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Navigating Innovation: Selling the new in tech and beyond

The language experts from maslansky + partners take on the smartest, savviest, and sometimes stupidest messages in the market today. CEO Michael Maslansky and President Lee Carter bring their experience with words, communication, and behavioral science to the table—along with a colleague or client—and offer up a “lay of the language.” Their insight helps make sense of business, life, and culture, and proves over and over again that It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear™.

You’ve got a breakthrough innovation that is much better than what’s come before – why is it so hard to sell it? In this episode, CEO Michael Maslansky, Partner Keith Yazmir, and Senior Vice President Will Howard dissect the challenges of selling innovation whether you are selling enterprise technology, a new investment product, or plant-based meat. They discuss language tactics for conveying the benefits of innovation, address resistance to change, and offer solutions for navigating unrecognized problems. Through compelling examples and practical insights, the episode provides valuable guidance for navigating the complexities of selling innovation in today’s dynamic market landscape. 

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Michael Maslansky:

They said, what? Welcome to HearSay a podcast from the language strategists at Maslansky and Partners, where we give our take on the strategy behind the smartest, savviest, and stupidest messages in the market today and what you can learn from them. Our philosophy is it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. And that’s why we call this Hearsay. I’m Michael Maslansky, CEO of Maslansky and Partners and author of The Language of Trust. And today, we’re going to talk about selling the new-new thing. I mean, isn’t the best product in the market supposed to win? Just ask Betamax for anyone old enough to remember that. Doesn’t everyone want the latest and greatest gizmo, gadget? And when a company can prove that they can solve a problem that others can’t, shouldn’t customers be lined up at the door? I think we all know that sometimes the answer is yes. But very often the answer is, well, maybe not so fast. And it’s a serious challenge and one that we see a fair amount of. It’s actually more common than I think even we expected. So to talk about this, I am happy to be joined by two of my talented colleagues, my partner, Keith Yazmir and Will Howard, an SVP and long time member of the team here. Gentlemen, how are we doing today? 

Keith Yazmir:

Excellent. I think my voice is going to rival your voice today, Michael, for scratchiness. But hey, it’s exactly, it’s the latest thing. 

Michael Maslansky:  

I know. 

Will Howard:

It gives you gravitas. It’s good. Not that you lack for that anyway, but it’s good. I’m great. I’m excited to be back in New York for the week with you all here. 

Michael Maslansky:

Yes, it’s good to have you. And actually, you know, they may say that technology brings us closer, but the three of us are actually in the same office at this moment sitting in different rooms so that we can get the audio to work. So it doesn’t always quite work that way. But to tee us off, so one of my favorite questions, survey questions that we’ve asked over time goes this way. If you could choose between a product that was new and improved, and another product that was the same in every way except that it works as directed, which would you choose? So would you choose the new and improved product or the product that works as directed? And what do people say every time? About 80 % of the population would rather a product that works as directed versus one that’s new and improved. So they’re giving up that kind of innovation, that improvement, that new, new thing for something that isn’t that. What’s going on here? Like, why is it hard to sell things that are new? 

Will Howard:
I think one of the things you’ve seen is sort of an arms race as companies are growing, technology is enabling companies to do more and more things and be part more and more connected and capable of more and more. You have a situation where a colleague who observed a couple of years ago that companies value propositions all seem to be getting more and more abstract and more and more technology oriented. So even if you’re a bank or a financial services firm, or you’re in healthcare or you’re in technology, a lot of companies seem to be converging on the same value proposition of connectedness and the ability to connect people and operating on this very high plane. And recently in research I’ve seen what’s been testing well is almost going in the other direction and zooming in, coming down to a much more practical level, getting smaller instead of bigger. And sort of the magic word in research recently, whether it was healthcare or recently saw it in some work we did manufacturing, a couple different industries, the word every day has been testing really well. We offer you everyday benefits. We offer you very practical, small, concrete ones. And I think that that sort of zooming in is what people are getting tired of the big picture and they want to see the practical, the real, the everyday.

