There are plenty of instances when it is smart to hire consultants with deep knowledge and experience in your category. But defining your Brand’s core strategic premise is not one of those times. In order to escape the traps, conventions and category benefits, it will be more helpful to bring in brand experts rather than industry experts. This is true not just because an outsider can bring fresh ideas to your category, but because that outsider will help the internal team be more creative by generating surprising, unfamiliar perspectives.
A 2012 New Yorker article called “Groupthink” debunked how brainstorming is usually conducted. The article cited research by Charlan Nemeth at UC Berkeley, as it concluded, “Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential…After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives.”
I find it surprising how many RFPs require experience in a particular category for brand strategy work. We’ve been at this a while and we’re fortunate to have a bit of experience in many categories. But when I look back at our body of work over the past 15 years, I’m struck by how so many of our best cases were in situations where we were brand new or almost new to a category. We’d never really done high-end fashion before we worked with Gucci, but the brand’s sales and value sky-rocketed after they embraced the strategic direction we helped them develop.
We actually go through a process of cross-pollination whenever we work on a brand strategy assignment. We ask ourselves what we can learn from our experience outside this category to bring fresh perspective? How can we bring smart but outlandish ideas into the room to stimulate the client team?
It is also helpful not to be competing with the clients to be the “expert” on the industry. I remember the Gucci clients really liking the fact that we were clearly not from their world. They could be the experts on fashion and we could be the experts as it relates to the process and ideas for re-defining the brand.
Prior experience in a category can be useful and help on the initial learning curve, but it doesn’t really correlate with a successful process, end-product or results.
Many ad agencies could use this same medicine. Generate ideas from outside the industry — or at least outside the company — to help change the way agencies work. If only there was another agency model…