Curiosity is a shit starter. And now’s the time for YOU to be curious.
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
I can’t take credit for this headline that stopped you in your tracks. 100% responsibility goes to the remarkable storyteller Brene Brown (from her book Rising Strong). But I will take credit for this lively story that gives you 4 ways to build your curiosity skills.
Early in 2010 I’d been in the US just about nine months when I started my Marketing Director role for Kenmore small appliances (incl. kitchen, cleaning, etc). I joined at a particularly exciting time as the brand had created a new logo and visual identity, with new product packaging work well underway. Everything was signed off, rolling, being printed, and produced as I arrived.
Yes, I only just got here a few weeks ago !! But it was about to happen again, and yes I was about to start some shit…..(a common theme of mine throughout the across the pond marketing transformed podcast co-hosted with Chris Lawson)
Curiosity means being INQUISITIVE
Being new is often a blessing (and a curse) due to the lack of knowing very much about the organization. So I took advantage of my blissful ignorance and my lack of preconceived ideas empowered me to relentlessly ask questions and be INQUISITIVE (i.e. my usual self). As I began to learn about the products, immerse myself in the brand history, and study the insights behind the brand relaunch - I felt something slightly off. I had this unnerving sense of something missing, but I couldn’t quite articulate it. All I knew is that something just looked and felt different from what we had in the prior version.
Curiosity is showing OPENNESS
When curiosity kicks in - It's a feeling, a full-body sensation packed with emotion and anticipation. And as I compared the old brand to this new vibrant, colorful, modern, and stylish execution I continued to experience this feeling. It was similar to my time at Braun when I was responsible for brands in multiple countries, across different geographies. That global role meant learning how to listen to the needs of each country’s consumers and act on the information. It meant adapting my resources and doing my utmost to serve them - be it through content, images, or messaging. And yes it meant showing OPENNESS to understand the nuances and create multi-language packaging that had 8 or more languages on it.
And then it hit me…….
As I looked at my Kenmore artwork, I realized that everything was in English, and the Spanish language had been entirely removed from the packaging. And when I asked, “why?” There wasn’t really a good answer (note to the reader, recall earlier my experience of 8 or more languages on the pack as being ‘normal’), I mostly heard “we just thought it was clean and crisper”. Which is fine, but ….… Of course, there's a but! As I started researching the shopper data for the category it revealed that about 1 in 4 had a Hispanic heritage or were native Spanish speakers.
Curiosity means GETTING UNCOMFORTABLE
Simply put, we had to put Spanish back on the pack and although some people agreed with me - with the P&L at stake I had to GET UNCOMFORTABLE and face the fact that many Agencies, Design, Product, Supply, and Merchandising leaders didn’t. After all, they’d spent an immense amount of time, money, and effort making the brand relaunch happen. And remember, I’d been in the role just a few weeks and here I was “starting shit” via a new business case that argued: 1) the cost to scrap already produced materials was manageable, 2) new timeline was feasible, and 3) language translations were possible. That, yes we executionally could make it work with the new branding. (P.S. Shout out to Jeff Green, who was a Spanish speaker, led with empathy, supported my argument, and helped me put the business case together).
Curiosity means displaying CREATIVITY
But I couldn’t just rely on my reality and my curiosity. I had to show CREATIVITY - and tell a story that painted a vivid emotive picture that would inspire the team to opt-in. In this case, showing the instore reality of the packaging change - which meant that we’d have both old and new designs literally side by side on the shelves, across stores for several months until they sold through.
While the move was about delighting our consumers, an unintended consequence of the pack change was that a customer group would essentially see that we were taking something away from them (leading to the perception of them being less important to the brand).
There was both a theoretical risk of a missed opportunity and a real material P&L risk of sales decline due to lower engagement with a passionate group of brand lovers!
A P&L risk which no one else had proactively thought about until now.
Shameless interruption because Now it's your turn.
4 ways to build your curiosity*
Inquisitiveness (ask questions) such as “why”, “how might we” (followed by “we can if”). The important thing here is to focus less on yourself or what you’re going to say. Instead, listen and think about a question you can ask to propel the situation, or uncover new ideas, reveal a passion point, or understand a concern that the person/customers have.
Creativity (having the courage to challenge the status quo). Creativity is not just oh I can paint, I can code, I can write but it’s the courage to challenge the status quo, to use your voice and speak up.
Getting uncomfortable (immersing in new environments or leaning into things that you find complex to read or watch). For example, the reason I love the word ‘mysterious’ is because, often, the things we describe as mysterious are perfect opportunities to get uncomfortable!
Openness (being open to exploring, seek knowledge, and acting on people’s ideas).
Curiosity* behaviors Inspired by Be Curious, 2016 Merck KGaA
…..Okay, so what actually happened to the Kenmore brand relaunch?
Being curious actually worked out, because the General Manager for Kenmore at the time (Betsy Owens, now CMO at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab ) supported my business case to add Spanish to the packaging and so the changes were implemented. In fact, this prompted us to invest more by creating dedicated content and recipes in Spanish and connecting with Latino and Hispanic influencers who brought their unique voices. Leading to some of our highest ever engagement measures.
But that’s not why I’m telling you this story right now. Even though it happened a decade ago, I’m telling it because it will resonate with a lot of marketing and communication practitioners today, especially those from under-represented and minority communities (BIPOC/BAME). Because, many of you will see yourself in a similar story/scenario - where you have to work extra hard and strain every sinew in your body just for a chance that your voice, lived experiences, perspectives, innovation, and ideas are heard…..(let alone supported).
And now’s the time for you to be curious.
Click on the player above to hear more about the power of being curious in the world of marketing transformation and business in our bonus Aftercast™ episode on being a lifetime student of marketing inspired by Yin Rani and in episode 5 What's Your Marketing Superpower.
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