Note from the editor:
This is a reprint of an article originally from Spring 2011 Executive Summary Ezine, written by past NCA board member Alexander Brown (2005 – 2015). This article may be 10 years (!) old, but as the mother of a young child every word here still rings true in 2021:
“My life revolves around my girls” is a mantra I adhere to.
Each morning I wake up happy that I have another chance to enrich their lives while praying not to screw up like I did yesterday. I have to explain repeatedly why the golden arches are not a place where we go often, even if it is cheap and those fries are delicious. I also try to stop them from watching too much TV because my parents drilled into my head that it would rot the brain. Each day I worry about what they may see, experience, and, most importantly, remember. I see on a daily basis the impact of persuasive marketing on them, from the animated characters that present themselves on cereal boxes at our breakfast table to the likenesses of TV personalities on clothes and books. My kids are absorbing hundreds of messages daily. Oddly, through the princesses and tween singing sensations, I see multiple basic, but true and positive business lessons that my girls are learning that can also apply to proposals. Here are a few:
You might have the tastiest chocolate in the world inside, but if the wrapper does not catch the eye of the child, they will pay it no mind. This explains why the zero bar doesn’t sell more, but that’s just my opinion. When preparing a proposal, remember that we are trying to reach individuals, and not agencies in general. The evaluators have a mountain of proposals to read in a finite amount of time. Their attention span is small, so you have to write like a news story, to cover a subject quickly and with glitz. In proposals, an attractive cover and graphics on nearly every page are our saviors by attracting the attention of the reviewer and delivering messages better than pages and pages of text. Your superior solutions may go unnoticed if they are not persuasive and do not captivate the reviewers, so you have less of a chance to win.
Brand recognition starts early.
My 6-year-old, who has never been to the “Magic Kingdom,” not only knows of it, she knows where every ride is in it. This is a lesson every business developer needs to keep in mind, or should I say, imprint in mind (as in the mind of the COTR). To become more than just another company positioning itself to win business, you must ingratiate your brand, your offering, and your capabilities so they not only take your call but place a call to you when an opportunity is a mere idea. You can win on occasion without it, as people have won the lottery, but to be consistently successful, you have to be in the ears (phone), eyes (face-to-face or email), and thoughts (trusted advisor) of the decision-makers at the agency you want to do business with.
Word of mouth influences decisions.
“Did you see what Phineas and Ferb did yesterday?” is a conversation I hear daily when I drop off my kids at school. Who knows what else they discuss at lunch or recess. What people say about your solutions and how your company performs on a contract gets out, so make sure they are saying good things and not the bad. Train your personnel on-site or those that work closely with the customer to present the image you want repeated.
Jingles and catchphrases are forever stuck in our heads.
“Two all-beef patties, special sauce…” Everyone knows the rest of the words. I hear my youngest singing under her breath constantly: “I’ve got the best of both worlds…” (FYI, thank you very much Hannah Montana, because now I’m singing it for the rest of the day!) On a proposal, the right win theme will resonate with the reviewers and they WILL remember when you write persuasively. All major (and even some minor) sections need to carry the theme. Without it, the sections will not flow and complement each other. Since it is likely that multiple reviewers will read your proposal, you want each of them to remember a consistent message. I consider myself lucky because through my girls I am exposed to the constant bombardment of advertising, marketing, and sales blitzes I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. I get to see what catches their eye and tickles their fancy. As a business development professional, I get to use these lessons and apply them to the world of proposals. We are shown daily what sells. Remember to apply what works. Sometimes we do not have to reinvent the wheel to win.