Too many times, marketers came to conclusions based on pure instincts and put them forward to their management team and the set of peers who might agree or disagree. The problem with instincts is that because it’s just an opinion, with nothing to substantiate it. And even if you are right, you’ll have a hard time convincing others, so anyone with a counter view, retains their own opinion and the team remains divided. Even if they go along with it, they remain a quiet dissenter just waiting for it to fail and waiting to say “I told you so.”
When you don’t go deep on your thinking, I call it surface thinking. I equate “surface thinking” to “surface cleaning.” When your mother is coming over to visit in half an hour, you “surface clean” by quickly take everything and jam into the drawers or closets where she won’t be able to see. You never really clean up. The same thing holds with “surface thinking.” Yes, you think, but it stays at the opinion level. You don’t dig into the data; you don’t listen to others or do the necessary research to back up your opinion. You never really go deep enough to uncover the deep rich insightful conclusions. And everyone knows it.
Opinions are great. Every leader should have one and be able to articulate their views. But it’s best when you can layer it. One good rule for communicating your opinion is something I learned in my first-year Logic class: Premise, Premise, Conclusion. Try it out, next time you’re engaged in debate. Just make sure the premise is backed by fact.
So what happens when you just do “surface thinking”:
- The programs bomb, and because you don’t know what elements of the program failed, you throw out the entire program—the strategy was wrong, the tactics didn’t do what you hoped, the goals weren’t set up right, and even the agency did a bad job. You throw it all out, and might also fire the agency.
- There’s management doubt from your boss and your peers. They can see you don’t go deep, so they remain unconvinced or even confused. They might confront you with their own opinion, but then we just end up with two talking heads that refuse to go deep. But, to protect themselves against a strategy they aren’t quite sure of, they subconsciously short-change you on investment or even on support from their team.
- When you just operate at the surface level, when you’re debating a topic, instead of the team going deep and seeking out real and rich facts to support one side or the other, the conversation moves sideways instead of deep. What you’ll notice is you’ll be talking about distribution at the surface level. Because no one in the room wants to go deep, they say “well what about the new cheery flavor, I took it home, and my wife didn’t like it, are we sure it’s going to work” or “this new golf shirt for the sales meeting is very cool, I want one of these puppies.” The leadership team spins, round and round, never diving deep enough to solve the issues, just casually moves on to new issues. This is how bad decisions or no decisions get made.
How to go deeper
The best way goes deep on your analysis, asks, “so what does that mean” at least five times and watch the information gets richer and deeper.
Looking at Gray’s Cookie example above, intuitively, it makes sense that going after Health Food Stores could be one option put on the table. But to say you need to be better, without digging in remains an unsubstantiated opinion. As you dig deeper, you see that going after Health Food stores, who are highly independent, is labor-intensive, and the payback is just not there. Yes, you’re way under-developed. But it’s more expensive than other options. When you bring the option of going after mass into the mix, which is head office driven, you start to see a higher return on the investment. This is just a fictional example, but look at how the thinking gets richer at each stage. Force yourself to keep asking “so what does this mean” or “why” pushing the analysis harder and harder.
Thinking time questions that will help you go deeper
The first analysis is “What do we know?” with 5 key questions to help you sort through your analysis:
- What do we know? This should be fact-based, and you know it for sure.
- What do we assume? Your educated/knowledge-based conclusion helps us bridge between fact and speculation.
- What do we think? Based on facts and assumptions, you should be able to say what we think will happen.
- What do we need to find out? There may be unknowns still.
- What are we going to do? It’s the action that comes out of this thinking.
It forces you to start grouping your learning, forces you to start concluding and it enables your reader to separate fact (the background information) from opinion (where you are trying to take them)
The second type of analysis is “Where are we?” with five key questions to help you sort through your analysis:
- Where are we?
- Why are we here?
- Where could we be?
- How can we get there?
- What do we need to do to get there?
These questions help frame your thinking as you go into a Brand Plan. The first question helps the analysis, the second with the key issues, the third frames the vision and objectives, the fourth gets into strategy and tactics and the fifth gets into the execution. My challenge to you: update it every 3-6 months, or every time you do something major. You’ll be surprised that doing something can actually impact “where are we?” on the analysis.
The deeper the thinking, the smarter the leader