Keith Yazmir:

Yeah, I would agree with that. I’m thinking of the grocery store and how it used to be that every product on the shelf of the grocery store would have some huge mark on the corner saying new and improved and the assumption was simply to be new and improved it had some intrinsic value. But I think we have a couple things that are converging right now. One, not to be too trite, but things have never been changing as quickly as they are now in history and obviously moving forward with the pace of change is expected to continue to get more rapid. So one, you have fatigue, right? I think people are increasingly tired of all this change. They say, okay, I need to look for places where I understand what’s going on and it works like I know it’s going to work, like it worked last year or even 10 years ago. And the second piece, Will, to your point is it’s over -promising, right? The second that marketers all start talking about something similar and in this case these promises of advance and of improvement, a lot of it isn’t true.

Michael Maslansky:  

I think that that’s really interesting, the idea that we’ve gotten to this point, this tipping point, so to speak, where things no longer work the way that they used to. Do we think that that’s true? I mean, we’ve all now been doing this a long time. If we go back a decade, was that the same?

Will Howard:

Well, I think to us, there is a back to the point of what’s changed or what’s new is that I think now the new thing is coming along sometimes before the old thing is even normalized. And I guess it depends on what we’re talking about too, because if you’re talking about a consumer product in everyday life, or are we talking about kind of bigger picture things happening at the level of a company or the level of a country? 

Michael Maslansky:

So if I back up a little bit, we’ve got this data point, 80 % said that they would rather something that works as directed versus something new and improved. We operate in a lot of industries today. We do a lot of work in technology, enterprise tech companies. We do a lot of work in financial services. We do a lot of work in healthcare. We do a lot of work in food and beverage. I would say that in each of those cases, we could point to examples where it is harder to sell something new than certainly our clients would like to believe. Right, Keith? Isn’t that what we see? And if so, what is it that’s going on here that’s causing it? 

Keith Yazmir:

I think one we’ve had changed fatigue. Things are changing faster today than they ever have. Two: there’s a lot of marketers out there who for a long time have been promising things that simply haven’t come true for people. But thirdly, and I think underlying all of this is there is a tension I think in our brains between wanting things to be better, right? And you see surveys around the world all the time, like, how happy are you? All of these things. People are not super happy. And I would say that that is their default state, not anything having to do with where you live. At the same time, we have this cognitive bias called loss aversion, where we’re more worried about things that might change in a bad way, things we might lose, than we are excited about things that might change in a good way. There’s something fundamental there. And I’m sure for specifically tech marketers who might be listening, but for other marketers as well, there’s a conversation in your mind going on right now about early adopters. And of course, when we’re introducing something new, if we get early adoption, we know that that’s going to move down the adoption curve. But I would argue to your point, Michael, some of these things are fundamentally human concerns and reactions. And so how do we get those early adopters? How do we get them to take that what feels like a chance? We’re selling you something. You have to make a commitment. This is monetary and this is reputation and all sorts of things that we are asking you to risk for this promised reward. And that’s where things get really interesting. 

Michael Maslansky:

And do you think that that’s the challenge, that it’s tough to get the early adopters or are there always going to be a certain segment of people who are like, I’ll try this, make me a promise, I’ll see whether or not you can pay it off? The people who got the first, you know, the first VR glasses or the Google Glass or whatever it was, and they’re willing to take that risk because they want to be first. 

Keith Yazmir:

So that it’s an amazing question and a great example to right. So as marketers, we all know one of the biggest ways we do this, especially when the stakes are higher, give it away. Right. So you had a lot of Google Glass that was hitting at the door that was not being purchased, that was being planted with folks. Certainly we do that with the press to start with, but we give it to maybe bigger users and have them experience it because then the risk is that much lower. But when it comes to actually getting serious services and products in people’s hands in a more significant way. You’re asking them to pay for it and Yes, early adopters are much more open to why we call them early adopters But they’re not going to just grab anything that comes by they’re gonna kick the tires a lot before they make that decision So I think fundamentally on a tech side. That’s our challenge. How do we get that first? Quadrant or those first couple quadrants in the door and starting to take that risk and make the balance. 

