brand strategy discovery

    Discovery Tip #8.


    One of my discovery tricks is to interview top trade magazine writers who cover the category beat. If doing an assignment on energy drinks or beer, I run down the top writer at Beverage magazine and attempt to interview them. There are trade publications on every topic under the sun. It’s best to read a few of their stories before contacting, showing some interest and awareness of their craft, as well as picking up on language. One way to find out if they are a top writer is to see if you can gather up readership reports from the publication. Many trades report on their best read pieces, departments and writers. It’ a neat short cut.

    Also, these writers have a many smart connects they interview and quote for their stories. Track them down. Today, one might call these quoted people influencers; I prefer to call them experts with skin in the game.

    It’s a great way to begin to cast the net. Not only for ideas, but sources.



    Discovery Vs. Hacking.


    All brand planners have their own unique ways to come at strategy problems. Also known as marketing problems. Most activity falls to fieldwork and research.  The latter tends to be quantitative (data) while the former tends to be more behavioral — conducting interviews with consumers and influencers. Much of this work can be labelled discovery.

    The word hacking has grown quite a bit over the last 10-15 years. Hacking is a computer coding reference to unauthorized access but has since evolved to mean “shortcutting” to solve a problem…a means by which people use binary lessons (decision points) to bypass long logic ladders to get to answers quicker.

    I’ve done brand discovery digging deep, deep, deep over the course of months to get to the claim and proof array (aka the brand strategy).  I’ve also hacked my way to brand strategies in 8 hours. (Not including dream time, that’s not billable.)

    Long form discovery is safer and allows for more science. Hacking is perhaps less safe but more gut-ful. More intuitive. 

    Of course, some assignment are more complex that others.  Trail of Bits, say, was way more complicated than was Sweet Loren’s cookie dough. Teq, an educational development company, was multidimensional whereas Handcraft Manufacturing was straight forward.

    Hacking and discovery are two valuable brand planning tools. They provide the inputs. Where the rubber really meets the road though, is in the outputs. A story for another time.




    SMEs and Copy Points.


    I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people while doing brand discovery. Some at the absolute top of their fields. Highly impressive people. I’ve worked with members of Bell Labs, software engineers and healthcare system CEOs. People are so interesting if you give them the opportunity. And some bait.  But one thing I’ve found when interviewing so-called SMEs (subject matter experts), is that they often answer questions with what I call copy points — dumbed down generalizations about what makes their product or service better.  It’s like they are copywriters. 

    For a recent interview I asked a CEO who sells software to specialty pharmacists about differentiators. Here’s what she said:

    “We provide one-on-one specialized services. With us you are not a number, you’re a person. We are more focused on your individual wants and needs.”

    Woo. What Am I going to do with that? 

    So we probe. We ask for examples. We storify and cajole. I did get what I needed but this CEO started out spouting copy.

    As smart as SMEs are, they often need to be drilled in more evidentiary explanations of value. SMEs are conditioned by poor marketing claims too. And like the rest of us they have been conditioned all their lives.