What role do luck, pluck and magic have in brand case studies?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading through a number of brand case studies.  Some were in books, some in journals, some in presentations.  They were developed by agencies, academics and corporate brand managers.  Many of the case studies were of the same brand — Apple and Harley-Davidson being among the most popular.

In every case study the set-up predetermined the outcome.  It seemed inevitable that the case would prove this point or that point.  

Comparing these case studies to the reality of my own experience, I was struck by the 20/20 hindsight clarity of the case studies.  As we all know, in real life these programs are not to neatly wrapped up with a ribbon.  They take unexpected turns.  Decisions are made for reasons of personal taste and nothing else.  Or else they are compromises.  Or the timing of a decision turned out to be better than anyone expected.

So I propose that all case studies should have a special section for what I call luck, pluck and magic.

Luck is just that.  Often luck is about the timing.  A great idea can fail if the market isn’t ready for it.  The happy accident of timing, the alignment of the stars.

Pluck is the willingness to take risks.  The executives at MSN showed extraordinary pluck when they selected the butterfly design.  Even with the market research validation, it was still a bold move for them.  Can you imagine the meeting in which they presented to Bill Gates and explained his internet offering was going to be a butterfly!  Pluck!

And magic. That is the inspiration that seems to come from nowhere.  It is not derivative.  It is not imitative.  If anything, it is inductive not deductive.   Let me try to say this another way.  Magic does not come from a process.  And it is not a matter of lucky timing.  It is the creative process at work.  Where did that MSN butterfly come from?  It fit perfectly with the strategy of Microsoft providing everyday amazement on the web.  But the metaphor came from a wellspring in the imagination of Michael Thibodeau.  

Can you imagine being shown a case study and the key decision turns out to have been made by the wife of the CEO?  It happens.  but it never shows up in the case studies.

So my modest proposal is for case studies to include luck, pluck and magic in their analysis.  The world is a messy place. Case studies that ignore the complexity leave important lessons untaught.

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