Why mediation is useful for Strategists.

Strategy Consulting is all about asking the right questions. 
— Stefan Jenart

How are you able to consult people even when you're not an expert in the specific sector of your client? And why did you study so many broad and different subjects?

A common misconception (or maybe even illusion) of strategy is that an outsider swoops in and explains you what you should be doing based on outside mystical knowledge only a few people posses.

Well, since there is no secret organisation that holds all knowledge, this is what really happens when you hire a consultant:

Strategy Consulting Questions.jpg

knowledge lies within

In its pure essence, strategy is asking questions. Asking you the right questions. Asking your employees the right questions. Asking customers the right questions. Insights are never new. There is no magical framework of new elements that works for everyone. Strategy merely sheds a different light on the same problem. 

Art Markman puts it well: "In fact, most people who come up with creative solutions to problems rely on a relatively straightforward method: finding a solution inside the collective memory of the people working on the problem. That is, someone working to solve the problem knows something that will help them find a solution — they just haven’t realized yet that they know it."

"In order to generate a variety of possible solutions to a problem, then, the problem solver (or group) can change the description of the problem in ways that lead new information to be drawn from memory."

That is why mediation is such a useful tool for Strategy. In mediation we call these type of questions: "thought provoking". When asked, they stimulate the thinking process. 

Some examples:

  • Questions aimed at attaining information, the who, what, where and when: 
    How do you make money? What is your businessmodel?

  • Stimulating questions are those that ask you to view the problem at hand from a different perspective:
    What does your customer think at this point? What is your customer doing at the same time? Why would they care about you?
  • Hypothetical questions ask for imagination to picture a non-existent situation:
    If you received €100.000, how would you use it? What are the subjects you would like to share with potential customers? 
  • Circular questions are questions which focus on reciprocity: 
    What can you offer so that someone would consider your brand?

So, instead of thinking about consultancy as someone telling you what to do, imagine consultants as people finding more descriptions of the problem in order for you to discover what it makes you remember. 

The ability to create a Consumer Need is an illusion.


A view on the role of creative concepts in tomorrow's advertising mindset. If you want to be able to continue reading, you will have to let go of the following notion, though:

“The creation of a consumer need is an illusion.”
— Stefan Jenart
Consumer Need Illusion

Even when you don't believe this or feel some sort of resistance, indulge me for the purpose of this piece. Yes, I mean exactly the one thing you fear I would. The premise on which an entire industry still bases itself today: "Nobody is capable of generating needs in consumers' minds.". 

Digital is not interested in creating needs, it wants to fulfill them. Your clients are starting to realise this. A public secret, very well know among advertisers: we are not able to craft needs or desires out of thin-air. We are not the magical wizards often described in award acceptance speech. 

To simplify things, let us use only three major phases in a consumer journey. There is a awareness phase, a consideration phase and a buy phase. (Again, if you feel resistance at this point, go wait in line.) Advertising attributes people buying products or even considering it, to their effort. 

Nobody buys something because they saw a commercial

Nobody buys something because they saw a commercial. People who consider buying a product will take an interests in your product if they happen to see it at the right time. In that case, the ad only reminded them of your product they were already considering to buy. Advertising doesn't generate people who buy products. 

Digital advertising has no ambition to create needs. It accepts that awareness isn't the first step in the customer journey.

And even if we were possible to bring a product to someones attention out of the blue. That power is only as strong as the medium through which the attention is bought. Because that reach is evolving, your limitations become visible. Those limitations have always existed. Up till today we attributed the difference levels of succes to genius creativity. 

Understanding digital advertising from a traditional stance means realising you can no longer take credit for results. Digital creativity doesn't promise the impossible. It will create a concept that only speaks to your real audience. The part of the population that is considering (might be in 5 years) to buy your product. We only create concepts, campagnes, tag lines and content for people interested in your solution. 

How can you recognise creative concepts that will flourish within a digital context?

  • Their target audience won't be people that need to discover a new product. So the message adreses people already considering the product/service.
  • Concepts based on data insights.
  • The concept should place the consumer in the driving seat. In some way or form, the concept should make the product or service functional. It should be possible to interact with the product. Yes, an interactive page that allows you to drive a car is digital advertising.

So, what should advertising companies do? They should do whatever they want to. Why should they have to change? As long as they are able to find clients that are willing to pay a lot of money for a black box solution. Even when traditional advertising keeps ignoring the digital reality, there is still a place for old-school advertising. It still remains a business. If a client insists on talking to an audience that will never consider them. And is willing to pay a lot of money for that with no return on investment, then by all means.


“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty
is goodness.”
— Tolstoy

Only prestige will legitimise that ludicrous heap of money. Traditional advertising is a luxury product. If somebody wants to buy an expensive painting, they should be allowed to do so. The painting will impress their date, it won't make someone fall in love with them. And if the stars where to align by some divine intervention, a clever or funny ad might make someone consider. Nothing more. You lose the right to claim effectiveness, attribute sales or the fact that your date spent the night based on 1 painting.

We do not want to throw out the champagne with the cork. The art of creative concepts will still have a purpose. A different one none the less. We still need to decorate specific webpages with entertainment, emotion and storytelling. We still need to find clever hooks to use in our Adwords Campagne. We still need to find brilliant uses of digital capabilities (think simulators, but cooler). The difference is that digital creative concepts loose their shackles. No longer are they restricted to the limitations of the media that carries them. No longer restricted by the damning burden of having to create a consumer need. Creativity will become part of the core of communication. The core of every (brand) experience.

If you still feel like it, challenge yourself with the following exercise:

How would you make advertising that nobody is forced to look at? What would your idea look like if people would have to want to find it. 
— Your challenge

Have fun. 

And welcome to digital creativity.