Julian Cole is the Strategy Principal at the Strategy Finishing School, where more than 4,000 strategies from agencies, clients and elsewhere have come to round out their strategic capabilities, particularly when it comes to briefing. Julian has a particular interest in improving briefing, particularly the creative brief.
Procurement has been looking for ways to reduce marketing and advertising costs for over a decade. One of the main focuses has been reducing agency fees. But of course, there was a more effective solution, but perhaps not an easier solution, to improving advertising and marketing outputs and effectiveness while at the same time reducing waste.
That is by improving briefing. The way clients brief their agencies. And how agencies develop creative briefs for themselves. Julian shares his insights on how to improve the creative brief and the distinct differences between a client brief to the agency and the agency creative brief.
To get 25% off Julian’s “Strategy Finishing School courses” use the CODE trinityp3 from the podcast here
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You want the consumer problem, but often you have to be adaptable for the insight and the solution, the single-minded proposition, to change a little bit as well, when the rubber meets the road.
Hi, I am Darren Woolley, Founder and CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultancy. And welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
For more than a decade, procurement has been working on ways to reduce marketing and advertising costs. One of the main focus has been reducing agency fees. That became a futile race to zero, ensuring that agency margins were squeezed.
Of course, there was a more effective solution, perhaps not an easier way to improve advertising and marketing outputs and effectiveness while at the same time reducing waste. That is by improving briefing, the way clients brief their agencies, and how agencies develop creative briefs for themselves.
Please welcome to Managing Marketing Podcast, the Strategy Principal of Strategy Finishing School, Julian Cole. Welcome, Julian.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to have a chat about this subject, seeing the difference that briefing can make and how it can either speed up time or kind of clog everything up. So, hopefully, that can come with a couple of insights around it.
So, Julian Strategy Finishing School it reminds me of those fifties movies where the young woman of the house was sent off to Europe to be finished.
Is it similar but a very different focus?
So, I guess the Finishing School, you’ve picked up on it there, is something that I think relates to strategist, is that often strategy is seen more as kind of an apprenticeship rather than a profession. Because if we think about accounting, you kind of have to sit the CPA and then you’re a certified accountant.
Whereas with strategy, it’s kind of more like an apprenticeship. You don’t have that certification. You kind of just get thrown into the role. And what I realized was my career was very similar to a lot of other strategists’ career where they were self-taught.
So, I started out in Sydney working at Naked Communication, then went to some smaller agencies, The Population and TCO. And in all of those agencies, I was self-taught.
I made the move to New York and worked at BBDO, and kind of stepping in those doors I got a massive wave of imposter syndrome because I was like I’m at one of the best strategy agencies in the world, and here I was a self-taught strategist. I felt like a fraud. And I think what I realized was that I needed help.
So, I went and told my boss, after a year of trying to hide it and pretend that I knew what I was doing, I went to him and said, “Hey, I actually have never had that kind of foundational training.” And I was able to get that foundational training in strategy and learn the fundamentals. And unfortunately, for a lot of strategists, they don’t get that opportunity. They’re thrown into the role, and they’ve just got to learn while doing.
And so, for me, I realized that there was a real massive need for that. And I was fortunate enough after that time at BBH — I went on to head up communications planning at BBH and then also at BBDO. And I saw that was the same problem there.
And then when I went into consulting, this was the same story over and over again. I worked at kind of Apple, Facebook, and Disney, and there was strategists coming to me saying, “We’re actually being self-taught.” And that’s when I started actually teaching strategy.
I’d done a Skillshare course about 10 years before that, but I realized, okay, there’s something bigger here. And I’ve started teaching strategy, those fundamental skills. So, that’s where the Finishing School comes from, is for those people who are in the role, it’s not for people who are starting their career. It’s not kind of a ward school. It’s for people a little bit further on to give them those fundamentals so they can keep going.
