The emotional potency of fragrance

Decoding the complexity of consumer perception

In the body care and cosmetics category, the annual number of new product launches is at an all-time high and “acceptance of fragrance” is a critical measure for success by many sensorial-focused brands. But what makes a personal care product attractive to a consumer? 

Consumers always take into account (both consciously and subconsciously) multiple explicit and implicit product features when evaluating a new product. Beside their affinity for the brand or the perceived product performance at an efficacy level, the emotional, associative and sensory characteristics of the product (i.e. what it projects) is just as important to consumers' evaluation of personal relevance and perceived quality. 

Fragrance is a key aspect amongst sensory cues, especially in the area of body care and home care products. This is because...

  • smell (more than any other sense), triggers intense memories and emotions (As shown in this 2004 fMRI study)
  • and fragrance can have a positive influence on consumer mood (and emotional availability)
  • it can trigger positive associative thoughts that influence product perception
  • and can have a positive influence on the perception of the provider brand
  • fragrance can also trigger more spontaneous and impulsive purchasing behaviour

Unfortunately, very often, fragrances are rejected by consumers because of an implicit cultural disconnect which influences their perception that the product concept is not in line with the intended purpose, brand or conceptual positioning. This issue can be complexified when needing to find the right fragrance to fit different audiences, across multiple countries and diverse cultures. 

Based on many years of global consumer research for fragrance houses and manufacturers of cosmetic products, it is possible to identify both atypical and normative patterns for consumer preferences, deep dive associated fragrance beliefs, and explain related cultural perceptions and their attributable behaviour triggers. 

Here are some foundational insights we’ve identified along the way…

1. Fragrance expectation and propensity to “like” a fragrance is always influenced by perceived positioning and product type 

Consumers have clearly differentiated fragrance expectations when it comes to experiencing different cosmetic types and formats. Further to inherited and culturally-driven associations, expectations for product scent is also dictated by the perceived function and benefit that product offers. For example, an ideal fragrance for a shampoo may be articulated as markedly different from the ideal scent for a shower product as expectations about each product’s performance and perceived benefits for skin versus hair will significantly differ. Our research has shown that a shower product with a “caring” positioning and a creamy texture indicated on its packaging triggers a notably different cognitive response and fragrance expectation compared to a shower product with a colored gel texture and “freshness” positioning on pack. Furthermore, a shampoo with an anti-dandruff positioning evokes entirely different fragrance expectations compared to the reception of a caring shampoo for dry hair. Language used in specific ingredient claims on pack also plays a notable role in triggering specific fragrance expectations… 

2. There are clear cultural differences when it comes to the perception and the ‘liking’ of a fragrance

Many manufacturers and fragrance houses are interested to learn that the perception and potential ‘liking’ of a fragrance will depend enormously on the consumers’ cultural identity and their unique scent-association with where they have lived and where they grew up. The reason for this is because positive and negative associations are evoked by fragrance themes and these sensory and cognitive triggers are always culture-born and culture-specific. Here are some examples of how this ‘culture-factor’ has manifested in our fragrance research engaging consumers across a wide variety of different countries and regions…   

  • In Europe a fragrance with a clear herbal and green character was linked to palliative natural remedy, while in China it was associated with curative medical treatment. Both interpretations were determined by the disparate experience of associated medical products in the two regions.
  • In a multi-country research project on fabric softeners, a pine fragrance theme was mostly disliked by consumers from Northern European countries who associated this fragrance with harshness and functional cleanliness (seemingly too unnatural and artificial and not reminiscent enough of familiar pine tree-studded landscapes) while it was very attractive for most consumers from Southern European countries who imagined the freshness of forests (despite never having lived near pine trees).
  • Sometimes consumers tend to perceive a product as not perfumed at all when they are familiar with it since early childhood. For example, German consumers tended not to be able to detect a distinct fragrance when they smelt classic NIVEA cream.

3. The set-up can strongly influence the results of a fragrance test

Another important topic to consider when it comes to fragrance research and understanding consumer perception is that the timing of the product test can have a strong influence on test results if not considered carefully. Here’s an example: 

  • A product test in Germany for a female perfume with an oriental character was conducted in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. It achieved very bad test results. The repetition of the same test in autumn showed much better results yet the fragrance had not changed. Notably by our careful repeat-methodology design and deep dive analysis of all sample responses, we were able to prove that strong oriental fragrances were seen by their target audience as too heavy and not appropriate for hot summers thereby informing a campaign launch for later in the year to great success.


When it comes to conducting fragrance research, these 3 starting insights into the typical patterns to be found in local consumer beliefs, culture-born fragrance perception and multi-market in-test behaviour helpfully points us to the following 3 top tips for your fragrance research…

  1. Whenever possible, fragrance research or fragrance testing should be done in the countries where the product with its respective scent will be launched. i.e. no market should be considered a proxy for another.
  2. When defining ideal time and test conditions, parallel exploratory research into flavour, format and packaging semiotics in the context of the target consumers’ culture should be carefully taken into account.
  3. In addition to “fragrance liking” as a quantitative metric, a fragrance test should always include attribute selection as a follow-up question and where possible a qualitative engagement to analyse why a fragrance is more or less liked to get to deeper and more actionable insights that can specifically inform fragrance development and scent theme rework. 

By Anke Pelmer, Consumer Insights Specialist at Kingfisher Consultancy in Germany

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For more information on fragrance research and how we do scent testing at Kingfisher, or to ask us to provide you with specific flavour or packaging semiotic analysis for your brand, please click on the button below or email quoting FRAGRANCE in your title. We look forward to hearing from you. 


The Changing State of Chinese Luxury

So what's new in the world of Chinese luxury?

Whilst many analysts focused on the seesaw-like ups and downs, results of economic fluctuations and anti-corruption measures seen in recent years, the story of Chinese luxury is that of a continuous structural shift of taste and expectations, which is not entirely hinged to what the economy and even the government does. 

