Customer encounter workshops

Customer encounter workshops (or customer experience) otherwise the keywording bots won’t pick it up. Because that is how mechanistic SEO has become. Apparently, no one searches for dialogue customer clientcustomer workshops. Silly them.  Running workshops where you bring real customers into the workshops is one of the most enjoyable kinds of workshops available. That’s what my clients tell me when I have organised these for them. Because like all good workshops the you can’t fix the agenda beforehand – the output comes out of  the group interaction. In which we put together customers AND clients and mix for maximum effect. These kinds of sessions can be run at very different scales.

Variations of customer client encounter 

I have done it in women’s fashion with a client team of 4 and 4 very energised customers who we knew pretty well by this time because we had involved them in various types of research. I have had the privilege of running a Town Hall for Karmarama – this is a format created by Mark Runacus which involves running some half a dozen focus groups simultaneously with customer groups from rejectors to users of other brands to loyalists. With a moderator on each table and at least one client on each.  Roy Langmaid runs something similar rather like a chatshow in the style of Jools Hollands where he can walk to and from some key witnesses but also get feedback from the stands.

The mother of them all was run a few times by Deborah Mattinson of Opinion Leader Research. When as many as 2000 people in a room from all part of the National Health Service participate with the Health Secretary sitting up on the dais getting feedback and hundreds of moderators working at the same time.  They asked me twice to be a moderator but to my eternal regret, I had to turn it down both times. It sounded amazing! Most recently I put together a client team and people who were users of extreme deodorants – to have the kinds of conversation you simply cannot have anywhere else. The benefit of these kinds of workshops is direct, insightful conversation because here was an environment in which those with the problem felt understood.

Accelerated learning from customer experience

customers and clients can make odd buddies but good ones

Customer encounter (sorry experience) workshops are wonderful because unexpected things happen when you put real people and real experience alongside those very people who spend most of their waking hours working out how to communicate with such people. It is an accelerated learning environment for both parties. Perfect for what-if questions. You can write up the findings but the main value is in the cut and thrust of the discussions because you get through key issues so fast. I still remember the client was taken aback when someone asked a customer how the stores would launch a petite range. Oh came the reply You’ll screw it up same as you screwed up the outsize range by keeping it in the front of the store for only a week then hiding it away at the back. We would not! said the product manager indignantly. And then got firmly but comprehensively taken apart. Detail by detail. Right down to signage and the phrasing of advertising copy.  No client worth their salt resents that kind of drubbing because it gives you a stream of inspiration to put your next marketing plan together.

cheetah in your face spectators customer experienceIt’s important when running these sessions to build a buddy system so a client cannot shelter behind a moderator or sit to one side and both customer and clients participate. And be frank with one another. We need to prepare both carefully. All too often it is easier to warm up customers via interviews ahead of time. They are better prepared and motivated than clients who can sometimes look like rabbits in the headlights!   I would embed a customer encounter workshop at the end of a research study. And I would run a client workshop to sort out the learnings following the customer workshop.  This is a link to a presentation I did for New Market Research on co-creation.  The process simply doesn’t work if the client won’t get involved. So ideally there should be a pre-task and a preparation session for the client. Before the customer encounter event itself.

Customer experience is not a spectator sport! 

This matters because despite all the customer-centric language marketers don’t meet real customers as often as they ought to because of being really busy.  But without sensible preparation, the session will be a bit like putting the big game in an enclosure. Piling the clients into stripey Land Rovers and driving around the animals while they take pictures and talk loudly. The animals do not respond well to such treatment! For a few months,I kept a blog called Brand Safari all about sustainable marketing. You are welcome to visit and browse some of the blog posts here. Customers need to be respected. And so do client marketers. bringing them face to face and alongside is hugely valuable. But we’re not running a freak show and as a facilitator I make strenuous efforts to keep the playing field level.

