brand discovery

    Brand Discovery Tip Number 1.


    Disappointment is an emotion all humans experience.  If you haven’t been disappointed in life, you haven’t been trying.  Discussing these moments is also telling about what is important to you.  When doing brand discovery, especially for B2B clients, I like to ask about a key disappointment when talking to stakeholders.  Not everyone is happy to share their personal feelings but for many opening up about can be cathartic. Even when talking about a modest disappointment, a good interviewer can delve a little deeper into other areas that may be more telling.

    When doing this type of work it’s important to share some of your own disappointments. It can prime the pump, as it were. Especially if in a similar are of business. Also, don’t stop at shallow answers, such as “We should have sold more widgets.”  Or “We lost our best designer.”  Drill down so you can feel from where the real pain emanates.

    This doesn’t have to be downer time. And it’s certainly not judgement time.  It’s about truth and learning and building up opportunity.

    Again, if you have no business disappointments, you haven’t been trying.




    Simplify and Organize.


    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into meetings and introduced myself as “a simple man.” Perhaps not where you want to start when trying to convince someone to pay you a nice sum for your services. Most people want insightful, experienced problem solvers for their money. If their problems were simple, they wouldn’t need help. And, the fact is, most marketer’s problems aren’t simple. They are layered. And textured. Multivariate.

    But my job is to take complexity and simplify it. To see through the weeds and prioritize the goods and the bads. Then boil down the complexity into a key value (claim) and three support values (proof planks) that are easy to understand and digestible. Why? Because consumers have more to do than think about your brand all day. Simple and compelling win the day in brand strategy.

    Marketers who spend millions on messaging untethered to a brand strategy are moving targets. They are undisciplined. They are investing in confusion. Conversely, marketers who have a compelling brand strategy, simplifying customer care-abouts and brand good-ats, offer a clear picture to consumers making everybody’s job easier.

    Simple outperforms complex any day. That’s what consumers care about. That’s what a good brand strategist cares about.



    It’s All About the Questions.


    Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. For an assignment I once asked the head nutritionist at a leading grocery store chain how she would approach solving the obesity problem if named the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and given an unlimited budget. Her answer: “I would go door-to-door to every house in America and educate each family about healthy eating.”

    It was a cool question.

    When doing brand discovery, consumers and seller questions are used to uncover the gems. On the seller side, for me, many of the questions remain the same. The seller’s answers always take me down new turns and avenues, but the battery is pretty much static. But it’s when talking to consumers that the brand planner has to be crafty. Because interviewing mothers with toddlers about potty training is not like interviewing a morbidly obese mom about weight loss. You have to move the cheese.

    In order to ask good questions, you need to understand the consumer care-abouts. Not just rationally, but emotionally. And the deeper you go, the more fertile the information. Deeply personal questions are the toughest. Obesity, erectile disfunction, beauty are all hard topics to discuss. That said, which brand of screwdriver to use is also hard to breach meaningfully. It’s too shallow. Both take some thought and preparation. The good news is, a meaningful, caring and sharing conversation can set the direction. Tell a story to get a story often works.

    It’s all about the questions people. If you have a good ear you can ask a good question. Good questions are the touchstone of the successful brand planner.




    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.