Getting to grips with insight

Our Research and Insight Director Andre van Loon recently attended the School of Planning’s first event of 2017, with presentations by strategists Mark Pollard, founder of Mighty Jungle, and Saatchi & Saatchi’s Chief Strategy Officer Richard Huntington. In this post he provides an overview of the speakers’ top points for planning.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could start your new job as a creative agency Researcher or Planner and you were able to engage with your colleagues on a level footing, all eager to learn, instead of being overwhelmed by concentrated brand ideas, lofty brand pyramids, funnels of dubious origin and clients demanding ‘hard’ business effects?

Of course, research and strategy professionals shouldn’t complain too much – we have the outstanding ‘A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King’, Les Binet and Peter Field’s work on effectiveness, Warc’s treasure trove, doorstoppers 1 – 23 of Advertising Works and much more. However, informal yet informative events like Open Strategy’s School of Planning are very welcome. Set up by Matt Butler and Jonathan Colmenares, the School of Planning aims to demystify research and strategy in an open-minded and collaborative environment, so we can all start to improve our work.

Firstly, Mark Pollard spoke about different ways through which we could train our ‘insight muscles’. To Pollard, insights are often uncomfortable and are therefore best generated through tension. An insight should provoke a reaction, so the best places to find insights are the aspects in life where people feel slightly uncomfortable. ‘That’s so true’ should be coupled with ‘cripes, I don’t know how I feel about that’. He argued that creative executions based on consensual insights run the risk of fading into the background. Getting into your discomfort zone opens up the behaviours where the original and insightful thinking happens – and that is where good strategy is created.

Next, Huntington presented us with his seven sins of planning (see them all here). Huntington proposed a series of ideas such as: Planners ought not to envy the makers (e.g. creatives), but instead come up with ideas that could start to solve problems; they should discard their pride to recognise that “changing reality is the only fit job for a Planner” (a grand thought – but he explained it well).

Also, Huntington spoke about the need for Planners to embrace diversity and inclusivity. Of course, much work can be done to make creative agencies more diverse, both in their staffing and creative messaging. However, I would add that we can be guilty of minimising or even ignoring other people, such as Trump voters or Brexiteers. We don’t necessarily need to agree with them, but, in my opinion, we should at least know who they are through research.

But most of Huntington’s points hit home, including the need to keep closer to the consumer than a ‘wishful thinking’ client, and the need to step outside of the ‘planning echo chamber’ to build an approach based on your own insights and solutions.

Overall, there was much to learn from the event. The School of Planning is a great example of Researchers and Planners doing it for themselves, proving their interest in getting to grips with today’s ever changing world.