It’s really interesting because I think you’re right in the same way that creativity, people that are creative often don’t do a creative course. It’s almost like you have a natural attribute that draws you to that particular field—the same with strategy.
And that’s why, as you were expressing that, I was thinking about all the different strategists that I’ve worked with over the years, and all of the different pathways they took to get there.
Some had been lawyers, some had done metallurgy, others had worked in all sorts of odd jobs. But there was just something about their approach, their way of thinking, the ability … the same thing that creative people have — the curiosity, but then also the ability to strip away the superfluous and get to the core of things what all-natural attributes.
Which I don’t think it’s possible to teach, but you kept referring to it as the sort of foundational skills. There are foundational skills that are needed, aren’t there?
There definitely is fundamentals. And I think you’re right with the two skills that are really important, which is curiosity and kind of stripping back the information and making it as clear as possible and translating business into creativity and then creativity back to business.
But when we talk about the fundamentals, we’re talking about things like, can you define what a strategy is, a creative brief, which we’ll talk about, and an insight. And to me, you need to have a really clear understanding of what strategy is.
So, for me, I think a strategy is kind of created of three things, which is a goal, a problem, and a solution. So, there’s obviously something standing in your way of the goal and not everyone’s familiar with what the goal is or what the problem is or what the solution is. And so, it’s your way around them.
And then when we come to creative strategy, I’ve got a model called the nested strategy. Because when we write it, it’s one strategy on a page, it’s one page. And what you have is on the outside, is the business problem and the business goal.
And then inside of that is the consumer problem and the consumer goal. And then inside that is the insight and single-minded proposition. And you can get that down to one page. That’s what you need because you need to get to that really clear articulation.
Too often, you see those 68 slide decks saying, “Oh, this is the strategy.” But they won’t point to the one slide, which is the strategy. So, being able to do that is of ultimate importance to me.
Yeah, Julian, God forbid a brief-brief, getting it down to one page, and look, the number of times. I’ve had conversations with marketers and asked about what’s the marketing strategy? And they’ll pull out the 400-page document that was prepared for them by one of the big consulting firms. And I go, “Yeah, I don’t have time to read that, what’s the strategy?”
What is the solution? And I love the fact, because I think it’s it was really well-articulated in Good Strategy Bad Strategy.
And the focus should be on clearly articulating and deciding what the core problem is, because it’s really there that the strategy comes from. Once you really intimately understand and agree what that core issue is, it opens up all the opportunities.
A 100%. And for me, there’s a really interesting dynamic that’s probably quite interesting to the audience, is the difference between what I see as a marketing brief or an advertising brief and the creative brief, because in my eyes, they’re not the same thing. And it comes down to a different problem and a different goal.
So, for me, the marketing … and we need to there is so much language difference here. So, you’ve got to be able to translate it into your own organization or whatever you call this. But the brief that you’re handing to the agency, to me, that is the client brief, the advertising brief and the marketing brief.
And to me, the focus of that is, it’s always written from the business perspective. You need to sell in internally, be that the finance department, be that the product department, anyone else, marketing department, that’s you selling the need for advertising.
And the creative agency gets that. And then that’s written from the business perspective. And the problem is written from the marketing problem that we’re dealing with. Whereas the creative brief, the creative brief is written for one audience, which is the creative team. And the problem is written from the consumer’s perspective.
And I’m probably jumping the gun a little here, but the brief that I always used which was kind of the workhorse and most creatives know this, it was used at BBDO, was the get who to buy brief, which is a fill in the blanks.
It’s one page. So, you’ve got to be brief. It’s get, and then you insert the target audience who the consumer problem to the consumer goal, by kind of single-minded proposition. I’ll give you an example because I think it’s always easier to see an example, one that we’re probable-
Sorry, that was completely clear to me.
Yeah, sure. And it also for the first time, articulates one of the things that I hear a lot from marketers, and that is, “I don’t know why I go to so much trouble …” They don’t actually talk like that. But let me pretend: “I don’t know why I go to so much trouble with putting all that effort into the brief only to have the agency go and change it all.”
