Moving Mount Rushmore: How to convince your management of your brilliant idea (Part one)

In this two-part series, Sue Mizera explores how to get buy-in for brilliance. Part one.

So, marketer, you have this terrific, game-changing idea that in 2023, your business really needs to devote a good deal of time, budget and resources to strengthening, even repositioning, your corporate brand. You feel passionate about this, you’ve surveyed competition, you’ve analysed your own data, you’ve read your journals and market research. You are sure this is the direction to take to differentiate your business, gain customer loyalty and grow share of market.

But your idea is surely not top of management’s mind. They’ve already committed to more tech-based investments in 2023, and are looking to save as much money as possible everywhere else. Plus, you’ve been there before, face-to-face with ‘Mount Rushmore,’ or this is at least how you styled your stone-faced, un-moveable management team in previous petitions; the experiences were as painful, even soul-crushing, as you remember. So this time, you’re wondering, Why even remotely put my career on the line again, no matter how brilliant the idea? You ask yourself, Why bother?

I do urge you to bother. And I do urge you to do so by adopting a new mind-set, and likely a whole new approach, to moving the hearts and minds of your “Mount Rushmore,” to win them to your side. But this will require that of all the many hats you as a marketer must wear these days, I’ll urge you to don one more: that of an expert rhetorician.  

Harkening back to move ahead

Yes, rhetorician, in the classical sense of powerful advocate, exquisite defendant, arguer par excellence. Harkening, in fact, back to Aristotle (Rhetoric, Book I, Chapter 3.) (No eye rolls, please, I’m entirely serious). 

Aristotle famously taught that a rhetor’s, or speaker's, ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas

  • Ethos: Speaker’s preparation, authority and character. 
  • Logos: Your argument, content, logic.
  • Pathos: Your sympathy with, impact on your audience. 

Considered together, these three modes of persuasion form what is called the rhetorical triangle, which speaks to the multi-dimensional, multilateral challenge of successful persuasion. And why it’s never easy. There’s no addressing just one or two legs of this triangle, it is always all three. All the elements will necessarily need to be integrated, aligned, complementary, mutually supportive and fully coordinated. If you can create something with Ethos, Logos and Pathos peppered throughout, and tie it all into your audience’s belief system, all the better

Hidden benefit: Considered together, these three modes of persuasion will help you project the arc of your argument – beginning, middle and end – as they require that you think comprehensively and holistically, right from the start. You will continue to bring the modes into sharper focus and more intense alignment through iteration and recursion as you develop your thinking and argument. And as for the mise en scène? Prepare to be the writer, director and actor of your own one-act play.

Intrigued? What’s involved in donning the rhetor’s hat and creating such a powerful, bespoke one-act play? How might Aristotle have counselled you to successfully argue for a corporate brand positioning initiative for your company, in spite of the odds against you? Let’s explore Ethos, Logos and Pathos, in more detail, seriatim.

Ethos: Speaker’s preparation, authority and character

This mode of persuasion is about establishing your authority to speak on the subject. Management knows you, they trust you, but this is about establishing their trust in the authority you bring to this subject. Bear in mind here the old adage, ‘people don’t buy the product, they buy the salesperson.’

Do your homework 

This fundamental, basic preparation is entirely in your control. It is classic “homework.” What are the most successful brands, B2B or otherwise, doing, vis à vis their corporate brands to make you so passionate about this approach? What is the market research, the intel? What are the latest statistics, the most prominent articles and authoritative journal entries? What does your own ABM/CRM data offer to support your thesis? Be ready with figures and examples as well as counter-examples of companies and organisations whose corporate brands have been neglected, underfunded, under-loved. Dig, probe, research – don’t cut corners.

Three questions you might be asked 

What questions don’t you want to be asked, or alternatively, what questions would you really want to be asked, and have sharp, tight answers prepared. In this case, you could anticipate management questions, such as:

  1. We already have a logo and corporate style guide, we already have a brand, so what are you talking about?
  2. Why can’t we decide what to do, if anything, about our corporate brand from our own CRM? If we have a loyalty problem, let’s seek a tech solution! Why do we need to do anything additional beyond what we already spend a lot of money for?
  3. Brands are dated, yesterday’s big idea, just give me another sales guy. Branding is just another costly marketing tactic to justify marketing activities!