Will Howard:

I think there’s two things that are occurring that I think about in this context. The first is a really big part of this is how much risk or disruption, like what’s the size of the new thing you’re asking people to try? If it’s a new app that you download for free and take your first Uber ride, yeah, I’ll give that a spin. And all you need to do is convince me to give it a try. There’s limited downside, even though my parents told me never take a ride with someone I met on the internet, but like. There is, there’s limited downside risk. It’s something to try once and then you can convert me that way. But a lot of things don’t have a kind of try before you buy. It’s very hard to dip your toe in the water and kind of gradually be won over. You’re selling somebody, maybe it’s a $500 headset for VR. Maybe it’s a $5 million suite of enterprise IT architecture for their entire company. Or maybe it’s a $5 billion healthcare system. That’s a mass $5 trillion healthcare system or investment that we’re trying to sell people where you need a huge number of people to be willing to commit to a common goal, sight unseen, of a new thing that you’re promising. And I think where it gets harder is as you slide up that curve, I think at the lower end, people are very willing to think about the possible and try something out. And as you get bigger and bigger, I think they start to pay more and more to the risk denominator, more and more attention to that risk denominator of how big is the investment, how big is the disruption, how big is the risk? Because if it turns out this thing isn’t as good as promised, now I’m on twice as bad a situation because I don’t have the devil I knew and I don’t have anything better either. 

Michael Maslansky:

So one of the places where I think we see this difficulty play out in terms of selling the new is enterprise technology, where it’s often got to be a rip and replace. Companies have existing systems, they have people, they have processes. And in order to buy the new new thing, they’ve got to basically get rid of the old thing. And often the seller comes in and they’re like, we have a better thing. So why wouldn’t you want to buy it? 

Keith Yazmir:

Well, I love your question because you couldn’t imagine a bigger disconnect between somebody who is literally creating and then selling the future, right? This is where the world is going and boy, am I going to completely transform your life and somebody who is desperately trying to manage the present, right? And for those of you listening who work in enterprise IT or know anybody who works in enterprise IT, it is quite literally a life or death part of an organization. If you’re a sales organization, if you’re a services organization, your IT goes down, your revenue stops. Imagine the people tasked with managing that, they have some very specific priorities. Their priorities are first and foremost, do not let the CEO call me at 2 AM on a Saturday night saying something’s wrong. First and foremost, right? Second priority is make sure I have people who understand how to not let the CEO call me at 2 AM on a Saturday night and can do their job in a way that prevents that from happening. Third, make sure I have an infrastructure. I have actual computing and power that makes sure the CEO does not call me at 2 AM, and in comes this great new tech option saying, we’re going to transform how you do this. It’s going to make things twice as quick and twice as efficient and twice as reliable. And you have a bit of a Sophie’s choice. Dare I say it on your hands, you have to figure out. Do I commit? Do I take that chance? Or do I not? And that’s again where human nature comes in. That’s a hard, hard argument to make. 

Michael Maslansky:

And so do companies make that argument? How do you deal with that? 

Keith Yazmir:

Well, so I mean, there are three levels that we talk about a lot in terms of language and framing, because that’s of course what Miss Lansky and partners does. First is the language of scale, Michael, to your point. Sometimes it is an all or nothing proposition. You adopt this new way of doing things and you got to get rid of everything else. Now, often it’s actually not true. Often there are pieces you can pull off and adopt and see incremental improvement and then do more. So language of scale is incredibly important. Don’t go in and scare the bejesus out of somebody. Go in and show them how this won’t really hurt. Right? Second is language of change. And we’ve talked about this a lot in terms of going in and talking about revolution. It will transform everything you’re doing. Again, to this IT person who is scared of the CEO calling them at 2 AM, they’re not so excited about transformation because it feels like there’s a lot of potential downside. So we want to talk from revolution to evolution. What are the actual steps that I can envision and won’t scare me that will get me from here to where you’re talking about and make sure they don’t look too big? And the third is what I call the language of not being scared. And in the IT space, it’s the language of security. If you’re not leading your conversation, certainly if it has anything to do with the cloud, but really almost anything else, if you’re not leading that conversation with allaying concerns about security, you’re losing at least half of your audience before you’ve told them how you’re going to help them. Because you have to make sure that you are addressing anything that potentially could be seen as a downside before you excite them about anything that could be seen as an upside. 

