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Before any project, a large emphasis is placed on the work to be done before anything is created — the plan or discovery phase. Typically, no one is ever in doubt about the importance of spending a significant amount of resources in the discovery phase — at least in theory. Often in our industry, the reality of time constraints and the pressure for tangible results means that the discovery phase becomes a hurried reading of internal documents. Perhaps an on-site meeting or two. Due to the pressure put on “results” the irony is that somewhere between crammed information, questionable assumptions, and strategies without solid foundations, the project fails to reach its full potential.
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it is the illusion of knowledge. Daniel J. Boorstin
At Nansen, we know that it’s easy to create an illusion of knowledge — to make assumptions based on beliefs. Because of this, we have to start every project from the very beginning. We maintain that discovery is an invaluable part of any project; it informs every action we take going forward, in two key ways.
How do we achieve this in a discovery phase? For us, it’s about seeking to understand, rather than to merely impress. It’s about being humble and starting from the square zero, conducting research in every way possible. When discovery phases function primarily with time constraints and the desire to immediately impress in tow, it means research via marketing material, PDFs on organizational structure, and understanding the firm’s main business goals — with strategies surrounding them. This of course has its benefits, and in some capacity, should never be skipped. But to get the full value, agencies need to immerse themselves with the brand as it exists tangibly. Experientially. Outside of the office, and away from the digital realm of our laptops.
In the past year we had the opportunity to attend a couple of very different cycling events that the iconic bicycle brand sponsors. These included the Cyclo-Cross National Championships in Austin, Texas, and the Sea Otter Classic in Monterrey. We observed the races as part of the crowd, among the thousands of enthusiastic fans — quite factually, the embodiment of our previously abstract “users”. They were passionate, energized, and invested in our clients brand.
We realized that our client is more than a service — it’s the representation of what their customers love and what their product enables, rather than serves. We had the opportunity to speak with dealers on their impression of our clients brand, and how new digital endeavors could better suit them. We rode our clients fitted bicycles from event-to-event across the hills of Monterey. Most importantly, we acquired knowledge and were imbued with a spirit of the brand that no other research medium could yield.
To deliver a truly compelling experience for the user, this means stepping away from the need to create linear connections between the action and the desired result. We need to move toward educating ourselves through curiosity and immersion. It’s not easy — it means devoting hours to activities that do not yield any tangible result. The key is taking the focus away from “tangible” and become more devoted to the “result”. When we started working with our client, they understood our philosophy and encouraged us to immerse ourselves into their distinctive culture.
A true discovery phase should be just that — an opportunity for members of the chosen digital agency to immerse themselves in the brand that they are working to transform.
We saw the benefits of valuing a company’s physical presence in digital projects:
Though we’re largely operating within a digital space, the value of truly immersing ourselves within the brand’s physical presence is unparalleled. The acquired deepened understanding informs every facet of our work and process.
Taking this approach has not only helped our understanding of the company and helped us to create better solutions, but it has strengthened our relationships with clients, too. Our clients see the passion and enthusiasm we have for their organization, and this creates a positive atmosphere where all can work together to achieve great things.