30-second summary:

  • A controlled chaos mindset helps brands and smart marketers recognize the inherent biases that tend to guide research and execution.
  • The first pieces to get cut from budgets are the listening and planning portions of the planning process, which creates several problems for marketers.
  • Max Braun, associate director of experience planning at RAPP, gives five steps for shaking out the biases, gaining a more accurate perspective on the customer, and driving true innovation.

Controlled chaos. Is that the state of our union? Perhaps, minus the “controlled” part. But, seriously, this is not a political essay of any kind. It’s an assertion that the key to a more inclusive and innovative customer experience is embracing a controlled chaos mindset, which allows brands and smart marketers (such as yourself) the chance to recognize the inherent biases that tend to guide research and execution.

Business leaders are often asked to make incredible gains in a very short time. As a result, they seek to leverage efficiencies by preventing chaos and reducing the number of inputs in the planning process. They prefer to make smaller gains over a shorter span of time to demonstrate that they are competent leaders, which is an understandable defense mechanism.

Taking the time to understand the problem is critical to coming up with a strategy. Unfortunately, the first elements to get cut from budgets are usually the evaluation and listening portions of the planning process. Eliminating these portions results in several problems for marketers:

  • We begin to confuse a marketing goal with strategy, resulting in creative work that thinks only as hard as your wallet.
  • We open our planning process to only the quantitative and qualitative data that already exists within our organizations. This means that any bias already in the process and within the company will only deepen over time. If we use biased data to identify the problem, then it figures that biased data will inform the solution and reinforce the marginalization of disenfranchised customers.
  • Although these approaches may be easier to sell to the organization because they occur in a language that is familiar to brand and product managers, they don’t offer anything new to the outside world.

The overall result is lackluster innovation and short-sighted creative work. The better approach is to embrace a manageable level of chaos to shake out the biases, build a more accurate perspective on customers, and drive true innovation. Controlled chaos is just a well-organized process that manages a much broader array of clutter in the evaluation stage of any planning project. Rather than fixating on a single insight too early, or on a small segment of existing data, marketers should look at a much wider array of input and take bold actions to disrupt the market.

Good reasons aplenty

Injecting controlled chaos into the planning process results in plenty of benefits when it’s correctly managed and the appropriate amount of time is allocated to collecting and evaluating your research. By injecting more qualitative and quantitative data into your evaluation, you increase the chances that you uncover not only new but inclusive insights that consider the perspectives of a more diverse group, not just the “general market consumer.” The work that shows up to the market is more honest about the brand, product, or service, and your customers feel less like they’re being “sold” and more like they’re being “invited.”

There are good examples of this approach. One of my favorite recent examples is Apple’s “Behind the Mac” campaign. Apple seems to always get it right, but what makes these campaigns powerful is that it could have easily set up the Mac to take credit for making history on Vogue. Instead, Mac is simply in the background as a device that makes doing the work a bit easier. The real story is of Tyler Mitchell, the first Black photographer for Vogue’s cover, and Mac is only there to support his story.

Another great product experience shaped by controlled chaos is the app Bumble. It doesn’t just advertise with inclusivity; Bumble builds it into the end product and addresses gender and racial bias head-on. Whether you’re looking for your best friend, a casual date, or the love of your life, Bumble has created a one-of-a-kind user experience that makes it the second-most-used dating app in the U.S. (and catching up to Tinder fast) at more than 5 million monthly active users.

These products and campaigns wouldn’t work if leadership and marketers hadn’t drummed up a moderate level of chaos in the development stages. Two recent examples come to mind when thinking about the repercussions of streamlining the planning process and not taking the time to foster deeper insights.

The first is practically unknown. Facial-recognition software developers build face-identification algorithms that are widely used by world governments, municipalities, and law-enforcement agencies. But what happens when you include only white faces into the equation? Simple: The algorithm does not accurately detect anyone else’s faces. That embarrassing oversight ruins the customer experience. Striving for “order” introduces (and reinforces) biases in our data.

The second is more widely shared but is a pure example of what happens when you don’t empower your organization with representative leadership. Adidas has leveraged Black superstars in its marketing for decades, but due to its culture of excluding a diverse group of leaders in the decision-making and planning processes, the brand missed an important road sign. There’s a fine line between elevating the voices of people of color and appropriation. Even a well-intentioned strategy can fall apart without proper consideration.

Encouraging more upheaval in your campaigns

If your organizational thinking could use a little controlled chaos, here are five steps you can take to effectively mix things up:

1. Take ample time

You need to allow yourself a significant number of hours just to collect and evaluate data. Whatever time you think you need for getting and evaluating sufficient research, double — nay, triple — it. Too many people get so eager to solve the problem that they just jump into whatever data already exists, forgoing any additional insight that could be out there.

2. Diversify the data

Don’t just ingest more data; ingest more types of data. For example, don’t just look at how many leads come from one webpage. Instead, look at everything together, including how those leads got to the page in the first place. It might reveal a flaw in the way you’re capturing the data.

3. Consider all parties

Make it a point to bring the perspective of non-buyers into your planning process. It’s important to consider your base, but too often, we consider non-buyers “rejectors” when they might not be invited to the table to experience your brand in the first place. This could expose a bias you weren’t aware of by showing you a consistent trend in customers who avoid your brand. Always ask yourself “why” and speak up when you notice these discrepancies.

4. Embrace individuality

Limit categorization as much as possible. While it’s human nature and good data science to find and define patterns in a heap of customer data, too much categorization results in broad generalizations that may overlook important behaviors and perspectives. Rather, look at every possible need and motivation that a customer has and establish a range of possible outcomes.

5. Spread the power

Give decision-making abilities to a more diverse group of leaders. Too often, we think of diversity by just having people of color in the room. That’s wrong. We not only need diverse employees to be present in the planning process so we can consider their points of view, but we also need them to feel empowered to make the kinds of changes needed to drive insightful work. It’s not just about saying you’re an ally. It’s about actually taking the necessary steps to invest in change.

Max Braun, associate director of experience planning at marketing and advertising agency RAPP, is a strategist with experience leading passion brands like Slack, Google Cloud, and McDonald’s through award-winning experience transformations.



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