Data and Me: The Privacy Statement of Neil Sharman Ltd

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If you’ve read my blog or website (or business cards or LinkedIn page) you’ll know that Neil Sharman Ltd is a business that deals with market research data and, sometimes, other forms of data such as digital analytics.

Data security is a hot topic these days (not least because of the arrival of GDPR) so this blog piece is my public statement about my use of data – and my privacy information notice.

Please read on if you’re someone who is considering taking part in research for Neil Sharman Ltd or if you have a general interest in what I do. Anyone considering taking part will need to freely and specifically give his or her consent – and feel informed (this blog piece should help with the latter).

Firstly I should say that, as a research consultant, I work on very varied projects so I’ve based this statement on projects I’ve done in the five years that I’ve been working for myself.

When a company employ my services they typically hire me to do one or a few of several things.

They might employ me to do desk research (pulling together information in the public sphere e.g. in articles and books) or to interrogate research or data they already own.

They might employ me to generate new primary market research data, which I do by employing a research agency to conduct research with the general public or amongst business audiences.

One client company employs me to do employee research, which I do through an external research agency.

Finally, a client company might ask me to conduct qualitative research, which means I conduct depth interviews with individuals or focus groups with a handful of people in a room.

In the majority of cases I am the recipient of anonymous data. I get figures to analyse and individuals cannot be identified from the data. For example, I might see a figure that tells me, “15% of people surveyed read a certain publication in the last year” but I’ve no way of knowing who they actually are as individuals.

However, because I am involved in commissioning the production of some of the anonymous data I receive I do have responsibilities relating to the rights of the people whose data has helped build the output that I see. For these reasons I ensure all the suppliers I work with (and any companies they might outsource to) have a sensible approach to GDPR, identifying, mitigating and addressing data risk.

As research companies collecting the data they have access to identifiable data and pseudonymous data, which means they can identify individuals either directly or by using additional information (e.g. a list of respondent names and ID numbers).

They, like me, take on the role of Data Processors in the projects we work on. My client, who I am ultimately commissioning the project for, has the role of Data Controller as they determine the parameters of a project and pay me to deliver the data as specified.

Both roles (Data Processor and Data Controller) carry legal obligations and both have legal liability for any breaches. For example, Data Processors will report any breach to the Data Controller and they will report it to the ICO within 72 hours of the breach if they determine it to be a significant breach. Any individuals concerned will also be informed, where appropriate.

As a Data Processor I’m obligated to ensure the tools I use (cloud based tools, for example) are compliant with data law.

The research agencies I work with, as the holders of identifiable data and pseudonymous data, will typically undertake a privacy risk impact assessment, which may involve my clients and I if necessary, in order to determine the type and level of risks and how such risks might be mitigated and addressed. They are also well placed to write the log of what is processed, do any necessary audit relating to the project and be the point of contact if a respondent has queries.

Earlier in this blog I say that individuals cannot be identified from the information I receive. However, I should add that sometimes I receive ‘open ended responses’. This means that a respondent might have typed a response to a question into a questionnaire, rather than ticking a box.

From a researcher’s point of view it is interesting to read people describe something in their own words and open-ended responses often tell us what we didn’t know we didn’t know. When I read these open ended responses I can’t usually tell who wrote what but sometimes a respondent might give away information within their reply that might identify them.

For example, someone might write, “I’m the last remaining male in St Cuthbert’s church choir”; information from which a keen sleuth might find them.

For this reason, and for reasons of general security, I password protect all the data I receive in spreadsheet form and I keep all hard copies in a locked cupboard. I use encryption software and Secure Transfer Protocol sites too. I also delete or otherwise destroy data (e.g. by shredding) a year after collection.

Similarly, when I conduct qualitative research (like depth interviews and focus groups) I collect a lot of ‘open ended’ responses from respondents. Qualitative research is effectively a structured conversation with people and I can’t predict what they will tell me within the conversation. Again, what they say can identify them.

Also, when I conduct qualitative research I’m in possession of names and contact details of the people recruited for the research (typically by a qualitative research recruitment agency). I know their names and, of course, refer to them by name during the focus groups and interviews. I keep these details password protected and delete them once the work is done. Hard copies are destroyed.

I do record the conversations (and recorded voices can be even more easily identified than written quotes) and transcribe them later. I password protect the transcriptions (keeping hard copies and recordings in a locked cupboard) and destroy the transcriptions within a year. Recordings are deleted in less time; they are destroyed soon after transcription.

For such qualitative projects, where Neil Sharman Ltd is the main body collecting the data (i.e. there is no research firm employed to collect the data), I write the risk assessment, identifying the level of risk and how I might mitigate and address it. In these instances I am, again, the Data Processor and my client is the Data Controller.

When I’m hired to work on employee research a list of employees with an ID number allocated to each employee as well as an email address is typically sent to the research company and they send out the questionnaires to the email addresses. I shouldn’t receive this data (I’ve no need to see it) and, if I am copied in, I delete it.

However, when I receive the responses to the questionnaires I see the ‘big picture’ data and don’t see the responses at an individual level. In fact, I can’t see responses to any question where fewer than five people have responded, so that it is unlikely that an individual can be identified from the quantitative part of the results.

Therefore the main risk of someone being identified is from open-ended responses. Being employees, they might be identified by either a piece of information that can pinpoint them (“I’m the only member of marketing with a window seat”) or a turn of phrase or opinion familiar to people who know them (“as I often say to my boss, our strategy is like the 1998 FA Cup Final game”).

