Danger: Soliciting Unqualified Opinions

One of the most challenging internal jobs for marketers is attempting to convince management to make a change—to take a different path with advertising, introduce a new product or service, partner or merge with another company, revise pricing based upon market activity, or employ strategies to stifle the competition. That challenge is exacerbated when internal employees are allowed to weigh in with unqualified (and generally personal) opinions.

Marketing is a science. It is the proper blend of the traditional 4 P’s (product, place, price, promotion), married to the right audience at the right time. For example, when recently divorced and bitter, 50+ year old Joe knocks on the CEO’s door to give his opinion on a retail advertising campaign targeting middle-aged women, someone has to stop that opinion from impacting the campaign.

If you ask for an opinion, you will always get one. A marketer has to “know better” and only ask for qualified opinions from contributors who could be directly impacted by the proposed change. Price changes should be discussed with customers and the sales team. Product advertising should be presented to appropriate focus groups for input. Now sometimes, during the product/service development process, it is important to bring together internal subject matter experts to weigh in on various attributes and approaches. Different departments will be effected by the new product or service; however, you can bet Operations won’t limit their comments to manufacturing, and Finance won’t stick solely to profit projections.

“A camel is a horse made by committee.” It’s a funny image, but the anti-committee saying aptly points out the ineffectiveness of group decision-making that incorporates too many conflicting opinions into a single project.

Flatten, Don’t Silence

So, what happens if you end up with a boisterous employee who has strong opinions and likes to hear themselves speak? You know the kind. He or she will be the most vocal, the most argumentative, and will intimidate others in his efforts to persuade. In the case where opinions are not equally balanced or presented, there are numerous tools that can allow everyone to have their opinion heard while flattening the boardroom bullies.

One of my favorite consensus-building/team decision-making tools is the paired comparison. This tool is used when a team has a number of priorities and cannot come to a natural agreement as to which are the most critical to address first. This method of voting allows each person one equal voice.

Here’s how it works. You’d make a table, and on the left side, you would write down all of the identified features along with a number. Then, beginning with the first feature, you’d compare each one to the next. “Is 1 more important than 2?” Followed by “Is 1 more important than 3?” and continue down the list. After the first item is satisfied you go to the next, starting with “Is 2 more important than 3? Is 2 more important than 4?”

For a concrete example, look at this chart outlining the features to consider when developing a new perfume to bring to market.

Perfume To Market Chart

In this particular example, the votes show that the scent of the perfume is the most important feature to consider, followed by the packaging. For features ending up in a tie (in the example 4, 5, 6), you could run another paired comparison among just those three features and allow for five to ten minutes of discussion on each prior to voting.

Use Your Tools

For consumer-based product or service decisions, use focus groups, surveys, or multi-variable testing to remove bias and identify statistically valid opinions that truly represent your target market. When the decision is an internal one, like deciding whether to shutter a production facility, bring together the right team of internal subject matter experts and remove emotion and ego from the decision-making process by using proven decision-making tools.

Tony Streeter is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Streeter has led new product development, Ecommerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Currently, Mr. Streeter leads marketing and branding initiatives for Y&L Consulting, a comprehensive IT Services & Solutions company specializing in IT Development, Information Management/BI, and Service Desk Services.