The story of the aspirational fish

People buy things that they feel good about.
If we have learned anything from the surprise result of the Australian federal election, it’s that big, ambitious plans can be more off-putting than they are attractive – something that those of us who pitch for business would do well to remember.
Way back when I worked in the print manufacturing industry, we sponsored a conference for magazine editors and executives. The conference program once included a panel of magazine editors comparing notes on what makes a successful magazine cover.
A magazine editor’s job is to know what their readers want to see and read, and to deliver this religiously.
One of the editors on that panel was from a well-known sport fishing magazine.
Magazines have a brand formula for their covers, and this particular magazine always featured a picture of a smiling guy holding a fish.
But - as the editor explained - this wasn’t just any fish.
He had discovered that what his readers really wanted to see on the cover was the kind of fish they had a decent chance of catching themselves, on a weekend out in the tinny.
Not an enormous fish. Not even a particularly exotic fish. Just an aspirational fish.
It turned out that 'aspirational fish' covers out-sold other editions by a wide margin. So, the aspirational fish became entrenched in the magazine’s brand formula; one that is so successful that its readership is still thriving, decades later.
In contrast, bid teams often have very little in the way of successful formulas to draw from, particularly in industries where major tenders are few and far between; where customer requests are wildly different; or where market expectations are shifting.
Under these circumstances I get worried when teams want to pitch really complex plans that are hard for a customer to relate to, particularly when they also involve uncertainty and change. I have seen this scare off customers too many times before.
When we pitch something new to a potential customer, we need to make sure it is:

  1. Aspirational – something the customer actually wants (not just what we think they ‘need’)

  2. Achievable – comfortable within limited time and resources, with only a few simple steps or stages

  3. Memorable – something they can easily explain and justify to others

You’ll find that if one of these elements is missing, your pitch is far less likely to be successful:

  • A pitch that’s aspirational and achievable, but not memorable, runs the risk of being overlooked in the decision making process.

  • A pitch that’s achievable and memorable - but not aspirational – might be dismissed as optional.

  • And a pitch that’s aspirational and memorable, but just doesn’t feel achievable, will be too uncomfortable for the customer to agree to.