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Closing the Gap that Lies Between You and Your Customers

Wouldn’t it be great if consumers queued up to be your customers, rather like the queues outside Apple Stores? You would have customers in the palm of your hand, clamouring to know what you were going to do next to make their lives that little bit easier and happier.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsThis is not beyond most companies’ reach, it is a simple case of understanding how to please your customers, who in many ways, have the same expectations as yourself.

In over 30 years as client and agency insight specialist I have witnessed many market research departments and market researchers scratch their heads over economic models of consumer behaviour as predictive tools. Consumers are unpredictable and prone to impulse which creates a gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

Over the last decade WDG has been looking into this phenomenon, and has worked with customer experience specialists and behavioural economists and we all agree that organisations that direct their business model to achieving customer excellence are more successful at closing the gap. They achieve greater control of consumer behaviour by understanding how they can optimise the customer’s experience at each point of interaction.

By looking at your business through a different lens, for example, how customer-focused are you as an organisation? and what happens at points in the customer journey where they interact with the business? you can start to develop a program that is all about creating positive and, importantly, memorable experiences for the customer.

Shifting slightly to the left of complex rating systems and behavioural models, WDG has  developed an intuitive process that is easy to understand and implement. It is also one that the entire organisation can invest enthusiasm for and put into practice. We use CX insights and metrics to understand from the customer’s perspective the key touchpoints where company/brand and customer interface. We use the same process across each customer segment and journey map. Working with your internal teams we can develop performance targets to each significant touchpoint in the customer journey.

Customer excellence is achieved where companies have operational confidence to far exceed customer expectations at each touchpoint. In effect, treating your customer as you would want to be treated as a customer. Not only is this an income generating initiative it has positive effects for your team in terms of emotional reward and job satisfaction.

 

Websites redundant? Surely not just yet….

iphonefaviconA number of recent business articles have been banging on about the reduced need for websites as businesses and consumers have become more interested in using community platforms and user generated content. In other words, they have lost relevance to todays aggregated digital information streaming society. As one article put it ‘the delivery of content and interaction has been set free from conventional web design’.

Last year we launched this website. It may not be perfect but it explains our market research business, and we anticipate that we make subtle changes when needed to keep up with digital technology, and we overhaul the site every 2 to 3 years or when larger changes are afoot, whichever comes first. We operate B2B and use blogging and social media to drive traffic here, and with over a third of our new business last year coming through the website I am reluctant to describe it as redundant, at least not yet.

The journey that websites have taken in just two decades shows that they are willing to change and function as part of a digital strategy. However, there will come a time when website will mean something completely different, possibly a generic term for all content generated by a single user held in the cloud.  What websites succeed in doing today will be incorporated into new technology tomorrow and that’s fine by me.

Big Data: do you control it or does it control you?

Online paymentThe last few years of marketing press has been about Big Data, it’s impact and effect of every one of us. We are surrounded by data noise but we continue to feed the data baby with social media, instant messaging, purchase transactions, GPS signals, mobile phone usage etc. It is insatiable.

Famously, IBM recently stated that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, so much so that 90% of the data in the world has been generated in the last two years alone. Does this mean that we are becoming more enlightened and sophisticated in the sharing and use of information? Much of the time we are responsible for creating data without even realising, which is a frightening thought. Servers record our every move / opinion / image posted, building a massive footprint for every one of us.

When we are in control of the information we generate it can have a huge impact on our lives, enabling us to make informed decisions about our spending, the products we use, travel, health issues, investments etc. Social media has transformed the lives of many creating a wide network of ‘friends’ to share thoughts, create ideas, post images and videos, and stream media. When it is out of our control it we can simply feel disconnected at best, or it can inflict serious damage to our reputation at worst.

Companies perceptions of why consumers use social mediaBusinesses on the other hand have only scratched the surface of Big Data. Too often it is seen as a CRM tool, as a means to capture prospects, to broadcast their brand message across the net. Many companies still do not have a social media marketing policy. They generate the same content across Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter et al without understanding the different platforms, audiences, usage patterns etc. Multi media advertising is seen as a great opportunity for many advertisers, but it risks alienating customers: consumers can find it ‘annoying’, ‘intrusive’, or skip it as soon as it appears on their screen.

