Research

Research re-emergence (a moving feast)

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.

Pandemic considerations

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:

  1. The pandemic is not having an adverse effect on recruitment quality (assuming you plan with care)
  2. Yes, people have time on their hands, but there are no real issues with a rise in non-representative or ‘hobby’ participants
  3. 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)
  4. 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…)

Quantitative research
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.

David & Rob

 

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for categories and brands.  david@thecrowflies.co.uk | +44 (0) 1283 246260 |  http://www.linkedin.com/company/the-crow-flies-ltd | https://www.facebook.com/thecrowfliesltd © The Crow Flies, 2020

 

 

 

Time For Action

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:

  1. Not all consumers or even business stakeholders fully understand the brand or really get behind it
  2. There are too many different views on what the brand stands for and how it should be behaving
  3. Plan activities spring out of nowhere. Ideas get their boots on before strategy has woken up
  4. The plan tries to tick every box (& can’t). Everyone’s been appeased but the brand makes no impact
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Thanks for reading and stay fit & healthy

David, Rob and the Crow team

19 Corvids – no wait, Covid-19

As the situation develops with Covid-19, we’re keeping an eye on the implications of the virus on face-to-face qualitative research. Clearly, both participants, researchers and clients may feel uncomfortable about sharing the same space at this time. However, both the MRS and AQR guidance is that we continue to recommend the appropriate methodology for the research, which may be Groups or similar, until further notice.
A number of the precautions and extra steps we are taking are:
  • building checks into the recruitment process on recent travel to affected regions or potential domestic exposure to the virus
  • ensuring that all participants are aware of the exact nature of the environment the research is taking place in and are recruited on this basis
  • bringing antibacterial hand wash and tissues to sessions for the use of attendees and providing (a little) more space in the room, where that is practicable
Beyond this of course, there are many alternatives to face-to-face research. From telephone or digital depths, digital diaries, online bulletin boards, tele or video conferencing – please let us know if you’d like to consider these options more fully.
The Market Research Society has comprehensive guidance, should you wish to take a look: https://www.mrs.org.uk/resources/coronavirus

The rise of the conscious consumer

The Crow Flies undertook an in-depth look into the drivers of choice and influence for people when food shopping on behalf of our lovely friends at Soil Association Certification. The research was conducted amongst 58 people who are not organic ‘converts,’ but rather ‘potentials’ – those who infrequently buy a small number of organic products, but are open to considering more. We spoke to men and women from a wide range of ages and different life stages, and gained an interesting perspective on their shopping choices. It’s clear that we’re living through a time of real and long-lasting change.

The summary of the research is here and if you are a Soil Association Licensee, you can get the full report by e-mailing them with your licensee number.

 

 

Success for Whitworths

It’s always great when work that impacts the market gets recognised and one of The Crow Flies long-standing clients, Whitworths, has had just that. We’re delighted to have played our part in the wider team that helped turnaround the Whitworths brand – we’ve partnered with them on research, strategy, innovation and planning . Read more about it in the Telegraph (below).

This was a great example of brand building – a team effort working with great partners (a big call out to Springett’s and Chapter), consistent focus on consumer and commercial insights, and then making some tough choices to free up the space, time and resources to impact the market.

If you’d like to chat to us about your brand building challenge, be it strategy, research, innovation or brand planning, we’d love to talk. And well done to Big Phil and the team at Whitworths!

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/business-club/consumer-retail/whitworths-brand-repositioning/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_li

Market research… and the holiday spirit

And so the holiday season draws to a close and as we return to work, most marketeers are struck by the same thought: why don’t I become a pool cleaner and then I can be on holiday the whole year around? For most of us, this is swiftly followed by the realisation that we don’t know anything about cleaning swimming pools and so instead we focus on two very important tasks: planning the big projects that are going to step-change brand performance and planning the next family holiday to a pool somewhere sunny.

