kubi blog


May 2017

New horizons, new pastures

After two years in Old Street, I’m delighted to announce that kubi kalloo’s global head office is moving to a larger premises to accommodate our growing team and client base.  Just a short walk from Old Street or Liverpool Street stations, the new premises at 3 Scrutton Street, London EC2A 4HF is an exciting and bright multi-level location.   Later this month we also welcome Louise Hanger to our insights team.  Louise is a passionate young researcher who will be a strong support to our tourism clients.

If you’re in the area, please do drop in – we’d love to host you for drinks on our lovely rooftop garden!


Inside-out – A revolution in consumer consciousness:
(ESOMAR Congress – Amsterdam, September 2017)

A recent article I read talked about the mobile phone addiction of young consumers (diplomatically NOT called Millennials) triggers a physiological response which mirrors that of substance use disorders – aka drug addiction.  Known as “dependence syndrome”, this mobile addiction has begun to create quite serious health and social consequences in society today, particularly in technology rich countries.  We have already observed the sharp rise in cyber-bullying and its potentially shocking consequences, however, many psychologists fear there is worse to come, with dependence syndrome linked to stress, insomnia, eating disorders and depression.

All very interesting, but you might be wondering what the ‘so what?’ is for the consumer insights and marketing industries.  This is something I’ve been pondering recently, as all I’m hearing and reading in our industry literature relates to conducting more and more mobile research.  As an advocate of mobile research for the right reasons (i.e. the right research objectives, audience and design), I’m now questioning the ethical responsibility we share in trying to tap into this social addiction.  Perhaps more importantly, this reflection raises questions about the effects of many others changes on the human brain, psychology and physiology we may be overlooking as we ‘chase’ consumers, trying to understand, communicate with and connect with them.

Driven by the need to know more, we’ve embarked on a mission to better understand human change and its impact on how we could (or should) do research as well as its potential impact on marketing of the future.  This investigation covers areas such as mindfulness, children’s education, the unconscious ‘training’ of consumers as pseudo-marketers, why our industry is failing to predictive measurement and how new approaches to understanding consumer psychology can better help forecast the future.

All will be revealed at ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam (September 2017) when we present our Huxley-esque vision of consumer research and marketing in the future.  Watch for the paper called, “Inside Out” at this year’s ESOMAR Congress.


Tasting wine ‘more taxing than maths’

In case you’ve been waiting for an excuse to fuel a love for wine… now you almost certainly have one!   According to a short article in Decanter’s May 2017 magazine, wine tasting is apparently ‘more taxing than maths’.  Yale neuroscientist, Gordon Shepherd reveals all in his book Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine – a fascinating read and a great partner to my other current favourite book, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating by Professor Charles Spence.

But back to wine for now – according to Shepherd, the process from seeing, smelling, tasting, manipulating wine in your mouth, swallowing and appreciating wine requires a remarkable interaction of sensory, motor and central brain systems.  Perhaps, more importantly, it is extraordinarily pleasurable (assuming you’ve bought the right wine!).

Yet further evidence of the wonderful things our brain can do and the magical interaction between the neurological and sensory worlds.   Who needs a better excuse to indulge in a favourite activity that will keep the brain and senses stimulated?!  I seriously can’t think of one.


Why art makes us happy

We love art.  Traditional, modern, photography, sculpture, street art… all forms of art.  Not only is it a core medium of story-telling in our industry, art has a far more powerful and meaningful role in world.  Put simply, it makes us happy.  And what could be more meaningful than that?

A recent scientific study conducted by Professor Semir Zeki, Chair in Neuroaesthetics at University College London reveals that art has the power to generate as much joy as being head over heels in love.   Which begs the question, why does art make us so happy?  Furthermore, how can take advantage of this gift in business and marketing?

First, let’s address the ‘why’ question, albeit in layman’s terms – a far cry from the knowledge Professor Zeki is clearly able to contribute.  Simply put, looking at (attractive art) increases the blood flow to the parts of the brain responsible for generating pleasure and desire, mirroring the feelings of looking at someone whom you love.  Indeed, the blood flow amongst the random sample was proportionate to the degree to which the respondent liked the art piece being tested (a range were explored), confirming what has been intuitively known for years, but supporting the ongoing importance of art in society.

Our reason for loving this evidence is more pragmatic – that is, we believe a shared passion for art and design can add enormous value to our client relationships, particularly, (but not exclusively), when it comes to product and packaging development.  For this reason, we’ve expanded our repertoire of design experts to support kubi kalloo – forging partnerships with Chris Bangle – former head of design at BMW and world design legend; Elisabetta Tovo – an extraordinary architect and interior design consultant and Andrew (Grassi) Kelaher – Australian artist, snow sculptor and super talented experiential street artist.  Delighted to be able to tap into these diverse resources in addition to our traditional design and video production partners to support the transition of conceptual ideas into tangible products, spaces, or just beautiful things to admire!