Consequently I apply the same processes of passwording, locking and deleting. It is noted in the risk assessment that the familiarity that bosses have with employees means there is a slightly higher risk of open-ended responses leading to identification of individuals. To mitigate and address this risk, employees are also reminded of this risk by the research agency when they are approached to take part in the research before they commit to participating.

So, there we are. I hope this explains clearly what I do and how I work with data. I hope it also demonstrates that privacy by design is my default culture. If you are a potential respondent thinking of taking part in research for Neil Sharman Ltd then agreeing to take part will be agreeing to me dealing with your data in the manner described.

If you’re interested in finding out more you request my Data Protection Policy. Also, here are the Market Research Society’s Code of Conduct and GDPR research guidance. Additionally you can contact me at neil@neilsharman.co.uk

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The research led re-design of George Osborne’s Evening Standard

mastheadEarlier this month the Evening Standard was re-launched by its editor, the ex Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

I was commissioned to conduct the focus groups for what Osborne described as “extensive research” amongst readers. YouGov conducted the quantitative element of the research.

The re-launch has caught attention and Osborne has been interviewed by the trade press. He has also been interviewed by Anne McElvoy in a live session at Ad Week Europe.

Below I’ve captured the ten best quotes from Osborne that describe his ambition for the paper, his role, the redesign and the role of advertising in the newspaper.

“[The redesign will] turn up the volume on the Evening Standard”

“What I’ve tried to do is just give the paper more influence, to give it more clout, to make it the go to paper in the country… I want its political coverage and international coverage to be credible and move events at Westminster or Whitehall or around the country”.

“To remind readers that we’re still a paper that’s heart is still in London we’ve tried to reflect the values of London, which is pro-business, socially liberal and internationalist, we’ve taken the Eros and really enhanced that and made it red”.

“My role now is to get to the things that in my previous job I would not have told you. My job now is to be the editor and I have a little bit of an advantage because I know where to look”.

“Where is the paper with a large readership that’s saying we don’t have to have Jeremy Corbyn or Jacob Rees Mogg running this country, we can have something in the middle? That to me feels like a big vacated space in the middle of the British media market. Yes, there are some broadsheets that aspire to be that but with much smaller readerships. Some of the middle market tabloids have got pretty shrill. That leaves a sodding great gap in the middle and I want to park the Standard right there”.

“Your Evening Standard reader wants to know about Kim Jong-un but also wants to know about Kim Kardashian. You can pitch to both interests. You can talk about Brexit but you can also tell people the best place to get breakfast in London”.

“Because I was talking about entertaining as well as informing, we’ve more ability [on the front cover] to puff things inside so people are drawn in [note that this can include commercial content]”.

“Good advertising can make it [the newspaper] look better”.

“Very simply our paper is available for free so we’ve got to raise money in advertising and sponsorship to provide that product for free and we’re not proud of that in any sort of sniffy sense. We will work with every advertiser to design a product that works with the newspaper and we will wrap the paper as many times as we’re asked to wrap it”.

“[On sponsorships] I don’t feel in any way compromised by these partnerships. I think they are enormously strengthening to the paper because they allow us to invest in good quality journalism and, in some cases, things we would not have been so well staffed to cover we can cover more. As of last week we now have a three-page travel section that we didn’t have before”.

The new look paper looks pretty smart and includes many ideas generated by the reader research. They were fascinating focus groups to moderate and we covered a lot of ground. Londoners are opinionated and passionate about their paper and I suspect it will dominate their commutes for years to come.

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What do city investors think about brands, ad spend and media? Take outs from the Citi Research paper at the @Newsworks_uk Shift conference

pexels-photo.jpgThe Newsworks Shift 2018 conference began with a particularly interesting, scene setting presentation from Citi Research’s Catherine O’Neill.   It was billed as, “what investors really think about brands, advertising and marketing.”

Below I’ve listed what, to me, were the key points and quotes. Against a dark sky of short termism there are rays of hope for ad spend and the established media.

Advertising hasn’t been seen as appropriate in the current, low growth economic climate. “A&P is generally linked to sales growth and since the recession advertising as a proportion of GDP has been falling… The low inflation environment has also put the emphasis on promotion, i.e. price discounting [rather than advertising]”

Their faith in advertising has been eroded. “There have been market share gains made by new entrants with limited traditional marketing support”, “Advertising is not seen as the barrier for entry that perhaps it once was for new entrants. So if advertising is a cost and sales growth is slow does that mean advertising isn’t working anymore?

The practice of zero-based budgeting has reduced ad spend and focussed companies on the short term. “In the past two years specifically we have seen cuts to advertising in one of the largest advertising category – consumer staples – and it has come by the adoption of what they call zero based budgeting which basically means they start the budgeting process from scratch every year, they don’t just carry on doing what they were doing in previous years.”

The lever companies are using to preserve their margins is advertising spend. “In the first half of last year 90% of the margin improvement of consumer staples came from a cut to brand support and a reduction of A&P as a percentage of sales. At the same time you can see falling growth for that industry.”

The Internet is responsible for a significant amount of money leaving advertising altogether. “In the US we estimate the rise of the Internet has led to $100bn of advertising spend coming out of the market. If the Internet had not been invented advertising spend would have been a lot higher than it is now and digital has been the answer to cutting costs, pushing down the pricing.”

