Get out from behind the desk and into the real world

Truly great campaigns come from genuine insight into customer behaviour - and one of the best ways to get that is to go out and meet them.

Get out from behind the desk and into the real world

Award-winning campaigns and bread and butter retainer programmes alike rely on insights to provide a platform on which to build the comms strategy. But they can be hard to find and online research will only take you so far.

In the UK’s highly congested comms market, without a real insight it is unlikely your campaign will have the cut-through needed to drive the customer behaviour that your clients crave.

Great insights provide a fresh understanding of a client’s product, service, customers or sector that moves the agency’s understanding from ‘what it is’ to ‘what it means’. This allows account teams to shift stuck behaviour or previously intransigent attitudes towards a brand or product.

Workable insights provide a provocative way of looking at an issue and so provide hooks for campaign strategies. You are looking for that ‘aha moment’ that excites and motivates the team with the possibilities that it creates.

If you are lucky enough to get to this point I recommend you get it down in short sharp sentences, avoid generalisations but don’t be afraid to express emotion. Then test it with colleagues to check you really do have an insight that allows for fresh thinking. And of course you now have the basis for structured brainstorms to elicit the campaign strategy, platforms, tactics and creative.

Modern communicators have a plethora of online tools available to help identify insights. The recently published PR Stack 2 lists a number of the most popular, including AnswerThePublic, which shows how people are searching and asking questions around a topic, while Gorkana Surveys is a real-time research tool that polls a potential 4.5 million UK respondents cost-effectively. Both are great examples of what sort of information you can get your hands on from the comfort of your desk.

But for those of us who started out our careers before the int­ernet, there was only one way to generate insights – get out and meet consumers and customers in shops, bars and businesses.

Toby Harrison, planning partner at adam&EveDDB (the agency behind the John Lewis Christmas ads), highlighted the importance of field research at this year’s PRCA Conference.

Working on the Marmite account and visiting consumers’ homes, he discovered that Marmite jars were often pushed to the back of kitchen cupboards – forgotten rather than rejected. This insight triggered the idea for a creative campaign that proved to be hugely entertaining and effective, while still fitting with the core ‘love it or hate it’ narrative.

Toby was adamant that this campaign would never had happened if he and his team had not got out to consumers’ homes. It may be that we have so much information online that we have forgotten about the value of fieldwork. But if getting out of the agency aids the identification of true insights that produce a differentiated strategy, and this helps to win a new client or solve a client challenge, then it is well worth the effort.

Richard Houghton is a business consultant:

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