Archives For relevance

One of the things I really love to do (apart from this sort of stuff) is say “I told you so”. I know, its petty and vindictive but by god it is satisfying. I don’t get to do that very often, so I’ve lowered the bar to: “See, some smart people have done quite a bit of hard work and they’ve produced some research that confirms a hunch that I’ve kinda had for a year or two.”

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B2B, buying, purchase, decision

Playing for the same team, but not necessarily on the same side.

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I got to say that earlier in the week when this article appeared in Forbes, shining a light on group dynamics in the B2B buying process. We all know that these kind of purchases are collegiate decisions (this is one of the key differences with B2C marketing), and the research was able to put the typical size of what we call the ‘buying cell’ at 5.4 people (based on North American companies). Patrick Spenner, who wrote the article, made the implication pretty clear:

“The punchline is, if your commercial approach

isn’t attuned to group dynamics, you’re in trouble.”

So far, so expected. But the new news here is not that there are several people who need to agree on a single B2B purchase, but that the lack of agreement starts very early in the ‘buyers journey’. By the time the buying is even a third of the way through the process (typically before your marketing has even shown up), they’re arguing. And they’re generally not even arguing about the price, or even which vendor, or even the solution. In a lot of cases, they can’t even agree on the problem.

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B2B, buying group, purchase

Show where the gaps are, and you can help the group structure a more productive argument.

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Yikes!

But also: “Yay!” – that’s pretty fertile territory for creative marketers to be working: defining problems, rallying groups, offering possible approaches to problem-solving. Notice how the product (arguably the least interesting bit of B2B marketing), doesn’t get much of a look-in?

What’s interesting here is how ill-equipped ‘funnel-oriented’ marketing automation tools and technologies are to respond to ‘buying cells’ in general, let alone one that might be in open conflict. The creative opportunities lie instead in the application of a little psychology and also through partnership with publishers.

Group dynamics, illuminated.

We’ve been exploring the idea of approaches that target the ‘buying cell’ in a particular company, where the offer (of distance education or networking or custom site visits) is made on the proviso that the entire cell takes part, as a cohesive unit. We’ve also had great success with publishers who track their users, not at the individual level, but at the company or even department level. When enough people from related roles in a single company start consuming a specific type of content (say, data centre migration), you can safely assume that a major data centre migration project is being kicked around.

The question then is, what can your brand offer that is genuinely useful (no, not another whitepaper) to this group, knowing that they are probably arguing mightily about whether they even need a data centre?

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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How do you find out what your audience is thinking?

Start by thinking like a scientist.

Our recent post on the ongoing tension between global brands and local audiences prompted some requests for advice on finding and developing local insights – the sort of deep audience understanding that lets you tune a global strategy for more effective local activation.

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focus group

Focus groups: everyone acting like clowns and delivering completely random returns.

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At Ogilvy, we’ve developed a simple approach for ‘bootstrapping’ your way to local insights, one that doesn’t require the time and money of traditional audience research methods, such as the dreaded focus group. This approach was developed specifically for some of the global brands we work with here at Ogilvy, but can be easily adapted to most brands and situations.

customer insights

We call it The Relevance Engine, but that’s just a nifty title for a serve of common sense, spiced with a dash of curiosity and simmered over a little bit of actual work. Like most things in this business, it’s not rocket surgery.

The starting point is the audience – you really have to be able to at least name them before you start. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown persona (although that wouldn’t hurt), but at least some sort of pen-portrait of the audience your brand has, or the one it would like to have, in a particular market.

You can’t just shake an audience and expect an insight to fall into your lap. This is where I believe a lot of marketing-focussed ‘big data’ investments are going to go absolutely nowhere – massive systems will be constructed to collect terabytes of data without ever being asked a single pointed question.

The Relevance Engine asks you think like a scientist and requires you to be a little disciplined: you need to start with a hypothesis.

This hypothesis should relate to your audience and maybe even your brand (or at least your category) and be something that you think might be true. The hypothesis might be something likeEntrepreneurs in our market expect some form of government assistance” or “Parents in our market are very competitive about their children’s progress, but realise it is now socially unacceptable to display it.”

Once you have your hypothesis (you can call it a hunch, or an assumption, or an idea, if you like), you then use The Relevance Engine to test it, to prove it to be either true or false.

