brand discovery

    Always Listening. Always Thinking.


    Last week I was walking the floor of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACs) in Atlanta and the place was jammed.  Take that Amazon! Over my shoulder I heard someone say “And let’s keep marketing out of it.”  Como se indignance??? I knew immediately this was to become the beginning of a discovery question. 

    Marketers, I know, wouldn’t be a good place to trot out this kind of question but salespeople would. And I love to interview sales people. Other c-level executive in, say, finance, operations, HR, might also be likely to have moments when they want to keep marketing out of it.  Why? I have no real idea, but it’s worth a dive.

    So here’s how the question might lay out.

    “Can you ever imagine a situation where in a meeting where someone might say And let’s keep marketing out of it? Please explain.”  Branders and marketing love what they do, but not everyone will agree we’re the be-all and end-all of commerce. Getting to the underbelly of tensions is something brand planners are good at, and this question is likely to get there quickly. It may not be one that helps understand consumer buying insights but it might just be foundational for selling the insight.

    Can’t way to try it.



    Atmosphere and Brand Planning.


    Brand planners have to get out of the building. And they should even leave their computers home from time to time.  “Atmosphere” is one of the key tools of the planner. It’s where senses other than the ears take over and instill. You can’t smell fear in an interview. You can’t experience unbridled joy while typing interview responses. Atmosphere creates in situ observations and muscle memory for planners and ethnographers. Where deeds and proof emerge that stick with you when it comes time to write your brief or organize your thoughts.

    Part of my discovery is interviewing people – absolutely with the computer at my fingertips.  I complain about my typing ability to which cohorts ask “Why don’t you use a voice reorder?” My reply: “If it’s not important enough to type, it’s probably not going to make it in the brief.”  If the interviewee is going too quickly to capture everything, I slow them down and ask for a redo. It’s the same with atmosphere. The stuff that flies by isn’t as important as the stuff that sticks. (This ability may be an innate planner good-at.) Observing what’s important versus what’s not. Things the eyes see.  The schnoz smells. The tones the ears compels.

    Staring at a computer screen or paper notes is not atmosphere. Atmosphere is sensual.  Get some before you start organizing.






    When writing brand strategy there comes a point at which you need to profess yourself expert in the topic or category.  No matter our age, we are always young and inexperienced somewhere. Today I was wondering what it would be like to be a young tech executive attending Davos. Would s/he feel comfortable? I would hope not. Were I to go to Davos, I’d be a church mouse. Maybe an occasional chirp about branding but otherwise it would be all listen and learn. For a year or two.

    That’s how I approach a new category.  Listen and learn.  Like Mr. Miyagi’s grasshopper.  When talking to doctors or security analysts, coders or block chain wonks, before putting finger to keyboard comfort with the topic is absolutely critical. Sometimes it requires learn a new language. Until that language flows conversationally, without awkwardness, you’d better not start your brief.

    Maybe this is where the overuse of the word “authentic” comes from. If you don’t know of what you speak, if you are not comfortable, it shows.  In NY we used to call this “speaking out your ass.”  Comfort with content begets strategy. Everything else is copy.




    Brand Discovery Interviews.


    Good brand strategy discovery is about asking questions and listening to the answers. I’d venture to say discovery is 90% listening. People like to share. They like to be helpful, so long as you have their interests in mind and care about what they have to say. To prove interested you have to build new questions off of their responses. And use a little bit of English (spin on the ball). Learn eagerly.

    And to make the process is not too one-way and to prove your eagerness, you’ll need to tell some quick stories. Stories that show you are human, fragile and fun. But remember 90 of the interview is listening.  Even with this heavily weighted split, the interview must come off as a conversation. Be sensitive to the sensitivities. Sensing important insights is another key interview driver. But don’t get hung up or bogged down. They can be plumbed in after-interview analysis.  Also, it’s a good idea to share stories from others you’ve interviewed. People enjoy hearing from likeminds. It validates.

    The discovery interview is the most important tool in brand planning — be it an interview with a consumer or brand stakeholder.

    Interview notes are the puzzle pieces.



    Art of the Deal.


    I’m always on the lookout for discovery questions that provoke interesting insights. Because a good deal of my discovery work takes place with corporate management and sales, I use a number of questions about business ideals, including perceived and real good-ats. Knowing what a company thinks it’s good at is critical to effective strategy and sell-in of that strategy.  

    Lester Wunderman’s obit was in the NYT today. Towards the end it spoke of his art collection. African Dogon art was his thing. Though not in the formal arsenal of questions I use for executives, I’ve been known to ask people about their “art.” Though I’ve never asked about an art collection. Hmm.  Mr. Wunderman’s art collection has sparked some wunderment (sic).

    Here’s a new discovery question:

    “Fast forward 20 years and think about a room filled with company artifacts from today – a historic view of accomplishments, milestones, even art. What’s in that room?”   

    Can’t wait to try this one out.