The Key to Explaining New Ideas (and Marketing Them at the Same Time)

Explaining a new idea without context can be smash-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating.

There are too many things you want to say, too many options of what to explain, too many directions to go.

I recently read the free ebook The Myth of the Garage by Chip and Dan Heath. They included an essay that describes anchoring, a solution to our aimless elaborations without boundaries.

How do you spread a new idea–fast–and get people to pay attention?

Innovations require lots of explaining…Explanations require lots of attention, but attention is scarce. So don’t explain. Instead, anchor your communication in what people already know…

[A]nchoring is easier than explaining from scratch…


Anchoring is latching your idea to something that already exists and using that as a launching pad. Of course, you can’t just say “We’re like Starbucks.” You need what the Heath brothers call “a twist.”

The only downside to anchoring is that, by hooking into existing ideas, it creates sameness. But to sell something you need difference. It doesn’t work to say, “Introducing Gleemy toothpaste–it’s perfectly interchangeable with Crest!”

That’s why a good innovation story couples an anchor with a twist.

When you’re dreaming of a new product, organization or mission, context is key. Give an example, an anchor, for people to latch onto so they can see where you’re going.

The Heath brothers say anchoring is necessary for breakthrough technologies. I agree.

But I think anchoring is helpful for anyone in sales, marketing, or ministry. Saying “We’re building movements every where so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus” is helpful. It tells what we’re about. But saying something like, “We want to be like Walgreens in Chicago–a movement within reach for everyone in the world.” An anchor gives context for what we’re hoping to achieve.

The beauty of anchoring is that it’s simple and instantly understandable if done well.┬áTake a well-known event or product or company, name drop and add what makes you unique. I think it’s also helpful to have a follow-up line to give even more clarity if someone is interested. The anchor helps people understand what you’re after, and the twist helps people see the potential. You’ll leave them saying, “Oh, yeah! I totally wish there was an automatic car wash for dogs.” This is where the free marketing comes into play.

A key thing to keep in mind: don’t use trite examples or leave things to ambiguity.

We want to be the next Apple” is completely unhelpful.

You want to sell phones? Or tablets? Or digital music?

Let your anchor give clarity, a baseline, and then make sure you twist.

We’re the Bonaroo for Christian music.

It’s a library for movies.

We’re the Dollar Shave Club for socks.

I’m still trying to figure out my anchor and twist for this blog, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Question: How would you anchor your business or yourself? What comparisons would you draw?

Photo provided by tiano69

One thought on “The Key to Explaining New Ideas (and Marketing Them at the Same Time)

  1. I really like this post and have seen it to be definitely true. You have to have context with content. That is why stories work so well. People have to be able to relate what you are explaining to something they already know is true, successful, etc.

    There is a lot on blogging these days about content – just write great content and they will come. I think you hit it with this – there has to be context also.

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