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Insight at the speed of Covid

7 August 2020

Consumer and market dynamics are evolving at a pace and clients need more agile thinking in their research processes to navigate effectively

During a trip to the circus with the kids, I pondered on the need for agility in how we work when faced with uncertainty and questioned if we as researchers and strategists are meeting the needs of our customers at a time of such uncertainty? The circus itself provides us with a good example of agile thinking. For years the traditional circus format faced considerable external pressure and constraints much of this placed on it by established ways of doing things that simply no longer suited their audiences. In 1984, by removing constraints, known pressure points and tailoring what it did for a new audience Cirque du Soleil re-imagined what the circus could be and created something magically theatrical that has yielded annual revenues of 1bn, remaining profitable each of the past 36 years.

At MCCP, we have been applying agile thinking to our research processes in recent years, and have seen an acceleration in the need for agility in research in recent months. Much like what was done by Cirque du Soleil, it is about considering the constraints and pressure points that exist, questioning the status quo and tailoring processes to the new needs of clients. Increasingly we are seeing research and decision making happening in parallel rather than consecutively. This has implications in so far as clients are increasingly outcome rather than process focused because they need clarity of thinking from recommendations rapidly and do not want to be caught in detail of process. This is not to say that process isn’t important. It’s hugely important that we are rigorous and thorough in what we do. However, it does mean that as researchers we need to think about how our processes can work best to meet the needs of clients whilst allowing us as thinkers the time to focus on the clarity of recommendations that is required.

Insight at the core of public health strategic communications

Nowhere was the need for agility in research and the delivery of insight so apparent than in our work with the Department of Health communications team during the first four months of the Covid-19 crisis. From the outset it was clear that strategic communications would be crucial. Insight was at the core of the Departments communication strategy.

MCCP began our research process speaking with people across the country online on Wednesday 12th March just hours after An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had announced the closure of schools. The ask from our weekly research process was considerable. The Department required clarity on how people were processing what was happening around them, their comprehension of the key behaviours to suppress the virus, emergent topics of concern that needed clarification from public health officials as well as an understanding of what components of the communications strategy were creating trust in political and healthcare leaders. As public health communications became an increasingly important weapon in the fight against Covid recommendations on communications messaging became a crucial part of our weekly work. The yellow posters, were developed as the Department’s Covid visual identity and as such the messages, content and tone of these communications needed to resonate with the Irish public and deliver for the Department. As the Department embarked on it’s journey towards the development the Covid Tracker app insight was again put front and centre. The development of this app was a significant risk and ensuring communications at launch positioned the app for success by communicating the potential benefit to the collective whilst minimising concerns around data privacy was crucial.

So, the needs of our client were significant. Insights needed to be extremely closely attuned to rapidly evolving sentiment and understanding, particularly in the first 9 weeks of the outbreak in Ireland. We also needed to deliver clarity of thinking quickly as research, decision-making and creative work was all happening simultaneously. To do this successfully we created an agile consumer to client process. We combined the need for structure with that of high flexibility. We incorporated a truly collaborative and fluid relationship with our client. We pooled our collective thinking often in sessions to decode sentiment and articulate it into communication messages. We removed constraints and limiting thinking about status quo how presentations needed to be delivered or news good and bad landed with client. We thought different internally about what needed to happen when and how.

Our work with the Department of Health provides a great example of applying agility to our research processes but it’s not our only example of research agility. In innovation we adapt agility to our research processes which means we can fit with where the innovation team is at any given point in the project rather than asserting a fixed process of way of working. Similar in ways to the Department of Health example, in innovation projects research, decision-making and the creative process are often happening simultaneously. In these projects the research process needs to recognise where the client is it, accept that many elements are moving and may change during research and be confident in a little and often approach with layers and builds.

At MCCP, we have been very fortunate to partner with very innovative brands and organisations such as Dept of Health, Heineken Ireland and DAA. Our agile thinking and processes have allowed our clients to stay close to customer needs at a time of widespread uncertainty. By responding to the changing landscape in their industry, they have put themselves in the best position to act promptly with confidence.

  • Agility in research processes requires consideration for iterative processes.
  • Agile processes should become part of your research arsenal and it requires a change in thinking and working style from both agency and client.
  • Agile processes are truly collaborative in nature and require open relationships including with creative and other teams beyond the immediate client.
  • Agility is about ensuring speed and simplicity in order to get insight into the process earlier so the product and comms decision and execution can move faster and be better because it is informed as it is being developed, rather than at the end.

Oftentimes when conducting agile research projects decision making and research happening in parallel so we as an agency need to be close to the macro problem we are trying to solve and the key stakeholders involved.

For further information, please contact our Senior Business Development Manager, Declan Flynn, declan@mccp.ie

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