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Formula E racing – using advertising to draw in a new audience with a brand message

SCA advertising school BrixtonSince 2015 I have been the regular planning mentor at the School of Creative Arts in Brixton  led by Marc Lewis. A school which every year trains young creatives so they can get placements for their first advertising job. So one day a week I spend doing account planning thinking on the hoof with around 35 students from half a dozen countries. This year Marc has asked me to  use Dave Trott’s binary brief format to prepare creative briefs for the teams to work with. We have just finished the first one. Because of the number of students I have to write not one but 3 creative briefs so they have something different to work on. So it has been interesting having to think about a particular market. From 3 different directions. What it clarified beautifully was how depending on your market positioning you need advertising to do very different things.  So with Marc’s permission – I will unpack these briefs as I used them with the students. As they get more capable I may be able to put in links to their work so you can see how they are getting on. But in the first term it is too soon for that. So here’s my first set of briefs about Formula E racing from the perspective of 3 different brands. Formula E racing using electric cars. Innovations include the ability to allow fans to boost the battery of a particular car virtually by voting rather as in a reality game show. Allowing fans to drive the same circuits as the drivers using simulators. And allowing them access during the race to all of the conversations between drivers and their teams back in the pits. Formula E is attempting to be far more inclusive than F1 ever was. And Formula E set the races are on real roads that ordinary people drive on in cities around the world.

Dave Trott and the binary brief

Dave Trott used the binary brief with his teamsFirst you need to get your head around Dave Trott’s Binary Brief which is based on 3 questions. Dave puts it way better than me so I suggest you follow this link and read his blog about the binary brief. If you have time you can even watch Dave talking about the 3 questions in the APG video. Then come back and I shall crack on.  So the 3 questions are:binary brief has 8 outcomes

1. Brand Share or market growth?

2. Triallists or current users?

3. Product or brand?

And my take on Formula E was AAB – that’s market entrants selling to triallists with a brand benefit.

I wrote 3 briefs: one for Formula E who have to attract new followers in the face of the dominance of Formula 1 who have the money, the legacy and acres of television scheduling. Renault who build the standard chassis of all of the Formula E cars and have provided a winning team of their own.   And lastly Virgin DS Racing – Virgin’s latest venture to dip a toe into motor racing and automotive design.  Who want to use their involvement to build profile for Virgin particularly after the stumbles of Virgin Galactica the project to send paying customers into space. Virgin DS racing is a less high risk publicity story.

Applying the binary brief to Formula E, Renault and Virgin

Renault Formula E and the binary brief You can see the structure and how it relates to the binary brief. Formula E have to take share off Formula 1. But they are likely to do that by attracting a new audience of racing enthusiasts who are a generation younger than the petrol head brigade. They need to identify the conventions of Formula 1 and make them look dated and something your Dad would do but you wouldn’t. Finally Formula E need to activate these new fans – they need participation. Without which the advertising will not bring a return.  My starting proposition was Formula E the environment where I can be a champion.

Renault by contrast have an impressive base of Renault owners across Europe. But their audience is fragmented as they tend to promoted individual models. The challenge is whether their participation as a core partner of Formula E gives a point of difference and a feelgood factor to Renault owners when every automotive manufacturer is scrambling to get into hybrid and electric cars if only to keep the authorities off their backs.  So the role of the advertising is to persuade Renault owners and prospects that Renault are genuinely placed to innovate in ways that will benefit the cars they are driving now and in the future.  This proposition is about commitment to electric racing making Renault a leader and measured by affinity for Renault.

Virgin are well known for all sorts of products and services but racing isn’t one of them. So the role of advertising is to encourage participation (Virgin has enough fame thankyou!) to use the interactivity in Formula E to get people boosting the battery and fortunes of the Virgin team.  So this is a message about Virgin’s competitiveness and their empowerment of the customer. Proposition – you can turn Virgin drivers into champions.

Now I would be the first to hand raise and admit I haven’t seen a single brief from any of the brands involved – this is a war gaming exercise. But it indicates that when we develop advertising we are not just looking for ways to gild product truths but to bring about specific changes. To be clear about the binary brief its not a planner’s tool but a creative’s tool so the team are clear about the job they are setting out to do. Absolutely brilliant in my opinion!

How the students responded to the Binary Brief

Formula E for binary briefOn the Formula E briefs the students steered a line safely away form Formula 1 – not sure a direct comparison is a good idea. Some strayed into gaming which is so ubiquitous it would be easy to get lost in the mass of console games. What the best did successfully was to push Formula 1 up a generation – your dad wouldn’t like this was one of the straplines.

For Renault the prospect of haloeing across all the models proved too difficult – so they focussed in on the Zoe to make the connection between a run around for mum and class leading performance.

For Virgin – the students discovered that there was a lot in the Virgin brand which they could  harness to make electric racing seem more exciting when you knew Virgin was involved and you had the chance to get involved yourself.

So that’s the first binary brief of the season. Two more before Christmas. And the remaining 5 in the early months of 2017. Stay tuned. And if you need activating – it should be perfectly obvious that if I can write 3 briefs in the same marketplace for 3 different brands at the same time then giving you some forensic support on one brand is like falling off a log. So call me!