Now, it’s because no one has clearly articulated that the very fundamental distinction that you gave then, which is of course, their brief is going to be from the business problem and the marketing problem.
And that the role of the agency is then to make sure that that’s reframed from a consumer’s perspective. Because otherwise, you end up with what is often referred to as the factory out perspective rather than the customer in perspective.
Yes, correct. And I always say, if your creative brief ever holds the words “increase awareness” or anything around awareness, the alarm bells are going off, and you should be saying, “This is not a creative brief.” Because no consumer ever has been going, “I need to be more aware of your product.”
They’re not sitting at home and thinking, “I really need to be more aware of PlayStation’s new console.” So, that’s always a good one. I always say just if you ever see awareness in a brief, you know that it’s not going to be a great brief to start with.
Well, we saw some research that got a lot of publicity around better briefing, and marketers self-assess themselves as being 80% of them said they were really good at briefing. And agencies said that only 10% of their clients were really good at briefing, which is this huge gap.
But what you’ve just articulated probably explains a lot of that because if an agency’s taking the client’s brief and then trying to work with a creative solution, then it’s not going to be seen as a great brief.
But if the agency’s rewriting the client brief with that new framing, then of course, that number would be much higher. Likewise, marketers do get really frustrated by what they are told is the return brief, because I don’t think it’s ever articulated to them that what we are doing is providing a consumer or customer perspective, an audience perspective on it, which they feel like the agency’s duplicating their work.
Yeah, I think there’s a level of probably education, and I used to do this thing when I was at BBDO, which was creating almost like the Rosetta Stone.
Right, the Rosetta-
Translated the Egyptian into the Greek. Well, what I would do would be sit down with the media agency and the client and say, “Hey, here’s all the terms we’re going to start using: big idea, insight, the communications framework, and here’s a very clear definition of what every single one of them means.”
Because I would often go and have these fights with the media agency. They’d be saying, “We do the comm strategy.” And we’d be talking about two different documents. And I think the same is true on the client side.
If we had that meeting at the start saying, “Here’s all what the terms we use within inside our organization, which we’d love you to translate whatever you use when you are talking about a creative brief or a marketing brief,” that solves so many problems.
And I only learned that from having some really bad experiences that I realized that was a really important step to do the kind of Rosetta Stone at the very start of a relationship, of here’s how we define everything.
Or if you are the client looking at agencies, put that slide at the very end of your presentation or put it as an attachment in the appendix. Because that’s going to really help your creative agency be able to translate back, and the job of the strategist, translating creativity into the business side or the marketing side. It’s really going to help there.
Absolutely interesting because one of the reasons I started Trinity 3 was I was sitting there last millennium as a creative director at J. Walter Thompson, which has since passed on to the other side of the advertising land.
And because I have a science background, I’m not sure if you you’re aware of that. But I was sitting there watching the agency, this building full of really passionate, fun-loving, hardworking people going round and round in circles doing iteration after iteration, change after change on ideas and concepts and executions largely until they either run out of time, money, or both.
And I kept thinking from a science point of view, there must be a better way. Look, I understand that there’s a certain amount of iteration that happens in refinement, but it almost felt like a huge amount of wastage was that no one was very clear upfront what they needed.
And it was only later that I was having conversations, and some marketers would say to me, “Look, I largely used the brief to test out the agency to test my own thinking.” That the briefing process isn’t something that I brief you and you come back with the solution to my problem.
It’s me testing out, do I know what the problem is by seeing the solutions over and over again until I see something I like. And I thought that’s just such a hugely wasteful and largely destructive attitude to take to that process.
Yeah. I think to me, it’s really interesting because I have sympathy for it, that perspectives. Because we would love to think that we can write a creative brief — the strategist can write a creative brief the first time, knock it out of the park, and it’s never going to get beaten.
