It’s a common question on most agency brief templates:

“What do we want our audience to think, feel and do?”

Eleven fairly harmless words. A sentence rooted in marketing common sense that, no doubt, all would agree on being essential to a good brief. Yet it’s a difficult question to answer.

I mean, really answer.

In my experience of writing and reviewing briefs for agency teams to work on, I’ve seen how the question is rarely tackled properly (and I’ve been guilty of it myself). And it’s mostly down to misinterpreting the middle part of the question:

How we want the customer to feel?

There are two traps that are all too easy to fall into. The first, and most common, is to confuse the potential cognitive response and describe an alternative form of thinking – re-word the answer to the first part of the question and fail to give any new insight.

The second is to take a subjective view of the audience’s response and describe an emotional state that the brief writer thinks is right, which is risky.

The reason many people fall into the first trap is that the human decision-making process is incredibly complicated – there are a multitude of conscious and unconscious, rational and emotional, influences at work when we make a buying decision.

The second trap might be triggered because the agency is simply not given the right information to identify what the audience should be feeling. Sometimes the brief is simply rushed.

So, how can brands and agencies avoid these traps?

Access to good market research is critical, yet even this should be carefully approached. Sometimes what customers are telling you maybe want you don’t need to hear. And this is difficult to spot if the feedback is what you want to hear.

I witnessed this when working with an automotive brand. The purpose of the research, which was qualitative, was to understand how customers wanted to see the car in photographic imagery. The results were pretty compelling.

Customers asked for lots of shots of the interior – more than had been usually shown in the past. They wanted very clear lighting, reducing the emotive impact of the shots (and interior shots were not very emotive anyway) so that all the aspects of the interior could be clearly seen. External shots needed to show the whole car, so low angles showing only the front three-quarter or a part turned wheel, were frowned upon.

We were witnessing the groups responding to the questions rationally. They were picturing themselves in the car (which is obviously where we spend the vast majority of our time as owners), so focusing on the elements they thought were most important to them while driving. They weren’t conveying how they would want to feel owning the car. This is because the questions didn’t try to get them to articulate how they like to feel when they drive, how they want to feel when people look at them in their car.

Had we acted unconditionally to this insight much of the emotive triggers that needed to be in the imagery would have been missing.

Identifying how customers currently feel and, therefore, how a brand wants them to feel (in order to achieve the behavioural change the brand is looking for) needs the right questions to be asked.

Observing how customers behave, and critically what the differences are between what they say and what they do, is the key. This is not an exact science.

Brands need to be immersed in the different contexts of their audience’s lifestyles, drawing out the behavioural clues.

This will often include analysing their behaviour in related categories and seeing where the contradiction or confirmation of what they’re telling you is demonstrated.

And of course, the amount of data available and the power of predictive analytics can offer a compelling and seductive route to what may seem like incredibly accurate insight, supplementing what we identify qualitatively. And there’s no doubt there will be a lot of useful truth in this data.

However, there are risks.

A sudden political or economic shock. A global influencer unexpectedly doing something to alienate his or her followers. Will AI be able to predict these things before they happen? Will we be able to have foresight on the behavioural effect when they do occur? It seems unlikely.

The answer then, it appears, is to get the balance right.

Take a mix of insight from different research sources and, crucially, add a good dose of gut feel. In today’s world of data-driven accuracy this is a resource that is at risk of being under-used, forgotten or not trusted when there is black & white data to back us up. Yet when we consider the complexities of the decision-making process, doesn’t it make sense?

At next Thursday, we approach our strategic thinking by developing customer journeys for clients that consider the needs of the customer at each stage, scrutinising the emotional triggers, both positive and negative.

It can be a difficult process and we work carefully not to over-complicate it or produce plans too difficult to execute. However, by taking a design-centred learning approach, we ensure we diverge through the research findings and then converge on to the most important rational and emotional decision-influencing insights.

Ultimately, we’re trying to get to a differentiating proposition. And for that, we must learn to trust our own feelings.

Our door is always open to share, create, connect.

Let’s chat anytime between now and next Thursday. 

Richard Woof

Head of Strategy & Group Account Director. If you want your customers to think about you differently to the competition, you must find out what they’re not telling you. Here’s how.