Advertising has been repositioned in their minds as a different sort of outgoing. “Advertising was once seen as an operating expense but it has increasingly become a cost of sale, which means it has become more performance driven, more measurable and ROI has to be assured.”

They are slowly realising that advertising was doing a job after all. “The evidence suggests that brands cutting investment is not necessarily the right decision and we might be reaching that realisation now. There is a correlation between brand support and market share and we think this has strengthened since 2014.” “The reason the market struggles with brands is that it isn’t tangible; it isn’t easy to put into their financial models so it is very hard to put a value on it. But the share prices of the top brands tend to outperform. Brand Z data plotted against the share price performances of the market show the top 30 global brands have doubled their returns against the market.”

New entrants to markets might establish themselves with little traditional marketing support but investors are now realising it isn’t a reason for incumbent companies to cut ad spend. “Cuts to brand support may have exacerbated the structural erosion they’re facing and allowed new entrants in more easily… Underinvestment in brands, we think, risks long-term volume declines as new entrants get footholds in the market.” “If barriers to entry are lower for new brands then brand support does become more important over time.”

Companies have been able to cut ad spend but still deliver for shareholders – but their ad spend may return. “Organic sales growth for US food companies [some of the first to cut advertising two or three years ago] pretty much slowed to zero over the last couple of years. At the same time they were delivering the best bottom line earnings per share growth of all of the consumer staples sub sectors. That is because they implemented very large cost cutting programmes and a very extensive brand rationalisation process. Investors are all too aware that cutting costs is not a sustainable long-term strategy and at some point the company has to look at creating growth again… We have seen some of the US food companies talking of increasing their share of A&P again.”

They are realising the importance of context for digital advertising. “It has become clear that not all digital is equal. The concerns about reputational risk and brand safety have definitely reached the boardroom.”

GDPR is changing their view of established media brands. “GDPR and the consent needed for consumers to be tracked could benefit traditional media. We do think that companies with a strong relationship with consumers will find it easier when GDPR comes in… It’s a chance to clean up websites, in terms of all of the trackers that are on there. Use it to prove the effectiveness of the media.”

The Direct to Consumer trend will increase the relevance of B2C media. “We expect to hear more and more about Direct to Consumer. Brands or products that have not had a direct relationship with consumers in the past will be reviewing and repositioning their model. Some will have to move from a B2B to a more B2C type business and therefore communications will become more important and they will need a strong brand to ensure they don’t get lost”

You can read more about the Newsworks Shift conference here

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The changing role of media insight teams

Train tracksThis month I was asked to guest lecture to the MBA students at Henley Business School. I asked fellow media research freelancer, Ozoda Muminova, to co-lecture with me.

When I worked at The Telegraph she was at The Guardian, a Fleet Street rivalry we hammed up. Our lecture was about the role of research and insight in a disrupted media industry.

We began by talking about the traditional role of insight departments in newsbrands, demonstrating the value of the audience they could uniquely reach.

To a degree it was about playing with stereotypes; turning negative into positive in agency minds.

If Guardian readers were tree huggers they could be positioned as progressive. If Telegraph readers were retired, they could be positioned as baby boomers that have 85% of the nation’s wealth.

Stereotypes were easy because there was very little crossover. Only 13% of Guardian newspaper readers read a Telegraph newspaper over a week.

However, the industry was already subject to digital disruption. Guardian readers look a lot more like Telegraph readers online than is the case offline. Many online readers read both. 36% of online Guardian readers read telegraph.co.uk in a week.  Over a month it reaches three quarters.

In these circumstances it’s harder to just play the stereotype game. It’s also harder to claim you reach a hard to reach audience. It’s harder still when Facebook ads reach 90%+ of your audience.

Disruption brought three issues to our shores.

It wrecked the idea that newspaper audiences were loyal; they flit between newsbrands online.

It brought an oversupply of ad inventory. Accenture estimate the average Brit sees 1,009 ads daily.

It pushed a lot of ad spend online, encouraged by low prices – and measurability.

These factors pushed media insight teams in two directions. One called maths and the other, magic.

The measurability of online meant insight teams embraced digital analytics. We now measured page views, unique user browsers, click through, views per visit, repeat visits, shares, tweets, comments, scroll depth, dwell time and downstream journeys.

However, the measurability of digital media increased the demand for measures of ROI offline too. More regularly we measured intention-to-purchase, brand awareness, favourability, likeability, word-of-mouth, share-of-voice, time spent, purchase funnels and eye movement. We’re in the era of ad effectiveness case studies.

Such measurability has led to ‘guarantees’. The Telegraph, reported Digiday, is offering, “guarantees around campaign awareness, propensity to purchase and advocacy”.

But much depends on the power of the creative, the potency of the offer and product, competitive activity, previous activity and heritage. Predicting can be unpredictable.

Easy measurability has also led to short-termism. ROI is a poor indicator of long-term brand building, says the IPA.

Moving to the magic.

It’s no longer enough for media companies to say what audiences they reach; they need to say how they engage them too.

Of increasing importance are the elements that engage; like environment, trust, mindset and moment. Of great interest nowadays are the very editors, writers, filmmakers, photographers and designers who engage audiences every day.  What do they do and how can advertisers harness it?