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What is the definition of an insight?

There are far too many flaky insight definitions. By the end of this piece I will give you my own definition.  But mine comes from two sources. The first is the wonderful Cluetrain Manifesto  – which announced nearly 20 years ago that markets are conversations.  I love that. Before you worry about exchanges whether or products or of money you have to have a shared understanding of what need you are trying to satisfy – and what is around that can meet that need.

Markets are conversations said the Clue Train Manifesto

Hence Cluetrain’s emphasis on business owners freeing up their staff to actually talk to customers so customers could find out more about how to use products – and when products didn’t work properly or weren’t very good to fix the issue.  I remember it caused quite a stir at the time because it became evident that a lot of business owners didn’t want their staff saying anything that wasn’t approved. In other words they would rather have people misuse products and badmouth them rather than connect them to people who could set them straight.  The internet and in particular twitter has made it much easier to get help when you want it so Cluetrain won that particular round

gerald zaltman insight definition

The interaction of consumers’ and managers conscious and unconscious minds

The second source is a quotation by Gerald Zaltman which you can see on the image.  Markets being an interaction between consumers and managers conscious and unconscious minds. No market exists without a business person making and trying to sell what they think customers want. Much of this is conscious and intentional. But Zaltman reminds us that much of it comes from unconscious assumptions that the business person has.

Morris-Minor insight definitionLord Morris who designed the Morris Minor put in a rather weedy heater. And when challenged on it asked why customers weren’t wearing their coats in the car.  He ALWAYS wore his driving coat in the car. Why did you need to heat the car so people could drive at all times of year without a jacket. That assumption went into the design.   Zaltman put this in his book How customers think . There’s even a pdf of the core ideas behind the book here.

On their part customers have conscious and unconscious perceptions about the products that are made for them and the brand values which surround them. Despite the pretensions of advertising people who assume that what ever in the customer’s head got there because of advertising they made – it is far more likely that lots of the assumptions conscious and unconscious about the product come from the culture, the category – ie other products made by other manufacturers. And from the customer’s own experience of the product or projections about it. Advertising is effective because it is a very cost effective way to influence those perceptions. But if we had to place all the ideas and associations about a product in the customer’s head we would never get the job done.

The definition of an insight

So  what about insights then? Well it should be clear to you that the conversation or ideas exchange between managers and consumers is fraught with misunderstanding and talk at cross purposes. They are always drifting in and out of sync.  And insights are those discoveries which albeit briefly reveal to the manager or to the customer the disconnect between the shared assumptions that you have to use to buy and use brands but which are very often irritating even nonsensical.

The insight behind Dirt is Good

dirtisgood insight definitionThe great example of this was the Dirt is Good campaign. I won’t go into too much detail but the cultural shift that gave Unilever and Persil the advantage was the discovery that people were washing their clothes without waiting for them to get dirty after a couple of even one time of wearing. And their lifestyles meant that the clothes didn’t have dirt on them.  So the language of the culture was about washing powders washing whiter. When almost nobody needed white clothes. So by focussing on the creativity of children and the irrelevance of dirt or even that it could be a sign that children were at last off their games consoles and engaging in creative play, Unilever were able to move the market conversation so far away from washes whiter that they wrong footed Proctor & Gamble who banged on about product efficacy. For several years.

Insight definition – a discovery that changes the conversation

You’re still waiting aren’t you? For my definition. Well I believe that insights are important. They give clients strategic advantage when they apply an insight and their competitors stick with the old reality. I spend my life in workshops and on research projects spotting them. I even run a 1 day course to teach researchers where insights can be found. Only today I was playing with Excel data to reveal insights that were sitting right under the client’s nose. What we needed to do was to use data to understand how the market had drifted out of sync.  So here’s my definition of an insight. Its a discovery which changes the conversation.


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Actions drive attitudes better than words – advertising and behaviour change

behavioural change reactionBehaviour change is tricky. Your actions affect your attitudes more than anything anyone might say to you to try to change your attitudes.  Its remarkable how swiftly people forgot this when making advertising.  All the talk is about what the message needs to say to get them to behave differently.  Tell them whatever you like. But what the best advertising is to create the motivation for trying something different. There are lots of ways to do this. Suggesting that everyone else is already doing it. Incentivising them to act now to avoid disappointment. But the real trigger. Is the behaviour itself. Its coded into the body of the person doing the action. It has a contextual association which will activate next time the person is in that context.  It has a sensory trace AND an emotional trace which is distinctive and goes down in memory.  Communications by itself  can’t do that. But it can inspire the behaviour that does. It’s a chain reaction. Change reaction? Forgive the pun!