But what I’ve realized with when … and this is a bit behind the curtains of what actually happens in the agency, and you’ll probably remember this, is the best strategist, the creative briefing that we run is not the main event for us.
The main event is what we call the pre-briefing. And what that is, is a meeting that we have with the creative director, be it 50% or 75% of the way through the strategy process, which is taking the client brief and turning to a creative brief.
And we share with them our creative briefs where they are rough drafts. And we work with the creative director at that stage to ask, “Hey, this is at least what I did at BBO and BBH, which one do you think is going in the right direction? Which brief can you work with and what’s most interesting to you here out of the consumer problems, the consumer goals? What do you want me to go and research?”
And once we have a hunch, we have to go back and validate that that’s the right path we have to go down. But strategy is subjective. There’s multiple ways to get to the answer.
Of course, no, no. And in fact, Julian, if it’s a good strategy, it already lends itself to multiple solutions.
One of the things that cracks me up is that people that think that they have a good strategy because it automatically defines a direction. And the problem with that is it’s probably not a strategy, it’s probably just a solution, that they’ve missed the part of the process that says, “Here’s the problem and this is where the objective, now what is the best path there?”
Because most people forget strategy actually came from military campaigns as a discipline. And in the eighties, Sun Tzu’s Art of War was the redefined book of strategy, but it was about solving a problem. The objective was winning the war, the problem was limited resources. And an enemy to overcome.
And so, the strategy was always the one that would ensure highest chance of victory. Now, that’s a problem-solution scenario. All we’ve done is now applied it to all aspects of business and even life.
Correct, correct. And I think like a good war, it probably … I think the Mike Tyson’s “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” It’s similar to a creative brief. It needs to hit a bit of the road. And I think a creative director has got enough experience to work out if there’s something in this that we can actually use.
And so, that’s one of the biggest things that for me is that pre-briefing meeting. And you think about like some of the best campaigns we talk about, like from BBDO. If you look at the Snickers work: (you’re not you when you’re hungry), the actual-
The actual line, and I would even reach to say the insight came from the copywriter and it was the creative director, Dave Lubars saw it and said, “That’s it, that’s the line.” We re-brief that, like BBDO re-brief that in once we’d hit that line.
And so, for me, I often think, as we were saying at the very beginning, you want the consumer problem, but often you have to be adaptable for the insight and the solution, single-minded proposition to change a little bit as well when the rubber meets the road.
And I think that’s the honest truth about it. And I worked on Diageo for a while, and they had gone through six months of saying, “We’re going to lock this whole creative brief in before we even start doing any work. And that’s going to be how we do this process.”
And after six months, they realized that they needed to see creative ideas to see if the creative brief could work. And we actually adapted the process and realized, it actually needs to have a little bit of a creative injection before we just have a straight plain strategy that’s never been battle tested out in the world.
Look, and it completely rings true to me because really, the only thing that doesn’t change is the objective.
Everything else has to be explored before you can actually set what your strategy is. I just want to go back to this idea of sharing it and you called it the pre-briefing. One of the other things is that I’ve always been told and always believed that a great creative brief is inspiring. Now, not aspirational, but inspiring and it inspires ideas.
And I’m wondering whether part of it is also an opportunity for you as a strategist to really get to see how well it resonates. Because I think part of what you’ll be looking for is does a particular brief or direction automatically stimulate lots of ideas?
Because I think that’s always a great measure if you are onto a terrific consumer insight, it all will automatically make people … the other thing is no one has a mandate on having an insight, do they?
No, there’s no mandate on it. But if you kind of take that term insight, and let me define how I think about it; which is it’s a revelatory truth that shows you a new way around the problem. So, in that, we’ve got a couple of things.
The first one is it’s got to address a consumer problem, which we’re asking for. And then the revelatory truth is actually the bit that’s probably resonating with what you’re saying the most here. It’s got to be a truth. So, it’s got to be true. We can’t be making out facts. But the revelatory thing is the really important thing. A revelatory, it’s got to be a revelation. It’s got to have a response in you.
