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WOW, very impressed by the work you've done! Will struggle to read through it all, but you were sure generous with your time. I for one was in blog ramble mode, rather than collegial efficiency mode when I sent you something. Apologies for not thinking more about what you wanted. And thanks to all the others!

Thanks Russell for all the amazing comments! Really appreciate all the time you spent on each piece of work. I don't think you need to be worried about being harsh at all! Personally, I appreciated the frankness, and your comments really help make me think what strategy really is. (And the fact that it's not as easy to do this stuff as I thought!!!) Am very excited for the next assignment. Again, a very big thanks for all your work.

Russell, I think you're awesome!

I've written a blog entry with my thoughts about the assignments and your comments.

Here's the link: http://www.planningblog.com/2005/11/russells-planning-school-on-web.html

Wow, Russell - a HUGE THANKS. I think you've hit it when you said that we would learn more from comments on other briefs than our own. I can't agree more and personally, this is what has made this exercise, or rather the learning from this exercise, so useful, educational and rewarding.

Russell - thanks very much for the opportunity and taking time to read and evaluate our submissions frankly. I like how you've put everyone's entry up anon. - I've read through only three at the moment and it's already given me food for thought: suggestions I would make to the recommendation, and it's also given me inspiration on how I could have enhanced my own.

Looking forward to the next one.

Wow, has this ever been a great learning experience.

very much appreciated your comments on my write up (BeansD.doc), and was impressed by the other submissions.

For me, the two suggestions that made this exercise so worthwhile are the emphases on RIGOUR and finding a STRATEGIC SHARP POINT. Both are much harder than one would think.

Much thanks from this corner!

Nice work Russell!

Even skimming all the docs takes ages, so to actually have gone through them all, absorbed them, and commented on them constructively must have been quite a task.

Thanks again.

I took part (BeansE.ppt if anyone's interested) and thought the feedback was really bang on.

Now for a bit of disclosure. I'm not really a planner (which I'm sure was obvious). I kind of don't know what I am. I've been working in online for the last 10 years in various roles (including some faux-strategy stuff), and now I'd like to think of myself as being a geeky creative with a strategic and enquiring brain. It's been really interesting to see the level of rigour that 'real' planners apply to problems. Makes me feel kind of ashamed. But I've always been happy to be someone who doesn't fit in a box. However, it can make certain things more difficult - applying for jobs, describing yourself on forms, etc.

I'd be really interested to hear people's views on roles and the boundaries between them. Why do they exist as they do and who do they serve?

The challenges I had with the brief were:

1. I didn't know how much time to really spend on it - so I did it in 20 mins (and thats why i didn't have nice pictures in there, and some of it's 1/2 baked, or maybe only 1/4 baked). I just wanted to get involved and maybe stir up some debate.

2. Not being particularly experienced as a 'planner' I didn't know how far to take the ideas in terms of specific tactics (which is why the comment about being left hanging is very relevant) - I guess I'd normally approach this kind of document as a client warmer - leading the client towards a set of creative ideas but without giving them the 'money shot'. Is this a different approach, or would you suggest it's just wrong? (Ignore the quality of thinking and ideas, I think that's a purely a factor of point 1).

I'm really excited that you rate the importance of energy and attitude. Having spent the last few years with little time in front of clients (the lead agencies - usually ones making 'films' - tend to get most of the meeting time) it's always been important to get clients excited and involved, fast. Plus I'm a firm believer in not leaving too many words with clients (and not just because I'm lazy). Having been a client (albeit very briefly), reading huge doucments is a pain. Make it easy to read, and make it look like you've had fun doing it (that's why I sometimes get carried away with exclamation marks ;-) If you can't inject a sense of passion and enjoyment into a pitch (with no clients and their pesky ways to curtail you) how on earth will you ever make the project fun.

And yes, I did fall into some trendy marketing 2.0 stuff, but not just because i'm a sucker for hype. I actually think that for challenger brands, like this one, they can be effective at low cost. Plus, execution-wise they're ideally suited to online, and as I've disclosed I'm a web-head at heart. So I'm just as guilty as people falling back on TV advertising. I know that in a 'media-neutral' world I shouldn't do this. But the challenges I get faced with day to day typically have an online remit, so it's become a bad habit that's hard to shake...

I really appreciated that the scope of this assignment was British instead of global. This introduced me to the true power of research in planning.

I had always approached finding a job in planning as an industry expert switching careers. Now, I understand that the ability to step outside of your norm is more practical. At an agency, planners must face situations like this.

Russell, thank you for your time and energy. Your generosity is really quite admirable. This experience was very helpful and I look forward to learning something new in December.

Lastly, to harness the power of the Internet and make this a global collaborative, I would like to invite others to comment too. Please feel free to send any suggestions, criticism, hatemail or lovemail on BeansL.doc to me.

