Measure twice cut once – the benefits of strategy on agency briefing

2nd September 2015

Having been a Creative Director for 16 years I have grown very protective of the talent within the Creative Industries that I have had the privilege of working with.

 

It is frustrating to see ill-conceived briefs from a client provided to an agency and expecting them to pick up the slack and fill in the blanks based on a semi-structured requirement. It is an endemic problem and although I don’t like it, it will take a cultural sea change to make a difference.

 

The one benefit of seeing this problem first-hand is that I learned to appreciate the importance of strategically analysing a brief – not just from a creative perspective, but from a Design Thinking perspective. This has since matured and evolved into a repeatable process that I find to be 100% reliable every time – and I wanted to share some of the key points of that process to demonstrate, in real terms, the importance of up-front strategy to project success.

 

A poorly conceived and executed brief can cause stress to the team and massive issues for an agency – this can lead to deep cyclical, cultural issues – poor motivation, lack of enthusiasm, a lethargic ‘paint-by-numbers’ mentality – and ultimately unhappy clients who’s expectations have not been met; counter-productive all round.

 

So it is absolutely crucial to know exactly what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, and why you are doing it before any creative work begins. In cabinet making everyone is taught ‘measure twice, cut once’ as the material is valuable and a LOT of time can be wasted making the wrong cut, the same is true in business.

 

So first of all, where should you have a strategy phase? As an example I have included a diagram that shows where Rokker typically engages with agency partners from a project work-flow perspective:

 

At Rokker we purely focus on strategy, so we are able to look at multiple lenses in our strategic approach – Financial, Communications, Organisation, Product and Customer. This is important because a good strategy means no surprises – and no-one likes surprises!

 

As we all know, every relationship is complex – and that goes beyond human relationships – every relationship is complex. By designing the strategic lenses to work in a relationship network we identify the complexities that are normally hidden with a traditional silo or waterfall strategy – the latter providing a more linear vision that only really scratches the surface of the challenge as a whole – this is where the human-centric Design Thinking becomes truly insightful and valuable.

 

So finally, some tips for a good strategy:

 

Alignment

It’s important to understand what KPI’s you are going to be assessed on because more often than not there will be multiple stakeholders on a project, and it’s important to make sure all views are aligned in what the purpose of the project is, and how it is going to be assessed. From a client/agency perspective it’s critical to be clear about responsibilities, a clear understanding and communication matrix at the start will benefit everyone in the long-term. Good alignment also means the outcomes can be measurable against set metrics and objectives.

 

Framing

A good strategy provides a consistent set of parameters, expectations, goals and vision that everyone involved in the project understands. This enables everyone in the team to do their job effectively because they know what they are doing, when they are doing it and why they are doing it. The UX team will understand the purpose and goals, the designers will have the context and emotional intelligence information, developers know why they are building the project in a certain way, the account managers know the KPI’s, and the client’s stakeholders are all aligned on their expectations and vision.

 

Perception and reality

We humans have a funny idiosyncrasy to have a perception of ourselves that others don’t see. It is true of everyone – and it is no different in business. There is often a disconnect between how a brand see themselves and how their customers see them.

 

For this reason it is extremely important to understand all sides of the business, if it is a corporate strategy then it’s also critical to consider the perception of employees, as well as management and customers. Unpacking connections and view-points to form the relationship network above helps align perceptions.

 

Context

Context plays a very important role in understanding the ‘why’ of a brief. What has happened in the past to make this project become important now? What are the barriers to success? What is influencing the market now? What is the history of the product and it’s customers? if you understand the context of the project you have a great chance of meeting the expectations of success assigned to it.

 

There are many more facets to fully deconstructing a brief, but this is a general overview of why up-front strategy is so important and shouldn’t be considered an ‘add-on’, but rather an essential part to any corporate, product or service strategy.

 

Richard Botting

Creative Strategy Partner