I went to see The Darkest Hour last night and, blow me down, but right when Winston was at his most conflicted – should he sue for peace terms or stand firm against Hitler? – he abandons his driver and goes rogue, diving down into the Underground to conduct an ad hoc Customer Closeness session with the people on his carriage. Fortified in his view by the unanimity and strength of the people’s conviction, he defies the War Cabinet and delivers his ‘we shall never surrender’ speech to the House, moving his colleagues to defiant and patriotic fervour.
Did Winston really do that? A quick fact check suggests not as depicted in the film, however it is true that he did go AWOL at points throughout the war, disappearing and popping up somewhere in London with ordinary people, to find out what they were thinking.
I have to admit the scene left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. The encounter was clearly powerful but were those people in the carriage the best basis for taking the nation into war (even though they were pleasingly diverse – multi-cultural; mixed gender; even a child pitched in…)?
This is a concern clients often share with us when running Closeness sessions. How do you maximise the power of getting consumers and leaders in a room together but minimise the risk of over-reliance? In our experience, there are three ways to get a great result:
1. Spend time painting the bigger picture before consumers enter the room (trends affecting consumers, known consumer schools of thought and behaviour, what you’re seeing more of/less of; how you expect it to change in the future.) That way, leaders are able to filter and weigh the views they hear against the wider context.
2. Recruit consumers who represent parts of the big picture you want to explore. Recruit to tight criteria, check their experiences are relevant, get them relaxed enough to be truthful about their real and aspirational selves
3. Inject perspective into the discussion once consumers leave the room. Give leaders time to process and share the range of views heard. Set views against the bigger picture. Have someone in the room, often from Insight, who can be the authoritative voice of the customer and support/counter the weight individual views and stories are given
With these three practices, we find that engaging with consumers is powerful, productive and reliably persuasive.