Companies can benefit from getting to know their customer beyond the CRM metrics. Engaging with them on social media creates a greater opportunity to manage what is being said about the brand, and identifying advocates creates a mouthpiece for positive marketing. Crowd sourcing and co-creation treats customers as part of the team and engages with them in a way that was hitherto seen as risky by marketing teams.

Big Data has so many more applications for business it is almost unfathomable. Detailed knowledge of suppliers, supply chain and prices can deliver efficiencies and greater control over the costs and timescales impacting the business. As for consumers, we are benefiting from the impact of information through greater choice of products and services, more intelligent pricing, and a broader knowledge of the world around us.

Like it or loathe it, like the universe Big Data can only expand.

 

 

 

Digital Natives: voices that demand to be heard

cheering crowd at concert

Wouldn’t it be great to really understand the needs and desires of a whole generation….in detail??

Over the last sixty years generations have been defined by the generational  influences of their parents and political, economic and technical developments of their times. Research has further defined specific groups in the population to help marketing, politicians and the media focus their messages. Understanding what the population wanted and what they thought involved a process, but now, thanks to Generation Y we understand a lot more about their motivations, likes and pet hates. They have delivered in the moment reactions to television programmes, government policy, celebrity behaviour, and brand activity. But who are they?

Around 20% of the adult population in the UK was born between ’80s and early ’90s. These are Generation Y, born mainly of Generation X who are educated, active, and grew up in an era of social diversity and change in music (glam rock, new wave, punk..). Generation Y has emerged into a world of rapidly expanding technology and social change. They have grown up plugged in to games consoles, computers,  and mobile phones so no surprise that emails, text and social media is their preferred communication format.

WDG recently carried out a study of this sector of the population. Digital Natives, so called because of their reliance on their smart phones and laptops, access a wide social network, giving them vast connections and ‘friends’, but what is important to them is family connections. Many have grown up with overworked parents or single working parents, and this has informed a different approach to work/life balance. Where Generation X live to work, Y generation live then work.  Unsurprisingly, traditionally structured companies are less of an attraction for Y’ers; they don’t subscribe to corporate rules and culture, classic business models, and working hours. They seek meaningful work with constant change so that they can develop professionally.

They comprise a mosaic of traits which often seems incompatible. They are often perceived by older generations to be egotistical and brash, possibly because Digital Natives are confident and express their views honestly, but really they are eager to learn and contribute. They assert themselves frequently through their online networks and understand the importance of digital media. They want to make a lot of money, but they also believe in supporting non profit causes. They will pay a high price for brands but are aware of a good savings plan. Most significant is their unceasing optimism despite the fact that they grew up in an era of world terrorism and economic  recession. Far from being fearful and introverted Y’ers are positive with a ‘can-do’ approach to their lives.

Many Generation Y who completed further education have found it difficult to secure a job in this recession, yet the UK is one of the countries most geared up to educate children at the highest level. These tech savvy digital natives are a real catch to employers who are willing to embrace their traits. They use technology to work efficiently, they do not conform to traditional working hours, their behaviour is authentic and honest, and they work best when the job is meaningful to them.

This generation is a golden chalice for Marketing. Their honesty and confidence in sharing their views, likes and dislikes with a wide online audience means that companies get ‘in the moment’ feedback from their customers. Brand developers are now able to have a dialogue with their market, harvest ideas, and create brands that are assured success.

The top 5 desirable brand characteristics as defined by Generation Y are:

1. it has its own style

2 it makes me feel happy and rewarded

3 it is up to date, of the moment

4 it has a clean reputation, is ethical in manufacturing process and raw materials, it is not associated with negative press

5 it is clear and simple

For more information about Digital Natives please contact WDG Research directly.

