Category: Unearthing Insights

Practical tips for unearthing insights

Understanding Your Employer Brand

In 2017, Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative Inc. embarked on a project to understand the employee view of the employer brand. Since publishing those results (you can download the executive summary here), I have received a few queries from persons seeking to understand their organisation’s employer brand and how to assess its strength.

What is an employer brand?

The concept of the employer brand encompasses all aspects of an organisation’s reputation as an employer, and embodies the idea that companies should have an articulated value proposition for its employees. The strength of the employer brand, therefore, captures the extent to which your organisation is known, liked and trusted by its current and prospective employees. You may argue that the customer brand and the employer brand are the same, because you cannot separate the two. But, I’ve not found that to be the case. There are many companies whose products and services we happily consume, but we would never want to work there. From where we stand on the outside, these companies do not appear to be a good fit for us when we consider its corporate culture and career development opportunities.

So, how do we figure out how people view our organisation as a place to work?

Understanding perceptions of your organisation’s employer brand can be approached in much the same way as understanding perceptions of your consumer brand, but with some obvious adjustments.  Good sources of input include current employees, recruitment agencies and persons that visit your career pages and/or apply for a vacancy. For feedback from the general public, which would include persons that have had no employment-related contact, you can consider surveys. It is critical that in this research phase, you seek to uncover not only what people think, but also why they think what they think.

How do we use these insights?

Armed with a deeper understanding of how your employer brand is viewed, HR and Marketing can now begin work to shape perceptions. LinkedIn, online careers pages and all forms of recruitment should be aligned to convey what it would be like to work for the organisation.

Marketing efforts alone, however, will not be enough. Existing employees will have to be engaged. Similar to product brands, persons verify or refute your brand’s promises when they interact with the brand. For example, if a company advertises that its widget is the longest lasting widget in the market, but when you use it it falls apart after one use, you no longer trust that company. A similar thing happens with employer brands. If a company states, for example, that it has flexible working conditions, and employees are always complaining about lack of flexibility, then odds are prospective employees will not trust the company.

If I’ve peaked your interest and you’d like to learn more about understanding and strengthening your employer brand, let us know and we’ll walk you through it.

Do you have the information you need to excel in your role as a marketing strategist?

Marketing is a broad field, encompassing everything from market analysis to branding to advertising to customer experience. Marketing is so broad, that some of its functions are often broken up into smaller departments or teams within organisations; common examples include customer experience, market research and public relations. So, what do we mean when we refer specifically to the role of marketing strategist?

For us at AE, marketing strategists are responsible for determining the best way to promote a product/service or gain customers. There are two broad phases: 1) market analysis to determine the overall positioning and 2) creative direction to attract ideal customers.

 

Phase 1: Market Analysis

Having agreed that marketing strategists have to conduct analysis to determine how the company will achieve a competitive advantage, the next step is to gather the data. Typically, you need data on customers and competitors.

On customers:

  • Who are they? Demographics, social indicators, values, lifestyle, attitudes, etc. Age, gender and income are simply not enough.
  • What problems are they using your products/services to solve?
  • What do they value in products/services/companies like yours?
  • How much are they willing to pay?
  • Where do they go looking for similar products/services?
  • Who and what influences their decisions (e.g. media platforms, friends and family members, research publications, and so on)?
  • Etc.

On the competitive environment:

  • Who do your customers consider to be your competitors?
  • What do these competitors offer (products/services/value proposition)?
  • How is the market divided in terms of market share?
  • What do these competitors do well/poorly?
  • How dynamic is the market? How quickly do market players respond to change?
  • Etc.

 

Phase 2: Creative Direction

Once you understand the market, have determined your ideal customers and can anticipate competitive reactions, now you need to provide direction to the company on how it should attract and retain its ideal customers and thus achieve and defend its competitive advantage. Other functional leaders within the organisation depend on marketing strategists to help them determine where to focus their investments. For example, the distribution manager needs market insight to determine which retail outlets ideal customers would frequent; product development needs to understand which features should be included in new products; and corporate strategy needs to understand how consumer trends could influence the long-term positioning of the company.

