What constitutes a good insight?

Here’s a rather ‘insightful’ look on the contentious subject of what makes a good insight. I particularly like the refrigerator analogy!

via Planning Tools & Hacks

The shapes of stories

[As published on the IAB Blog] To those of us who are involved in defining social media content strategies, transmedia planning or creating  advertainment assets it’s becoming increasingly apparent we need to be skillful storytellers. But rather than draw inspiration from our peers and the marketing literati, shouldn’t we also be turning to professional storytellers like authors, script writers, film directors and journalists?

With that in mind, I thought Kurt Vonnegut, a successful American writer, artist and anthropologist, could teach us a thing or two about storytelling.  He developed the ‘Shapes of Stories’ model which is a beautifully simple yet witty visualisation of the way certain stories unfold to the final denouement. The x-axis plots the story from beginning to end and the y-axis represents the emotional roller-coaster between positive and negative outcomes. From there you can see how different stories start to take shape. The infographic below gives a handy synopsis of the different shapes and approaches but to bring this to life you really must watch this entertaining clip where he presents this in person in his own inimitable style.

shape of stories infographic

So how might we apply this in our day jobs?

The main take out for me as a planner is to visualise the shape and emotional journey you want to create for the consumer before developing your next brand story.  It might also be quite a useful frame of reference when creating or assessing potential creative routes to see whether a different narrative structure could generate a more desirable emotional outcome.

On a more immediate level, I can also see a framework such as this help us to improve the way we present strategy to senior management or in pitch situations. After all, the best presentations are invariably those which manage to frame the client challenges and the subsequent strategic recommendations around a gripping storyline.

If nothing else, perhaps one should just view this as a ‘Kurt’ reminder that we all need to become good storytellers, not just good communicators.

A simple framework for facilitating workshops

As a planner I get asked to facilitate quite a few workshops so I thought I’d share some handy tips on how I approach them. There are whole books devoted to the subject so one blog post will hardly do it justice but I’m hoping you might find some value in what I’ve learned over the years.

Outlined below is a simple framework I’ve developed which I believe distills the key elements which goes into running a productive workshop.

Defining objectives

Stating the bleeding obvious here but without setting clear objectives from the outset one will never have a productive workshop. So it’s essential to spend time defining exactly what you want to get out of the workshop and then making sure this gets agreed with the client sponsor.

Perhaps less apparent is the need to set realistic objectives.  I’m sure we’ve all sat in workshops where some agenda items have had to get scrapped because the facilitator has run out of time. So set realistic objectives rather than try to be overly ambitious!

Developing a workshop theme

Not everyone will subscribe to this idea but I think it really helps to devise a theme for the workshop. If it’s directly linked to the subject area of the workshop it can help to frame the problem and galvanise everyone around a common purpose. But equally, you can theme a workshop around something more frivolous. For example, I did a client workshop earlier this week around a Halloween theme. You may think this may have detracted from the importance of the meeting but in fact it helped to lighten proceedings, get people in a positive frame of mind from the outset and helped to hang disparate agenda items together.

Establishing workshop inputs

The mantra ‘the more you put into something, the more you get out of it’  certainly rings true when it comes to workshops. So preparation is key. It’s also worth setting homework or pre-tasks to get participants familiarising themselves with the problem in advance of the workshop. This is also the time to invite other participants to come equipped with presentations or contributions to stimulate discussion.

Defining the agenda

How you structure the day, allot enough time to presentations / debate whilst scheduling time for breaks and practical exercises all need careful thought. Personally I always start by outlining the objectives for the workshop and the key tangible outputs I want to deliver as a group. And also a suitably ice-breaker to get everyone relaxed and contributing to the forum from the outset. If you can link this ice-breaker to the theme of the workshop in some way, all the better. So for the Halloween workshop, I asked everyone to tell me the scariest thing they’ve ever experienced!

Roles and responsibilities

You may be the facilitator but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the work! You can delegate note-taking and  timekeeping to someone else and presentations can come from anyone, even a guest speaker to add a fresh perspective to the topic in hand.  Your job is to facilitate, not to dominate discussion or provide all the answers!

Likewise, the host is not always the same as the facilitator so make sure you give them a role in the proceedings so that they retain some sense of ownership, whether that’s welcoming everyone and running through the agenda or wrapping up the workshop with key conclusions and next steps.


