“It is my business to know what other people do not know.” – Sherlock Holmes

Think of the great detective stories in literature, film and television.

In these stories, the big reveal, the big break in the case, is only as satisfying as the painstaking investigative work that went into it, right? And we, the audience, are satisfied because we can see that without that intensive, exhaustive process, the case would surely have gone unsolved.

Now think of the way your agency team goes about solving the case of your brand development or market solution. Is the process painstaking and exhaustive? Is it rooted in hypotheses, research and discovery? Is it a grueling search for hidden insights, secret motives and surprising reveals? Are you playing the role of innocent bystander or channeling Sherlock Holmes?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the conclusion is elementary: That agency team is not performing the most fundamental and necessary part of its job — investigation.


Research and Discovery Is a Mindset

“It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”

Of course, not everyone is cut out to do this Sherlockian work. The investigatory, research and discovery–based process is often shortchanged, overlooked or altogether skipped in favor of surface-level insights gleaned from high-level sources.

And that’s exactly why it’s imperative to adopt as a core marketing practice an R & D–style mindset. Because in the same way that good technical R & D team is constantly looking for a new innovation — an unmet need, an efficiency to gain — your team should be probing and prodding to uncover the real story of the brand you’re developing or solution you’re marketing.

If all this sounds grandiose, just think about the difference between a bland, slogan-based campaign and a thoroughly researched, needs-and-opportunities-based messaging platform.

And if all this sounds grinding and difficult, well, you’re right. The work requires a great deal of time and effort.

Because if your job is to crack the case, you don’t just talk to one witness and call it a day. You immerse yourself in the minutiae, work the angles and never, ever stop questioning.


Get the Details from the People Who Know Them

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

The insights you seek lie, in all probability, not with your leadership or marketing teams, nor with your internal positioning materials. These are merely the usual suspects; your work begins with them, of course, but it necessarily extends far, far beyond them.

Your most valuable source documents are externally based, coming from industry experts and third-party reviewers. And your best material witnesses will be your frontline workers — particularly your salespeople.

These individuals are the most familiar with the little details you seek: the brand’s weaknesses, the solution’s shortcomings, the competitors’ advantages. And they’re the most in tune with their customers’ reasons for buying or not buying.

Your work should naturally extend to customers, too, since you can extract even more valuable insights when you compare their answers with the sales team’s. Talk with customers and salespeople intermittently as you go, weaving outsider and insider perspective together like a basket, always collecting details and driving closer to your answer.

And don’t just use the “satisfied customer” list your marketing team gives you. Some of the best insights you’ll get will be from current and former unhappy customers, since their experiences can give you visibility into the weaknesses and shortcomings you may need to address.


Remember: The Story Is in the Surprises

“Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.”

As you begin your work, you’ll get a lot of false positives: answers that may be shallow or rote. You can build a message and strategy using this research, but it will likely be an obvious and uninspiring one.

So you keep digging — asking people’s motivations, asking about the roadblocks they’ve encountered, asking question after question after question. You’re looking for an untapped, unsaid or unrealized insight. You’re looking to be surprised. Because that’s where the story is.

And this is where your fine-tuned questioning will really come in handy. You’re looking for the why and your inquiries should be calibrated to draw this out.

  • Why did that sale break down?
  • Why did that one go through?
  • What was the emotional hurdle you couldn’t get over with that customer?
  • How much does the company’s history factor into customer decisions?
  • Why? Why? Why?

It’s about the questions, of course: asking the right ones and being prepared enough to take different tacks or tones to elicit the most honest and open responses.

But it’s also about listening — and knowing what to listen for. What may seem like a tangent to an interviewee may just be the avenue to your story if it opens up an unexpected path of inquiry.

And it’s about being tenacious enough to push an opening over and over if you think that’s where the story lies. Think like a dogged investigator who always gets his man, no matter the obstacles. There will be a few red herrings along the way, but that just means you’ve eliminated another dead end on your way to the truth.


Focus, Focus, Focus: Immerse Yourself in Your Research Results

“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.”

As you and your team perform this discovery work, try as much as possible to immerse yourself in the world of your work. When you reserve your time and energy to focus on the task at hand, you’ll have the mental capacity to not only conduct your interviews but also to process, ruminate and analyze.

Throughout and after this process, come together often to compare notes and insights. Put your findings on a wall for everyone to look at and write on. This visual processing can help you create connections between data points that you may have otherwise missed if you were just reading over a team member’s findings in paragraph form.

Allow yourself to be creative during this time, too. Pull on the strings that are nagging you to see what unravels. Identify problems you’re stuck on and see whether a different perspective can shed new light. It’s often these vexing puzzles that yield the most surprising insights.


Ensure Collaboration Between Your Strategy Team and Your Agency Team

“You know my methods, Watson.”

This ideation work shouldn’t be performed by your strategy team alone, since the final output won’t be coming from them. You’ll need to bring together your strategic and your agency teams early and often, ensuring that they fully understand — and are fully invested in — the work’s final conclusions.

At Everhouse, we prefer to be involved while you’re developing your strategy so we can not only understand the context but also help shape the overall narrative. The most memorable strategies are often infused with simple, straightforward creativity — the kind that can only be produced in lockstep with the R & D process and not grafted on afterward.

When we present our findings to an internal marketing team, we do so with a message that’s concise, tangible and actionable. It’s not an unwieldy, nebulous PowerPoint that can confuse or bury our findings. Instead, it’s a precise insight that cuts straight to the main message, with no possibility of doubt or mistranslation.

And as with everything we do, we perform this R & D work with a focus on your business.

By including you in the process and getting your input on the strategy toward the beginning, we plant the seed of an idea and let it take root in your psyche.

We’re not popping in at the end of your process to reveal a fully completed deck that you haven’t had time to consider. We’re engaging you in the progression of the strategy to make sure that you’re fully on board with our thinking and you’re fully comfortable with our direction.

Coming out of these early workshops, you and your stakeholders feel productive and energized, and we have gained valuable insights into your key decision-makers.

Together, we can then move confidently toward our final strategy, knowing that we have buy-in and ownership from the people who matter most.

Story Sherlocked, Case Closed

“… whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

While all this R & D work certainly requires stamina and perseverance, it is also undeniably fun. Finding hidden clues that lead to a eureka moment. Uncovering surprising motivations and obstacles. Presenting a thoroughly researched and engagingly created strategy to a leadership team that for the first time sees the full potential of what it is selling.

All the work you put in along the way, from the interviews to the technical deep-dives to the re-interviews to the brainstorming sessions, comes to a satisfying conclusion — another case cracked, another story Sherlocked.