To provide this creative direction, predicting and shaping where markets will go is more useful than working solely with current information. Prediction requires an understanding of (and data on) the drivers of change. For example, in Barbados, a larger proportion of young adults in 2010 were renting than young adults a decade prior. They also were renting to a greater degree than older generations. The marketing strategist needs to understand why this is the case in order to predict how it will evolve. It is not enough to simply accept that it obtains today and assume it will continue into the future.

 

If you believe that you lack the information you need to excel in your role as a marketing strategist, we can help you close your information gaps and add even more value to your organisation and the customers you serve.

Managing the talent pool with the help of analytics

Mobilising people to achieve an organisation’s goals is not as straightforward as mobilising any of its other resources because, well, you’re dealing with people. People have skills, experiences, capabilities, feelings, opinions, perceptions, attitudes and values that must be taken into consideration when crafting strategy. For example, when goals are set for sales targets, implicit in those goals are assumptions around whether the people responsible for reaching them are able and willing to do so. This is where human resource professionals come in. They know the talent pool better than any other person within the organisation, and should be able to influence the direction and implementation of strategic plans by offering their people expertise. One suite of tools that allows them to offer objective advice is HR Analytics.

HR Analytics involves “the systematic identification and quantification of the people drivers of business outcomes, with the purpose to make better decisions”[1].

Through HR Analytics, organisations can measure progress towards business objectives. HR practitioners achieve the following four outcomes:

  1. An understanding of the performance of the human capital of the organisation
  2. The ability to speak in an unambiguous language that is used and understood by all areas of the business, not just HR practitioners
  3. Prioritisation of investments and justified decisions
  4. The ability to influence the future of the organisation.

Getting started is not very difficult. Most organisations already collect a wide range of people-related information, including performance data, engagement scores, salary and benefits information, and so on. The key is to organise, analyse and communicate the insights from this information in a way that can influence strategic decision-making.

Antilles Economics and the Human Resource Management Association of Barbados (HRMAB) will be conducting training on HR Analytics during the month of April 2018. Participating companies not only learn about the main metrics used in HR Analytics and how to create and interpret them, but will apply their knowledge using their organisation’s own data. We expect, therefore, that participants will leave the training equipped with their own HR Analytics dashboard and the insights they need to implement their people-related strategies.

To learn more about the training, please contact HRMAB at (246) 228-5518.

[1] S. van der Heuvel and T. Bondarouk (2016) The Rise (and Fall) of HR Analytics

Defining your target market with precision

Do you find that when you’re asked to identify your target market, you respond with something like ‘millennials’ or ‘people living in this area’ or ‘young families’? That’s specific, right?

But yet when you place your ad – which everyone agrees is fabulous – in the media outlet that your target market is exposed to, the results are less than outstanding. Or when you create that product that is perfect for your target market, there’s such little uptake, even though you know your market is aware of your perfect product.

Maybe you’re only attracting the early adopters … or maybe you haven’t defined your market with sufficient precision.

AE’s approach to target market definition consists of 5 levels of precision. Let’s use the example of targeting millennials.

Level 1: Demographics (male millennials, i.e. persons born between 1980 and 1996)
Level 2: Interests (male millennial sports fans)
Level 3: Lifestyle (male millennial sports fans that watch sports while hanging out at bars with their friends a few times a month)
Level 4: Attitudes (male millennial sports fans that watch sports while hanging out at bars with their friends a few times a month and believe that winning is more important than how you play the game)
Level 5: Values (male millennial sports fans that watch sports while hanging out at bars with their friends a few times a month and believe that winning is more important than how you play the game and highly value their traditions)

The best products, market campaigns and corporate strategies require Level 5 targeting.

How would you get their attention if you defined your target market using only Level 1 criteria versus if your target market was defined up to Level 5? Would you still be considering the same media outlets, the same imagery and the same products?

For more information on how you can use this approach in your business, contact us at 246.253.4442 or .