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8500012/Brain-scans-reveal-the-power-of-art.html


January 2017

From social listening to social understanding

It is not surprising that the rapid expansion in social media breadth (content type) and depth (content volume) has provided our industry with an exciting array of data to analyse.  Like a frenzy of excitable sharks drawn to this veritable explosion of social media plankton, researchers have approached the feeding frenzy in a number of different ways – some of which now seem to be under scrutiny in the public eye.

The diversity in use and measurement of social media impact suggests it is time to develop a new vernacular around ideas like ‘social listening’, particularly when it comes to integrating this understanding with our knowledge of social media personas and cultural motivations.

We know, for instance, that individuals behave and interact differently in a social context, and that for some, the guise of anonymity offered by both the ubiquity and spontaneity of social media tools has magnified this difference.  Individuals motivated by what we call the, ‘Cult Of First’, for instance, (first to be ‘in the know’), will generate a very different type of social data than those motivated by ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out).  Similarly, individuals who live through their social media avatar will share different types and volumes of content than those for whom social media is used as a form of self-extension.

Being able to view the world of social media both from within and outside of the category helps to bring a unique and powerful perspective to social listening, such that it becomes social understanding.  Unlike ‘listening’ alone, social understanding involves awareness and interpretations of not only content, but of motivations and meaning, to enrich both its interpretation and measurement.   With this in mind, kubi kalloo has developed some exciting new partnerships to take social listening to this new level of understanding, and we hope to share a case study on this topic later in the year.

2017 – A spirited year

2017 is an exciting year for us with the launch of our Spirited sub-brand.  Designed to leverage 20 years’ worth of consumer insight, strategic, brand planning and innovation experience in the wine, beer and spirits category, kubi kalloo’s Spirited offers clients the opportunity to not only conduct regular consumer research, but to also tap into a wide array of more innovative strategic opportunities.  These include:

Specifically designed for boutique wine-makers, brewers or distillers who might not have the usual budget to invest in high-end brand and advertising development, the opportunity to purchase off-the-shelf branding (brand) packaging, logo design, brand story) designed to tap into identified category brand gaps or growth areas;

Through consultative partnerships with wine experts (sommeliers, Masters of Wine, viticulturists, educators and wine-makers), the opportunity to access expert advice, KOL interviews and trade insight cost-effectively;

Expertise in global beer, wine and spirits brand and advertising tracking to support our work in branding and innovation in very pragmatic and commercially accountable way.

An exciting time and a truly Spirited year to look forward to!

Social realism and scripted reality

Quite recently, an article by Jonathan Bacon was published in Marketing Week, discussing the topic of the rise of social realism in marketing and how it is “hitting the mark” with consumers.  In siting and conversing with people behind the launch of campaigns such as Iceland’s ‘Power of Frozen’, TalkTalk’s, ‘This Stuff Matters’ and Nationwide’s ‘Voices’ campaign, the article was both interesting and thought provoking.  Whilst what has been deemed the ‘Gogglebox culture’ has certainly supported the move towards the use of ‘real people’ in advertising, this phenomenon is hardly new.  In fact, a quick reflection on history shows that reality TV programmes have been aired for over forty years, whilst the showcasing of live competitions, or even the use of reality footage, dates back to the inception of Candid Camera on mainstream television along with its rather liberal ethical codes as early as1948.

Although social realism might not, therefore, be completely new to the marketing world of 2017, we have certainly come a long way in learning what works and what does not work when we look at the portrayal of regular people in advertising. Here are some of our reflections:

Don’t hold a mirror to my life! Consumers are ready to accept advertising for what it is and the same is true for branding. Although ‘entertainment’ (including all its new hybrid guises in a world where information, marketing and entertainment are increasingly blurred), has its own set of rules, one of the most consistent points of resistance for consumers is when they feel advertising is attempting to ‘mirror’ their own reality.  Without fail, marketers who attempt to do this will inevitably fail as there is no modern ‘average’ individual, household or family, nor is there a consistent aspirational version of each.  Social realism is fine depicting an individual, group or context therefore, as long as marketing stops short of implying this is ‘typical’ or an informed norm just because it involves elements of realism.

Social realism not social reality. Equally important is recognising that the depiction of social realism is not, in fact, reality. One only has to look at so called, ‘reality’ television to know that what we might see on The Only Way is Essex, or Made in Chelsea is often a hyperbolic depiction of the reality of an individual or niche group of individuals or, indeed, a far cry from normality for many who live in these respective areas.  Even campaigns with huge success such as Dove’s Real Women don’t actually reflect a true representation of women.  Certainly, they are not actors, but they are all beautiful, confident, camera-ready women which makes their appeal considerably stronger than if they had been randomly selected and depicted in their everyday ‘real’ life context.  Just as consumers don’t wish advertisers to hold a mirror to their life, they also appreciate an aspirational (or at least air-brushed) portrayal of everyday realism, not the true warts and all version we confront behind closed doors!