These things are particularly important as buying agencies find themselves no longer just buying space to reach audiences, but buying the ability to bring creative ideas to life at the right time, in the right environment.

A great example is the cover-wrap on the Evening Standard that advertised the release of the film Dunkirk with original WW2 Evening Standard headlines.

That a longstanding newspaper should use its own archive of editorial to publicise a historical film is a simple idea. However, the Standard had to demonstrate that their newspaper was the right one to do it.

The Standard’s ad effectiveness case studies showed the likely exposure of London’s commuters to a Standard coverwrap and the extent to which it could influence their behaviour (the maths). Research showing that London’s commuters are entertainment focused as they leave work provided the ‘magic’. The Standard occupies the ‘magic moment’ to engage them.

I’m a little biased, of course, having run the Standard’s research team, but the research that describes the magic after work moments, “Evening Catch”, was described by Clare Peters, head of planning at MGOMD, at a recent Mediatel event, as providing A1 insight into the behaviours that media brands can elicit.

Another example of ‘the magic’ is Metro and MailOnline’s Millennial Rules project. Forgive me, reader – it’s another of my projects.  Its homepage not only states that these brands have an enormous reach of millennials, they also “really understand them too”. Reach must now come with ways to engage.

The project contains nine rules for marketing to millennials. Harness millennials’ creativity in your campaign, it suggests; help them research purchases online and remember they like advertising that fits the environment.

Insight teams are increasingly helping media brands inspire advertising that really fits the environment. In-house content marketing operations like Guardian Labs and Telegraph Spark take pride in being insight led.

In that context the ‘spark’ can be ignited by the smallest of insights. It might have come from a comment in a focus group or a big data trawl.

In summary, the story of research and insight in media owner companies plots a move on from just measuring the reach of hard to reach audiences and turning negative stereotypes into positive ones. Nowadays, the role is more about measurability of ad effectiveness and sparking engaging ideas.  It’s about maths and magic, proving effectiveness and sparking creativity.

But this isn’t the destination station.  Media and advertising are constantly evolving and there’s surely another stop just down the line.  Who knows where we’ll end up.

We might end up back at the start.  If the debate in the US about net neutrality leads to a ‘splinternet’, where some sites are blocked by service providers in favour of rival sites they own or have deals with, we might yet see a return to mainly defending hard to reach audiences.  What a twist that would be.

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Insights into happiness, satisfaction and achievement

ESI achievementIn my last blog I wrote about the three research projects I’d undertaken as part of my work with ESI Media. One was about Commuter Commerce, another was about Londoners and the final one was called Achievement.

Project Achievement was designed to show what it means to achieve these days, how people measure their own sense of achievement and what it all means to marketers. There’s a short film all about it, which you can view here.

However, you can get only so much information into a four-minute film. In this blog piece I’ve chosen to describe some of the findings that didn’t make it in. They provide some interesting insights into happiness, satisfaction and achievement.

The research findings are based on online research amongst 1,300 respondents representative of people online in the UK aged 18-65. The questionnaire was ‘in field’ shortly after the UK’s Brexit vote.

The findings show that 79% of respondents believe in a divided Britain, split between those able to achieve and those unable. However, two thirds believe they’re on the side able to achieve.

The majority of people who voted for Brexit feel they are on the side able to achieve and that is also the case for those voting Remain. Remainers are marginally more likely to feel enabled, but only marginally.

Those who sense they’re able to achieve feel enabled to do so by their education, aptitude, education and knowledge of what is going on in the world. It’s a fast changing world so they need to keep up. All these factors are notably personal to them.

Those who feel unable to achieve blame factors that are less under their control: the economy, politicians and the social background they were born into.

Feeling able to achieve, however, is different to feeling that you have already achieved. Whilst 79% feel able to achieve, only 22% feel they have already done better than those they compete against. Most (55%) feel they have done no better and no worse, so far.

Although people concentrate on achieving in their relationships and job day to day, people measure how well they’re achieving in life by the great experiences they’re having. It’s one thing to do well, but you won’t truly feel you’re doing well unless you’re having experiences that show it.

Measuring achievement in great experiences is not just a millennial thing, as I suspected it might be before breaking that finding down by age. It is done to a similar degree across the ages. Salary and job title as measures of achievement, on the other hand, become less important measures of success as we age.

Between the ages of 18 and 54 people are most likely to compare themselves against their friends to judge how well they’re doing in life. However, this emphasis on friends falls steeply through the decades.

After 55 people view things with a wider lens and are then more likely to judge their own achievements against those of the population at large; their parents and colleagues, rather than the achievements of their friends.

Peoples’ biggest driver, when it comes to achievement, is the desire to do no worse than their friends, rather than a desire to do better. Only 35% of those who compare themselves to their friends want to do better than them.  Behavioural economists will see this finding as proof that loss aversion is a bigger driver than going for a win.

It is little different between men and women. The desire to achieve more than your friends is not a testosterone thing.

It is an age thing though. At 18-25, there is a more even divide between those wanting to best their friends and those wanting only to do no worse than them. By age 55 only one in five still want to nail their friends at the game of life.

Marriage makes people no more or less likely to want achieve more than those they compete with. Having kids does, though. Two fifths of parents want to do better than those they compete against.

And London seems to drive or attract competitiveness too. In the capital half those in the workforce want to do better than their friends.