As in many other evolving economies, e.g. neighboring Japan, increased exposure to fashion, luxury and foreign travel have brought about a more mature and discerning Chinese consumer. But because China is so vast, and development has been uneven, China’s luxury market has quickly become tiered and fragmented, with the wealthiest (commonly referred to as “tier 1”) cities Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou/ Shenzhen racing ahead of less developed localities. 

A Carat & Jing-daily study distinguishes five different typologies of luxury consumers, from aficionados at one end, sophisticated consumers who are now turning their noses up at the logo-heavy ‘secretary’s brands’, e.g. Louis Vuitton, to bling kings on the other end, typically nouveaux riche from the interior provinces, still very much into showy status symbols. Value retail, the company behind Luxury Outlet Bicester Village in the UK and a number of outlets in China, says it continuously introduces new brands in the “premium and super-premium“ luxury segments e.g. Hermes, Alexander Mc. Queen and Bottega Veneta, in an effort to accommodate one part of their Chinese HNV shoppers, while briskly selling Gucci wallets to Chinese tour groupers. 

Looking to the future, China’s millennials and Gen Z’s harbor different aspirations altogether. They are individualistic, environmentally conscious and spiritual. According to Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief of Vogue China, “they have their own opinion about what they like, instead of rushing out to buy anything that the fashion authorities tell them without thinking.” And often, what suits them is not the luxury products of their elders but a much more street-inspired, relaxed and sporty style. Part luxury fatigue, part rise of a fitness craze; sports and athleisure wear has been rising in popularity in China, outstripping luxury in growth figures. 

Finally, a notable trend sees Chinese consumers pay more attention to home-grown luxury as part of a search for Chinese cultural identity and distinct expression. In a 2014 study among 600 Chinese luxury targets, Added Value, a marketing firm, found that 84% of those surveyed believe that in the future, Chinese luxury brands will be "just as good" as Western luxury brands. 

China’s newest Luxury hotel chain, NUO, defines itself as a representative of “modern Ming style“ and stands for a pursuit of inspired sophistication in the Chinese tradition. Its Yuan tea-house offers exclusive tea from NUO’s five tea plantations around China, and the SPA provides a unique “Tea Journey” treatment. The hotel associated with a number of rising lifestyle brands such as furniture maker Nanmu Studio to fashion its interiors. 

While Hospitality and Lifestyle top the sectors of expected Chinese luxury growth, fashion is not far behind. Andrew Keith, president of Lane Crawford and Joyce department stores says that some local luxury consumers now “view Chinese designer collections as being more tailored to their preferences and body types”. Kathrin Von Rechenberg, a Beijing based designer, explains the growth her brand enjoys is a result of her clients’ appreciation for traditional materials and techniques. Von Rechenberg uses manually colored tea-silks in her garments. 

The international success of China’s rising fashion pack; the likes of Zhang Huishan, Angel Chen, Shu Shu/Tong, or Ms Min, who recently was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize reinforces the positioning of local creators.

As seen across many other sectors, we might be witnessing the growth of a specific home-grown luxury concept with uniquely Chinese characteristics.

By Felicia Schwartz, Chinese Brand Communications Specialist, Cross-Cultural Communications Consultant at Kingfisher Consultancy China & UK

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For more information on the codes, cues and trends in Chinese Luxury email quoting 'CHINESE LUXURY'. 

We look forward to hearing from you!


Sustainability - A Conscious STRATEGY

What does it mean to "go green"?

Brands play an ever-increasing role in our lives, and people are engaging with them like never before. Meanwhile, the global population is ever more conscious of the damage being done to our planet, and the large-scale effects that multi national corporations can have on economic and social environments. Your customers are searching for new ways to engage with you on sustainability issues. Increasing numbers of consumers look for sustainability focused solutions for their everyday needs - selecting more socially and environmentally conscious products and services over and above those who put profits before planet. 

Sustainable brands making a real positive difference are those that hold values that go beyond solely making money. They maintain an ambition to make the world a better place, and are willing to ignore profit in the quest for better reputations and environmental support. 

In 2018 a Sustainable Brands conference described five essential considerations for any eco-friendly company. These were:

  1. System-wide brand influence.
  2. Net-positive products and services.
  3. Purpose beyond profit.
  4. Regenerative operations (recyclable materials and sustainable processes).
  5. Transparent and proactive governance.

Several businesses fall short by not acting on several of these key criteria, and even more do not engage in the sustainability agenda at all. One of the main reasons for this is that they do not incorporate sustainability strategy into their business working at a high enough level, and for the laggards, often delay to take action is due to not having yet grasped what a huge opportunity sustainable branding can provide them in terms of consumer desirability, growth, competitor differentiation, and innovation opportunity. 

Several statistics reflect on the growing importance of embracing the sustainability agenda. A recent survey by Unilever estimates a $1 trillion dollar market opportunity for businesses that effectively market themselves as eco-innovators. Meanwhile, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, over 90% of CEOs state that sustainability is important to their company’s success. The ‘next generation’ seem to agree to, as 88% of business school students in the same study believe that environmental and social issues should be priorities in business. 

And these opinions are reflected in consumer beliefs, too. According to a recent report published by the Shelton Group 86% of US consumers believe that companies should take a stand for social and environmental issues. 

Ever increasing numbers of new businesses and start ups are focusing on building sustainability into their brands from the ground-up, for example by focusing on durable, eco-friendly, and recycled products. 

So, who’s getting it right?

One of the world’s foremost examples of sustainable business is Patagonia, who operate with the desire to ‘build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’. They then apply this belief into their entire business structure. 

To start with, in terms of the materials they use, they only use certified organic cotton, and are bluesign certified for 56% of their fabrics. Meanwhile, a high proportion of their fabrics (polyester, nylon, and wool) are made from recycled materials. They belong to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and 1% For the Planet. They purposefully create high quality, lasting products, and even discourage their own customers from purchasing too many of their products by offering a repair and reuse program. 