AUGUST HOLIDAY CROW 2Let’s be honest, as we get our feet back under the table at work, the latter often takes precedence and the first thing we do is to immerse ourselves in the research for it. Every source and anyone of value to the decision is engaged: friends and family, consumer reviews, pricing comparisons – the lot. By using them, we maximise our chances of finding the perfect holiday and minimise the risk of disappointment and wasted money.

Yet ironically, and increasingly, for big marketing projects research is questioned. It may be because of experience of researching a project to death (which inevitably leads to inaction) or receiving an overly researchy, non-commercial answer (which often leads to a recommendation to do more research!) or just a general sense that the research has merely described the past. It’s so easy to listen to the research naysayers who belittle its value and instead advocate riding with the white knights of ‘big data’, off-the-shelf industry reports, or frankly, personal intuition and a survey cobbled together on Twitter.

At The Crow Flies we’re not curmudgeons, advocating that you should simply do what you’ve always done and damn the consequences. But at its best, we see the value in well constructed research, when engaged consumers and engaged clients are brought together over the right questions to uncover commercial solutions to commercial opportunities.

The Crow approach to managing research powerfully is to think about The Nest and The Egg…. ‘The Nest’ is the research framework. Neither too broad in scope nor too shallow in depth and focused on fuelling decision making. ‘The Egg’ is how research participants and client stakeholders are immersed, involved and fully engaged in incubating the project to deliver results that can be leveraged with scale and impact.

Get this balance right and research can significantly increase your chance of delivering commercial success on those next big projects before you head off on that very well researched family holiday…

The Nest focused, usable, scalable

  1. The critical 5%
    Research is typically around 5% of your budget – but it’s the most critical 5%, everything else hangs off it. Give it focus; give it attention, immerse yourself in it and it will deliver.
  1. Ask for your answer
    Too many research projects don’t go far enough. Uncovering consumers’ unmet needs is only the start. Finding out how your brand can solve them should be the output – which brings us on to…
  1. focus on the interface
    Brands are not built on research alone, nor on research strategy, planning or innovation…they are built at the interface of the four. Set-up your research and all the parties involved to ensure the outputs directly inform action.
  1. Methodology blah blah
    We know people find new research techniques interesting and exciting but often they promise more than they deliver. Focus your brief first and foremost on finding the unmet consumer needs that unlock commercial success and don’t fret about the technique.
  1. Usable utility
    Elaborate videos & complex segmentation models are of no use if they don’t build shared understanding & uncover new, usable insights. Prioritise outputs that will help the marketing team to make decisions and the sales team to scale up your brands, profitably

The Egg immersive, informal, impactful

  1. De-objectify the process
    Consumers are real people. They’ll only tell you what they really think if they feel comfortable & relaxed. Informal is the new formal and releases real truths.
  1. Go long
    Longitudinal and dialogue techniques will cast light on how consumers actually behave over time. These fresh perspectives can unlock real value.
  1. Get engaged
    Time is short & attention spans ever shorter. Put engagement at the heart of the process – give quant studies personality, reduce the length of interviews. Focus on what’s essential to learn.
  1. Raw not just scrambled
    There’s a role for the formal debrief but raw can be better. ‘Live’ debriefs the night of research, open dialogue & discussion for big opportunities at pace.
  1. Sunny side up
    Consumers are marketing savvy and love to get creative. Don’t just ask them to tell you their frustrations, involve them in creating the solutions. It’s amazing what they come up with

It’s time to reconsider the very real commercial value that research can unlock and to be a little more sceptical about research naysayers – ultimately there’s an agenda behind it. For a different approach to market research and brand building that maximises your chances of delivering commercial success, get in touch.

 Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. rob@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260 

© The Crow Flies, 2017

Generalisation Y?