However, competing with friends is a bad idea, you’re more likely to feel you’re doing less well in life than if you compete against, for example, your colleagues or your community.

It’s a matter of self-selection, of course. People tend to pick friends they like and that reflect well on them. In doing so they lengthen the odds of feeling like they’re doing better than them. So, compete against other people or pick less impressive friends.

So how can you feel happy about your achievements in life? Take a leaf from Del Trotter, “This time next year, Rodney…” You won’t be alone. Most of us feel enabled to achieve even if we aren’t winning yet.

Rely on your own attributes and don’t be ground down by factors you can’t control.

Enjoy the fruit of your success. You can’t take money with you when you die and great experiences show you you’re doing well. It needn’t be selfish. For example, charities are coming up with great experiential ways to help those less fortunate.

Finally, choose whom you compete against wisely. It’s healthy to have friends you admire but competing against them will give you a mountain to climb. If you’re super-competitive, go for it. If not, try only to do no worse than your friends – or benchmark yourself against others.

And remember there’s a happy ending. By the end of your working life you’re likely to view your successes with a wide lens, comparing them against the nation as a whole. It’s a sense of perspective it takes a working-lifetime to achieve.

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Three projects in three films: my time at ESI Media

Evening CatchRecently I finished a sixteen-month stint as the head of audience and insight at ESI Media, the publishers of The Independent and Evening Standard.

My time there was bookended my two monumental events in British newspaper history. The Independent print edition was closed two weeks after I joined and the title became digital only. A few weeks before I left, George Osborne, then a sitting MP, took the reins as editor of the London Evening Standard.

Between those two events I ran the research team and delivered research projects. We made three-minute films about three of the research projects and they can be found here.

The projects were designed to be standalone projects in their own right. When the team and I finished them we realised they complimented each other. In effect, the three films together create a triptych effect; three pictures that sit together side by side creating a bigger picture.

The first project the team and I delivered was christened Evening Catch. It is about the money commuters spend after work – from visiting shops and venues on the way home or in the evening to shopping online at home or even whilst commuting.

It was a timely project because mCommerce whilst commuting had recently been dubbed Commuter Commerce by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. They’d even put a figure on it. It was worth £9.3bn in Britain alone in 2015.

It was also timely because I’d just arrived at ESI and wanted to deliver the kind of project that would deliver lots of ammunition to the salesteam; nothing too esoteric at this early stage.

The questionnaire generated much data about the money being spent by commuters, category by category. It also revealed the importance of London (and Evening Standard readers) to commuter commerce. This is understandable because Londoners are ahead of the tech curve and most workers commute by public transport.

The film is a lovely animation and we join a set of characters as they shop and spend their way into the evening.

The second project was about London and Londoners. This time we joined forces with the research team at the buying agency Zenith to run the project.

We set ourselves two questions. Are Londoners a more valuable advertising target than non-Londoners? And do advertisers need to fight harder for attention in a city bombarded by advertising?

The research revealed that, for three reasons, Londoners are more likely to be influenced by advertising. They’re more likely to make a purchase on gut feel and advertising informs instinct. They’re friendlier towards advertising and less suspicious of it (as a result of that they feel no more bombarded by advertising than average). They’re also able to act on advertising, being surrounded by points of purchase; most work close to high street shops, for example.

The film tells this story and points out that these points are even truer for London’s Evening Standard readers.

The final film is about Achievement. This was the most esoteric of the three topics.

A big finding of the research was that people measure how well they’re doing in life by the experiences they’re having. In fact it is the number one measure, ahead of salary, job title and even work-life balance.

There’s a big city story here too. If you live in a city like London with great experiences on your doorstep, even after work, you’re likely to enjoy them and feel like you’re achieving.

Big cities also help people copy, collaborate and compete, thereby driving achievements. As a result they instil a sense of confidence. Londoners consumer confidence is in the positive zone whilst, after Brexit, the nation’s consumer confidence is below zero.

The film about Achievement brings these factors to life.

I hope you enjoy them if you get a chance to view. If you do, I hope you agree with my triptych analogy. To me they’re also windows looking back on an enjoyable time with the likeable people at ESI Media.

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The characters of UK cities and out-of-home ad exposure

EdinburghEarlier this year I delivered my second piece of analysis for Route Research Ltd. My first project for them had looked at the topic of commuting and the impact of commuting on out-of-home (OOH) ad exposure. This time around I looked at the unique characters of UK cities and what they mean for OOH ad exposure.

Route Research Ltd oversees the collection of data from GPS devices carried by 30,000 respondents. The data takes a picture of the journeys made by those respondents. The GPS data is matched against the position of OOH advertising and against demographics and attitudinal data collected by questionnaires.

You can read more about Route’s methodology and the commuting project here. For now though, let’s dive into the findings about UK cities. (I’ll just pause for one moment, however, to reassure you that sample sizes per city analysed were more than enough to draw the following conclusions.)

Firstly, there’s a strong correlation between number of advertising frames in each city and the size of the population. This correlation is strongest when the size of the population in the surrounding area is taken into consideration. An exception is Edinburgh, which has more frames than its population size, might suggest. But then Edinburgh is a national capital and a tourist destination so has great appeal to advertisers.

Edinburgh folk also spend a long time out and about each day, with an average of three hours thirty-five minutes spent in public places. That means they are out and about for the same time per day as Brummies and just narrowly behind Mancunians. Notably they’re ahead of their Glaswegian countrymen (three hours fifteen minutes).