 

 

A few thoughts about focus groups

It seems to me that marketers love focus groups. In almost every discussion I’ve had on solving a market research problem, marketers have suggested the possibility of focus groups. Maybe they’re attractive because they are relatively inexpensive compared to other research methods, can be organised quickly and are deceptively easy to conduct. And you can’t discount the obvious benefit of being able to interact directly with your desired audience.

But a word of caution: focus groups are not the ideal solution in every instance where you need to learn more about your market. Inherent in the use of focus groups are some risks that, if not accounted for, can lead to incorrect conclusions and costly decisions.

This brief post summarises what we’ve found to be the main drawbacks of focus groups.

Group think

People’s ideas and opinions tend to converge when discussed in a group. You’ve probably observed this yourself in meetings. Prior to a meeting, you may have a fairly strong opinion on the issue to be discussed. During the meeting, a strong personality dominates the conversation and either you do not get an opportunity to add your two cents, you start to change your mind and lean more towards the other person’s opinion or you find it easier to only add your opinions that are in alignment with the majority rather than start an argument by disagreeing. In any case, the moderator leaves the session believing that the strong personality’s position was a consensus across the group. In a perfect world, however, the moderator would have had the benefit of your point of view because odds are there are other people in the market that think like you do.

People lie to themselves, so they will lie to you too

This one is hard for most people to fully appreciate in business settings, but often we do not do what we say we will do. That’s why I do not suggest that people use focus groups to gauge intent to purchase. Let’s face it, we all have good intentions that aren’t realised; we don’t think of them as lies. But in this type of research setting, especially if you’re trying to gauge likely purchase, asking people what they plan to do is often not helpful. Yes, there are ways to minimise this, but when compounded by group think, it’s a tall order.

You only get answers to the questions you ask

To be fair, this is a risk in almost all types of research. But in focus groups there is a real danger because you often get such interesting and potentially useful feedback that you may not realise that you didn’t get a good answer to the most important question. Conversations may get derailed, defused or entirely omitted as you run out of time. Consider the example of a focus group to discuss a new product the company plans to offer. Odds are, the discussion would zoom into product features, price points, potential applications, and so forth. But the most important questions really should be: would anyone actually buy this product and, if so, why? That alone could take up the entire hour/hour and a half of a focus group. This leads to a secondary point, which is that too often focus groups attempt to cover too many topics in one session, which does not give the moderator time to really dig deeply into any one issue.

The results are not statistically representative

Too often people confuse the fact that focus groups provide insight into the needs, thoughts and feelings of a target market with the need for insights that are representative of that market. Let’s clear that up. For any sample – the focus groups participants in our case – to be representative of the underlying population, it has to be matched on all attributes that are expected to be influential on research outcomes. This requires detailed understanding of the underlying population that goes beyond basic demographics. You may also need to know their likes/dislikes, geographical location, level of education, family responsibilities, etc. Then you have to ensure that the proportions of various segments of that underlying population are reflected in the same proportions within your sample. But focus groups tend to have no more than twelve people, which may mean one person per segment. One person’s opinion cannot represent their entire segment. There are some workarounds, like multiple focus groups with different segments, very precise selection criteria, etc. But a word of caution: even if you consider the smallest representative sample size, which is around 300 persons, odds are you’re not talking to anywhere near that many people in your focus groups. Don’t confuse informative with representative. They each have their place.

The bias of compensation and other intangible benefits

There are individuals who simply enjoy participating in research activities and care nothing about the topic you’re investigating. They’re opinionated and revel in opportunities where they can share their points of view. Some people in larger countries even make a living from participating in paid research activities. I remember one participant in one of our focus groups casually debating with me about how much he should be paid, even though he was amongst those that contributed the least and we had to keep pushing him for feedback. Clearly, he wasn’t there because of any deep interest in the topic. It’s like gauging the mood of the population simply from listening to a call-in programme. Not everyone who has a strong opinion will call in, and the loudest people do not always speak for the majority. On the flip side, if you don’t compensate people for taking the time out of their busy schedule to attend your focus group, will anyone come?