Behavioural change because of word of mouth

local aldi store aldi parking enforcement didnt make them friendsI’ll give you an example. I started shopping in Aldi over a year ago. Not I hasten to add because I liked Aldi or aspired to shop there. Actually I had a low view of them because they policed their modest sized car park ferociously and I knew several people who Aldi gave parking tickets to in the first few months after the store opened. If you had surveyed me about Aldi I would have told you they were doing nothing for the town centre and the local community. But because friends told me it was dramatically cheaper than the alternatives I tried it. And it was. So I stayed. I still shop a repertoire of supermarkets. I would still agree with you that the alternatives merchandise a whole lot better. But the extras come with a price tag.  Am I loyal to Aldi? Not really. Do I like them? Sort of.  Quality isn’t bad at all. Packaging is awful. But the relationship kind of works. This is driven by behaviour change. Which in turn has driven attitudinal change.  Not by anything Aldi has told me in their communications.  And it was triggered by word of mouth.

Customer experience is a great place for strategists to make a difference. Because it does drive attitudinal change. And attitudes protect and sustain behaviour change – its habit forming. Behavioural economists have all sorts of triggers they can recommend to get that initial trial – but its the architecture that follows the initial choice architecture that locks in the difference. You can always get someone to try something once. The clever part is to get them to keep doing it.

behavioural chain reaction

Google analytics and behavioural change – its what happens after the goal that counts

I am reflecting on this in the light of spending a few hours refining my Google analytics chops. I am working on setting goals on the way to conversion. And I confess to getting annoyed with what appears to be Google’s enthusiasm for way-points which are not themselves the change we are looking for but the behavioural measure. I wish they would make a distinction. The goal may be the number of pdf or white paper downloads. What matters is what happens when you read the pdf you have downloaded. It’s not signing up for the newsletter which makes you a better prospect – it’s the open rate which signals that you are engaging with the contents of the newsletters you receive.  Of course we need a behaviour – that’s the measurable part. But its the shift after the behaviour which makes the real difference.

But its hard to persuade colleagues that we are in the motivation business first and foremost not the communication business.  Our best work is done indirectly. That’s why what we say is far less important than the effect it has on those who hear it.  And why sales promotion, immersive marketing and video marketing are all powerful marketing tools because what people take out is not factual but emotional and motivational.  So tip 1 start with the attitudinal change you want. then with the behaviour that will secure the attitudinal change. And only then think about what you can do with your budget to bring about the behavioural change. You will be amazed at how many ways you can go about doing this. We’ve never had so many communication tools. But don’t get hung up on the message – its the least important thing.  Its just lighting the fuse for the chain reaction.


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Discontinuity the key to research analysis

discontinuity attributes of design essential for research analysisThe tools of research analysis aren’t confined to research. Actually they are the tools of human thinking. Which means they are shared with designers, musicians, philosophers, mathematicians. I could go on. Because they are universal.  The graphic on the right is my summary list. What it really comes down to is discontinuity. Humans are very good at detecting difference.  We notice when something isn’t as we expect it. When our experience is unchanging we go onto automatic pilot. But when a break in what we are expecting happens we wake up.

Discontinuity matters even when change is happening. Because we notice if the rate of change is accelerating or slowing. That’s the foundation for calculus. What we’re not good at doing is making sense of exponential change – its hard for us to keep it in proportion.  If you work in research you may resent the idea that all we are doing is collecting data and making comparisons. But at its heart that is exactly what we are doing. The key to finding those research insights is to know how to make selections of the data so those differences become very visible.

Discontinuous elements of research analysis

Contrast is the most simple – a zebra sticks out as different from a donkey – even if superficially they may share the same shape.

Direction is the second – because when we see a series we expect it to continue – when it doesn’t we notice – its a form of bias which the cognitive behaviourists pick up on. We fill gaps because we expect the data in the middle to be consistent with what has happened before. Or what happens afterwards.