In the version we use, we place the hypothesis in the middle of a circle and then, around the edge of the circle, we have eight different categories of data that we could potentially test the hypothesis against:

1. Global Brand Guidance

This sounds contradictory, but you really should see if there’s anything in the existing or supplied materials that answers your question first. Your local market may not be as different as you first thought. The global guidance also might contain something relevant, hidden away in a support point, or an explanatory section or an appendix. First rule of research is make sure the research hasn’t already been done.

2. In-house research

This one is not always so easy to tap into, but the company behind the brand has almost certainly conducted some research around their product and the intended audience: a feasibility study, a competitive analysis, product history, category survey etc etc. If you have it, go back to it. If you don’t, ask the marketing department to share it. If they don’t have it, ask them to ask the sales people, or the product people, research people, lab, finance or whomever. A lot of global brands have dedicated research departments or teams. Find them, use them. Nothing is more compelling to a client than findings based on their own research.

3. Publishers

Do you remember back when magazines where printed on paper and when you read them, little subscription and survey cards would fall out? Publishers have always spent an enormous amount of time maintaining an intimate understanding of their readers. Digital publishers are getting even more intimate. Find a publication (print or online) that targets the same audience your brand does and then ask them about your hypothesis. If your brand has a marketing budget, I’ll bet the publication will tell you the answer over a nice lunch, which is what this industry needs more of. Seriously.

4. Channels & re-sellers

If your brand allows it’s products to be sold via other means (retail stores, affiliates, representatives, agents, re-sellers and so on), go and test your hypothesis with them. Drop in to their outlet, call them up, buy them a coffee or a beer or a steak sandwich or a bowl of noodles and have a chat. They’ll know a lot about your audience, because your audience are their customers.

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insights, science

Disclaimer: The Relevance Engine won’t turn you into an *actual* scientist (like this guy).

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5. Salespeople

Every global brand has a sales department or team or function. Whether these people sell directly to end customers (in the case of big b2b and technology brands) or to a distribution network (financial products, retail, travel, entertainment etc), they’ll also know a lot about your audience, because your audience are their commission and, therefore, the car they drive, their kid’s education, family holiday destination (you get the picture).

In many large organisations, the disfunction between sales and marketing can actually work to your advantage here: coming in as a neutral 3rd party (agency or consultant) often allows sales people to share more than they would inside the company structure. At the very least, they are usually surprised and pleased that someone is asking their opinion about a topic in which they regard themselves an expert.

6. Digital newsfeeds

Ok, so Google reader is dead. And missed. But there are alternatives, and some of them are very, very good. (Flipboard, we’re looking at you, you saucy little neo-digital-magazine-minx you) Regardless of what you use, the basic premise here is simple: ask your computer to test your hypothesis for you. Using an RSS reader of some sort, tune your digital/mobile/computing apparatus to your desired audience and hypothesis (use a few logical keywords and phrases) and have the magic of the internet stream a constant feed of articles, opinions, stories, alerts and trends past your eyeballs as you go about your daily life. Before long, something utterly relevant to your experiment is going to show up – clip it, file it. Done. Great job, internet!

7. Social Media

An increasingly increasing portion of the web is now composed entirely of people opinionating. If you can’t find your audience (and, by extension, what they’re thinking about) on social media, it is quite possible ur doin’ it wrong. Go find the prominent voices and influencers for your audience on social networks, find the groups and chatrooms and discussions, find the blog posts and tweetchats and hangouts and slideshares, and LinkedIn groups, and pinterest boards and tumblrs and webinars and oh god, I’m getting fatigued just trying to keep up with all the fabulous new ways we’ve invented for people to bloviate online. My recommendation? Quora. Go post your hypothesis there, as a question, and see what happens. Failing that, try Reddit. Feeling brave? Ask 4chan.

8. Live events

We’ve written at length about how to make live events work for brands in the digital arena but what about flipping the equation for a second: how can you use an event to listen to an audience, rather than just talk at them? You could try just going to one and listening, for a start: Walk the floors, eavesdrop. If it’s an event you have presence or permission at, try interviewing people, running a survey or getting a presenter to ask the question and get a show of hands. I’ve seen video confession booths, incentivised surveys – all sorts of stuff. One thing that’s true of all events, everyone wants to offer an opinion. Use that opportunity.

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insights, customer

Leave no stone unturned in your search for insights.
Or, you could do it the easy way.

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Tired now

That seems like a metric shit-tonne of work, right? And it would be, if you were crazy enough to interrogate all 8 data sets listed here. (There are plenty of others available, but these are the most accessible).

