[Podcast] Does Great Planning Always Need A Consumer Insight?

Rachel Mercer
Oct 23 · 18 min read

Episode 5: As strategists, a big part of our role is being asked to ‘just find an insight’. In this episode, Shann and Rachel explore if great planning always needs a consumer insight? If not always — when and where should it be applied?


Below you’ll find an unedited transcript of the above episode. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in listening to please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud and Podcast Addicts!


Shann 0:00
Hello, hello, welcome to this new episode of the other thinkers. I’m Shann.

Rachel 0:04
And I’m Rachel.

Shann 0:05
So Rachel, today we’re going to talk about I think something is very dear to our pending community. Does grant planning always need a consumer insight? And I want to start there because you know that I have a pretty strong view on this one. Um, I think the key word here is the always part. And if you think about it, from an always perspective, my response is categorically no, I don’t believe the consumer insight is actually required for great work to happen and planning to happen.

And I know that, you know, as planners and strategists are our role is ultimately usually to represent the consumer in the room and make sure we’re consumer centric enough. But I don’t think we should fall for the what I like to call the diktat of the insights. Because it’s not always what is actually required to start the process on and to me, it feels interesting to think a bit more about the universe of whether brands want to play sometimes that kind of stuff, maybe the planning process there rather than trying to go too quickly into what the consumers really, really are about and what they want. And I think there’s been a lot of campaigns in the last few years that have this thought rightfully focused and obsessed with what happens in culture and the consumers, but very often ended up with very, very flimsy connection back to what the brand really is, and in a way losing what the identity of the brand used to be. So I think that can even be a slippery slope when we try to have that that focus on the insights. But ultimately, I do think consumer insights do play a role, and I’m sure you’ve had quite a few experiences on that.

Rachel 1:43
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, this is a hard question because I think it treats the job to be done from a planning perspective as being this very monolithic thing where we’re doing it either from like when we’re resetting the brand, or we have a very specific type of communications going out there. But some times like the the client just needs a promotion out there, they just need to announce something. Sometimes they they, there’s a couple of clients that we’re working with right now where we’re helping them craft and introduce technologies like a year or two ahead of when they’re going to the market. And so a lot of our work as planners is much more, you know, what is the message that we need to craft for them so that people are going to understand this technology when it lands, but I don’t think that any of that work is necessarily born on a human insight. Because if the technology isn’t available to customers today, then how how can I have an insight about how they’re going to use it? effectively? So I you know, I think it does make our our roles seem a little bit one dimensional, but I also think to it doesn’t always necessarily have to be a customer or consumer driven insight. I think some of the most powerful insights and the most powerful ads have come from sort of very product driven ones, right. That Lemon ad from Volkswagen in the 60s was very much. Like we all remember that and it was an insight about the product and that’s not necessarily about what consumers held. So I agree with you categorically know, if you’re thinking about it from an always present always perspective.

Shann 3:16
And I think, you know, it’s the thing I find really exhausting is when I mean sessions and meetings and, and, and you can feel we’re trying to force feed an inside back into what everybody knows is a great idea instinctively and there’s just like, and ultimately not entirely built on it. And, you know, it’s, it’s, I think, some of the greatest campaigns with us years, um, I think someone standing in front of the stage picking their award and say, like we would this came from, we thought of the title because there was a strong consumer inside there’s like, yeah, I’m not sure. I think there there’s definitely a great understanding of how advertising works. And there is a cultural fit. That is great, but I don’t think you start with a groundbreaking consumer insight. It’s just thought of such suddenly by every creative kind of movie. Could all those things because of that I might be wrong my friends have said she might might disagree with me but that’s not the way I would kind of see those things always happening. And and what I hate about this dictate to the the consumer insight is that we then spend an awful amount of time trying to post rationalize things a little bit kind of craft back the story and just make sure that you know, look, this is one of the consumers and how we understand them is like, show you have empathy for them. And that’s fantastic. And you should all have that empathy for culture and understanding where things are and but ultimately, very often, this is not where the starting point what and if you were to think of planning and the role of brand planning, planning is like ultimately your huge provide a real springboard and you’re here to kind of provide people with some some idea of where you want to focus and that, that idea, springboard, that thing that really gets people like the juices flowing doesn’t always start with the consumers and it’s just as simple as that and it’s it’s a real problem the father we’ve we’ve especially nowadays in the age of Consumer centricity being on everybody’s lips. And you know, you could, you know, have a single CMO doesn’t stay on stage and says it’s all about the consumers. Yeah, dummies always been about the consumers, we know that it’s not new. But ultimately that kind of idea that consumer centricity, music, everything has to come from these type consumer insight is like, not necessarily, I don’t think so.

