5 pieces of research you NEED* to know about

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I don’t know… the continuing tale of Brexit, Donald Trump’s trade war, the plight of UK train commuters, another runway at Heathrow… I am just not feeling particularly inspired nor motivated at the moment.

So the obvious antidote to such gloom? To spend some time looking around on the web of course. Here are 5 pieces of recent research you really need* to know about (*when I say need I may well be stretching the truth a little).

In no particular order…

1_ WHSmith = worst high street retailer.

You won’t have missed that the high street is in a tricky place at the moment. Just yesterday we heard bad news about House of Fraser and Poundworld.

Which? magazine has recently published results from its annual 10,000 strong survey of the best/worst high street retailers.

WHSmith is voted worst – described by one customer as a “horrid shop“. It has been in the bottom two for the last 8 years. Things are not looking good for WHSmith.

Mary Portas has also picked up on this story, highlighting that the business actually does ok financially due to its ‘retail engineering’ approach and being held up by the performance of its airport and station outlets (with those ridiculously high prices!).

It would seem to be difficult times ahead for a retailer that doesn’t have anything unique to sell and has little or no voice. In fact if you read the article from Which? you could suggest it’s maybe bad news ahead for many of those listed in 90-100th place, some having already shown signs of failure.

2_ Britain’s most scenic bus routes… revealed

Yes, this one pricked my attention as well!

Bus Users UK spent three long months collecting 15,000 votes for this one. You can literally experience the winning route by clicking here. I am on my way to Leeds right now. Maybe a good follow-up for BBC Four’s experiential bus ride TV (one of my very favourite BBC Four programmes).

Look out later this year for a Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Routes website. I’d like the organisers to also consider some urban routes which are equally spectacular.

3_ 1.6m UK workers opt for the gig economy

That might be impressive but what stands out for me from research carried out by WeMa Life is that it would seem a huge 7.3m UK workers would like to leave their job try the gig economy but don’t have the confidence they would source enough money to support their lifestyle.

One of the biggest issues holding people back is not knowing how to issue invoices or take payments. Another reason is not knowing how to connect with potential customers.

If I could charge them £1 each for this information I would be a very rich man. Hell, there’s a ton of information for free on this subject. My advice? (The advice that was given to me), just go for it.

4_ Passengers from hell are smelly and have out of control children

The long-awaited Passengers from Hell annual survey from www.airlineratings.com is in.


I think we can all relate to this from our trips on a plane. This year I will try not to commit all 10 fouls (I really can’t see myself doing number 8).

Ranking the 10 worst passenger types, readers voted in this order…

  1. Smelly passengers
  2. Those with out of control kids
  3. Prolonged seat recliners
  4. Armrest hoggers
  5. Passengers with too much carry-on luggage
  6. Those with a weak bladder
  7. The chatterboxes
  8. Passengers who exercise in the aisles
  9. Arrogant and demanding passengers
  10. Window hoggers

5_ Global brands are really (really) good

Research by McCann Worldgroup (that’s the McCann Worldgroup that earns $bn’s from working with global brands) reveals that 81% of consumers believe that global brands “can play a vital role for good“. No way, who’d have thunk it??

Interesting when you consider the recent behaviour of the likes of Volkswagen, FIFA, Samsung, United Airlines, Apple, News International, Dove, Uber, Pepsi, Oxfam and Facebook.

What the research does show is a growing trust in local brands – 56% now trusting local brands over global ones, up from 43% in 2015. That is interesting and has big implications for marketers.

Also, (certain) global brands beware… the research reveals that consumers believe “truth is the most valuable currency“.


[Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash]

Is big business just a bit too… big?

Just let me start out by saying I am no anarchist and I am not someone who is particularly anti big business. Big businesses create a lot of jobs, deliver a lot of tax for the benefit of all and (the good ones) look after their employees very well.

However something quite profound struck me recently. I was in London – in the City – on a regular weekly trip walking between client meetings. I’m a regular visitor to London and lived there for 10 years but I get completely bowled over when I visit an area I’ve not been to for a while to find it’s utterly changed – unrecognisable from the last time I was there.

The City is one such place – the wealth, the levels of investment, the money – it’s pouring down the walls of the outside of those new glass structures. And the new glass structures just keep on popping up everywhere.