In terms of their labour policies and supply chain, they stick to their Supplier Code of Conduct, which ensures they trace and audit their facilities (and even their subcontractors) and publically list their suppliers. They are members of the Fair Labor Association Workplace Code of Conduct and strive to ensure a living wage for all members of their supply chain. 

They also publically advocate for animal welfare by not using animals products such as angora, leather or fur. The only animal products they use are recycled wool, and down feather that has been accredited by the Global Traceable Down Standard (which they helped develop). 

The most high profile of their sustainability efforts was the ‘Don’t Buy Our Jackets’ campaign, in which they ran a full-page New York Times ad, questioning consumers as to whether they really needed to buy their products, in a backlash against the consumerism's annual peak on Black Friday. In 2016, they donated all profits from their Black Friday sales to local environmental organisations. In doing so they gained substantial brand awareness and loyalty, and in 2016 their profits still reached $10million. 

Another major winner on the sustainability front is Cisco Technologies, who were named one of the 2018 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World. 

They’re committed to using renewable energy in their worldwide business operations, with 80% coming from renewable sources. They have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 41% since 2007, with an aim to reach 60% by 2022. 

On sustainable social purpose measures, they have been on the Forbes ‘Best Companies to Work For’ list for 21 years, and ensure they maintain an inclusive and diverse company culture. They have also received 26 industry distinctions and ‘inclusive leadership’ awards, while scoring 100% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for 14 consecutive years. With 46% diversity in their executive leadership team, theirs is one of the most diverse in the US. 

Apple has also made significant strides towards sustainable branding. They endeavour to create highly innovative, but also environmentally friendly products and services. As of 2018, they state that they power all of their facilities, including retail stores, offices and data centres, with 100% renewable energy, as well as reducing their power consumption by 70% in the last 10 years.

They’re constantly innovating in order to boost the eco-friendliness of their business operations too, most famously by setting up their own factory robot (named Daisy), which safely and easily disassembles old hardware to be recycled. They state that their goal is to one day achieve a closed-loop supply chain. 

In the Foods sector, we also see strident changes afoot... The owner of household brands including Cadbury, Oreo and Toblerone, Mondelez are adapting their strategies for growth to meet the growing consumer desire for more sustainable food products and ways of living. They recently announced that packaging reduction was to be treated as a priority in order to give them purpose beyond selling their snack brand, and gain (and retain) customers with prevailing purchasing habits. They promise to make all of their packaging recyclable by 2025, and to do so, will eliminate 65 million kg of packaging by 2020.  Meanwhile, their packaging redesigns will also contain greater amounts of information on recycling as part of a larger behaviour change initiative aimed to educate consumers on the importance of reducing waste.

Their sustainability strategy also goes further than just packaging. Claiming to be the first company to go beyond third-party certification by taking direct accountability for building a sustainable cocoa supply via their Cocoa Life initiative. They demand that their palm oil suppliers adopt forest protect and sustainability policies for their entire supply chain, not just to Mondelez. 

Food for thought... What your brand can do right now (and we can help you)

  1. Employ a dedicated Chief Sustainability Officer to give your company a competitive edge as the sustainability trend gains momentum. Your CSO should set sustainability goals, define strategy and policies, and develop an insight-driven action plan in order to change your company’s image for the better. 
  2. Make sure any existing or future sustainability and social purpose initiatives are truly relevant to your brand, products, services and organisational values. Choose to pursue a cause that is within the realms of your industry.  An incoherent or irrelevant choice- say a London-based software company advocating for saving the Rhinos in Africa- might be jarring to a customer and not deemed credible. Instead, choose a sustainability cause and social purpose that your company’s process and people can directly influence. This will create a more emotionally meaningful story for your consumer. 
  3. Once your business relevant direction and sustainability strategy is in place, ensure this vision integrates into your new brand positioning communications. It’s no good telling your customers you are campaigning against plastic waste if your packaging still contains un-recyclable plastic. Ensure you’re aware of the materials being used in your products and throughout your supply chain. Not only does this display leadership by example, but it provides brand comms opportunities throughout the business at all levels, as your sustainability values can be conveyed in everything from your website to your logo. As an example, Lush are able to highlight their environmental consciousness front and centre on their website and in stores and staff at all levels are trained on the brand's mission. 
  4. Transparency is key! Be honest and authentic in the goals you set, and your progress in achieving them. Publish sustainability reports. This will also promote discussion with your audience, and can cultivate an active and engaged community.

The future is green. Are you?

The adoption and propagation of sustainability strategy can be a brand’s secret weapon to future proofing their business and striving for a positive legacy. An understanding of the social,  environmental and economic impacts of your business, your supply chain, your products in consumers' lives, and your services, can all help determine which specific environmental and social issues your brand and your people can have a positive and meaningful impact on. To ensure success, credible sustainability 'missions', 'purposes' or 'causes' should be integrated into your brand's core values and the very fabric of your organisation's culture. 

Sustainability should never be just a footnote on your company website. Consumers demand more than lip service and are skeptical of half-baked strategy.

An effective sustainability strategy delivers a purpose-led brand which is differentiated in your market and helps your people make a positive difference to the world they live in. 

Not only that, it's good to do good. 

By Nico Binns, Cultural Trends & Insights Consultant at Kingfisher Consultancy

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If you want to learn more about developing a Sustainability Strategy, Leveraging Consumer Trends for Good or Actionable Insights for Social Purpose, email us today at quoting reference 'SUSTAINABILITY'.  We look forward to helping you.


Lest we Forget the 'Personal' in 'Personalisation' AI

Artificial Intelligence, AI, hints unprecedented opportunities for brands to understand and hence meet, sometimes even pre-empt, customers' personal needs. Yet 2018 has been littered with warnings, most famously the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data breach, which bolstered fears of personalisation AI.

