Customer insight

Once upon a time - what Easter can teach us about the art of storytelling

  Kids have a lot of Easter wisdom

Whether or not you're a Christian who believes in the resurrection, Easter weekend is a powerful reminder of the potency of story telling and how a narrative can endure throughout the ages.

My two boys Toby and Ben (aged 4 and 3) are in reception class and nursery and this week for the first time told me all about how Jesus died and returned from the dead to save us. Ben was particularly intrigued by the fact Jesus 'stayed in a cave until he came back'.

This type of story telling is ultimately what we do as PR practitioners - we share stories about brands and create ambassadors who spread the 'good news' too.

Quality content management draws heavily on these skills, especially when the objective is to secure third party endorsement from customers and their personal networks to grow brand awareness and increase sales.

Here are three ways we can all improve our story telling abilities:

1) The truth matters, as does how you tell it. Modern day stories need to have more than a grain of truth to them, not to mention something at the heart that makes people believe, if you want them to stand the test of time.

We seek authenticity and look for evidence that something is true. Being honest about a product or service helps to build trust and create advocates who spread the brand love far and wide.

Think about creating a little magic. Fairy tales are a great example of how we first learnt about good and evil - how can old and new formats be animated and made more human? Ultimately we all want to hear tales about how life can be better and which resonate with our personal situations.

2) A picture paints a thousand words. Use imagery to bring your story to life. From Egyptian hieroglyphics to street art today, the story of life has long been passed down from generation to generation in picture format.

Art offers a simple way to cross cultures and geographical boundaries and can also be a clever way to emphasise brand heritage. Similarly, video and music are visual story telling tools that are often under-used. They can and should be embraced.

3) The power of three. One of the challenges to story telling is how to keep things simple enough for people to understand and to avoid Chinese whispers distorting the message. Ben's response proves that clarity and reinforcement is an important part of a story as it is shared.

Way back in 1885, Thomas Smith wrote a guide on Successful Advertising that was based on research around message retention. According to the guide (which is still used today), until we've seen or heard a message three times, it doesn't penetrate.

Another school of thought is that people consume messages better when there are no more than three to absorb at any given time.

Focusing your writing provides key points for others to retain and pass on more easily. Tony Blair used this technique successfully with his 'Education, Education, Education' speech and grouping into threes has actually long been a device used by Christianity. The 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit' and three wise men with their 'gold, frankincense and myrrh' being just two examples.

We've all our own ways of telling our stories and favourite examples of brands that do it well. Why not share yours here - it would be interesting to hear them.


Would you use a poll? Yes or no?

Panelbase.comSurveys and opinion polls make their way into the news every day, whether they’re related to a political party’s approval rating or how companies feel about the economy. For a business, they can be a valuable tool for collecting information you can use in your marketing plans and public relations material. What’s more, commissioning a poll isn’t just for big brands. If you sell a product or service, a poll can tell you what your customers do and don’t like, providing evidence for improving how you work and informing how you communicate with the audience that matters most.

I spoke to Fiona Raglan, founder of Other lines of enquiry North in Hexham about why polls are a valuable PR tool, and asked about the nuts and bolts of carrying one out. Other lines of enquiry North uses its own in-house panel called Panelbase to deliver up-to-the-minute reliable poll data, covering everything from education and politics to food and leisure. Its polls are regularly used by some of the UK’s leading business and consumer press including The Sunday Times, Travel Weekly and The Journal.

Fiona explained: “Polls can be used by a wide range of organisations in a variety of ways, from understanding the awareness levels of a specific brand to customer satisfaction ratings. It’s always important to know as much about your target market as possible. Polls are a cheap, quick and effective way of understanding how your consumer thinks.”

When you’re commissioning a poll, you need to have a clear idea about what you want to find out from the results and how you want to use them. Is your poll designed to inform your marketing efforts, or do you want a poll you can use as the basis for a news story about your business?

As Fiona said: “Question wording is key. It’s important to be as clear and concise as possible without leading respondents.”

Similarly, you should also have a list of questions to ask polling companies about the way they plan to carry out your research. If you’re going to make business decisions based on the data, you need to be confident the results are accurate. Panelbase is a member of the British Polling Council, which has a strict code of conduct that members must follow to ensure that they are completely transparent about their methodology. When members publish polls, they have to include details about when it was carried out, how many people were in the survey sample and where they’re based, and whether they were interviewed in person, by phone or online.

You should also ask pollsters about: • Their experience in your market • Their bench marking data • Their breadth of knowledge on types of methodology suitable for your business.

Fiona added: “One of the most important questions you should ask your chosen research agency is about the demographic make-up of the sample.

“It is important that if you want to want to understand a specific audience, that audience is represented appropriately. For instance, if you want to evaluate what a sample thinks of a certain TV programme, then it’s important that they have actually seen the programme and are in a position to provide a valid opinion.”

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll get an accurate survey that you can use, whether you’re after a quick snapshot of opinions about items in the news or a heads-up on new trends relevant to your business. Used properly, polls are an important part of your PR and marketing toolbox, whatever size of business you run.

Eye tracking research - could it help your business?

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 11.56.36 For most businesses, an online presence is arguably one of the most important things to have, frequently being the first port of call for customers and stakeholders alike. With this in mind, both start up and established businesses set aside precious budget to ensure their websites are full of relevant information and the latest technical features. All very well but few sites are tested before launch which means they may look good but not be of much practical use. In short, if you’re not converting visits into sales, there is probably a good reason for it.