Rachel 5:18
Yeah. And I, again, I think it leaves behind a lot of the fundamentals of brand planning, right, like when we talk about the four C’s being an exercise that we all have to

Shann 5:26
go through in the four C’s for those who don’t know.

Rachel 5:30
So when you look, when you do sort of like a traditional look at any type of communications you want to do you take a look at what the consumer is doing, what the category is doing, what your company itself is doing. And I’m going to forget this, let’s see it because at RGA we call it something different places that we can connect our show up in a meaningful for different way. And so we can also look at it from a cultural perspective too, so sometimes its culture and consumer in different ways, but it’s the intersect of all of those things starting to work together, rather than necessarily only looking at, like how people interact with toilet paper or your car, or how this brand stands out differently. I think, again, if you’re just focusing on like human behaviors, or you have clients who are asking for a human insight, you know, that’s very quickly going to take you into cliche territory rather than something that’s meaningful and different. And again, connected critically to that. Let me ask you

Shann 6:33
A question because you work at RGA and you guys have experienced planning, CX. There’s enough talk about CDJ planning. So we know I tried to make the entire CJ with the pain points are and I think both of you and I have been in some of the projects clearly more advanced than I am in this field. how essential Do you think that process release because every single time I speak to people who are experienced planners, it seems like for them the billion dollars, just like my LPs entire consumer journey and I’m most of the things I see coming back with just not possibly inspiring. Sometimes there is something cool and I feel like yeah, you check the box and we’ve made sure we’ve we’ve not missed anything, but it’s not always the part that I found the most inspiring to go find something like,

Rachel 7:17
I think the worst sort of connections planners or communications planners are the ones who completely fill out the the customer decision journey from end to end. But don’t necessarily give you an idea of where you need to start. Because I think our role again, as planners is really helping to direct the client to be like, okay, yes, in every stage of the journey, here’s the 15 things that we could possibly do. But we need to selectively choose, you know, they have a finite budget, where the three places where we can make the most meaningful difference and show up very differently. And so we’ve made playbooks and things like that for clients in the past where we’ve gone through the whole exercise, we’ve identified the pain points, and then we provide them with sort of task briefs that are specific to that moment and the journey and that pain point. And I think that’s, it’s certainly effective, but only if you’re using it to understand the landscape, but then narrow, narrow things back in again. Does that makes sense?

Shann 8:25
No, it does. Um, it’s funny because I had a project not so long ago, where

I was kind of getting riled up with one of our CX teams, because they’re basically there was an idea that kind of seems strong enough and interesting enough, but disruptive to the point it doesn’t exist yet. It’s just something that’s not been done yet in this category. And, and so the idea was just came out of a few sessions and things and just like, basically an entrepreneurial approach to it, which is the way most entrepreneurs go, they go like, Oh, I want this for me. I don’t get it. Let me go create it and market it to someone and then we’ll figure out people like it, but when I take it to these CX- type planners, the first reaction is actually like, whoa, this is nice. This sounds interesting. I like the idea. But I’m gonna have to go and start the entire thing all over again. Because first we need to go ask the consumers exactly what did you want? And I don’t disagree with this. And my point is that, like, it’s foolish to try to say, let’s go testing because you absolutely, you know, I’m doing due diligence and just make sure and validate what you come up with. Makes sense. But there is there is this thing where if you’ve not gone through that proper research and ethnography, and, and kind of understanding things, how dare you even come up with an idea just yet. And that’s something I just find kind of really weird, but I’ve definitely experienced that a few times, where the process has basically overtaken the outputs, and where the idea is just like if you don’t follow through process, you will never get to the right answer. Therefore, the process is essential to get you there. Therefore, that aspect of consumer centricity, quote unquote, just has to happen.

Rachel 9:55
Yeah, I think what we try to be very selective around the types of assigning And the types of projects that we bring those types of individuals and not so it could be, you know, again, we’ve had brands come to us and say we now have our brand new brand positioning and we have a, you know, hundred person marketing team and they are not necessarily sure how to activate against it. So if we need to arm them with what they need, that’s absolutely an exercise that we can do for them and say, here’s the whole customer journey. Here’s like 65 briefs that you can do, and you’re off and running for the next year. There’s also instances where, you know, we’ll work with clients to say, you know, you have 35 products next year and you have you’re trying to speak to 7 million people at the same time. Maybe we can help you be a little bit more selective around which products for what people are the right ones to prioritize next year, but and then the last one is when maybe you have an idea already. We also bring through connections planners much more from a media perspective to say understanding the Media and understanding this message. And what we’re trying to communicate here is all the places in that journey we can show up, but they’re rarely then trying to restart the process. After that time, I think they’re just trying to slot in what’s the most meaningful media at that point in time.

