Interview with Danish Chan

Join me as I have a conversation with Danish Chan, Co-Founder of Untangld. As he shares his definitions on What is strategy, What is an Idea, and What is an Insight.

Hi! Today I am with Danish Chan, who is the co-founder of Untangld, which is a strategy consultancy. Today we’re going to take on the big three. The definitions of what is strategy, what is an idea and what is an insight, all flip it and put inside in the middle there, but Danish take it away from me. What is strategy?

Almost straight into it? So, I think the best description of ever head of strategies from like a book, good strategy, bad strategy. And, it was defining a pathway to solve a challenge. Like what’s the way you’re going to solve a challenge. And that’s your strategy. 

While I like that, Is because inherent in it is you have to diagnose a challenge. And I like you, I’m a big believer in like problem definition. And then understanding how you overcome it is everything. So I think that’s at its most simplistic way. What I think about strategy. 

Yeah. It’s interesting. I’ve taken that definition as well. And I think he has two other pieces to it. It’s like a coherent action. Um, and then it’s an org organizing those thoughts. So the coherent action for me is the idea. And then the organizing of it is the actual integrated campaign. But I, I kind of tend to agree on that definition for creative development? Same.

Well, yeah, I’m glad you read the book better than Isaiah and I remembered the components of it, as opposed to me who was just like read the one sentence and moved on.

I think, I think what that touches on those, your next question, which is going to be like, there’s always this argument and tension between where does strategy start and finish and where does the idea start? And if you take that notion of. It’s how do you overcome a challenge? And then what are the actions and coherent principles that address it? You start to get to the idea part. 

And so when you talk to some strategists, so when you talk about strategy and that way it’s everything and everything’s strategy, and that’s helpful and not helpful, depending on the type of agency you are and the type of planning you are. But that’s also probably why it’s blurry because it.

Good strategies naturally push you and lean you into ideas because they’re action-orientated and because they’re insightful. And so that’s a really good way to think about like that strategy at a broad level. How do you overcome a challenge? Where do you stop? So it’s a really good question. Especially if you work in an agency.

Well, that was the thing. Also the why I took that as well is with a creative brief, I would always write my creative brief to my creative director’s level. So some want you to stop at the problem statement and say, Hey, Hey, Hey, stop it. Don’t give me the solution than others alike. Actually helped me on the solution.

So if you think of the, get who to buy the buyers, the single-minded proposition, some creative directors are like, yeah, help me with the solution. Others are like, hold back. Um, so it’s interesting that, that those pieces you kind of use in different ways.I’d love to know now what your definition of an insight.

So, okay. So the thing about I’ll go backwards one half step, which is the thing about strategy. Is doesn’t necessarily have to be new. Like I said, we’ll talk about ideas and what they are, but there’s a, especially in our industry, 

there’s a obsession with newness. Like has it been done before? What’s the first thought strategy doesn’t necessarily have to be new. It just has to solve the problem. What is inherent and unique about the way we do strategy is that we want to find the new way to solve a problem.

And that’s where the insight comes in, which is what’s the thing that changes my perspective on the world or this thing we’re talking about. So if we’re looking for a new way to solve a problem, the insights, that kind of thing that makes you reframe re-look at something and kind of go, Oh, I hadn’t thought about it that way.

And it doesn’t have to be super deep. It rarely is. It just maybe is a recirculation of something we say every day, or it’s a flipping of a notion that we took for granted, or it is a fact or a data point that changes the way you understand something. 

And maybe that’s the important part of the last part, which is it’s about what you understand from the data point, not the data point itself, but the, I think an older circumstances it’s.

Helping you see the world or the problem in a new way. And I think that’s what, that’s what I think an insight is. 

Yeah. I, my definition is very close to that.

It’s using Richard Huntington’s, um, and insight is a revelation because it reveals something new about the problem. It reveals. 

A new way of looking at the world.

So similar kind of similar where we’re surrounding that similar language. And the two ways that I use an insight when it comes to a problem is it’s either a reframing the problem. 

So you thought the problem with this actually it’s this. Um, so you’re seeing it in a different way. 

Or the other one is it’s showing you a solution, a new solution to a problem that you never knew existed.

So the two examples that I like to use is the revelation. 

Um, when it’s like reframing a problem, there’s an ad for, uh, the Portuguese government did a local council, did a gov, uh, ad around dog poo and they had these amazing print ads where the dog poo kind of looked like a cupcake and. 