Much of the resulting debates have agonised over risks of mishandling sensitive data, manipulating audiences' views, and furthering automation. Few have explored how personalisation complements or jars with consumers’ notions of personal relationships and intimacy.

How much is too personal?

Talking to Campaign UK, Liz Wilson, Chief Operating Officer at Karmarama observed: "Digital personal space has to be respected in the same way as physical space". For instance, it would be agreed that barging in front of someone during their commute, even if to help them, comes with the risk of obstructing them against their will and hence the etiquette to call "excuse me!" Ads, notifications, and recommendations, especially when not requested or expected by the user, seems to be the digital equivalent of unannounced barging or suspicious stalking. Personalisation tactics, despite their potential value for consumers, also require brands to engage with social, cultural notions of "personal" that have been cultivated in human relationships.

Health care is a key category in which wearable tech and AI-POWERED mobile health apps promise significant change, but it is also a context in which sensitivity to patients' ideas of personal relationships is crucial. Digital health guides track vast quantities of intimate data, including sleep patterns, pulse, blood pressure, and various biomarkers- like those in sweat. Therefore, rather than being tools used during sickness, these technologies become daily health advisors, offering minute-by-minute, bespoke nudges towards personal goals.

Brands must consider how they would replicate patients' trust of the doctor's authority in the rapport with health technology. A basic element of this trust is arguably showing sensitivity to consumers' circumstances, including how the personalised technology will affect them in their personal relationships. As per the warning from Rachel Barton, Managing Director of Advanced Customer Strategy at Accenture Strategy, this is more difficult with AI, because it can self-teach- based on data obtained and hence could "run loose and make its own judgements, which could be to the detriment of customers who may feel a level of intrusion they didn't necessarily sign up to". It is worth noting a father's horror in 2012 after finding out about his teen daughter's pregnancy from Target, an American retailer, which had guessed the pregnancy based on recent purchases and started marketing baby clothes to the young mother. 

YouTube's "next up" function may seem to be elementary levels of personalisation, and yet, brands could still benefit from understanding how such attention-grabbing digital experiences sit beside consumers' face-to-face relationships. Andrew Sullivan, a renowned political blogger, complained in 2016 that his sustained attention for social media caused him to lose many offline connections, convincing him to switch off from his devices at regular intervals. So while personalisation is a sought-after experience, brands should consider how to provide it in a way that acknowledges and respects non-digital, personal relationships, without which customers may indeed turn away.

Is your AI personalised or trying to be human?

A 2018 study conducted by Sensum suggested that we are not polite to our personal assistants, by which they mean Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana. The research revealed that users disengage from their techy helpers, sometimes swearing vehemently at them, if they don't understand instructions. Users wanted tech to get things done and did not have as much patience as they would for humans. Reviewing this research for Medium, Ben Bland writes that his own relationship with the assistants was adapted according to their associated devices, rather than the persona, such as Siri in iPhone being used on the go and Alexa, imbedded in a larger Echo, being for home usage. Therefore, although consumers may expect personalised technology to appreciate the wider context of personal relationships into which they are integrated, these devices are not encouraged to approximate human-like relationships.

Is your personalisation creepy or cool?

According to 45 percent of respondents in a May 2018 survey by Accenture Interactive, apology emails after bad in-store or online experiences ranked as the "coolest" brand engagement tactic. This is a response that consumers may have expected, based on practices in their personal relationships, but there is no attempt here by the technology to appear human. Chatbots have arguably found the sweet spot in accommodating consumers' notions of personal relationships without themselves becoming human. 

Though chatbots can simulate human conversations, they are couched in popular communication platforms, like instant messaging apps, appearing to only slightly enhance the regular human interaction that goes on here. On Facebook, for instance, Chatbots serve as channels for customers to contact businesses or access services without waiting times. Transparency is offered through sustaining the same interface across platforms and making chat history attainable. Most significantly, chatbots are usually based on assisted learning and therefore require human intervention.

Retail personalisation is an important area in which chatbots are making their mark. The chatbot from linggerie and apparel brand, Aerie, encourages shoppers to select preferences and body type- through an engaging game, based on which it makes recommendations for the final purchase. Lauren Kunz, CEO of Pandorabots and the company behind this particular bot, said: "We worked closely with the Aerie team, including copywriters, designers, and brand voice to create a chatbot with a distinct persona that celebrates body positivity and promotes confidence in young women". 

While the persona and the values may help consumers settle into discussing potentially intimate topics, the bot's refusal to make recommendations without customers first selecting preferences indicates respect for norms of personal interaction and stresses its difference from human judgement.

To conclude then, the call for brands to personalise through AI is actually a challenge to understand the "personal" and what it means in our society. In that vein, the divide between human and non-human seems to be a key notion in consumers' definitions of personal relationships, which brands using personalising AI would do well to remember.

By Harsha Balasubramanian, Cultural Anthropologist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

If you want prepare your business for the future of personalisation, email quoting reference 'PERSONALISATION' and one of our specialist Senior Insights and Strategy Team members will get in touch to answer your questions.  


Changing the Beauty conversation


How the digital age has shaped our ideals of beauty and what your brand can do now

#bodygoals #thinspiration #fitspiration

The digital age has seen the beauty industry and peer pressures of social media, cause people to chase impossible beauty ideals to devastating effects in so many cases around the world. We explore what brands should do to behave more responsibly for their consumers. 

From body-shaming beginnings to current selfie-consciousness...

The digital age has caused a monumental shift in the way we consume and are influenced by advertised beauty ideals. Now no longer reliant on reaching us via magazine print, TV commercials or newspaper advertising, beauty brands (and their standards for what beautiful means) can pop up on our computer screens and smart TVs at any given moment. Even more crucially though, they are ever-present in our social network feeds in the palms of our hands and, even when in our pockets in the background of our lives, gathering and curating targeted data to gain our attention and ‘likes’. 

