Farrah Bostic, Founder and Strategy Director at The Difference Engine, makes the first repeat appearance on The Strategy Inside Everything. This time, she’s accompanied by Haskell the wonder dog to talk about the ways living and observing the brand experience of our clients in-person leads to discovery and derived insights.
Listen here: https://specific.substack.com/p/farrah-bostic-goes-walkabout-a24?r=n6j6&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=copy
Transcript (it’s created by a robot, give it grace)
Adam Pierno 1:04
Alright, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything we have a very special guest today Farrah Bostic How are you Farrah?
Farrah Bostic 1:11
I’m doing alright, how are you?
Adam Pierno 1:13
I’m jumping right to the introduction affair because there’s two reasons one if you’re listening to the show, you know she has already been on the show she is our first time guests ever
Farrah Bostic 1:25
Do I get a jacket like the repeat guest stars is SNL.
Adam Pierno 1:28
Yes, one of those. One of those final jackets from the 90s like to lettering on it. Perfect. box this is coming your way. Fair, of course, is the founder and strategy director at the Difference Engine. She was on one of the first half dozen episodes of this show. And she still talks to me so I think that’s a great that’s a great sign. We’ve been talking for a little while before we got going here. But fair for those of the newcomers to the show who did not get to hear your fantastic Background give them a quick rundown of who you are and what you’ve done to, to this point your career.
Farrah Bostic 2:07
Yeah. So this is exciting being the first repeat. I didn’t realize that I was so early on either. That’s very exciting. You’re a serious superstar serious, oh, gee on this. And so yeah, my background is one of those meandering path backgrounds. I started out as a copywriter and then moved into account planning. Because I was interested in where the briefs I was receiving came from and how those got created. I had a bit of a journalism background as well. So of course, the kind of research and reporting side of being a planner was appealing, and and also have a general slightly annoying tendency to want to understand how the actual underlying business works and what the problem the client really is trying to solve is and makes me a terrible agency employee, but actually, it
Adam Pierno 2:55
makes you a terrible copywriter and creative director be like listen, just Don’t ask any more questions
Farrah Bostic 3:02
Exactly. And just go write something. But I also had really good early mentors on the creative side who were very much about, you’re not going to be a good writer if you’re not out in the world experiencing things and understanding the world from the consumers point of view and that sort of thing. But it really felt like if you wanted that to be your job, you had to be on the strategy side. And then I went to law school as you do. And
Adam Pierno 3:28
the normal path of every copywriter
Farrah Bostic 3:30
really totally, to some degree went to went went because I enjoyed the writing on the West Wing. So that’s how old I am.
Adam Pierno 3:40
They’re bringing it back so
Farrah Bostic 3:44
too much. Anyway, I graduated from law school and the next day started working at brand and branding communications research consultancy called hollan partners. And there I worked for about four and a half years ran the innovation Practice towards the end to the extent we had fun and, and then left there went to work at a company called o TX started getting interested in building products for qualitative research actual software tools for it. In the end, that company got sold to Ipsos and Ipsos wasn’t really interested at the time, at least in building software. So I took a powder there and freelance for a little bit went up a digitus for a spell worked on Samsung Amex, couple other little things here and there. And then was, you know, able to confirm that I was still not a good agency employee and went back out on my own. And so it’s been since 2011, running the Difference Engine and figuring out what that was all about. And so what we do is help business leaders make big decisions, and that’s either through a process of helping them get the information they need to make those decisions and then helping them make sense of that information and then helping them make the decision or something times it’s they’re awash in information. They’ve got data coming out of their ears, they just don’t know what to do with it. So we help them puzzle through that make sense of it make decisions, feast or famine seems like the way it is today.
Adam Pierno 5:10
Totally. And so I reached out to you after seeing Twitter and LinkedIn posts from you where you had gone and went out into the world, and quote, unquote, acted like a consumer, or what I call your a person. But you went out and you actually experienced things from the vantage point of the of the audience you’re trying to understand. Yeah, talk a little bit about what can you talk about the project itself or the general
Farrah Bostic 5:40
I can I can be a little specific and a little general it was it was for a department store brand. And so it kind of is perfect. For one thing you can in fact, just go to a department store. I don’t have to get security
Adam Pierno 5:52
clearance or anything coveting the idea of a department store. Asking for this.
Farrah Bostic 5:58
I did. It’s the funniest thing. I just thought of that like a week ago. That Yes, like when Barney’s was declaring bankruptcy again, I was like someone someone pay me to work on this. I remember this.
