Confessions of an Account Planner

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Written for 52′s blog by Linda Z.  Thanks Linda!

Working in the planning capacity in the marketing industry for more than 10 years, I and other account planners run into the similar challenges.

One of the biggest is clients and creatives who don’t believe in research. Usually the aversion has to do with an experience(s) involving bad research or a lack of knowledge on what to do with information once it is presented.

Research-averse people need to know that gathered information is a launching point. From there, you grow, create and excel.

On rare, and very lucky occasions, clients say out loud and directly that they don’t believe in research. However, the usual and unfortunate situation (and a source of ongoing contention) is that most clients will not admit this. Instead, they will hem and haw over the budget, methodology, your background, the timeline, the recruit and/or anything else they can use to pick apart the project. In so doing, they are avoiding the real issue: that they truly don’t believe in research.

Experience has shown me this stems from a lack of understanding.

At the same time, creatives will fight tooth and nail to avoid doing research. When a creative, hears “research” they equate it with “creative testing,” which to them signals the death of creativity.

Resistance to the concept of research puts planning in the role of the ugly stepsister: Abused and misunderstood.

It is seen as the last step to validate and confirm opinions, soothe egos or kill campaigns. We’ve all been there and it isn’t pretty.

The process that is “planning” is at least helpful and hopefully inspiring. Done correctly, research (creative testing) can yield insights regarding the target audience that can be used to help hone messages.

It can be a great tool for selling the work to the client, for creating effective resonance with the audience and giving vision and voice to the brand.

After all, brands live in the hearts and minds of consumers, and you are nowhere if you don’t know how to speak their language. Research provides understanding and interpretation!

But, I digress. Let’s get back to the root of this problem. When it comes to resistance to research, it is most likely because people have conjured in their minds a notion that research is some blue-haired lady at the library, using the Dewey Decimal system to look up a book written in 1967 by Professor So-and-So.

Or, worse yet, there may be a sense that research is the net result of one of those annoying phone surveys where you are called just as you are sitting down to dinner and are asked to rate the likelihood of whether you would buy whitening toothpaste over tartar control paste. In that moment, who cares what kind of toothpaste you use, all you are thinking about is your meal getting cold, your screaming kids and getting off the phone.

That’s not research. That’s simply the dinner-hour at one middle-American household.

This can all be boiled down to two points to keep in mind when dealing with clients and creatives. Those who, a) don’t believe in research or b) have never experienced good research.

How can this battle be overcome? Education.

Performed by talented people who know what methodologies to use, how to get from consumers information of depth, how to interpret resulting insights and how to take action. Creatives need to know that the planner is here to support them, to help inspire the process and help ensure the work is the best it can be.

Not to kill it.

Good research brings clarity and leaves everyone with a deep understanding of the target, the playing field, the brand as it is, what it can become and what it will take to get there.

It is simple: the right research + a good planner = successful project!

We just need to overcome the stereotypes of research as it has been known. There is a better way, one less concerned with quantifying and more aware of understanding.

After all, is that not the foundation for all things great?