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 295100; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.
The boardroom table was packed with ‘suits’. Grey faced executives, tired from wearying international travel and delayed jetlag, early starts, late finishes and the effects of all day grazing on stewed coffee and day-old Danish pastries. Jauntily, the Brand Manager struts into the room and dims the lights. The lamp from the lectern illuminates his keen eyes. He introduces the new advert. Stresses that it’s not quite finished yet and a little post-production is needed. Reminds the room who the target audience is and when it will be launched. He plays it. 60 seconds of cinematic brilliance. A new Swedish director applying his talents to toilet rolls for the first time. Edgy. Contemporary. Challenging. The tonic this brand needs.
The executives shuffle slightly. One or two look at each other. Another frowns.
Then the Chief Executive pulls his finger from the dam. They don’t understand it. It lacks energy and pace. Is it supposed to be funny? Why is it so different from the last ‘new campaign’ a year ago? Will it shift boxes? They doubt it. The Marketing Director attempts to parry: remember, she says, “that you are not the target audience”. “We need to think about the needs and attitudes of Millennials here”. But it doesn’t stand up. The tidal wave of criticism washes over the new advert, which sinks without a trace. The Brand Manager leaves the room, with a grey face, tired and weary.
Who knows in this fictional situation (inspired by real events) whether the new advert was any good? It may have been ground breaking or may have been clap-trap. But how we could we re-imagine the Marketing Director’s defence? What if we really could put our senior stakeholders in a situation where they really understood the target audience? Here are a few techniques that are illuminating and fun.
Picture this! You need to start by constantly reminding your stakeholders who your target audience is (or are). What are their attitudes, their needs, their frustrations? How do these relate to your product category? You may choose a series of pen portraits, some voxpops, a short film or even a comic strip – however you do it, best to be clear who your audience is and be sure to bang on about their needs relentlessly.
Method Act: get your critical stakeholders to wear the shoes of your target, to reallybe them. Is your brand a healthy snack? Get them to live on 2000 calories a day for a week. Or to only snack on unprocessed ingredients. Or to cut snacks out for a few days completely. Is your brand targeted at people who go clubbing regularly? Get them to work behind the bar for a night, or go out with a group of clubbers (release their inner pogo-er…)
(Sofa) Safari: it’s amazing what you can do from the comfort of your sofa or desk nowadays. Use resources to hand to find out about your consumers’ world. Targeting farmers? Go on to DEFRA website; read Farmer’s Weekly, organise a trip around a pig farm. But do it with a purpose: go back to your definition. What are the frustrations? What are the problems we need to try and solve? Do we know enough yet? Keep on immersing yourself in their context, their world.
Wingman: looking to target the gluten free market? Find some friends who have food intolerances or are coeliac. Interview them. Prepare a meal with them. Go shopping with them. Find out what makes them tick. Hear about their frustrations. And not just them: speak to their partner, friends or family. What are the impacts on them? There’s something illuminating about getting alongside your target and watching how they live their life.
Just watch out for variety and breadth. If it’s your Board you are going to immerse in the world of your target audience, ensure it’s everyone on the Board, and that they experience a range of situations. One may be broad in scope – a safari for example, getting them out and about, another may be tight (for example, living on a vegan diet for three days), one may be relatively short, another more extended.
What we’ve found with our experiences at The Crow Flies is that an immersion programme such as this starts our seeming like a major effort for the senior stakeholders, even a distraction. How can we fit around already busy diaries? Surely they don’t want me to do this – isn’t this what they should be doing? But once the benefits are seen, once the connections start to happen then reality bites. A safari, Consumer Connections – call them what you will – are quick and incredibly engaging ways to build stakeholder understanding and alignment by getting them to put their feet in the metaphorical shoes of their consumers. More than this, they’re a way of getting brilliantly useful stimulus into the execution of your brand’s plans (including your expensive TV advert).
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. email@example.com; +44 (0) 1283 295100.