Adam Pierno 6:09
I remember you talking about like, I really want to do this. I want to solve this problem. Yes,
Farrah Bostic 6:14
yes. I don’t usually go in for that kind of “The Secret” sort of way of thinking about the time it works.
Adam Pierno 6:19
Yeah. I think about it. I’m going to take Yeah, if you if you tweet about it, it’ll happen. It works. President
Farrah Bostic 6:27
god, yes. Oh, yes. So yeah, so it was it’s, it’s for a department store, we had kind of a week of setup and recruiting where I couldn’t actually be interviewing anybody. So I took that time to do it. What used to be a time honored tradition for most brand strategist, which was to actually go experience the product. So I took myself to the department store and, and to some of its offshoot locations, and and then to some of its competitors and some of the other shots doors and restaurants in the neighborhood. And, you know, to the casual observer it looked like I was shopping and having lunch. But in
Adam Pierno 7:08
fact have lunch.
Farrah Bostic 7:09
I didn’t have lunch I did have a donut. It was at a coffee that was also very good. And it did not set for lunch.
Adam Pierno 7:17
So you were you the creep that was watching people over the pile of jeans or were you just watching from afar?
Farrah Bostic 7:25
So what I did was a quick sort of lay of the land walkthrough. And I I did one creepy thing, which was I took my my phone and turn that camera side out and held it to my chest and press record and did a video you know, basically got video of
Adam Pierno 7:43
my Walker walking path. Yeah,
Farrah Bostic 7:45
yeah. And which was so you know, it was several stories department store. So I went up to the top and sort of worked my way back down again, and on the way back down, turned off the camera and talk to people So you know, noticing things and saying, so what is that? And how does that work? And oh my gosh, I’ve never seen anything like this before. And sort of floor by floor would pause and find some place to sit and jot down some notes about things that I had seen and what people seem to be doing and how some people seem to be interacting and what people look like and things I noticed.
Adam Pierno 8:22
Yeah. And your your takeaways, I’m sure were valuable for that project, that client that that business problem, but more importantly, for the the agency people or strategy professionals, I think the takeaway I got was, how come we’re not reminding everybody, why don’t we talk about doing this more? Like why aren’t they the road for this? And why isn’t this a huge part of the discovery process that we made, there’s so much focus on analytics and digital data, but this is none of those things. And it’s, it’s, it can carry a lot of the load or guide how those things work.
Farrah Bostic 8:59
Yeah, it can I think you know, they’re there a couple of things that as I’ve been having conversations with people since the thread and since the medium post about what’s going on here, and some of it, I think, is a little bit of kind of what’s happening in agency culture, where, you know, the recommendation I got years ago from Janet Cham when I was interning creative assisting at widening Kennedy to, if I didn’t have anything specific to do in the office, to go like see a movie, shoot pool, walk around downtown, whatever, like go get into some trouble and then come back. And that seems to have gone away that the need to perform work and be seen in the office and be available for the next meeting or what have you is, is palpable, and so you don’t leave the office. I think maybe there’s an expectation, implicit that if you’re going to do those things, you’re going to do it on your own time. Whatever that means. And, and then I think the other part of it is this sense that All the information I need is somehow readily accessible through a Google search. Right? So I’ll look at the brand website, I’ll you know, see what people are saying on Twitter or on Facebook about it. And, you know, what else do I need to know, maybe find a couple of publicly available trend pieces,
Adam Pierno 10:14
but especially in this category, or you know, any retail category where there’s a physical location, it’s the dumbest, easiest thing to do. I mean, I remember coming up and being trained at a, I won’t name the brands but at a major doughnut manufacturers university that they have and then again at a at a pizza brands training ground where they actually showed you how to do the things make the stuff how service works that show you how the micros works. And you got to experience it and generating campaign ideas and insights about the the employees that we could play against customers. Yeah, that led to really good work.
Farrah Bostic 10:57
Yeah, I think that that’s You know, having worked on this is the first time I worked on a department store brand. So that was exciting. But having worked on other, particularly like technology brands, they may not have, you know, I did work on Apple for a while, but it was before they launched the stores. I worked on Samsung for a while and they don’t they do have their own stores. But we weren’t looking at their retail experience. Yeah, ish. Yeah. But, but they still sell through a channel and going and being in the channel, seeing what it’s like in a Verizon shop. As people are shopping for phones and chatting with people as one might, if you were, you know, an extrovert then used to get a feeling for how people are thinking about what the brand is and how they make choices in the category and what they think is interesting or not, and just encountering humans doing things in their natural habitats, as a fellow human is incredibly enriching and it certainly doesn’t answer every question and it’s not going to quantify everything that you observe, but it is going to give you a starting point to start thinking Carrying out what matters? And what does that what’s a really big issue and what’s not? what’s common? What’s uncommon?