A stronger role for scripted reality. Following this observation, it seems that the true balance in making social realism work in advertising is, in fact, a form of scripted reality – that which balances elements of realism with a powerful creative vision and expression. Consumers are well aware, for instance, that the depiction of ‘natural beauty’ is a far cry from being truly natural, but are happy to embrace such expressions if they strike the right balance between scripting and reality in terms of talent, environment and artistry.  Brands such as Urban Decay, Gap and Benetton have managed to achieve this in a compelling way, but even as we say this, the benchmark for what constitutes the right balance continues to evolve.  Marketers must stay cognisant of this evolution, not just within their own category’s advertising, but across all categories and popular media as reality shifts continue to move, morph and reinvent themselves.

Talent and engagement is more powerful than social realism itself. On reflection, each of these points are highly interrelated, but it is worth noting, perhaps as a conclusion on the topic of social realism in advertising, that talent and engagement is more powerful that social realism itself. Campaigns or content that works, based on our experience with consumer research, are those that simultaneously achieve two things: (1) empathy, and (2) surprise.  Advertising connection and its ultimate benefit, brand connection, is forged strongly when consumers ‘get’ what is being said, believe in it and can emotionally connect with what is being said or portrayed.  This allows the consumer to feel spontaneous empathy without having to focus on whether the individual, family or context portrayed in the advertising is accurate in its reflection of their own reality.  The second element, surprise, is what cuts through the advertising clutter.  Messaging or creative expression allows us to say, ‘wow’ – it is both unexpected and intriguing, stimulating the senses and acting as a catalyst for the emotional connection to become memorable and/or talkable.  Nationwide’s ‘Voices’ campaign does exactly this.  It balances real people and their talent, but often the power of the artistry is so evocative and the idea behind the campaign sufficiently novel to create what we call, ‘empathetic disruption’.  This, we believe, is considerably more powerful than focussing on the notion of social realism itself and explains why these campaigns have struck a chord with both viewers and media commentators.


Customer centricity 2.0

I recently found myself judging the Customer-Centricity section of the UK Business Awards.  A decade on from authoring an ESOMAR award-winning paper on the topic, it struck me as fascinating that the topic of Customer-Centricity has boomeranged back into vogue (excuse the Antipodean idiom of course!).  Not only does it form an integral pillar of the UK Business Awards, it has re-emerged as a popular topic in market research conferences, reinforcing the theme as a cornerstone and lasting accolade of our industry.  At the same time, it is interesting to ask the question as to if and how customer-centricity as a concept has evolved over the past ten years.  Sure, many of the initiatives for listening to the voice of the customer have evolved, with technology, in-the-moment data capture and social media monitoring proving more important and new digital systems being used internally to monitor and socialise real time information.  But what else has changed?

One of the real challenges for customer-centricity, from what I have been privy to from recent award submissions and conference papers, is that it continues to be grounded in customer feedback which is mostly retrospective although, admittedly, more real-time than ever before.  As a result, organisations are generally basing their customer-centric philosophy and operating engine on an adapted version of Total Quality Management – focussing on informing change, planning, activating and measuring change to drive continuous improvement over time.  Organisations embedding this philosophy are certainly seeing significant benefits, driving customer loyalty, advocacy and reduced operating costs. However, the deficit for customer-centricity still remains the big question of the future.  While businesses embrace market research partnerships to help try to make sense of the future through exploring emergent consumer needs and market trends, as qualitative and quantitative researchers, we know, too well, that consumers simply can’t articulate their future needs (or even their current needs!) particularly well.  And even when it comes to trends, the analysis of trends and semiotics continues to be based on what is already evident in the market, and not what might become evident in the future.  This is not so much a criticism of our industry or tools (which are constantly evolving in recognition of these challenges), but an effort to highlight that true customer-centricity needs to equally consider approaches that are more balanced between forward-looking and retrospective tools, and information collection/diagnostic processes.

Post the embarrassment of representing myself as Yoda at the IIeX Europe conference, we’ve spent a great deal of time with our clients taking on this challenge in an effort to define and design Customer-Centricity 2.0.  As the tools and foundational instruments (customer experience journeys, innovation and claims roadmaps, future needs elicitation, even segmentation) become forward-looking, so too can the evaluation tools adapt to consider both the impacts of marketing on past behaviour and emotional response, but also on future behaviour and the response it generates.  This is a challenging vision, but without it, Customer-Centricity risks having an artificial ceiling, remaining independent from and artificially separated from the innovation, R&D and futures functions of the business.

October 2016

I never thought I was that vain…

…until the unexpected occurred. Like most market research agencies, I guess we didn’t even realise we had a mirror in our office until the day we didn’t have it. If you’ve ever visited the kubi kalloo offices in Old Street, you’ll know our furniture is sourced from the ‘playground’ and art deco sections of one of Italy’s most wonderful antique arcades (complete with Leo the horse whose picture graces our blog this month).

Of course, our rather psychedelic bathroom was also lit with a laminated mirror from aforementioned shores, so equally predictably, (in hindsight of course), the lighting would short-fuse itself and the entire mirror removed for repair.