In fact, at the end of the week, between Thursday and Sunday, Edinburgh folk are out and about for more hours on average per day than dwellers of any other city analysed. However, before they get complacent about this new accolade, Edinburgh folk should take heed of Nottingham. Specifically on Fridays Nottingham dwellers spend the most time out and about of any UK city on a particular weekday.

You might have your own idea of why. The reasons might include pedestrianised city centres, late night shopping centre opening hours, vibrant nightlife and city centre living.

If you’re an OOH advertiser you might want to make use of this information when booking advertising. Digital screens mean advertisers can book ads on particular days in particular locations. Knowing that Nottingham folk are out and about longer on Fridays, and that this translates directly into longer periods of time under the influence of OOH ad sites, is useful information.

But where is ad-saturated, mega-commute-time, Johnny-big-capital-city London in all of this? The reality is that Londoners aren’t out and about as much as you’d think, each day. Sorry London!

London’s rush hours are a massive opportunity for advertisers as commutes are long and commuter hubs crowded. However, a Londoner spends an average of two hours and forty-four minutes out and about each day. Compare that to the three hours thirty-five minutes of Edinburgh folk. In fact, Londoners are out and about for less time per day than dwellers of the other fourteen cities I analysed. Long working hours plus tendencies towards socialising and shopping in local boroughs take their toll on time out and about.

The fact that London is so full of OOH ad sites does, of course, mean that Londoners are highly likely to be exposed to OOH ads during the time they do spend out and about. However, it doesn’t pull them into first place.

They spend an average of thirty-one minutes of their time out and about under the influence of OOH ads (that is 19%). By contrast Edinburgh folk spend thirty-three minutes under the influence, which is more than Londoners but just 15% of their total time out and about.

Again these are useful considerations for advertisers looking to increase the reach and frequency of their OOH campaigns.

In times when UK high streets are often criticised for looking the same it is refreshing to think that the unique geographies and other quirks of UK cities add character to their residents’ travel patterns.

And if you’re Nottingham and Edinburgh advertising folk, take pride and enjoy the fact it isn’t all London, London, London. But then you’re probably already out and about enjoying your cities anyway!

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Feel the fear and do it anyway: safety and security issues when booking travel

At the beginning of this year I was commissioned by the holiday company Travelzoo to conduct a global survey about people’s attitudes to safety and security on holiday. Do safety and security concerns have a big impact on where people choose to holiday? Do concerns vary from country to country? How informed are people about the level of risks in countries they plan to visit? Are such concerns growing because of recent terrorist attacks in holiday locations?

The results of the survey were shared with Professor Yeganeh Morakabati and her team at Bournemouth University. They blended the findings with their own academic research to produce the white paper: “State of Play: the impact of geopolitical events on international tourism in 2017”.

The white paper called for better clarity of information regarding the safety and security of tourism destinations. It called for such government information to be simplified, less open to interpretation and more readily shared by travel companies before customers book. It also called for a system of standardisation or certification
of safety and security for major tourism areas, such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, theatres and other venues.

Richard Singer, the President, Europe of Travelzoo launched the white paper during a session at the ITB conference in Berlin earlier this year. We’d consulted the ITB’s Dr Roland Conrady during the production of the research. The research findings, white paper and recommendation were a welcome addition to the ITBs conference, which had safety and security as its theme.

The debate that followed grabbed the headlines within the travel industry press.

You can read the white paper in full here and catch up with the industry debate here.

However, I’ve chosen to blog about the trends that I personally found interesting from the multi-country research.

The research was based on online research amongst people who had booked overseas travel online in the past. Countries covered were Russia, India, South Africa, USA, Japan, UK, Germany, France and China. The questionnaires were translated into local languages. 6,032 interviews were carried out across those nations.

The research was carried out very early in 2017 and, of course, the fieldwork time has a bearing. For example, Paris was seen as a more dangerous place to visit than London but then Paris had recently been hit by terrorism and the 2017 attacks on London had not yet taken place.

The research told us that safety and security is on the minds of over 90% of people in each country when they book travel. However, it is most ‘front of mind’ for the Russians, Indians and South Africans. In these countries people are worried about a greater range of safety and security issues, from disease to crime to war. Compare that to France and the UK where concerns are less ‘front of mind’ and mainly about terrorism.

It means the French and British are conducting only light-touch checks on regions before holidaying there (a simple internet search suffices for many) but Russians, Indians and South Africans are turning to far more sources (they’re far more likely to check crime rates, for example).

In all countries at least three in five people said safety and security was more of a concern than ever these days. They feel the world has become more dangerous and this wasn’t a view only held by older age groups; the young feel it too.

Terrorism is the biggest fear in all countries (in South Africa terrorism is a major fear but less distinct from other worries like crime in general).

However, the fear isn’t deterring them from the idea of travelling abroad (or so they say). For example, only 4% of Americans (who had booked foreign travel online before) said they wouldn’t book a foreign holiday now because of fear. However, 24% of these Americans said they are concerned about the risk they are taking (the largest proportion compared to other nationalities – but then the Americans felt like the most targeted by terrorists abroad). They’re feeling the fear but doing it anyway.