No need. The Relevance Engine may require a bit of discipline, but it doesn’t demand complete masochism. Just pick 3. You can even pick the 3 easiest ones if you like – although we’ve designed the whole thing to be relatively easy to complete from your desk with just a couple of afternoon’s worth of work (even less if you delegate).

The results are in

What does a successful ‘scientific result’ look like? I’d say 2 confirmations from 3 different sources is a positive: take a few choice quotes & a handful of stats, put them into a nicely-laid-out ‘research deck’ and hey presto: local insights, backed by science. Any global team worth it’s salt will allow a local team to pursue a genuine insight if they’ve done their homework.

Now take your local insight, turn it into a value proposition (if you need help doing this part, you can get it here), put it in a brief and off you go: you’re got most of everything you need to create locally relevant work for your globally-powerful brand.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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The growing tension between global brands and their local audiences.

Globalisation means different things to different brands. McDonalds has a long-held strategy of standardising the flavour profile of its products, so that your first bite of a Big Mac in Beijing will be essentially the same as in Buenos Aires. Partly, that’s a function of quality control and standardisation of sourcing and production methods, but it’s also a recognition of the fact that the first moment you put something in your mouth is a pretty memorable brand experience.

They’ve also pursued some experimentations in localisation, with specific menu items in India, New Zealand, Brasil and other markets to cater to local palates. If you put the product aside for a moment, however, the branding and messaging is absolutely standardised across the globe, and that is increasingly true of many truly global brands.

Wanted: attractive models with obscure mixed ethnic background

This is often a function of economics: the cost of producing and managing 10 different TVCs, for example, to run in 10 different markets (an absolute quantifiable figure), is generally seen as higher than the benefits of improving relevance by tailoring those same TVCs for those 10 markets (virtually impossible to predict and even harder to calculate as an ROI). The worst example of this process are the lip-synced pan-regional shampoo ads, featuring vaguely pan-regional-looking actors in immaculate homes of unearthly whiteness. Ultimately, these ads look like they were created in outer space, or planet ProctorLever.

local relevance, brands, globalisation

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The middle of where

So the reflex action from a lot of global brands is to develop a single campaign in a centralised hub – sometimes this is done at the centre of the advertising world (Manhattan or London) or in a centre of cost arbitrage (Bangalore) or geographic proximity to the bulk of the market opportunity (Hong Kong, for a North Asia market, for example). Agencies operating in this model spend a great deal of time playing ‘brand police’, creating brand bibles and managing the approval process.

However, as ’emerging markets’ start to gain confidence and sophistication, demand is growing for brands that talk to local audiences in a way that is authentic, believable and relevant. It’s not to say that local audiences don’t see value in big global brands, but that the brand experience is now expected to become more personally (and locally) relevant. We want these global superstars to come to our house party, but we want them to talk to our friends and sing karaoke with us, not just sit in the corner looking cool, surrounded by minders.

Follow the pendulum, follow the money

Over time, most global brands swing between the extremes of ‘country first’ localisation and ‘global only’ centralised standardisation. The first is expensive and, ultimately, unmanageable at scale – satellite television and social media have effectively ended the idea that messaging can be quarantined to specific countries or even regions. The second tends to result in ‘average-ised’ campaigns that are efficient to produce and work ok in most places, though rarely spectacularly well anywhere.

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brands, global, local

Standby to receive official global brand broadcast, which you’re just going to love.

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Global agencies make most of their money managing this ongoing tension between global consistency and local relevance for global brands, re-organising and re-staffing as they follow the swinging pendulum between to two ends of the spectrum.

Does the ‘dinosaur medium’ have a plan for the future?

But what if you could build a hyper-efficient globalised/standardised marketing and messaging distribution system that still leaves room for local insights, and relevant local expression? What would that look like? Where would it be based?

Sorry to get your hopes up, but I don’t have the answer, and I’m not sure many global agencies do. But we have been working on some smaller-scale prototypes that steal the idea of global ‘formats’ from the television broadcasting world (y’know, the one that the internet is apparently destroying?).

In particular, we’ve been looking at properties like the singing and cooking shows that dominate the world’s screens. There’s some real operational genius going on here – they are built from the ground up with the intention that certain aspects will be (nay, have to be) modified for local markets, but also with structures and processes that must not and cannot be fucked around with.

Probably

If you look at the ‘Idol’ format, there’s always a set number of judges and archetypes that must be followed (the encourager, the eccentric and the bitch), but the individuals in those roles are chosen to be extremely relevant to the local market. The number of shows required to cover the qualifications, eliminations, finals and ultimate winner are also set, but the choice of songs and music styles is, again, completely local. The blue neon logo looks the same everywhere, but the costumes on Israeli Idol are very different to those worn on Brazilian Idol.

