Bees are in trouble. In the last 80 years our bumblebee populations have crashed. Two species have become nationally extinct and several others have declined dramatically.
Bumblebees are familiar and much-loved insects that pollinate our crops and wildflowers, so people are rightly worried. We wanted to support The Bumblebee Conservation Trust because they’re a small charity doing vital work. They’ve set a vision to create a world where bumblebees are thriving and valued. And their mission is to increase the number and distribution of bumblebees.
So we’re going to be riding 165 miles off road, aiming to do it in 24 hours. That’s going to involve night riding by canals… what could possibly go wrong?
We’re not setting a date because the most important thing will be dry conditions and as much light as possible for the time of year. However we’re aiming for the 26th September but check into our social channels for updates (FB, Insta, or @crowflieshigh) – we might go earlier, we might go later. Whatever day it is, it’ll be slowly, slowly catchee buzzy on this one.
Please, please support the bees – even just a few Pounds make a big difference to the charity and it means a huge amount to us Crows too.
Brands have to inspire internally before they can excite externally – the sell-in is critical. That’s why we’re launching Crow Visualisation today (10th September 2020). We’ve noticed that the link between great thinking and action is often overlooked. So we’ve assembled a crack flock of Crows with specialist expertise from concept visualisation and prototype rendering, bringing insights to life, data visualisation and infographics, business presentations and “decks” and even storyboards, videos and animation. Our aim is to create hard working visuals that help you create momentum inside your business and with your customers and key stakeholders.
For a list of our specific services click on the link here.
I’m delighted to announce that Gael Laurie is joining The Crow Flies as Brand Building Director from 1st September. Gael and I worked together 20 years ago but fortunately having scared her away once, she’s still happy to work with me again! Gael has what we look for in all the Crows: a wealth of experience working on leading FMCG brands (across drinks, Pharma and personal hygiene) and with her previous creative consultancy experience, helping smaller and challenger brands build a strong platform for growth. As well as that, she has, by her own admission, a naturally nosy nature into what drives people’s behaviour – perfect for when we look to apply research learnings and insights into brand strategy and innovation plans to deliver brands with foundations of stone.
Gael takes over from Rob Parker – Rob has had a long term ‘itch’ around education and teaching. For many years, he’s been a leader in the Scout movement and took the opportunity of lockdown to start the process of training to be a teacher. He starts today (*gulp*) and whilst he is a loss to the Crow team, he will make a passionate, committed and inspiring educator and leader for young people. A cliché, but truly meant, our loss is education’s gain. We wish him well, but we know with his attention to detail and commitment to a cause he believes in, ‘good luck’ is something he will create for himself.
In tough consumer markets, management teams often look to innovation to plug gaps in their plan and grow the top line in new and different ways, never more so as economic downturn threatens. Yet the promises and hype of innovation soon mean that myths & questionable practice can be confused with innovation reality. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the hard yards needed and the challenges to be overcome in the warm, coddling, glow of promises of ‘easy’ business success.
There are no quick fixes, no “hacks”, that guarantee success from innovation. Innovation is betting. You make your bet, you hope your number comes up. On balance, failure is more likely than success…but innovation success isn’t just luck either. You can influence the odds in your favour.
And the place to start is with leadership.
Leaders play a crucial role putting the preconditions in place that make innovation success more likely. Working across different challenges, we’ve identified 5 innovation leadership success factors:
Words and Behaviours The desire to innovate has to be more than a grand gesture or a noble wish. It has to be more than one person’s passion, even if that person is the CEO. And it definitely has to be more than words, even if those words are spoken with heart-felt belief. Purpose, strategy, structure, working practices, behaviours, targets… all have to add up, incrementally, to make launching great ideas more inevitable.
Invest time on putting solid foundations in place before you leap into resourcing up or creating ideas. Take the time to get everyone, properly, truly aligned and bought-in. This will not happen overnight, and it certainly won’t happen by e-mail the day after a leadership away day.
Create a purpose for innovation that flows from the company purpose. In fact, it will be a cornerstone in delivering it. An innovation purpose acts both as a guiding star and guard rails. It should motivate and keep you honest and on track.
Be clear on innovation strategy. What do you aim to be, for whom, by when? What are the handful of enablers that can propel you forward or blockers that will hold you back? Address them relentlessly.
Structure for innovation. Set aside investment. Set aside time. Set aside people, being clear on what they must deliver versus the responsibilities of everyone else. Recognise that how you measure and incentivise their success may be different to others, as innovation will always have a longer-term focus.
Think about working practices; innovators need the space to be creative but the urgency of knowing they must deliver at pace.
Be clear on how behaviours will need to differ to allow innovation to flourish versus that of your other marketing teams.