In the years just preceding this proximity phenomena, Western beauty ideals were represented by repeated images of body extremes – representing exaggerations of the female form from busty corset-wearing celebrities, to self-defining “skinny” icons such as Twiggy, and latterly Kate Moss. 

Noticeably, it was the rise of the ‘skinny discourse’ and the subsequent shaming of ‘plus sizes’ that has been linked to the increase in anorexia rates that rose steeply in the late 90’s, causing the highest death rate of all mental disorders of this period, according to psychiatric reports. Conversely, global obesity rates simultaneously skyrocketed, rising by an estimated 100 million between 1990 and 2000, with the World Health Organisation labelling obesity as an ‘epidemic’.  

Notably, by the early 2000’s a dangerous binary polarisation began to form in many people’s minds, with various western cultures judging beauty through the harsh lens of an individual either being ‘too fat’ or ‘too thin’.

The early 00s ushered in the era of social media and smartphones, which gave birth to ‘selfie culture’. Suddenly everyone who wanted a public profile was on Facebook, Myspace, or similar platforms, where their photos were displayed to be judged (‘liked’) or commented on by other users.

Meanwhile, apps such as Tinder, Grindr and PoF were in development, and all based on the premise that people could like or dislike potential matches based almost solely on a person’s physical appearance. By the time online dating was normalised behaviour, we had contributed to an environment where beauty was a competition where the most attractive profile wins. 

Most recently, we see how platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have given users the ability to gain their own fan base, and like-wise as fans, ‘follow’ their own idols – subtly permissing a new form of semi-voyeurism where not only beauty is judged and commented on, but users are actively encouraged to access and engage with ‘candid’ personal life imagery.  When we consider how younger audiences are one of the most active user groups of platforms such as these, it provokes the urgent question, what are we teaching our children about self-worth? 

Distorting Real Beauty

With the practice of airbrushing becoming a routine part of the professional photo editing process, it’s now rare to come across an advertised image of a model or celebrity that hasn’t been enhanced in some way. We’re now bombarded with manipulated images of social influencers who’ve had their necks lengthened, breasts enlarged, eyes widened, or muscles bulked.The result is that these false images inform new standards of beauty in followers’ minds and people who engage with them can find it depressingly impossible to recreate these ideals in their own lives. Dove’s iconic Evolution campaign highlighted the repercussions of this movement with stark clarity.

Seemingly solving the problem of inaccessible airbrushing capabilities, social media platforms, mobile operating systems and app developers have jumped on the bandwagon and provided simplified tools to the masses. Within the last few years, we see tech giants such as Snapchat and Instagram providing photo filters that allow the user to smooth their skin, or brighten their face, or enlarge their eyes.  A recent player fast becoming popular amongst young audiences is Facetune, which offers simplistic Photoshop-style alteration features where the user can even manipulate tooth colour, lip fullness, facial structure, body shape and muscle density.

Several studies suggest that these apps and filters are damaging to people’s confidence and can lead to issues such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, described by the NHS as ‘a mental health condition where a person becomes obsessed by flaws in their appearance, which are usually not noticeable to others – and causing self-esteem amongst young people to plummet’.

The unrealistic beauty ideals caused by photoshopped idols and the beauty industry has seen record numbers of cosmetic surgery as increasing numbers of people feel the need to become more self-confident. From 2014, all cosmetic surgery procedures grew in occurrence, and in 2015 the number of males getting cosmetic surgery doubled in comparison with the previous decade. 

Plastic surgeons are now reporting patients bringing filtered selfies to illustrate their desired appearance, in a phenomenon the Boston Medical Centre are calling ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’.

Whilst undergoing a cosmetic procedure is not something one should be ashamed of, it’s continuing rise feeds into a “rat race culture where it feels like a constant beauty pageant.” according to Renee Engeln, Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, and author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women


At the acute end of the problem we see young people increasingly revealing a subconscious bias in their perception of what they consider a ‘normal’ face or body, and the consequence is that more and more children are growing up believing “I could look better”. In the UK alone, evidence by the British Medical Journal suggests eating disorders between ages 10-49 years, rose from 32.3% to 37.2% in just 9 years from 2000 to 2009. 

The green shoots of body positivity

It may not all be doom and gloom. There are reasons to believe that the situation is improving.

The latter part of this decade feels as though a wave of positive change is coming.

Social media is, to a degree, a democratised space; it has given a platform for expression for all individuals and people are no longer accepting the role of a passive consumer of media. This paradigm shift within beauty discourse has resulted in an increase in the prevalence of messages of inclusivity, and most notably, body positivity. Champions of these messages, such as Harnam Kaur, the ‘bearded lady’, and Khoudia Diop, who turned her turned her story of childhood bullying for her dark skin into a modelling career, may become the new idols.

Brands are increasingly becoming aware of this cultural shift too. Some of the most widely celebrated fashion and beauty campaigns of recent times are Asos beauty’s Go play and Aerie’s Real me. In doll manufacturing, Barbie has disrupted their category by recently launching a curvier doll in response to increasing consumer demand, and Sports Illustrated are spearheading the way for other magazines to follow suit continuously celebrating their plus-sized models front and centre. Those brands not keeping up with these tides of change are risking being side-lined and overtly chastened by their audiences online (see Protein World’s recent ‘Beach Body Ready’ advert and any of the public commentary backlash that followed this body shaming campaign). 

New Rules, Ok!

Recent studies conducted by creative agency Brave, measured women’s emotional responses to beauty adverts, with stimuli ranging from conventional beauty ad tropes to the more inclusive and hyper real stories. Overall, the ‘real’ adverts scored higher in emotional impact than the conventional ‘hope in a bottle’ ones. 

The highest scores were achieved by those that fully adopted the consumer demand for celebrating diversity and challenging stereotypes (see ads by H&M and Dove), while those who adopted this cultural movement more ‘half-heartedly’ achieved little to no emotional impact. (See examples by Rimmel and L’Oréal Elvive to see what you think).