And so ensued a period of mirror-less kubi kalloo existence. Now, you’re probably asking why this is vaguely interesting, let alone the topic of an agency blog. Well, the truth is that, if you had asked any of the kubi kalloo team how important it was for them to have a mirror in the bathroom, I would hazard a guess that the response would have been ‘not at all important’; ‘bottom two box scores’, or whatever methodological or analytic equivalent you might prefer. The truth is, none of us had any idea of the social and psychological impact that single mirror played in our personal and collective lives at kubi kalloo. All of a sudden, the reality of loss aversion and the true importance of deprivation studies as a means to highlighting the true impact of meaning for elements of our lives so deeply rooted in the unconscious becomes highlighted.

Deprivation studies that deny consumers of a behaviour they are aware of is a wasteful exercise. Deprivation studies that deny consumers the experience of a brand is of limited value – as resourceful humans, we are trained in the art of substitution, so these experiments are rarely unconscious and, therefore, ‘interesting’ at most. Deprivation studies, however, involving aspects of everyday life that are barely regarded, let alone noticed, can reveal truly rich and meaningful insight about what is important in the context of modern living. It is these types of revelations that will continue to provoke ideas and inspiration for change, and has reinvigorated our first-hand understanding of the importance of well-founded and tested research techniques.

I don’t wish you the seven years’ of bad luck mirror breaking might confer, but I do implore you to find an everyday experience you’ve never considered of enormous value in your business or home environment and change it. What’s the worst that can happen?!


Promises promises

Is it that claims research has become more popular, or perhaps it is something about our offer that has attracted a disproportionate number of claims projects this year? Either way, the increased focus on claims has led us to a new level of understanding about the role of claims, and the interactions between rational and emotional, implicit and explicit brand and product communication. Why is it, for instance, that some forms of messaging can generate extraordinary levels of engagement, to a point where they link directly to emotional gratification and, in doing so, can seem to be accepted almost independent of any consumer-perceived product credibility…. whilst others can be considered appealing and credible, but end up failing to convert into sales growth or brand loyalty?

The answers to such questions aren’t simple and they certainly shine the spotlight on some of the shortfalls of traditionally used methods to evaluate and prioritise product claims, mainly because they under-estimate the complexity of how consumers really absorb and respond to communication. In order to truly understand how claims work and how they can be optimised, we, as researchers, need to be more fully cognisant of the disciplines of linguistics, semantics, semiotics, psychology and neuro-science. Consumers can’t simply read and respond to words or ideas in isolation, nor can we anticipate how they interpret meaning simply through using system 2 research methods.

We also need to be able to determine and/or predict how dimensions such as credibility change over time. For instance, a claim that lacks any credibility today, may well be extremely powerful if it also carries a stronger link to a consumer’s hopes and dreams because it infers ‘credibility optimism’ – essential to potency to drive demand which facilitates the required supply-side shift to enable the claim to be feasible in a shorter time-frame. Conversely, claims that have strong credibility may lack perceived power because the way consumers respond to their communication is largely non-verbal, yet many agencies still test lexicon in isolation of the required semiotic codes that fundamentally trigger the emotional side of the response.

Our claimology model has been developed to integrate our understanding of these different perspectives to provide a more holistic and robust framework for our clients across both current and future commercial horizons. Stay tuned for more – hopefully, we’ll be in a position to present the claimology model and its impact in an up-coming conference soon!

“How long has the iTunes icon been red?”

This was a question posed by someone in our office recently, sparking energetic debate about whether the iTunes icon was indeed red, blue, or some other colour altogether. Interestingly, the discussion was focussed around what colour the icon actually was, but a far more interesting question for us as a research community is around the topic of change when it comes to brand representation.

Whilst renovation in logo or branding design certainly can keep a brand fresh, often these changes are explored with consumers to determine likeability, meaning and preference. Going beyond these measures, brands like Apple will, undoubtedly, have researched the more implicit and behavioural implications of iconography change – how readily consumers recognise, find and are therefore able to use a program or app are useful measures of how the true effects of these changes (in addition to how it impacts their perceptions or engagement with the brand of course). Presumably, if consumers are looking for the wrong coloured logo or icon when searching, it will take them longer and generate potentially more frustration in the usage process.

Should this be cause for concern?

Obviously, if the majority of the market uses colour heuristics in their app or program searches, it is a cause for concern IF these effects outweigh any implicit benefits of the icon’s colour change. In other words, in addition to knowing the likeability, preference, meaning and behavioural impacts of logo or icon change, brands also need to consider the relative importance of different heuristics across their base of loyal, intermittent and target acquisitions.

More importantly, perhaps, is the timing around communication of a branding change. Often brands will spend huge amounts upon brand, logo or packaging launch to ensure consumers are aware of the branding changes, but then assume that these changes become quickly assimilated in consumer memory and this memory assimilation is ‘sticky’ over time. Perhaps it is in many cases, but in the case of less frequent users or those not as familiar with the brand, this may not be the case, suggesting that ‘refresher’ campaigns may be essential to consider earlier in the planning piece rather than leaving these too late and assuming the new heuristics are adopted.

