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Not all customer insights come from customers: 5 Lessons in Luxury Car Design From the Guys Who Park Them

I’m ‘busy as’ right now  – and that’s a good thing.

Everyone’s different when it comes to productivity: some people I know love it when things are calm and they have time to think about those projects they’ve been circling around for a while. But I’m one of those people who struggle to build momentum when there’s not much going on. For me, busy is generally better, provided it is the right kind of busy.

Research is a good kind of busy. Sketching is another good kind. Talking with someone really smart, like a papaya, is also pretty good. Tinkering and building and experimenting are also heaps good, until your ambition outruns your abilities and you feel like the kid who’s too short to be on the rollercoaster. This is something I’m (increasingly) familiar with.

Evidence of industry can reveal a lack of thinking

Busy-work, busy for busy’s sake and making a good show of being busy are all incredibly stupid forms of busy. They suck time, in and of themselves, but I find the mental energy it takes to stop myself from choking the living shit out of whomever is causing this kind of busyness leaves me drained of all motivation, I can’t even be bothered to look at the stuff I want to be busy with.

If I were forced to rank them, the absolute worst kind of busyness is ‘presenteeism‘, where your workload or output is measured by how often, and how long, you are perceived (but not measured) to be physically present in your assigned office chair. The worst manifestation of this, the worst kind of busyness, are the people who make the mock-jovial “Half-day today, is it?” comment as you leave the office at a reasonable time. No matter that you’re leaving to go to a meeting / wedding / funeral / surgery / cage fight / someplace you can actually get some fucking work done.
I’ve had this line recently from a couple of different people who really should know a lot better and I think it betrays a hopelessly outmoded, industrial-era view of productivity. In the absence of an appropriately thought-out measure of creative output (Quantity? Impact? Happiness? Empty Red Bull cans?), the lazy manager falls back to the punch-card and the time clock as a way of estimating value.

In the era of mobiles, laptops and wi-fi balloons over the desert, the notion that you can walk out of your office and simultaneously walk away from ‘work’ is faintly ridiculous.

Smarter people than me

The relationship between time and productivity has always had its critics – in the field of Software Engineering, Fred Brooks famously concluded that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”. In the realm of time and creativity, Google built its reputation for relentless innovation on the ’20 per cent time’ policy, an idea it actually borrowed from 3M (and added 5%).


focus, busy, creativity

Some minds require action to achieve focus.


Even in the valley, times may be changing, back to the future. As companies mature and the pre-IPO frenzy gives way to shareholder demands, Google appears to have killed its ’20 per cent time’ policy (although some believe it will always live). Less open to interpretation is Yahoo’s ban on working from home as it tries to engineer its way back to internet dominance, a move recently copied by HP, another tech giant looking to recapture former glory.

If you can’t beat them

Realising that the demand for commercial and creative productivity (however you care to measure it) is likely to follow me for the rest of my career, I sought help from the self-help section of the bookshop. Surely someone has worked out how I can spend less time on ‘busy work’ and more time getting busy on the work I want to do?

Turns out, plenty of people have. The two volumes that have proved to be most useful for me, however, are at the opposite ends of the practical / philosophical spectrum.

First up: Practicality

I thought I might benefit from having some sort of day-to-day system. Truth be told, I thought I might benefit if I could convince my wife to adopt a day-to-day system: she has 4 to do lists, 3 calendars (that I know of), several contact books and organisers and a snowdrift’s worth of scraps of paper with important things on them. I know she also operates better when busy, but this is going too far.

From where I sit, most of her busyness is caused by having to look for the right book / list / calendar / organiser / snowdrift and that’s where Dave Allen’s ‘Getting it Done’ really shines. It’s a pretty simple and effective way of building a daily ‘system you can trust’ so you can empty all the busy work out of your brain and onto the right list. Once you stop trying to remember all the things you know you shouldn’t forget, it’s remarkable how less ‘busy’ your brain seems to be. It’s working a treat for her and it’s helping me refine the way I use some of my organising tools, like Evernote and


productivity, tools, technology, coach

If I could pay someone to plug it all in and make it work, I probably would.


Seeing the proliferation of organisational systems and services and sites, I’m convinced there has to be a business in being a ‘personal productivity coach‘ – someone who helps you select and get set up (who has time to read the manual?) on the tools and systems to organise and streamline your work and life, then makes sure they all talk to each other and that they are working for you, rather than the other way around. If you are already this sort of coach, please call me.