Failure: the fuel of success Innovation is rarely smooth. There will be bumps in the road and commitment to the cause will wobble. At the moment when a new product or service fails, or when you pull the plug, the whole strategy is put under the microscope. Doubters surface and get vocal. The whispering begins. Quash it. Immediately.
Recognise that failures are the fuel of success. Failures can lead to profound learnings about how to make something a success. This is when your leadership and your strategic alignment to innovation will be tested most – and in many respects it’s the real test of the innovation leadership mettle of the business.
Nothing to something is more than ideas
Of course innovation is about coming up with great ideas. But, thinking about the whole journey from nothing to something, ideas are really just a small part of it. Beanbags and chocolates play a role but are a small part of it. Brainstorms are part of it, but just a small part.
The whole journey is about understanding where to innovate (and why), who for (and why), what (and why), and the how… turning something from an interesting thought, some well-chosen words and beautiful sketch into a prototype and ultimately about committing resources into making that thing happen. Innovation is more than grand gestures. Committing resources isn’t just a creating a new role and allocating some loose change to bring things to life – it could be a new packaging line – and they don’t come cheap and they don’t come without absolute commitment to the cause.
Rhythm and routine In innovation, increasing your chances of success means establishing a rhythm and routine in creating new concepts. If you lose a bet you have another chip to place. If your big bet doesn’t pay off today, you have another for tomorrow and the day after. Success in innovation comes through quality and quantity. Success comes through having ideas, concepts and prototypes all along the innovation journey. Getting the business into a rhythm and routine creates confidence. Spotting insights, creating ideas, developing concepts, validating with consumers, launching, learning and going-again. And again. Accruing learning. Building competence. Building some swagger.
Process and chaos; loose and tight Innovation needs process but not to be strangled by it. It needs discipline, but the space to break some rules. It needs fag-packet calculations and 5-year NPVs. It’s the constant tension between process and chaos that allows innovation to thrive. Too much process and you will stifle creativity and execution. Too much chaos and you risk throwing darts at a dartboard backhand whilst facing the wrong way. You may hit the bullseye, but the chances are slim and you won’t know how to repeat it. It’s the recognition that innovation is a dance between looseness and tightness that makes the chances of success more likely. Innovation needs flexible guidance, not dogmatic rules.
All this, and not one idea created yet. That’s innovation for you. The success is in the hard-yards that few people give you credit for. It’s in the foundations for the house that are never seen. But without them, the glorious palace comes tumbling down. Innovation leadership, strategy and culture. Without them, the odds are against you.
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. email@example.com; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh
As the Government begins to ease us out of the lockdown, we’re getting a fair few enquires about what brands can and can’t do in terms of research.
As well as working on a number of online research projects through the pandemic, we’ve been listening to and contributing to different debates in the research sector and there are a few clear themes:
The pandemic is not having an adverse effect on recruitment quality (assuming you plan with care)
Yes, people have time on their hands, but there are no real issues with a rise in non-representative or ‘hobby’ participants
Quality of responses remains high (there was a fear that we would get people taking part to fill their time – turns out time is precious even during lockdown)
Face to face has stopped temporarily and will likely be slow to start up.
Research approaches A number of enquiries worry that Online Qualitative research is just a ‘Poor Man’s’ version of face-to-face. As with most things in life, balance is required: there are clear similarities online research needs to be seen as an additional yet slightly different tool in our armoury for understanding people’s behaviours and attitudes.
Face-to-face Groups (also Connections / Mini Groups and so on) There are two factors often overlooked in ’traditional’ face-to-face qualitative research which underline its real value.
Firstly, humans are a social species and Groups give the opportunity to observe social interaction – bear in mind, copying behaviour is enormously important in people’s lives and therefore understanding where there is agreement, dissonance and influence effects that change views, is incredibly valuable.
Secondly, and related to this, as we begin to understand more about the non-conscious pre-eminence (System 1) in our behaviour, so Groups give us the opportunity to study non-verbal behaviour and interaction as well as visual ‘ evealers’ of beliefs, values and behaviours – things like metaphors, for example. They allow us to get deeper understanding in a way that is not immediately obvious and a sense of how heartfelt or deep views are held.
But when can face-to-face start up in a safe way? Well, not yet, clearly but soon – and here are some of the things we’re planning for groups in the coming months:
run smaller groups so we can allow more space – think shorter, mini groups and more of them rather, than larger, longer groups
use well-ventilated spaces
allow longer for recruitment (the recruitment pool will temporarily shrink and we’ll need to reassure about participants well being during the process)
allow participants to bring their own food (no handling, no sharing platters!)
provision anti-bac hand wipes / sanitising gel
advise against sitting behind the mirror clients (who will want to sit in a confined space anyway?) – viewing in room, smaller numbers watching only, or potentially consider remote viewing / streaming too.
