Senior brand strategist at Planet Propaganda on the tyre brand’s ingenious, over 100-year-old marketing idea, the importance of keeping an eye on social media, and how strategists can get in their own way too often
An accomplished brand strategist, Cheyenne Langkamp brings deep research, insights and planning experience to the Planet Propaganda team. She has served as the strategy lead on a wide range of accounts - from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies like AB InBev and Monsanto across industries from CPG to agriculture. Prior to joining Planet, she rose the ranks at a number of agencies in Madison and St. Louis, including Nelson Schmidt, We Are Alexander, HLK and Hiebing, after initially starting her career as a journalist. In her new role, she’s focused on Duluth Trading Company, Jersey Mike’s and Marquardt Management Services while overseeing a number of other accounts.
Outside of work, she loves reading, gaming, running, hiking, cooking, local politics, beer, ‘Fleabag’ and ‘Little Women’ (the movie). We spoke to her all about work though, specifically her field of strategy.
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Cheyenne> This question should be an easy one for me, as someone who has had both titles at various points of my career. In terms of a meaningful difference… I’m not sure there is one, and if there is a relatively agreed upon difference, I’m not sure I believe it’s important. I’ve found that we - agencies in general, but perhaps strategist or planners in particular - get in our own way too often, and debating what we call ourselves strikes me as an example of that.
LBB> But… which description do you think suits the way you work best?
Cheyenne> At the end of the day I suppose I take the no-last-names-on-the-back-of-our-jersey’s approach and choose to simply think of myself as part of a team of strategic and creative thinkers, where an insight can come from anyone just as much as a creative concept can.
LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?
Cheyenne> This may not count in the traditional sense as a ‘campaign’ but it’s an example I came across that has stuck with me for years. The Michelin brothers owned a tire company in France and they set out to sell more tires. To do so, they needed folks to use and wear down the ones they had. So they created the Michelin Guide, full of places to see and stay that would keep folks on the road wearing down those tires. This all happened in the 1900s(!) but it feels so relevant to the work I do today: so often we get the problem wrong because we’re focused on our problems, not the consumers; and we’re focused on telling them what we want them to hear, rather than delivering useful and entertaining information. Great strategy to me is twofold: it solves the consumer and the business problem, but does so without making consumers aware of the business problem. It makes the behaviour change natural, not a burden or something they’re tricked into.
For reference, here’s what I’ve kept bookmarked on this:
LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Cheyenne> Social media - although it's through a filter, this is often the closest you can get to hearing directly from the consumer without doing research. While consumers aren’t often their authentic selves on social media, I think that’s okay because they’re often their aspirational selves in these spaces and in many cases that’s actually the version of them we’re hoping to understand and resonate with. Plus, seeing how they speak and create content to entertain one another is a useful creative springboard toward how a brand can do so.
LBB> What part of the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Cheyenne> Gaining an understanding and appreciation for the audience. Many strategists that I know struggle being in this industry and wondering if the impact it has is positive or negative. And to be fair, it’s an important question that I plan to continue wrestling with. But at the more micro level, when you talk to consumers you’re able to see that these products often play a larger role in their lives and stand for things that are more meaningful, that you can feel good about. One thing that’s great about my current role is our agency is focused on what we call ‘weekend brands’ - the products and services people turn to in their free time. And that means we’re working with brands that people are excited to spend money on, brands that are with them during their favorite moments. Hearing about that directly from the audience makes it all worth it. I’ve never forgotten the conversation I once had with a busy mom who loved Hormel chili because it allowed her to express her love for her family.
LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Cheyenne> I’m not sure there are aspects that I return to over and over again… although it’s a bit exhausting, I tend to approach each assignment with a clean slate and tailor the solution to the circumstances. I will say that at one point in my career our creative briefs were centred around the ‘tension’ that consumers are feeling or experiencing and that has always struck with me. Not necessarily in the sense that I use it now in briefs or presentations, but that specific word ‘tension’ has continued to frame up how I approach trying to understand consumers. It accurately represents the fact that most problems don’t have obvious solutions, but rather the consumer feels pulled in multiple directions.
LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?
Cheyenne> Creative brainstorms are centres of vulnerability, and sitting between a massive client ask and the yet-to-be-determined solution can be a scary place. It’s so easy to tense up or freak out. It’s important to remember that what we do should be fun. The creatives I jive with best take the work seriously but don’t take themselves - or me - too seriously. We’re all in the escape room together, there are no bad ideas on how to get out and we’re determined to have a good time.
I want them to engage with what I share. Add to it, analyse it, hell even push back on it… just anything but ignore it, please!
LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?
Cheyenne> You need to have firm allies in your account and creative counterparts. That starts with bringing them along in your process of developing the strategy and writing the brief. Once you reach kick off, it shouldn’t be your strategy, but our strategy. When people are invested and believe their thinking is part of the approach, they want to live up to and deliver on their own expectations, not circle back to them after the fact.
LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?
Cheyenne> Covid has reiterated for me the importance - to life in general but especially to life as a strategist - of feeding your passions and nurturing a genuine curiosity about the world. Doing so has helped get me through over five years in the industry and one unbelievable year in a global pandemic. Whenever I speak with younger talent I make a plug for prioritising these aspects over memorising terminology or mastering frameworks. Passion and curiosity will take you further and help you through tough times.
LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?
Cheyenne> I’m happy to say that the agencies I've worked at haven’t been overly concerned with awards. They’ve always been focused on making sure the work works for clients and consumers. I think that’s the right mindset.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Cheyenne> We tend to silo ourselves. While I too occasionally need solo time for a deep thinking session, I really want us to rewrite the myth of the lone wolf strategist buried at their desk, uncovering the one true path forward. You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. Know your team and use your team.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Cheyenne> Resist the instinct to believe you always have the right answer.