Adam Pierno 12:05
Yeah. And it’s the same as doing quality before quantity, right. And I just as we were just saying, I just came from focus groups, which are often times tedious. You know, sometimes they feel like a waste of time. But sometimes when they’re really when they’re pulled off, well, there’s usually something you can grab on to say, okay, there’s something I didn’t I hadn’t thought about that. And that will do that so that you can shape the clock so you can shape the data that you’re going to go chase or what you’re going to gather. Same thing of walking through a department store. Yeah. What are the things here that are worth thinking about? Because there’s a million things that I could think about.
Farrah Bostic 12:42
Absolutely. And it’s where, you know, the pairing of going and directly observing something and then also documenting it as you go is really important, I think because just as an anecdote, one of the things that as I was going through the photos I’ve taken, I took pictures of signage I took pictures of anything that was promotional. There was a section of like fancy party dresses and there was a small rack near the fancy party dresses of what is known as shapewear, the undergarments that make the party dresses look nice. And those belong in a different department, but someone had had the presence of mind to stick some party dresses and I thought someone was thinking
Adam Pierno 13:24
belongs right there. Yeah, that’s actually the and that’s the thing that you can’t, Amazon would show you that when you get to your cart down below, right. We say people who bought this also bought that exactly, but that’s okay. IRL two.
Farrah Bostic 13:37
Yes, exactly. It’s putting the peanut butter next to the jelly. So, you know, that made sense. I took picked all sorts of pictures of that sort. But one of the ones I noticed later on was that near one of the kind of customer service desks, there was a bowl of dog bowl of water for dogs and then a jar with dog biscuits. I hadn’t seen any dogs in the shop. It didn’t even occur to me that it would be a dog friendly place. And I didn’t notice it at the time. It was only in going back to the photos that I went Hang on. This is apparently a dog friendly store.
Adam Pierno 14:13
Gotta go back with the dog. No, no, you definitely got it.
Farrah Bostic 14:17
I’ll just come rolling in with my 60 pound Irish setter. It’ll be great. Oh, yeah.
Adam Pierno 14:21
I got that dog.
Farrah Bostic 14:25
So he does look like a Ralph Lauren model. So that that does help. But you know, so, you know, the documentation along the way, jotting things that you notice. The second thing that I noticed going back through the photos was that the sales people were dressed appropriately for the section that they worked in. Like in the athleisure section. The woman working there was in you know, cool, like high tech joggers and a pair of sneakers and very fashionably dressed but in the clothes she was selling, which suggests she might know something about them.
Adam Pierno 14:55
I read agree. Yeah,
Farrah Bostic 14:56
yeah. And on my little video walkthrough, I did realize this but I’ve captured being greeted by sales staff, no fewer than four times. And so that was also a thing that wound up when we started doing interviews to be really important to people people care about being seen. Oh, and go figure
Adam Pierno 15:17
this exact right balance of the greeting versus feeling sold two verses exactly versus pushy me Not exactly. That’s really easy to get wrong.
Farrah Bostic 15:27
Yeah, yeah. And then, you know, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was a stylist, we’ve now become friends. You know, that kind of getting her point of view on actually working in the store and what she likes about it, what she finds exciting about it or what’s frustrating. All of that became really useful in actually talking to consumers. And then frankly, and also talking to the clients like being connected to like, I’ve been there. I’ve seen the product. I’ve talked to the people who work for you, that grounds you and their side experience. But also, frankly, a lot of our marketing clients don’t spend a lot of time on the front lines with the sales staff or in the retail environment or at the point of purchase. So you’re bringing something to them that they don’t get to experience very often either. And, and I think that just rounds out the perspective on it. Yeah, I think it’s I don’t know why we are not insisting that it be done on almost every project we work on.
Adam Pierno 16:28
And in this method of the way you did, it is almost secret shopper. So I’m not announced that I’m going I’m just going to go observe and see what i what i find and come back with the neutrality, the third party nature going there and being able to be objective. Yeah, that’s what’s valuable. Yeah. Because as soon as you tell the client, hey, let’s go do this together. Then it’s like, well, we better call the manager and let them know where come in and then guess what? It’s like a food reviewer that tells the chef is there. Yep, exactly. It’s not gonna get an impartial they’re gonna be like, Well, here’s some Here’s something the chef worked up for you just write 20 course tasting menu just for you.