As the situation develops we’ll amend our guidance and advice – and obviously, widely available tests / vaccines will make a massive difference.
Online Focus groups, conducted in real time (synchronous) These are run using video conferencing software. They are particularly useful for observing instinctive reactions from participants to stimulus materials, and for verbal engagement between participants. In practice they are best run in a mini-group format with 3-4 participants. Whilst not welcome, a byproduct of the pandemic is making more people familiar with technologies such as Zoom and Teams, which means barriers to using video conferencing are falling (although this shouldn’t be overstated). And we’re learning a lot about the best way to set the calls up to ensure we can see people and their body reaction, not just hearing what they say (avoiding ‘Half A Head’ syndrome!).
The watchouts are that it requires more set up and time to ensure that the participants are comfortable, not distracted and ready to focus on the discussion. Stimulus is also trickier and we’ve been developing a few interesting ways to introduce stimulus and use it to good effect over the last few weeks. So – don’t think of online groups as a poor relation – they have clear differences and advantages which make them a worthy consideration depending on the project objectives and the timelines.
Asynchronous Online Focus groups and Bulletin Boards
‘Asynchronous’ is surely a high scorer in Scrabble, but all it means is that people respond in their own time, rather than in an immediate conversation with the moderator. We prefer the name ‘Bulletin Board’ for this reason – you post a message on the fridge door and they respond when they see it
These are run over several days, with participants spending 15-30 minutes each day answering the questions and replying to questions and further probing. They’re not ideal for group interaction, but they can produce good results when this is not needed; they’re great for individual reflection and they are a little more cost effective and faster (end to end) than real-time online groups or face-to-face Groups. At The Crow Flies, we like them, but generally would recommend that they support other methods. They’re particularly useful when used with ‘top and tail’ dialogue approaches for example, a video / face to face interview to kick off; then the online group and perhaps an interview to close.
Qualitative Online Surveys Sometimes people talk about ‘quali-quant approaches’ and they can seem either like a pragmatic badge of honour or a hybrid – somehow, there are methodological compromises. Well, Qualitative Online Surveys are a great reposte to that. If you do not need group interaction these online surveys may be something to consider: this method uses time controls and plausibility checks to elicit good quality answers, both instinctive and considered. It can also include probing, using a Virtual Moderator (which is a predictive AI tool that runs in the background). We can even build in IAT methods too (implicit attitude testing) to grab that initial ‘purchase moment’ reaction.
The depth of the qual findings isn’t as pronounced as in a Group of course, but they are really useful for identifying the fundamentals of what people are looking for – their immediate needs; the instinctive appeal of concepts or ideas (or lack of appeal!) as well as a good level of richness about what territories hold potential and why. There’s another inbuilt advantage – they give a bigger sample size than qual – 150 – 200 would be perfectly feasible here.
Digital Diaries / ethnographic
If you’re interested in how a pandemic affects daily life, or affects your brand / offer in real time, this is the way to go – a longer-term digitally-led approach. Here of course, people’s everyday behaviour has changed markedly through lockdown – this may make these approaches more or less valid.
Intercepts With the right permissions in place, intercepts are perfectly possible. Social distancing is fairly easy to implement and the presence of wearing a ruddy great mask may also help! Bear in mind, that strike rate is likely to be lower as people remain nervous (if you could see our hair at the moment, you’d be nervous too…)
Broadly speaking quantitative research continues as normal – the only thing we’re finding is that for longer surveys, drop-out rates are better – probably fewer distractions. Our development focus on quant is to push into understanding System 1 responses as much as System 2 – Implicit Attitude Testing, Find Time testing are good examples of this.
To chat through in greater detail, feel free to drop us a line.
Here’s a Crow blog we wrote for our friends at Soil Association Certification – they’re the UK’s biggest organic certifier and a key player in the organic movement. The organic sector is brim-full or innovative, entrepreneurial, exciting new brands across all sort of categories. Brands driven by people who want to do some good and do good business. Organic itself has been going through unprecedented growth – until COVID came along and chucked a ruddy great spanner into the works.
So this short piece addresses some of the questions being asked:
everyone wants to know what’s going to happen post pandemic – but be careful, it’s a fools’ errand
use the lockdown time wisely to really understand your brand: the message (positioning) that has most power and the memory structures (design, assets, sounds, experiences) that stand out for your brand
don’t box yourself into a niche – a niche which probably is a fantasy
go big on a few things that count
There’s messages for all brands in there. Have a read – link below – and give us a shout if you’d like to chat more about any of these themes.
We’re now many weeks into the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. We know that many of our brand building buddies are under pressure to deliver the necessities of short term operations, are furloughed or are facing redundancy. We’re pretty certain that there’s a recession to follow too, for that little extra kick.