An interesting product that can help with this is Eye Tracking, offered by North East research agency Other lines of enquiry North, which combines technology that records eye movements with additional interview data to give an insight into screen-based media activity.

As applicable to on-screen advertising and sponsorship campaigns as it is to video and TV, when testing website usability eye tracking data effectively shows how users look at a web page before choosing to click on a particular item or link.

Fiona Raglan, founder of Other lines of enquiry North, explains: “Taking a very basic example, your special offer in the right hand corner may be bright orange and flash because that’s where you want people to look and click, but it might be an icon centre left that is catching attention and distracting customers. If the job in hand is to buy something, that’s potentially a big issue.

“Eye tracking can be helpful when your website really needs to deliver ROI or if you need to test various design layouts. It’s also great for establishing the best placement of online banner ads.

“Numerous outputs and statistics can be generated from this type of research. Visual data includes heat maps, gaze plots and cluster analysis - a great way to display quite complex analysis and also really bring presentations 'to life'. Ultimately, for a small spend at the outset, businesses can save a lot of money in the long run.”

Certainly an interesting concept that can potentially radically change your content layout for the better.

Of course, like other organisations Other lines of enquiry North also offers a direct response service from website users. This involves web visitors being given a job sheet (much like a discussion guide) that asks them to complete various tasks, from finding an item and looking for something complementary to logging in and buying something. As they progress through the workbook, respondents talk through what they are doing as well as any issues via a microphone and their screens are recorded, which helps highlight the things they don’t understand. The process identifies what they like and don’t like – critical when easy navigation is the key to achieving both happy customers and quick sales.

As Fiona says: “Businesses want to understand what people think of their website, why no one has clicked on their promotions or how they can make their products easier to find. This methodology allows companies and brands to improve the online customer journey and delivers some very powerful data, particularly when used with the Eye Tracking service.

“Although we can provide help at any point, businesses most benefit when the research is carried out up front. In this way they get their website right first time, which avoids them having to spend more time and money having to amend things while sales are being lost.”

Research and evaluation are often elements of the marketing process that organisations find it hard to budget for. In fact, both are key to getting the greatest ROI from your spend because they inform activity and ensure it is resonating with your target audiences. Whether you’re a web design agency, in film production or advertising, or an organisation that wants to ensure its online presence is working as hard as it could, what Other lines of enquiry North has to offer is well worth a look.

Use customer insight to build your business faster

Image from Whether you have a product or service to sell, it is crucial that you are clear about your potential customer base.  While what you are offering may have wide appeal, you don’t want to spread yourself too thinly with your PR and marketing so narrow down your audiences by identifying who is most likely to buy from you and target those groups.

By doing your research at the outset you could save yourself a lot of time and money and will build up a stronger customer base that proves to be more valuable in the long run. The question is: when thinking quality not quantity, what sort of things should you be taking into consideration?

There are all sorts of ways of generating customer insight, from market data and demographic studies to industry reports and trends.  The best bet is to start with the internet and check out relevant industry bodies, which host a wealth of useful information that can inform activity. Always speak directly to those you think would be interested in what you have to offer, either on a one-to-one basis or via focus groups - people are often very willing to share their views and you’ll soon know whether your product or service is of interest or whether you need to go back to the drawing board.

Essentially, any product or service is there to solve a problem so ask some key questions.  What challenges are your potential customers facing?  What are their priorities?  How can you help?  By knowing the answers to these, you can build up a set of reasons as to why potential customers should be talking to you and not your competitors. Compelling messaging and differentiation is vital to a successful marketing strategy.

Think about particular times of the year when your product or service might be more in demand.  For example, seasonality could be significant for consumer products, while professional services such as accountancy will probably see a surge around tax deadlines or financial year ends. All of this should be reflected in your marketing activity, directing exactly what you say to whom, why, when and how.

Once you have identified your customers, target them in the most effective way possible.  A scattergun approach will rarely yield great results so instead examine the range of tactics available and decide on a handful which will offer the best return and make the most of your budget and resource.

Some things you might want to think about include advertising (although this can be costly), networking, conferences and exhibitions, PR, direct mail, cold calling, sponsorship and social media.  All have different merits and a combination of these will probably be most effective but you must ensure that you allocate an appropriate budget and dedicate the time needed to get the most from your efforts.

Look at other creative means to reach new customers.  Is somebody offering a complimentary product or service that you could team up with to cross-sell?  Perhaps consider an incentive to attract new customers, such as a discount off a first purchase, an introductory trial of your service, product sampling or other competitions and promotions to get people to try your product.  Think about a referral scheme to encourage existing customers to recommend you to others.

Whatever tactics you opt for, make sure that you have some means by which to measure their effectiveness.  A balance is needed between giving things time to work and knowing when to switch direction and try something new.  Get feedback from new enquirers about how they heard about you and use this information to channel your efforts into the activities which are bearing the most fruit and drop the least effective ones.

Always remember, it is much harder to gain new customers than it is to get repeat business from existing ones so whilst it is essential that you continually attract fresh clientele, look after your current customers. They deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty and the extra effort will have been well worth your while when you look back at the end of the financial year.