When were you last at the coal face?

25 Aug

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I had a good day this week. Slightly over the last few months of meetings, powerpoint presentations and edit suites I made the call to get myself and my team out of the office and back in to the trade to see what was cracking in the real world.

Fortunately for me, when I talk about seeing my brand at the coal face, it’s either in a pub or bottle shop and as a result it’s always good fun. How many other industries can you happily pull up a stool next to a punter or a publican, share a fresh pot or schooner of beer and find out how your brand is tracking? It certainly beats my old world of trawling the supermarket aisles or dodgy milk bars and servos!

I took a lot for this half a day at the coal face. In fact it was probably the most important consumer and customer immersion, and general barometer check that I’ve done in the last 6 months. Sure the reams of amazing consumer, brand health, market share and ex factory reports are beneficial, and more so sitting behind the glass of groups is always insightful; but for me there’s nothing better from seeing it in the flesh. Also in contrast to traditional research groups where we incentivise people with cash for their opinions, just talking to folks who are interacting with your brand in their day to day life is immeasurable in terms of its benefit. The other major benefits of this sort of immersion, is that it’s quick and more importantly free. Sure there will be questions on the sample size, and your ability to extrapolate these insights to a bigger picture, however being out with your brand and consumer in this way will give you enough to get moving, and if you need further quantification by all means commission a bigger research project.

Returning from my day in the trade, I had a long list of things we were doing that were good, things that needed improvement and importantly some simple ideas that we weren’t doing. Be that simple things like POS dimensions or the mix of materials you’ve made, to what punters are saying (and doing) about your brand, to more general feedback from the trade – you know the sort of stuff ‘oh someone from your company has finally got out of the office’ or worse still ‘get out of my venue, I hate you guys!’ Luckily my brand doesn’t get too much of the latter.

What surprises me most is how rarely I, and probably you, actually prioritise this time and actually do it. Sure we are all super busy in the day to day roles, and even sometimes we fear the usual ribbing from colleagues who think rather than visiting customers we’re at the driving range working on our swing. Clearly there’s a huge benefit to your own performance and the brand you work on in getting out to the coal face, and if we’re honest, a far bigger sense of achievement vs punching out a critical path or agency brief. So I’m putting it down in writing. Once a month, without fail I’ll be in the trade connecting with my drinkers and the trade. Sure when talking about beer this is a fairly exciting prospect, however the same should apply if you’re working on toilet paper or tomato sauce. Get out from behind your desk and back to the coal face. You might just be surprised what’s happening (and I may even see you at a pub somewhere when you’re done!)

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