Farrah Bostic 17:05
Yeah, exactly. And the kind of, you know, one of the things that I teach at Parsons, and the strategic design and management program, and one of the tools that we have asked the students to do is called a surface Safari, which is literally a secret shopper, it’s I’m going to go try out the product myself. I’m going to go where the product is used and observe other people using it. And I’m going to document that whole process. And it’s not interventionist. It’s not particularly, you know, you can follow one up with an interview if you want. You can have conversations with people in a kind of natural sense, but the idea is just to go be in the situation as opposed to trying to read about it someplace else.
Adam Pierno 17:47
Right? Yeah, googling It is only going to get you so far and watching YouTube caps is only going to get you so far. Yeah, exactly. So when you when you posted about this and you and you wrote your article on medium, obviously, I’ll link to that. What were people? Like? I don’t know. To me, it seems I read Hey, Whipple squeeze this. Relevant taught me this 25 years ago, I feel like, yeah, that’s part of what I don’t always do it. But I feel like somebody did tell me to do it. The people that mentored me early in my career gave me the latitude to do it is is the feedback where people like oh, yeah, forgot about that we could actually go to the place and do the thing, or isn’t what you said this the Let’s be tied to our desk. So we’re visible for the the Boston nowhere here.
Farrah Bostic 18:35
I think there were kind of three camps of response. And one was the like, Well, yeah, obviously, you should do this. And why are you not doing this already? It kind of just a response. It was kind of, you know, cool thread. But yes, we do this all the time. And great. That’s happening. Great. And I think there was another group of people who were kind of like, Oh, right. This is a thing we can do. And and it doesn’t really cost anything. And I’m going to actually add a camp, there’s a fourth camp, I’ll come back to them. And then the third camp was this Well, I don’t feel like I have purchased to go and do this. I don’t feel like I have permission. I don’t feel like it’s expected of me. I think people would be on my case, if I were out of the office, spending three hours walking through, you know, walking through the customers that the clients actual brand experience, which is disappointing If true, and I i buy it actually spend some time in agencies where, you know, the reaction to if you do escape the building for a while, and you’re not back in 20 minutes, where you been? What have you been doing? Oh, yeah. That that pressure is real. The feeling that everything is kind of high pressure, all hands all the time, I think is is a real thing in agency life. Now, the fourth group was kind of funny, which was, I think people, probably mostly people who are freelancers who thought that I was giving This time away for free, and that I had now devalued my expertise and my time to zero. There’s always
Adam Pierno 20:07
some group that’s gonna object and be like, why are you ruining what I do? It’s like no, you miss me. I didn’t have the prologue here. Which way did I mean to offend freelancers? And my time was was paid for I was compensated,
Farrah Bostic 20:21
right. Yeah. And I just sort of said, Look, you know, if you’re, if you’re a freelancer doing this kind of work, I would strongly encourage you to build time into the estimate that allows you to get to know the client, that that should be certainly your stakeholder interviews and your kickoff meetings and reviewing whatever secondary research that they want to share with you. But it should also include trying out the product, experiencing the brand, and if that means you need to pad it by an extra half a day, you should do that.
Adam Pierno 20:51
You’re working on a soft drink and you need to buy a case of it like build up. The estimator asked him to send a chat like it that’s Yeah, I have a feeling you’re A lot of work that goes on where somebody has really never gotten near the thing they’re working on. Yeah, yeah. Well, I got a brief and then I rewrote it into my own brief. And now this is what this is the website.
Farrah Bostic 21:11
Right. And I think, you know, the, this then leads me to a second conversation I had back in the summer with people on Twitter, which was about the problem of creative briefs. And, and some of the feedback I got there was that, you know, the creative side of the equation feels like somehow the planners, the strategists have weeks and weeks and weeks to noodle on a creative brief. And then they push that out to this kind of last possible minute and then throw it over the fence to the creative team, so only have a few days to execute something to get in front of the clients.
Adam Pierno 21:45
Yes, just as we have been planning for 20 years.
Farrah Bostic 21:54
Which I think is a statement about maybe, maybe we should be working in cross disciplinary team. Smart but then then the retort from planners and strategists which you know, been in their shoes, and it’s definitely a real thing is you’re not getting two weeks or a month or whatever, to write a creative brief, you’re only getting a few days, you also are in a holding pattern waiting on stuff that the client supposed to be giving you so that you can start to do that work. And by the time you’re anywhere near, you know, getting that stuff, you’re so close to the deadline that the easiest thing to do is to rewrite the client brief into a creative brief. And it’s also probably what your boss does. And so why would you do it some other way? Right? Which is, you know, one of the reasons I stopped being a copywriter was well do I want to learn to write like my boss? Do I want to still like writing in 20 years? So I guess I’ll go be a planner now.
