Saturday, January 5, 2013

It’s All About Discovery

My New Year could not have started any better than it did this week.

While there might be a new account assignment taking place, it was not related to sales.

Yesterday morning, I met with a creative director that works with one of my firm’s agency-partners.

Just before Christmas, this creative guy and I got on a Delta flight to the basking, resort town of Iowa City, Iowa. (pssst… he’s making light of the destination)

The trip was a quick one.

Both he and I had a host of other clients we had to meet with before Santa came down the chimney.

Perhaps even more important, there was a true blizzard brewing out west that was scheduled to arrive the day our flights departed back to the sunny South.

The purpose of our trip was to do a set of roundtable focus groups to evaluate three creative concept approaches for the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

All kidding aside, Iowa City is actually a pretty cool place. Reminded me a little bit of Athens, Georgia where I have my weekend get-away…even a little feel of Austin, Texas.

The Cancer Center is a designated National Cancer Institute facility… NCI as the healthcare gurus call it.

I simple terms, if the facility is NCI-designated, the team there is doing some great stuff in not only treating cancer, but also they are involved in some break-through research to find the cure.

Two of the concepts we tested were nice, positive, good-feel story spots.

The third concept we tested pushed the bar on what a medical center might conventionally consider doing.

While I try to remain very neutral in facilitating the discussion groups, I must admit that when I saw the third concept, I knew that the concept was going to garner discussion.

I also knew that the concept would be memorable… and for many, not in a warm and fuzzy way.

When we did the groups, participants were just as my hunch was telling me… they found the other two spots to be “nice,” “positive,” and “interesting.”

But they also quickly said that the spots were very similar to other messages they see and hear about cancer.

The third concept generated commentary… both positive and negative… and the commentary started before I even asked for it.

Uniformly, the participants found the concept to be very different from most anything that they had seen.

By the time we were done with the third focus group, I was eager to hit the road and get back to the airport because the winter weather storm was moving eastward quicker than originally predicted.

Just as I was packing up, I was informed that we were going to do a fourth discussion group.

Being snowed in for Christmas in Iowa was not something I would even begin to entertain.

I was not the happiest of campers.

Not only was there a fourth group, but we had to drive and then walk through a maze to get across campus to a room in the hospital itself to conduct it.

The fourth group was among cancer survivors and cancer patients undergoing treatment.

As soon as the participants entered the room, my perspective of life was altered.

These folks really were battling cancer and surviving another day.

When we shared with them the different concepts, they became very focused on that third concept idea.

They didn’t get excited about it.

Instead they very quietly, but very personally related their own experiences of battling cancer within the context and the format of the idea.

It was one of those few times while facilitating a focus group that I had to actively hold back tears.

After we completed the group, that creative guy and I got back into the car and drove an hour east back to Moline, Illinois to board the plane back to Atlanta.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I received a string of phone calls from the creative guy.

The client was just not sure what to do.

The first two spots tested okay, but they were certainly the comfortable approach to take.

The creative guy was challenged. Did he need to start over from scratch? Did he need to combine the approaches and produce a hybrid idea?

When I wrote up the report, I was very honest about what people said and how the spots were evaluated.

But I also added a POV — Point-of-View — at the end of the report.

I was very direct and said that the third concept was decisively different and unique, but it hit the cord — that coveted nugget of emotional engagement — that would move their brand not only forward, but would elevate their brand to a new level of perception.

Now getting back to yesterday morning.

When I met for coffee with the creative guy, he shared with me two modified concept approaches the he had crafted around that third idea.

He captured everything that participants and the client commented on along, but had preserved that nugget of emotional engagement.

Then he shared with me two more concept ideas in which her raised the bar on more tier.

These two concept ideas took that nugget of emotional engagement and actually translated it directly into the context of a cancer survivor experiencing it.

I commented that all four of the “revised” concept ideas would move the client’s brand forward and emotionally capture audience engagement.

When I left that meeting, I realized very quickly why the stuff we do is of value to clients and prospects.

How much a client spends is not what drives us in doing our job, nor what drives audience groups to seek out a brand.

It’s not about being cute and creative. It’s not about buying media cheaper.

It’s all about discovery.

Discovering those “nuggets” … what I term the “EIP” of the brand experience — the Emotional Ignition Point … is what branding is all about.

My next blog is going to be about the drivers of discovery.

I know that the University of Iowa is going to journey far this year.

I am very appreciative of the opportunity to participate in part of that journey and very privileged to have the chance to team up with cool folks like that creative guy!

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Mark Kooyman

Mark Kooyman

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CEO & Discovery Chief at EXPERIENCE Insight Group, Inc. In the business to discover and craft brand experiences that humans seek out and engage in.