“The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.”
Funny how a line from a 1994 movie that’s set in 1954 rings so true in 2012. If you don’t recognize it, it’s how Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption described life on the outside after fifty years in prison. Right before he hanged himself.
The cultural cadence of today’s world feels no less frenetic. As our societal sense of worth increasingly gets measured by achievement, there’s constant pressure to be doing and going and producing. We create systems, tools and rituals to make us more efficient, yet it all feels out of whack. In our rush to do, we don’t stop to think. Routine gets in the way of reflection. We’re executing tasks, and missing the point. On our never-ending way to somewhere, we never get lost in thought. We don’t have time to wonder. What we have is a crisis of contemplation. In our personal lives. And in business.
For marketers, this crisis of contemplation is evident across lots of fronts. With the constant churn of research studies, quarterly plans, promotional cycles and campaign deadlines, time for thought and reflection is fleeting. At a time when greater complexity requires more perspective, the unrelenting pace and pressure force perpetual motion. So what’s the answer?
At VIA, there are a few simple things we’re doing to infuse more inquiry, reflection and critical thinking into the ideas and strategies we create for our clients: (1) Find the so what; (2) Ask why; (3) Start with the end.
Find the so what–don’t just do research for research’s sake, and don’t let it become a mindless compiling and reporting exercise. Take that next step. Interpret it, reflect on it and connect the dots to figure out what it means. Research is a process of discovery and learning, but only if there’s a “so what” that makes it meaningful, relevant and actionable.
Ask why–don’t just accept what’s stated or assume that what’s being done makes sense. “Why?”, is a simple inertia-fighting question that can reveal motivations, identify causes, clarify purpose and simplify messaging. Why are we launching this product? Why are we using these media? Why is the customer going to care? Why will she buy it? Or not? Channel your two-year-old self and keep digging with why questions that get at the core of the issue. Think of what William Deresiewicz said in a recent address at West Point: “For too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them.” Don’t be afraid to ask.
Start with the end–keep things in perspective and by staying focused on the desired outcome. Commercials, banners, promotions, blogs, and tweets are all means to an end. So start with the end. What’s the desired business result? What specific consumer behavior will make that happen? What are the most compelling benefits that will induce such behavior? Don’t settle for vague communication objectives like “awareness” or “likes.” The hallmark of an effective marketing strategy is focus. Make sure you’re focused on the things that matter.