When I started in MCCP in the middle of April, the Guardian’s online blog would have read – ‘War in Ukraine: At a glance, what we know on day 54 of the invasion’ (as I write this it’s currently on day 174) and while the war and initial signs of rising inflation raised concerns for the future, most of us – particularly those in western Europe – were still riding on the crest of a wave of optimism as society opened back up with the removal of Covid-19 restrictions.
Fast forward three months, to the present day and both businesses and consumers are well aware of the implications and effects that a war in mainland Europe and rising inflation can have. Energy crises. Rising Food prices. The highest rate of inflation in over 40 years. Prices exceed wage growth. Brexit, Episode 987: The return of the NI protocol. This list is endless.
Confidence quickly transitioned to concern and then pessimism. The dreaded ‘R’ word (recession) that should never be written or spoken aloud, slowly crept back into the news cycle, our conversations, and our thoughts. People and businesses alike are readying to tighten their belts and reel in spending in expectation of a hard 2022/2023.
To illustrate this point the IPA (Institute of practitioners in advertising) in the UK has pre-emptively taken out a half page ad in the Financial times challenging businesses to come back to them in a year and tell them if cutting their marketing budget was a good idea.
What the IPA are trying to convey is that cutting marketing budgets in uncertain economic times is short-sighted and can cause your business harm. You could go one step further and say that in uncertain economic times you need to invest in marketing and your brand more than ever.
This is hardly a revelation: many in our industry, including MCCP, have long championed the power of brand building and the positive impacts it can have. A strong brand differentiates your business from competitors, helping to justify price and not get drawn into to category price wars. It creates purpose which can not only attract customers but help in the retention and acquisition of talent. A strong brand communicated effectively can help create future demand which is particularly relevant for B2B - an area MCCP does a lot of work in, and an area which deservedly had the spotlight shone on it at the recent Cannes Lions Festival.
So, what have I seen and learned in my first three months at MCCP: that brand work, akin to what I have outlined above lives, or dies on the strength of the insight it’s built upon and how that insight is reached is one of the most important parts of the entire process – requiring empathy, collaboration, and rigour all which drive our ways of working and insight development in MCCP.
Empathy underpins strong and effective work and is a vital ingredient for insight development. So, how does one show empathy? The simplest is by listening – really listening. Hearing what your participant is actually saying and inferring. It’s a skill often taken for granted as ‘something anyone can do’ but in reality, it takes effort and development to build - you’ll find many good listeners here in MCCP! Truly listening, allows us to empathise with participants and place ourselves in their shoes to fully understand their point of view, the challenges they face and their needs. It allows us to ask the right questions at the right time, probe the most important revelations and steer the conversation in a manner that reveals real and relevant insight, whether it’s B2C or B2B, focus groups or in-depth interviews. Considering our current context, empathy is crucial to really understanding the challenges and needs of both businesses and consumers.
Individually or collectively, strong insight is built with collaboration. Internally, we work together from execs through to directors in ‘Discovery sessions’ working to distill and define the key points and most relevant insights by reviewing, whiteboarding, and questioning the data, often leading to intense discussion! It’s in these sessions that our varied and diverse backgrounds, experience, and disciplines come into play which allows us to break out of our internal echo chambers and potentially find a different perspective on the data.
We workshop draft insights with clients leveraging their extensive knowledge of their business and customers to further hone and sharpen our insight. Our process isn’t one-directional – we work with our clients to reach the solution because we believe collaboration helps bring about amazing work.
Our general culture and insight development process is rigorous and for good reason. Decisions and solutions we reach with our clients can have a long-term and broad impact on their business.
This rigor appears in our approach to research, ensuring recruitment specs are balanced, fair, and unbiased and making sure sample sizes are the appropriate size so as to accurately answer the ask from our client.
That rigour follows through to insight development. Our approach to insight development is to test, validate and refine. When we reach a draft insight with our client, we then go back out to the world to test it with an appropriate audience to validate it and ensure it's relevant and compelling. Once more this is another opportunity to hear from real people, breaking out of our collective (marketing) echo chamber.
All of this means that when we reach a solution with our clients, they can be assured and confident that what is before them, is evidence-based and tested with real people ensuring it is grounded in reality and will have a strong positive impact.
So, to recap what I have learned in my first three months: best practices for brand research and strategy development – where the process is consumer focused and underpinned by empathy and collaboration, where the insight is crafted by both colleagues and our clients together and is validated and tested ensuring accuracy. All of which brands need during our current context.
The first three months have flown, as I have immersed myself in amazing and engaging projects, working with talented and dedicated colleagues and clients and learned a huge amount - I’m sure the next three months will be no different.
Ben Flynn – Insights Strategist
If you want to find out more about us and what can do to help your business, reach out and say hi: firstname.lastname@example.org