Our last family holiday journey was unremarkable in many respects – except for one thing. We had a smooth check-in and friendly service, yet for more than an hour my wife, two-year-old son and I were sat in a locked, airless stairwell on the hottest day of the year waiting for feedback from the airline company as to why we were delayed. The entirety of the experience was fine, but for one brief moment it was soured by a feeling of abandonment.
I knew more about the delay by checking my flight tracker app – the airline refused to tell me what technology was able to. All of us passengers shared different but equally frustrating experiences that the airline was unable – or unwilling – to engage with. Instead of attempting to ‘own’ that moment and be a participant in it, the moment owned the airline. It became a passive participant. By refusing to enter into the experience that customers were having, the individual ‘moments’ people endured damaged the brand.
A few weeks later the airline emailed one of those feedback forms which the marketing industry relies upon to analyse customer experience. The boxes I ticked went some way to painting a picture of that experience but I couldn’t reveal to the company something far more instructive. Not the experience as a whole but the moment that had the most impact on me. That hour of frustration which could have been averted if only there had been some communication.
Everyone has those airline moments – cold coffee, a grumpy check-in, broken trolleys… or the stewardess who goes above and beyond in a tiny yet significant way. These are moments that show the reality of our experiences, meaningful episodes that bring extraordinary clarity to a brand’s relationship with its customers.
No one is better than the market research industry in searching for meaningful source material, collating it effectively and then analysing that data to help a brand become more successful. The great irony though is that while human behaviour is gloriously unpredictable – and real life is random, surprising and hyper-fast – most research stills tries to control the conversation and produce predictable outputs that feel reassuringly familiar. We’re too busy looking at broad experiences when instead we should be analysing the precision of moments. That way, we don’t just get an understanding of our long-term selves, but know how that is modified by our fleeting experiences. Taken together, they can propel insight to a new level.
We believe our industry must play a central role in building and analysing the ‘experience economy’ – and that it needs a little creative disruption. The world is changing and the research industry isn’t dealing with that change effectively enough. We at Hall & Partners Tempo are… by using the mobile technology that everyone keeps in their pockets to measure real-life experiences.
Brands stage personal experiences to give people a sensation of something, and we’ve found a way of getting inside and understanding that experience more fully through the power that a mobile world has given us: to attain a deeper truth about people’s brand relationships. For instance, we were recently involved in a project with a major drinks manufacturer in which we wanted to understand the experiences customers had with their favourite drink – in this case a certain beer. Once we’d have asked respondents in focus groups and online to reveal memories of these experiences, and all of us in the industry know what we would have found. Mates in the pub, sporting events, barbecues, six-packs on the beach.
Instead, we found something far more valuable by asking people to use their phones to record everyday experiences, their ‘moments’. And these moments were sitting on the sofa binging on their latest box set, a mid-week takeaway after a long hard slog in the office, trying to clear space in the fridge to squeeze in the cans. Moments that mattered to the customer and, far more importantly, to the brand.
We provided the brand with a chance to gaze through a window that was once obscured. It’s given it the opportunity to build a new kind of relationship with its customers, more profound and less distorted because it’s based upon the ordinariness of life. The mundane moments are sometimes even more valuable and meaningful to our industry than the exciting bits.
This is the essential ingredient for our new era of always-on brand relationships. To find micro-moments that matter and truly help us understand the world of experience. To analyse people’s brief, intimate and sometimes forgotten emotional reactions to their brand experience. To view specific moments where we are able to see and measure the interaction of human behaviour, emotion and context.
Already our work is revealing things that we might never have asked. We're analysing new types of insight, we're being constantly surprised by the emotional contexts of people’s decision-making, we're seeing things that were always there but we simply didn’t notice – or never thought to ask about in the first place. We’re able to analyse individual truths made up of hundreds of thousands of different moments.
It adds up to an ability to create both a 360-degree image of brand relationships and a 3D image of the individual customer. We’re not just benefiting from expert segmentation of a group or individual but building up a long-term, less static and more complete image of who we are, what drives and disappoints us, the experiences which have an emotional resonance, the unlikely yet connected aspects of our lives that are influenced by brands but which we often miss through traditional research methodologies. Nobody expects to see ‘wine connoisseurs’ getting drunk on Blue Nun on a wet Tuesday evening in Stoke. But we do.
In an experience economy budgets are shifting from advertising messages to staging experiences. Research needs to be guiding clients through this often confusing and intimidating world of insight by making the unknown feel more relevant to their work and less scary to comprehend. After all, they’re the ones making the decisions – it’s down to us to provide them with the most comprehensive and accurate information with which to do so.
And that comes down to moments. As an industry, we must be there when those moments in the customer’s journey happen. Instead of relying upon the past to do so, at Hall & Partners we help invent the future.
About Richard Owen
Richard has 25 years experience in using smart technologies to inspire better methodologies to drive better insight and an obsession to move research forward and not protect the past.
He is a proven builder of businesses, having launched and grown an office of a Hall & Partners, and then started and grown his own business too.