I’m curious, what’s better, an ok solution that is developed quickly, or a great solution that takes longer?

I was in a pitch meeting recently where a potential client told me that another group came into the room with compelling brand ideas. They wanted to know if I had any ideas to share. Instead, I asked questions. 

I was curious about how they got to those ideas. Did they already study the brand and unearth consumer insights? Did they do strategy work on spec? Were they making educated guesses based on industry trends and competitive observations without yet speaking with the client team or the brand’s consumers? Were they charging for strategy after they pitched the answer, or to confirm what they already came up with? 

I said, “Well, I don’t have the answers yet, and I won’t be making any guesses to try and win the project.” I promised them that if we work together, they will not hear any strategy recommendations until after I ask a lot of questions and the discovery phase of work is complete. As it turns out, that brand leader was more interested in shiny objects and fast answers. I did not get the work, nor did I want it after that meeting.

The value of curiosity

Albert Einstein once said, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge.” Do you agree? He also claimed to have no special talents, and that he was just passionately curious.

Curiosity is not a step in the process that should be shortcut. It’s a vital component of strategy, and strategy is not a box to check just so that the creative team can get started. 

I recognize that typical brand strategy often makes many of us feel overwhelmed with information that’s not always helpful. I’ve been told by brand leaders that typical brand strategy sometimes feels like the strategists selling their ideas based on their experience, gut instinct, and observations, as opposed to deep curiosity, reserved judgment, and insight-rich revelations shared in compelling narratives that get everyone inspired.

The value of curiosity is a broader perspective, a deeper understanding, and the opportunity to develop more effective paths forward. Strategy is often described as a plan of action designed to achieve an objective, with varying levels of uncertainty. Curiosity is at the foundation of developing the most effective strategies. Ongoing, curiosity can help you go beyond the status quo into new areas of thought and action and evolve in relevant ways over time as new insights emerge.

3 ways curiosity will strengthen your brand leadership

 1. Avoid confirmation bias

Companies are entrenched in knowledge, and that often comes with inherent biases and preconceived instincts. The status quo is, if nothing else, predictable, but it’s often built on layers and layers of confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a tendency people have that is opposite of curiosity and it closes more doors than it opens. Think about how you interpret information from social media or the news. If you’re like most people, you view information that you agree with as support for your point of view, and you dismiss information that is contrary to your point of view. This happens to all of us, and it takes a disciplined approach to break free of this inherent behavior.

Once we recognize that we are most likely reverting to confirmation bias, we can then take a step back to challenge long-held assumptions. Curiosity is the cure for confirmation bias. Why are we doing things this way? Is there current data to back up this assumption? Are there new and better ways to move forward

2. Gain deeper understanding

Typical brand strategy often relies on surface-level consumer understanding and is devoid of deep psychographic understanding of what people need, want, and desire. One of the most challenging things to learn about are people’s true feelings and unarticulated needs. When it comes to sharing feelings, social conformity bias often gets in the way. It’s another behavioral tendency that humans have, to adapt what we say and how we behave based on how we want to be perceived. It’s why not asking the right questions in the right way or using the wrong research techniques can lead to unreliable information.

One-on-one interviews are a fantastic and easy way to gain deeper understanding, especially when the questions are designed to evoke illustrative answers. 

Some of my favorite questions to ask brand leaders include:

  • What’s the most gratifying customer feedback you’ve heard?
  • If there was one thing that you could improve about the customer experience, what would it be?
  • What are 3 words to describe how you want people to feel after interacting with your brand? 

Some of my favorite questions to ask a brand’s consumers include:

  • What is the best thing that this brand does for you?
  • What have been the biggest surprises when interacting with this brand?
  • What are 3 words to describe how it makes you feel using this brand’s products or services? 

Another way to gain reliable information and deeper understanding is by using metaphor elicitation, a quantitative approach I’ve used in collaboration with a behavioral science research company. This methodology gets people to open up, first by having them select an image that conveys their feelings and/or desires on a topic, and then asking them to explain why they selected the image. By using this two-step approach, respondents are not over-rationalizing the situation or sharing guarded answers. They are emoting feelings and ideas that reveal deeper understanding and give fodder for how the experience affects their life or can be improved beyond what they would say if asked overtly. In some cases, this can be the right curiosity tool for the job.

3. Spark inspiration and alignment

Ultimately, curiosity is about bringing people together. People in organizations want to feel valued and that their opinion matters. Everyone in the organization has perspective, whether it’s the CEO, the sales representative, or the customer support person. Data is everywhere and insights are waiting to be found.

As brand leaders know, our work is not just about selling the big ideas. It’s not about arts and crafts. It’s not about having big rah-rah sessions and launches. Brand leadership is about developing strategies and activations that strengthen an organization’s ability to achieve business objectives.  

The most successful brand leaders are inherently curious. They are curious about what matters most to people within their company. They are curious about what matters most to consumers. They are skilled at connecting the dots to envision new possibilities, and a new foundation for moving forward that brings these two sets of motivations together. Most importantly, their curiosity, and understanding of various perspectives, enables them to spark inspiration and alignment so that everyone is energized about moving forward in the same direction.

It’s time to be curious

My instinct is to move fast. I’m a solver, but I’ve learned the value of slowing down, being curious, connecting the dots, and inspiring people with compelling narratives that they feel a part of. Here’s what’s so genius about Einstein’s reliance on curiosity: Obvious ideas are typically not unique ideas. Big decisions based on old perspectives & old data are a big risk.

The best way to create strong consumer connections that drive growth is to deeply understand and address what people care most about. The most successful brand leaders recognize that curiosity, and asking the right questions, is far more important than having fast answers. Aren’t you curious about what being more curious can do for you?

Cover image source: Artem