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They didn’t come to cheer your incredibly well-translated global strapline.

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So it’s got more flexibility than a franchise model (McDonalds is not going to let you re-design the menu in every country) but still retains a cohesive brand experience (the narrative of rags-to-riches talent discovery, audience voting to determine the ultimate winner, for example) in all of it’s 46-and-counting global markets. Another key ingredient worth noting in this approach is the use of local production partners and an IP licencing, rather than head-hours fee, remuneration model.

Importantly, from a creative and strategic standpoint, although there are things you can’t change when you work on one of these global formats, there are plenty of very satisfying levers you can pull, which helps attract quality local talent to work on these global formats – a very real issue in the agency world.

As we start to see real business benefits coming from global brands offering locally-relevant experiences, there may well be a change in the way agencies operate to deliver these formats: less of the command-and control of the McDonald’s/Starbucks globocorps and more of the adaptable formats & partnerships approach of Fremantle Media or Endemol.

The recent acquisition of a stake in Droga5 by LA-based talent agency William Morris shows that it’s probably already happening.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Advertising is dead. Messaging is dead. Branding is also dead. Or maybe it just has an inoperable tumor of some sort. At least that’s the ‘story’ according to the content marketing military industrial complex as it rolls out the ‘brand story’ juggernaut.

And I’m not here to argue the imminent resurrection of the 30 second spot as the ultimate form of persuasive creativity. Far from it. You can mark me down as a fan of branded content (when done right) and of brand utility in particular. These were definitely the themes I witnessed in 2010 when I was lucky enough to get to SXSW and saw ‘brands as publishers’ emerge as a dominant ambition amongst marketers and agencies in attendance.

No story, straight to bed.

The more recent shift, however, is from brands as publishers of stories in the journalism sense of the word (an analogy that worked well for the PR/social practitioners in the house) to a place where brands now must cast themselves as authors or narrators of stories in the fictional sense of the word.

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Now we're all publishers, all the time.

Now we’re all publishers, all the time.

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As you’d expect, TED talks (and their audiences) are going apeshit for this kind of metaphor. Which means that agencies and marketing departments are going apeshit for it too.  Every brief is now a challenge to “tell our story”. The objective is now to “get users to engage with our story”. The desired outcome is to get users to “share our story” (more sophisticated than saying “get more ‘likes’ on facebook, but essentially the same). It’s all gone a bit story crazy. I’ve even heard the borrowed-jargon double-whammy of ‘curate our stories‘ more times than I’d care to count. I think brands telling their stories is kinda bullshit.

The medium is the massage parlour.

Sure, it can be seen as a welcome evolution from producing and distributing a broadcast message, but in practice, the current format of brands as storytellers is often just a slightly more complex and technologically driven expression of the old political tactic: stay on message. Generally, we’re  just giving our core brand massage a bit of a social rub n’ tug and calling it transmedia storytelling.

The thing about stories (in the fictional sense of the word) is that they aren’t generally neat or straightforward. Hell, they generally aren’t particularly positive of uplifting. Even the ‘happily ever-after’ variety of story needs to go through a few rough patches if it is to have any dramatic tension or connect with the reader.

The best illustration of this comes from Kurt Vonnegut and his ‘Shape of Stories’ theory, reproduced as an infographic here by visual.ly

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Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

Infographic by mayaeilam.  Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
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You can’t handle a ‘man in hole’

This is a problem for most brands. In practice, their tolerance for anything that is below the midpoint of the ‘happy’ axis is minimal. Can you imagine receiving a brief that states a brand wants to pursue a “man in hole’ storyline? And their reaction when you present back to them a public fuck-up of epic proportions for the second act (the hole) so that the brand (the man) has something to climb out the other side of and into redemption? No, I can’t either.

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Is that your brand at the bottom of that hole?

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So perhaps the idea of a ‘brand story’ is best taken as a metaphor rather than a set of instructions. To that end, Scott Donaton (global chief content officer of UM) did a solid job of pulling the threads of the ‘story as metaphor’ story together to offer some good advice to brands embarking on content. His point of it being ‘not all about you’ is a particularly good one.

I’m not trying to be a literary purist about the word ‘story’ and reclaim it for novelists and screenwriters everywhere, but I do want to sound a note of caution (and realism) as brands rush to become storytellers:

You are probably not your story.