Shann 11:17
I think another problem that I have faced with that aspect of consumer centricity is that very often because people voice what they experienced, it’s not always easy to find what is really interesting or exciting, and I still, one of my firm belief is that ultimately, the job of good advertising is to be interesting. It’s just like, you know, I can slice it the way I want, but like, I come back down to the most universal thing that advertising should try to do is at least be interesting in the way he delivers his messages. And just this one way to kind of connect. And the problem I’ve had is that very often the study of consumers because of the data sets in an ideal because The methodology is to get consumer insights and not perfect at all i mean focus groups have huge issues surveys and problems and and and very often you can have could try it but there it’s it’s very often hard to find things we just like okay that that actually really is going to help and and I feel sorry sometimes for both strategist and creative agencies and and creatives because at the end of the day you see the planner is coming up with like what is fairy vanilla or just you know cool you can phrase in a way sounds cool and funky and you can you can you know, manifesto the shit out of this to make it sound great but ultimately it’s all talking about pretty obvious things and then the creatives just Texas like okay fine you’ve kind of given me something but still has to make that massive leap to get to what is really really really exciting and this is where I mean you’re closer to because now switch to the dark side of media. So I’ve got a bit less of this to do but I just feel like it’s it’s a bit it’s a bit tricky for Creative planners in general kind of have that focus on studying the consumer and getting the voice of the consumer purely. And actually, I feel like strategy should also play a role in sometimes stepping out of it and stepping ahead of it and just come up with crazy things kind of go and shake things. So I don’t know what your experiences there.

Rachel 13:19
Yeah, I mean, I say I feel really bad for our discipline in general, because I think, you know, the the value of marketing has just completely shrunk in the eyes of the the clients and a very long time because we used to, and I’m just romanticizing for a moment. You know, we used to have a year to do all of the planning and to talk about our moment and what we’re standing for, because it was such a big deal that they were going to create this commercial or this campaign that was going to be there usable assets for the next two or three years. And now I feel like because what we’re doing is so disposable and under so much pressure we have to create more of everything all the time. You know, team members don’t necessarily have the time to dive into anything. And now, you know, moving to an increasingly project or a deliverable based model also doesn’t enforce or allow for any of that to do. But I do think one thing I’ve been really excited with, with my team, especially as you know, we’ve gone from having, you know, 24 to 48 hours to formulate a brief to at least enough time for for our strategist to start to get a little weird, like maybe they’ve gone down a weird rabbit hole, maybe they’ve gone out and talk to consumers or they’ve gone to Time Square and taken some like photos of you know, how people are behaving or interacting with their cell phones. I think that there’s, you know, just a little bit more time allows them the opportunity to get interesting and at least allow creatives to have something to spring off of now, is it? Is it always like a deep human or a deep customer insight? Not necessarily but it could like that’s easily something that can be observed and I You know, you do get to more interesting things if you have just a little bit more time.

Shann 15:05
Time sometimes helps that is for sure. For me, what I like most about having time is is always the fact that the more time I get the more the deeper I can go by small like I do believe in the serendipitous nature of the way the shower thought moments for great ideas to come to life and having that extra time I have found as a great, great contribution to allowing that to happen and I mean, when I started my career, my marketing director was also creative lead for for the for Disney’s back in France, you know, one of the first thing you told me is like just just sleep with a notepad next to your bed, because you will see and it turned out to be completely true that you will wake up sometimes at three in the morning was like whoa, that’s actually really interesting. You can do something about this and and include like having that ability for things to happen beyond the realm of the process and beyond the realm of you have 48 hours to come back with it. Everybody can find ideas in 48 hours, but sometimes genius comes out of nowhere. And that randomness can be increased. And I personally read like, and I think this is a real question for brands as well in terms of how they break things and how they expect things. Like, sometimes great ideas come out six months after the brief or they come out, you know, it just and this should be a system in place to allow these thinkers to kind of go like, Hey, I just thought about this crazy thing over there. And I thought we kind of be quite interesting and that, that that aspect of stepping out of the process and stepping out of you know, here the deck you know, briefly on this date, and we need this project to be finished in these days, for sure is never actually going to go away. It’s there’s a reason why it happens. But allowing things to happen beyond this realm for people to come back with like, hey, just thought about this is really cool. What do you think? I think some great work has come out of the last decades in advertising. Just based on that, and having that relationship between a client agency and someone go, you know, I thought about this, they’re over there. And what do you think of it and they were like, this is awesome. There’s this fucking do it and they just roll with it and everybody’s blown away.

