Now, keep up! Stormy Daniels is not the sequel to the Beast From the East, but the name of the porn star Donald Trump’s lawyer paid in exchange for her silence about her extra-marital affair with The Donald in 2006.
I was reminded of this talented actor’s relationship with the Leader of the Free World as I reflected on the projects I handled in 2017, my 30th year in research. With Movement’s turnover up 33% and 50% of projects coming from new clients, it was another good year; but owing to a combination of client NDAs and self-imposed gagging orders arising from working on politically or commercially sensitive projects, there is only so much I can reveal about the work I handled…
A brief on briefs
As with 2016, it wasn’t all qual research. The year started with a fascinating brief to design a brief. A senior creative I had worked with in 2016 referred me to a fast-growing agency that wanted a consultant to help it define a template for all its creative briefs. This was a classic case of small business growing pains: the company had grown fast and won several impressive clients, but having different partners briefing different creatives in different ways was becoming unsustainable. With new staff joining, there was a pressing need to establish the discipline provided by a using a consistent format that everyone could understand and work with.
So, I took the brief about the brief and asked as part of the brief that they send me some examples of their briefs – are you following?! I could draw on over 35 years of working with creative briefs from a huge range of agencies, as well as the abundant experience of many fellow researchers and consultants, but it was clear that creating a briefing template was only part of the job. A new briefing template would be meaningless without a defined briefing and review process; and the briefing template would only be adopted if it was developed in partnership with the key stakeholders and fully understood by everyone who would have to write or respond to it. This would require not only that everyone understood the meaning and role of every part of the brief, but also that they understood how to write a really good brief in the first place.
So, having developed a template with the senior management team, I then ran a workshop day with the agency’s strategists and creatives to ensure it was fully understood and to practice applying it to some live projects. It was a very successful day; the partners tell me they “got great feedback from the session” and that the brief is being successfully applied to inspire its new campaigns.
- “The brief template is working well and the training means there is more rigour in terms of both writing and pushback.”
An explosive proposition
Talking of workshops brings me to Latitude, an agency specialising in luxury branding, which commissioned me to facilitate a workshop in Singapore, aimed at developing a positioning for the 1500 hectare Special Economic Zone of Tanjung Lesung in Indonesia, overlooking the Sunda Strait and the legendary volcanic island of Krakatoa. Latitude’s founder, Mark Jory, has a little black book to die for, from which he put together an outstanding group of expert workshop participants. Over 2 days, we generated some fantastic ideas (a selection of which are pixelated below!), which I then worked with Mark to develop into an outstandingly distinctive and relevant positioning for the new development.
Mark and his team recognise that an effective brand positioning is much more than just an external marketing entity, and should inform and guide the development of the product and service itself. I can’t wait to see the work it inspires.
I was also fortunate enough in 2017 to work as a brand consultant for the iconic high-end audio brand, Bowers & Wilkins. This 50 year old company based in Worthing was bought in 2016 by Eva Automation, an American tech business with great ambitions to blend Bowers’ extraordinary skill in sound reproduction with its own cutting edge wireless technology. Simon Greenman, with whom I had worked at MutualArt, was brought in to lead digital marketing, and he commissioned me to write the brief for a pitch to find an agency to create new brand and product campaigns, starting with the launch of the new PX wireless headphones. This allowed me to put into practice my thoughts on how briefs should be written, walking the fine line between providing creative inspiration and being overly prescriptive.
Agencies are used to having to wade through opaque, unfocused and unresolved client briefs, so it was gratifying that this one received very positive feedback from all involved. After pitches from a small selection of excellent agencies, we awarded the business to Droga5. There are exciting developments in the pipeline for the new Bowers & Wilkins, running hand in hand with the task of unifying two very different corporate cultures. If any agency has the strategic and creative skills required to meet the challenge, it will be Droga5.
Redefining a brand for today
What do you think of when you think of SodaStream? Do you think of it as a brand perfectly positioned to provide an answer to the critical environmental issue of plastic bottle waste, as people increasingly choose sparkling water as a palatable way to drink the water they need to be healthy?
