Why I want to kill strategy consultants
Picture this. Breakfast time. Me and my muesli. I get my yoghurt out. When opening the lid I see this text printed on the packaging: ‘Eat well, feel uplifted’. And I snap. Feel uplifted? You are yoghurt man! Do you really think that me eating your yoghurt will make me feel uplifted? It gives me a freaking depression. But why you might ask, isn’t that a slight over-reaction? Are you simply not a morning person? There’s no consumer who would even notice the text.
So why snap? But that is exactly my point. For me, this sums up weeks in my work life. Weeks of sitting somewhere off site, weeks of semantic strategy sessions lead by consultants, weeks of theoretical discussions about the brand that lead up to nothing but marketing bullshit. And why is it marketing bullshit?
Because 99% of the time the strategy sessions are mostly about being the smartest boy in class and not about finding something that boosts creativity or smart solutions. But most of all do not lead up to something that matters to consumers or even worse is even noticed by them.
I really don’t want to sound bitter, but ‘eat well, feel uplifted’ is an internal consensus that is meaningless. But my yoghurt isn’t the only one. My yoghurt has just gone really overboard by printing strategy literally on the packaging. The point I am trying to make is that I think it is time we stopped placing so much importance on strategy. As an advertising industry we have completely cornered ourselves by claiming the brand arena. Along with that came the (endless) sessions on brand positioning. Which used to be okay if the task was finding a single-minded proposition for advertising. Most of the times we could get away with brand keys, brand pyramids or brand onions by smartly turning the brand essence in a well written pay-off and focusing on the product benefits in the advertising itself.
But I do not think the agency of the future is an advertising agency. I don’t want to have, lead or direct an advertising agency myself. I want to be a problem solver. You might say that advertising agencies also see themselves as problem solvers. That might be true. But the thing is that the only solution that comes out of them is advertising. Which I think is just one part in the equation leading up to business success. To come back at my point on strategy, the way we treat branding nowadays doesn’t lead up to creative solutions other than advertising. That is not bad, it is just too limited. Ogilvy’s VP Rory Sutherland uses the term brand advertising and makes the point advertising still is an unbeaten in creating a brand premium and brand trust. I totally acknowledge that. But he also made the point that most attention shouldn’t automatically be where the most (media) money is spent. He holds a warm plea to put more effort in turning human understanding in business advantage. And I thought: YES. Dammit YES. Because what we need for that is that we start asking silly questions. As Dave Trott once said and I quote from memory-
“The creative department has turned into stylist and writers, but true creativity is the capability to ask silly questions to come up with new answers to client problems”.
I truly believe that we indeed should stop being right for a change, the pinnacle of strategy – and move much quicker into the creative to help shape strategy. It’s from the ability to ask silly questions, the ‘what-ifs’ from which significant services, remarkable products, new ways of distribution, smart user interfaces and clever choice architecture will spring that will shape your brand. It would never ever lead to putting crap like ‘eat well, feel uplifted’ on packaging. It would lead to designing packaging or new ways of distribution that would make you feel uplifted.
Damn I feel uplifted already just thinking about the downfall of all strategy consultants and the time opening up making brands interesting with actual ideas. And I didn’t even finish my yoghurt.
PS. If you want to master the art of influence yourself, join the Behavioural Design Academy now.
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