Cut back to me. I too am a business, or at least a business owner – just one which is very small by comparison. When I thought about it, the juxtaposition was mind-blowing. Not helped either by the fact that my business pays something called ‘corporation’ tax (not micro-business tax!) at the same level as these Gargantuans (very probably less in many cases).

Question: do businesses really need to get so big and so wealthy? Maybe I am just naïve but where’s the humanness in these corporations?

The recent Carillion debacle was described in one committee of MPs’ report as “a story of recklessness, hubris and greed” with a business model which operated as “a relentless dash for cash”, driven by the “exploitation of suppliers”.

This probably understates what Carillion has actually done and the legacy it leaves behind; the people who’s lives have been utterly devastated by the actions of just a few.

The 2008 financial crisis was much the same. The greed of a few has completely changed the lives of the many.

But even without these extreme examples I find myself asking why? all too often when it comes to big business.

  • Why do Sainsbury’s and ASDA really need to merge in order to defend themselves against the likes of Amazon?
  • Why is it appropriate for Ram to use a Martin Luther King Jr sermon to sell its trucks?
  • Why did 2 Sisters Food Group feel the need to tamper with their food safety documentation meaning consumers bought out of date chicken?
  • Why are technology firms such as Facebook operating free from any regulation?
  • Etc.

In my world, it saddens me that so much effort and emphasis is placed on so few clients. Research agencies typically chase the corporate money, the most profitable contracts and actually the businesses who are most likely to succeed anyway, simply from their sheer scale. I generalise of course but I think you see the point?

The small and medium business owners I speak to generally shrug when I talk about the potential of research and insight to help their businesses. Even the simplest stories – happy customers buy more, buy more often and refer your products and services so let me help you make your customers happy – often falls on deaf ears.

This feels wrong and it’s my ambition to try to change this, to help those who need my help most to position themselves well, to better understand their market and their customers to therefore grow and succeed.

I’m starting a one-man mission to help these smaller guys out and it starts now.

Who’s with me?


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Watching the Market: a great source of insight

A couple of stories prompted this week’s blog post…

The first one is a brilliant anecdote about two retailers. Retailer 1 one spends astonishing of amounts of money on its store location strategy;  analysing many streams of data to find the optimal location for the next store to open in terms of customer profiling, distribution, access, you name it.

Retailer 2? They just wait to find out where Retailer 1 opens its new store and then open one right next door.


The other story is about Manchester United who have just announced they are to launch an official YouTube channel. They are the only Premier League team yet to feature officially on YouTube – 13 years after the platform launched. Barcelona, who created their channel in 2006 have 3.8m followers.

13 years too late. Crazy.

Two examples of businesses at opposite ends of a spectrum. One listens very carefully to the market and its competitors, the other (apparently) doesn’t.

The Market is a fantastic source of insight which is instrumental to your insight programme. Actively watching and reviewing what your competitors are doing is essential.

But do enough of us do it?

It doesn’t matter the size of your business – market leaders can discover huge amounts by studying new entrants and challengers. Smaller businesses can learn from big business and respond in a way that provides something better for their customers.

What can you find out?

  • What are your competitors’ marketing strategies, communication plans, how do they talk to the market?
  • Who is launching new products and services? Who is improving and revising?
  • Who are your competitors hiring? How are their teams structured?
  • Who are the key disruptors in similar, complementary markets?
  • What new research is being carried out in your market, by whom and what are the results?

Keeping one eye on the trade press or Linked-in updates isn’t enough. In my view a systematic, regular and on-going review of the market can reveal all sorts of actionable insights at a frighteningly reasonable budget.

Contact me anytime to discuss in more detail.



Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Advice on creating a customer segmentation

So, you need a segmentation?

Aside from the philosophical arguments from those such as Byron Sharp  and Mark Ritson around whether marketing should target specific audiences or build brands via mass appeal, many organisations find it useful to  create a segmentation of their customers and potential customers.

This can be a vital component of good product and service development, marketing and communication. Let’s face it, not all brands are for all consumers.

In order to get further than a suspect, quickly thrown together set of personas, you might consider research in order to apply some rigour and evidence.