Will Howard:

Yeah, I mean it certainly strikes me that all three of those that you mentioned were primarily about ease of transition as opposed to elevation of upside after the transition and I think when you’re very excited about how great your new thing could be especially if someone’s willing to commit to it and kind of carry it to its full potential you can spend a lot of your dollars and a lot of your time and a lot of your slides and a lot of your enthusiasm on hyping up how good the upside is without suitably building the bridge to show people how easy it could be to get to that and how all these risks will be mitigated. So I think that’s a big part of it. There’s also a piece of this, which is being very thoughtful about the way that you align your language with the challenge that you’re solving for. So when we do research in enterprise IT as an example we’re talking about, it looks very different when you’re talking to the CEO than when you’re looking at talking to a chief IT decision maker the CEO you mentioned to call on Saturday night, they’re certainly worried about some of the downside risks, but they also are the kind of person who really wants to hear about how many more widgets we’re going to be able to crank out and how many, how much tasks we’re going to be able to automate and things like that. If you’re, if you’re talking when we’re testing messages with kind of a decision maker in the IT side, all of their first decisions are just like rep through the context of how much harder is this going to make my day? Like that first thought is much more on the effort. And just thinking about the hours and the time they’ve poured in to even build it in the first place, the system they have today, and now they’re being told they have to start over yet again, it’s a totally different frame of reference. We just did a bunch of work in the healthcare space, which superficially seems quite different, but kind of zoomed out to a national scale that has similar problems where it’s a very large infrastructural system that the country hinges on that’s vital, in Keith’s words, life or death, in this case also literally life or death kind of system that the country depends on. We were working with an organization that had some language around value -based care as a solution and trying to sell value -based care as the direction we should head. And it was very focused. And as we looked at how to sell this to a kind of a wider audience, we ran into a couple of challenges. The first, there was a misalignment with what that term meant to people in the policy space who understood it, that value -based care was this awesome theory and this awesome model. But to people outside of that system, it either meant bargain care, like Walmart care, or it meant spiritually driven, religiously informed care. So they were starting the conversation on totally the wrong foot when they went outside their core audience. And all the descriptions about what they wanted to improve were really focused on improving outcomes and how the health care system needed to improve outcomes. But when we did surveys with consumers, we saw there was a lot of agreement the healthcare system is broken today and they were looking for a solution. They thought it was too expensive. They thought it was too complicated. They thought it was too fragmented and unpleasant of a journey. But the one thing they actually thought worked pretty well was they thought they had pretty good outcomes. So the door was wide open for reform and improvement. And yet if you’re leading with outcomes, you’re kind of kicking in the wall instead of coming in the open door and saying, hey, there’s one thing that you actually were pretty confident in. That’s the thing I want to talk to you about changing. And so there’s I think there’s a need to calibrate. 

Michael Maslansky:

You know, the first step as is often the case is we’ve got to understand what the audience believes and what they prioritize that if, if we don’t understand that an IT pro at a big enterprise is concerned first and foremost with doing no harm, then we’re probably going to fail. But we may find that the CEO is more focused and concerned about rapid innovation of their business so that they don’t get put out of business. And so the message for each of them may actually be different aspects of the same product. It may be that the scale conversation is better for the CEO, but you got to be careful about how you frame that for the IT pro because they are much more focused about the change management challenge, about the risks of it not working things like that. Similarly, in the healthcare context, the healthcare company may know that value-based care is going to deliver all these benefits to members and consumers. But if the members and consumers don’t see those pain points as the real challenge, then it’s going to be a much tougher sell. And I think if we come back to this idea of what makes it hard to sell the new, I think in a lot of cases, it’s much easier for people who live and breathe the creation of a new product to understand and appreciate what makes it powerful than it is the people who have never experienced it before. And so you’re often going in and you’re trying to like plant the seed with somebody that doesn’t understand what it is that you’re talking about. They’re like at the bottom of the learning curve. You’re at the top of the learning curve. You’re seeing all of the, I mean, Keith, you and I have talked about this. We saw it in the Microsoft context a long time ago. But even when it comes to like Microsoft Excel, I think I’ve seen statistics that like 0 .1 % of the population knows how to use most of the features in Microsoft Excel. Most people use it for adding and subtracting. And so if you go out and you sell these like high end, very sophisticated features to people who don’t need them, aren’t going to use them, aren’t going to benefit them, well, you’re going to miss the boat. And I think that very often companies get captivated by the most revolutionary aspect of their product and they forget or fail to see that actually what’s going to get people to buy is something much more mundane. 