Kids would like see the dog pour on the ground and they would want to go eat it and that’d make them six.

So instead of the problem was people aren’t picking up their dog poo, but we reframe, they reframed it and said, it’s not about just picking up your dog crew and step someone else stepping in it. 

It’s actually about making kids sick. Are you, do you want to give, make a kid sick? And so that to me is a reframe of a problem.

And then a new solution is the add.

My favorite out from last year’s super bowl was Cheetos, um, with the Cheetos dust on their hand, the popcorn and the guy was being asked to do all these things he was being asked to, um, You know, move house. 

And he, he was just like, it was the MC hammer song. Can’t touch this.

And he had just put his hands up with shadows dust, and that was his alibi to get away from doing anything. 

And the problem was in this hyper productivity world of like hustling and making every moment count this new savior of Cheetos dust came.

And that was a new solution that maybe people hadn’t been connecting that snack time.

Um, you could now save snack time for just. Relaxing with that on your hands. 

Yeah, I think that’s, I mean, it’s a really good way to think of it. And I think the best strategists have ever had the pleasure of working with there’s never just one insight. 

And I think, you know, there’s, when you look at a break, there’s always that box, this is insight and you kind of go, what is it?

Um, I think the best strategists. And you hear them present. 

There’s an insight in every aspect of the strategy. So the way they frame the challenge is insightful. 

It goes, Oh, you want to sell more X, but actually it’s this problem. 

And the way to overcome this problem is with this insight and they actual way to then solve, bring that insight to life is through another insight.

And then every stage is like, you’ve seen them present. You kind of go, Oh, Oh. 

And it’s everything is like this aha moment. You kind of go, Oh, there’s not one insight.

The banked into everything and the insights serving different purposes, which is let’s look at the problem in a different way. Let’s understand the customer or culture in a different way.

Let’s understand the business in a different way and understand the why we bring it to life. 

Um, in a way that someone hasn’t seen it before baking in insights throughout the process is probably what makes for great work, but also why it’s really hard to define what an insight is because we use it in different ways.

Yeah. I am of the school of thought that insights are super rare and that we use the word too much. 

So, uh, I’ve got to forget it. It’s J John Kenny, I feel like I’ve got to credit all these people when I’m taking their word. 

That’s why I say it. Not, not trying to name drop or anything, but John Kenny, that you come up with, maybe a strategist is lucky to get two to three insights a year.

And I kinda think that’s kind of true. Yeah. 

It’s like really hard to nail an insight where, you know, which would be the, the opposite of what you’re saying. Like an insight. 

I agree. There’s these revelations that you have in a great strategist stick where they’re kind of like taking on all these diversions and we think it’s going that way.

And then it goes that way. Um, But at least at the start of your career and for most micro I’d be like, actually I think you’re about right. 

It’s probably you not having them all the time. And maybe that takes the pressure or maybe that adds pressure. 

I don’t know. I think that adds pressure. 

It’s like, is this the gym?

Um, ah, yeah, I’m the opposite. I’ve always like, uh, love standup comedy. 

Right. And I always think like every drug has an insight.

Like observational or anything else. And they squeeze white 45 and a set like 45 insights. 

It’s like bang, bang, bang. And if they’re doing it, we should be able to show it because that’s also our job.

And so the question then becomes. Insights or like ideas. 

There’s lots of them. They’re not all great.

And then all usable. Yeah.

Right. Yeah. 

And so the, so again, maybe there’s very few great insights, but lots of, um, I think that’s where I’ve always landed. Like someone got off with this writing stuff about this, and I kind of go.

I love it. I don’t know what to do with it. 

Yeah. Like it’s really interesting you, but, and again, and maybe that’s the other thing, which is an insight in isolation. 

Isn’t that helpful? Yeah. 

So, you know, I think we call it like, we think about it like the Holy grail, but in like, we talk about insights. Like if they’re not in context of the challenge, And the business of the brand you’re working for.

They’re pretty generic. Yep. 

Well, not, not relevant, not relevant to what you’re trying to do. So why exactly bring it up? 

Yeah. Yeah. So it’s like insight, insights in context and what makes it really hard? 

Like the insights about themselves to like, sure, whatever, uh, last one for you. What is an idea. 

We talked about this the other day and it made me really reflect.

So I’ve always thought of an idea. And again, it’s one of those questions where in every agency, you kind of hear it like five different times and awake and you kind of go, isn’t this what we do every day.