In the meantime, if you feel like you could do with a bit of a system, I recommend Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

Next: thinking about doing

Right now, I’ve got: a couple of major work projects; a constant stream of approvals, advice, collaboration and FYIs from offices as far afield as Bangalore, Mexico City, Dubai and Budapest; we’re assisting on some global briefs; I also have a couple of web-based passion projects, a major writing project and I’m taking a couple of courses that, predictably, overlapped a bit. I’m also taking a cue from my eldest daughter & trying to re-learn the habit long-form fictional reading (yes, books). It’s getting busy, but mostly in a good way.


busy, creativity, productivity

It’s important to dial in the right level of activity. (see what I did there?)


What’s helping me stay mentally engaged and productive through all of this is a small, very well-written book I discovered, ironically, a couple of months ago during some very non-busy time (caused by major but planned surgery and the resulting recovery period). Steven Pressfield was, at one point a copywriter, but he’s since gone on to write novels and screenplays and this: Do the Work. It’s published by The Domino Project, a new approach to publishing backed by Seth Godin and Amazon.

Do the work, pressfield

Beautiful book, ugly cover.

I wouldn’t have bought this one on the cover alone (it’s a drawing of some significance to the author, but it is hella fugly) and I won’t try to summarise it except to say it does a great job of explaining to you what is probably going on inside your head during all the major stages of a major project. His advice is to not listen too much to what’s going on inside your head, get out of your own way and start before you are ready.

My advice is: if you want to do the work (not the busy work, the real work), read ‘Do The Work‘.

What’s your advice?


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


How do you find out what your audience is thinking?

Start by thinking like a scientist.

Our recent post on the ongoing tension between global brands and local audiences prompted some requests for advice on finding and developing local insights – the sort of deep audience understanding that lets you tune a global strategy for more effective local activation.


focus group

Focus groups: everyone acting like clowns and delivering completely random returns.


At Ogilvy, we’ve developed a simple approach for ‘bootstrapping’ your way to local insights, one that doesn’t require the time and money of traditional audience research methods, such as the dreaded focus group. This approach was developed specifically for some of the global brands we work with here at Ogilvy, but can be easily adapted to most brands and situations.

customer insights

We call it The Relevance Engine, but that’s just a nifty title for a serve of common sense, spiced with a dash of curiosity and simmered over a little bit of actual work. Like most things in this business, it’s not rocket surgery.

The starting point is the audience – you really have to be able to at least name them before you start. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown persona (although that wouldn’t hurt), but at least some sort of pen-portrait of the audience your brand has, or the one it would like to have, in a particular market.

You can’t just shake an audience and expect an insight to fall into your lap. This is where I believe a lot of marketing-focussed ‘big data’ investments are going to go absolutely nowhere – massive systems will be constructed to collect terabytes of data without ever being asked a single pointed question.

The Relevance Engine asks you think like a scientist and requires you to be a little disciplined: you need to start with a hypothesis.

This hypothesis should relate to your audience and maybe even your brand (or at least your category) and be something that you think might be true. The hypothesis might be something likeEntrepreneurs in our market expect some form of government assistance” or “Parents in our market are very competitive about their children’s progress, but realise it is now socially unacceptable to display it.”

Once you have your hypothesis (you can call it a hunch, or an assumption, or an idea, if you like), you then use The Relevance Engine to test it, to prove it to be either true or false.

In the version we use, we place the hypothesis in the middle of a circle and then, around the edge of the circle, we have eight different categories of data that we could potentially test the hypothesis against:

1. Global Brand Guidance

This sounds contradictory, but you really should see if there’s anything in the existing or supplied materials that answers your question first. Your local market may not be as different as you first thought. The global guidance also might contain something relevant, hidden away in a support point, or an explanatory section or an appendix. First rule of research is make sure the research hasn’t already been done.

2. In-house research

This one is not always so easy to tap into, but the company behind the brand has almost certainly conducted some research around their product and the intended audience: a feasibility study, a competitive analysis, product history, category survey etc etc. If you have it, go back to it. If you don’t, ask the marketing department to share it. If they don’t have it, ask them to ask the sales people, or the product people, research people, lab, finance or whomever. A lot of global brands have dedicated research departments or teams. Find them, use them. Nothing is more compelling to a client than findings based on their own research.