Isn’t it strange how in this age of ever smaller micro niches of ‘targeting’, powered by digital ‘big data’ engines, and the promise of ever-more accurate psychographic profiling, that the use of the term ‘Millennial’ is still used with so much unthinking and carefree abandon. Ahhh…the intoxicating, beguiling whiff of pseudo-expert terminology. “Millennial”. It’s like it has some magic power – to impress, to confound, to enthral. Marketeers, despite their intelligence and above-average ability for rational thought, are swept into the alchemical vortex created.

In fact, ‘Millennials’ wear many cloaks. Echo Boomers, Generation Me, Generation We, New Boomers the Net Generation and possibly the most interchanged name, Generation Y. The one factor that connects them all is that they’re a generation, sharing nothing more than a birthdate somewhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. That’s a full 20 years. And that’s everyone born during that period – or approximately 14 million people in the UK alone. Yet somehow, they’re too often seen as a homogenous mass, sharing traits and attitudes and behaviours that somehow, make them a useful targeting profile. Generation Y? Generalisation Y more like.

Here are just a few of those Generalisations.

  • Millennials are confident and team orientated with a greater sense of civic duty and social responsibility than generations before them. They want to achieve; indeed, they expect to achieve, and they expect to do it in their own way.
  • Millennials are lazy and work shy, apparently, and more like to have narcissistic tendencies – either a high degree of attention seeking and a quest for power or more of a self-orientation, being defensive, idealistic and having a keen sense of entitlement.
  • In the work place, work-life balance is valued more highly; they’re likely to pursue creative roles, or possible multiple roles to fulfil their different life goals. Not bound by loyalty to institutions, they’re also much more likely to hop from job to job, like ambitious rabbits.
  • Millennials are supposed to be more liberal – both socially and economically – yet they are typically less politically active (witness Brexit, where ‘Millennial’ voter turnout was lower than all other age cohorts)
  • They are ‘always on’ these super-connected digital natives, not knowing any other way of living – using digital for getting the news and connecting with friends with social media habitually –creating alter-egos
    for themselves in the digital world vs. the physical world

Slide1I’m sure you know a ‘Millennial’ or two; indeed, you could well be one. You may recognise yourself in some of this – both positive and less so. But here’s the rub: you’re just as likely to recognise people who are older, maybe even younger – who share these traits. I don’t fall into the Millennial age bracket, but I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative (a trait of Millennials apparently). I’m not lazy or work shy, yet neither are many younger people that I’ve worked with or mentor. In fact, I’ve not known a group of young people who have had to work so hard as this one: to afford to rent in London, to pay down student debt, or just to get or hold down yet another low paying internship for some much-cherished work experience. It’s as hard graft as the Industrial Revolution, just very, very different work – and slightly less grimy. And I’ve not known a generation who have been shown so little genuine loyalty by employers, many of whom are more concerned with metrics rather than real engagement. No wonder engagement is lower and little loyalty is shown.

Rather than targeting a whole generation, what’s more useful to brand owners and brand builders is striking the right balance between identifying a meaningful market segment – defined not by birth year, but by attitude and behaviour. One big enough and recognisable enough to the people you are targeting to actually move the needle commercially and ‘small’ enough to be differentiating and informative for targeting your brand or your marketing activities.

So, don’t think ‘Millennial’. Don’t think ‘Generation Y’. Think ‘Why Generalise?’ Why generalise when you can build a consumer targeting profile yourself. Why generalise when you can develop a whole consumer market segmentation if needs be – one that is more useful, more usable and more commercially valuable than crude brushstrokes.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260 © The Crow Flies, 2017

Mistrust

slide1There’s a tendency in business to always put a positive spin on things – somehow to be ashamed to face up to the big issues in plain speaking language and dress them in such polite terms that they lose their meaning. On Tuesday though, I gave a presentation at the annual Organic September trade briefing in London, hosted by Soil Association Certification, one of the themes of which was mistrust. In fact, it was the first point I made.