Will Howard:

I sometimes think about it too in the context of something really new to that last point, even if what you’re selling is in the future and is innovative and new and it’s gonna be something that people have a huge frame of reference for, you have to give them points of reference or almost like coupling points or joining points that attach to something they can refer to in today’s world. So we did a lot of work on how you talk about the metaverse and how you explain the metaverse to people. There’s two ways I could do it. I could show you a massive garish animation of somebody who’s turning into a rabbit and dunking a basketball in outer space after they put their headset on. Or I could show you someone in their living room, pick up a headset, put it on, have a call from their mom appear on it, and then be immersed in a Zoom with their mom. And one of those is extremely followable. I can see how this solves a problem that I have. I can see how it works and I can see how it fits. The other is far more exciting and sensational, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you why or when or how or where I would use that. I think Apple does this really well with a lot of things. I just saw an ad, I’ve been watching the NBA playoffs, so I’ve had to watch it like 12 times, an ad for more storage space on phones for pictures. And this is like –

Michael Maslansky:

Don’t let me go.

Will Howard:

Exactly! Exactly –

Michael Maslansky:

Don’t let me go.

Will Howard:

Well, I could tell you, you now have 8x the storage on your phone, or I could show you sitting on your couch trying to decide which photos to delete and making you realize you don’t have to delete any of them. Instead, you start taking more, right? Because we’ve all been there where we’re like, I gotta get rid of some of these, but which ones do I want to delete? And they show a picture of the grandma that you don’t want to delete at her birthday, things like that, coupled with four mundane ones. Bottom line, they take a new thing, a potentially abstract, certain x gigabytes of cloud storage and they turn it into a very real problem that they’re solving. 

Keith Yazmir: 

And I love that because it’s what we preach with most of our clients around benefits focused, not process and show why it really matters. Thinking about flipping that to the enterprise tech side, I think the rules are similar and the word that comes to mind to me, Michael, from your book, the four P’s is plausible, right? It also has to be plausible. So in addition to being benefit led, why does this matter to you? What is the real pain point it’s solving for you? You are not having the rabbit jump and dunk the basketball because that’s a little incredible. And we see this all the time when we’re working with clients in enterprise tech. It’s so easy to promise how your technology, however good, is going to make life easy and more efficient or less expensive. And consistently you tell a CIO or a CTO or an IT decision maker, this is going to make things easier. Their response point blank is nothing is easy in IT. It’s not credible. There’s always problems. There’s always a learning curve. There’s always everything else. Nothing is going to show up and make their life easy. You tell them this is going to make things, this is going to save you money. IT is they will sit down and for half an hour explain to you the history of their career and say, not one point along this entire career when everybody on the planet promised this is gonna make life less expensive, did it not make life more expensive? There are two directions. There’s complexity and there’s expense. This is not to say that we’re not bringing huge benefits, but how do we show up realistically and plausibly so they listen to what the actual benefits. 

Michael Maslansky:

So I think this is a really interesting point because typically marketers would say, you know, talk about how you save people time, talk about how you save them money. And you’re saying that in this context, because of people’s past experience, their skepticism, their awareness of how this usually plays out is that those benefits are not as credible. 

Keith Yazmir:

In tech particularly, but in marketing in general, there is the perfect world syndrome, right? And the perfect world syndrome is we have this brand new thing. And if you start with this brand new thing and it’s all you use and it’s all you’ve ever used and you know how to use it, cause we made it. We know how to use it really well. And you hook it up in the exact right way to the exact right things. It’s going to transform your life. They’re not lying. It will. But find a customer who has any of those other things to their advantage and you have the best sale you’ve ever made. The problem is in the tech world, you are selling into a context that is so complex and has been cobbled together typically over decades with this plugging into that and having to do a patch for that that’s gonna work with this, that nothing works like it does when it was developed in the lab. And so what I’m saying is you have to meet your customer where they are. You have to fit into the context in which your customer finds themselves. And of course that’s true in tech, that’s true in all the work we do. You have to understand how to really get a good insight into that and then craft your communication around it. 

Michael Maslansky:

Can you give some examples of that? 

