Keep your eyes open, be jealous and define your own insight.

[This is a special guest post from VCU Brandcenter's Caley Cantrell. Caley is Professor of Communications Strategy.This is another in a series of guest posts from Brandcenter faculty.]

I don’t blog much. Not for lack of things to write about. But for lack of sheer discipline. So joining in on someone else’s blog seems pretty delicious! Many thanks to Greg and Jim.

If I can offer advice to folks who might want to be account planners or strategic planners or brand planners (don’t get me started on titles) it would be these three things:

1. Keep your eyes open.
2. Be jealous.
3. Define your own insight.

Keep your eyes open. The world is full of things that are important for a strategist to be aware of. So much so that large parts of my classes, if not all my classes, are somehow bound to things I find in the newspaper, hear on NPR, or past students send me. Advertising and marketing do not exist and cannot succeed in a bubble. You must know the state of the economy. You should worry about the continuing digital divide. Buy movie tickets and see the movies when everyone is chatting about them. Don’t always wait for Xfinity.

Please don’t let your eyes be focused only on “what the consumer cares about." Back in the day, the job of the account planner was “to be the voice of the consumer.” I don’t know about you, but consumers have voice now and they are screaming. If you don’t believe me, visit Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs – you get the point. Anyway, study business. Study what models are sustainable, what models are failing and what models the jury is still out on.

Be jealous. If jealousy and envy are synonyms, that means jealousy is one of the 7 deadly sins. I hate to be recommending that anyone purposefully sin – but damn it to Hell – that’s what I’m going to do. When I go to a conference and hear a great speaker or watch a student presentation and think to myself “Whoa! They really nailed It.” or “How elegantly simple.” it’s a compliment that means I’m a little jealous. I wish I’d said that. I wish I’d done that. And in the case of a student, I’m pretty proud they did it. As a planner, being jealous of other planners makes me work harder. Tell a better story. Define a problem more clearly.

Define your insight. Someone I’m a bit jealous of is Farrah Bostic and because some say that people in planning, or advertising in general, have the magpie mind, I’m going to drag a shiny bit from Farrah to my nest and this post. Farrah has a great blog and posted about insights in a piece entitled “There are not such things asinsights.” Farrah is spot on. You don’t just “find” insights. Or as I tell Brandcenter folks, “insights are not sea shells that you collect while walking on the beach.” Googling faster and harder does not get you to insights.

I will also borrow from the good folks at The Challenger Project who talk about “fat words.” Fat words are ones we throw around and at each other so often that they become bloated with symbolic overuse and lose any real meaning. “Insight” has become such a word and I worry often about removing it from my syllabi forever.

So I’m going to take and define a new “I” word. INTEREST. What is of interest in this problem? What is interesting about how people live their lives? Can you create a conversation between a brand and a person by revealing a common interest

This “I” stuff is probably getting a little annoying right about now. So I’ll get to the point in my agreement with Farrah. An insightful person will realize that the really interesting bit of the assignment is reframing the problem. It is interpreting the difference between what people say and what they do. Your work should be illuminating from beginning to end – not just on the page with the bold title “INSIGHTS.”