Friday, March 22, 2024

Fear puts a decision on ice

Read Time: 2.5 minutes

“If I fuck this up, my family will hate me forever,” was the thought. And with it the project stopped cold.

“Ted, we’re terrified that this whole assignment is going to blow up in our face!” This from the owner of a London package design firm.

(I’ve changed details in the story to protect those involved).

The project was to redesign a French liqueur with hundreds of years of family ownership behind it. The company had recently been sold to a giant Japanese alcohol holding company. And, as part of the sale agreement, the French family retained the right to decide on the brand’s look and any new package design.

The French CEO was in his early thirties and seemed terrified of making a decision. He’s a direct descendant of the founder and personally felt the weight of the family history.

I remember thinking I totally got this guy’s fear. The sale of the company to diversify the family’s holdings must have come with an emotional price. Now the most visible example of the company’s history was being changed, and he was responsible.

My London-based client went on to say that his firm was in the fifth or sixth round of design creation. All of the work had yet to pass muster with the CEO or his French family.

The design firm has a long history in high-end wine, spirits, and related brand design. They were more than qualified for this assignment.

In addition to the French, English, and Japanese, an LA-based marketing agency was involved whose specialty was marketing through airport-based duty-free shops.

The Japanese executive responsible for purchasing the French liqueur brand had expected the product to be in duty-free shops months earlier, providing a return on their investment. And he was under increasing pressure from his senior management to get the product to market. Still, he was bound by the sale agreement to honor the French family’s right to make the final decision on design.

There was fear all around. The LA marketers, who’d been on board through the process, were afraid the project would slip away from them with all the drama and indecision. The London design firm feared the project would be pulled and given to a competitor.

And the French CEO was afraid he’d make the wrong decision and be reminded of his error for the rest of his life.

The solution was actually pretty simple. Project leadership from LA, London, and Tokyo gathered on a video call. During the discussion, the group decided the best course of action was to ask those in the target market to comment on the design. The LA marketers had identified them as women managers and executives in their late twenties and older who flew for business.

Video companies in key cities, including Paris, London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, San Palo, and Frankfurt, were engaged to recruit and interview women who fit the target market in the airports. Each interviewee was given a taste, shown the proposed package on camera and asked their thoughts.

The French liqueur CEO cried when he saw the interviews. And he approved the package for production.

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