 

In short, focus groups remain one of our favourite research tools, but they’re not ideal for every situation. Interested in learning more about how to organise your own focus groups, email us at

Do you map your customers?

A map of customers on a real-world map, created from data, reveals things as they are and takes some of the guess work out of reaching customers. Industries from healthcare to retail to finance to utilities are using location information about their customers and assets to drive superior customer experience, improve process efficiency and lower risk level. Advancements and innovations in geo-spatial technology are driving a new wave of interest in location solutions. Not only does geo-spatial analysis allow companies to use location data to derive unprecedented levels of understanding of customer’s habits and behavior, they also provide the platforms to deliver beneficial information, direction and other support directly to customers.

The ability to visualize your customer base using geography opens up a level of knowledge and understanding not available through any other method. Some of the most important insights that marketing, development and delivery professionals are trying to capture from the value of location data are:

  • Where are your customers located in relation to your stores, warehouses and other points of contact? Or, alternatively, where should your distribution centres be located to ensure proximity to your ideal customers?
  • Which areas have a greater level of penetration?
  • Are your lapsed customers coming from certain areas?
  • Which areas have a similar profile to your current base (or your best customers)?
  • What’s the fastest, cheapest or safest route to take to deliver your goods to end-users?
  • How are your assets – such as poles, meters, towers and stores – distributed across a geographical area? Is this distribution optimal given your intended target market?
  • Is store performance linked to geographical location?

Managers in a wide variety of fields are coming to understand the competitive advantages that come with the savvy use of location data, and a few examples are noted below.

Identify Opportunities with Radius Maps

Radius maps, also known as buffer maps, are useful when you need to understand your data in relation to its proximity to other features. They are often used as coverage maps to see where you may have gaps or overlap of coverage of your shops, services, and operations. For instance, you may need to be able to visualize how many customers you have within a 10-mile radius of your office locations, or how many customers you could serve in a particular region if you build a new outlet.

Save Time and Costs with Route Maps

Geo-spatial software can take your chosen stops and optimize a route to reach them all. With options for a round trip, different start and end points and all the intermediate points, you can plan your route in minutes. By optimizing your route, you make sure your sales team’s time is spent in the most efficient manner, saving time and money.

 

 

 

Manage Your Sales Territories

Enhance your maps by combining it with additional visualization tools, such as charts. Charts can give viewers an immediate summary of the data on the map. Geo-spatial software can produce various types of charts which can be added to a map, including bar, line, pie, area, and scatter charts.

Competitive advantage analysis

By overlaying certain location information, such as population density, the road network and store location, organizations can analyze and understand their competitive advantages and disadvantages in the market. Geo-spatial software, together with the appropriate data, can help managers visualize the relationship between the location of your competitors, customers (current and potential) and sales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on how customer maps can provide valuable marketing and strategy insights, contact us at

Sources: Antilles Economics and www.espatial.com

Want to improve your customer’s experience? First you have to understand it.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience can be thought of as all of the ways that customers engage with your company and brand throughout the entire lifecycle of their time as your customer. Through this lens, it includes everything from customer care to advertising, packaging and public relations to product and service features to reliability and ease of use. It is therefore a broader concept than solely what a customer experiences when they enter your store, as it involves both direct and indirect contact with your company, as well as emotional and subjective responses to it.

Many companies focus on the direct contact a person has with their company, during the purchase transaction, when using the product or service, or during any after-sales service interactions. Indirect contact is often overlooked, but could potentially be just as, or sometimes even more, important. Indirect contact typically takes the form of unintentional contact with your company’s products, services, brands or personnel; for example, word of mouth recommendations or criticisms, news reports, advertising, impressions of brand representatives outside of the store, and the list goes on.

As such, the experience a customer has with your brand starts before you are even aware that they are a potential customer.

