In our last Chronicle we wrote about designing and running Consumer (or Customer) Closeness programmes. Off the back of a number of enquiries and questions about it, we thought it would be worth writing a short blog with a few more details.
Let’s start with the issue – it’s entirely natural working in a business that you lose the impartiality about your consumers or end customers. Weeks, even days, into starting with a new employer the culture, belief systems, opinions and company narratives build up layers of filters or lenses through which you begin to view your market. Inductions accelerate it. It’s entirely natural. So it takes some real skill to objectively and impartially shed those comfy company moccasins and slide yourself into a pair of your consumer’s shoes. Not actual shoes mind, that would be weird.
The real warning sign here is if you think (or if you hear others saying), ‘No, this isn’t me. I have the skills and experience to be impartial’. Really… no; you don’t. And you can’t. And it’s not a problem, providing you’re open to it. The real knack is being able to move deftly from one foot (business world) to the other (consumer world) and think about the consequences, correlations, causes and patterns that link the two.
That’s the role of a closeness programme – and it can be designed to suit you. The idea, ultimately, is to get the people that matter closer to the people that matter. To get – to force – your stakeholders to shift onto that other foot. Whether it’s facilitated groups; home visits or extended Consumer Connections; whether it’s online diaries or consumer-accompanied safaris (around stores, round an online shop, mooching in competitor environments or just hunting for ‘clues’ for inspiration) the effects are powerful, long-lasting and can profoundly affect your brand building efforts and build engagement for your important strategic shifts or executional plans.
Closeness programmes can be organised as impactful ad hoc sessions to inform strategy or plan development, as on-going campaigns with a varying focus each time or even as part of a team engagement event.
If it’s something you think could help your brand building, get in touch.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.
Crow’s very own Gael Laurie will be speaking at the Soil Association Certification #OrganicTo2030 Trade Conference on Thursday 21st October. Book your free ticket to hear the most recent research focussing on changing shopper motivations and behaviours when making sustainable and organic choices here.
Howdy Crow Friends! Hopefully you’re all enjoying / have enjoyed or are about to enjoy some precious staycation. We’ve had a few questions on #market#research and specifically when face to face qualitative research can begin again. The answer is now – viewing facilities are opening up in a Covid secure way (and need our support) and many hotels are happy to welcome you.
However, it’s important not to forget the needs and current feelings of participants. Many people are nervous about turning up to strange rooms with strange strangers (and equally strange moderators!) for obvious reasons.
And as well as that, many people are working from home, making a trip to do research ‘live’ a specific destination rather than a convenient add-on. As always, the best advice is to think mixed methodology – targeted face-to-face, targeted online as both have brilliant strengths. In fact, there’s no doubt that going forward, the opportunity to blend approaches to get more actionable insight is enhanced as participants who were nervous about online research previously, now feel fluent and confident.
The Crows are currently immersed in one of their favourite tasks: looking for data and insight that can lead to some sparkling innovation. Cue deep dive into investigating product launches, product failures, insight reports, virtual shopping and some remote Consumer Connections. Piecing together the parts and testing hypotheses. there’s no doubt: Crows love being nosey!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!