I’ve been working with business clients to assist them in their marketing efforts for nearly 3 decades, and in that time, there have been very few rules that I haven’t broken, bent or ignored altogether. There is one, however, that no matter what your industry or line of business, needs to be present somewhere in the mix – The Sniff Test.
Human beings evolved over millions of years, surviving due to an over-sized brain and an ability to use that brain power to adapt his environment to suit his needs. One of those adaptations is a facet of the primitive, limbic portion of the brain that senses danger. Things like the hair on the back of your neck standing up, or a queasy feeling in your gut, or a general uneasiness in the back of your mind that tells you there’s someone in the house or that you’re being watched.
That’s instinct, it’s your subconscious processing what you see and feel and hear and smell, and putting out a primitive nervous signal that there’s something your conscious brain is missing, because it’s too busy working on what’s coming . . .That instinct was developed to keep you alive.
That same instinct is useful in business, when reviewing partners, business arrangements, marketing strategy, new product development, and other areas where it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and the hysteria, and execute strategies that do not have a strong foundation in logic and data. That is the instinct I call the “sniff test”, and it’s really a jaded, realistic way of looking at a worst-case scenario by stripping away all the “possibles” and “maybes” in the scenario planning, leaving just the facts.
Say the marketing manager comes to you with a campaign idea that involves the buyer or customer to follow five or six steps in order to redeem an coupon in a product offer, and when you do the math on the offer, the numbers don’t really offer any advantage to the buyer after all the rebates, savings certificates and all the rest is computed.
Take a step back, pretend your in the grocery store and have two products side by side, yours and your competitor’s. Now read the offer slowly and carefully, and add weight to your competitor’s product for every step you have to take, in order to get the savings the coupon represents. Now subtract weight for every ten cents’ worth of different in price you offer over your competitor’s product. If you product price doesn’t outweigh all the work needed to get it, the offer doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Despite how it works on paper, in the real world, it just won’t smell good to the consumer. Even if it’s explicitly spelled out that the savings are significant, it will send up a flag for the consumer if it’s too hard to do – too many places for error to creep in, too much work, too many conditions, it will just feel like you’re trying to put one over on them, and they’ll pick the “safe” option – instinct at work.
Unconsciously, you use the sniff test every day, to evaluate deals, employee performance, new hires, as a lie detector in presentations or meetings – anywhere you place a value judgement not strictly based in logic. If someone asked you after one of those decisions why you went the way you did, you couldn’t give them a solid, concrete, logical answer, you’ll likely think to yourself “it just doesn’t smell right” – you just implemented the sniff test, and whatever your were evaluating didn’t pass.
Food for thought for the day – tell me your stories of instances where your business dealings didn’t pass the sniff test, and what was ultimately the real reason it was a good decision to pass on it. Enjoy!
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