In my view, however, be careful about how much you let the data lead you and how much you lead it. These are my top tips for a successful segmentation, roughly in order of importance:

Make it simple

Any decent segmentation is ‘owned’ by everyone in a business and not the research or marketing teams. So many really robust and rigorous segmentations fall apart the moment they leave the research departments door because the rest of the business find it impossible to understand them and so can’t relate to them or use them. If you use overly sophisticated methods to create your segmentation you had better be able to explain this to everyone in very simple terms. If you want to give your segments fancy marketing names, then be prepared for some push back.

Start with the end in mind

What are you going to want to do with this segmentation? Develop products and services? Create better marketing communication? It’s important to consider this now rather than get caught out later. For example, to effectively market to a sophisticated segmentation born of high-level statistical analysis is made difficult if the media channels you use mean you are limited to buying basic demographics.

Engage people… now

Tell people you’re doing this and you want their input. Don’t tell them you’ve done this and they have to start using it.

Which parts of your business are going to be using this segmentation? Marketers and product managers? How about customer service agents? If you want the segmentation to be really effective you need to engage those who you are expecting to use it ahead of time. Get their buy-in, use the latent insight they already have about your customers and build that in to the data.

Allow your segmentation to be integrated into other data and research

Think about the most valuable data-streams you use within your organisation – your sales data, your brand tracking, your analytics and web traffic. Can your segmentation be easily integrated into these streams? If not, can you make this so by adapting your segmentation or simplifying it? Think how much more powerful it will be if it is fully integrated into the data that the business uses and values the most.

If you carry out qualitative research, can you easily recruit participants based around your segmentation? If your segmentation relies on sophisticated analysis and a whole bunch of attitude statements then you might find it hard to create ‘golden questions’ from which you can recruit people.


For all of the reasons above, you need to be willing to listen to others in the business, use their reactions and reservations to make your segmentation more water-tight.

Keeping the process simple will ensure the results are more easily understood, more easily adopted and therefore far, far more effective.

If you would like to discuss your plans for a customer segmentation, please get in touch as I would be happy to help.


Elevate your brand through Thought Leadership

Or put another way… how to make your business look like Plato or Aristotle.

Demonstrating that you have fresh knowledge, understanding and insight into a particular market, sector or target audience is a fantastic way to stand-out in today’s super competitive marketplace.

Given the fact that we live in such a consumer-centric world (where the really successful businesses put customers at the heart of what they do), thought-leadership around consumers, their behaviours and attitudes can really catch attention.

Journalists in the trade and marketing press love to receive good content that helps their publication to share in, and benefit from, the kudos that this type of new thinking will generate.

With a bit of careful planning you can see a huge and positive impact on your business with just a modest investment in research – from increased PR, more in-bound enquiries, higher awareness and a boost to brand perception; a great way for you to bolster your existing marcomms activity.

I’ve worked on a number of pieces of work like this and I can tell you they are really, really effective.

If you think your business would benefit from this type of work then I would be very happy to offer some free advice. Or perhaps your publicity team/agency would like to know more? My contact details are here.

**Leans in**

Of course I shouldn’t really be telling you this but you can often manage the questions you ask to get the kind of response you are looking for. My experiment using Google surveys from 2014 showed quite a sensational result 😉

Jan-ancholy :-(

Usually I quite enjoy getting back into work in January. It’s often tricky for the first day or two but by day three I am generally ok and by the time the second week comes around I am fully back to business.

This year though I don’t mind telling you that I’ve had full-on ‘Jan-ancholy’. Just can’t shake it; I am hopeful that February brings much more joy.

Why this year more than other years? I don’t know – perhaps a mixture of bugs and viruses, the cold and wet weather, weariness with the politics of the world, another year into my 40s.

This is good fodder for many a tabloid feature and has also piqued the interest of Academics at the University of Exeter. Their summation is that

“Depressed mood is often exacerbated by a perception of a gap between how someone wants things to be and how they actually are. These actual-ideal discrepancies are highlighted at this time of year”.

So identifying a need for self-improvement and/or a need to change our current situation is what drives us towards Jan-guish? This should be a healthy and important process but it’s adjacence to the fun and indulgence of December means it’s often forced onto us and so less welcome.