These results underline our own observations at Kingfisher Consultancy in our Beauty Cultural Trends studies around the world where we are noticing a significant cultural shift happening, where young women especially are rejecting beauty ideals citing inauthenticity and body alteration as their key reasons and by way of reaction, are increasingly embracing the semiotic codes of hyperreal body positivity.

Brand responsibility means doing more than tweeting #inclusivity

In light of this new landscape, it is worth considering how your brand can play a role in joining this positive movement for change. If your ideal world is one that celebrates beauty, no matter the size and shape and colour, then have you asked your teams, what else your brand could do beyond just featuring real bodies and real people in adverts? 

We believe that as a brand embracing ‘beauty realness’ you have a rare opportunity right now to build in authentic storytelling marketing and consumer engagement strategies by taking up the role of educating your local audiences on the positives of self-care. You might even want to consider going one step further and offering outreach and local community support for anyone dealing with body confidence or mental health issues such as low self-esteem and depression, body or social anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, or body dysmorphia (to name some of the most common illnesses and issues experienced by young people today). 

You’re not alone

Here at Kingfisher Consultancy, we work with many beauty, nutraceutical, healthcare, supplements, wellbeing and cosmetic brands and are on hand to help you lend your positive change campaigns extra credibility by introducing you to experts from the world of healthcare, nutrition, mental health, wellbeing and fitness. 

By sharpening and motivating your plans with directional local market insights and strategically relevant cultural trends data we can help you create compelling communications and brand activations that truly result in positive change for your consumer, ensuring you do your bit to ensure future conversations on beauty are body positive. 

By Nico Binns, Cultural Trends & Insights Consultant at Kingfisher Consultancy

We're here to help!

If you want to learn more about how your organisation can help change  beauty discourse for the better, email quoting reference 'BODY POSITIVE'.  We look forward to working with you.

Gender Fluidity

Gathering meaningful data in a gender fluid world

A 2016 study by J Walter Thompson found that whilst 43% of those born between 1982 and 1988 reported knowing someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns ("they", "them", or "ze") and this figure increased to 56% amongst those born after 1996.  

Notably, when purchasing, 54% of “Generation Z”, reported buying across gender lines.  

Whether private or public sector, today's brands face mounting consumer demands to recognise gender diversity.  Commercially speaking, the "pink pound" or "dorothy dollar" is valued globally at over a trillion dollars, according to Bloomberg, and so the opportunity to engage the LGBTQ+ audience is a no-brainer.

But beyond the commercial opportunity, the social reality in 2018 is that LGBTQ+ hatred is on the rise. 

As Beverly Tillery (Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP)) puts it, “NCAVP data shows that hate-driven violence often occurs in the private places we frequent, like our communities, homes, workplaces, and in shelters. By setting an expectation and standard of non-discrimination in employment, education, housing, healthcare, and all public accommodations, as a country, we will set an expectation of safety and respect for LGBTQ+ people.” 

So to create successful models of inclusivity, including anti-hate cultures for working and living, and to enable better crime prevention at the local level, we as an industry, need to provide governments, brands and local organisations with better and more meaningful data. 

The Market Research Society (MRS) has released an extensive guide recognising both the importance and the challenges of capturing data on the fluid nature of gender.  For example, the MRS guide accepts that "other" and even transgender is an umbrella term which needs unpacking to get to meaningful data.  

Several more identities within the "other" category could include, but are not limited to, polygender, intergender, nongender, agender and transsexual.  Compelled by the global movements calling on brands and corporations to be more inclusive, the urgency to get beyond the gender binary has never been stronger.  Facebook discovered this first hand in 2014, when it was adding 21 more gender options and matching pronouns to its existing 50 gender descriptors.

There needs to be caution in this rush to collect more accurate gender identity data. It is undeniable that gender identity is highly sensitive information, and researchers are obliged to protect both the data and respondents' rights according to Law.  

Making sure respondents feel safe being honest about their gender is imperative for upholding the ethics and validity of your research.  Sometimes, it may be more appropriate to exclude the capture of gender identity altogether. 

Taking the right approach in capturing gender identification when it is essential for the project, may mean in some cases, rethinking your fundamental methodology.

In the process of gathering data on gender identity, researchers are likely to encounter a number of roadblocks.  Overcoming most of these challenges is surprisingly simple, with a few requiring significant changes to our concepts and approaches.

Try to avoid statement agreement tick boxes

Gender identity, especially for those redefining theirs, is an acutely personal topic.  A simple tick in a box it may be, but the sociologist, Howard Becker, points out that there are "rules created and maintained by such labeling".  These rules help to steer behaviour and construct identity as soon as a label is chosen.  Researchers have a responsibility to not only provide terminology for participants to accurately express themselves, but also to offer a format, context, and environment in which they feel comfortable doing so.

Be mindful of cultural variation

In multi-market studies, it is critical that researchers recognise the local characteristics that might shape gender identities.  While in some cultures "third gender" specifically refers to a person identifying as neither man nor woman, others use the term more widely to contest the gender binary.  Besides cultural and linguistic factors, how anyone identifies and discusses their gender identity will be influenced by local attitudes and laws.

A need for flexibility

The convention of forcing respondents to answer a question before moving on to the next may guarantee the capture of data, but this insistence will cause some respondents to feel uncomfortable and ultimately compel some to provide inaccurate information undermining your data set.  

If a person is in the process of exploring which gender identification they are comfortable with, a question which demands answers will be forcing them to draw conclusions when they may not be ready to do so.  Furthermore, this form of surveying wrongly suggests gender identity is static.  As shown by terms like "multigender", an individual could simultaneously identify with more than one gender and may change gender identification throughout their lifetime.