May 2016

It’s hard to believe we are already hurtling towards the rather intimidating month of June – otherwise known as half-way through the year!  More startling, perhaps, is what the year of 2016 has brought us thus far.  One only has to hear the name ‘Donald Trump’ to realise that something very odd seems to have blown ‘in from the west’.

Whilst politics of the world may be one of the most talked about themes of 2016 so far, it is certainly far too big a topic and too remote from our expertise in consumer and brand marketing for kubi kalloo to comment meaninfully upon.   At the same time, it does raise some interesting questions about consumer psychology and branding, so we thought we’d share some of these questions with you as we welcome Spring into our hearts.


Trumpisms – the power of emotional rhetoric

One thing you cannot accuse Donald Trump of is holding back on personal opinion.  Love him or loathe him, the outspoken Mr Trump is a stark reminder of the humanity that sits within the hearts and minds of the voting population.  Perhaps, for too long, politics has bred a culture of strategically sculptured speeches, balanced expressions, and ‘cautiously couched’ sentiment. It would be easy to forget that the ‘consumers’ of democracy – its residents and voters – are human and, therefore, by definition, deeply emotional individuals.  As Daniel Kahneman and other behavioural economists have repeatedly reminded us, people primarily respond instinctively and emotionally and this is exactly what seems to be what Donald Trump’s rhetoric is connecting with.  His ability to provoke reaction through appealing to base emotions such as fear and packaging them into a ‘no-nonsense’, impulsive hard-hitting way seems to be winning over the more considered, rational and ‘sensible’ approaches of either his own counterparts, or his Democratic opponents.  Strange, but true, the very fact that ‘Trumpisms’ have earned their own urban vernacular is, indeed, testament to laws of System 1 winning over System 2 in the US political debate.

It is also interesting that this turn of events is in line with our predictions made back in 2013 based on our ‘StorybrandingTM’ model of archetypal trends and influences.  I was asked to speak at a corporate event about trends, and highlighted that ‘popularity’ throughout history, was ultimately driven by archetype patterns.  For instance, in times of great complexity, the ‘strategist’ is more successful in leadership, whilst, in periods of fear and uncertainty, the ‘innocent’ proves popular, both in terms of leadership as well as popular culture.  Using this model, we were able to explain the apparently inexplicable (i.e. the popularity of Justin Bieber and One Direction!), but also able to predict that the next ‘wave’ of popular leaders would be potentially far more aggressive, opinionated and outspoken in their demeanour.

This prediction may seem to be coming true.  However we feel about that, it’s interesting to consider what it might mean for brands and what the new meaning of success might be.


Brands behaving badly

Perhaps not quite as controversial as Donald Trump, but following a similar theme is the question of why it is that we seem to have seen a plethora of high profile brands (e.g. Google paying only £20m in taxes on revenues of £3bn in 2013 and VW, currently engulfed in a huge scandal for rigging emissions tests on its diesel engines) ‘behaving badly’ recently?  Is it simply the case that media ubiquity means more scrutiny on brand behaviour and communication?  Or is there something more to it?

Although the ‘bad’ behaviour of these brands has certainly had a damaging impact on their financial value and, most likely, on customer trust, the resilience of these brands seems much stronger than it should be given the sentiment and sensationalism of their media exposure.  Why might this be the case?  Have consumers become de-sensitised to media stories?  Are we more tolerant of big brands behaving badly because we ‘expect’ them to?  Or is it that we simply don’t care as much as we might have perhaps twenty years ago?

One of our hypotheses to add to this list once again uses an understanding of brands and archetypes, but flips typical archetype theory on its head.  Instead of thinking about brands as archetypes, if we believe that consumers have a dominant archetype they find ‘aspirational’, this would suggest there is a group of consumers, globally, who aspire to brands that reflect the ‘rebel’ archetype.  In other words, for this group of consumers, brands that display behaviour or values of rebellion, disruption, hedonism and mischievousness will be applauded for their efforts.  Depending on the size of this consumer segment, brands that are called out for their ‘bad behaviour’ in the media may end up seeing virtually no impact on their bottom line.  Obviously, it is not the only possible explanation, but worth considering and definitely worth knowing what archetypes ones customers find aspirational!

What’s with the animals?

Animals in advertising.  Ok, this topic is nothing new, but it does seem that the use of animals in current advertising may have moved from cute and amusing to verging on ridiculous and even confusing!

So what are the ‘rules’ for using animals in advertising?  Why are they used and where should the boundaries lie?  We thought we’d better explore the meaning and impact of animals in advertising – with some interesting results.

Animals in advertising have a long history of proven neurological, emotional and behavioural impacts.  Amos (2010), talks about the success of animals being linked to the way they are used in advertising (anthropomorphism or instilling them with human characteristics); McCutchen reports that consumers are naturally attracted to animals and Hirschman 1994 that people find them fascinating due to our anthropological disposition to relate to other beings.  Whichever the true driver, one only has to look at the overwhelming infatuation with Meerkats across the UK to understand just how powerful the use of animals as brand icons can actually be.