Emphasis is subtle. But we all notice when it is there! In research repetition of the same phrase. Or the same thing described in different ways are forms of emphasis we look for.  For example by asking customers to prepare maps of who they like to shop with and for what items- we can find out those pairings which are most likely to result in particular purchases

Economy is a strange one but  it is the simplest way to tell a story. Taking out the noise – taking down every single data point to show in the simplest possible way what is happening. I once designed a piece of research to find those who claimed they were willing to holiday in France. But who had not noticed that they had not actually been to France for over a decade. They hadn’t noticed.  That was the most significant part of the project. Everything they said about France and why holidays in France were great was caveated when it turned out they weren’t going any more. Economy is how we simplify an insight to the fundamentals

discontinuity - the uneven platformProportion. The relationship between two different groups of people. Or between a particular group and their context.  There’s what you expect. And what you don’t.  I once worked on a makeup project where what became significant was whether the lipstick we were looking at was suitable for women. Or was a sample or toy more suited to their daughters.  It was the comparison between the two which became insightful.

Balance – when two different values cancel out – or support each other. Sometimes this is a hierarchy where some messages are ranked in higher priority but are balanced in importance by a range of smaller ones.

Rhythm or repetition – when we get lots of similar patterns -0r patterns repeat then we know something is going on.  Sometimes the giveaway is when everything becomes the same. This is when we get respondents to do sorting exercises – even if they seem to be doing the same thing over and over – use that to find what is behind the pattern.

Unity. how things fit together. Or when you find something that groups of people who have nothing in common with one another nonetheless share. I once discovered that a particular group of customers some with huge houses and some with small – very different people – still displayed very similar characteristics in how they laid out their living rooms. That showed why all of them had bought into this particular brand.

Discontinuity – beware of uneven surfaces!

I close with a photos of my local railway platform.  Which I never noticed till it was resurfaced and a sign went up warning us to be careful about slipping or tripping over. Then I noticed that it wasn’t even. That’s the simplest definition of discontinuity. Don’t trip over! And use it to do better research analysis.

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Living on landfill: when will digital communications be sustainable?

digital landfill I spent a morning last week at Google UK Headquarters as part of a training session for SMEs. Their determination to get us posting more content and lots of content got me thinking about the basic problem with Google’s business model. Which is to get us to create more and more content – and specifically for marketers to do so to engage more customers.  2017 is designated video year. And we were told about the free app You Tube director which enables businesses to create promotional videos. And to upload our customer email lists so that more prospects can be identified and deluged with email. Google told us about hyper-personalisation which draws on everything known about a particular person to provide unique content.   How people are using our phones to find local information more than ever before. I asked a Google staffer why I was being made to write blogs around a single keyword to give anyone any chance of finding them. To which she replied that’s an SEO issue – we’re Adwords so we can’t comment. So Google siloes work autonomously and separately degrade the ecoystem. To get more and more content – and to dilute the ecosystem as they do so.

By 2020 90% of humanity are predicted to be online creating and uploading content a lot of it not particularly good.  And my question to Google would be Isn’t this just moving us further and further away from our customers?  Google’s business model is steadily clogging the world with data making it more and more difficult to get the attention of prospective customers. Unless we pay to jump to the front of the queue.  You may think there’s nothing wrong with that but the cumulative effect of making it easier and easier for more and more people to upload is that marketing costs are going to rise – effectiveness is going to fall. And environmentally the internet is going to become a less and less attractive place to spend time. Because you can’t find what you want and you get deluged with sales pitches many of them fraudulent. Is this what is going to bring Google down? People will just vote with their off button? Google are aware of this – I heard a talk last year from a Google staffer entitled How not to create more digital landfill. But the message was still the same – build more stuff and keep doing it.

london pea soup fogsBy the end of the 1950s the pollution from fossil fuels had become so bad in London that people had to wear respirators to be able to breathe when walking through fogs so thick they were called peasoupers.  Thousands died prematurely because of the pollution. So fossil fuels were banned, the buildings scraped from all of the soot. And London emerged into the clean city it is now. I can’t see any sign that our tech brands are trading sustainably by making communications more straightforward. Its an arms race towards a zero sum game.  In the Philippines people scratch a living from rubbish mountain. Is this the future of the internet – where everything can be found but you have to dig through acres of rubbish to find what you want?  I just took delivery of the latest Samsung smartphone (not one of the exploding ones).Cleverer and faster than any phone I have previously owned but isn’t it just a £600 spade for moving digital material around in my local space? It can make and circulate images and films at higher resolution than any of the video cameras and SLRs I have ever owned. But has it solved any problems or is it part of the problem? Adding more landfill of its own in industrial quantities?