A need for tailored questions

Recycling pre-tested gender identity questions will not produce data that represents a gender fluid society. Instead, researchers have a responsibility to identify the best terminology and question structure for the context being studied.  For example, as noted by Stonewall, an LGBTQ+ campaigns organisation, studies about people who have transitioned genders should not use the term "trans" because individuals may not identify as "trans" if they are in the process of transitioning or if they have transitioned to a certain gender identity that they consider to be right for them in spite of birth assignment


Kingfisher's Best Practice Top Tips

All stages of the research process from planning, to data collection, to analysis and reporting, are opportunities to better represent and respond to the evolving nature of gender identification.  In what follows, we share a few top tips from Kingfisher's toolkit for gender identity research.

Top Tip #1: Identify the real priorities in your planning phase

Your clients, and their priorities, hold the key to how your research will engage respondents on the topic of gender identification.  This is your chance to work closely with clients and ask them: 

  1. What specifically do you want to learn from this research?
  2. How will the insights from this research help your organisation? 

Their answers to these two critical questions will help you decide whether gender identification is necessarily in scope.  For example, if a client wants to understand their customers' experience of one of their food retail outlets so to identify opportunities for improving staff service, they are unlikely to need a gender breakdown in the sample set.  It may be meaningful enough to analyse customers’ experiences against their travel time to the store, or whether they got food to go or stayed in the venue.  

If however, your client wants to understand how their local patients feel about their staff’s care and support, then including questions on gender may well help to identify otherwise unforeseen staff prejudice or discrimination issues.

Top Tip #2: Design culturally-appropriate questions and flexible engagement methodologies

Gender identity, being non-static, is an area in which respondents may answer in ways researchers may not expect, and questionnaire design (whether for recruitment or research purposes) should allow room for this.  A self-description box, in addition to a "prefer to not say" option, gives respondents the freedom to express the nuances of their gender identity whereas an online survey- with fixed parameters- will not. Consider how certain methods enable honest exchange where others might do the opposite and actively encourage facetious or dishonest responses. 

Notably, some methodologies so empower respondents to open up honestly on the topic of gender that they end up answering questions you may not know how to ask. For example, an online moderated community can create a controlled and safe environment for respondents to share their ideas without fears of judgement so to fully elaborate on their personal points of view and experiences.

In foreign markets, researchers will benefit hugely from working with local translators, local LGBTQ+ NGOs and local legal teams in the design phase of their research project.  These collaborations can help reveal what is culturally-appropriate and lawful, in terms of language, data protection and handling, and research participation best practice.  Research agencies which have local teams in these markets will be well placed to help ensure research design is culturally appropriate.

Based on learning from these helpful partners, researchers can include clearer definitions of key terms in their questionnaire, so that all respondents are clear on what is meant and intended. Guidance from Stonewall notes that labels of all kinds, even if defined, may not mean the same thing to everyone, and so in addition to clear descriptions, it can be helpful to ask participants to provide their own definitions.

Top Tip #3: Collect data with a sharpened sensitivity to gender variation

Amongst the various techniques and approaches available, a critical element to your research project is to not overlook making your researchers, recruiters, and facilitators sensitive to the fluid nature of gender identification.  Apart from ensuring best practice at your organisation, there are both legal and ethical reasons for making sure everyone on your project is trained up on the subject.

With increased sensitivity, anyone involved in collecting data would know, for instance, that certain research methods in the context of gender identification may be unethical.  Observational research such as ethnography or some forms of mystery shopping by themselves, for example, should not be used to determine a respondent’s gender.

As one commentator, Natasha Devon, puts it in The Guardian, "gender bias becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we continue to decide someone's gender based on stereotypes, namely assuming that sport and muscles means boys and curves and baking means girls.”   

So, if (during your retail ethnography research fieldwork) you spot someone trying on make-up in a store, consider doing a follow-up interview where you ask them to describe their gender and explain their product choices, so to gain more reliable evidence rather than relying on your own assumption-based observational bias.

Clarity is not only vital in the data researchers collect, but also in how we communicate with respondents during that collection.  Participants should always be informed as to why the research is being conducted and how their data will be analysed, used and stored.  This is to ensure that they do not feel under pressure to share personal information, and are aware that they have the option to withdraw and change answers at any point during your project.

Top Tip #4: Practice conscientious analysis and respectful reporting

This is your opportunity to demonstrate how you handle data with both clients' and respondents' interests in mind.  As many researchers know, to maintain respondents' security, access to their information should be restricted and answers should be anonymised. When it comes to gender studies, reporting should focus on aggregated data results to protect individual’s privacy rights.  

If a small sample of respondents’ data needs to be scrutinised in greater depth to fully understand an individual’s personal experience, attitude or opinion, it is our advice to first let these individual participants know the purpose and method of your analysis so to obtain their free consent before you begin.

A good example of this is highlighted by Stonewall in its guidance to Barclays bank.  Employees experiencing gender variance were asked to provide personal data on the subject of gender in light of their experience working for the bank. 

By reassuring respondents on how their data was going to be handled, researchers enabled their respondents to answer honestly on the subject of gender.

As accurate data was gathered sensitively, the results of this research helped inform targeted professional development initiatives, and paved the way for Barclays to ensure their company culture became much more inclusive.

Evidently, researchers who reassure respondents on how their data is going to be handled enable their respondents to answer honestly on the subject of gender. With meaningful data gathered, those researchers are then better equipped to help their clients develop positive initiatives that actually solve problems of discrimination and prejudice. 

Just as the world outside the research world progresses, so should researchers continually strive to  improve their standards of practice. 

After all, to ensure we deliver meaningful data to our clients, we must first respect the rights of our respondents.

By Crystal Evans, CEO of Kingfisher Consultancy


Become an Industry Leader


Are you a leader when it comes to disability inclusion?

Ask your colleagues today if brands are now more inclusive than they have been in the past, and the reply is likely to be a bold "yes!" A quick Google search would expose how major brands have launched ground-breaking adverts and proactive consumer outreach to attract disabled customers and even featured disability in the marketing campaigns. But they need to ask themselves: is this enough to show that brands are now more inclusive, let alone leaders on this topic?