Most companies only track customer satisfaction, which implies that they are gauging their success at wowing customers only at the time of purchase or when they have a problem to be resolved. But, what if you were never given the opportunity to wow them because they had a negative experience with your brand before one of your sales representatives even knew they existed? How disappointed would you feel if your sales team delivered exceptional service, but the product arrived defective or late because your outsourced transportation provider dropped the ball? Or, what if through some hiccup in the administrative process the customer decided not to do business with you after all?

Understanding customer experience

Understanding your organisation’s customer experience first requires an understanding of how customers interact with your organisation before they become a customer, during all direct transactions and interactions with your organization, right up to the end when they are no longer a customer. This is known as the customer journey. During this journey, customers will interact with your organisation both directly and indirectly through various touchpoints, such as customer service, product and service delivery, websites, advertising, after-sales service, and so on. And these touchpoints exist within an ecosystem or network of your organisation’s customers, employees, suppliers, vendors and overall operating environment. The quality of your organisation’s customer experience, therefore, often involves more than just your organisation.

Measuring Customer Experience

The key to enabling positive and memorable customer experiences that turn customers into brand ambassadors lies in understanding the journeys that they take, the touchpoints that provide direct contact and the overall ecosystem within which they are engaging with your company. You cannot manage customer experience if you cannot measure it. Through a range of techniques – such as surveys, focus groups, ethnographic and other observational studies (‘shop alongs’), customer diaries, product co-design activities and internal analytics – we suggest measuring three broad areas:

  1. how well your company met your customers’ needs;
  2. how easy it was to do business with your organisation; and,
  3. how enjoyable it was when doing business with your organization.

When identifying the metrics that will form your customer experience monitoring system, think about the entire customer journey, your various touchpoints and the overall ecosystem. Successful management hinges on a comprehensive view of the entire customer experience and determining which levers to pull to foster as positive and as memorable an experience with your company as possible.

Want to learn more about improving customer experience in your organisation? Contact us here.

Inviting Customers Into the Product Design Process

Customers buy in the modern world where expectations have changed, where patience is short, where exceptional service and delivery are expected, and where they expect things to be either value for money, incredibly simple or very fun. Satisfying the customers’ needs and expectations should be the driving force behind any product creation. Customers like being engaged, listened to and taken seriously. They like to provide feedback and solutions to help products become more user friendly. So why not take advantage of customers’ willingness to share ideas and experiences?

The process of design involving two or more people sharing ideas, is known as co-design. Customer co-design enlists the services, knowledge and ideas of current and future customers to design, develop and maintain a product, process, system and/or experience. Co-designing with customers is mutually beneficial. Customers will feel valued and understood. You will be able to design solutions that really work well for them, resulting in faster acceptance of new offerings and greater customer loyalty. By working side by side with customers, the people in your organization gain valuable insights into customers’ needs. By acting on those insights, your team gains faster adoption of new products, services, or processes. Customer service, an integral part of most organizations, is the first place to look for customer requirements and for customer co-design opportunities.

It is suggested that you proactively engage with customers and develop a customer co-design atmosphere. Here are a few opportunities to achieve that.

  • Form a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), where you recruit your most insightful customers to help identify and assess their and other customers’ unfulfilled requirements;
  • Incorporate the Voice of the Customer (VOC) into your organization’s culture. This entails encouraging customers to talk among themselves in focus groups, forums, social media etc. and observing how they offer solutions to each other’s problems;
  • Design the processes that impact customers to be more efficient and effective by understanding how customers perceive the processes and incorporating their suggestions for improvement;
  • Take advantage of the business network that supports your customers’ other needs. Your organization cannot provide everything that your customers need. Partner and collaborate with other organizations and your customers to provide all-round satisfying products and services.

The future of business competition and prosperity is based on the successful processes of co-design and co-creation, where customers play an integral part. The key to designing a successful product is to use customer co-design early and often. Give your employees, at all levels, the authority to interact with customers to obtain firsthand knowledge of what they would like from your products and how they would use it. The intelligence that you will gather from customer interactions will be priceless.