Rachel17:12
Nobody can see my face right now, but I just have so much anguish on my face. Because like, I feel like this is a fundamentally broken thing with our relationship with clients right now where I feel like and I could be wrong. I’ve had so many clients be like, we just want some like cool disruptive ideas and bring those to us guys just like whenever you have some Yeah, and like, the Burger King CMO, Fernando Machado certainly does this with all his agencies. He’s like, “I have a pool of money for you know, open briefs if you guys happen to have some”, but I just, I think it devalues some of our relationship, right? Because then we you know, we have fixed fees and fixed time and now we’re also expected to come up with things in our free time and be proactively pursuing and when the the model fundamentally and I feel like I talk about finances all the time and not planning on this podcast, I’m so sorry. But um, but I feel like the model isn’t necessarily set up for that all the time. Like I can’t tell you how many instances in which we’ve had sort of interesting insights or interesting briefs, but not necessarily a creative team or creative ideas, but not the right sort of audience or moment and yeah, I don’t know. I appreciate the I idealism of that. I just I haven’t seen it work out well, in reality, because I feel like the expectations of my, my clients in the past have been just far too high.

Shann 18:40
Do you see a difference between retained clients or pitch base or project based clients?

Rachel 18:47
I think it does exist and both project based clients and and retained clients were I think they they both definitely would like and appreciate more. productive ideas. I think it there’s a do appreciate but in terms of the setup allowing this to happen for it being beneficial for both because I completely hear you, there’s definitely an aspect of great and cute but like, at the end of the day, it’s not always how we get paid. And it’s just not sustainable if there is not an agreement as to how those things happen. And by the way, by no means do I say, Hey, guys keep thinking about stuff when you’re out of work. I just mean, like, sometimes your brain just lets you connect to this. And you’re going to think about things out of nowhere, the weekend or in the middle of the night. And that’s just a natural way of the way human brain works. And I’m not saying that you have to go work outside of your agreed paid for hours to kind of do this is just don’t underestimate the fact it happens. And that it’s a shame to let that kind of be contrived to those just working our sessions because I think sometimes it’d be better for another 95 if we actually had more freedom and flexibility to come up with things when we feel like it. But back to the question. So do you think that the retained agreement makes it easier for instance, and the project based or other ways you can You think and make that happen, because what I don’t want to fall into is, if we think that there is beauty in it, and we think it can work, and then to the example of Burger King, and how that work with FCB on this and, and, and, and and, and he’s just like, you know, clearly it has value. The question for me becomes less of the system is broken, let’s not do it, but more like,

Shann 20:18
What aspects of this can we fix potentially make it happen?

Rachel 20:21
Yeah, I mean, I think for a lot of the client relationships that we have, they are fixed from a retainer model. They are fixed fees, but they tend to be sort of attached to campaigns and deliverables. So will only get paid for a certain number of deliverables at the end of the day. And so when you talk about coming up with a campaign or an idea outside of that, it ends up just sort of breaking the model a little bit and that could just be the way that R/GA is inherently set up. Or it could be that, you know, the fact that clients are increasingly moving to this sort of deliverables based pricing model as well, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for that because retainer models used to be very much from like a lawyer perspective like ours and people, not necessarily deliverable deliverables now. And I think today, there’s been a significant shift to that. There hasn’t been as much flexibility to be able to be like, yes, we want to invest in and pursue these cool ideas. One way, like if we go and grab a beer and have a great idea, beers like met, then turning around and manifesting that into a tight polished presentation to then send over a CMO to a CMO still requires quite a lot of time investment or effort for if that makes sense.

Shann 21:48
I think ultimately, for me, the key thing is I’m into the name of these podcasts. Don’t overthink it. And I think there is definitely value in moving away from the full processes that require weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks of work, or the mandated consumer insights that is show is an interesting place to look. But it’s not always the thing that’s going to get you there. And I think kind of allowing that aspect of not getting too caught up into overthinking every single aspects in feeling stressed and nervous because you’ve not uncovered every stone, I think is something that could be helpful to the actual enjoyment of marketing, both for the agencies and the clients.

Rachel 22:27
Do you still keep a notebook by your bedside?

Shann 22:31
I do have my phone now for this on my phone. Yes.

Rachel 22:34
What was your last, like middle of the night?

Shann 22:38
You know what, I’m not gonna go there. Because actually I’m actually quite excited about and we’re presenting this next month and I’m very, very proud of this. But we’ll see.

Rachel 22:47
That’s really good.

Shann 22:48
I’ll give you some dates on this. I think in six months. gonna take a while for us to get there.

Rachel 22:51
Yeah, well, the good work always takes time, right? It does.

Shann 22:54
That’s what it takes. Awesome. Well, thanks, Rachel.

Rachel 22:57
No thanks Shann. Have a good day.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

The Overthinkers

Ramblings from marketing strategists in the trenches. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud!

Rachel Mercer

Written by

Executive Strategy Director at R/GA NY. Previously in London, LA & Boulder. I believe writing makes you a better thinker; this is where I develop my thinking.

The Overthinkers

Ramblings from marketing strategists in the trenches. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud!

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