I love running discovery sessions. It’s a day or two away from my desk, out of the office, sure — and who doesn’t like expensed meals and nice hotel rooms? More than that, it’s a chance to see the client in their element, where they’re most comfortable, where they do their best work: it’s an opportunity to get to know them better than you can on a call — and maybe share one of those expensed meals.
The best insights rarely come from whiteboarding sessions or reviewing the branding guidelines or the interviews with the sales team. They come from observations when someone else is doing the talking. You notice the rich historical legacy that instills pride in the brand, conveyed by original instruments and prototypes displayed in a conference room. The dedication to quality worksmanship and appreciation for those workers seen during a tour led by a VP who knows the name of everybody working on the factory floor — and the names of their kids. The willingness to invest in brand building from the co-founder who blows off a morning of work to tell the story of the company’s roots instead of just letting marketing handle it.
If you think about it, it’s a little bit surprising how often success occurs in our industry. On the surface, the relationship between client and agency seems like a natural one: you need marketing help? Great, because that happens to be what we’re good at and those skills aren’t worth a damn without someone willing to pay for them.
But that relationship can so easily just not pan out. I need to know where the client is coming from and they need to know where I’m coming from in order to form a basic understanding of one another and see eye-to-eye on the work. We’re asking them to trust us with their brand, to allow us to elevate or change their perception, and, in some cases, speak for them outright. Discovery is a chance to get to know what makes them tick and let them know what makes you tick.
Even in the most niche of industries, the driest of brands, I can always tell if a discovery session has gone well if I walk away thinking, “man, I think I’d like to work there. They seem like my kind of people.” Something in those two days stands out and creates a connection. It doesn’t always happen, and it doesn’t automatically doom a relationship if it doesn’t, but it’s a real strong indicator that there’s success to be had if it does.
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