Keith Yazmir:

I think one of the things that companies try to do to bring this to life, especially in the tech space, is Oracle and Oracle on their homepage. You have these giant tech companies. You’ve got the Oracles, the Ciscos, the VMware’s of the world. You go to Oracle’s page. And on their homepage, most of what they’re talking about is other companies successfully using Oracle technology. They’re not saying, as many other of their competitors do, we can do this and we do this and we do this and we do this. Now, it’s important, of course, to communicate about what you do. But when it comes to a question of how do we meet our customers where they are in terms of their concerns, their desires, this is no news in tech because we use it, do it all the time with use cases and with examples of adoption, but they’re putting it right on their front page. They say, before anything, know that you’re not alone. This is not a huge bet because we’re already doing this for everybody else. 

Michael Maslansky:

And you’re not going to get fired if you adopt the same technology that your peers adopted. Which, look, I mean, I think the point that you made earlier about loss aversion is a really important one. And that is that often when somebody is considering buying something new that they have not experienced before, the tendency is as much as we may want to think about the benefits and how great it would be. There is a much greater tendency to start to focus on all that can go wrong or what the loss is likely to be. And we are definitely wired that way. And so if you want to sell in the new, as hard as it may be, because often the companies and the marketers are super excited about that great benefit that nobody else can offer, it is equally, if not more important to help cushion the fear of loss. Right. And so it is the other people have done it. So there’s social proof. There is the, it’s going to be easier. It’s flexible so that it can adapt to your situation is reducing the risk of loss. We often talk about seamless or more seamless works well, or, you know, anything that is suggesting that it adapts to you as the buyer is really trying to reduce that fear. And it’s really important when it comes to telling something new. 

Will Howard:

I can think of two right off the top. First, I would just say there’s a huge difference between easy and easier. So I’ve heard repeatedly from IT decision makers that nothing is easy. And if I say this is going to be easy, they’ll laugh me out of their office. But if I could show them how this is easier than an alternative or incrementally easier than what they do today, now we’re having a conversation, right? So that’s a place to start. Yeah. 

Michael Maslansky:

So can I just stop you there? Because I think if people listening to this take away one thing, the difference between the absolute and the relative is extremely powerful from a persuasion perspective. I can go back to an example at PepsiCo a long time ago where they wanted to say that some of their snacks were healthy and it was a no -go. But if they said that these were healthier versions of the snacks that they offered, people would believe it. And we see that over and over again where a relative promise, even though it’s actually a smaller promise, is a more powerful promise than the absolute promise.

Will Howard:

The easiest thing in the world to disprove is an absolute. All it takes is one counterfactual.

Michael Maslansky:

The easiest thing or that there’s an easier thing? 

Will Howard:

It’s easier to disprove an absolute than it is to a true… So that’s one. The second thing is, I talked about every day earlier as a word that’s got a lot of black magic to it that tends to work in a lot of situations. One of the best words we test in IT context again and again is flexible. That’s one of the best value propositions you can offer because it speaks to exactly what Keith was talking about, which is the idea of an environment where things are heterogeneous, things are imperfect, things are partial, and flexibility suggests that whatever constraints you’re operating within, we can accommodate. 

Keith Yazmir:

Right, in IT it’s definitely, tell me this will fit into the systems that I work with today. Tell me that it will be secure and won’t screw everything up. And tell me that I don’t have to bet my entire farm on trying it. 

Michael Maslansky:

And, you know, I would say that there’s a broader lesson there as well, which is that I think for consumers, whether you’re a business consumer or an individual consumer, you almost always believe that you are unique, that there is something about your situation that is different, right? You have different systems. If you’re in enterprise IT than others, you have a different situation if you’re an investor or if you’re a healthcare consumer. And that that idea of flexibility in a product or service that you’re buying is really powerful because you get to be yourself. And really, it does say that the product is kind of meeting you where you are. And so it’s pretty powerful. 

Keith Yazmir:

It always makes me think, Henry Ford was introducing the automobile and of course had to figure out how to talk about how powerful these things were. What did he do? He referenced what people knew. He talked about horsepower. So now it’s stuck and bizarrely we will be having a perfectly adult conversation in the year 2024 with somebody and say, well, my car is as powerful as 260 horses. 