Falling in and out of love with your clients

I am sure you have been there: one minute your relationship works, you are both happy and you have invested a lot of time in each other; the next minute it all goes eerily quiet, he doesn’t call or answer your emails and you begin to realise that it may be all over. Then you hear that someone else is on the scene and you start to question why. What did you do that was so wrong?

Clients can be very fickle folk – I’ve been there and I know. As an ex-client I can say with hand on heart that it is not always the agency’s fault when a relationship comes to an end. Often it has simply run its course and the client wants to try out other suppliers. Budget influences the continuation of a relationship, and no agency worth their mettle wants to regard themselves as cheap. Internal politics may change the structure of the client department or restrict the process of appointing external suppliers. All of which is frustrating for the agency that has developed a deep understanding of the company, its products and services, its interface with customers, and its employees.

Even more frustrating for the supplier is when a client contact moves on. This is the primary point of communication with the company and once it is lost it knocks the relationship with the company back quite significantly. He or she may inform their suppliers and pass on the details of the new incumbent but this happens as much as it doesn’t. Finding out on LinkedIn is not ideal, but at least it is a place to reconnect and be referred to the contact’s replacement.

When you are in the middle of a good relationship it is easy to forget what it took to get there; the emails and phone calls, the numerous small projects and presentations that finally won the client over. Like any relationship it has to add value to both parties. From the suppliers perspective having a developing knowledge about the company is not sufficient, it has to introduce fresh ideas for the client to think about, recommendations that move the business forward, and be prepared to challenge the client when needed. A good client should be transparent with the supplier in a long term relationship: be up front with budgets, honest with timings, and prepared to share the intended outcome of each project. A good client should not take advantage of the relationship expecting ‘freebies’ or impossible timings, or even usurping the supplier’s time with other clients.

And when it comes to the end of the road, be honest. Tell them and explain why. Nobody likes to be dumped without a good reason.

The YouTube video pokes fun at clients. I apologise, but as an ex-client and agency researcher it is very funny

 

Brief us well, brief us good

POSTED ON March 25th  - POSTED IN Business Leadership, General Stuff, Market Research, Uncategorized

For more than two decades WDG Research has enjoyed working on many interesting and varied market research projects. Our client portfolio extends across many industries from fmcg to finance, automative to leisure, advertising to DIY – to name a few – and we are pleased to have a family of clients who repeatedly use our services over the years. Here are some considered thoughts about briefing agencies, specifically marketing research agencies but the rules certainly apply to other marketing services.

It is no surprise that every client has a specific style in briefing a job; some are verbally delivered over the phone, or at a meeting, or more commonly we receive briefs by email and on the odd occasion on LinkedIn. Sometimes we are given an initial general description in return for a ballpark quote, while others prepare an extensive and detailed document, and there are many variations in between.

There is certainly no right or wrong way to deliver a research brief so long as there is a stage where both parties reach a point of clarification on the objectives for the research, method of research to be used, sample size and structure, locations, materials required from the client, timings and of course the cost. The parameters of budget and timescales are important in designing a solid research project – good research cannot be done yesterday but a reputable agency will pull out all stops to deliver. So often research is used as a final sign-off at the end of a development programme and inevitably tight deadlines arise and the client often has only loose change left to spend. We’ve all been there.

That said, there are good briefs and bad briefs. The bad ones blindfold the agency, preventing it from designing a good solid research method that will meet all objectives. Bad briefs withhold the context of the research or its role in the development and marketing programme. Agencies need to know this information to create data and insights which will move the project further along in its development. Remember, if the agency is a member of the Market Research Society it is governed by conduct codes which include client confidentiality – code B6. So please clients, trust your agency and regard it as a member of your team at least for the duration of the project.

Sometimes the details of the research are not always delivered contemparaneously as different departments have their input. As  client researchers, a role more commonly found pre-Millenium, it was our responsibility to gather inputs from all relevant departments and design a complete brief before approaching an agency.  At WDG we are all ex-client researchers and we care about the value of the research to the client. We aim to understand the client’s objectives for undertaking research and as the direct link to their customer/audience it is important for us to make worthwhile and salient recommendations.