Choosing the right venue and creating the best environment for a productive session is equally important. So think about whether you want everyone seated around a boardroom table, split into groups or arranged in a semi circle. Make sure you have enough flip charts, pens, post-it notes and pads. And most important of all, work out how you are going to capture the outputs from the day, whether that’s writing up on flipcharts, sticking things on wall charts or populating pre-designed templates etc.

If you have a theme, now’s the time to decorate the venue to bring the theme to life. For my Halloween workshop we could obviously go to town a bit on the decor but it also meant we could theme some of the workshop stimulus materials. So instead of having boards for the different workstreams assigned to this project I re-labelled them ‘Workscreams’ 🙂


There’s a whole array of facilitation techniques which you can employ to stimulate discussion and debate as well as keep energy levels high – far too many to mention here in fact.  But the ones I tend to use (in no particular order) include ice-breakers, task setting, break out sessions, energy-boosting exercises, mind mapping and voting/ranking ideas as a collective group to name but a few.

Workshop outputs

The final piece of the jigsaw is defining the tangible outputs you want from the session. It’s no good just having ‘next steps’. These need to be clearly defined outputs which directly link back to your workshop objectives. So it may be securing agreement on a particular issue, a list of actions which need to be addressed at the next session, clearly defined personas for a particular web project, 3 strategic territories to explore creatively, a strategic roadmap and so on…

So that’s about it. Hope that’s been helpful. I’ve probably only scraped the surface on this subject so by all means add a comment if you’ve got any more pointers or suggestions.

7 principles of persuasion (website usability)

I’m in the process of reviewing the web strategy for one of my clients with a particular focus on improving usability to increase conversion. Our Senior User Experience Architect, Lynda Elliot (@lelliott0505)  shared this video by Dr Susan Weinschenk which is worth posting as it contains a few useful nuggets. I particularly like her overarching point that we tend to focus on creating online functionality and a user experience so that visitors ‘can do’ a particular task.  But that’s not the same as ‘will do’ where they are made to feel more inclined to undertake the task, or ‘still do’ where repeat visitors come back again to complete different tasks. To influence ‘will do’ and ‘still do’ behaviour you need to work harder to inject persuasion, emotion and trust.

She proceeds to outline 7 principles to help improve engagement and encourage ‘will do’ and ‘still do’ behaviour. I particularly like Principle #1 around the danger of providing too much choice as it can be counter-productive; principle #2 around the importance of social validation; and principle #6 around storytelling to get your message across more convincingly. There’s a lot more documented around  weapons of persuasion than this but I like the way this is articulated (or should I say spelt out!)

If you only have time to read one planning book, read this.

I don’t know about you but I sometimes struggle to keep up with the latest marketing literature – not just because work and family life is all consuming but also because there’s such a plethora to choose from, some of which could be seminal pieces of work whilst others might turn out to be self-indulgent tosh!   But as a planner it’s important to familiarise ourselves with the opinions of industry thought leaders. Not only can it lend credence to any strategic recommendations but it can also provide a fresh perspective to address common problems.

Well the good news is that failure to know your Nassim Talebs from your Seth Godins could be a thing of the past!  I went to an interesting APG talk this week to hear Kevin Duncan, strategist and author, answer questions about any of the marketing books he’s read. And he’s certainly read a few! In fact, he’s published a couple of books which distill the essence of some of the most prominent marketing and business literature of our time. Top man!

You can find out more on his blog  or better still, download the following iphone apps so that you can discreetly refer to them in client meetings and impress everyone with your infinite pearls of wisdom!

Brand strategy terminology explained in plain English

Do you ever get your Brand Essence mixed up with your Brand Promise? Or maybe confuse your Brand’s Positioning Statement with its Brand Value Proposition?

Me neither!

But I have to say I thought this explanation on the Branding Blog articulates the subtle nuances of each term very well. Worth reading even if you just want a simple refresher 😉

Planning a social media strategy? Then try this.

This fabulous chart by Advanced Human Technologies Group really struck a chord with me.

Not only does it beautifully explain the process one needs to go through to develop a  social media strategy but it also made me realise just how much I need to brush up on my powerpoint skills!

You can download a copy of this Social Media Strategy Framework  here.

(Discovered via Frank Striefler)