Good strategists tinker
I presume great strategists do, too
Hi. Hey. Hello. This is the third edition of The Other 90. Thanks to everyone who has been sharing the posts so far and hello to all my new friends who are receiving this for the first time. If you missed the first two, you can read them here. Today’s post is a spiritual followup to my last post about the importance of empathy in strategy. As always, if you like what you read, share it! If you don’t like it, still share it, but I understand you’ll be doing so begrudgingly.
Let’s start here:
I do not believe you have to be the target audience of a product or idea to be a good strategist at marketing that product or idea.
Does it help? Absolutely, 1,000% it helps you get ahead if you are strategizing around a person you happen to be. However, it being 2020 and all, there are ways you can easily build a version of your target’s world to consume if you are not the target - the people they follow, they things they read, the shows they watch, etc.
I have a bunch of Twitter lists from over the years expressly for this purpose. “I wonder what the talk of the day is in financial services,” I used to think to myself as I flipped on CNBC for a few minutes and scrolled my custom Twitter list, Googling what some of the tweets meant along the way. “I wonder what the talk of the day is in weird Twitter,” I used to think to myself as I flipped on Cartoon Network and poured myself an afternoon bowl of cereal. The point is, yes, you can skip a few steps and have a better intuition if you are the intended audience, but it’s not impossible to tinker your way into understanding who you are talking to. (Empathy helps too, as we discussed last time.)
Understanding who you are talking to should also include another target audience of strategists: creatives. In truly collaborative environments, it’s important to be able to speak the same language and have a shared understanding of what is and isn’t possible. Knowing what’s out there, how it works, or how it could backfire are all valuable angles from which a strategist can approach creative feedback, and its using those angles that lets you gently say “this is a bad idea” if something is a bad idea without having to expressly say “this is a bad idea” in a room full of people who made the bad idea.
Which brings me back to tinkering. To get the same language & understanding, you should practice the same consumption habits you do with other audiences, but also, you should consider the same building habits, so that you not only understand why, you can also speak a little bit to the how.
To wit, here are just a few items in my tinkering graveyard, forever on the internet in half formed thought because I was trying to learn more:
Back in 2011, I built my first personal website on Tumblr so that I could learn how to tinker with the code before pitching that my alma mater launch a Tumblr. Do I know real coding? No. But I was able to understand enough about the functions of the tool to be able to proactively pitch certain ideas with the knowledge that they were in the wheelhouse of possibility.
When Snapchat launched geofenced filters, I hired a designer friend make one for a party my wife and I were throwing so I could see what the process of the fencing was like. Plus, the filter looked dope.
Ahead of the launch of a Facebook Messenger bot function for adidas, I built my own that sent subscribers daily pictures of the State of Liberty. Why? Because my office had a view of the Statue of Liberty at the time, so when the APIs didn’t work I could just snap a photo out the window (and as someone who, again, is just a tinkerer, the API I set up rarely worked). For your edification, here are a few of the actual messages I sent friends who subscribed over the summer and fall of 2017 in the name of tinkering:
The point is, I like when strategists take the chance to get in the weeds a little bit. None of those, or my many other tinkers, were about the output of the exercise (I think we can all see above how pointless most of the outputs were); it was about gaining enough of an understanding to create shared ground. It’s not about overstepping boundaries, but about showing an interest in understanding the true potential of good strategy & executions being paired together. Shared language helps move things more efficiently and successfully, which is something we should all be fans of.
And yes, there is of course a flip side to this argument. We often hear that good sports commentators don’t have to have played the sport to be good at commentating. I totally agree with that. But while those commentators may not have played the game, they have certainly immersed themselves in as many other aspects of the sport as possible to have the highest understanding they can given the circumstances. It’s not about doing everything, it’s about doing enough of the things to give yourself a view of the possibilities from multiple angles.
Carve a little space in the world you are trying to understand. Consume it, tinker with it, break it. If you don’t already, you’ll have a tinkering graveyard soon enough, and a stronger relationship with your target audiences, too.
Bergy Bits are icebergs that are under 5 meters in size, so this area is for tidbits I find interesting.
I know a lot has happened in the world since late August, but I’d be remiss not to share this incredible profile from when a wildfire ripped through an area known as Last Chance, California.
How many people will unfollow an influencer who has different political viewpoints? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Growlers are icebergs under 2 meters across. This is where I share a parting quote or thought.
Sorry, quick work plug. I’m proud of the team at Annex88 for stepping up and partnering with Resistbot to promote voting and their other features with TikTok influencers (among other initiatives to come). I especially look forward to all of the “we got out the vote better than anyone else” case studies at advertising awards shows next year. Gonna be a blast.
The Other 90 is written by Rob Engelsman, a former baby model now leading a team of strategists at Annex88 in New York City. You can send him links to your tinkering graveyard on Twitter, Instagram, & LinkedIn, or by commenting below.