Adam Pierno 22:50
That’s an interesting way to look at it.
Farrah Bostic 22:52
Yeah. But but I do think there’s a feeling that you know, I think it’s related to the kind of historical fact that A lot of agencies not really thinking of themselves and their business model as inclusive of getting paid to do strategy. And that strategy is this kind of perk we offer our clients and and we take, you know, money out of commissions and and and markups in order to be able to pay for that. And that’s a sad state of affairs, obviously. But I thought that was getting better as we’re all being forced to do projects work instead of being a Oh, ours, evidently not. We have kind of the equivalent of technical debt in terms of how agencies operate, where like, all these kind of old ways of doing things are still kind of baked into the processes. And as the projects get smaller or more ad hoc or whatever, we don’t change anything about how stuff works, which is no more pressured.
Adam Pierno 23:45
Yeah, the model, the model is the model and we just absorb more and more of the work at the same at the same rate, even though strategy has moved up the agency nav structure, it’s gotten closer to the logo on every agency website. But it hasn’t. We haven’t actually figured out. I don’t know what percentage of agencies have the courage to charge for it. It’s probably the six or eight agencies you can think of. Right now it looks like yeah, I know them for strategy like BB charging you for strategy. Yeah. You know, most small to midsize agencies. They’re probably just throwing that in Yeah, yeah. More for your social listening and then fades out a eek out some for strategy work.
Farrah Bostic 24:24
Yeah. But I think that also speaks to you know, the idea that sort of doing strategy the way of BBH might do it or a widening Kennedy might do it or, you know, whomever is costly and time consuming and requires large budgets and sign off from clients in order to do it. And, you know, I did not ask anybody’s permission to go shop, the clients store. I just did it. And, and, and it you know, does it appear directly in any of the deliverables to the client? No, but I’m sharing those those assets with the pictures and the videos with creative agency who find it really useful because they’re not even in the country. So they don’t get to shop in this particular department store. So that is useful to them and kind of a, just additional fodder for their own using. But it helps me frame discussion guides and think about recruitment. And then think about how to frame the things that I had heard from people about what they care about in it and a shopping experience based on what I actually had experienced myself. So I could I could go Oh, I saw that. That would really annoy me, but apparently other people love it. Right. I’ve watched
Adam Pierno 25:34
people actually smile as they experience though, so it’s must be I think it’s okay.
Farrah Bostic 25:38
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. countering reality.
Adam Pierno 25:43
It’s important to go run into it every once in a while and see what happens, you know, strategy has become there’s a cult of strategy that’s grown up over the last five years and it is about is this thing that solves all these problems, but I think a lot of it is grounding. It’s really just putting the ropes around the ring of what are we going to talk about what’s in bounds and what’s out of balance. And it like when you’re walking through the store and you witness the sales people wearing the outfits or dressed to match the department there in. That’s very grounding that you know that you probably would not have any clue that you probably would have expected everybody to be wearing the similar kind of, you know, just casual Friday attire in every unit and then you don’t really you don’t really have that sense, but you go to see it now you have this grounded understanding that you can explain to people in a different country which you didn’t mention at the top fair to tell you Oh, that’s a very important factor. That’s huge. Yeah, you get to be the translator is your this and this is what the experiences through these pictures. I’m sure you added text to help Bring it together and give them the narrative that they could follow along with your.
Farrah Bostic 27:03
Yeah. It’s very handy nowadays that you can mark up the photos, so circled things and drew arrows and wrote comments on them. And you know, they have the raw version of the photos, but then they also have the marked up versions where it’s like, this is the this is the thing to pay attention to. And this photo that’s, you know, it works for sports broadcasters. Why can’t it work for
Adam Pierno 27:24
us? Yeah, exactly. Detroit has been doing strategy didn’t even know it.
