What is MECE (pronounced, me see)? And how does it help consultants solve problems? And how could it help agencies win more pitches?
MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive.
It is a method that is a key teaching in our new ‘Structured Thinking’ training course. It is very popular (probably compulsory) in large Strategic Consultants – that ad agencies and marketing agencies will come up against in pitches more and more in the years to come.
Structured Thinking helps a team within an agency look at the bigger issues a brand faces, not simply its advertising and marketing. And importantly look for evidence for the changes they recommend to a brand’s advertising and marketing by providing the evidence backed insights that have used in solving a brief .
The advantage of this is that it ties the advertising solution in with the bigger issues that a brand faces, which is exactly what management consultants do. And why they compete so well with agencies.
In short MECE checks that once a problem is broken down into its component parts there is a) no over lap – mutually exclusive (ME) and b) nothing has been missed – collectively exhaustive (CE).
A good example of MECE in the world of advertising is the way Byron Sharp (How Brands Grow) breaks down what a brand needs to do to grow. Here is only the first level of a logic tree, asking the question – What does a brand need to do to grow?
There is no overlap here – they’re mutually exclusive and they are collectively exhaustive, what else is there?
Now you’d take it to the next level and start breaking down each component. The logic tree can get very deep, however this way you’ll only need to boil the sea once. At each level we make sure they obey MECE.
Then we ask in what ways can we increase physical availability? Still obeying MECE – be available in more outlets that are bricks and mortar and or more availability on-line?
Then the next level, where on-line? What retail outlets?
Increasing mental availability (traditionally advertising’s, marketing’s and branding’s bread and butter) needs to break down into its components obeying MECE – develop distinctive brand assets, develop below the line promotions, develop promotions above the line.
Note each level of MECE can be and / or statements. E.g. Increase just one component, two components or all of them. This is where the research comes in for each component, when we form a hypothesis. E,g We might want to test how distinctive our brand assets are – so asking the question do they needs to be changed at all? If we are to change them, how and provide the evidence for those changes. No guess-work – evidence.
An agency brief would be asking what does what does their specific brand need to do to grow. However, you might even start with a different question altogether, like, what changes could we make to (insert brand name) advertising? Or it could be a relative question – Why is the market leader’s advertising better than ours? Or what are the key reason’s people choose one brand over another? Whatever the question you decide upon, MECE is one tool that will help you stay on track.
Eventually, as we break down a problem logically further and further say 5-6 levels deep (where it gets harder and harder to maintain MECE, especially CE) we’ll hit upon a thought, possible solution, that we can share with the agency team, which will form a hypothesis, that will need to be tested and so we will need to look for evidence. This evidence will either prove or disprove our hypothesis.
It is the CE part of MECE which leads to better creative solutions because as we move down the tree it becomes harder and harder to be collective exhaustive and so we become creative in our answers and it becomes more of a fun brain storm around a very tight component of the question we initially asked. This is where your insights / thoughts could be unique to how other agencies competing on a brief will see the problem and yours will be evidence based.
The advantage of working this way is that your biases can be torture tested, we all have a best guess at an answer to a question but there will often be biases present. So instead we can test our thinking and provide some evidence to our prospects / clients. They can then follow our logic in our pitch and see that our thinking is not just thorough and crystal clear but hard to contest.