3. Publishers

Do you remember back when magazines where printed on paper and when you read them, little subscription and survey cards would fall out? Publishers have always spent an enormous amount of time maintaining an intimate understanding of their readers. Digital publishers are getting even more intimate. Find a publication (print or online) that targets the same audience your brand does and then ask them about your hypothesis. If your brand has a marketing budget, I’ll bet the publication will tell you the answer over a nice lunch, which is what this industry needs more of. Seriously.

4. Channels & re-sellers

If your brand allows it’s products to be sold via other means (retail stores, affiliates, representatives, agents, re-sellers and so on), go and test your hypothesis with them. Drop in to their outlet, call them up, buy them a coffee or a beer or a steak sandwich or a bowl of noodles and have a chat. They’ll know a lot about your audience, because your audience are their customers.


insights, science

Disclaimer: The Relevance Engine won’t turn you into an *actual* scientist (like this guy).


5. Salespeople

Every global brand has a sales department or team or function. Whether these people sell directly to end customers (in the case of big b2b and technology brands) or to a distribution network (financial products, retail, travel, entertainment etc), they’ll also know a lot about your audience, because your audience are their commission and, therefore, the car they drive, their kid’s education, family holiday destination (you get the picture).

In many large organisations, the disfunction between sales and marketing can actually work to your advantage here: coming in as a neutral 3rd party (agency or consultant) often allows sales people to share more than they would inside the company structure. At the very least, they are usually surprised and pleased that someone is asking their opinion about a topic in which they regard themselves an expert.

6. Digital newsfeeds

Ok, so Google reader is dead. And missed. But there are alternatives, and some of them are very, very good. (Flipboard, we’re looking at you, you saucy little neo-digital-magazine-minx you) Regardless of what you use, the basic premise here is simple: ask your computer to test your hypothesis for you. Using an RSS reader of some sort, tune your digital/mobile/computing apparatus to your desired audience and hypothesis (use a few logical keywords and phrases) and have the magic of the internet stream a constant feed of articles, opinions, stories, alerts and trends past your eyeballs as you go about your daily life. Before long, something utterly relevant to your experiment is going to show up – clip it, file it. Done. Great job, internet!

7. Social Media

An increasingly increasing portion of the web is now composed entirely of people opinionating. If you can’t find your audience (and, by extension, what they’re thinking about) on social media, it is quite possible ur doin’ it wrong. Go find the prominent voices and influencers for your audience on social networks, find the groups and chatrooms and discussions, find the blog posts and tweetchats and hangouts and slideshares, and LinkedIn groups, and pinterest boards and tumblrs and webinars and oh god, I’m getting fatigued just trying to keep up with all the fabulous new ways we’ve invented for people to bloviate online. My recommendation? Quora. Go post your hypothesis there, as a question, and see what happens. Failing that, try Reddit. Feeling brave? Ask 4chan.

8. Live events

We’ve written at length about how to make live events work for brands in the digital arena but what about flipping the equation for a second: how can you use an event to listen to an audience, rather than just talk at them? You could try just going to one and listening, for a start: Walk the floors, eavesdrop. If it’s an event you have presence or permission at, try interviewing people, running a survey or getting a presenter to ask the question and get a show of hands. I’ve seen video confession booths, incentivised surveys – all sorts of stuff. One thing that’s true of all events, everyone wants to offer an opinion. Use that opportunity.


insights, customer

Leave no stone unturned in your search for insights.
Or, you could do it the easy way.


Tired now

That seems like a metric shit-tonne of work, right? And it would be, if you were crazy enough to interrogate all 8 data sets listed here. (There are plenty of others available, but these are the most accessible).

No need. The Relevance Engine may require a bit of discipline, but it doesn’t demand complete masochism. Just pick 3. You can even pick the 3 easiest ones if you like – although we’ve designed the whole thing to be relatively easy to complete from your desk with just a couple of afternoon’s worth of work (even less if you delegate).

The results are in

What does a successful ‘scientific result’ look like? I’d say 2 confirmations from 3 different sources is a positive: take a few choice quotes & a handful of stats, put them into a nicely-laid-out ‘research deck’ and hey presto: local insights, backed by science. Any global team worth it’s salt will allow a local team to pursue a genuine insight if they’ve done their homework.

Now take your local insight, turn it into a value proposition (if you need help doing this part, you can get it here), put it in a brief and off you go: you’re got most of everything you need to create locally relevant work for your globally-powerful brand.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


Traditionally, B2B companies spend a lot of money on live events and it’s easy to see why. Once you get to the big end of town, especially with large-scale technology or finance solutions and consulting engagements, it’s hardly an “Add to cart” purchasing decision. You’re looking at long sales cycles, multiple decision-makers and a loosely defined set of ‘purchase influencers’.