A good brief on the other hand is fully considered before the research agency is approached – sometimes discussion with an agency can help the client to reach this stage pre-brief. Ideally the client is able to explain the context of the subject to be researched and the brief will include how it impacts on subsequent activity. The agency can then design a research study that is timely, that uses the optimum methodology, and explores all the issues. Moreover it can deliver recommendations that are relevant.

Ultimately, any brief is a good brief, but the client will get sharper results with a brief that is complete in itself and embraces the agency’s knowledge and skills in delivering great insights. Try it out and know that you are spending your budget wisely.

 

 

 

 

 

New Generation vs Traditional Research methods – you choose?

A quick clarification of ‘new generation’ before blogging on. Online research has been around for some time now with lots of options to choose from (online panels, communities, internal CRM, social media..). Improvements in digital and mobile research has meant that greater value can be gained across all nternet-based platforms to reach an audience. These tools are evolving in sophistication and accessibility, so for the moment we are using the collective term ‘new generation’ to separate them from traditional approaches in quantitative research.

Online research, social media and community panels have now eclipsed traditional quant methods in terms of preference by marketers, but seriously, does new mean better? There are limitations to both and it is these that hinder the quality outcome of studies. So before embarking on a new research programme, consider the options against the objectives and the audience to be measured.

At WDG we believe in the specific merits of both new generation and traditional methods and will always promote the best tool for the job. Online research is cost effective, fast and controllable. Traditional face to face and telephone interviewing benefits from person-to-person interaction; the interviewer can challenge responses and clarify questions at any point in the proceedings.

Simplifying your choice

The benefits of new generation research methods

It’s cost effective. There is no denying that this is the case; recruitment costs are reduced where respondents are more easily reached through the internet; social media sites have a ready made engaged audience to test early concepts and opinions; in many instances survey software has already been developed thereby minimizing set-up costs.

It’s time saving. Time is money and automated analytics is a significant time saver; the process from questionnaire deployment to analysis is faster; real time data can be customised and fed instantaneously to key personnel, regional offices, and stakeholders.

It’s convenient. Respondents can complete the study at a convenient time and place – within a stated time frame; smartphone and tablet usage enables greater convenience and comfort in completing surveys; sensitive and personal questions can be asked without compromising respondents’ privacy. This achieves a potent quality and reliability of response.

A wider geographic reach as more of the UK/global population uses internet and digital media.

Multimedia stimuli can be used and responded to.

 

The benefits of traditional quantitative methods

Not everyone is internet/social media savvy; just because someone has internet doesn’t mean they have the time or interest in completing online surveys; traditional survey recruitment reaches all segments of the population.

Benefits taste, smell and feel studies, such as product development.

Non-verbal responses add depth and clarity to trad face to face interviews

Challenge responses where it is felt respondent didn’t fully understand question; ideal for more complex surveys.

 

When deciding which approach will work best for your research study, consider who your audience is (are they active social media users? what is the internet/smartphone penetration amongst this audience?), and what you expect them to do and over what duration (online has a higher drop-out rate than traditional).

We hope we have overturned the myth that traditional quantitative research has had its day – it will always have an important place in marketing development and planning. New generation methodologies are improving and developing to enable faster and more precise readings of audiences, but human interaction is here to stay.

 

 

A random thought to boost business in the community

POSTED ON September 24th  - POSTED IN Business Leadership, General Stuff, Networking, SME Marketing, Social Media

Do you ever ask yourself whose responsibility this is? Aren’t Central and local government and the Bank of England tasked with this?

If your business is doing well and has been one of the success stories to rise out of the recession then hearty congratulations. Your success is no doubt offering a boost in employment and supplier contracts to your local economy and there are additional and obvious benefits to this.

For some localised businesses however, a return to growth seems a long way off. Securing the right amount of funds to invest in business continues to be difficult as banks are still refusing to take the risk and are sometimes downright myopic.

