How To Squash The HiPPO

HiPPO is an acronym for Highest Paid Persons Opinion, and usually refers to high-ranking people within an organization who have a biased opinion and a disproportionate say in the decision-making process.

Why are HiPPOs a problem?

Many of us have been there: we’ve done research, created a plan, are all excited – and at the last moment (drum roll, please), a high-ranking director waltzes in and cancels the project or changes it beyond recognition. Just because he thinks otherwise. That’ a typical example of when a bloated, biased HiPPO stands in the way of progress.

Not all HiPPOs pose a problem. A HiPPO becomes a problem when it stands in the way of rational decision-making when decisions are needlessly based on:

  • Lack of understandingSquash the HiPPO and get your marketing strategies approved
  • Wishful thinking
  • Outdated knowledge
  • Personal experience (n=1)
  • Oversimplification
  • Personal interest
  • Favoritism
  • Etc.

A Highest Paid Persons Opinion can have a profound effect on the outcome of a decision, because:

  • High-ranking employees often have the final say;
  • They influence others within the decision-making process;
  • People want to evade office politics;
  • Fear of consequences (even job loss) can cause colleagues to keep their opinions to themselves.

Where can you find HiPPOs?

Unfortunately, HiPPOs are found everywhere, within global enterprises to small businesses. A HiPPO’s owner can be a CEO, business owner, team leader, or corporate lawyer. Sometimes them being part of the initial startup caused them to climb ranks and become a living example of the Peter Principle. Sometimes the culprit is a new executive hired by human resources or senior management who overlooked the new hire’s lack of expertise or management skills. It can even be a high-paid external consultant (ESPECIALLY when they’re one-trick ponies and only have one solution to sell)!

How can you squash the HiPPO?

Usually, the best way to squash a HiPPO is to use business cases and hard data. It’s hard to argue with results, especially if you have proof and can quantify how much leads, revenue or profit a decision will yield – or how much the wrong decision will cost.

Here’s what you can do to get your (marketing) plans and ideas approved:

1) Get specialists involved

The HiPP might have the highest ranking in your organization, but there might be others who have authority based on their specialism or past successes. Get people involved based on the value of their knowledge and input, and use that to provide weight to your ideas.

2) Build a business case

When you come up with an idea, ensure that all angles are covered by embedding it in a business case. The full context will minimize miscommunication and ensure that everyone is on the same page. A prognosis of the impact and results will make your idea much more compelling.

3) Use Hippotheses (pun intended)

A hypothesis will help to communicate your idea more effectively in a group, as it focuses the discussion on a yes/no agreement – with much less room of people adding random ideas and derailing the discussion.

4) Create a culture of Analytics

Ensure that your team is focused on improving results, measured by key performance indicators (KPIs). If you can prove that your actions are generating positive results, it shows that you are in control.

.…but your main weapon is…


It’s hard to argue with test results. And when people can’t agree, put the idea to the test. It is often much easier to persuade a HiPP to run an AB-test than to abandon their idea completely.

With all the opportunities for marketing tests currently available, you should always be testing parts of marketing campaigns. Studies from renowned testing website show that a marketer’s gut feeling is wrong in about 40% of the cases. Continuous and diligent testing will continuously improve the effectiveness of all marketing activities.

There are many ways to test parts of a marketing campaign, including:

  • Creatives
  • Designs
  • Ad copy
  • Images
  • Callouts
  • Unique value propositions
  • Bid management algorithms
  • Telephone scripts
  • Attribution models
  • Etc, etc.

Use testing software such as Google Optimize (free!), VWO or Optimizely to test the impact of changes on your website, apps or landing pages, or use different response codes (e.g. coupons or phone numbers) or use Googles URL Builder to generate UTM-codes to test the results of offline or 3rd party channels.

And as Avinash Kaushik (THE Analytics Guru at Google) said, start testing as soon as possible. You will probably fail, but you’ll learn from it. You’ll learn what works, what doesn’t work, what you need to test, and which resources you need to do it as efficiently as possible.

How to squash the HiPPO (recap)

Does a HiPPO stand between you and marketing success? Provide an alternative business case, use data to stress the validity and importance, and provide a way to at least test your scenario.

If you’re right, be careful not to toot your own horn too much, or the HiPPO’s owner might come after you and squash you instead!

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