There was a social scientist in the 1950s, Arthur Koestler, who said, “A comedian will hear an insight because comedians deal in insights too.” They’ll say, “Huh!”. And an artist will see an insight and they’ll say, “Aah.” And then a scientist will say, “Aha.” And that is what you want from the creative director.
When we present an insight or a revelation, new way of looking at the problem, you want to see that response in the creative director. You don’t want them to just be nodding their head, that’s a truth. Oh, 68% of moms are overworked — yeah, that’s nodding of my head, I agree with that. That’s not a revelation.
And so, that is often what we’re looking for, is that revelatory truth that makes you look at something in a new way. And I’ll give you an example of what I think an insight is.
So, I was working on a competitor to Roomba, and we just saw in an Amazon review for Roomba was someone said, “Roomba is like my drunk roommate trying to clean.”
And to me, that was an insight. And even hearing you now, Darren, you get that kind of response because it’s a revelatory truth. Because you’re like, “Oh my God, you are right.” Roomba just goes around the room in this sporadic way, kind of like going from side to side. And it’s got no … it doesn’t seem to be very logical.
And so, there’s also an inherent tension because we think robots, we think super smart, the opposite of a robot’s probably your drunk roommate. So, there’s this inherent tension releasing there. And the thing is that this competitor to Roomba, one of their features that they had was GPS tracking — they GPS track your room, and then they would do it in a very logical way.
And so, that inherently unlocked a problem for both the consumer and the business. It kind of unlocked both by kind of giving that insight a new way of looking at the problem, a new way of looking at Roomba. And so, that is what we’re often looking for as strategists, is that revelation.
There is a big difference, isn’t there? Between an observation or a data point and an actual insight. Because as you say, it is that moment, that aha moment. And often, one of the things that drives me crazy is that insight and often big ideas, as soon as they’re created or as soon as they’re expressed, many people in the room will go, “Oh, that’s obvious.”
But up until that very point, it wasn’t obvious. At that point of creation, that point of articulation of an insight and an idea, people will go post that, “Oh yeah, but that was so obvious.” And it’s like, “Okay, so why didn’t someone else think of it?”
Yeah, and that’s the hard thing that we deal with as strategists. It’s got to sound dead simple. And I think when we think of comedians, that’s what they’re doing, isn’t it? Because you hear a joke and you say, “Oh, it’s funny” because everyone has that human revelation.
The actual structure of a joke is a one-liner, is set up the expectation. Everyone thinks we’re going this way, everyone’s on board because they relate to that, and then go in the other direction, then hit them with the insight, which is the revelation of a new way of looking at the problem. And so, for strategists, it’s often another area we look for insights because these people are already kind of finding that tension that exists.
And I think also insights are very temporal as well. They only last for a little bit of time. If you think of like the most interesting man in the world’s campaign for Dos Equis that was great. The insight that sits under that is the most boring insight we’ve ever heard now, which is we value experiences more than products.
Now, 14 years on, you’d die if you heard that as your insight to your creative brief because everyone hears it. But at the time, it’s a new way of looking at the world.
Now, what I like about the distinction you created at the very start of this, about the client brief being from the business perspective and the creative brief from the consumer’s perspective, is that it then becomes quite a powerful tool for presenting ideas. Because you can frame the idea from the consumer’s perspective, and then I guess there is quite a strong requirement to link that back to the business requirement, isn’t there?
You need to make that connection between here’s your business problem, here’s the marketing opportunity that you want to leverage or whatever, but here’s what the consumer’s actually thinking, how does that link back? That must also be quite a challenge sometimes.
Yeah. And I think that’s the role of the strategist, is to connect that dot and make sure those dots are the strongest it can be. And that’s where the strategy on a page really helps. Because to me, the strategy on a page, it’s almost like a creative brief in the middle, which is the consumer problem, consumer goal, single-minded proposition, and insight.