Ok just read the rest of them and put my reactions on my blog, here's the link:

http://www.planningblog.com/2005/11/more-russell.html

I feel inspired - to write short, sharp sentences. To come in swinging. To "sex up" my writing.

To quote Winston: "Short words are good and the old short words are best."

Carol, I agree with you. I was certainly guilty of flabby writing and not making a strong enough (any!) visual argument.

I think you get too conditioned by seeing a 2,000 word guidline when the 2mb limit is much more important. So next time less prose, more pictures, and more thought about presentation(something Russell will no doubt appreciate)

So thank you Russell, a great first exercise with some interesting entries and comments to digest. Lots to steal and learn from! I've just skimmed all the entries but I'll have a closer read and pull together some thoughts about what I learnt.

Firstly, I'm glad people found this valuable. And that you don't all seem to hate me.

Here are some thoughts:

1. A lot of this is about style. That's what a lot of being a planner/strategist is about. And I probably have a fairly particular style. You need to find your own style and I hope my suggestions will help you work that out. You don't have to agree with them, but if you think about them you'll work out how you're going to be a planner.

2. I haven't talked much about planning method or 'rigour' because i can't really help you learn that from here. You have to work that stuff out for yourselves, I can only respond to the communications stuff you produce.

3. That being said, I think there could be more intellectual rigour in the written stuff:

Ask yourself:

a. Does this sentence need to be in this document or am I just writing it to demonstrate that I've thought of it?

b. Can I express this thought with fewer words and more drama? (Nabokov explained a character's death in explicit detail in just two words: "Picnic. Lightning." - you should aim to compress your thoughts with that kind of precision. Take the time to write less.)

c. What specifically do I want to happen as a result of someone reading this document? Am I including everything I need to make that happen?

d. Am I covering the basics and avoiding dumb mistakes? Have I complied with the terms of the brief? Have I spelled the name of the Client correctly?

4. An old friend of mine always used to talk about always being one meeting ahead. Meaning that if the client is expecting one thing then you should deliver on that, and go past it and deliver the next thing too. For me this means, that though we may be able to get away with woolly, conversational, discursive early in the process (becuase that's what people expect from planners) things would actually be simpler and more effective if we got specific quickly. Even if we're wrong we've at least presented things for people to react to/against. A list of goodish ideas just demonstrates to everyone that you're quite smart, which might make you feel better but doesn't move the process along.

Most of our wooliness is the result of an unwillingness to commit to an idea, hoping for some direction from someone else. This is understandable but unhelpful. Pick a direction. Enthusiastically explore it. But if it turns out to be wrong then be prepared to throw it away. This kind of clarity gets good things done quicker.

5. I'm trying to react to these things like I would in the real world. This seems the most helpful thing for me to do. This means that style, presentation, attention to detail, attitude, energy, commitment are important.

6. Tell me (the reader) what you want me to do/think. If you're just 'warming me up', tell me that and I'll pay less attention. To be honest, I'm not that worried about the quality of the ideas. I'm worried about your commitment to them and your selling of them. I objected to so much defaulting to television advertising not because I think TV is the wrong idea but because your logic felt lazy. You'd not given me good reasons for TV versus something else. Same with some of the other ideas. Don't just assume I'll recognise your genius. Explain it to me. (Quickly. Powerfully.)

Does that make some sense? Is that helping? Am I answering your questions?

Russell,

I'm glad you clarified a little what you're looking for in terms of presentation and sellability, so to speak.

In writing my brief, I was thinking more along the lines of the format one might find in the planning awards books, for instance: more conversation and exposition. Something to think about for the next one. More sizzle, less steak.

Thanks again for everything Russell.

ES

Edward,

Don't go crazy with the sizzle. Steak is still good. But you need to make it look tasty. I guess that's what I'm saying. And, I think it's hard to teach the solid steak-type skills this way, wheras I can help with the sizzle.

Anyway, I think I have an idea for the next assingment which should make expectations a little clearer.

Hi Russell,
yesterday night I went through half of the papers that were posted and it amazed me how many different approaches were there.
Still, there were also quite a few similarities. Looks like the brief had in itself some given directions, do you agree (the chosen name, for example, was mainly "Boodle")?
Other similarities were the choice of TV. Looks like many of us thought it was the bast way to launch Dorothy's product. But few times you said it was pretty conventional. I agree it is, but I've always thought it was the quickest way to put a brand on the market (if th media investment is strong enough). And we can be "sticky" (as you taught in Budapest) if the brief is strong and creativity outstanding.
So another question is: how can we be "unconventional" or "lateral" and still reach the same wideness of contacts?
Another question is: how can we set up something between the participants to share some thoughts, aside from engulfing your blog?
Those who feel like sharing could put their mail address specifically for the purpose... But this is just a first thought.

