the horse when it comes to selling a product or a service. The archaic 19th-century practice of shoving inventory down a prospective customer’s throat without too much care or concern whether the item fully satisfies the need of the potential buyer is unfortunately still prevalent today.

It is fortunate, however, for these legacy practitioners that the burning of guilty culprits at the stake is banned across the civilised world we live in – otherwise these human fireplaces would never run short of “live” fuel to stoke its flames!

Given the fact that “solution selling” as a sales discipline was developed way back in 1975, I am hugely surprised that some old-school methodologies have made it to our current era!

Across our offices at Singapore Press Holdings, we adopt a consultative selling methodology when dealing with our prospects. The elements intrinsic in this approach include:

  1. Finding out what the customer is really looking for.

  2. Developing cutting-edge ideas that address these needs.

  3. Building value in our multi-faceted proposals.

  4. Negotiating win-win results.

  5. Following up with the client to ensure that his objectives are fully met.

Of all this cited above, the key ingredient that is of the utmost importance for me is the idea! The rest are merely hygiene necessities.

The idea is what makes it work for marketers and brand owners.

The recent open letter from Burger King to McDonald’s to join forces and create a one-day McWhopper burger to commemorate World Peace Day on 21 September is a great example of this.

It led the CEO of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, into a response that backfired on the market leader brand. Burger King came out on top in this “creative” confrontation and went on to work with smaller U.S. brands on the collaborative Peace Day Burger.

In another example, Burger King in Malaysia responded to what the population at large was concerned about – price hikes and the rising cost of living – and delivered a succinct and to-the-point campaign that addressed issues that weighed (pardon the pun) heavily on the minds of Malaysians.

The idea: The brand went on a mission to save wallets from shrinking with the “BK Weigh Your Wallet” campaign. All customers had to do was place their wallets on a weighing scale and vouchers were given out based on the weight of their wallets – the lighter the wallet, the better the voucher. And the more they saved by spending less on great BK meals.

Over in Pakistan, mattress brand Moltyfoam ideated the world’s first billboard-cum-bed for the homeless. The company installed 150 of these “billbeds” throughout Pakistan. The brand was visibly projected in the daytime, and the utility of its product was demonstrated after hours when the advertising signage swiveled onto their sides to form Moltyfoam beds to accord the less fortunate a good night’s sleep.

Over in the Philippines, Land Rover decided to bring the showroom to consumers by creating a “driveable” billboard. Instead of running a traditional static outdoor advertisement, the company’s advertising agency Y&R came up with the concept of “The Test Drive Billboard.”

This on-ground activation featured an advertising sign mounted on top of a ramp with the shape of the Land Rover cut out of it. The actual vehicle was then driven up the ramp and parked directly behind the stencil of the car.

From the front, it looked very much like a normal outdoor billboard. Look closer and you will notice the uniqueness of it. Interested parties were invited to drive the car down the ramp and take it for a spin.

Yet again, the importance of the idea.   

Publishers are also recognising the efficacy of coming up with the right idea. Over in Brazil, weekly magazine Caras was challenged by Neutrogena and its agency DM9DDB to create a special cover featuring actress Giovanna Ewbank. The issue came with a set of Neutrogena Deep Clean wipes, so readers could rub the makeup off her face.

Design culture writer Diogo Mattos calls the work an “innovation” that reflects what the future of magazine advertising could look like. DM9DDBs vice president of media, Drian Ferguson, commented: “This interactive piece of press gives consumers the power to star in the campaign. They handle the product, test, prove, and evaluate the outcome.”

The above examples serve as timely reminders for us in this industry to stop selling boxes and start selling solutions. Stop pushing inventory and start sharing ideas. Stop transactional selling and embark on consultative selling.

I love the quote by innovative and legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright: “An idea is salvation by imagination.”

For news media publishers, we need to always recognise the massive value great ideas can contribute to our survival. So never ever try to sell media to your clients.

If you sell them the idea, they will buy the MIDEA! Spell it right, sell it right!