Aberfan - the colliery spoilt tip that killedThis isn’t an ethical objection. Its more a lifestyle one. Is this how we want to live and provide products and services to customers? Do we want to spend our lives pushing digital landfill around with ever shinier spades? Maybe the next wave of automation means that we’re going to leave the internet to our automated agents and servants will have to do all the grubbing around for us? Making the internet an even less human place? Either way this seems to point towards environmental degradation not enhancement. Human beings shuffle off their mortal coil. At least after 70 years we’re taken off the system. But data has a habit of sticking around.  Perhaps to be sustainable data will have to be destroyed or wiped after a certain number of years  just to make the system viable and pleasant to use. This week we have had the anniversary of the Aberfan disaster when corporate negligence turned into mass tragedy. Are today’s corporates being as culbably negligent today?

I am engaged in an experiment to use these digital tools to build content that I think is insightful and useful for business people. But I am recognising that in doing so I am becoming a polluter – supposing we had to take down something for every megabyte that we put up?  I will persist for now but I am becoming uneasy -is this the world I really want to be building? Digital landfill isn’t a place I want to live in and work on.


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Workshop Disruption: A time to tear and a time to mend

Disruption is an essential part of a workshop. I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs here but you do realise don’t you that when people walk into a workshop you need to rearrange them?  Because where people plonk themselves down in a room follows certain rules they know instinctively but have never put into words. People sit closer to those they know.  Those who want to dominate the conversation sit in central positions or end of table positions which make them more dominant. The quieter ones will look for places where they can be overlooked or where they feel they can observe the action without being placed on the spot.

Disruption is key at the start of a workshop

workshop disruption by asking how recently you went to McDonaldsThe first task of a facilitator is to put people at their ease and to get them working well as a group.  But one of the most important tasks is to firmly disrupt the way people have placed themselves in the room.  If you don’t do it at all you will spend more and more meeting time addressing the alliances based on room positioning.  Scramble them effectively and the room will need to find its own fresh configuration. And that will automatically give you fresher thinking.  Where senior executives and juniors are in the same meeting and particular when you are using breakout groups, you need to think about who is in a small group with whom. And the likely effect on dynamics.  So for small groups at the start of a workshop I will do my best to separate junior staff from their immediate report. Because it frees up the junior staff to speak more freely. And it gives senior staff the freedom to speak without feeling they have to be seen to be holding a party line.

There are lots of ways of rearranging. In discussion with the project sponsor I will always discuss who should be in each breakout group.  And prepare a list.  One of the most fun ways of randomising a room is to pick a topic like how recently a particular product has been bought and to line the room up in order of recency.  Once I found myself rearranged in a workshop by how recently all of us had bought from McDonalds. I hadn’t been to one for years but it so happened had had to do so for a birthday trip the previous Friday. So I found myself conspicuously at the most recent end of the line. The workshop was at the offices of the Guardian newspaper who were quite negative about fast food so I still remember my discomfort being outted as a McDonalds customer!    This kind of sort is simple quick and fun and it makes it easy to move participants t into new groupings to work with people they won’t know so well.

 At the end make the most of the relationships between the people who ARE there

That’s at the start of a workshop. Towards the end (depending of course on your workshop objective) the facilitator should do the opposite. Namely to rearrange people with those they most often work with. Why? Because most of the time you have a limited opportunity to make sure that the learnings from the workshop are put into action.  Yes you can assign individuals and dates by which to get things done. But as a facilitator you may have little control over the process when people leave the room.   So I usually try to set up a planning and implementation session at the end of the workshop.  And put the regular teams back together again. Encouraging each team to present to the whole room.  It makes it more likely that the learnings will be put into practice. But critically it means that those in each group are working with their regular colleagues. That way failure to implement or cynicism about the value of the workshop damage them in the eyes of colleagues. When a work team has committed publically to doing something they are far more likely to get on with it and to nag each other until they do! For more about workshops and working with John Griffiths you can visit the link here or of course sign up for the newsletter.

So those are the simple principles for arranging people in a workshop. Disrupt the workshop at the beginning and then put people back within their teams before the end.


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Brand Marketing vs AI. Brands belong to the people – Let’s get that straight

brand marketing and AI robotThis is a post about brand marketing and the introduction of AI. Like a good internet marketer I am supposed to keyword my posts to give them longevity. A quick scan suggests that nobody but nobody is looking for the application of AI to brand marketing. But the tech marketers are hard at work to put it on our radar anyway.  This morning I found a piece in Campaign magazine about  brand owners starting to use AI chat bots to interact with customers. Ads that talk to you and talk back if you answer them. (horrifying thought)  And then I find that there’s an exhibition about how brands themselves are getting talkative. The example given is that of Amazon Echo as Google and Apple have products in the pipeline that listen to us and do helpful things.  This isn’t brands building customer love(even if the Amazon box is called an Echo and the voice is called Alexa)  – this is about using voice recognition and computerised speech to interact and provide information.

