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Why Discovery is a Worthy Investment

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln

At Mighty Citizen, we begin every project with a phase called Discovery. This knowledge-gathering process allows us to deeply understand our clients, what their pain points are, and what their audiences need. It’s all about setting the partnership up for success.

Discovery begins with a session where we’ll pick your team members’ brains and ask “Why?” about as often as a three-year-old child. The rest of the Discovery phase is tailored to each client and is presented like a menu you can pick and choose from. We almost always recommend user research in the form of in-depth stakeholder interviews, a user survey, or both. We sometimes propose a content audit, digital marketing audit, branding & messaging workshop, and/or usability testing.

No matter the components we select together, the deliverable we present to you at the end of this phase is a Discovery Brief. This document is a roadmap chock full of (often surprising) research findings with accompanying strategic recommendations, a project plan, and a scope of work for implementation.

Discovery dramatically reduces risk for everyone involved. It saves you money and time in the long run because we don’t have to charge for unknowns. It ensures that we dig up the roots of your problem and develop a strategy we’re confident in. The process of essentially asking a ton of questions—both of your team and of the outside world—informs a solid understanding of what’s working for you and what needs to change.

As Dan Brown lays out in Practical Design Discovery (which we worship slightly,) every project includes discovery—whether you honor it or not—because questions will inevitably arise. If all you want to do is fix the technical issues with your website and update the colors for summer, discovering as you go could be just fine. But if you want to redesign your website as the cornerstone of your marketing ecosystem, so that it becomes your best employee and supports every aspect of your work, discovering along the way would take years of doing an ugly dance: one step forward, two steps back.

Alternatively, here’s how we approach Discovery so it takes only weeks:

Learning the Problem

Every client that comes to us knows they have a problem. More often than not, every member of their team has a slightly different understanding of what that problem is. And in some cases, we find through user research that they’re all wrong about what’s bothering their users.

A while back, we set out on a website redesign project with the Long Center, a wonderful performing arts center in the heart of Austin. This client was fully on board for our Discovery process. We administered a citywide survey to inform their new website, including questions about brand awareness and perceptions.

What we learned: Most Austinites—including art lovers—didn’t know where the Long Center was, or what it was, and thought the logo was just plain “boring”.

If we had designed a new website based on their existing brand, it wouldn’t have made a difference. As we learned through research, their brand wasn’t compelling or engaging enough. After all, this was the creative center of the city; its logo couldn’t be seen as “boring”. Because they were committed to the Discovery process and willing to act based on our findings, we embarked on a hugely successful rebrand and then redesigned their website. The result was a $1 million increase in ticket sales within a couple of years.

Now, for many clients, the insights we reveal through Discovery are not this earth-shattering. Once in a while, a client will be slightly disappointed by this—telling us something like, “We were hoping for a shocking reveal!” As a business owner, my take is: You should be thrilled to know that you’re mostly on the right track.

And trust us, the smaller insights add up. We dig up all the little pearls from the sand and string them into a shimmering strand that we refer to throughout implementation. The result is happier members, donors, students, constituents, supporters, and employees who are better understood.

Without going through Discovery, you might get lucky with your interpretation of what your audiences want, but you won’t know why it’s working. Our Director of UX, Mike, likes to throw up this chart and explain that every organization falls into one of these four quadrants:

Our mission is to get every client into the top right. It’s a good feeling when you’re there. Confetti drops from the ceiling every time you walk into the office. Just kidding, but other magical things do happen, such as: more donations, members, high-quality applicants, event registrants, and online engagement.

Checking Your Assumptions

Every person carries around a heavy bag of assumptions about their organization’s clientele that gets heaved onto every decision they make—unless they devote the time and resources to hear from those clients via a skilled third-party who asks the right questions and processes the feedback objectively.

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In a few instances, new clients of ours have suggested nixing the Discovery phase, arguing, “We already know exactly who our audiences are and what they want.” To which we reply, “Great! Show us the research.” 9 times out of 10 there isn’t any. Their understanding is anecdotal, or it’s limited to demographic information and filled in with assumptions about that “type” of person.

Certainly, if your audience comprises 90% middle-aged men and every time you interact with them they’re generally happy with what you provide, that’s extremely helpful information. But the success of our work together and, ultimately, the success of your organization relies on establishing a much deeper understanding of those gentlemen’s motives, needs, behaviors, and goals. Unless you’re perfectly happy with the size of your user base, it’s also a matter of uncovering why women, or younger men, aren’t seeing the value in what you offer.

When we redesigned the Navigate Life Texas website with Texas Health & Human Services Commission, we knew that their site visitors were largely mothers of children with disabilities. We also knew that every mother has their own set of challenges and unique hopes for what the Navigate Life Texas website will provide.

By conducting ample qualitative research, we shook up the generalizations and oversimplifications. Each website visitor is a different parent of a different child having a different kind of day and a different kind of moment. The strategic piece is determining the right number of options to provide for the user so their journey is customizable, without being overwhelming or burying the main calls to action.

Aligning Our Teams

You bring the deep industry knowledge. You bring the insightful stories of interactions with your supporters, members, constituents, students. You come bearing the details about your organizational structure, culture, and workflows.

We bring the expertise in design, web development, digital marketing, and messaging. We bring 20 years of experience solving similar problems to yours, yet we lend a refreshing naïveté about exactly what it is that you do. We bring certified project managers who are masters at keeping the ball rolling. When we unite these strengths during the Discovery process, it’s like a chiropractic adjustment that will allow us to move swiftly and painlessly across the finish line in stride.

Discovery is a time commitment, no doubt. It’s a commitment that gives your team an amazing opportunity to pause. To ruminate on important questions and strategize on a deeper level. When a Discovery meeting is on the calendar, rejoice; you finally have three hours to stop doing your work and think about your work in a deeper way. To stop throwing darts at the wall and mark the bullseye. To pause the chopping and sharpen your axe.

We take great pride in our entire process and regard Discovery as the most important step. Whether it’s with us or with another agency, we urge you to choose a partner who insists on beginning a project this way—by hearing from your target audiences, checking your assumptions, and founding the plan for your new brand, website, or marketing strategy in truth.

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