Interestingly, a recent study by Sherril M. Stone of Northwestern Oklahoma State University[1] suggests that animals are used more in Insurance advertising than any other category – originally intended to communicate emotional reassurance through associations with security, safety and reliability, but more recently, through the use of humour as a key engagement strategy.  What is important, however, is not only what type of animal is used, but also the way it is depicted.  The use of ‘real’ animals is strong in driving emotional engagement and empathy with brands whilst the use of ‘cartoon’ or animated animals is often stronger in driving behavioural impact, such as salience and humour.

Equally importantly, brands need to consider the interaction between the type of animal and its representation.  Basically, the results are clear – if you’re going to use a dog, make it a real dog; but if you want to use a bear or a gecko, its best to stick to the cartoon version!

So, although we have learnt something about animals in advertising, it certainly hasn’t explained why humans wearing zebra heads appear in B&Q’s recent advertising.  Perhaps it’s just us, but in everything we’ve read, we can’t make ‘head nor tail’ of the use of ‘manimals’ in advertising, but look forward to seeing if it’s enough to turn the brand around.

[1] Stone, Sherril M., The Psychology of Using Animals in Advertising, 2014 Hawaii University International Conferences Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

January 2016

Da Vinci, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin..why we need more Polymaths

The first time I heard the expression, ‘Polymath’, I was truly excited. Suddenly, the pressure to be squeezed into a seemingly ill-fitting specialist qualitative or quantitative pigeon-hole was lifted. Instead, for the first time, I felt that there might be a place in the market research world for those with divergent backgrounds, skill-sets and passions. A place where individuals with both right and left-brain proficiency could find their place, working differently to further our industry.

Coincidentally, a friend shared this Ted Talk on ‘Multipotentialites’ with me just last night – https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling?language=en. Whichever expression we use, whether it be ‘Polymaths’, ‘Scanners’ or ‘Multipotentialites’, the idea Emilie Wapnick shares in her talk reinforces this feeling of freedom, but also excitement about the possibilities and potential for such individuals in our industry.

In founding and growing kubi kalloo, (and previously ruby cha cha), I have always been committed to pursuing the dream of being an agency of global Polymaths – a dream of finding the most unique and diversely talented individuals, even if those ‘talents’ aren’t the traditional ones we associate with qualitative or quantitative research specialists. Ray Poynter also authored a post on LinkedIn recently, talking about the importance of ‘hinterland’ skills and passions, which also talks to this idea of individuals bringing diversity and perspective from other areas into their professional domain. The underlying belief is that nothing is unrelated, but perhaps more importantly, that diversity in perspective and exploration of disciplinary intersections – whether they be creative arts, language, culture, science or sport – is the key to forging exciting new innovation. They are naturally more adept at idea synthesis (which is the number one need in our industry today according to client feedback); they tend to be faster learners, more adaptable and more engaging story tellers through their ability to borrow on diverse experiences or even sound bites of knowledge. This is why we need to continue to embrace Polymaths and why I’m excited to continue my pursuit to promote their opportunities in the research arena.

In the words of Emilie Wapnick, to all Polymaths out there, “Embrace your inner wiring!”

Feeling blue? Using colour to measure emotional impact in marketing

So this is the working title of our upcoming IIeX Europe 2016 presentation (perhaps NOT in a Yoda costume this time!). I’m personally very excited to share this idea which is based around the hypothesis that individuals are able to express their feelings and emotions in colour, but also that, that changes in these colours which are generated by marketing activities can be measured, and their outcomes (i.e. brand relationships or propensity to buy) predicted as an outcome.

The idea came to us when I recognised that I tended to ‘sum up’ a day through projecting the colour(s) I was ‘feeling’. On further investigation, we found that an enormous amount of literature already exists across disciplines (including the arts as well as psychology and marketing), on the meaning of colours and their cultural differences. Interestingly, very little has been documented on the ‘inside-out’ perspective – i.e. whether people can express their moods and emotions in colour.

The study we undertook (quantitative study of N=1,000 UK respondents) was supported by SSI, to whom we are obviously enormously grateful, and although the results are still in the analysis phase, we are excited to report that at least some of our hypotheses seem to be supported. What is most exciting is the prospect that, now we have confirmed the relationship between emotions and colour; that marketing communication can change emotions, and that these changes can also affect the emotional and conative relationship with a brand…. It may be possible to simply measure colour alone as a pre and post respondent indicator to predict marketing impact!

Perhaps pre-emptive excitement, but certainly something we are looking forward to validating in combination with biometric and further qualitative testing.

Are we an industry of liars?

Let’s hope not! I’ve always been a huge fan of Dan Ariely, so when we wrote our ESOMAR Congress 2015 paper, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, we made our best attempt to investigate the theme of conscious and unconscious dishonesty as discussed in Ariely’s book, the Honest Truth About Dishonesty. Whilst we also covered the topics of respondent engagement and response consideration, based on audience response at the conference, it would seem that the topic of lying was perhaps the most startling and concerning for research practitioners and their clients.