Michael Maslansky:

Yeah, well look and I think I don’t know whether we’ve explicitly mentioned it but that the idea of Revolution versus evolution you or your that example is a great example of how to embed evolution in the conversation how to embed familiarity how to make it easier for people to mentally make a transition from the before to the after and so when we talk about those that that manageable step it’s a it’s a much easier step to get from a horse-drawn buggy that’s horsepower to another vehicle that also is measured in the same way, then to change the thing and to change the way that we measure it and talk about it. And so I think that’s a great point in terms of how we help people navigate change, which in a lot of ways is what we’re getting them to do when it comes to buying something new. 

Keith Yazmir:

There’s something I mean talking about CEOs… There’s something incredible around the different types of conversations that companies have to have today in a media environment and in a social environment and in a communications environment where you don’t really get to have laser pointed conversations totally different with one audience than another. And what I’m thinking of there in the tech space is you’ve got all these symbols. And there’s something very symbolic about change. There’s something very symbolic about revolution. Your customers don’t buy symbols. Your customers are buying actual tools that are going to work in their environment. But, and customers in tech, I mean, your IT folks, your CFOs, your CEO might buy a symbol. One of the biggest things I always talk about this example with one of the first mass produced electric cars, the Chevy Volt. Some of you will remember the Chevy Volt. And it was an interesting case study that we did at the time where we looked at all the communications around it. Now, 95 % of the communications were the CEO of Chevrolet at the time talking about the Chevy Volt. And boy, did they talk about the Chevy Volt a lot. It was their symbol of modernity, of innovation, of moving forward. It was not a product at the time, and it was never going to be a moneymaker, ever. So they talked about it. They talked about it because it was their symbol of innovation. But it’s very interesting. If you look at the advertising, as soon as the first one came off the assembly line, the advertisement switched from quite literally, the revolution is coming, which was their pre -launch advertising. The new ad was Chevy Volt, more car than electric because they were immediately realizing they need to meet their customers where they were. And those customers were not electric car buyers. They were car buyers. They needed to get them from being a car buyer to buying a car that had electric power as well. 

Will Howard:

You’ve taken me back to a, this was a, I think it was a competition or a career development thing, something very early in my career we had to come up with a,

Michael Maslansky:

I thought we were gonna do one on your career development. We could do that too.

Will Howard:

We can do a whole separate episode on electric vehicles by the way, because I think there’s some fascinating challenges there. Yeah, that’s gonna be, we’re gonna do an eight part series, retrospect, a post mortem. That, no, so I, we had to come up with a tagline and the tagline, I’m still bitter there, it didn’t get used, but we had to come up with a tagline for an electric vehicle and the ones, or a whole campaign for it, and the tagline I came up with was the future is in range. And that idea built off, we understood the single greatest obstacle was not that people didn’t think electric was cool, it was that they didn’t think it was practical because of range anxiety at the time, it hadn’t been politicized yet at this point, it was much more of just a practical, I’m not sure they have the distance, and it was about taking that same idea. The future, something you can be excited about, is actually in range, it’s close, it’s manageable, it’s achievable, it’s digestible, it’s not as daunting as it seems. 

Michael Maslansky:

So I feel like there’s one other topic that we have to touch on if we’re talking about selling the new, and that is AI. Because I think that there’s, you know, we’re being bombarded as a firm with technology companies coming out and trying to sell us the latest AI tool to do something for our business that wasn’t possible before, to do it faster, to do it cheaper. And I think what we’re seeing in the research that we’re doing on behalf of our clients and also certainly feeling as we evaluate these tools is, wow, it could be an amazing technology. But I don’t know. I’m not so sure I want it. And I guess the question that I have for you is, because we’re seeing this a lot, a lot, like the initial bloom is off the roads from a consumer perspective. And from a B2B perspective, while there are obviously companies that are deeply into integrating into how they operate, there’s also just a lot of fear about IP, intellectual property, how that’s going to be treated, about whose content is being scraped and used to train the models and things like that. If we’re selling that as a new, new thing, what should we be watching out for? What should we be doing to help get more people to buy into that? 

