Ask Marketing candidates why that career choice and, chances are, they’ll convince you of their passion for people and curiosity for the world around them. Ask Marketeers in situ what their job entails and, chances are, their answer will involve number-crunching, project firefighting, presentation writing; scarcely a consumer in sight.
Somewhere, somehow, that curiosity gets left out in the cold. And in a world that revolves increasingly around ROI, investing time that isn’t demonstrably accretive to top or bottom-line feels like the bottom of the to-do list.
Yet, name a brand for which consumer-centricity is not crucial. Or, indeed, a brand that doesn’t claim to be just that. Curiosity for people, behaviours, the world they live in, is a critical skill that we Marketeers, Planners, Insight-ers need to nurture. And I believe that’s not just through set-piece consumer research looking to answer specific business questions. But through an always-on, holistic approach to understanding consumers and shoppers from multiple angles, ongoing. A culture of curiosity, if you like.
We aimed for exactly this at Nestlé Confectionery back in 2016; part of my mission to raise the strategic impact of Insight and foster more consumer-centric decision making. Can I point to £Xm results? The short answer is no. But for effectiveness and efficiency this approach delivered; consumer segmentation was embedded across multiple functions, product concept scores improved and research costs were avoided when well-founded intuition could do the job. 4 years later the project was flourishing with everyone from Board down meeting consumers-shoppers on all manner of topics, to reinforce, clarify and inspire thinking. Frankly, at a time with budgets under constant scrutiny, holding on to that small pot for fostering curiosity, was no mean feat!
All in all, I’d do it again . . . and again . . . and find ways to make it work in the New Normal. My advice: have faith, think creatively and let curiosity back in . . .
1. Have the Board on board – and taking part – from the start. Yes, there’s risk in the Sales Director listening to a consumer directly, but how can a business be truly consumer-centric if those at the top don’t understand the people they’re serving?
2. Plan strategically and with rigour – a programme tailored to the right times in the business planning cycle allows for the right levels of engagement and immediate application of the output. In other words, make it relevant.
3. Seek a breadth of perspectives – not just consumers themselves. A bit à la Henry Ford’s famous horse, we often learn more about consumers from others, such as experts in a field or even a Brand Manager from a non-competitor.
4. Squeeze out existing knowledge – involving teams such as agencies, category management, field sales or consumer services, can yield a wealth of understanding and fresh perspectives before you even meet a consumer directly, or spend any budget.
5. Go with the flow – what works for one year won’t be right the next, so an ever-evolving programme is key to ensure that it’s fit for purpose and continues to be credible and engaging.
6. Protect the pot with passion – it doesn’t need to break the bank, but these kinds of strategic monies are often the first for the chop unless ringfenced from the start. Consider X% of total budget for strategic curiosity – that way there’ll always be something, however slight.
7. Be bold and creative – brand the initiative so it feels like an established fact (rather than a stand-alone project), be playful and make it fun. If curiosity isn’t fun, it’ll never fly.
Have a go; curiosity might kill the cat, but it might be the making of better brands.