“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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