Customer Journeys

The Crows have been doing lots of work of late on customer journeys: bricks and mortar, online, Omnichannel, the lot. We’ve been getting our feathers around customer diaries, accompanied virtual shops, online groups, all sorts of interesting and innovative stuff around the path to purchase Give us a call if you’ve got a challenge or opportunity around your customer journey. We’ll help you work out caw-se and effect (*groan*).

Ride For The Bees 2020

We’re doing our fundraising this year for the wonderful Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

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.


HERE’S a buzzy thought: if you have a garden, or an outdoor space, here are some great little tips for how you can make it bee and pollinator friendly! Give them a go!

Gardening advice


Ripple Effect

PickleIn The Times a week or so ago, Giles Coren, who is an entertaining restaurant critic but utterly (and possibly justifiably) London centric, or rather, anti-Provincial, asserted that when it comes to eating trends, for every 10 miles you go further from London, you become 1 year ‘behind trend’ (London being the measure of things). With my pro-Provinces hat on, and taking Mr Coren’s claim at face value, it is possible to calculate that being 120 miles from London, round here we are 12 years behind. Let’s examine this further: in south east Staffordshire, it is 2003*, and therefore:

  • We’re off to see Finding Nemo this weekend
  • Cheryl Tweedy is about to enjoy 120 hours of community service for assault (I know)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is coming to an end
  • The cool ‘smart’phone is a Nokia 3200. Get down to Orange and buy one.
  • It’s the first season of Little Britain
  • Magners? What’s that? Bottle of Orange Breezer please.
  • You wouldn’t be able to ‘share’ this on Facebook, and forget Twitter, its sweaty conception was a couple of years away
  • ‘Wireless’ the new hot tech trend!
  • We’re all groovin’ out to In da club by 50 Cent**

Clearly it’s possible to see the weaknesses in the assertion. I mean, we’re actually getting down to Shake Ya Tailfeather by Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee; surely you hipster London types have heard of them.

Ah, but there’s the thing. Whilst everyone in Hackney and Bethnal Green is now saying ‘how last year’ to the sort of facial hair growth that creates compost, round here, it’s just kicking off. Plus hairy feet, but there’s probably something else causing that. No, the truth is, as brand builders it’s so, so, easy to fall in behind belief systems which are based on received wisdom, one-off stories and half-truths. Of course, London is an incredible creative hub. It’s also a concentrated population centre, and if you have a couple of spare hours to read Steven Johnson’s ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’, you’ll understand why population concentration is such a critical factor for innovation and advancement.

But whether the ‘ripple effect’ is happening depends more on the audience for your product and where the influence centres are for them. A couple of examples to illustrate the point.

In my old world of beer, it was generally believed that what consumers were drinking in London would set the trend in other areas a few years down the line. So we conducted a study examining this and what we actually found that first of all, it was the trade not the consumers that were important. Generally, it was passionate, entrepreneurial bar owners who were dissatisfied with the standard offer, or had a new take on something else. They would then create a ‘candle bar’. Next, fast follower ‘moth’ bar owners would take the lead from them, either through word of mouth, or via bar shows. The point was though, we found that this was most likely to happen in any (big) city: in fact, we found Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol were highly individualistic and innovative centres, and in a way better for your brand because you could establish distribution more easily and influence more people more quickly, as there were fewer bars. Not so much ripple effect as whack-a-mole with multiple little heads popping up at once (the blighters).

Café culture (immature in 2003 would you believe) is interesting too. We recently did a study looking at new trends impacting this sector with some interesting findings. The drink trends themselves seemed to start anywhere. Flat White in Australia (in the 1970’s) and New Zealand. Then spreading via west coast US and eventually, picked up by me in Liverpool’s Albert Dock in 2009. Starbucks created the much copied Frappucino; now independent bar owners are experimenting in serve. In terms of food, the light snacks on offer are just as likely to be inspired from Asia as they are from a rural Mediterranean influence.

Kids’ food and kids’ snacks are revealing too: where are the influencers here? Urban centres – not likely; actually the research showed, here is where the brand owner can really influence their target consumer very directly – a lot more push in the mix as it were. First time Mums, protectively nurturing their first born; looking for the strong reassurance of something like organic. Parents with older children toughing it up with the constant nagging negotiation that goes on over snacks.