Farrah Bostic 27:31
Yeah, exactly. But I think there’s there’s a lot about, I go back to early days, Junior planner, shy a day and having someone say the job of a planner is to be the voice of the consumer at the agency. And I think that’s now not the only job of a planner. But it is still part of the job. And so an interesting way of doing that is to not to put yourself in a position where the consumer is nobody longer and abstraction. And it’s also not somebody who is kind of lower down than you on the sort of social hierarchy, right? whole relationship. Yeah. And you know, they’re they’re not a thing you have to manipulate or represent. They’re just other people in the world next to you. And being among them. I mean, the difference obviously is like, Look, the average person in that store was not noticing all the signage and caring about the upholstery and noticing what people who work there were wearing and eavesdropping on the managers at home, or whatever. Like that was not probably what most people were doing. So I was certainly more attentive to more things than the average shopper would be. That’s fine. But I also was just among other people, and as far as anybody was working there was concerned I was another customer so that that sort of humanizes everything and I think democratizes everything. It’s no longer my He being oracular. It’s just me going out and saying being more of a reporter.
Adam Pierno 29:04
Really? Oh, that’s interesting. Do you What else? What are the other jobs of planners? Not to be to not to represent the customer, the consumer, the audience.
Farrah Bostic 29:16
I think the the reality is and actually, when I go hard on these journalism references,
Adam Pierno 29:23
so no, no, I like this.
Farrah Bostic 29:24
When I was in journalism school, I also had a sort of student magazine that I worked on. And one of the guys that I worked for initially at that student magazine talked about the managing editor is the center of the hourglass there’s, there’s all this stuff coming in, and there’s all this stuff that’s got to go out. And the managing editors job is to keep track of what all the writers are working on and to review all of their copy and then to make sure everything gets placed in the right right spot in the magazine, and we know which issue it’s going into and You know, we’ve reserved our time on the press and all of that kind of stuff has happened. And that’s the job of managing editor. And I think in some respects, there’s something analogous to what a strategist or a planner is. And that which is yes, they are the voice of the consumer, but they also have to be connecting what the consumer needs and wants and is experiencing and what the opportunity for unmet unarticulated needs are, to what the client’s business objectives are, there’s also that job and, you know, I think if you get to, like we were saying before, like, bad copywriting employee, if I’m asking too many questions about the clients business model, when really I just need to go read some lines, you know, probably not the best way for the creative team to spend their time. But you can find some really interesting opportunities for a client if you really understand their business, right and understand the forces that are play in their business and understand where they think they’re headed strategically, which is where I also come back to like, hey, desk research is super cool. It’s not just googling, though, like you’re dealing with a publicly traded company. How about you download their annual report and their 10 k? You might learn something about where they think they’re strategically had an invalid of their competitors or
Adam Pierno 31:21
businesses and Exactly, yeah. And start mapping that out.
Farrah Bostic 31:25
Adam Pierno 31:26
I do you think that that rule the planner, because I think planners have been tasked with developing those insights that bridge the the customer to the business, but I think in the last four or 510 years, it’s been more about the business. The Commerce connecting versus the brand. Do you think that’s true?
Farrah Bostic 31:52
I think there is some truth to it. I think, you know, one of the things that has certainly been true over the last Five to 10 years has been this. You know, I think like the advertising business is always looking to some other industry for inspiration, always looking to figure out, you know, is there a good idea I can steal here? For sure. So the last Yes, exactly. So the last five to 10 years, it’s how does how does how can an ad agency be more like a, you know, a tech company or a software startup? And I think a lot of the thinking around Lean and Agile and, you know, all of the kind of startup stuff and I certainly was, was part of the, the advocacy for a more lean approach to planning. But I think some of the sort of reference texts there, I mean, it was like reading Peter TEALS book and, you know, reading the hard thing about hard things and like, it got more frankly, about management, I think then it got to be about brand management and and
Adam Pierno 32:56
conversion optimization. Yeah, so everything got boiled. Down in abstracted into I want a to do X. Yep,
Farrah Bostic 33:04
yep. So, you know performance marketing track, you know, traction those all of those books. And I think a lot of that is just this pressure that agencies feel of as the A or relationships are road or get smaller as more things are project based as we continue to encounter client feedback that says, I can’t you know, how can I really trust you to help me build my brand when I don’t think you really understand my business? The marketing companies being bought by management consultancies and the, you know, the Digital Studio is being bought by management consultancies and feeling like that’s the next wave of competition isn’t coming from a hot new agency in San Francisco. It’s coming from Mackay McKinsey, right. Or Bain or something like that. Yeah, yeah. So that’s terrifying, but, but reasonable as a fear and so the response has been Hire MBAs will hire people who come from startups or will hire people who’ve read all the books that those people have read. And we’ll talk that game for a while. Yeah. So
Adam Pierno 34:09
those guys have strategy very close to their logo.
Farrah Bostic 34:12
Adam Pierno 34:14
How to get paid for it?
