Continuing my recent excursions into the Nordic countries, sadly only virtually, I’ve been working on some videos for consumer segments for a Swedish food brand. It’s a great idea: consumer portraits in slide decks are among the driest things we produce as strategists, and rarely inspire good work. “Group A is slightly more likely than average to have children.” “Group B prioritises health over taste.” Videos can bring them to life and turn them into recognisable individuals that one empathises with, rather than a loose and impersonal aggregation of demographic data.
Thursday this week I had the big pitch for the new alcohol brand I mentioned last week. The client loved the strategy, the approach and the creative territories, so fingers crossed it works out. The work is with an agency whose strategy process I was helping to define before Christmas, so this is the first road testing of that process in the wild.
I’m a big believer that “no plan survives first contact with reality.” I think it comes from my days working in tech, where agile ideas had taken hold and there was a scepticism of “big design up-front”.
It’s the same when trying to develop a product offer or a process. It’s futile to try to predict every edge case and anticipate every client need. Instead, you have to maintain a core idea that can flex to incorporate new information, without losing its identity and becoming confused. You allow things to emerge and evolve naturally, while maintaining that all-important sense of taste that rejects the bad evolutions and encourages the good ones.
I’ve been continuing the stakeholder interviews for the off-site I mentioned last week. People often joke about consultants – that they state the obvious, that they’ll “borrow your watch to tell you the time”, that they exist only to provide arse-covering for executives, and so on.
There’s an element of truth to the jokes, of course. But it strikes me that the default position of a consultant when they start working with a business is actually a really valuable one, albeit one that’s easily squandered. You’re elevated above the fray of office politics, and are able to get people to open up to you. You transcend the org chart: sometimes you’re working with the C Suite, sometimes with quite junior people; one minute you’re working in one department, the next minute another; sometimes you’re high status, telling people what they should do, and sometimes you’re low status, executing and delivering. Provided you can navigate the complexity of these status interactions, you can play a role that no employee could ever play.
I had a great catchup with Ruth Fittock, who’s just launched a brilliant consultancy called Tomorrow Brands. (Great website!) Their speciality is launching overseas brands into the UK, so if that’s a problem you’re facing then give them a call.