Here’s some facts which have come to light, although we should be careful to point out, that, unable to afford the same depth of experimentation as Ariely et al, they are all self-reported findings from our study (UK based, n=1,000 respondents).

  • 12% of respondents acknowledge they consciously give false answers in quantitative research and 24% in focus groups, suggesting that social ‘pressure’ and an expectation of always having an answer may be a strong driver in ‘encouraging’ conscious dishonesty
  • 19% of qualitative respondents say they lie to recruiters and moderators about how often they attend focus groups; and a similar figure, 21% of respondents actually tell us that recruiters tell them to lie!
  • Acknowledging that the figures above are likely to be understated if we were to dig deeper (and also to include unconscious lying), we asked respondents whether they thought other people lied in market research with the intention of understanding whether “truth-weaving” might be becoming a socially acceptable practice. 44% of respondents agreed that others don’t tell the truth, reinforcing our hypothesis
  • The above figures become even more important when we learn that dishonesty not only affects our confidence in research outcomes, but also the quality of response, with ‘truth tellers’ being 51% more engaged in our research according to our implicit measures such as time spent and number of unique words provided in open-ended questions
  • Finally, despite our hypothesis that incentivisation levels can mitigate dishonesty, we found no difference in honesty measures across different levels of respondent incentives.

The above are some of the most significant observations that struck us about respondent truth-weaving, but have been instrumental, in combination with the even more compelling learnings about respondent engagement, in helping us re-define industry best-practice when it comes to recruitment and market research participation. For instance, we’ve evolved our recruitment processes with trusted partners to provide greater confidence, including direct dialogue between moderator and respondents prior to the research. We’ve also introduced a new survey introduction mechanism and honesty declaration/assessment which we believe encourages greater honesty and transparency in quantitative research. Finally, we’ve re-assessed our industry heritage when it comes to ‘professional’ respondents. In fact, in some of our proprietary processes (such as Urban Spies and Yoda’s Toolkit for future innovation), we actively train respondents to optimise their engagement, understanding and contribution within the research tasks. Subtle changes, but vital for us to be confident our illuminations are based on genuine, honest data, not data for the sake of respondent reward.


November 2015

What the dog saw

Almost became our new brand name, but we never heard back from Malcolm Gladwell on how he’d feel about that, (and it made for a long-winded email address). Dogs are integral at kubi kalloo, as they remind us to see the world in a very different light. No-one knows this better than Cesar Millan, the ‘Dog Whisperer’. He reminds us that dogs don’t see the world in the way we do, but, importantly, are guided by the association between a ‘smell’ and an ‘energy’.

Once a dog senses their owner’s energy, in particular, they respond to it in an System 1 way. For instance, if the owner of a miniature poodle is walking their pooch on a lead and is approaching a fellow dog owner walking a large Rottweiler, she, (the owner of the miniature poodle), might be inclined to pull the lead closer to her, sensing a potential risk of aggression. Implicitly, in doing so, she has ‘told’ her poodle that she is nervous and somewhat scared of the approaching gentleman and his Rottweiler. As all good dogs know, protecting their master is a priority, so the poodle is likely to bare its teeth, growl, or show other signs that are misinterpreted as aggression, when really they are only being instinctively protective. The act itself further acts as a reinforcement for the owner. She is thinking, “that Rottweiler must have been ready to attack, forcing my little one to protect itself”.

Seeing the world through the eyes of a dog forces us, as researchers to look at people and their behaviour differently. It helps to remind us that the ‘obvious’ answers about consumer behaviour are probably not the right ones, and that the secret to truly understanding, influencing or modifying behaviour often lie in responses that may be cued from deep within the reptilian brain. It also helps to remind us that even we, as consumers, misinterpret our System 1 responses more often than not, reinforcing our System 2 beliefs.

To imprint these reminders in our business and to serve as a constant reminder to improve and create new ethnographic and qualitative tools to unlock the real ‘why’s behind behaviour, we’ve welcomed little kubi on board. He’s gorgeous and naughty and a constant reminder to look at the world in a whole new light. We’re now just waiting for kalloo to come along.


MRS best new agency of the year award

We’re thrilled to announce that we are one of three finalists for the MRS Best New Agency of the Year Award – the winner of which will be announced on 7th December here, in London. A very proud moment, but what does this really mean?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure. Yes, we have a building portfolio of clients, solid growth trajectory, powerful and innovative research approaches, a growing team of super smart and commercially intelligent individuals, but where has this growth really come from? And what is the global insights market really looking for?