Farrah Bostic 34:15
That’s true. Yeah. And I think Yeah, and that was probably why they made those kinds of hires and why they started talking about the kinds of things that they talked about. It’s the how do we get, and I relate, right, I moved from copywriting to strategy to research. It’s like how much further upstream Can I get from the end product, which is an ad, and I think that’s, that’s also part of what’s going on is everybody wants to have the ear of the CEO wants to feel close to the highest most clients so that they can retain these relationships for longer. The churn is real. And so maybe if we can be more strategically placed with our clients, they’ll be less likely to fire us or farm that workout. Somebody else. Yeah. Yeah,
Adam Pierno 34:57
yeah. I give
Farrah Bostic 34:59
their real estate Actual imperatives here. It’s not it’s not just laziness. I know,
Adam Pierno 35:03
I know. But then I think back to your junior planner, who’s asked to go solve that. I mean, pretty much. That’s what they get is like, well, now you have to go do that you have to be the voice but also figure this out and compete with Bain and Deloitte. Well, Jeepers, creepers, where are they doing that? They’re like, Can I just read a brief? I’ve got two weeks. hours 48 hours from from marquart survey of how people typically get
Farrah Bostic 35:37
right. Yeah, I think that’s right. Yeah. and and the the ability to do that. Well, at that speed, you know, at a certain point. Sometimes I think about some of the, you know, research consultancies I’ve worked in where the qualitative teams are nothing but senior people. Because the cost of training Junior people to be as fast and smart and good scale as the, as the senior people are is just insurmountable. So there are times when I would just wonder, like, Why are their junior planners and agencies at all if you’re not gonna bother training them, right? And you should only have senior people if you’re gonna have these 48 hour turnaround so that people can do that have worked across a lot of brands have a lot of experience. You know, they’re in fast which mode they can, they can do that. But, but instead, we’re asking Junior planners who’ve worked on like two other accounts and have never been in a room with a creative director and have never been in a room with a client to come up with a great creative brief. I think the other thing we do is expect the creative brief to walk right up to the edge of being the creative idea. Yeah. And like writing the headline or the tagline, but stop. be brilliant and creative and practically an ad but not so much that you piss off the creative team.
Adam Pierno 36:52
Yeah, that’s that’s probably a whole different not only an episode of a podcast but in a mini series because yeah, The idea that the when I was a creative the planners I worked with said what I was taught to visualize the an ideal form of this insight coming to life as a creative execution, but not tell you what it is. And I was like, well, that’s one way to do it. Why don’t you just tell me what it is? And then we can build on or argue about it to constructively to help us get to the place and even again, going back to Twitter conversations, which is such a wonderful and practical place to have a nuanced conversation as you know.
Farrah Bostic 37:33
Yes. Very much. You raised that issue.
Adam Pierno 37:36
Yeah, creatives. Do you want a starter idea or not? And I mean, it gets contentious in about 13 tweets, people are ready to go to war, Hatfield and McCoy style. Mm hmm. Yeah. different schools of thought.
Farrah Bostic 37:48
Yeah, there definitely are. And I’ve worked in both kinds of places where the creatives don’t want a thought, you know, don’t want an idea as a starter idea. But they do want enough to go on that they can start to build something. And it can’t just be like here’s a smattering of things I saw, right some sort of sense has to be made out of it some sort of story has to be told. But it’s not a story that’s going to immediately lend itself to execution. And then you have the other side which is like actually it helps me trust you as a strategist that you’ve really pressure tested the story you’re trying to tell me if you can give me five bad ideas that
Adam Pierno 38:30
tested to see if if this can be articulated in a two dimensional or a video form that right where the acting I’m being asked to make you’ve thought about it and Okay, you’ve proven there’s some terrible things and now my job is to go make some great things.
Farrah Bostic 38:42
Adam Pierno 38:44
Oh, boy. Well, I think we’ve solved it, don’t you? Yeah, no, totally cracked it. Well, there there is definitely. value. I am surprised that people I saw your posts and nodded and was like, of course, yeah, that’s we should be doing it. We should be doing more of that. And of course, we forget that we can go do that. And Google doesn’t have everything or even my entire digital toolkit of links that I keep. But it’s funny that people almost Wolf, somebody, there is a Yang to every year, somebody will argue like, no, that’s a waste of time. Just go right to quantum. Yeah. Where’s the what?
