The death trap of great innovations

How to escape the poison of ambiguity

The great cartoon above by Tom Fishburne is the inspiration for this post. His cartoons are proof of what we always say – a powerful message can often be communicated best via a visual, providing there’s clarity about what the message is.

The cartoon speaks for itself. We all recognise that death trap. But it still captures and kills, time after time, Why?


Great ideas have failed when they didn’t deserve to

In the annals of marketing, there are numerous case studies of excellent innovations that faltered or failed the first time round. Not because they were irrelevant or unrealistic, but because no-one grasped what they were all about.

Often, a shrewd business head subsequently swooped in and secured success by superior communication. They articulated the innovation in a way that captured minds and hearts.

The best business ideas remain only ideas if they’re not communicated in a way that makes people buy. However great the idea is, its greatness must be made relevant to the intended customers.


Investment is often disproportionate

One of the reasons that ideas fail when launched, particularly for smaller organisations, is that most spend goes on the development of the innovative product or service. By the time it’s ready to launch, there’s an urgency to start getting return on investment, and a reluctance to spend more money than necessary on marketing it.

As a result, the messaging for the launch is rushed. It lacks clarity, and it focuses more on the bells and whistles of the idea than the central benefit that it brings to customers.

While perfectly understandable, there’s an irony in this – to invest so much in a good idea, but then cut corners on clearly communicating it to those that should pay for it. It’s like investing large sums in developing a winning horse, but then refusing to buy a saddle for the rider on the day of the race.


The secret to capturing an idea in a clear message

Assessing a great innovation and distilling it into powerful and compelling messaging is a critical part of any successful launch, and the only way to avoid the death trap. It deserves time and investment because it can make the difference between commercial success and failure.

Effective messaging requires skill. It’s what we do at Zing, and we know the importance of it. But at its simplest level, the following questions can help to avoid burying your innovation in ambiguous messaging. Assess the idea, and ask yourself:

Who cares? Why will they care? How will it (the innovation) outstrip all alternatives?

Dig deep in answering the Why question to ensure that you get to the life benefit that customers want and that your innovation will satisfy. And make sure that your answer to the How question corresponds to your Why answer.


Now make the message stick

It’s a big step to clarify the compelling message that will communicate your great innovation. It’s a positive leap to then identify how to make that message memorable.

Chip and Dan Heath identified six key strands to making ideas stick. We believe in them and apply them in our work for clients. In brief, they are:

  1. Keep it simple – don’t drown people with excess info
  2. Include something unexpected – nothing grabs attention like a surprise
  3. Make it concrete – illustrate with things that can be visualised
  4. Ensure it’s credible – if it seems too good to be true, no-one will believe you
  5. Touch the emotions – purchase decisions are emotional, backed up by logic
  6. Tell a story if you can – nothing captures attention like a good story

It’s not always possible to include all six in your messaging, but including even three of them ensures messaging that sticks in people’s minds.


In summary: do justice to your big idea when it comes to telling the world. Failure to communicate clearly can squander the greatest opportunities.


We live and breathe powerful messaging. We believe in its ability to convert R&D into commercial success.

We always welcome a challenge and tailor our help to the scale of the need. Please make contact to discuss your messaging challenges.

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Unit A1, Mochdre Enterprise Park
Newtown, SY16 4LE

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