4A's Stratfest

Oct 22, 2020

Stratfest 2020: Overcoming Bias in the Brief


  • Jason Dille, EVP, Media
  • Mark Vigna, VP, Group Account Director
  • Matt McLaren, Sr. Brand Strategist

What is StratFest?

In a time where markets and culture can change in an instant and speed is a competitive advantage, the strategy practice finds itself caught between the competing demands of ever-expanding remits, the need for even deeper understanding, and shrinking deadlines. At StratFest 2020, they explored how strategists need to rethink the craft to both lead and deliver impact at speed.

Where did Chemistry focus the most attention during the conference?

The need for developing briefs and insight creates new challenges as planners are forced to rely more on gut which is often limited to one’s experiences and existing data sets which are often not representative of minorities or evolving culture. The Overcoming Bias in the Brief panel discussed bad data and how to sniff it out, the typical areas where bias shows up, and the methodologies and thought processes that can help planners recognize bias and omit it from briefs.

What are the 1-2 takeaways that you learned from attending?

Jason:  Significant progress has been made within strategy departments to address bias in briefs, but there is always more that can be done. The speakers warned of simple pitfalls that we may unconsciously be making:  Using the data to prove a pre-existing theory and not disprove as well as, relying too heavily on just demographic census data, and ignoring the intricacies of geographic impact.   

Mark: It was really well-done, especially given the all virtual nature. My biggest take-away was that in a world of “black & white” demographics and psychographics, that there still may be ways to work with our clients to see the bigger picture.

Matt: StratFest always offers new perspectives that I can immediately put into action. With this presentation, they made it very clear that we all have assumptions, and using those as a starting point can become a new way to design a brief. They called this process “assumption-sorting” — write them all down, then write the opposite to get to where you need to go.

What were some of the most powerful quotes or insights shared?

Jason: “You cannot trust your own beliefs”-Remain open-minded and a student of data to produce the insights. Prove yourself wrong.

Mark: The most powerful insight that was shared was “Different times call for different approaches – not only to who our audience truly is, but how we can strategically reach them.”

Matt: “Don’t just question your biases, actively run up against them.” — the bigger cultural conversation has changed, and it’s our job as marketers to revisit what we previously accepted as truth.

What were your hopes, perceptions, and expectations for the conference? Have they changed since attending and participating?

Jason: I went into the session looking for tangible actions I could take to improve the way we build strategies.  The panel was transparent, concise, and specific with the steps they were taking, and I found that very valuable.

Mark: It was one of the first seminars that I attended in the COVID quarantine, so honestly I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I was impressed although I will allow that some of their insights and advice sounded great in theory, but maybe not as realistic in practice.

Matt: In post-COVID times, it is easy to get into a rhythm of the same Zooms with the same members of your team. This conference does a great job of forcing us into conversations with people of very different lives, with very different perspectives. I’m always impressed with the range of people who hold the title of “strategist.”

Can you give a piece of advice to other strategists on how to better create more inclusive briefs?

Jason: “Do not think of people as “other” and have empathy for the target audience.” We could all benefit from more empathy, but we must apply that to the targeting decisions we make. Walk in the shoes of the target to fully understand what barriers or opportunities exist. Consider how different audiences may view the brand and how we need to speak differently to them.

Mark: Try to capture the bigger picture and challenge your team (and your clients) to think differently even in the face of the “same old/tried and true” parameters. 

Matt: Take what’s always worked for you and challenge it. And, do it again tomorrow. There will always be a new way to approach a brief.

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