The good news we hear is that the economy is showing signs of growth as reported by Bank of England Interest Setting Committee who have revised this year’s final quarter estimates from 0.5% to 0.7%. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also revised its prediction to a 1.5% growth in the UK economy compared with 0.8% set in May 2013. The Metro reported in 3 Sept that retail spending (excl fuel) was expected to increase year on year to August by 2.3%, this in spite of inflation continuing to outstrip wage growth.

So, with all these signs pointing to a brighter future it is madness that there are good businesses, which are often at the tail end of the supply chain, still caught up in the recession’s grip. Firefighting to keep a business viable, lack of investment, and strident cutbacks in all but the essentials does not give these companies sufficient leverage to bounce back.

It has occurred to me that successful businesses could offer assistance to struggling businesses with a view to passing on knowledge, motivation, physical help, and hard cash. Help could take many forms: mentoring where support and advice is needed, financial investment to enable the business to ‘gear-up for growth’, manpower investment (i.e. sharing skills by deploying employees of the successful business to work in the struggling business for a stated period), the list could go on.

The benefits to the successful business are the positive message it sends to employees and future employees, owning a share of a growing business, developing new skills acquired via supported business, positive PR, developing good community relations.

The community benefits as more successful businesses create employment, demand for accommodation (and schools, health centres etc), increase spending in the community occurs….the positive knock-on effect is fairly tangible.

The downside is if the supported company fails. It is a risk and an important consideration – how likely is it to fail? So this is my random thought, but I would appreciate your view.

Creating better communities through social responsibility

If like me you network among your local business community you have probably encountered brokerage agencies that match socially responsible businesses with the voluntary sector. CSR is moving up the business agenda and a greater number of smaller businesses want to give back to their communities. How to give back in a meaningful and effective way where it has greatest impact is not always obvious hence the emergence of brokers – the ones I have met are genuinely interested in sourcing and distributing funding and manpower to support community ventures and local charities, and are themselves not-for-profit.

In areas where business has been devastated, high streets boarded up, and local charities struggling to survive, there is a greater need for helping hands. Sometimes these helping hands take the form of local businesses that have simply had enough and start to work together towards a better future for their community.

In August 2013 Burnley in Lancashire was named the most enterprising town in UK in the Enterprise Award Scheme run by Dept for Business Innovation and Skills. The idea that gained Burnley this accolade was simple: bond 100 local business and organisations to actively promote the town as a good place to work, live, visit and invest. “What is good for Burnley is good for business”. The Burnley Bond holder scheme has reinvigorated the local economy and boosted its core industries of aerospace and engineering, while creating more local jobs.

It doesn’t always take a group of businesses, or a third sector brokerage to direct investment and help on the ground where it is most needed. Coincidentally, also from Burnley, entrepreneur Dave Fishwick famously challenged the banks for failing small businesses. He formed Burnley’s Savings and Loans to meet the needs of individuals and businesses with loans and a preferable interest of 5%AER on savings. All profits (ex overheads) he has distributed to charities.

Though less high profile there are examples of towns and individuals who have their community at heart. Through co-operative enterprise communities are being rebuilt. You can probably tell that I support the idea of third sector brokerages because they are able to connect businesses of all sizes with a single mission to walk the CSR walk as well as talking the talk. It’s not simply about sponsoring events and charities. Companies are being encouraged to help with the development of environmental initiatives, sponsor business hubs where people can meet and hotdesk, provide pro bono services, mentor other businesses, and run staff volunteering schemes as just an example of the scope of what can be achieved in the name of community action and social responsibility.

It may not be the stated mission of many of the schemes but Burnley has proven that what is good for the town is good for business. Getting involved by investing funds or action in kind creates a positive impression of your business, it motivates staff and has the potential to make you the employer of choice. It is also sends a positive message to prospective clients.

Call it the Dunkirk Spirit or what you will, the length and depth of this recession has created a resolve in securing the future for business by business. Where high street banks have failed to recognise the needs of their customers the resourcefulness of the community is capable of stepping in with support.

Sadly, for communities without forward thinking individuals, there is no template for turning fortune around and for some communities responsibility is about improving the social or eco- environment, not turnover. Either way businesses must want to get involved and be committed for the long run.

 
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