The Market Map

Helping our partners develop strong foundations for their brand building is why us Crows do what we do. And it’s a bonus when we hear feedback like this. If you want to know more about our Market Map and how it can help you understand your brand and its future, give Crow a call on +44 (0) 1283 295 100 or

#brandbuilding #MarketMap #positioning #alignment

The Perils of Penny The Pen Portrait

Bringing to life your target consumer or customer in a way that’s useful and meaningful to your marketing efforts, whilst also acting as an empowering guide in the business is a big question. It’s one we face a lot on many projects from research, positioning and often business strategy too.

It’s an really important question too. Bringing to life consumer segments effectively can focus the business and aid execution and commercial delivery. But too often we reach for the ‘Pen Portrait’ solution – you know, ‘Penny’ or ‘Ethan’, ‘Sanjit’ or ‘Olivia’.

The principles of targeting are well established (if debated and not always agreed with) but whatever your view on it, it’s always a big mistake to confuse ‘targeting’ with ‘micro-targeting’ which is what frequently happens. Targeting can be empowering, but micro-targeting can give the perception of being focused whilst actually restricting your commercial potential. So it’s important to tread carefully…. we see five traps that can catch the unwary marketeer:

  • Too personalised or over specified. This is trap we most often see. By making something very individual (‘This is Dan, he’s 28, lives an apartment in Greenwich with his partner…’) the receiver’s decoding of the targeting becomes personal (He’s not like any Dan I know) and may have the opposite to intended effect – making it unrelatable. The idea of the Pen Portraits here is find a central representation of the target group, but in making it too personal the opposite happens and the target narrows and becomes too singular – when you go out looking for the target you can’t find them.
  • Too broad. Breadth is, counter-intuitively, important in targeting. You want to find a meaningful commercial prize to aim at after all. But too broad becomes useless. Millennials anyone? Yes, that’s right! Let’s assume every one of the 14 million “millennials” in the UK share the same attitudes, characteristics and behaviours. It’s lazy and worse, largely useless in helping a brand.
  • Too stereotyped which may have initial appeal inside the business, but when you actually try and recruit, you find it’s hard to find your targets. The hidden biases inherent in identifying may have some very broad-brush recognition from the audience but in the detail they’re not there – in reality, people just don’t fit the mould.
  • Too unrelatable – a big challenge when you have a business that isn’t particularly customer or consumer orientated. Leadership can often feel that they represent the customer. You need a strong argument and commercial case to dislodge these deep set opinions. And some bravery too – hence, teams often roll with it a bit or don’t nip the problem in the bud at source.

There isn’t a perfect answer but equally, there’s no doubt that building up a set of target audience typologies is useful for helping the business (and decision makers in particular) be clear on who we’re going after, who we’re not, and why. But what’s important in the Pen Portrait is likely to vary by category and you may need different elements depending on your category or brand situation. For example, although broad, life stage may be discriminating for you. Or, perhaps, you want to target everyone but only on specific occasions or moments.

We’ve bags of experience working out through research who to target and how to best bring them to life and set them to productive work in a business. If we can help you with your targeting, drop us a line.


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.; +44 (0) 1283 295100;; @crowflieshigh. © The Crow Flies, 2022

Natural & Organic Products Europe, 4th April 2022

Crow Gael is flying from the Nest to present and be part of a panel at this year’s Natural & Organic Products Europe. It’s down in the Smoke at the ExCel on 4th April.

She’ll be talking about “A Changing Attitude towards Food, Sustainability and Organic” – informed by our research on behalf of the lovely bunch at the Soil Association. So, if you need a nice and natural day out and promise not to heckle, we’ll see you there Crow Friends! Bring your own worms.

Link to register & join:

New Crow Line Number


The Crow line number is changing from TODAY… for the three Crow Friends who use it, please update your contact records to…. *drum roll*….

01283 295100.

And again, that’s… 01283 295100.

If you’re outside the United Kingdom it’s +44 (0) 1283 295100.

For Corvids,  Raven, Chough, Jackdaw, Magpie and such like, it’s 01283 295100.

All Tits, Starlings, Noisy Gulls, Wading Birds, Cormorants and Flamingo, please dial 01283 295100.

For Squirrels, Pine Martens, Water Vole and Badgers, please use 01283 295100.

If you’re a Big 5 Game Species, dial call 01283 295100 and try not to eat anyone in the process please.

Mobile phone numbers, e-mails, snail mails, social media messaging, WormsApp, Twigter and Carrier Pigeons are all unaffected by this change.

Thanks you lovely lot!


Brand Planning: the bridge from strategy to action

If you’re a marketeer in one of the many businesses, who, courtesy of HMRC, are approaching your year end at the end of March, you’re now thinking about brand planning. Brand planning is a vital building block of all business as well as marketing, but it is often treated as something that ‘just happens’, for which common sense alone is good enough to do an adequate job, and gets steered by finance or strategy.

Unless marketeers apply greater rigour and ownership to the discipline of planning, we will limit our ability to deliver the primary aim of brand building companies, to positive impact target customers to effect successful change. And if we can’t do this, we won’t be taken seriously by others in the business.

As it is, sadly, most brand plans don’t get implemented. Why?

