Poker, engagement and a view from the church

Talking points from the MRS Impact Conference 2019

We round up the talking points from MRS Impact 2019

“How do you reach the silent 97%?” asked MP Nicky Morgan in her MRS Impact Conference speech. The astonishing revelation that only 3% of her constituency had contacted her to talk about Brexit since the 2016 referendum, instantly got the conference Twitter feed buzzing. However, fittingly, it was the idea of engagement to which the data alluded that needed the most exploration.

The most impactful sessions this year were those that unpacked this pertinent question, transposing Morgan’s silent majority from politics to customers. How can we encourage them to step forward and share their views?

Building engagement

‘Smash the One-Way Mirror: Immersing Ourselves in Others’ Lives’ emphasised that the industry needs to move beyond objectivity to get to the heart of what customers think. ‘Open Dialogue’ is already a core part of Quadrangle’s customer consultancy, so it was interesting to see what thoughts others in the industry have around this. Less formal hierarchies of being and a psychology of belonging mean it’s no longer a one-way relationship with brands. Brands also need to recognise that a cultural shift towards a shared economy has put fair exchange at the top of the agenda for customers.

To get to the heart of what customers think, brands need to immerse themselves in their world. Developing a closer, less neutral, relationship with participants in groups and panels – for example through customer closeness workshops – brings fresh perspective to insight.

Being transparent

Trust and transparency were the twin prisms through which engagement was viewed in ‘Brand Trust and Consumer Engagement in a Polarised Society’. Customers increasingly view brands, and even whole sectors, with scepticism. The session delved into the 2018 data breeches and scandals and asked what brands can do to win back the trust. The five changes that brands can make today are:

  • Take a long hard look at your company and find out what your customers really want
  • Own up to your mistakes
  • What are you proud to talk about? What are you ashamed to talk about? That’s your barometer for change
  • Be open
  • Have empathy

Mark Shayler struck a final counter note to the dominant wisdom that telling the story is paramount: “Don’t tell stories, convey facts,” he urged. It’s a salutary reminder that insight can bring the facts to life without embroidering them.

Gender politics

Gender was centre stage in ‘Getting Gender Right: Strategies for Representative and Effective Marketing’. Yet it seemed that some delegates didn’t get the memo. How few men had an interest in, or felt the need to attend the session was noted. Given this, it was no surprise that according to Kantar’s global research 80% of marketeers believe that women are portrayed correctly in advertisements while 45% of consumers concur.

Insight also revealed advertising is still awash with stereotyping. Adverts for baby products still have a 90% female-led narrative. Meanwhile 51% of ads featuring men use humour to tell a story compared to 22% of those featuring women. Marketing for older women was similarly archaic: if you’re not musing about your imminent demise from the deck of an OAP cruise sailing down the rivers of ad land, there’s little left for you pointed out Lynne Parker. All this emphasised the disconnect between some brands and their target market. Yet, while we certainly live in a state of cultural flux, brands should have no problem navigating this, if they find authenticity and connect with who their customers really are.

Authentic man

Being authentic is central to everything that Reverend Richard Coles stands for. Talking in the keynote interview with Quadrangle’s deputy chairman Alison Camps, Coles revealed himself to be warm, fascinating and uplifting. Transitioning from member of the headlining 80s band, the Communards, to a Church of England priest with a civil partnership along the way, can only be undertaken with honesty, humour and self-awareness.

Coles also demonstrated an astute take on understanding the strength of your ‘brand’. “I don’t want religion to be demystified,” he said, “I want it to be impossible and mad. Vicars can open the door to something which has real durability, even if they seem to be growing marginalised. But people still like to connect to a deeply ingrained story.”  He also pointed out, tongue firmly in cheek, the benefit of an instantly recognisable logo.

Summing up

The conference was closed with wit and eloquence by Victoria Coren Mitchell. Journalist, presenter and international poker champion Mitchell has honed her ability to read her audience. However, she revealed that sometimes it’s knowing how you’re perceived yourself that gives you the ultimate edge. There are people in a poker room who still attribute her wins to luck rather than skill because of her gender – and count their losses because of it. When you consider her tournament winnings exceed $2,470,000, that’s quite an error of judgement.

It’s up to the market research industry to make sure brands don’t make a similar pitfall.