You are more likely to be a character. Or a location. Or a plot device. Or maybe a chapter. But the real protagonist (the person we care most about in any story) is likely to be the person you’ve spent years describing as your audience. And there’s the problem – the person we’re working so hard to tell the story to, is actually the person we should be telling the story about.

Instead of thinking about controlling your brand narrative (still a useful construct, but much more applicable to the world of PR, particularly in the realm of crisis management), think about defining the hole that your brand is pulling the protagonist out of? What are your brand’s main character traits? What actions are believable? What’s their motivation? And perhaps most importantly, how do we as a brand help the protagonist answer the Major Dramatic Question?

So, should brands be authoring stories? Doesn’t really matter what I think, because it’s happening regardless. I would argue, however, that the bulk of marketing activity happening under this terminology isn’t storytelling at all.

It might be a subtle distinction, but I believe brands would be better served if we worked out creative, relevant ways for them to be in the stories being written every day by the artist formerly known as the audience.

At least that’s how I’d cast it.

This post also appeared on the Firebrand Talent Blog

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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You know? The big, tropical fruit? The one with the yellow-green skin? Bright orange flesh inside? Millions of seeds? Ok, here’s a picture:

Yes, it's a papaya. Actually, two of them. Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah.

Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah

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Yes. That’s exactly what an agency planner is like. Sometimes they get called strategists, or strat/planners or even ‘hey, you’, but you know who I’m talking about. As a creative, I find planners to be absolutely fundamental to the creative process. They would be the discipline I’d choose to take to my ‘agency desert island’.

I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great ones. Here’s how to tell if your papaya/planner is one too:

They are a little bit exotic.

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Planners might look different to you and me.
Or they might look normal. Either way is fine.

Papayas are not available everywhere, nor should they be. Unless you are actually standing in Tahiti, papayas always look like they’ve come from somewhere else. When they are growing locally, they’re usually transplanted. Planners, you’ll notice are often imports. Or they’ve been away for a while and now they’re back. At the very least, they’ll be sporting an accent of some description. The important thing here is that their ‘statelessness’ gives them a sense of the wider world, often born of direct experience. This shows in their thinking and their approach. Getting outside of a culture, or country or even demographic gives you a much clearer view of what’s really going on. As a creative, you need to start in this place. Your planner can get you there.

They’re only good when ripe

You can tell by giving them a squeeze – the flesh will have some ‘give’ in it. I’m mainly talking about papayas at this point, but I’ve met planners who were similar in this regard. Whether you measure ripeness in terms of age, tenure, time, immersion or some other metric, the unifying characteristic is direct experience. I’m not maintaining that young planners are not useful. They are, provided they’ve invested quite a bit of their time in a particular game (music, fashion, TV culture, cars, sports). They’ve absorbed a particular culture of genre or ‘scene’. It’s got under their skin. To ripen, both planners and papayas need some exposure to the sun, to ‘get out there’. You don’t ripen by being the guy who reads the internet before everybody else does.

They’re good for you

Here's a taste I'm not a fan of. Bananas. They're uniformly awful.

Here’s a taste I’m not a fan of.
Bananas. They’re uniformly awful.

Okay, so maybe you’re not a fan of the taste (I’m talking Papayas here, people), but it’s hard to argue the health benefits. Similarly, planners make you smarter by photosynthesising life + research + thinking into wisdom and then filling you up with it. Often, when you need it most, sometimes when you just want them to shut the fuck up. Either way, you should listen. You’ll be better for it.

They’re better with lime

Not all papayas are awesome on their own. They often need the tang of lime to make them truly sing. So too, he best planners are generally sunny optimistic souls with an acidic, contrarian streak. So while they are always alive to possibilities and potential, presenting strategic market challenges as opportunities for creative thinking, they also have a healthy sense of scepticism. They are pragmatists & realists, able to separate the technology from the use value, the gadget from the emotion, the fad from the trend. This ‘squeeze of lime’ is there to push your thinking, to ask you to take your idea beyond being merely cool into the realm of the genuinely useful.

A little goes a long way

This very expensive medical image was taken inside an actual planner's brain. While she was still alive.

This very expensive medical image was taken inside
an actual planner’s brain.While she was still alive.