While face-to-face engagement remains a crucial part of the marketing process, the fact that digital channels are now simply part of the fabric for B2B audiences means marketers have plenty of levers to pull to ensure that the investment in ‘meat space’ events continues to deliver. And creative strategists have plenty of opportunities to use content, social and mobile to create great digital customer experiences, using a live event as the base-plate.


mobile, events. digtal, b2b

Every attendee has a broadcast studio in their pocket. What do you want them to do with it?


We recently ran an audit of the various tactics, strategies and recommendations we’ve developed @ Ogilvy for using digital to improve the live event experience (for the audience) and performance (for the marketer). These 10 tips are a summary of what we found to be true and useful:

1. Set clear, realistic objectives for digital’s role in your event’s success.

Generally, an event is a response a business problem. That problem could be something like “Our user base is shrinking” or “We need to onboard a new brand acquisition” or “The C-suite don’t understand what our product or solution does.”

In each case, the problem rests with an audience or a target, and that’s where your objective-setting should start and end. Who are these people? What are they concerned about? What are they motivated by? And, critically, what is their relationship to digital?

Once you’ve got a handle on the audience, write down the thing that you want them to do. Do you want them to change their mind about something? Do you want them to give up some sort of profiling information? Do you want them to introduce your brand to one of their colleagues?

You might end up with a list of things you want to achieve – that’s good. Now you can assign them to digital, or the event itself, or another channel, like the sales force, or traditional PR. Get detailed and make sure you have the right tool for the job in each case. If your event is to launch a new product or solution, for example, and that’s an incredibly complex story, leave that part to the live event. Make it digital’s job to find the right people and encourage them to be there.

If you can only afford to run your live event once and your audience covers a much broader territory, make it digital’s job to broadcast as much of the event as possible to people who would like to come, but can’t physically be there. Think about what your audience use digital (mobile & social in particular) to do, and play to those strengths. Don’t ask digital to create trusted networks and thriving communities, when you know your audience prefer to make connections face-to-face.

Once you have that sorted, it’s time for a very serious and important question: Why on earth would they do that? What would I have to give them in exchange? What’s your answer when they ask you ‘What’s In It For Me?’

> Up next in this series: #2 How to Identify influencers & manage outreach


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


The prevailing theory of Demand Generation starts from the premise that you (or your client) has got a fairly decent supply of something that you want to sell – all you need to do is provoke/cajole/plead/badger people into wanting it so badly they will exchange hard currency for it.

That’s the “Generation” in Demand Gen – actually creating or conjuring something that didn’t really exist before. Which is true enough for a lot of B2C, particularly premium goods, luxury items and even a whole bunch of FMCG product. Stuff you didn’t even know you needed until someone convinced you that you just had to have it. That’s pretty much all of everything that’s stocked on Orchard Rd, really.

I never even thought of that! Oh, wait.

But I’m not sure it holds true for most of big-end-of-town-stye B2B. Does a company wake up one morning not even thinking about, say, storing their data or giving their employees the tools to do their individual tasks, and then somehow gets convinced to that storage or cloud access would be a great new idea?

Sure, there are the occasional new tech breakthroughs that might require true ‘Demand Gen’, all the way from education through to purchase. But even then, if you look at it in the context of need (the quarter inch hole), rather than product (the quarter inch drill bit), it’s unlikely the primary task is to make more people want holes.

You don’t even know the meaning of thirsty!

The trouble with Demand Gen is that there is often a physical limit to the size of the market, even in B2C. Kids in many countries in Asia, for example, are already chugging Milo or Coke at pretty much maximum daily capacity of liquified intake. The challenge is to design and normalise entirely new moments (and modes) of consumption (coke ice blocks, Milo energy bars) just to eke out new demand where none previously existed.

But a company doesn’t behave like a thirsty kid (unless your kid is a psychopath). It doesn’t pursue leisure or pleasure – it only purchases what it functionally needs, and often it purchases less than that, at least over the short term. Can you convince someone that driven to want something they fundamentally don’t believe they need?  Seems too much like hard work to me.

Why do Demand Generation when you can do Demand Capture?