Forecasting – Art and Science

Why forecast?

Forecasting, in its most basic form, is the practice of making predictions about future values of a variable, outcome and/or decision. The question is whether forecasting is necessary, and why. The answer to the first is a resounding yes, mainly due to the need for businesses to plan ahead and anticipate various events. For instance, firms use forecasts of independent variables (such as sales) to help guide decisions about dependent variables (such as the required level of inventory) or to estimate the impact of events that may be out of their control (e.g. a new competitor, a change in tax rates or the impact of a hurricane). Forecasting thus facilitates the formulation of rational and consistent strategies that help firms achieve their objectives. Indeed, if the future can be predicted, it can be controlled and leveraged by the business to provide an advantage over competitors. Given the importance of forecasting to businesses, good forecasts are therefore a necessity.

What is a ‘good’ forecast?

A logical question at this point would be how do we determine whether a forecast was ‘good’? Generally, the public judges a forecast solely on its accuracy: a good forecast is assumed to be one that is equal (or very close) to what actually happened (or the realised value). But forecasting should never be confused with prophecy. The chances of forecasting the exact value of a random variable is almost zero. Rather, good forecasts:

  • incorporate all available information and are as accurate as possible given this information;
  • are unbiased, neither consistently higher nor consistently lower than realised values; and,
  • are timely, i.e. they are developed early enough to inform adequate planning and allow sufficient time to adjust.

How do we attain “good” forecasts, science or art? 

‘Good’ forecasts usually emerge from striking a balance between art and science. The scientific aspect of forecasting usually refers to the quantitative methods used; this approach often gets the most attention. In fact, in the early stages of my career, I held a common, but misguided view that good forecasts came from statistical methods and powerful computers. I theorised what I considered to be a brilliant forecasting approach. I would collect a host of data; inspect the data; build a few models; compare the forecasting performance of these models; and, choose the best performing one. However, as time progressed, one thing became abundantly clear: business forecasting should not use such a simplistic approach! Naïve quantitative methods help us to identify existing relationships and/or established patterns; however, they almost exclusively assume that the future is like the past.

On the flip side is forecasting using judgment, what many people refer to as their gut instinct. Humans possess unique knowledge and insight that provide a great deal of value in business decisions. However, like quantitative methods, relying on the judgment alone can be detrimental. Judgments forecasts are subjective, vary due to psychological factors, and can be clouded by personal or political agendas.

The ideal approach

The ideal solution would be to utilize an approach that merges the science (i.e. quantitative methods) with the art (i.e. the forecaster’s insight and knowledge of the market). This approach is known as scenario analysis and has been used by forecasters since the Second World War. It was arguably best applied in the business world by Shell Oil Company, which used this approach to consider the rise and fall of oil prices and effectively plan for its business consequences. Scenario analysis provides a consistent approach to incorporating this human insight into forecasting and also allows the researcher to produce an image of the future under various potential outcomes.

Scenario analysis starts from the premise that the future is unlikely to be like the past: human choice and other unexpected events need to be factored into the equation. The aim of scenario analysis is to map the so-called possibility space (i.e. identify potential alternative outcomes) and evaluate the impact that these outcomes could likely have on the business. Rather than simply forecasting sales using a naïve method, one considers sales under different market conditions, e.g. marketing campaigns of varying degrees of success, new entrants into the market, industrial strikes, mergers, etc. Scenario analysis therefore allows the business analyst to mix the science with the art to derive competitive advantages for the enterprise.

More often than not, forecasts are put together using either quantitative methods or judgement alone. At AE, our forecasting methods integrate the two, merging art with science. Our approach is conceptually very simple. We use historical data to generate statistical forecasts as well as a map of the possibility space taking into account human insight and judgment. It is important, however, that forecasts are internally consistent, are based on logical storylines, are plausible and are associated with certain sign posts that can be used by managers to identify when this scenario is likely to occur. We have only touched the surface of the concept of forecasting in this post, but we hope that you have gained a better understanding of the state of the art when it comes to business forecasting.