I like papayas, but I couldn’t eat a whole one. I feel the same about planners, in the sense that, while i consider them creative partners, I wouldn’t share a room with them. They need space to roam, otherwise they can start stinkin’ up the place, getting over-ripe, over-thought. The other reason you only need small doses is because many of them are way up the I end of the I-to-E scale on the Myers Briggs spectrum. They do their thinking on the inside of their head. Which means that when they do finally speak, they’ve pretty much got it figured out. That’s the time you need to listen, consider and then see how what they’ve just told you impacts your work and thinking. Usually for the better.

They are polarising

Papayas are binary fruit, in that they are either brilliant, or inedible. There is no in-between, no sliding scale. In this regard, planners are exactly the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some blindingly brilliant ones (and encountered the other kind) but I haven’t actually worked with an okay planner. Or even a mostly good one. The same can’t be said of other disciplines in our industry. There are competent suits, capable production managers, solid leaders. I myself am a highly-regarded not-too-bad copywriter. And all of these people and skills and levels of ability are good and useful.
Planners, however, either need to be fantastic or they need to be doing something else.

Let @barrieseppings know what your favourite planner tastes like.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Here’s the thunderbolt from the Argentinian leg of our w2fm Sth American tour: you won’t be able to extract customer insights from your partners and channels, if their insights aren’t being listened to first.

Partners: hear them first, before you ask them to listen on your behalf.

That came through pretty clearly in a few sessions we ran in various countries recently, but it really crystalised for us as we tried to run a game of “What’s my motivation in this scene?” with a few partners who were cast in the role of customers. Sure, the language differences weren’t helping, but it became obvious the partners needed to discuss their own motivations first.

When you think about it, that’s logical. But marketing often just considers partners as just a link in the messaging chain. At best, they simply pass along the script, verbatim. At worst, they’ll let the marketing materials pile up in their inboxes like so much spam.

Because, without relevance, all massages are spam. And all humans are refining their mental spam filters every day, punting as much as they can to the junk folder in their cerebrum, trying to keep the cache clear for more important, interesting or entertaining messages. In fact, this “filtering” is getting so intense that some writers have pointed out that increased internet use is re-wiring our brains. And perhaps, not in a good way. Yes, we can process more messages faster, but at the expense of being able to concentrate on more complex, involved or even simply lengthy messages. Good news for tweets, bad news for books.

Net net: the message you are sending also has to be relevant for the messenger, or it will just get caught in the spam filter.

Another revelation from the Buenos Aires leg: I now know someone who has a patent for a robot. That does sound like rocket surgery.

We’ve been invited back to South America, to bring some w2fm thinking to a series of ‘insight and messaging’ training sessions, and it got us thinking about the importance of being relevant to your audience.

Insights are everywhere: if you know where to look.

It’s one thing to talk about relevance, but how do you work out exactly what relevance is? How will you know when you’ve found it? And what language will it be in?

As usual, we didn’t waste any time trying to come up with the answers ourselves – we just asked all of the really smart marketing, planning, creative and strategic people we knew how they go about discovering relevance.

There's a lot of good intel in the sales department - but how do marketers extract it?

Although the channels and techniques and methods varied (online listening posts; eavesdropping at conferences; buying a front-line sales guy a cup of coffee), all roads kept coming back to the audience, and a devastatingly simple process:

Step 1: Find them

Step 2: Listen

 

So we’ve collected the wisdom and put it in a framework that allows us to continue the ‘magpie approach’ of adding new twigs of information and ideas as we find them, continually building up a collection of tools and approaches to discovering relevance.

The result is The Relevance Engine and we unveiled the idea at a 2-day session in Sao Paulo, which revealed a whole bunch more “twigs” from the get-go. There was a feeling that our friends in Brasil already had access to a lot of customer insight and were ready to start combining their sources. We hit upon the idea of having a “hunch” and using the engine to collect the data to either support the hunch with facts, or find an entirely new customer insight.

I had a hunch this was lunch. I was wrong.

We’d also like it to be noted that the Paulistas are amongst the world’s most generous hosts – catering wise. It’s so much easier to facilitate a workshop wen everyone is fed and watered, so a huge thankyou goes out to the Brasil team on this score.

Already, we can see that rather than try to continually ‘develop’ and ‘refine’ The Relevance Engine as we go along, it seems more natural to allow local teams to ‘tune’ it to their local needs. Unsurprisingly, The Relevance Engine works best when it is allowed to become more relevant to the audience that is using it.

We have a couple more stops at Buenos Aires and Mexico City over the coming days, so we’ll write a little more about the engine plays out in these markets but, in the meantime, I’d like to ask you to help with some virtual performance tuning too:

“What’s your fail-safe method for discovering what is truly relevant to your audience?”