Confusing tactics with strategy. Getting excited by and jumping straight to the things you want to do. “Strategy” is an amplifying word, added to other terms to give them a sense of greater importance. Planning embraces three phases, each with a specific goal, sequentially linked and each distinct.

  1. Diagnosis: understanding the situation the brand (or company) is in, and why.
  2. Decide: working out how do we deal with the situation we face. Where do we want to be? What are the options for getting there cognisant of our competitive situation? This is the strategy.
  3. Do: the plans or tactics. Working out what the few, high impact, activities are that we need to execute in order to achieve our strategy. Being clear on what the distractions are.

Getting the diagnosis wrong based on the situational analysis, likely caused by data gaps, overbearing opinions or underplaying owned strengths of the brand or a competitor

Derailed process due to misalignment. Mid-way through the process an intervention from a senior leader questions the work so far, losing momentum and bursting the precious bubble of confidence that had been created.

Choosing the wrong competitive strategy e.g. not leveraging a real strength or perhaps taking on a competitor in the wrong way.

Failing to unite, align or enthuse key stakeholders involved in signing off or implementing.

In response to these issues, we have developed ‘Hourglass’ brand planning, reflecting the shape of the process planning needs to follow. Starting broad, narrow at the centre when focusing on the needs of the customer and the business and then flowing out again to the actions.

Hourglass planning is built off a small number of critical foundations, themselves rooted in the insight that cause planning to trip up:

  • Start by going broad in analysis; not just in terms of the content and approach to gathering data and making sense of it, but also in listening to the perspectives, opinions or strongly held views of key stakeholders in the process.
  • Make sense and choose what’s important. There are lots of tools available to aid with situational analysis but what’s missed is the human act of sensemaking and choice. You don’t want to end up with a very comprehensive but utterly useless synthesis of the current state. It’s what you choose to pull out and take action on that’s important. You’re looking for company or brand strengths that are distinctive, defensible, ownable, leverageable or competitor weakness that are the same. Boil it all down. Focus on the few enablers and blockers of growth because these will be at the heart of your action plan.
  • Be clear on who you’re competing for and evaluate and test everything through their lens.
  • Ensure you have long term foundations in place. Purpose, mission, vision are not interchangeable. You need to know the role of each and how it helps you make clear decisions that more often than not, are right.
  • small number of action platforms that flow directly out of the diagnosis. If you can’t see the insight threads from the diagnosis at the top of the process to the actions at the end, then your plan is likely misdirected and you’ll struggle to get buy in and engagement.
  • Brand activities that deliver against the essentials: we have yet to see an effective brand plan that does not deal with three themes: the brand’s ‘mental availability’, its ‘physical availability’ and bridge between the two, trial & repeat. The 4P’s fit here.
  • Great brand plans sacrifice. Don’t confuse this with prioritisation. Too often, prioritisation is a pretence that some things are more important but, through sleight of hand, we can still do everything. You can’t. Kill stuff properly and just focus on what’s really important.

Our experience in brand planning is built from both client side and agency experience. If we can help you with your planning challenge, 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.; +44 (0) 1283 295100;; @crowflieshigh. © The Crow Flies, 2022

Mashup Time!

Yes, Crow Friends, yes, yes YES! It’s Christmas Brand Mashup time – and we’ve got EIGHT wonderfully festive brand mashups for you to get your beaks into. Every one is synonymous with Christmas, just say what you see and mmmmmash them together…

HIT THE LINK TO MASH AWAY… Crow Christmas Mashups

Answers posted on Christmas Day at 3pm here and on our socials:

FB @thecrowfliesltd
Insta @thecrowfliesltd
Twit @crowflieshigh

Enjoy and Get Mashing!

Christmas Chronicle

A few more days and it’ll be a new year – another cycle of life and naturally, of brand planning too! Here’s our latest Christmas edition of the Crow Chronicle with a focus on brand planning. Too often it’s left to common sense and the ebb-and-flow of the business planning cycle (led by finance? Or strategy?). No more! As a brand guardian it’s time to grab control and be prepared to sacrifice! Onwards!!

Crow Chronicle Christmas

Consumer Closeness

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.; +44 (0) 1283 295100;; @crowflieshigh.

© The Crow Flies, 2021

Crow signs up to MRS Net Zero Pledge

As a small company committed to mitigating our impact on our environment we know that we can make a bigger difference if we act together as a sector. That’s why we’ve signed up to the Market Research Society’s Net Zero Pledge meaning we can be part of applying the scale of the market research industry towards a positive goal.

The Pledge means we sign up to four commitments:

1. Making our business net zero by 2026.

2. Tracking and publishing our carbon emissions, working to reduce and offset those emissions and publishing these figures annually in the Industry Report.

3. Collaborating across our sector and beyond, to share learnings and best practice to achieve the above goals.

4. Supporting and encouraging conversations and call outs by our employees, partners and clients about environmental concerns and viewpoints.

We believe we have a role in using our extensive understanding of consumer behaviour in advocating and supporting clients with their sustainability agenda. We also commit to educating ourselves and our employees to positively impact the planet.

It also means that we will continue and upweight our efforts in supporting great environmental causes, such as The Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Click here for further information on the MRS Net Zero Pledge.