But on the outside, you’ve connected the dot of the business problem and the business goal. What’s the problem we’re facing and the goal, where do we want to get to? And there has to be a connective tissue between the two of them. So, that’s often our job.
So, another great example that I love was the Spotify example. Listen like you used to campaigns — I don’t know if you remember this from a couple of years ago. But the big thing for them was that Gen Xers weren’t listening … were the biggest spenders in money on music related items, but they weren’t buying streaming services. This is 2019.
So, they were spending the most, and this was the most valuable target for Spotify that they were going after. But that Gen Xer who listens to a lot of music, doesn’t care about that fact. So, what they realized was they worked off the insight or the problem, which kind of linked into the problem, was when you turn 34, you start listening to more old music than newer music.
So, that’s the year you kind of feel like you’re out of touch with the world. And so, their whole campaign was actually showing the world’s cyclic. The fashion is cyclical, culture is cyclical, and had all these amazing lines, like Spice Girls were on tour in 1999, 2019, Spice Girls were on tour, or you used to be a 24-hour party people to 2 to 4-hour party people.
So, all these great creative lines around London that they had, but they were able to tap into that feeling and that problem that Gen Xers were feeling of just feeling like disconnected from where culture was and showing, “Hey, we actually have the music on here that you want.”
So, they did such a good job of, okay, the data is showing us the business problem is we’re not getting Gen Xers. And then it was able to be flipped and shown. The consumer problem is this massive crisis that they go through of now I feel uncool.
I used to be the cool person who would have all the great music recommendations. Now, music feels like it’s leaving me behind. They’re able to unlock that, and that unlocked the business problem. So, they’re able to connect the business and consumer problem together.
So, you know that’s actually a biological insight because it occurs in all mammals, that there is a natural change in mammal behaviour between infant, child, and sort of adolescent, and then adult. And as all mammals age, they become risk-averse.
And in humans that expresses itself. So, you’re talking about listening to new music, trying raw fish, sushi, getting a tattoo, all of these things — it’s a natural human mammal response to aging because it’s part of what makes you survive.
You can be risky as a child and an adolescent, but if you survive into adulthood, you then start to think, “Oh, hang on, life is precious. I better shut down and only do the things that I know are safe.”
Wow. You’ve just blown my mind there. You’ve reframed the insight bigger than I originally even thought, wow, love that.
And it’s interesting because human beings are the only mammals that constantly re-evolve and change their environment. So, we’ve ended up with a culture that works against the natural aging process.
It was why my mother never learned how to program a VCR because she got to a certain point in her life, she just didn’t want to know about that because it was risky and different, and the same thing’s happening.
And it means that as humans, we have to embrace change and normally age and become irrelevant. It’s just a whole fascinating area of biological psychology, but it also is based in physiology as well.
But anyway, I divert from our conversation. There’s one thing, Julian, always interests me. And that is how everyone seems to have their own briefing template and it’s invariably some sort of Word document that has lots of sections and what everything to fill in here.
Now, I have two problems with it, but I want to get your perspective. The first is it often feels like a tombstone when it’s completed. It has all the facts about the person’s life, but nothing that makes me feel like I know who they are.
And secondly, that it often forces people to fill it in without actually thinking about it as you would, your tax file form or something like that. I’ve just got to get it done and get it off my desk to someone else. What’s your opinion about these templates and do you think there’s one that is the nirvana of briefing?
Yeah, I think it comes back to the language. Firstly, the most important audience that should be asked this question is the creatives because they’re the ones that have to work with it. So, for me, working at BBDO, there was 800 people there, there was 38 creative directors. I actually adapted my process to help them get to the answer they want.
Because an art director, creative director versus a copywriter creative director, totally different beasts, want totally different types of briefs.
