How can we as Planners ask the right questions?

How can we as Planners ask the right questions?



The role of a Planner is varied and differs from agency to agency. In most circumstances however, Planning will involve some element of problem solving. Our job is to ask questions about the consumer, the market, the competition and the brand, and use these insights to help Creative find the solution. But if we ask questions that are too specific, we may stifle creativity; and if we don’t provide a real and valuable insight, we’re not giving Creative the foundations they need to build something special. Asking the right questions, and finding the right perspective, is critical to success.

As Planners, framing is crucial. When considering the questions we ask, we need to contemplate not only the behaviour of our consumers but also the people we work with; including our own cognitive biases. Heuristics are an approach to problem solving human beings all utilise. We are lazy, and we have an innate need to attune to as little information as possible. We have a limited attention span and restricted mental availability. Humans therefore take shortcuts and this can lead us to see only a singular solution to a problem.

Looking through the wrong end of the Eurotunnel problem

An example of this; discussed by Rory Sutherland is the Eurostar. The Eurostar had been getting complaints that the 90-minute trip from London to Paris took too long. To solve this problem the following question was posed; how do you make the Eurostar 40 minutes faster?

In response six million dollars was spent in building a new and faster train. Due to the framing of the question this seemed like the obvious solution. The question however should have been how do we make a 90-minute journey feel like 50? In asking the question in this way; it automatically opens the response and takes the brain processing away from a heuristic singular response. Instead of paying six million dollars to make the train faster they could have added free wifi to the carriages allowing people to work and browse the internet on their journey thus, making it feel shorter. This would cost a fraction of the money spent.  There is often more than one solution to a problem and framing it in a certain way blocks the mind from considering these options. Our job as Planners is to understand human behaviour; giving Creatives a starting point; a genuine human truth that does not block them to a singular path.

Big incremental change adds up

Another example where a different perspective benefits problem solving comes from Sainsburys. The Planner showed how reframing the question can make an unmanageable task seem possible. Their task was to grow Sainsbury’s revenue by £2.5 billion; a seemingly huge and abstract target. However, the marketing agency made the target seem tangible by re-defining the target as an extra £1.14 per transaction. Giving this figure to the Creative makes the task achievable; making their job manageable.

NLP experts claim there is a connection between neurological processes, language and behavioural patterns through experience and these can be changed. Every time someone says I can’t; reframe the question and say, what would it be like if I could? This might help them get to the solution of their problem. Turn negativity and failure into imagining success. In the same way we can make consumers rethink the problem. Ask Creative positive questions; start them in the right mindset. The environment in which we ask the question is crucial to getting the right answer. We as Planners are tasked with asking why; we are problem solvers. We simply need to ask the right questions.

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