Why are we asking the question? Um, it’s I new solution to a problem. 

So. And I think that’s the difference between what we do in advertising and creativity than what engineering would do, which is they would have ideas or they would have strategies and plans and ideas even.

But I think we cherish the innovative newness part of what we do a lot, which is. No, one’s solved it like this before. 

And I think that’s why we, that’s what we reference as an idea. Like the, um, also why to the weather’s the strategy and an idea Stott. 

The May’s really blaring sometimes because if you’re a creative strategist that tends to be a newness to your strategy, which then.

Feeds into the idea naturally. Um, so that’s how I’ve always thought about ideas may I’m like it. 

It’s interesting. Cause you kind of answered the question based on what you think the problem is. 

Of what an ID needs to be. 

So for me, I’m always worried from coming from a comms planning background, it’s always been like an idea is an overarching theme that holds all the work together and it clearly has guardrails of what’s in and what’s out like that.

That to me, it’s like the medic themes. And I know that might be. 

You know, that might be another element of an idea because maybe you can have a new solution to a problem, but there might be, you know, that could be one single solution, which you can’t bring over multiple paces, but that would be my, my understanding, which helps define it as opposed to a, uh, tactic.

Yeah, well, I mean, okay.

That’s a really good question. So like my, my example would be in a previous life, worked with pet insurance and we’re launching a new pet insurance products for a brand that hadn’t done pet insurance before. 

And we did, you know, how do we launch a new product as a car insurance brand, speaking to pet, talking about pets.

So, interesting challenge. Um, and then we worked out that. 

Pets like the human insight was that pets have an, a natural confidence. That means they get the cells into trouble. 

They check cars, tiny dogs, chase cars, and cats jump off balconies. And they’re just crazy, stupid, confident. 

And so. Why why not position pet insurances, overconfidence insurance, and so humanizing something which is quite rational and from a buy perspective into something which solves a problem, which is your pencil or the confidence COVID them.

Yeah. Reframed a commodity into something that was emotional and solved a positioning problem.

So I always loved that idea because. It’s in naturally spiked to an insight about pet owners and the way they humanized their pets, but also an insight into pets and design to the category. 

And like, it kind of brought everything together quite nicely.

Yeah. I love that. 

Um, can I ask you for one more example, same saying you, uh, you were the strategist on dumb ways to die. Correct.

Yeah. Um, if you were to say the strategy, what was the strategy, the insight and the idea that dumb ways to die. 

Could you put you on the spot here? Could you, I mean it’s 10 years ago, my friend. 

So, um, let me try. So the good strategy identifies the challenge. 

The challenge was that. People heading themselves around trains and train stations.

Like they’ll falling off platforms and crossing gods when the, when the barrier was down. And they’ll just, um, like being clipped by trains and being, and heading themselves.

And so the brief was, um, create a poster campaign, you know, to improve safety around truck platforms. And I guess the problem definition was safety poster campaigns are wallpaper.

Like the condescending, the tele, the obvious, like, hold, hold the hand rail and don’t jump on the platform and don’t run in front of trains. Like they tell you stuff, you know, so what it wasn’t going to be useful. 

And so that was the challenge that how do you help? How do you get people to be safe around trains when you can tell them to be safe around trains in an obvious way?

Um, and the insight. So the team spoke to a whole bunch of people in, uh, you know, drivers and train, same workers and. I had some guy said how stupid you have to be to get hit by a train. 

They’re like massive, noisy things that travel in one direction on a schedule. So there will be a time that says the train is coming now and you still get hit by a train is remarkable.

You gotta be some kind of stupid. And so that became the insight, which is you gotta be doing something pretty stupid to get hit by a train. 

Um, which then obviously led to the idea of how do you stigmatize unsafe behavior on trains by calling it the stupidest thing you can do? I don’t waste a day. 

So it went from, don’t tell, don’t tell people they need to be safe, make them want to hear it.

And so stigmatize it and make it entertaining in the same. Well in the same sentence was kind of the strategic and creative approach. 

Does that answer your question? Yeah, I think it does. 

We’ve got, we’ve got a problem or you identified the strategy there at least, and then the insight and the idea is great.

Thank you so much, Danish. That was great.

And we took the big three on and I feel like that’s only in 15 minutes. Wow. Solved solving, big problems here. 

That’s what we do. Thanks.