The spike in Google searches for ‘gym’ comes as little surprise but it is interesting that interest in gyms appears to be growing over the last decade or so. Google Trends can also tell us all sorts of interesting things about the growing interest in HIIT (high intensity interval training), the huge spike in people searching for ‘tennis club’ in the UK coinciding with Wimbledon and the relative interest in ‘mindfulness’ compared to ‘buddhism’.

If I was going to assign myself to a segmentation based around self-help, I would suggest I am a ‘self-help keeno’ rather than a ‘junkie’. My self-improvement journey over the last few years has included HIIT, mindfulness, Yoga with Tim, listening to all manner of podcasts and video-blogs (this even included subscribing to Marie Forleo) and, naturally, the odd TED talk.

However – and here’s an insight based on a sample of one but which feels like it might be more universal – I either quickly give up on the things which don’t offer instant results (more often exercise and things which require me to change my routine) or the inspiration sought from the wisdom and success of others leaves me feeling more flat than before I started.

More here on how personality type and our environment affect our ability to change and improve.

I think surrounding ourselves with too much ‘inspiration’ of this kind can just make us feel worse about our own situation. I am not alone in this thought. And, hopefully like you, my situation isn’t really that bad at all; it’s actually pretty good. So what am I trying to fix?! I think I have fallen into a trap where I have succumb to the notion that I must seek some kind of personal and career nirvana otherwise my life will be unfulfilled. Nonsense.

And so, I am giving up. Quitting. I’m going to stop seeking out what, until now, I have perceived to be the benefits of listening to others and I am going to try some self-inspiration. Simply noting down the things I am proud of having achieved and some ideas – generated by me – as to how I can improve my offering to clients. Marginal gains, incremental changes, one step at a time. Go me.

I think the point of this week’s blog relates to our attitudes and focus at work and in business. We should stop ourselves from rolling from one new thinker to another new trend to another new book and take some time to internalise, strategise and self-inspire. Mark Ritson says it far better than me. His advice is definitely worth taking note of.

Here’s to a self-inspiring 2018… y’all! (Marie says y’all).

Why on earth would you do research?

This post is all about reasons not to do research. Not that I want to put you off; far from it I want to convince you that the common reasons I hear are very easily dealt with.

Let’s start with an obvious one:

Research is really expensive.

Yes it certainly is. I’ve been involved with a number of qual and quant projects that have very easily run into 3-figure sums. But can I honestly tell you the insight generated was any better than what might have been achieved for about 10-times less? No.

Research is expensive because it’s been made almost the exclusive tool of corporations and big business. These are companies who feel justified in spending large amounts of money and have kept big (and many small) research agencies in fine health over the last however many years.

You certainly won’t find many research agencies convincing their clients to spend less than their stated budget because they don’t need to.

But believe me, research doesn’t have to be expensive. Modern tech and the commoditisation of online samples means much has been achieved with far, far less investment. Even better is the do-it-yourself approach to research – just make sure what you’re doing is going to give you some good output.

Next one,

We talk to our customers all the time and we know they’re happy.

I have heard this a lot, particularly from smaller companies which is more understandable. But consider these points:

  • Are you talking to all of your customers, or just those who want to talk to you?
  • They are telling you they’re happy and you think this is totally honest? Would an independent party not glean more honest responses that you would find far more useful to your business?
  • Do you not want to at least try to improve what you offer?

I work with a small but brilliant professional services company and they use an independent voice (aka me) to carry out their client satisfaction work exactly because of the points above. It’s also something they use to show clients they take feedback really seriously – it’s part of their client service programme.

Consumers don’t know what they want so there’s no point asking them.

Bang! This is the big one. The ‘Henry Ford’ of reasons not to do research. His [dubious] quote being

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

This is not the first time I have blogged about Henry Ford and research. This is all rather abstract of course because Ford pre-dated modern market research, so he never had the opportunity to use it.

However, the point is this… if someone had mentioned “I want a faster horse” in a focus group back in the early 1900s then, rather than be used literally to mean giving everyone a thoroughbred, Ford and his team could use this fantastic insight as a springboard to generate a raft of ideas, concepts and prototypes to offer the solution.

Who knows, they might have come up with an even better Model T, like one which didn’t break your arm when you tried to crank it.