So, yes people are concerned and increasingly so. However, it was interesting to test the role that price plays. We did that by asking the following question:

Imagine you have a choice between two holidays, both of which are equally appealing to you. One is in a country that you feel is absolutely safe. The other is in a country you believe has a small risk of [insert risk]. Would you choose the holiday with a small risk if the holiday were £100 [or local currency equivalent] cheaper per person?

Although we tested many levels of savings (up to £1,000), the first level of £100 had many saying ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to risk. Risk of disease was most likely to deter bargain hunters and natural disasters put the least off. Despite terrorism being the biggest concern people are surprisingly likely to risk it for a saving. This is perhaps because terrorism can theoretically strike anywhere and incidence levels and casualty rates aren’t high.

It implies that, yes; they’re feeling the fear and doing it anyway but especially when there’s a small bargain to be had.

In another experiment respondents were asked if they would stay at a resort hit by terrorism in the past, assuming the package was, in all other respects, a good deal. In this scenario people said they were more likely to stay at a resort hit by terrorism ten years ago than one year ago. Time heals, to a degree.

However, the Japanese were the least likely to want to stay at such a resort, even one hit ten years ago. In fact, a larger percentage of Brits (23%) would consider a place hit by terrorism a year ago than Japanese (16%) who would consider a resort hit ten years ago. These are cultural differences, of course. The Indians were the least put off by resorts that had been hit by terror attacks.

Altogether the research painted a picture of consumers concerned about safety and security at a time of global insecurity. It is heartening that such concerns aren’t dissuading them fully from international holidaymaking. In fact, the extent to which people are tempted by good deals in affected areas is a measure of human resilience. However, measures like those suggested by Travelzoo and Bournemouth University can only make people better informed about the risks involved – a good thing, surely, in troubled times.

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Media Researchers and the long road to ‘Excellence in Research Presentation’

Last week the research project I led for Metro and MailOnline, Millennial Rules, won the Mediatel award for Excellence in Research Presentation.

It was a happy moment, standing on stage with Ryan Uhl, Head of Operations, Insight and Creative at Mailonline, Charlotte Pilgrim, Head of Insight at Metro UK and Barbara Feeney, Head of Trade Marketing at Metro UK.

It was a particularly good thing to happen three years after starting my own business, Neil Sharman Ltd.

Around the time I went self-employed I attended The Media Research Group conference in Berlin. There someone quoted Richard Marks (head of judges at last week’s Mediatel awards) saying today’s media researchers are like chefs, concocting their insights from a range of ingredients, not single sources. Greg Gowan of ITV garnished the point, saying today’s media researchers need to be celebrity chefs because presentation is so important.

Why is presentation more important than ever?

When I started in media research I had a computer (the salespeople didn’t have them) and a long shelf full of reports. A brief would come in and I’d get the reports down and fire up Telmar. When there was something to say, people were keen to hear.

A few years later a brief would come in and before the chance to get facts and figures together, my inbox was full of emails from colleagues sending around links to articles. We all had the Internet now. Often the email didn’t contain an explanation of how it was relevant. It was an insight free for all (or insight free, for all).

Now the good researcher had to be one step ahead of the link sprayers by being proactive and having analysis done and on the shelf, ready to be adapted to the briefs that came in. There was generally less patience to wait for a considered view.

Attention spans were getting shorter because there was now a lot to be distracted by. It didn’t just apply to the media researcher’s internal clients but the company’s external clients too.

‘Insight’ was in great supply and disjointed points were being easily passed off as insight in the new day of text light, image heavy presentations. Design could lend gravitas to the flimsiest points.

With ‘insight’ more broadly defined and readily available, the job of insight was changing too. It wasn’t enough to make good insight led points to support your place on a press schedule. You had to sell without selling; points made overtly no longer needed listening to.

Suddenly people were talking about ‘thought leader’ research that ‘added to the debate’ and sold oh so softly. Media researchers needed to be more widely informed rather than ‘deep dive’ experts on their corner of the industry.

It became quite a golden age for the curious media researcher; we were now dealing with broad and fascinating topics. I’ve tackled happiness, achievement, baby boomers and commuting and delved into disciplines like behavioural economics and marketing science.

So, years later, wearing the cap of Neil Sharman Ltd, I found myself pitching at MailOnline and Metro’s Kensington headquarters for a thought-leader project about millennials.

People told me it was too broad a topic to tackle as millennials span a decade and a half but if people can write books about the Romans (who spanned 500 years), surely I could find something to say about millennials.

It was a brave pitch and I have to take my hat off to MailOnline and Metro for going for it. I asked them not to try and add to a vast amount of often-disjointed insight into millennials. I asked them to help make sense of what was already written because so much is confusing and contradictory. We’re told millennials are short of attention but the most educated generation. They are leaping up the career ladder thanks to their digital dexterity but they are economically shafted and unable to get a job. They work their fingers to the bone but are lazy and entitled.

In short I suggested we should explain the contradictions and take the time to join the dots, not add others.

What I also have to take my hat off to my clients for is this. Although I worked with CrowdDNA and Alligator on the qual and the quant, there was an army of people within MailOnline and Metro who worked on the project too, from designers to trade marketers, event organisers and copywriters. The post project drinks event filled a beer garden.

The research was launched with a celebrity packed game show called Who Wants to be a Millennial, at Advertising Week Europe. So really I should name check Joey Essex as one of those on the team too.