I was, I’ll admit, a little bit fearful about how it would land – would I be seen as a doom-sayer when actually the headline news is good (the organic market is growing by over 5% in a food market that’s flat and sluggish)? Because, although it’s a brutal fact, mistrust is all around us at the moment. I’m no political commentator, but take Brexit. ‘Out’ votes driven by fear, anger and mistrust of privilege, of politicians, of Europe, of faceless Bureaucrats, of ‘silly’ laws, of the status quo. And in food retail, what else drives the pervading mistrust of big food producers and big food retailers as horsemeat scandals, obesity crises (for whom the retailers, fairly or not, are blamed), mass-manufacturing, ever falling quality, increasing prices and the perceived weasel-words of products and brands that get found out (and increasingly easily get found out, at that)?

So yes, I was fearful that it was a downbeat message and no amount of delightful condiments on the ‘Praise Sandwich’ would obscure the truth.

Yet for every weight, there is a counter balance; pendulums swing both ways. And for every issue there is an opportunity. Of course, if you are connected with the Organic or natural products movement, either as farmer, a grower, a producer, a retailer or brand owner, then you have reason to be cheerful. Never has there been such a sea change in the mainstream market seeking out provenance, transparency of production, desire to know more about producers, dare I say it… craft – than now. And it’s only going one way. Look at the new channels appearing – online, concrete, pop-up, markets – the fragmentation of retail away from ‘the big weekly shop’ can only benefit these retailers. And look at the incredible array of entrepreneurs and small businesses, of all ages, all attitudes, backing their beliefs and bringing sensational new products to market. Many will fail – that is the way of things – but rarely have the tailwinds of fortune been so great. Never before have we seen so much consistent variety in high quality new product development. For someone interested in innovation, it’s like a premium version of Whack-A-Mole. One may fail, but three pop up.

This mistrust may seem to sting if you are in the volume end of the market, yet it is a nettle to be grasped. Take the big supermarkets for example; consumers squarely point the finger of blame at them. In our research we found that issues such as the ‘horse meat scandal’ became tipping points for their ire, electromagnets that once activated, attracted further critique, proving their fears, legitimising their concerns: ‘if they’re doing that, what else are they doing?’. Obesity crisis? That’s because the retailers force us to over buy because of their buy-one-get-one-free offers. The war on waste? Have you seen how much they throw away? Have you seen the over-packaging?

Yet this consumer mistrust really is an opportunity if a committed purpose is drawn up and big action is taken. Take yesterday’s theme, organic food. In the past it’s been seen as a middle class indulgence, yet now it’s being taken seriously by a broader church because of the natural and ever-increasingly innovative approaches being used, the scientific proof on nutrition being brought to the table, and of course, the willingness to adhere to – and be seen to adhere to – a higher standard of certification. Conventional or mixed farmers are taking note – so too should the retailers. And it is clearly not just about organic. This is about local; it’s about backing independent producers; it’s about knowing where our food comes from; it’s about breaking a crazy system that sees pork imported from the Far East somehow ‘cheaper’ than pork produced here. It’s about getting back some common sense – and commercial sense – and letting shoppers see it.

From a brand point of view it’s an opportunity too. The mistrust should spell the end of the silly era of ‘story-telling’. It’s not stories we need as consumers. If trust is wanted, truth is needed. Truth: plain, bare, simple.

(Coverage of the Organic September trade briefing can be found here:  http://www.naturalproductsonline.co.uk/soil-association-streamlined-message-make-organic-everyday-choice/)

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. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

 © The Crow Flies, 2016

Why I’m Going To The Garden Centre For A Pint

How inward focused insight can kill innovation: what all brand builders can learn from managed pubs

Last week I took my family to a local pub which had just re-opened following significant investment. We were excited to see what changes had been made, how the money had been spent and the offer improved. We speculated en route, talking about the simple, obvious changes they would have made to improve the experience: a gate to prevent younger children from running out of the play area and straight on to the main road, a larger restaurant area, the development of the beer garden as a place to relax in the summer months. Maybe, given the number of very similar competitor businesses in the area, they would have gone further and taken the chance to differentiate and premiumise their offer: they might have invested in a pizza oven, added more natural and healthy options to the menu or improved the entertainment available to children – there was so much scope to enhance the offer and we couldn’t wait to see how the experience had been improved.

