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John Malkovich and the Search for the Best Brief

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Even after the credits ended, I remained still. Lights went on and there was nobody else at the exhibit room that Thursday afternoon. And there was I until a safety guard came to kindly ask me to leave, not without first asking me if I was alright. It was December 1999. The world was a few days from confirming that the year 2000 bug had been just a false alarm or not. And John Malkovich had just had his head hacked and exposed on the screen by Being John Malkovich, the film I had just watched. My own mind was blown.



From that Thursday on I have been challenging my role as a market researcher. You may wonder how both – the movie and the career – connect. My answer is that it’s all about the initial step of any market research project: the brief. This fundamental piece of time spent on trying to see the world from the client’s perspective, our effortful attempt to delve into our client’s mind had just been brilliantly pictured on the journey to John Malkovich’s mind.

As time has become even more scarce and the need for speed has earned importance it sounds to me that it’s high time we got back to basics. A lot of work could be spared just if we dedicated more time for a detailed brief with a client. A mindful, digital-free time between 2 teams (client and agency) could give both ends the best draft of what the actual marketing question is all about.

In the agile world life sometimes seem to feel immediate and process-free. Many professionals in both client and agency sides seem to have been convinced that market research is nothing but quickly tossing some questions at a public that has been trained to provide a fast response to our stimulus. Call me old school, but I don’t really think market research is for anyone. I do believe every business should have the opportunity to get access to good information before they took relevant decisions, but I question the means they have been offered to these days so to have this task accomplished. We need to spend time listening to clients and clients, on their turn, should spend more time at the beginning of a project trying to make it clear – even for themselves – what their pain really is about.

We need to find our way to the client’s seven-and-a-half floor (in case you have not seen the movie yet, I encourage you to find out what that means).

That comes with quality time at the brief. That comes with quality time along the relationship with the clients. That comes with openness to sharing and to vulnerability from both ends, no matter how evolved technology will have become. That comes with us (agencies) using our market research skills to ask clients the questions that will help them raise the right questions to their customers.

Let’s ask more questions, dive deeper, talk more openly. Let’s generate empathy instead of entropy. Let’s find ways to our day-to-day John Malkovichs minds so to help them do the same to their own target. That is much of what an impactful business is about.

About the Author: Ivan Augusto de Oliveira is the Founder and Owner at OliveTree Consultoria, a Market Research consultancy in Brazil.

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