Seems more elegant, right? Rather than toiling to build something out of nothing, it should be more efficient to observe and respond to demand that is already there. But if that sounds like lazy (hu)man’s marketing, your’re right. The trick is to do it more obsessively, more effectively, more quickly, more cunningly than anyone else you’re competing against. To set traps, lay bait, remain silent, lie in wait and capture the little wisps of something that are floating by on the air: the nascent, latent demand that is yet to be truly demanded.

Nice trick, but how? *

* Not a theoretical question.

Here’s the thunderbolt from the Argentinian leg of our w2fm Sth American tour: you won’t be able to extract customer insights from your partners and channels, if their insights aren’t being listened to first.

Partners: hear them first, before you ask them to listen on your behalf.

That came through pretty clearly in a few sessions we ran in various countries recently, but it really crystalised for us as we tried to run a game of “What’s my motivation in this scene?” with a few partners who were cast in the role of customers. Sure, the language differences weren’t helping, but it became obvious the partners needed to discuss their own motivations first.

When you think about it, that’s logical. But marketing often just considers partners as just a link in the messaging chain. At best, they simply pass along the script, verbatim. At worst, they’ll let the marketing materials pile up in their inboxes like so much spam.

Because, without relevance, all massages are spam. And all humans are refining their mental spam filters every day, punting as much as they can to the junk folder in their cerebrum, trying to keep the cache clear for more important, interesting or entertaining messages. In fact, this “filtering” is getting so intense that some writers have pointed out that increased internet use is re-wiring our brains. And perhaps, not in a good way. Yes, we can process more messages faster, but at the expense of being able to concentrate on more complex, involved or even simply lengthy messages. Good news for tweets, bad news for books.

Net net: the message you are sending also has to be relevant for the messenger, or it will just get caught in the spam filter.

Another revelation from the Buenos Aires leg: I now know someone who has a patent for a robot. That does sound like rocket surgery.

The best marketing is insight-driven marketing. But how do you generate real customer insights? Do you try and read some meaning into the data? Or, coming at it from the other direction, do you try and quantify and qualify your experiences, assumptions and “gut feel”?

Personally, I prefer the latter (creative types generally shy away from rigid formulas).

Trouble is, we generally spend our working lives far removed from the customer experience and so our impressions are generally second-hand, or based on assumptions. It’s even more problematic for agency people (yet another step removed from the sales floor) and it becomes really difficult when you’re trying to solve for a product category that bears little resemblance to your own life. What would I know about negotiating a deal on a fleet of company cars, for example?

But there are people in every marketer’s organisation that know quite a lot about what goes on in the customers’ mind: the sales guys. These guys (and I’m using the non-gender-specific version of the word ‘guys’ here) might actually be in the sales department, or they could be from a retailer, or Business Partner, reseller or some other part of the channel network – it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that these guys live or die (metaphorically, of course) on their ability to understand what’s motivating the customer. And that’s why we were very excitied to finally get the opportunity to put a sales guy in the hot seat of one of our most popular w2fm games here in Sydney a few days ago. “What’s My Motivation In This Scene?” is a role-playing scenario which models the influencer and decision-maker ecosystem that surrounds any significant purchase, and although we’ve trialled it a couple of times before, we’d never really been able to get the customer viewpoint properly represented.


Having someone from sales play the role of the customer changes the whole dynamic.


We knew this game had potential to unearth some fascinating insights, but we didn’t realise just how effective it is when you put a sales guy in centre stage and give them the role of playing the customer. Talk about a revelation – suddenly we get to see how they view the marketing and the messages; when they want to hear from us and when they really, really don’t; and most importantly, who they have to answer to.

The other discovery of the day was how effective a really switched-on social media expert can be, playing the role of the ‘bloggosphere’ and the ‘twitterverse’. With the help of a laptop, they can call up and analyse social media sentiment on the fly, throwing the peer-to-peer dynamic into the mix and revealing the parts of the decision-making that these channels seem to exert the most influence over.


Here's a twist: colleagues from Melbourne Skyped in to the role-play via video


Although its not the aim of a session like this, one interesting side effect was a newfound appreciation from both sides of the sales/marketing divide (and, let’s be honest, it is a divide in almost every organisation of size). It may seem so obvious that it’s hardly worth stating, but unless marketing builds programs that actually help the salesforce, and unless sales actually pick up the marketing ball and run with it, we may as well simply rely on a spreadsheet to tell us what to do.

And, as a creative type, I can confirm that’s not what I get out of bed to do every morning.