Better Problems…

One problem looks like the right one…

I’m a bit of a stickler for the basics. In fact, I’m constantly worried that I’ve forgotten what’s gone before me; whether it’s reminding myself that Gossage knew it all some 40/50 years ago, or wanting to brush up on my effectiveness chops (I still feel guilty that I’m yet to turn my hand to writing a fully fledged IPA paper, in truth), I try to keep the basics in mind all of the time when I’m working at my day job.

I wonder, what with all the spurious data and emerging technology (that no-one, client or agency has any idea of quite what it’ll do to their business, short of musing over the odd Mary Meeker chart), whether we’re missing the point somewhat.

One of the nice things that shows like Mad Men (or even biopics about old admen) do is to emphasise the necessity of solving a proper problem. Allow me to caveat that somewhat; it’s not about ‘raising awareness’, or even, sometimes about pure selling (just look at the fallacy of the Stella Grand Prix winning paper, where it was assumed you could discount and continue to charge a price premium – which ultimately undid the brand’s sales). No, it’s about understanding the current context for the brand and business fully in order to induce long term sales.

Because of the apparent need to service a wealth of channels, I don’t think we spend enough time truly questioning and working with our clients to define just what the problem is. We rush in to thinking about placing messaging in these channels without determining what the strategic base for this might be. Whilst the best work comes from an agency solving an problem the client didn’t know it had, or by using new technology to talk in a deeper, more involving way, it often seems like educated guesswork.

I think it’d be a great deal more beneficial (and less of a waste of resources – than pouring your money into  a Facebook status shuffling exercise, or spunking a wodge of cash on an unnecessary rebrand) if more time was allowed to question and refine the problem at the start of the process.

This might sound like wishful thinking, but I honestly don’t think it’s outlandish. Actually being told how the business makes money from a particular product or service (rather than an agency assumption) or finding out what shareholders are expecting would help a great deal when refining the problem. It would save lots and lots of agency guesswork that ultimately doesn’t help the client.

Part of this, of course, is down to Marketing departments not always being able to infiltrate the upper echelons of the boardroom, but if the problem to be solved looks fully at the brand and business context, any comms created will help to get marketers back into the collective consciousness of the broader business.

And, hopefully this process will help stop diktats to agencies. They, no matter how good the work in the short term, always end up weakening the relationship (and therefore, the business) in the long term; assumptions begin to be made, whether it’s that ‘the client will do the research’ or ‘the agency will help bring my idea to life’.

After all, if agencies are serious about being paid for consultancy/less for mindless hour clocking, then defining just what it is they should help solve is paramount. Clients and agencies should be partners. Not, in a worst case scenario, an expensive time-saver for both sides. The job of a partner is to keep you in check; to tell you when a direction might not work, and, ultimately, to try and come to a better solution.

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