So, you have to adapt to almost like back to the evolution; adapt to the environment that you are given or the person who’s receiving it. I think it all comes down to a language thing and you can call it what you want. And that’s why that Rosetta Stone is really important.
The main thing is if the brief doesn’t hold a place for the consumer problem, the consumer goal, and the single-minded proposition and target audience, those four boxes need to be on there. And I don’t care what you call them, that’s why I love the Get-Who-To-By because it’s stripped down, it’s just those four boxes.
That’s why I think it’s a fantastic brief. Call it what you want, change it into whatever language you want, and you can put all the rest of the information in there. But that is the four things that a creative really needs. Everything else you go into the appendix.
But I don’t have a problem, if you want to create your own agency IP and create your own briefing template, do that. Don’t put that on the client though. I don’t think the client needs to be filling out your brief.
But the problem is even the Get-Who-To-By, if you put junk in it, if you think it’s a tax return and a tax file return and you put junk in, be expected to get junk out, it’s so easy to abuse those formats. And that’s the job of the strategist. It’s the words that go into that format.
And I’ll tell you where actually, the changing of the brief comes from is the CSOs, often. A new CSO will come in, they’ll want to show that they’re making an improvement straight away. The very easiest thing to touch and to change is the creative brief and have an impact over the whole agency.
So, a lot of Chief Strategy Officers come in and that’s the first thing they change. And it’s a massive mistake. It’s never good because you’re changing the way the creatives get to idea and get their head around the concept. But it all comes down to the fundamentals.
Again, if you know the fundamentals, you can work within any brief format. If you know the key pieces and have clear definitions and articulations yourself, you’re going to be fine. It’s when people don’t have clear articulations and they’re just looking at other briefs and trying to kind of glue it all together and think, “Oh, someone wrote that there. So, this is the box where I put the thing that sounds like the insight or what I think an insight is.”
What I’m getting from this is like a much more effective way of working, particularly for marketers. Because one of the things that I felt when I saw that research about the gap between marketers thinking they’re good at briefing and agencies thinking they’re not, was that people must be communicating on totally different levels.
And you’ve just explained to me why that’s probably true. That there are different perspectives. At the time, I had a conversation with some people, and I said, “When I go to my lawyer, I don’t go with a fully written legal brief. I go with a problem. When I go to my doctor, I go with a set of symptoms that are annoying me. When I go to my accountant, I go with a problem or a need, and then they ask me a whole series of questions, and from that, develop a solution or a plan for me.”
Whether it’s a treatment plan from my doctor or a financial plan or something like that. And I said, “I don’t understand why this can’t work the same way,” but the way you are describing it here, it’s exactly the same thing.
Sure, the marketers should spend some time getting their thoughts down on what are the objectives and the business problems and the opportunities and the constraints and the timings and all of those tangible things. But you really are then going to an agency and a strategist to then translate that and reframe it in the perspective of the consumer, aren’t you?
Yeah, I think it also comes down to the confidence of the strategist as well. So, when I was at BBH, we won the PlayStation account and were launching the PlayStation 4. And they had the key information in there, which was the business problem, business goal, the target audience, budget, timings, KPIs — that’s what I think are mandatory on the marketing or client brief side. They had a lot of that.
But then they had a lot more information around the target audience. It actually had almost the start of the insight in there. And we at BBH, we were confident as strategists. So, we’re able to take that information and say, “I think you’ve actually gone most of the way there. You’ve got the consumer problem in here as well.” Which tended to be … it ended up being around it’s called greatness awaits.
It ended up being around that the greatness you feel playing video games, so the greatness you feel winning FIFA 21 in culture is not as legitimate. And those emotions aren’t as legitimate as winning your local indoor soccer team with your office colleagues. That’s something to celebrate where winning FIFA 21 wasn’t, and you’re still feeling the same emotions.
And so, we wanted to validate those emotions were the same. At the end of the day, they’re the same. And so, that’s where it came from. But a lot of the research actually came from the client.
