“The whites of their eyes”

I am now trained in asking people what they think; and actually listening. Many of my fellow employees and I learnt this valuable skill during two days training at the esteemed qualitative agency The Nursery, where they taught us how to run qualitative groups, and tease out the vital information that can determine key decisions for an ad campaign.

I learnt these key skills – active listening, controlling a conversation, understanding group lifecycles, enabling questions, projective techniques, evaluating emotionally rich responses – because Walker Media believes that the role of an effective media agency employee involves being equipped to fully understand the relationship between a client’s brand and their consumers.

Media agencies have a wealth of quantitative data on consumers, but too often fail to head out into the bright, non-London, non-professional (and non-white/arrogant/middle class/tech savvy/shot drinking?) world of media, and actually meet them.  We rely too often on clichés (Vicky Pollard is about right, yeah?) and rational questionnaires. But consumers are not clichés and often do not act as they rationally believe; they have rich complex emotional relationships with media and brands, that often operate on an unconscious level (as being increasingly explored in advertising literature and conferences). If we want to be experts in communicating with them, we need to understand them, in depth, and using methods that get beneath the surface.

During a qualitative group on desserts I heard a mother describe how she shared a brand of ice cream with her teenage daughter every Thursday night (while they talked about life and boys – mainly boys). I heard the tremor in her voice, I saw the smile on her face, and I picked up on what this comment really meant. I then asked follow up questions to delve into the relationship, and asked others to describe if they related to it. This was not cold hard data, but an un-replicable organic insight into her (and others) relationship with a brand. From that and many other comments we were able to draw a full picture of how our brand fitted into their lives, why they would want to hear about it, and when they would want to hear about it.

Using this sort of information we can make planning decisions that will be more insightful, accurate and ultimately effective. As such I am looking forward to asking many more questions on behalf of brands, and actually listening to the answers.

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Tanning of the UK?

1986, Madison Square Garden, New York City: The whole crowd take one shoe off and proudly hoist it in the air at the command of the nights MC’s, rap duo Run-DMC, creating a visual intro to their record ‘My Adidas’. This was an early indicator of the influence of hip-hop culture on consumerism and what Steve Stoute would coin ‘a tanning moment’.

Steve Stoute is a former music executive turned marketer, who made his success by ignoring barriers traditionally drawn around demographics and ethnicity, identifying today’s generation “as a generation that grew up listening to music that wasn’t necessarily the music their parents listened to …  a generation that doesn’t see through color, but rather through shared cultural experiences”. This is what he identifies as ‘The Tanning of America’, the title of his recently published book which documents the rise and influence of hip-hop/urban culture since the 80s.

Some examples of campaigns developed by Stoute’s marketing firm Translation

“Consumers want to connect, believe and immerse themselves in the experience. They want to see themselves fit into the story”

Although the book provides insight and examples of the US marketplace, the message delivered rings true across the Atlantic, with urban artists achieving huge chart success in the last 12-18 months in particular. Artists such as Tinie Tempah, Tinchy Stryder, Professor Green and Wretch 32 have been busy creating their own scene, sound and style but share a common thread with their US counterparts. As Tinchy’s manager Jack Foster commented in a recent Guardian interview, “rap is aspirational. It’s always been about bettering yourself.” Stoute suggests that brands which successfully convey similar messages of ambition and success will attract people who want to show ‘the world they’re moving forward, that they do have aspirations in life’, tapping into a universal language.

Despite the evidence, there is a noticeable lack of brands looking to take advantage of the influence wielded by rap artists and the appeal of the urban scene in the UK. The only notable success to date is the Lucozade sports campaign featuring  Tinie Tempah. This original TV ad quickly received over 350,000 YouTube views and was eventually released as a downloadable single. Tinie Tempah became the first non-athlete endorser of Lucozade, a milestone which can be compared to Jay-Z’s deal with Reebok in 2003. At the time, Jay-Z became the first non-athlete to have a signature athletic footwear collection, which would produce some of the company’s best-selling shoes.

With everything from bottled water ads featuring breakdancing babies to contestants rapping on the X-Factor, it could be the time for the multicultural dimension of thought to be embraced just as it was by the Adidas marketing execs who were in the crowd on that night in 1985.

Will marketers in the UK begin to understand the modern generations shared likes and interests, and will they be brave enough to break from the status quo and embrace this cultural shift?

Social Shopping: New ways in which our social networks will influence our purchase decisions

Image: honestlynow.com

These days, we’re never alone. Our social networks are constantly with us, just one tempting click away – the click that distracts us in meetings, entertains us in public transport, and has ruined many a date. The increasing presence of and access to our social networks is influencing how we buy and sell, and in this post I’ll be focusing on two fascinating developments in how we shop – asking for instant opinions while in store, and selling to our social networks online.

We’ve always searched for opinions on decisions. Before, we asked friends or sales assistants – ignoring the feeling we had that they were probably either telling us what we wanted to hear (in the case of friends) or simply telling us to buy (sales assistants). Then, we started reading online reviews – what were meant to be honest opinions from strangers. These too are now taken with a pinch of salt as companies hire writers to create praising reviews for them for a few dollars apiece – necessitating the creation of a fake review detector earlier this year.

There are signs that the next stage of asking opinions about purchases could lie in apps that enable people to pose questions to their friends, network and strangers immediately, while still in store. Opinionaided allows people to ask questions ranging from ‘Which shoes to buy?’ to ‘Should I dump my boyfriend?’ The answers will be immediate – and brutally honest. Honestly Now is a similar social game, but aimed at women aged 30 to 50, and focuses on personal decisions and tricky situations. Players can choose to keep questions private with friends, or share queries anonymously with all users. With both apps, key to getting users to trust the opinions is allowing them to rate others’ answers; those with stellar ratings get pro status – making it harder for companies to keep recommending buying their own products.

The access we have to our social networks could also change the way we sell things. One of the first companies to offer any Facebook user who considers themselves a trendsetter the chance to curate their own boutiques online is Shopcade. Shopcade users will be able pick items from different brands based on their sense of style, and make money when their friends buy through them. Some forward-thinking brands are turning directly to social selling through social media. For instance, a newly launched jewellery brand Chloe + Isabel only sells their high-fashion accessories online through organically-growing networks of women – sold by a fashionable and tech-savvy version of Avon ladies. The company designs, produces, and markets fashion jewellery for interested sellers, who then create their own virtual boutiques selling the brand’s jewellery on a 30% commission. A sign of strong faith in the future of the business model is shown by the fact that the company has so far received over $10 million in venture capital.

It’ll be interesting to watch these new behaviours emerge, and how brands will tap into them. The desire for instant and honest feedback on purchase decisions won’t necessarily need to exclude brands – for instance, fashion brands could offer instant opinions from personal stylists, or team up with respected fashion bloggers to do this. Whether any big brands will experiment with social selling 2.0 will be interesting to see – the next stage of brand ambassadors could well be brand salesmen.

A warm welcome to our blog!

We are Source: WM, the insights and effectiveness team at Walker Media.

In our daily work we read a lot about innovation in media and advertising, changing media consumption patterns, consumer trends and all kinds of other interesting bits and bobs. We make observations, form opinions, spot trends and discover a lot of brain food on the World Wide Web. Instead of keeping it all to ourselves, we thought we’d share it  with you.

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