One ambition behind many briefs we receive is to use direct employee – consumer connection to help realise a company’s ambition to truly put consumer centricity at the centre of their culture.

We obviously fully support that and have a lot of experience in achieving that ambition. It’s so important that phrases like ‘consumer is boss’ or ‘we put customers at the heart of our business aren’t just glib phrases plastered on office reception walls or in glossy company brochures.

The truth of the matter though is it is far easier said than done. Only a handful do it well (obviously the ones that work with us are absolute consumer centricity ninjas!) So, in the spirit of sharing we thought we’d give you a sneak peek of our top tips to light a fire under any consumer connection initiative. Tips that will hopefully ensure it has the impact we know it can have. Tips that will make it ‘stick’ as something your business does regularly, not just as a one off.

Please note these are just a teaser of tips, if you want all our expertise you should consider briefing us for a project (or at the very least buy us a drink when the world re opens)…

Top Tip 1: Brand it and own it

Dead simple. Doesn’t have to be that imaginative or be the result of paying a design agency to come up with a jazzy logo, but it does have to be something that people can recognise and talk about. We’ve developed ‘Safari’s’ (see logo, we held back from pith helmets and khaki shorts) to ‘The Voice’ to a ‘Seat at the Table Series’. Like any good brand doing this also brings with it a personality and energy, it immediately feels more than “spending an hour in a consumer’s home having a chat”, by investing their time your teams should feel part of something.

Building a brand around the initiative also helps fuel word of mouth in the organisation. We’ve been approached by several local market teams in organisations where they’ve got wind of a different market rolling out a connection program, “What’s this Get Connected thing the guys in EMEA keep banging on about?”

If you’re an insight/ research/ analytics team driving the initiative it also gives you something tangible to own and be recognised for. It’s been a sad fact for many years that too many internal insight teams have to fight to prove their value or remain closeted as a subset of a marketing function. A connection program, brilliantly branded and executed is a chance to truly get the insight team recognised company wide. There’s nothing we like better than making you look like a hero in your organisation.

Top Tip 2: Mix it up

We can’t stress enough that consumer connection or consumer closeness or whatever you want to call it is NOT just about spending an hour out of the office sitting in a consumer’s home having a cup of tea and secretly judging their choice in furnishings (although that is most definitely our favourite bit). You have to keep things fresh and try out new things otherwise energy and interest in your connection program will naturally wain.

We define consumer/ customer connection as any activity where YOU take the responsibility to interact with your chosen target audience. How you interact could be a myriad of things. You could hook up with a consumer on WhatsApp for a week and chat that way. You can meet them in a variety of locations doing a variety of things (or at least you could before we all had to stay indoors). We’ve got people shopping, cooking, eating, drinking, nappy changing and even working in care homes. The possibilities are endless so there is no excuse to let things get stale.

Indeed it’s not always about talking. Simply observing your consumers/ customers in their ‘natural’ environment is equally valid. Observing people at a shopping fixture is fascinating but how often do you actually do it with a specific purpose in mind, and most importantly, capture and share what you’ve observed with your colleagues?

Top Tip 3: Be crafty with the board

Let’s face it. There is a reason your senior execs have such clean desks, they never actually do any work. Only joking, the reality is the demands on your senior leaders time are significant, so the likelihood of getting them away from their boardroom to interact with consumers for a couple of hours AND then get together with their fellow board members to discuss and interpret what they heard is pretty low.

Add to that the fact that (in our experience) the more senior you get, the more likely it is you feel uncomfortable spending time with ‘normal’ people. We’ve had leaders that were totally at ease standing up in front of 400 people to present business results but were utterly petrified at the thought of spending an hour with someone that actually bought their products.

But if you want to make a connection program stick you need your leaders on board. Successful programs come from the top down where those in charge ‘walk the walk’ and demonstrate the value of making time to get out and connect.

So, you often need a different approach. We’ve found a few things work well

Get them hooked little by little. Make it super easy for them to ‘dip their toe in the water’ of the connection experience. This could involve bringing the consumers to them. We’ve brought along consumers to the the start of senior leadership meetings and let them chat for the first 20 minutes. It’s great how that brief interaction can positively change leaders mind sets for the subsequent business discussions. It’s almost like an injection of ‘real-life’ freshens up the room.

Or set very low expectations of what you want them to do. Nothing loses your leaders more than expecting them to take copious notes from a consumer interaction and then participate in a Post It note filled workshop to discuss the results. They’ve moved past all that level of effort! With one client, our brief to the exec during their consumer connection was we didn’t want them to take notes at all, we just wanted them to chat and take regular photos. In the wash up session we then asked them to select 3 of their photos and talk about them for 5 minutes. It was amazing the depth of discussion those pictures prompted. All without putting pen to paper.

Ambush them. We’ve mentioned this in previous posts but sometimes it pays to not even ask for permission. Invite a couple of consumers along to your next set of store visits and get them to walk around the store with your leadership team. Recruit a pair of consumers to join you and the leadership team in the cab journey from the airport to the office. Yes, it’s a higher risk strategy but any leader that reacts badly to being given the opportunity to spend time with the people that pay their wages maybe doesn’t deserve their position.

Ok – I’ll think we’ll wrap it up there. Heaven help us if we ever need to get proper jobs again.

Hope this has been helpful. Feel free to drop us a line if you want to chat more about our strategies for making consumer connection stick.

Mingle – get out and get connected.

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