Even if I did have the money to spend on research, I would be better to spend it on more marketing.

Without knowing how your creative, messaging and media might impact on consumers, aren’t you potentially just throwing good money after bad? Do a little bit of research and your campaign effectiveness might improve exponentially.

I don’t need research, I go on gut instinct.

You need a good gut for this. My gut tells me to regularly eat Penguin biscuits and never pass a golden arches without making a small purchase. I don’t really trust my gut.

I guess it comes down to your relationship with risk and the amount you stand to lose by a bad gut-led decision. Aren’t you in a better position to invest in ensuring your gut is telling you the right thing to do? I know though that for many entrepreneurs, this is difficult to swallow (groan…).

Research never tells me anything I don’t know already.

Similar to above – this does happen and that’s a fact. When I started out in research, early in the year 2000, I was told the old adage “if it looks surprising, it’s probably wrong”. How I kept going after this I’m not sure. I think it’s because research can surprise, enlighten and inspire much of the time.

Sometimes though, yes it will confirm things you already know. But isn’t it more reassuring to confirm what you know and then make good decision than risk making the wrong choice?

For me, research is all about giving you the confidence you need to make good, right, brilliant decisions.

I prefer to learn from failures to succeed.

There’s a lot to be said from learning from failure. A recent read, Black Box Thinking, is a great read on this subject. I would say ‘failing fast’ would be the approach to take. Carrying out quick tests and making incremental improvements before launching a product to market is clearly the way to fail – small failures to avoid a monumental one when it’s too late.

There may well be other reasons to avoid research that I’ve not covered here – please feel free to let me know. Otherwise, let’s have a chat about how research can help your organisation to achieve.


Photo by Nicholas Kampouris on Unsplash


What does millennial parenting look like?

In case you are not aware, Millennials… they’re everywhere.  Those born roughly between the mid-1980s and late-1990s are now the biggest generation in the US. From their influence on the workplace to their passion for premium coffee, research continues to emerge surrounding the impact that these key marketing targets  are having on all of our day-to-day lives.

As this generation enter their 30s and begin to have children of their own (already dubbed Generation Alpha), it’s becoming clear that they may also be about to revolutionise parenting.

For starters, the very way they identify themselves is somewhat unique. According to a 500-participant survey conducted by tech company Winnie, millennial parents are more likely than previous generations to say that parenthood is a major part of their identity, and have created numerous sub-parenting identities such as ‘free-range parenting’ and ‘attachment-Mums’ which often emanate deeper political and social ideologies.

In the same survey, when asked if they value ‘home ownership’ or ‘travel and experiences’ more, 56 per cent of millennial parents chose travel and experiences. Is this shift due to the ‘renting generation’ conceding to the certainty that home ownership is unlikely until their inheritance is due? Perhaps… Or is it that ownership and materialism that marked out previous generations are now less important than seeking out new experiences and seeing the world?

It also appears the way millennial parents reach out to others is also adapting. Community support has been a valued asset to any new mother or father for centuries, but Rebecca Parlakian, program director for Zero to Three, an organisation that has been studying new parents for three decades, suggests that, of late, Google has become “the new grandparent, neighbour and nanny”.  So, whenever there’s a suspicious rash or a desire for a toy recommendation, millennial parents will be highly likely to reach out to sites like Mumsnet for the answer.  Research by Google concurs, claiming that 86% of millennial dads use YouTube for guidance on key parenting topics.

Attitudes towards gender are also changing thanks to millennial parents. There’s been a recent surge in the number of gender neutral toys and clothing available to children, and this appears to have been largely influenced by the attitudes of millennial parents. With this age group growing up to witness significant positive changes to LGBTI+ rights, increasing numbers of non-binary celebrities on television, as well as a generally accepted rhetoric that gender is a social construct, there’s never been such a demand for non-gender-conformist products.  In fact, TIME Magazine conducted a survey in 2015 of 2000 parents with children under the age of 18 and discovered 50 per cent of millennial parents purposefully buy gender neutral toys for their children, compared to just 35 per cent of baby boomers.

