Talk less, listen more?

Returning from a research trip in the U.S. having visited 5 states in the space of just 2 weeks was a perfect way to see something that we always talk about in the U.K. but never really understand – that ‘America’ is more like 50 countries than one country.

Going from New York to Houston to LA was like travelling across 3 completely distinct places, in terms of culture, weather, geography, accent and, most importantly, attitude. It was a good reminder that we in the U.K. often look at our neighbours as one homogenous country, but in doing so miss the nuances which make the U.S. so diverse. It was particularly important for our client in this situation, because they needed to decide 1) whether to launch in the U.S. and 2) which market gave them the best opportunity – so understanding these nuances was crucial.

This trip only confirmed that there really is no replacement for being on the ground and listening to people. Big data can tell us huge amounts, and online discussions mean we can reach people all over the world on restricted budgets, but the quality of insight that come from being in a room with a group of people and hearing them say exactly what they think about your brand (love, hate, indifference) is so eye-opening. At Sword & Stone we urge any organisation to make sure they are conducting regular, exploratory, qualitative research with customers and non-customers so that you keep listening out for direction for the future of your brand.

The other thing is that it doesn’t always have to be consumers that we talk to. We’ve recently finished an internal listening exercise for a big charity client. It’s been really informative and instructive hearing about the opportunities for this organisation from the people who know it best. Of course, there’s so much to be said for researching with consumers in the outside world, but the sheer amount of expertise and insight that exists inside a company is often overlooked or underappreciated.

Start by listening to your people, at all levels of the organisation – they have deep understanding of the issues it is facing and great ideas for how to overcome them. And from there, the outside world of consumers is just waiting to be heard!

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Flo Sayers