It’s a situation that can take an enormous toll on our wellbeing and our wallets. It’s impacting families across generations.
What we can be certain about it that together, we’re better. So, to our clients and other Crow friends, if you want to chat, either just to chew the ‘brand-fat’ or chirp things through with a friendly voice and a listening ear, we’re here.
During this stressful time there’s one over-riding priority: stay safe, fit and healthy. When us Crows face a danger, we hunker down, stay in our nests, keep a stock of worms and keep an eye on the Crowlets. They can fledge later after all.
If you are a brand builder and you’re working from home, we have published a blog underlining why this is a (counter-intuitively) unique time to build a rigourous, focused brand and brand plan. We have been gifted the one thing that is a rare and precious resource in this day and age: time.
And we’ve just published what you can do with that time here – most brand building tasks can still continue, moving either online (research) or remotely (strategy, innovation, planning, visualisation).
If you are one of lovely clients or just a Crow Friend – new or future – and if you are struggling during this time either because of the impacts on your business, your family & friends or if you’re just feeling a bit low – please pick up the blower. Talking things through is an incredible tonic. You’re not alone. The might of the Crow flock is here and with you.
Pull your brand through isolation and come out stronger
These are distressing times, unprecedented times and times when the needs of the community and those most vulnerable in it rightly have to be placed above those of businesses. Nothing supersedes this. For marketeers and brands however, this adversity presents opportunities to get brand and marketing plans in the best shape they’ve ever been. Planning can’t be rushed but that’s invariably what marketeers are asked to do. Few if any marketing teams are given enough time to develop, refine and sell their plans.
Proper time. Not the snatched moments between the multiple distractions of corporate office life. Planning sessions are squeezed in when a calendar gap allows. Instead, the focus becomes getting plans done, getting them sold in. It’s little wonder there are gaps and inconsistencies. It’s little wonder that there are different agendas pushing the brand in different directions post ‘sign-off’. We see six common issues:
Not all consumers or even business stakeholders fully understand the brand or really get behind it
There are too many different views on what the brand stands for and how it should be behaving
Plan activities spring out of nowhere. Ideas get their boots on before strategy has woken up
The plan tries to tick every box (& can’t). Everyone’s been appeased but the brand makes no impact
Different agendas. Plans are derailed by a lack of shared unity on the strategy or the focus of activities
For brand owners, the commercial world slowing from its usual pace means that there is a rare opportunity to stop the fire-fighting and get deep and strong brand foundations in place. Foundations, that link powerful insights to purposeful activation, focusing energy on activities that genuinely impact the consumer instead of endlessly discussing and tweaking.
Home working and isolation are a potential liberator. Working this way is more efficient and effective. It creates the time for you to delve into and reflect on the category, and to properly plot your competitive strategy and review your brand positioning. It frees precious time to get closer to your target audience, to review & refine your consumer segmentation or even test innovation concepts (research is alive and well incidentally, and consumers who would otherwise be unavailable or harder to recruit suddenly are more open to spending some time with you).
Don’t miss this opportunity, use it wisely and you’ll never look back:
Spend time understanding your consumers: don’t just re-read an aging insight report. Immerse yourself in their world, properly understand them, talk to them. Pinpoint your target audience, prioritise their needs and place irrefutable insight at the heart of your strategy.
Review your positioning: do consumers, customers, stakeholders and colleagues truly have a shared understanding of the brand, what it delivers & how it delivers it? Is it powerful, consistent and differentiated? If it isn’t, now is the time to make changes.
Create a brand plan that stands up to challenge: are the key insights clear? Do they run like a vein of gold all the way through to actions? Do they confront the brutal truths or address the differentiating opportunities? Look at what you’re planning: are you ‘salami slicing’ and investing too little in too many activities? Have you forced sacrifice to execute with scale?
Get innovative: you’ve finally got time to be creative, do so. You don’t need to be in groups to come up with ideas. Time to reflect is stimulus in its own right. Idea generation sessions can be held digitally, innovation frameworks can be agreed to focus efforts on areas with the greatest commercial scope, ideas can be tested, refined and prepared for launch.
Build the big sell: an insight is nothing if it doesn’t grab people. A strategy is nothing if it doesn’t create action. Innovation is nothing if you can’t bring the ideas to life. A brand plan is nothing if it doesn’t inspire. Focus time on creating the tools that will sell your brand and your plan not only to customers but also internally, to stakeholders and sales teams. Buy in is everything, don’t leave it as an after-thought.
When we all return to offices and ‘normality’ you don’t have to return to a culture of justification and endless debate, you can return with a brand and business strategy that unites, inspires and frees you to focus your efforts on delivering it. It may feel odd to say it, but there’s rarely been a better opportunity to set up your brand with foundations of stone as good as this. Grab it.