It's actually a vicious circle of sorts. On their part, the advertising fraternity and clients alike, don't know what to expect from us, while we on our part as planners, have never done enough to clearly define 'who we are' and 'what's the value addition' that we bring to the table.
A planner's job is to destroy myths, debunk old theories and discover fresh insights and perspectives on human behaviour. We need to understand and manipulate human emotions for business growth. It's the 'art of selling capitalism' at its best. We are experts on human understanding. And it's better we stick to that job. We aid sales and marketing, not replicate their jobs. So we need to be behavioural experts and not necessarily MBAs. Be it Dan Areily, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler or Clotaire Rapaille, globally, the best brand strategists are behavioural scientists.
Planner's trap: We need to stop being intelligent and start being useful. A lot of times we tend to be the classical theorists. People who know everything, but actually do nothing. We are lost in our own cleverness, making things look and sound complicated to everyone in the room, only to reveal our incredibly smart solutions to the world of problems. Whereas our job actually is to simply identify the business issue or opportunity. Give creative solutions. For that we need sound logic mixed with loads of imagination and an astute eye for creative magic.
Tools and jargon are useless means that not only complicate matters, but also make planners extremely lazy and complacent. Regimented Creative Brief Formats and Planning Tools are like industrial machines meant to churn out mass produced briefs and strategies, where it all boils down to filling up the right boxes, resulting in templatised work. A lot of us, a lot of times don't have ideas - we have words, jargon to be precise and smart tactics to mask 'the lack of idea.'
Convoluted idea of communication strategy: A customer purchase decision journey (lovingly called CDJ) is not a strategy and neither are digital or a social media plans, communication architecture or roll out plans. Simply put, 'strategy' is all about finding insights (and there are only 4 types that exist in the universe - human, cultural, social and product) and then flipping them so that the key output is an idea that will get someone to see themselves, the world around them, the product or the brand differently. It is then the job of the Creative to take this flip and bring it to life in an impactful way.
Over-emphasis on research: Research is like fire. It's a great servant but a very bad master. Research gives directions, not answers. We need to connect dots where none exist and paint pictures that nobody has seen. Every data has a story hidden behind it. As planners, we need to bring those stories out. And there's no better way to unearth those stories than one's own intuition, gut feel and personal experience. Brand Planning is part science and part intuition. However, it's the intuition that makes the planner stand out. For that, we need to experience life and go beyond the LINK, FGDs, DIs, Facebook, YouTube and Google Analytics of the world.
(The author is head, brand strategy, Cheil India)