Anyway thank you so much for going through all of our blurb. It's so stimulating being able to read what a lot of different people wrote. Thank you.

Luca - I'm not saying TV was a bad idea, I'm saying that most people seemed to just default to it, they didn't tell me why it was a good idea. Wheras, with the more lateral thoughts - people explained themselves. Any media/strategic choice has to be justified.

And don't worry about overwhelming the blog, feel free to carry on the discussion here.

And, actually, thinking about it, I'm not sure TV would be a good choice. Plenty of great brands have launched recently, without TV, very effectively. Anyone from Google to Innocent.

Since Russell has invited us to share some thoughts on what we've learned, here are some thoughts that have crossed my mind.
It's my little rant against "emotional branding", more than anything ;)

Most of the people emphasized the need for mrs. boodlez to "tell the story" of her beans, how important it is to the branding efforts. In some ways, it is taken as an article of faith that for a small brand, especially one taking on a giant like Heinz, the "story" should be the primary focus. But even though a story is effective in demonstrating a lot of the qualities of independent brands-such as passion, commitment to quality, values and so on-I don't think that its value should be overstated.

Many brands like to employ this tactic, and many packages (from potato chips, sauces, salad dressings etc) include on the back notes from the founders on what motivated them to launch the brand. All of them use this humble approach, in much the same fashion. So much so, that it's probably been a bit played out, overdone. I think it's lost it's ability to do a lot of the hard work of constructing solid meaning for a brand. In addition, I don't think it's a stretch to say that consumers these days are a bit more savvy and resilient to this. Plus, these are just beans: who really cares or has time for stories about some lady perfecting a recipe?

One of the shortcomings of this approach, over-emphasizing the importance of the "emotional" appeal of the brand story, is that it is too atomistic and particular, whereas for brands like this, meaning is imparted more through context: placing Mrs. Boodles' beans in the context of other healthier, organic, natural, no-preservative products. Whole Foods is a perfect example of this: it has effectively constructed a culture around alternative, healthy food, and products sold there work by supporting each other, in a way. At Whole Foods, all you can get are healthy, natural products, not junk. "Emotional" appeals occur, in other words, work for the entire category of, say, "healthy food", in which Mrs. Boodles should pour her energies into becoming a part of. To do this requires more than a "story": becoming a part of alternative food culture involves demonstrating a commitment to the same values and practices that other products and brands show in that culture. And she would not be able to do this by relying on "emotional" appeals. She better have good, rational proof of the natural, healthy, un-Heinz qualities of her beans, "story" or no "story". A few of the sumbmissions stressed the need to partner for co-branding efforts with other brands in this way: bread companies, organic eggs. In my brief, I also stressed the need for education for this reason.

As a summary, it may be helpful to think of this in the following way:

brand "story" = emotional value of individual product = limited use because it requires too much effort, for a product in which decisions are made at the category level.

becoming a part of (heatlhy, natural, organic food) category= understanding the culture that surrounds it, and doing what it takes to contribute and be a part of that.

consumers decide on products like this for rational reasons, that have to do with such things as the peace of mind of knowing that they are buying a healthier product for their kids from a store that they trust, not from individual study of case-by-case brand stories and histories. as long as it's placed in a proper context, and culture they relate to, it's enough.

Russell,

just to say that i can't wait for the next assignment. Brilliant initiative and i just hope that you will have the strength to keep it up!!!!!
about the bean and just for fun - it occured to me that the brand idea could be: the bean that feels like two. Home made, quality, nutritious,... Vs industrial. And it should be appealing for whom enjoys eating beans. once again, congratulations!!!


I just read through the submissions, and something about them depressed me a bit. I'd be interested in your views.

Your comments pointed out that a lot of people defaulted to TV. I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of people did at least think about sampling and in-store options. But not one person suggested a one-to-one communication, or creating a relationship. Despite the majority hooking into the idea of Mrs. Boodle having a story, being homely, challenging a big faceless corporation by emphasising humanity etc. etc., not one person said "Let's send parents a letter".

I find it worrying that all the talent and the thinkers (who I assume are the type of people engaged enough to read ad blogs, and more so to respond and interact) have an utter blind spot when it comes to direct communications. Why do you think that is?

Martin

Hello Martin,

You're completely right. No-one considered anything direct (except maybe some digital stuff). And that's very bad. There were probably a bunch of good direct options for this.

And, what's worse, nothing direct occured to me when thinking about this either. Which is shameful.

On the positive side - I bet no-one who reads your comments will make that mistake again. I won't.

As to why it got overlooked, I don't know, for me it's just too long as an old advertising lag I guess, which is why I always try to make sure I work with thinkers from all kinds of disciplines. For everyone else - dunno, does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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