It might seem nonsense to ask this question after the fact. Of course we have a strong sense of brand and business planning, but one of the client questions that always sets me reeling is this: “what is your point of difference?”. On the surface, it’s a great question, or so it would seem… but interrogate the question for a moment and you’ll see it makes no sense – or perhaps it is simply being asked of the wrong people. You see, we’re an insights and planning agency, not a client. As a result, we don’t really know what our competitors do – sure, we review their websites and get a sense of what they say they do, but a lot of this sounds like the same thing, expressed in a different series of words and images. So asking us what makes us different is like us asking what makes Heineken different from Carlsberg. It may only be my opinion, but only customers can really answer that – we can just invent the marketing spiel around it.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but this desire to find a point of difference, in combination with the emergence of an over-supply of fledgling agencies, has certainly created a competitive environment where specialisation is not only savvy, but demanded by clients. Specialisation makes it easy to put an agency in a ‘bucket’ – to align their skills to the right types of projects. But what if that specialisation is more synthesised thinking; the ability to distil insights from anywhere and turn them into seeds of growth; to identify, provoke and facilitate change. What ‘bucket’ do we get put in?

So as we head towards the exciting date of December 7th, I continue to ponder what makes us one of the three best new agencies when our point of difference sits in the minds of our clients and our ‘specialisation’ is not technology, methodology or even project type based. I guess we’ll need to find out from our clients and hope to capture that magic in our marketing collateral as we grow.

Personally, I think it just helped that our application was written as a poem, but I could be totally wrong.


Of courage and mirrors

It’s been a great second half to our year following our rebranding from ruby cha cha UK to kubi kalloo. We’ve outgrown our old office and spent time renovating our Old Street office. It’s sort of Italian fairground art deco if one finds that imaginable!

Our team has also doubled in size, most recently welcoming Anna Williams and Craig Wingate on board, which smoothes out capacity, particularly when it comes to the larger global projects.

I also humbly accepted the Ginny Valentine Badge of Courage Award at IIeX Atlanta earlier in the year – an award for ‘Constantly Pushing the Boat Out’.   A very proud moment, as I’m surely an undeserved recipient, but ‘pushing the boat out’ is certainly something we are dedicated to constantly doing in our efforts to keep the insights industry as fresh, passionate and innovative as possible. A true honour to accept an award in Ginny’s name and lasting memory.

Our paper, ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’ also receive a nomination for Best Overall Paper at this year’s ESOMAR Congress in Dublin. Another proud moment for us. The paper was based on a self-funded piece of qual and quant work and kindly supported by our partners in crime, SSI, QRS, Podengo and General Mills. Even as a co-author of the paper, I must admit, that researching the researcher proved to be a fascinating topic! If you want to hear the truth about what consumers think of moderators, how disengaged they often are or how much they lie, then the paper is definitely worth a read. Most importantly, we’ve used the findings to develop a toolkit so that we can offer clients a series of recruitment, design, moderation and questionnaire adaptations that truly deliver more engagement, consideration and respondent honesty. It’s the translation of our learning into client benefit that makes us most proud of these efforts.

An ode to Shakespeare, Enimem and Carol Ann Duffy

Question: What do Shakespeare, Eminem and Carol Ann Duffy have in common?

Answer: they are all masterful story-tellers. According to a recent study, story-telling ranks amongst the top 3 skill-sets sought from insights professionals, but can story-telling be taught?

It’s an interesting question, and begs us to separate the role of the story to be told with the skills and personality of the teller of the story.

In our industry, whether we are developing a debrief from traditional research methods, or from neuro-marketing, digital ethnography or social listening, the importance of story-telling cannot be under-estimated. Indeed, the power of the story-telling determines how well the insights are (a) heard, (b) understood, (c) socialised, and (d) translated into brand/business growth. Yet, having worked in the industry for almost twenty years, it continues to strike me as intriguing that few researchers can truly explain the process of ‘discovering’ an insight, let alone articulating it. When we do focus on story-telling, it is generally synonymous with presentation skills, and yet a powerfully told story is often much more than a powerpoint presentation.

Take Walt Disney as a great example of a story-teller – a man who wouldn’t stop just with the story, but whose vision meant his stories were turned into lifetime experiences; memories. Dreams. Or Shakespeare, who manages to tell multiple stories simultaneously, each of which dovetails effortlessly via rich archetypes and clever use of continuous serendipity. Meanwhile, listening to or watching Eminem helps us to appreciate the role of feelings and emotions as a critical essence of powerful story-telling.

If story-telling is part art and part science, then we need to treat it as such.   We need to find ways to ensure the science is taught – that the story becomes the essence of everything we convey to clients, and not just an afterthought of how to divide up the presentation chapters. We need to continuously push ourselves to tell stories in different ways – in ways that shock and surprise; that stimulate and invigorate. Yes, at kubi kalloo, we tell stories in Powerpoint because it is the currency of the industry, but we also tell them in short stories, in poetry, in theatre and in film because the change of genre inspires a different level of receptiveness, both to understanding, but also to activating against the insights.

Not only do we need to focus on the story element, however. As researchers, we need to seriously consider the talent we hire. Powerful story-tellers lie in all sorts of places, which is why we make sure that all candidates bring with them a collective of tools and experiences in story-telling, whether this be theatre, song-writing, classical musicians, dance, art, creative writing or a passion for opera. It’s not that these talents dominate the psychology or statistical underpinning of their research skills, but they do make it easier to turn researchers into powerful story-tellers.