Let’s be clear – a brand is the collective feelings and experiences of customers. There is no such thing as a brand which sits in head office and witters away exciting and moving messages to reduce the cost of sale. This kind of thinking has poisoned marketing and poisoned the internet. That’s why there is so much clutter. Because if you own the trademark you think all you have to do is hire some technologist and marketers. And start banging on. The internet is full of these dull self interested voices. That’s not the valuable part of a brand. That part was always the customers’ experience which is almost always derived from the kind of people they are. And their direct experience of the brand as users and buyers. Not as passive receivers (did I forget to say engaged?) of promotional crap.

Brand marketing accesses customer perceptions – it doesn’t impose on them

Persil-Laundry-Powder-Bio-500x50098% Pure PotatoOne of the most insightful comments we got from one of the interviews for our book 98% Pure Potato was from Lee Godden a  planner who worked on Persil who pointed out that Persil advertising didn’t MAKE customers wash their clothes better. It was because Persil housewives cared more about doing the washing properly that they liked and stayed loyal to Persil. The advertising was a way to cement a relationship which started and ended at the washing machine. Not in front of the television or a woman’s magazine.  But marketers and the purveyors of marketing services would rather tell you its all down to their hard work. They have had luckless graduates tweeting on-brand messages to persuade people to ‘engage’.  They have invented numerous ways to get messages to the customer forcing them to watch commercials before watching youtube videos, putting tactical messages onto mobile phones if you are walking past certain stores. This isn’t marketing. It’s harassment.  Brand marketing only works when the advertiser engages with the brand perceptions the customer ALREADY HAS. Advertising rarely plants anything. It retriggers and reframes.

The addition of AI marks a new low. Because it will be yet another opportunity for brands to bang on about themselves or to use cod segmentation to offer content rich discussion topics: I notice you drank an Argentine malbec last Friday – have you ever thought about taking a holiday in South America? And so on.  The marketing industry is running on borrowed time since marketing is getting less and less effective – it is taking more and more exposure to messages to achieve anything.  The addition of AI as brand pluggers can only hasten the decline.  The only way to reverse the rot is to reconnect with real customer experience. And stop trying to fake it.  Brand marketing doesn’t need AI as much as it needs real connections with real customers. End of Rant!


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13. Website research – just a little bit more

surveys aren't enough for website research

I’ve been reading a book by Avinash Kaushik the analytics guru about website research. I am delighted that an expert of his eminence categorically states that on top of tracking people’s behaviour on websites. And the outcomes of each visit. There needs to be qualitative research – because we need to know why the website visitor behaves the way they do. We can’t get a proper read by guessing from their behaviour. Good man!

However the 4 methodologies he recommends – lab tests, expert review, user observation in situ and surveys aren’t all qualitative – surveys aren’t for a start.  But my real concern is that the focus is too site centric.  We need to know a whole lot more about how people came to be on the site in the first place. Before we dive into whether the website came up to expectations and you can do what you wanted.

Here are some headings I think you need to work off when looking at web behaviour.

5 areas you need to research to understand a website visitor

1. First what is the context of the web visit? – is the site a destination, or did they just wander across it.  Typically I have a dozen screens open in my browser at any one time. So how did they come across this particular site and did they have any particular intention at all when they started to read and explore it.

2. Secondly if they are working towards a purchase what are the alternative choices? Postponement, not buying at all. Buying an alternative product. Or considering the product alongside a group of others. Do they wait for offers? Would they stockpile a multibuy?

3. What type of purchase is it: – considered, impulse, a particular occasion, an experiment, a precautionary purchase or a routine replacement?

4. What needs are they looking to fulfil? Solving a problem? Maintaining another product? Is it a treat for them or a gift for someone else? Does the product they are looking to buy make a statement about them?

