Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Turning Vitamins into Aspirin

Dan Heath and Chip Heath from Fast Company Magazine explain why it's not enough to give people something they need.

"Ray Bard, founder of Bard Press, learned a lot about book publishing from a mistake he made early in his career. He was the agent for an author who'd written a book describing the cycle of pregnancy from a husband's perspective. It was a thoughtful book, certain to help men understand the physical and emotional changes that their wives were experiencing. Bard and the author both knew they had a hit: The book's audience included millions of men.

But when they sent the book proposal around, not a single publisher made an offer. The publishers reasoned that, while men would undoubtedly benefit from the book, they didn't know they needed it. Broadly speaking, men do not crave greater empathy with their wives' bodily changes. To Bard's dismay, the book was never published.
If entrepreneurs want to succeed, as venture capitalists like to say, they'd better be selling aspirin rather than vitamins. Vitamins are nice; they're healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it's not a nice-to-have, it's a must-have."

Planners are often caught in the same dilemma of how to sell the public something we think they need. Often times in Planning, the public at large does not respond to a community issue unless there is a fire to put out. The public can quickly organize when they feel an eminent threat to their community coming. But how do you sell a community on other imposing threats that they do not see coming without screaming Fire! (as East Coast Planners we scream Walmart's coming and communities come out running).

Often times, good planning principles are viewed as vitamins when they are really aspirins. Good planning principles can reduce a community's transportation costs, help reduce inflated housing prices and develop stronger community connections which improves social services and provides a wider community safety net that reduces the need for government aid. But often times the sellers of this message are not seen as a respected doctor prescribing aspirin but instead were viewed as hippy clerk working at a health food store telling you that these box of magic beans will give you more energy. Blame it on the seller I guess...or blame it on us planners, for not fighting back from that perception. Either way, what's clear is that while planners have a great message, we have a poor marketing campaign for our ideas.

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