A friend of mine spent several years as a mountain climbing guide at Mount Rainier. He described the importance of the time spent with his groups at their base camp as paramount. He stated that their time spent preparing, planning and training at their base camp always had a direct correlation to whether or not their climb was completed successfully.
He went on to explain that a base camp was their place of preparation where sound judgement was exercised, pitfalls were identified, needed resources were inventoried and the parameters of the adventure were defined. Since the terrain and weather conditions varied with each climb, the journey and pace needed to be uniquely mapped each time.
Similar to an expedition's base camp, the discovery phase of your project should always happen at the beginning of a project. In essence, it should be the point of strategic preparation that readies you (the client) and your agency for the journey beyond.
Taking the time to conduct the proper research - such as client surveys, consumer profiles, user testing, competitive analyses, and digital asset audits - will allow your company to see where your brand currently stands and what it's really going to take to get where you want to go.
A perfect example of the value of the Discovery phase unfolded recently with one of our clients. This client was confident of their target audience and felt like they understood her thoroughly. They based their assumption on what the rest of their industry believed. Consequently, they had positioned their content and digital assets to specifically target her for years.
From the beginning of the project we had a hunch that this industry as a whole was missing the target. During our discovery phase, we focused heavily on extensive consumer research, including quantitative surveys and qualitative focus groups. Through this process, as well as other key elements of the discovery phase, we gained some illuminating insights on their audience, which ended up shifting the course of the project and had a drastic impact on the direction, tone and perception for their final website.
Had we not conducted our consumer research, we would have ended up building them an incredible looking website with amazing functionality, but it would have been largely irrelevant to their potential customer base. Instead, we were able to offer them a mould-breaking, industry-leading website that was aimed at a broader customer base than any of their competitors.
No industry, market, company, or digital strategy are the same, your discovery phase should be uniquely tailored to your company's needs and goals. It should provide a clear, research-based vision for the project. When you or your team feel lost during the project, the results of your discovery phase should provide a focal point that is based upon your original goals and objectives. Just like the crucial plans that climbing teams make at their base camp, the data your gather from your discovery phase will help you and your agency forge a clear path from where you are to where you want to be.