Will Howard:

I think this is a fascinating one. So I think there’s a bunch of considerations. I think today, there’s a lot of trying to sell the AI sort of on its own, like AI as an adjective, as if that’s intrinsically a good thing. So if you just attach the word AI to this, that just means good or better. I think we’re past the point where that’s going to work with most people. I think they know AI is a buzzword. They know everyone’s trying to do it. It’s like big data was for a while, where it’s just like this word that we’re going to attach to things. It’s not intrinsically better because it’s got AI attached to it. So I think first, you can’t rely on AI to sell. I’ve been really interested to see people who have started to, well, I’d say the second thing is you have to be aware of what people think AI does versus what we know AI does. So if you work deep in the space, you probably are keenly aware of all the things that it can do. But you sort of have to be aware of what other people think it can do and are willing to believe that it can do and what other people want it to do versus what they find it uncomfortable. So we just did some work in the health care space and we said, which of these is the appropriate role for AI and supporting health care? I have three options. One, helping patients get more information about their conditions. Two, helping doctors make better recommendations and diagnosis. And three, analyzing patterns at the system level to optimize health care. Overwhelmingly, system level healthcare wins. I don’t want the AI in my doctor’s visit and I don’t want to hear the AI does better than my doctor, but solving a pattern at scale, that fits my rudimentary understanding of AI. That story makes sense to me. So first, I think you can leverage that and lean into it and put it in an appropriate place that matches with what people think it can do. What’s interesting is I do think to a certain extent, once you’re aware of what the expectations are, you can challenge them in interesting ways. I just saw a billboard that stuck in my mind going through an airport in Chicago that said fixing potholes, AI can do that. And there was something really jarring about such a mundane physical thing that seems so removed from AI. And then when you read the fine print, it was like by analyzing traffic data and maps and where and things where it’s like patterns, it can actually understand where road repairs are necessary. I was like, that’s very cool because it actually subverted my expectation of what AI can do but it did it in a very intentional way and it wasn’t relying on the word AI to do all the work. 

Keith Yazmir:

I love that example because that’s exactly where I was going in terms of. If you’re just going to say I don’t say it, it’s worthless. It’s it’s it’s wallpaper. Nobody hears it. Nobody understands it. It doesn’t add anything, but it it it really gets to. One thing we haven’t talked about here. We’ve been talking about introducing new things, but especially in tech. Nobody is introducing a unique new thing. Because if you’ve invented it, somebody else is going to copy it in a couple of months. So you are fundamentally competing with new things and it’s not enough to get people to adopt. They have to adopt your solution. And I think AI is, is a great example of that because of course, every big company out there is talking about AI. The secret then becomes, how are you talking about it? And a big part of that is, are you meeting your audience where they are? Will, your example is amazing because they broke it down, not just in terms of what they’re doing with AI, but why it makes sense and in language that you got, right? And this is the path to winning in a competitive environment is making people feel, I got that, you’re speaking to me. And a big challenge in enterprise tech is the second you put on your shirt at VMware, at Oracle, at Microsoft, at any of these places, you adopt a different language. And then you go and speak to your old colleagues who you went to school with, who have the same background as you, who know the same things, who probably hang out with you in the weekend. And you open your mouth and you talk through the lens of Microsoft, of an Oracle, of one of these companies. And you think they’re getting everything you’re saying. And we see consistently in the testing we do, they’re not. They’re interpreting what you’re saying differently. We always say, it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. So a big element with AI and other tech is how do you communicate about this thing in a way that’s differentiated, but in a way that actually speaks the language of your audience. 

Michal Maslansky:

You know, I think that’s a great way for us to, to wrap all this up, if you’re operating in the world of tech or in the operating in the world of what’s new and innovative, you’re living in the future. You see the power of the future and you have to go back and talk to people who are living in the present. And, sometimes it’s hard to remember that they don’t see the world the way that you do. That they’ve had their own set of experiences that may be challenging, that maybe haven’t turned out the way that everybody promised in the past and that the more that you can go back and ground them in what’s familiar to them, what’s going to make their life better on their terms, what’s going to be plausible to them, the more effective that you are going to be. So Keith and Will, thank you very much for those insightful perspectives on Selling the New. Always great to have you both. And for more language insights and to be in the loop on all the other fun stuff we’re doing, please follow us on LinkedIn at Meslansky and Partners. That is it for now. Stay tuned for more episodes of hearsay because when it comes to truly effective communications, what Keith said, it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.