And I think the thing for me that I learned from that and when I followed that at BBDO was, if you are confident in your skillset, then you should feel confident taking that research from the client and understanding when you’ve got all the right pieces there, and just connecting them together and kind of getting out of the way.
I think with that research, one of the things that I would say is the reason we might say 10% of clients are really shocking at writing creative briefs, is maybe there’s a bit of a threat there especially if you only see your role as writing a creative brief, which legitimately is a big part of your role.
If you think that that’s being taken away, maybe strategists will be cut out of the next retainer conversation. Maybe we don’t need as many hours from a strategist. So, I would say underlying, there might be that threat as well.
But to reduce a strategist role, there’s so much more a strategist does than just write creative briefs. If you reduce it to that, then I think that might also be one of the reasons that number was so different.
Especially clients who’ve come from creative agencies or who’ve come as strategists, I think they can write a creative brief. I don’t think the only person who can write a creative brief is a strategist, but I think you need to understand the fundamentals before you write it.
So, Julian, have you heard of a … it’s a small book by a guy called James Webb Young called A Technique for Producing Ideas. Have you ever seen that book?
I would absolutely recommend it. Because James Webb Young was one of the people that expanded J. Walter Thompson around the world. And he produced this little book. And what I love about it is that it breaks the idea generation comes down to some very basic steps.
The first is understand what the problem is and then spend a lot of time researching it. He said, “If you’re working in an agency, go and work in the client’s stores if they have stores.” He uses all the examples like the famous Ogilvy, the Rolls Royce ticking clock. We always want to fix that. And how ideas …
And he said, “Once you’ve done all that research, consumer research, client research, whatever, then give yourself time to let your subconscious work through all of these things. And then the idea will come.”
And I love it because of its simplicity, but I also love it because it takes us back to some very human things, which is that creativity is not ABC, and it’s not one plus one equals two. It’s when we find those different patterns, and they’re things that take time and effort, not just a process. And I think it’s really insightful.
If you can’t get your hands on a copy, let me know. Because I bought like a dozen of them, and I give them to people. So, I’ll send one to you. But I think it’s a really good way of reminding ourselves about our humanity and the way that it applies to developing strategies, insights, and ideas.
Yeah. I love that. And I think it’s true for strategists as well. Because my time would always be the 3:00 AM bed thoughts of like go to bed. And this is what I suggest to all strategists is like, do all your research and then either go for a walk, have a shower, or for me, it was bed and 3:00 AM that the links will connect, ding for the first time.
And if you think that is the …. back to the definition of an insight, which is a revelation. A revelation because you’re connecting two wires that have never connected before. And you get that light bulb moment.
And there’s actually another place we find insights is Reddit are shower thoughts because it’s exactly that. A shower thought is thinking something that seems like so obvious, but why isn’t no one else said this before. It kind of comes back to that point again as well.
Exactly. Julian Cole, I’m so sorry we’ve run out of time, but if there’s people listening that are strategists and are interested in being finished at the Strategy Finishing School, how would they contact you?
Excellent. So, they would go to the website, strategyfinishingschool.com. And if they’ve loved listening to this and they’re really interested in learning those fundamentals and kicking their career going, I’ve got a 25% discount for listeners here. So, if they use the discount code TrinityP3, they’ll get a 25% discount off the course. So, they can go there.
It teaches creative briefing, insights, comms planning, business strategy, and a whole lot more. We’ve had over 4,000 strategists through already, and they’re from all types of agencies. Client side as well, media, pharma, B2B, creative agencies and freelancers and consultants as well.
Well, that’s very generous of you, Julian. Thank you very much. Now, before you go, I can’t let a podcast go past without talking about AI because everyone’s talking about it.
And here’s the thing, I was looking around and I found goodbrief.io, where there’s an AI that you just put in the parameters, and it’ll write your brief for you. Do you think this is the future?