Farrah Bostic 39:27
Yeah, exactly. What are we going? I think, even within qualitative research, there are people who believe that the best way to do qualitative research is as a, as a researcher, to do it as a blank slate. Like I don’t, I don’t need to know a lot about the client. I don’t need to know a lot about whatever. We’re just going to go do some interviews or do some groups and see what comes out. And, and I just don’t think that works particularly well. I think you have to have some context in order to have a good conversation. Otherwise, it’s, you know, if you imagine going to a party where you You don’t know anybody, and trying to like, get into a really deep conversation. Some people will go there with you. Most people, you just have to have this really awkward feel around to figure out like, Are we just going to really irritate each other here until we haven’t even comment at all? Do you want to talk?
Adam Pierno 40:20
To go to the same route five, five questions and answers each person until something bumps into you that you say, Oh, I can ask a question.
Farrah Bostic 40:28
Exactly. But you know, if you already know the people there or you know something about them, or you know why they have all gathered in this one place at the same time, then you can start to ask smarter questions and get deeper, faster. I think walking in having, knowing only what the client has told you, or shared with you about what it’s like to buy this thing or to experience this thing is not a very good way to start doing anything else. You’re going to do other research, whether it’s writing a survey or talking to people in a qualitative environment. If you have not experienced it yourself, you’re relying on hearsay, you’re relying on a whole lot of secondhand information. And I’ve seen it backfire before where someone thinks they understand what the brand or the product is like, they start describing it to the client, the clients like, okay, clearly, you haven’t actually ever been on our plane or in our meeting in our restaurants or stores or tried our phone or whatever. And I hate to say it, but if we all trusted implicitly what the client said and executed,
Adam Pierno 41:33
every brand would be the best in their category. And we do there be no insights because it’d be no competitive tension. It would just be like, we’re also number one. We promise. This person told us
Farrah Bostic 41:47
yeah, there’s no there’s nothing into their day. Exactly.
Adam Pierno 41:50
Yeah. So you kind of have to find the flaws and figure out which cracks are actually refracting something beautiful.
Farrah Bostic 41:57
Yeah. I also think it’s, it’s You know, one of the reasons I was drawn into strategy to begin with was that it was, it was still a craft, right? It was not, it was not a complete switch from being a copywriter to being a suit, whatever that means, right? And so, now I get to do things like, explore this universe of it and learn some things about it and gather some evidence and interact with some people and ask some questions and start to think about things. But there is a craft to the doing of that work. And that we’re not training Junior planners on that, that we’re not valuing it, and we’re not expecting it to be done means that we’re, you know, reverting into a place where it starts to look like oh, well, all the things that those people do is probably eventually something that we can, you know, train up an algorithm and do some machine learning on and they’ll, you know, produce a brief at the end. Yeah, it’s not, it’s not gonna be gonna be great either. It will wind up at the same position as if the clients are the ones writing the briefs.
Adam Pierno 43:04
The robots will get four weeks to write the brief.
Farrah Bostic 43:08
Well, because they won’t just write the piece also read the ads.
Adam Pierno 43:11
Yeah, yeah. So we’ll all just be home. not working. It’ll be. Yeah. All right. wonderful future.
Farrah Bostic 43:19
Adam Pierno 43:20
All right. Well, I hate to I hate to actually end this the conversation. I’m just enjoying bullshitting with you. So yeah, it is time to go. All right. It’s late on the east coast. I know you have to get back to work.
Farrah Bostic 43:32
It’s true. Yes, I’ve got I’ve got to get this dog walked and and then figure out what I’m having for dinner.
Adam Pierno 43:39
The tree important stuff. Dog in the background?
Farrah Bostic 43:42
Yeah, it’s a beautiful dog. Yes, he’s very pretty.
Adam Pierno 43:46
Well, listen, thank you for for joining. I really appreciate you coming on two times. Now. I am on so when you start a podcast, I’ll come on yours twice. Alright, first two guests will be okay. You’re like please anything. Bye. That?
Farrah Bostic 44:02
No, I think it’d be a good gag. It’d be a good way to kick something off.
Adam Pierno 44:05
People know. Yeah, well, definitely not totally. Hey, where can people find you online?
Farrah Bostic 44:09
Um, so Twitter is a good spot to have conversations at Farah Bostic. And then obviously the website the difference and Jen dot CEO.
Adam Pierno 44:19
Yes. And I will link to both of those and to the medium posts that turned out this is also medium.
Farrah Bostic 44:26
Yeah. I’m irregular on on medium. So
Adam Pierno 44:30
most people are. Well, this has been great. Thank you very much. Thanks, Adam.
Farrah Bostic 44:35
It’s nice talking to you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai