Are You Satisficing?

relaxing

What is satisficing? Well, if you’re kicking back after a job well done – hoping someone else is going to craft a killer marketing message for your product, you might be satisficing. That’s the gist of Stephen Denny’s idea in a new post on Note to CMO. If you’re not reading this marketing blog, you’re missing out. Denny’s tagline, Big Ideas, Delivered, is the core of his marketing consulting practice. And with over twenty years at brands like Sony, Iomega, and Plantronics, he knows what he’s talking about.

Because I’m currently obsessed with crafting the perfect pitch for my novel, I was struck by Denny’s spot-on advice about positioning in a recent post. He warns about the evil of satisficing. He defines this as an evil combination of the words satisfy and suffice, but to my mind, it’s best comprehended as settling. You know that nasty little voice in your head that tells you something’s good enough even when your gut knows it’s not?

The result of satisficing? Your potential customer or client (in my case the literary agent) tunes you out before you’ve made the sale. Why?

“Your message isn’t heard because your listener quickly pigeon-holed you after your first two sentences. How did this happen to your carefully crafted elevator speech? Simple. You used a cliché, an expression, a buzzword or another easy tag that allowed them to say, “Got it, I know exactly what bucket to put you in. There. You’re categorized. I don’t have to listen anymore.””

In my pitch, it’s not enough to say that my protagonist is desperate to get pregnant. That’s cliche. What’s unique is that she toils over fertility-friendly juices and sleeps with her husband minutes after finding out he’s having an affair.

Beyond my current obsession with creating a winning synopsis, Denny’s advice rings true. He warns not to delegate the positioning of your product to anyone not intimately familiar with it. In his example, the ad agency. In my case, it would be those well-meaning advisers, who are very knowledgable in their specific areas of expertise, but can’t know my baby like I do. Denny puts it this way:

“Your creative isn’t working because your marketing chief gave the responsibility of positioning the product to the creatives at the agency, and they don’t do positioning – they do creative. Why did this happen to the product you spent the better part of 18 months delivering? Easy. The marketing guy did the easy thing – he gave the assignment of “advertising” it to the “advertising” agency. He didn’t do the rigorous positioning work, the metaphor elicitation with customers, the ethnological and anthropological observational in situ research. “We know our customers. We don’t need to do that.” And so your positioning work is now in the hands of a designer.” 

One of my copywriting clients is a university that’s launching a new online degree completion program. They did an amazing job clarifying exactly what their differentiating strengths were before handing it off to the advertising agency. An online degree is becoming a commodity and they knew how easy it would be for people to see their ads, brochures, or website and think oh yeah, another online degree completion program – got it, and then stop reading. Their tireless work on the front end makes my job easier, which means they get relevant copy faster and cheaper. Win, win, win, win, win.

Unsolicited advice of the day: Never satisfice. Do the hard work and never settle. And check out Denny’s site, Note to CMO.

Image Credit: naydeeyah, Flickr

  • Lela: thanks for your very kind words – glad the piece resonated with you. Satisficing happens when we (or they) need the mental short-cuts that allow us (or them) to quickly make a good enough, safe enough decision and move on to the next fire on the to-do list.

    Getting book published is hard enough. Getting an agent’s attention is even harder. Your agent truly can’t devote the time and energy to your crafted query that you feel it deserves because they get hundreds a week – they’re looking for “a good enough reason to count you out.”

    Thanks again – good luck with your book – I see you’re from the neighborhood and that we know some of the same people!

    Regards,
    Stephen Denny
    Note to CMO

  • “The marketing guy did the easy thing – he gave the assignment of “advertising” it to the “advertising” agency. He didn’t do the rigorous positioning work, the metaphor elicitation with customers, the ethnological and anthropological observational in situ research. “We know our customers. We don’t need to do that.” ”

    I completely agree with this. I think everyone should care for his product, especially in the marketing phase.

  • Oscas, I agree – great advice. And thanks, Stephen. It kept me going this week!

  • Erik

    Not sure that you understand all the complexities of Herb Simon’s term. It’s unfortunate that this word is now being tossed around without being fully understood. Satisficing was developed as a contrast to the classical economic concept of optimisation, which assumed that the best decision was always the optimal one. However, Simon pointed out that few in the real world (outside of Adam Smith’s head, that is), be they organisations or individuals, have enough time to gather all of the information needed to make an optimal decision. What optimisation failed to recognize, more specifically, was the inherent cost in gathering the information required to make an optimal decision. To put it into more user-friendly terms, you can’t research buying a new car forever. At some point, you have to stop doing research, and just go for it. This is the kind of decision that large, complex organisation are confronted with on a regular basis. At some point they have to stop gathering information about the decision, as this costs money. See also, ‘behavioral economics.’