5. Then we come onto influences. No man is an island entire of itself Wrote John Donne – (except he would have added if writing his poem today) when surfing on the internet!! Of course we don’t make decisions in isolation.  So there are family and friends. And the perception online that something has had lots of likes or views. There are promotional offers. There is search and the information we can be tracked collecting or the videos we are viewing.  There is of course price as a key consideration and the imperative of now or as soon as possible. But it is possible that since so much web behaviour is a kind of comfort activity that it is a happy accident of something that catches our eye which is A Bit of Fun.

website research no man is an island

When you do website research you need to think more about the customer and less about the website

Notice we haven’t touched on the website at all so far. Nor for the ethnographic enthusiasts among us – where the customer is standing – halfway down the supermarket aisle smartphone in hand taking photos of the products to mail a friend to ask their advice.

And I haven’t even asked the hardest question – is it conceivable they would rather research online then march into a real shop and buy there? Shock horror.

Web research is flawed if you don’t know the answers to the questions I have just articulated.  Its irrelevant. And short surveys won’t tell you this either. You are going to have to know your customers rather better before they get anywhere near your website. I am not saying it is a question of either or. But if the default option is to measure online behaviour and to ignore the above questions. Then you are wasting your website budget. You are wasting your promotional budget. And you are wasting your website analytics research budgets. Because you have no idea why they are there.  You need to have a programme of quantitative and qualitative research. And not just pop up site surveys.

And that is why we need to have customer-centric not web-centric research. Even if we use the internet as a glorious fast and economic way of gathering that data.  Website research needs to be a whole lot better than it currently is.

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10 reasons to run a workshop

overwhelmed reasons to run a workshopIt occurred to me that a lot of the time people call me to book me to run a workshop for them they have already worked out their reasons for doing so. This post is for everyone else. Most clients who come to me for a workshop are clear about why they need one.  What they need help with (apart from running the workshop itself) is articulating the design of the workshop to let them address the issues which created the need in the first place. Test yourself with these 10 reasons. If you feel a sharp stabbing pain it may be that a workshop is long overdue!

The 10 reasons to run a workshop

Here’s my list of symptoms in no particular order of priority – feel free to mail me to tell me the ones I have left out.


1. We’ve lost touch with priorities. Every business worth its salt has a business plan and a marketing plan. But there’s a gap between the rhetoric and the reality. Why does our business exist and what are we trying to do?
2. We’re not clear what our brand stands for. Again lots of businesses have brand documents sitting on their server somewhere. Communicating consistently with customers or getting your staff to walk the walk – well that needs working through
3. We need to work out how to do something we have never done before. And you’re unlikely to work it out together unless you get out of the office, switch your mobiles off and get on with it. Seriously this is a really good reason to organise a workshop.
4. We just don’t talk any more. Businesses are used to doing more and more with less people. Larger companies have to make time for briefing and review boards to keep everyone in the loop. But small and medium sized companies on a steep growth curve have a basic problem. Everyone is so busy there’s no time to find out what is going on.
5. We can’t stand each other. This is a bit of a specialised one but in interdepartmental or supplier relationships it is easy for people to fall out with one another. Sometimes you can go your different ways. Sometimes you can’t. A workshop is a useful way to address bad relationships and to start to fix them.
6. We have just got a whole lot of new information or research in. And we need to work out what to do with it. There is always information to process but sometimes you get so much in that you need a way to assimilate. Get everyone together. Organise a debrief then workshop your way through to implementation.
7. We need to placan't see the way ahead reasons for running a workshopn for next year/ we need to design a new range of products/ we need to open up an office in 5 new countries. Get out of the office!
8. We need to make a very important and potentially crucial business decision. One of the best reasons I know. Doing a few late nights at the office then put it in front of a half awake board at your peril. Get all the key decision makers together and take them off by themselves. Give it the attention it deserves.
9. We need to understand our customers better. The kneejerk response to this is to do some customer research. Research that rarely gets assimilated. So if you really want to understand your customers – just focus on that. Sometimes you can invite your customers to join you at the workshop!
10. We just need some thinking space. Donald Rumsfeld made the things you don’t know you don’t know famous. But they exist and they are important. How often does a start -up come out of nowhere and ambush the market leader – when the market leader had not only more information but more resources than the start-up? Answer the start-up knows something the market leader didn’t know. And it didn’t know it didn’t know otherwise it would have done something about it. So this is one of the hardest but among the most worthwhile reasons to run a workshop. To ask the unsettling question What have we missed?

I’ve run workshops to address all of these issues. Each one requires a very different design. What all have in common is that they bring together the key people but in an unfamiliar place and often an unfamiliar way of interacting and discussing. They can be very practical sessions. But they can also be highly unpredictable. It all depends on what you need. The first step is recognising the symptoms which a workshop would address. Which of the reasons for running a workshop do you recognise?

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