And charity is a fascinating market too, rife with copycat fundraising (Movember stretches to Octobeard; Dryathlon sparks Dry January sparks a revolt with Drinkuary; ‘Plant a Tree for ‘73’ becomes (via many iterations) ‘Plant a Treet for Groot’ (really)). This isn’t trickle down: this is bandwagoning and it’s not particularly original nor successful. In fact, many of the high impact fundraising ideas seemed to start because of the passions of an individual (Movember for instance, didn’t start as an idea for Prostate Cancer at all, but was later adopted by them).

What does all this mean?

Firstly, challenge conventional wisdom. Look for the critical influencers in your market and their relationship with your target audience. If it’s Mums or Dads of young children, then it’s likely to be other parents, grandparents or even institutions (schools, playgroups). If it’s drinkers, where are the bars that are setting tongues wagging and why? How do you influence them?

Secondly, difference. As consumers of things, we are attracted towards genuinely new ideas that are one step away from what we know. If it’s too radical, we may well leave it for a while, or more likely, not notice it. But if a new product is cleverer, better looking, or solves a problem more effectively then it stands a chance of cutting through. Is our offer really that different?

Thirdly, passion. We are attracted towards people or products that demonstrate unfettered passion towards something: a desire to do it better, differently, more unusually. Do we really care about this (it will show)? Or are we just chasing the money?

Fourthly, concentration. There is no doubt that for many brands (drinks, fashion, music for example) that cities are important because they offer a higher chance of multiple connections, quicker. Great. Use them. But don’t be fixated on one place, one market. Look for multiple influences on your connections.

In short, don’t get in a pickle worrying about ripple

*Some would say Tamworth is in 1903, but that would be an unfair and quite insupportable jibe.

** you can make your own conclusions about how much groovin’ out goes on in SE Staffordshire (with apologies to Touch FM)

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) 7885 408367; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

© The Crow Flies, 2015

Brands beyond politics

Box lidThe coverage of the Autumn budgetary Statement has been fascinating to watch. And it underlines in an odd sort of way, the opportunity for brands in our society going forwards. Let me summarise the debate for those outside UK shores. Essentially, up to 2010 the Labour Government ran up considerable debt on the back of a buoyant housing market, a bubbling economy overall and incredible confidence. Disaster struck, and Labour were ousted by a new Coalition government. There was a new attitude of grim determination to get rid of the deficit. Grand promises were made: economists (amongst others) said, “really?” but the course was set. So yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted to paint a picture of how successful his government had been in reducing debt, cutting the deficit and building a sustainable economy. The data offered something for everyone: the government wanted to land ‘look how much progress we have made’, the opposition wanted to land, ‘look how little progress they have made’. For students of media management, it was a masterclass; for those interested in knowing what the hell is going on, it was a nadir of politicking emptiness. The morning after the statement before, Chancellor and his Oppo were doing the media circus and the stock phrases were abounding. As an example, Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, had his phrases: ‘we’re going to make different choicesdifficult choices, but be fairer’. On one interview on breakfast telly he said these words over a dozen times in a 2 minute piece.

This emptiness, the perceived vacuousness of today’s politics underlines the opportunity for brands in our society today. The bedrock institutions of the state – politics – and of higher authority – organised religion – are waning (plummeting) in trust. Is it any wonder? Nothing is being said. When pressed on what a Labour government would actually do to reduce the deficit, the answer was no deeper than ‘we would make different choices, difficult choices’. ‘If the Chancellor missed the targets he set himself than I’m not going to fall for that’. It’s the new politics of fearfulness. There are no absolutes anymore.

Why can brands benefit? Well, a theme running through most research nowadays underlines the pent up desire for honesty, for knowledge, for ridding of confusion – for some facts. For institutions (brands included) to stand up for something, with integrity. To say what they mean. When state bodies are seen to no longer deliver this; when most question religion and traditional belief systems, what else is there to believe in? Brands have the opportunity to fill the void, and in so doing build long term success for themselves. But it means a new dialogue with ‘consumers’, with real people. It requires a new foundation – on product truths, emotional meaningfulness – and making the brave step to cut the weasel words, the half truths and the foundations of sand. Only the brave need sign up.

Slide1David 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) 7885 408367; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

© The Crow Flies, 2014

Process… and Dog Ball Launchers

We have a cockapoo. She is very much the hybrid of these two breeds: the bounciness of the Cocker Spaniel; the intelligence (and non shedding coat) of a Poodle. For the record, she is called Bonnie. And Bonnie likes tennis balls. In fact, she likes tennis balls more than anything else; more than other dogs, more than dog treats, more than her doting owners. She is ball crazy.

