Mr. Miyagi

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Half Duplex Ego.

In my career as a planner, I have trotted out two different Steve’s when interviewing people in discovery.  The first is the “I’m a quick study” Steve.  This Steve wants interviewees to know he’s savvy in the business, the market and the category. I wouldn’t call him cocksure, but an air of self-assuredness is the goal.  The second Steve is the “Help me, help me, Steve.” He plays grasshopper to the interviewee’s Mr. Miyagi. Not in an obsequious way but as someone in need of intense category nourishment.

There are times and places for both, E.g., when interviewing a subject matter expert (SME), they want to know you can understand them. But for the most part I tend to use the “help me” Steve. More so as my planning experience grows. We humans are a helping and nurturing clan. And people tend to be more open when they are helping.  It’s always best to have your interviewee be the smart one.

Our mission is to extract learning, attitudes and values. Open the faucet and let insights pour forth. Half duplex ego is the goal.



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Sometimes the toughest brand planning assignments are the ones that offer levels of complexity that initially stagger you.  Understanding the Medicare playbook, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a financial prospectus come to mind.  It’s okay to be scared.  Lack of order is not how the brain works.  What planners try to do is understand and map category learning, so that they can make decisions about what is important. Only then can they begin to manipulate those “important” insights and findings into brand design. Into a brand plan.

As a tyro in the business, before I understood, I’d often posit.  For instance I might ask a healthcare insurance company a property and casualty insurance company question. They were an insurance company, after all.  McFail! I wasn’t afraid enough to listen.

When learning about a business as a brand planner, you need to learn…not teach. This is true whether you are talking to the CEO or a consumer.  Only after a suitable amount of learning time from your teacher (CEO or consumer) will they allow you out of learning mode. Only then will they allow you to ask important questions.  At this stage the questions still must be of the “grasshopper” (Mr. Miyagi) variety. This is how rapport builds. Be afraid. You are coaxing here. CEOs and consumer won’t open up unless they are allowed to teach. Thanks for listening.  Peace!

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