Unfortunately it hadn’t. Instead the investment and four week refurbishment had been spent in making it look even more like every other pub in the area. You know the look – most managed pubs look the same – a sort of toned down version of how trendy Shoreditch bars looked 5 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good. Pubs need ‘freshening up’ and my issue is not with the choice of furnishings. What frustrates me is what sits behind the decision: the issue that too many marketing strategies are being built on the wrong insight.

This issue is not limited to managed pubs. Indeed, some managed pubs get it beautifully right. The Revolution vodka bars are a brilliant example of a differentiated brand proposition, with a singular thought and focus which brought something new to the high street. The issue is that too many competitors now only look at what Revolution are doing to fuel their own offer development. What’s more, the problem is spreading. When you’re in your local managed pub, have a look at the drink brands ‘extending’ in to the spirit beer and cider categories and, if you fancy a challenge, try and work out what they’re bringing to the party that is truly different or better. If you’re struggling, order yourself a pulled pork burger while you think. It’ll be on the menu because it’s on everyone else’s.

Innovation, (and I use it to mean the development of the offer, be that a retail refurbishment, menu development, FMCG product extension or NPD), needs to start with the right insight and that rarely comes from looking only at what your competitors are already doing. It is well documented that pubs have been closing at an alarming rate and there are many reasons for this including the cost of labour, duty rates, macro consumer trends around wellbeing and so on. However, it is worth adding to the list that the industry has been too introspective, that the offer has not developed far enough and so consumers have voted with their feet.

Garden CentresWhere are they going? To the garden centre of course, a strange but relevant parallel. You can buy almost all gardening equipment more cheaply on line and a good range of plants from your local supermarket or DIY store, just as most drinks are almost identical but a third of the cost if bought from the off-trade. However, where pubs are shutting, the garden centre industry is thriving and is  forecast to continue to grow through to 2020. The reason? Their offer has evolved through external insight. They realised that they were competing with cafés, theme parks, shopping centres and, of course, pubs, for people’s leisure time and so they developed and differentiated their offer. When you go to a garden centre, the plant might cost more but you’ll be helped to pick the right species and told where to plant it. As a result, it will grow and so you’ll go back. Furthermore, when you return, you can shop in the craft store, take in a drink at the cafe, order a summerhouse, furnish it and, at Christmas, you’ll probably find one of the best Santa’s Grottos outside of Disneyland. And here’s the frustration – there is a much better place for that Grotto to be. A place where you could sit and wait for your turn in warm comfort, whilst enjoying a meal. A place that should be the beating heart of the community – your local family pub. But instead, they’re trying to sell you craft beer and pulled pork.

Doing things differently doesn’t need to cost more. It’s about choosing more carefully where to invest both time and money. My local pub could have committed to staff training and updated their range to offer food and drink discovery for the family. They could have spruced up the beer garden to create the optimal outdoor child-friendly space for the summer. They could, at the very least, have put a gate on to the main road to make the children’s play area safer.

So let’s step off the band wagon before it runs over a child or at the very least, before it leads to further poor strategy and ill thought through investment. Marketeers need not beat themselves up about it – nobody can reasonably be an expert in one category, immersed within their own business and simultaneously have the objectivity to look beyond it. However, look beyond it we must or the offer development that results will continue to disappoint.

At The Crow Flies, we help businesses to research, plan and develop compelling brand strategies and innovation pipelines – a process which starts with finding the right insights. If you have a brand or innovation challenge and would like some fresh thinking, give us a call – we’ll be in the garden centre having a pint.

Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for brands and businesses. rob@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016