Religion plays less of a role in the lives of millennials and their young families. In a recent UK government survey, 49 per cent of 25-34 year olds stated they had no religion, whereas only 27 per cent of 55-64 year olds and 20 per cent of 65-74 year olds stated the same. Michael Hout, a professor of sociology at New York University, suggests this could be due to recent scandals and an increased lack of trust in religious organisations, or perhaps it is the rise of the internet that has made way for more diverse views and challenges to the status quo. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say millennial parents in both the UK and USA are less likely to take their children to religious institutions or formalise their kids’ religious status. Interestingly, 1 in 3 children in the 1980s were baptised, where as now that figure is 1 in 10.

Lastly, educational habits have altered somewhat from the ones that will have been experienced by millennials when they were at school. Homeschooling has doubled in the last six years, screen time is now the norm, and it is thought that Generation Alpha will be highly entrepreneurial thanks to their constant access to immediate information and ideas.

Understanding the ways in which the newest cohort of parents are tackling the age-old challenges of child-rearing will undoubtedly help brands stay more relevant and more useful, thus more profitable into the future. Those who continue to offer old world products and services are missing a really big opportunity.

To discuss more about this topic or to discuss our understanding of other types of audiences and consumers, please do drop me a line or book a call. 

Thought Leadership via Research

Discovering knowledge and driving Thought Leadership is perhaps a less obvious use of research and insight but it can definitely deliver excellent results and help to position you and your business as a leading light in a given field.

We’ve just completed one such project around the subject of ‘consumer experiences’ and recommendation. To our client, having something new to say in this area was vitally important to help them stand out from their competitors.

Working for an experiential marketing agency and their PR agency, we carried out a mix of survey work and qualitative depth interviews, which we pulled together into a clear written report.

This gave them ample content to create a White Paper on the topic which they used to promote themselves not only to existing clients but as a way to leverage conversations with new leads and potential new clients.

Would this work for you?

What is this sort of work worth to you? It might only need to generate one new piece of business to pay for itself but the ROI is that you also benefit from raising your profile and building your reputation.

If you’d like to know more about this topic then please either drop me a line at gideon@profundo.co.uk or book a call with me here.


Who Can Match Google For Return on Investment?

Throughout my near 20 years of working in research, there have been two moments where I have faced genuine embarrassment.

The first was as I embarked upon the Grad training scheme at BMRB and happily told my friends what an exciting and glittery, data-filled world I was entering into. Their response; that I was now ‘clip-boarding’ for a career wasn’t quite the high-five I was expecting and, if I am honest, left me feeling  a little low.

However, since then the industry has changed hugely in terms of perception and I now feel very proud to work in the field of ‘Consumer Insight’.

The second moment of embarrassment came more recently, not long after I set up Profundo. Discussing my new venture with a good friend who has amassed buckets of experience in sales and the art of selling, we came up with an idea of producing case studies as a sales tool. Brilliant. We selected a suitable piece of work, I described the business scenario and the method of research which perfectly dove-tailed with my client’s objectives.

“So what was the impact?” he asked, “How did it improve their bottom line?”

Cue my red-face and squirming for a response…

“Well, you know… this is research, the impact is often… intangible”.


Researchers! The game is afoot, we’ve been found out, it’s a fair cop etc.

The real impact of research is something the industry has long-wrangled with but, to my knowledge, has never (ever) cracked. Marketing campaigns have long had their effectiveness studies, showing an increase of awareness or purchasing propensity or improved brand perceptions. Digital-marketing has more analytics than anyone can ever need. A pound spent on Google AdWords may reward with £5 of new business.

Clearly, Research needs to change. We need to make the intangible actually tangible without losing the intricacy that sometimes what insight might do is to influence a key decision for its impact to be felt.

We believe that every single business or organisation will benefit greatly from carrying out even a small amount of research. We are utterly convinced by this. However, in reality, I speak to many people who do not see the value in conducting research. If they had more budget, they would spend it on marketing, on sales activity or on product development. Never research.

For the research industry, it is far from clear who is responsible for proving ROI – agencies, clients, support organisations.

At Profundo, we consider evidencing the impact of our work as a no-brainer and will make it a key part of our offering to clients. Assessing what makes a particular research campaign successful and judging its performance is an exercise which is as good for us as it is for our clients.

Drop me a line to discuss this topic further.