Be a 5% Better Strategist: A Taxonomy of Creative Birds

Effectiveness through an avian classification of worldview.

Everyone working in the creative industry — clients, media people, creative people, strategy people, data people — can be segmented into four “species” based on how they answer two simple questions:

Question 1: Do you believe Consumers are stupid or smart?

Stupid, as in lazy, distracted and disengaged regardless of what brands do. Or smart, as in resourceful, motivated and very engaged if properly stimulated.

In essence, regardless of your specific product category, what do you believe to be the default operating mode of the people you are trying to sell to?

Question 2: What is your instinctual reaction to something “new”?

Do you typically perceive “new” as unproven, risky and therefore worth caution? Or “new” as opportunity — exciting and worth pursuing for the very fact that it’s never been done before.

“New” happens everyday in our business. At every creative presentation — internal and external, new ideas are being shared. What your gut reaction to hearing something “crazy?”

Using these two questions, I’ve created a simple segmentation called a “Taxonomy of Creative Birds” (See Exhibit A).

Exhibit A

Let me be clear: no species is superior to another. They are just different: Different worldviews, different attitudes and different behaviors. But your bird does affect your creative tastes and inclinations. It’s the lens through which you see creative work.

Most importantly, correctly identifying 1. which you are and 2. which your client, teammate or boss are is helpful when defining strategies of persuasion.

Let’s talk about each bird first.

Vultures (Consumers are dumb x “New” is risk)

Vultures eat what’s already dead and what others have killed. It’s not a glamorous method, but it works. Vultures are patient, excruciatingly practical and always plan ahead. Scoff as you will, but the simple fact is that Vultures never go hungry.

Owls (Consumers are smart x “New” is risk)

Owls are hunters but careful hunters. They observe their prey carefully before they strike and they don’t hunt what they can’t kill. They respect their prey. Feeling certain is necessary before taking action. They are measured, but determined once deciding act.

Hawks (Consumers are dumb x “New” is opportunity)

Hawks’ first instinct is to hunt dumber prey. New prey is a new challenge. Hawks are swift, competitive but often reckless. They are typically not going to hunt something smarter than themselves, but they also don’t consider others to be much of a threat. For hawks, their default mode of operation is to hunt or to be hunted.

Seagulls (Consumers are smart x “New” is opportunity)

Seagulls are enamored by new territory. They want to hunt new things that live in new lands. The flip side is that Seagulls often die flying over water because they never reach land. Their fixation with open possibility often blinds their sense of practicality.

Now, let’s put this taxonomy into practice with two quick examples.

#Clients

Most of my clients are Vultures. They are not evil or stupid people, but their organizations and experiences incentivize them to do what’s proven. To test, re-test and obsessively plan in pursuit of predictable (albeit incremental) growth. To never go hungry.

They think consumers don’t care and don’t want to try too hard. Ergo, don’t make them too much, ask too much of them or expect them to do anything. Keep it simple, stupid.

Remember, to Vultures, new is risk. Original means unproven. Change means unpredictability. These are bad things.

If I want to propose a daring new idea or strategy, my approach must counter-balance this worldview. I must talk in the frames of KPI’s, measurement, data, principles, best practices, “learnings” and evolution. I must demonstrate the simple (yet obsessively planned) mechanics of consumer engagement — just how easy everything is. I must make the Vulture feel safe. His dinner guaranteed.

#Creatives

Most of my creative teammates are Seagulls. They love new. They are intoxicated by originality. The inability to find precedent or “reference” emboldens them — “it’s never been done before” is why it should be done now. They respect consumers’ intelligence and expect them to engage — even with complex ideas. Overly complex ideas.

For Seagulls, my approach must be to encourage discipline. To ensure that they are constantly considering how, where and when the idea — and consumers engaging with it — “land.” So the idea — and the consumers — never die over water.

In sum, I encourage you to first close your eyes right now and honestly assess which bird you are.

There is no bird you “should” be, but knowing what you actually are is important. Next time your write a brief, stop and remember your bird. Check yourself. Evaluate whether your avian worldview is helping or hurting your cause. Evaluate whether your avian worldview is persuasive for the other birds you must deal with.

Then fly.

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