Questions such as these, all the better if posed spontaneously and unsolicited, present wonderful opportunities to draw out what’s really on management’s minds at the same time that they allow you to expand and deepen your arguments. E.g., 

  • Defining and defending your corporate brand offers you nothing less than the potential to articulate how brand is the source of your company’s Vision, or “North Star;” and your Positioning, your company’s reason for being, essence and differentiation. 
  • Deploying your own CRM/ABM data to demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of your corporate brand provides another, mostly unexploited, but entirely synergistic potential, to mine its insights and harness its power for your corporate brand: brand and data, finally, becoming BFFs. 
  • The long-running stand-off between brand-building and sales-staffing dishes up a rich opportunity to call out common, but flawed opinions, well past their due date. An Aristotelian tip: use the rhetorical trope of humour to undercut an opponent’s seriousness, and use seriousness to undercut their flippancy or humour. “That old sales-force- brand divide – doesn’t it date to the Pleistocene? Or is it the Jurassic?” Go ahead, have some fun and lighten the mood while winning points.

Practice 

As Ethos is the mode of persuasion that is all about you, the speaker, the argument-owner, make sure to give yourself the biggest, deepest, broadest support possible. Aim to be specific and confident, polished and professional, detailed and buttoned up, all at once. Practice, practice, practice: let no light shine between your arguments and your preparation. You can have notes, but be ready never to refer to them.

Logos: Your argument, content and logic

If Ethos is the ground on which your argument stands, Logos is the logic behind your argument and what drives it forward: one point proceeds to another, building up to conclusions. You want these points to seem so straightforward and commanding that your audience can’t conceive of an alternative. 

Begin by asking yourself hard questions 

Is your thesis clear and specific? Is it supported by strong reasons and credible evidence? Is it logical and arranged in a well-reasoned order? Make sure to collect all the hard data and complicated research into a clear, straightforward narrative. Don’t make the critical mistake of not sorting and prioritising your facts or assuming they speak for themselves. They will, only if you properly organise them.

Start from a common place

A piece of shared wisdom, a tribal assumption, common beliefs and values. It’s where Logos and Ethos –and Pathos – are likely to intersect. E.g., 

“We all love our brand, we want it to be as strong, powerful, loved and preferred as possible. We want to take it forward and keep it maximally fresh, relevant and engaging. We can’t allow it to be caught in a time warp, or to be yesterday’s news, or to play second-fiddle to competition. Not on our watch!”

Paint the beautiful picture 

Create the visionary story. Wow them. What results could your plan generate for the company? E.g., 

“Our brand should have the power to rouse, startle and shape new thinking, attitudes and behaviours. It should ignite our enterprise internally with the power of its own ethos and courage. It should stir new, external audiences to sharper, more eager engagement because of our convictions. It should help shape the markets and cultures we operate in and make a statement about the human potential we collectively impact.”

Think future history 

As a result of the branding process, your company’s new brand will offer up to nine, new and evolved, wholly intangible elements that comprise your corporate story. You’ll need to be specific in your story-telling, but also visionary and inspirational, as you touch on all the elements a brand embraces. E.g., 

  • Our new vision, our “North Star,” will take the whole company up and over the hill together; it will inspire and energise the company, our markets and partners, for its bold, insightful authority. At the same time, our new mission will capture what everyone in the company, no matter their function, will need to do to help make the vision a reality. 
  • Our new positioning – our reason for being, our differentiation – will assume the high ground of leadership in the whole category. It will make us all proud to say it out loud! We will challenge our agency with developing a new end-line based on this Positioning, to set us apart and bring it to life: think of it as our equivalent of “Just do It!” 
  • Our target audiences will be further profiled with genuine insights into their needs and motivations while bespoke promises will address our commitments to each Target segment. We will have evolved our core values and brand personality to reflect our new energy and purpose.
  • Immediate initiatives will be put in place to take our new brand through the whole company and to update and upgrade our messaging and graphic identity on our website and in all collateral materials. This is just the start.

Include the voice of your customer

Bring their voice to bear in your story and rationales and to life in your narrative. This can be qualitative – interview them! – and/or quantitative, using your own proprietary data. All the better to use both, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Expect to argue from agreements to agreements when quoting customers, even on minor points. E.g., 

  • “Let’s face it, all the players in this category offer excellent products. I’m looking for the brand that stands out for its leadership and point of view on where the category is heading. My choice of brand says a lot about me, and my professionalism.”
  • “I’ve been loyal to this brand because they have consistently understood and anticipated my needs. It’s been welcoming, like a family, but always cutting edge and innovative. Lately, however, the company has been feeling stodgy to me, same-old-same-old, less connected to me and my needs. Sharper, faster they’re not these days, or is that just my perception?”
  • “My generation is looking for corporate brands to take a position on corporate social responsibility, environmental footprints, and diversity. There’s no being silent on these issues anymore.”

Think future headlines in all the best press

E.g., 

  • Who says B2B marketing can’t inspire or challenge or surprise?
  • Company proves CRM and brand work hand in hand to produce steady gains in SOM.
  • New B2B marketing campaign offers a bold new endline and shows there’s space in B2B for creativity, humour and emotion. 

Check out part two here.

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