The design of the micro-site is excellent and designed to give something to those seeking quick insights and those seeking full detail and clarity. The microsite contains a longhand report with several chapters as well as advertising rules, top traits and millennial views that feed off it.

One of the judges, David Pidgeon, editor of Mediatel Newsline, summed the result up as follows: “As someone whose job it often is to communicate the results of complicated research to a broad audience, I was particularly pleased to see that the winners really went to some lengths to bring the work to life and find interesting ways to ensure people could engage with the results”.

Indeed, that is true. I’m glad it showed because a lot of people deserve a lot of credit for getting the project the recognition it deserved.   I wasn’t the chef (and certainly not a celebrity chef) but one of many working hard in the galley.

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The Unbelievable Truth – hosting a conference quiz

Recently I was asked to chair a session at the Media Research Group (MRG) conference in Warsaw.  The delegates, I was told, will be tired after a long day travelling from London and after sitting through several conference papers.  So, I was asked to run my session as a lighthearted quiz.  

I’d done similar at a London evening meeting of the MRG where I’d adopted the format of Room 101.  However, in Warsaw I borrowed from the Radio 4 quiz The Unbelievable Truth, a format that asks contestants to lie outrageously and others to identify the truths.  

I had four contestants and asked them to each make a five minute address in which they talked about 5 ‘facts’ from their own research.  The contestants were researchers from Facebook, ITV, Kantar and the media agency PHD so their research was sure to be of interest. However, one of the five ‘facts’ in each address was a lie.  Could the bleary eyed audience spot the fake?  I also gave my own five minute address and here it is.  Can you spot my fake? (answer at the end).

……..

Hello MRG – let me tell you about some of the research Neil Sharman Ltd has been up to since we last conferenced together.

Firstly I worked with Route Research Ltd. All their respondents carry GPS enabled devices.

We looked at how the nation commutes. We laid out the lengths of commutes of each respondent and created a bell curve. There’s a bulk of people with average commutes and fewer with very short or very long commutes. What was interesting though was a nick in the bell curve at 35 minutes – which rather ruined the shape.

The reason, it seems, is that commuters dash for the line, aiming to get into work at 30 minutes, a psychological barrier. So, there’s an absence of arrivals at 35 minutes. What’s more, we discovered a law called Marchetti’s Constant that tells us people in different societies and through history have had an ideal travel to work time of 30 minutes. A longer commute can be a drag and we try hard to shave time off.

TRUTH ONE: So, Route data shows a nick in the commute time bellcurve at 35 minutes which is proof of Marchetti’s Constant in Route data.

Commutes are also interesting to The Evening Standard.

According to the Cebr, TRUTH TWO: One in five mCommerce occasions now take place whilst commuting. Advertisers should take note: such Commuter Commerce is, according to Cebr, already worth £9bn.

At ESI I’ve launched research called The Evening Catch that breaks down commuter commerce spend by advertising category.

Commuting is one form of travelling and flying on business is another. A smoother link between topics you’d be hard pressed to find!

I was commissioned to write a report for JCDecaux Airport on SME business flyers.

I worked with Millward Brown to send a questionnaire to a sample of 500 business flyers from SME companies across a mix of industries. They were senior decision makers in their businesses. With Brexit on the horizon I asked them what Brexit might do to their business.

TRUTH THREE: UK SME business flyers told me Brexit is good for their business

The proportion saying Brexit would be good for their business was 43%. The proportion saying Brexit would be bad for their business was 29%.

Now SME business people are people and young people are people and young people are called millennials. That a less smooth link between topics.

But it allows me to talk about a research project that I led for Metro and MailOnline. Millennial Rules.

Charlotte Pilgrim of Metro will tell us more about it later in the week but I can tell you a finding from the questionnaire served by Alligator Research to 1,001 Millennials and Generation X’ers.

TRUTH FOUR: 49% of millennials feel they are empowered by their tech know-how to do a better job at work than people with more experience but only average technological know-how.

That’s a bold claim, isn’t it? If you’re sitting out there with a lot of experience plus average technical know how it isn’t good enough to hold off the threat from almost half of all digital natives. Be afraid.

And finally…

Millennials are people but robots aren’t! Another seamless link as I switch topics.

I’m also switching out of media for a moment as I’m now going to tell you about a project I did for another client, Travelzoo.

The project was robots in the travel industry. Robots are already working in the travel industry already – but how likely are we humans to accept them?

I ran a multi country study using Norstat. The questionnaire went to people who book travel online in each of the UK, France, Germany, Spain, America, Canada, Japan, China and Brazil.

In it we asked people about scenarios, such as this. Imagine you’re checking in at a hotel in a different country. The receptionist is human and very competent.

Now imagine you’re at the same hotel and the receptionist is a robot. The robot is very competent. Which do you prefer?

OK, most people preferred the competent human, of course.

Then we asked them to compare a competent robot to a less competent human, which do you prefer? You can start testing what people can stomach.

We did the same for waiters and bar staff, security staff, cabin crew and several other job functions. A surprising stat was this.

TRUTH FIVE: In the comparison between the competent human waiter and the competent robot waiter, the Chinese actually preferred the robot. The ratio was 58% versus 42%

And that’s it. The end of my whistle stop tour of Neil Sharman projects since MRG Berlin but did I bamboozle and confuse – or did you see through me like a one-way mirror in a focus group?

Answer:  The lie was ‘truth’ four.  The real figure was a much bigger 75%

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