Consequently, the importance of Dog Ball Launchers has taken a disproportionate importance in our house. Initially we threw her the ball. But a couple of long walks in I realised that she could keep on fetching far longer that I could keep on throwing. So I traded up to a short Launcher. Grippy and fairly taught, it could propel a ball just about further than I could throw with much greater ease and much less fatigue. But for Bonnie it wasn’t enough; she barked for more. So I went further. Something more engineered, more industrial. In fact, pre industrial, using Roman Trebuchet siege launchers principles, we traded up to navy blue, extra long super-duper Launcher, about a metre long.

Now, you’re probably wondering what the point of this is to business?

Well it’s this. It’s about addiction to tinkering processes: tinkering that doesn’t deliver. It’s something that impacts innovation and brand planning processes in particular. The desire to ‘improve’, to add on. To look for marginal gains in areas not critically important, not understood or that won’t make a difference. And none of which will help when the basic process isn’t being followed anyway.

Dog Ball Launcher_fotorTake the super-duper Dog Launcher. It has been a total disappointment. Sure, it’s extra long and whippy, but here’s the thing. In terms of results, it’s no better than our original model. The ball goes higher but falls maddeningly short. If you use the Launcher as an extension of your throwing arm, it’s so flexible that the tennis ball merely pops out a few metres away. You can’t use a bowling action for the same reason. The reality is that like a trebuchet, the long swing arm is designed to work on its own. But when you tack it onto to a moving part – your arm – the forces counteract one another. To prove the point, the only thing that worked is a flick of the wrist – but the ball goes no further than me throwing the damn thing.

This isn’t a call to revert to chaos. A good back-bone business process is needed to make things happen. In innovation you need a process that joins insight start points, with idea generation (ideally a longitudinal approach) with co-creation or testing with consumers, optimisation and piloting, before linking into the business’ activity executional process. But like our original dog ball launcher – the basic process is the same; all the tinkering, time investment and money spent on minor improvements will not return if you don’t have the basics in place.

So I’m afraid Bonnie is enjoying the joys of a hand thrown ball again. It might be worth you trying the same.

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, including company and brand purposing. We are passionate innovators; to speak about dog ball launchers, or perhaps innovation more generally david@thecrowflies.co.uk or call on +44 (0) 7885 408367.  

© The Crow Flies, 2014

The Crow Flies launches


The Crow Flies is a new marketing consultancy based in the Midlands. The company focuses on categories and brands, specialising in market research, strategy, innovation and planning.

“Our ambition is to become one of the go to marketing consultancies in the Midlands for strategic marketing services” said founder, David Preston. “It seems strange that the West Midlands in particular doesn’t have as vibrant a creative & strategy industry as London or indeed, other big cities. We wanted to offer an alternative to clients looking for closer proximity to them or not wanting to be reliant on a advertising agency planning team”.

Preston, who was Marketing Director at Molson Coors in Burton on Trent and more recently a Board Director at London based brand agency Elephants Can’t Jump, adds that unusually, the focus of The Crow Flies is not just on brands. “We’re very interested in the growing discipline of category marketing”, said Preston. “If you are a retailer, the category is your priority, but it should be as a brand owner too – after all, growth is much easier if you have the wind in your sales. We are very cognisant of building the new skills required to help brands thrive in the tough economic times we are in and the tough competitive times”, he added.

“We’re also interested in maps and mapping as a way of thinking of categories and brands” stated Preston. “Many metaphors are used in brand building but most are focused on ‘where next’. We believe maps are more useful because they underline the importance of stewardship. On a map, you can see the marks of the past, as well as the terrain today and the two combined allows you to plot the most direct route to success. The parallel for a brand is clear: spend more time working out what has made you successful and use that as inspiration for where you go next: we’re convinced it could save clients a lot of time and a lot of money – but funnily enough, it takes a brave person to grasp it.

At The Crow Flies, Preston is supported by a team (or ‘flock’ as he calls it) of highly experienced marketing and business colleagues. “At the start at least, we’re a boutique business. That means the quality of our service, our thinking and our impact is everything and in turn that means there are just a few of us. So having a team who are highly experienced, both on client side and with consultancy was crucial for us. I’m really pleased with the balance of the flock.”

– ends –

David Preston is Founder of The Crow Flies and can be contacted at david@thecrowflies.co.uk and http://www.thecrowflies.co.uk