Tag Archives: insights

When were you last at the coal face?

25 Aug


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!)


Why, why, why…

23 Apr

As those with young kids will attest to, they really are inquisitive little things.

My son Hamish is going through a really strong questioning period at the moment, and it seems the most common things I hear are; “why daddy?”, “what’s that?”, “but why?” (thankfully punctuated by the occasional “I love you” to make it all worth while!)

This got me thinking about work, and why after the first few weeks in a new job, we stop asking “why?”

It makes perfect sense when you think about what a 3 year old is going through in terms of development, with everything new, exciting and perplexing, and with the brain rapidly developing and soaking in all of these important things, naturally sometimes one “why?” just won’t cut it.

Then when I think about how many times I ask “why?” at work, apart from the usual “why is this IT device not working?” Or “why was I needed at that meeting?”, I don’t spend enough time questioning things, and when I do, it’s probably not deep enough questioning.

To ensure it wasn’t merely a personal failing, I paid extra attention to listening for “why?” over the last few days, and thankfully for me, I really failed to hear people questioning things to fully understand the issues.

Sure we ask the standard questions to show we’re interested; “…and then what happened?”, or worse, to prove why we are right; “why did you think that would work?” , but in terms of really questioning to get to the core of the real issues and find the little gem of information that could lead to an extraordinary outcome, I think we have a lot to learn from my three year old.

I’m sure this all starts from the time we get our first serious job. Hell we want to impress, and more so repay the faith that someone has made in us, and we need to live up to our self imposed expectations: “I don’t want to appear stupid…”, “I should know this, I’ll just bluff my way through this meeting…” or my personal favourite “I’ll google it when I get back to my desk…”

No doubt the more senior we get in our roles, the more pressure we put on ourselves to know all the answers, after all that’s why we are in the role isn’t it? From my experience the best leaders I’ve worked for are the most sage like and ask far more questions than just handing out advice. Either they help you get to the right decision yourself, or alternatively they actually find the clues that you may have been overlooking to have the information to make the right decision. Either way, it’s a win.

Of course we all need to have the maturity and self awareness to know when (and who) to question, and yes there will be times that we just have to suck it up, however this questioning is more something we need to embrace as an internal tool. It might be looking in to monthly market performance, brand health or a complex P&L, there is always an opportunity to ask “why?” to make sure you are looking at the real issue, and not just a secondary symptom.

Try as I might, no matter how many times I try to answer, my son always has one more “why?” in him, so this is the model I’m going to embrace. It might be annoying for people around me, and no doubt I’ll occasionally feel stupid, but this week I’m going to try. And whilst it will feel clunky, I’m sure I’m going to learn… a LOT! And really, isn’t that what this whole game is about? Continuing to learn, in order that not only do we deliver better work, but most importantly do it in a more efficeint way to allow us to spend more time with our little people at home (no doubt answering ‘why’ some more!)