Or do you think of this?
The opportunity for SodaStream is significant and, through an idea generation workshop, qualitative positioning development research and subsequent quantitative concept testing, all designed and executed by Movement, we identified a cut-through positioning that will help the brand maximise its relevance to today’s consumer. I can’t wait to see the campaign that results.
- “Thanks again for today – we all really enjoyed the [workshop] session and the team has been singing your praises and raving about how well facilitated the session was!”
- “Thanks so much for yesterday, it was really interesting and the proposed concept [coming out of the qualitative research] is a really exciting one.”
What, no ads?
The qual for SodaStream continued a trend in the shifting balance of Movement’s projects towards strategic development research. In 2017, 80% of Movement’s research projects concerned strategy development, and even the creative development projects had a significant strategic dimension. An unfortunate side effect of this is that there isn’t much to display in Movement’s shop window. However, four creative campaigns have seen the light of day.
The Tesco Ireland brand campaign was the product of no fewer than four stages of diagnostic, strategic and creative development research with consumers and staff.
- “Thank you for all your help with this. You really kept us on the straight and narrow. It was great having you on the journey.”
- “We really couldn’t have landed it as well without all of your input so thank you very much indeed! It’s been so great having you on board throughout!”
Pernod Ricard commissioned me to run groups in the USA and Ireland to develop a new international campaign for Powers Whiskey. Although these two countries have very different whisky cultures, the research helped the client and its Dublin-based agency, Rothco, pinpoint a core proposition and define a creative direction that would resonate in both markets.
- “Thanks for a great job today. Lots of clarity and direction for the team here and at Rothco.”
Ireland was my second home for much of last year, just as in 2016. As well as working on Tesco and Powers, I handled strategic development research for the Irish National Tourism Development Authority, Failte, and creative development for Irish National Lottery’s Lottogame, which promises to result in a fabulous campaign.
- “Thanks for all your work. Great to hear a researcher who actually gets insight!” (on Failte)
- “Great debrief. Huge amount to think about. Really great that we got to an emotionally powerful territory… everyone is very pleased.” (on Failte)
- “That was a fantastic piece of work; not only for the way you ran the groups, but the way you really added value. It’s far exceeded our expectations. Thank you.” (on Lotto)
36 business flights in one year may be small beer if you work for an international research company; but it’s a fair few when you are a freelancer whose business focus is the UK!
What do have jogging mums, borrowed dogs and Welsh jeans have in common with a Sharp Side Part?
The other campaign that has emerged into the light of day is for Facebook for Business. I love B2B research. The relationship between corporate culture and the people who run and work in a business is a rich and fascinating topic and one that is poorly understood by many comms agencies. This project involved developing a campaign to help SMEs appreciate the potential of Facebook as a tool for business growth. I had the privilege of talking to some inspiring business owners who have seen their lives transformed by using Facebook for Business to promote their start-ups, such as Hiut Denim, This Mum Runs, Borrow My Doggy and Kings Barbers Club. Moving on to talk with groups of small business owners in the UK (not France because, as George W Bush told us, “The problem with the French, is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur”), the research endorsed the strategic thinking behind the campaign and provided detailed support to reinforce its communication.
The new campaign has gone live with some evolved creative but remains true to the fundamental strategy, and Facebook was hugely appreciative of the human insight that the research was able to bring to what is still a very technically driven culture.
- “This is gold; hugely rich information for us, really valuable.”
Is it really 30 years?
So, 2017 marked 30 years since I made the leap from ad agency account management into the world of qualitative research. Today I feel hugely fortunate to have a job that I find endlessly stimulating and to work with smart and supportive clients, as well as to be so busy that I don’t get to review of 2017 until it’s 3 months into 2018! Like any good reality show, it’s been an ‘Amazing Journey’: I’ve learnt so much, and every week I learn more. As I head into my 4th decade in the business, I hope to share some of this in further posts this year.
If you would like to support Stormy Daniels in her legal fight to be allowed to speak honestly about The Donald, go to this link: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/stormy/