With an estimated spending power of £212 billion a year, it's hardly surprising that brands would want to tap into the disabled consumer base. Mars, Nike, Uber, and Burger King are just some of the disrupters hoping to make an impression. Nike produced an easy grip trainer in response to an open letter from a teenager with Cerebral Palsy, whilst Burger King cast a cute guide dog and its visually-impaired owner on a hunt for burgers in its Whopper Dog ad. Lego has diversified its collections with a population of disabled characters, and Uber UK now encourages disabled passengers to call specially-trained drivers with an UberAssist app.

Considering this rise in marketing to disabled people, and with it the related increase in researching these consumers, it may be tempting to proclaim the success of campaigns fighting for disability inclusion in business. My argument is that any such proclamation would be premature. Brands may market to and market with disabled people, but are any of the people doing the marketing, for instance, identifying as disabled?

A diversity survey by Marketing Week in 2015 uncovered that half of the respondents (51%) reported not having worked with a disabled colleague. As long as brands are not transforming internally to integrate disabled workers, the ads and services designed to capture disabled consumers seem to be, at least, feeble lip service and, at worst, suggestive of lies and unsubstantiated brand purpose. Now if you are not disturbed by that inconsistency, consumers are. The same Marketing Week survey (cited above) suggested that only 22% of consumers believed disabilities are well-represented in the British marketing and advertising industry. This would unnerve Martin Chitty, Partner at Gowling WLG, who said in 2011, "...mirroring the diversity of a customer base within the workforce can help maintain a long-term proposition that people buy into more readily".

Employers and employees, beginning with the marketing departments, are responsible for demonstrating their brand's commitment to disability inclusion. 

Here are 3 tips for you to get ahead in doing so. My comments draw on experiences as a visually-impaired member of the Kingfisher Consultancy team and my role as Employment Coordinator in a national employment charity, Blind in Business.

Tip 1: Talk about disability

Perhaps ambushed by the terror of being politically incorrect, employers still tread very carefully when talking about disability or just avoid addressing the subject altogether. Therefore, employees do not tend to talk about disability either, and the vicious circle continues.

Growing a company culture- through all levels- that helps staff feel comfortable when speaking openly about their experiences, including their challenges and how they creatively solve them, is vital. Channel 4, for instance, found that it already employed more staff with a disability than its records indicated once it had run an internal campaign, "This is Me", which welcomed people to discuss their disability. Combining the revised statistics on existing disabled employees and increased hire of disabled candidates, Channel 4 increased the total number of staff identifying as disabled from 2% to 11% following the 2012 Paralympics. Quite simply, talking about disability will be one way of spotting and including the disabled person in your department.

One in five of the world's population, or 2 billion of us, are affected with a disability. So there must be many stories you could tell about yourself or others. Urging discourse on the topic first diffuses the tension that seems to surround it, and crucially makes way for the dialogue that will bring people with experiences of disability out of their isolation.

Tip 2: Prepare to learn about disability

Through openly talking about disabled people's experiences, companies will eventually discover the significant variations between them. According to the website of the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) in 2015, there are more than 2 million people in the UK who "are living with sight loss that is severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives, such as not being able to drive". The other "significant impacts", not referred to in this definition, can vary vastly between individuals, based on what determination, skills, and assistive technology they have to counter these effects. No disabled person is the same, just as no able-bodied person is the same.

Showcasing your willingness to learn is critical from the outset, influencing interactions as early as the application process. For example, where forms currently require applicants to choose from specific options to describe their disability, introducing a box in which they could author their own descriptions would give employers actual insight into candidates’ perceptions of their disability and its impact on their lives. If you are impressed with an application but have no clue how the applicant would do the job owing to a disability, then arrange a phone call or invite them to interview. This would be the candidate’s opportunity to tell you what their technology permits them to do, how they may have devised creative solutions to workplace problems before, and how they can do this again. You may be surprised by what is possible.

Tip 3: Focus on the talent

Sure, the recruitment of some disabled staff may be valuable for your projects on disabled consumers. But not all of these recruits want to explore disability as part of their work. Just like any other group of new entrants to a business, disabled people will arrive with a host of talents and fresh perspectives, often disconnected from their impairment. By recognising and developing these diverse abilities, businesses will benefit; being able to grow their talent pool across their teams.

This focus on employees’ talents, as opposed to their disability, is what helps companies to view candidates' requests for adjustments as a reasonable ask. Further, having talked to candidates, employers would discover that, once employed in paid work, disabled staff are eligible for such supports as Access to Work, a UK government-funded scheme providing the technology and resources disabled people need to achieve their full potential.

So, as you can see, it's relatively easy to set the industry example for disability inclusion: you are simply required to practise what you preach. The gap between the current state of disability inclusion and what I am advocating can be bridged with a few changes to business attitudes towards disability. By talking about disability openly, you normalise it and start focusing on people's talents. This reassures consumers that the business and staff behind a brand actually believe in what it claims to stand for.

By Harsha Balasubramanian, Cultural Anthropologist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

We're here to help!

If you want to learn more about disability inclusivity for your business, email quoting reference 'INCLUSIVITY' 

We look forward to connecting with you.

A Necessary Mindset: The Stoic Marketeer


The cost of early AI CRM

Across many different disciplines, commercial and otherwise, the term 'AI' is being bandied about like the word 'email' was back in the early 90s. It's likely to impact human society at every level, and for good or ill, it is coming. In fact, it has, in various degrees of complexity, been around for some while. Remember 'fuzzy logic'? Admittedly without a PhD in mathematics and computing, I cannot claim any deep understanding of the mechanics or the form AI will likely take when it finally reaches the majority of us on a day-to-day basis. I too have watched Will Smith and company reveal an all too frightening future of AI, a portent originally written by Asimov, himself influenced by science fiction writers of the 1930s and 40s. But, nevertheless, it comes, and I think far from being swept up and owned by tomorrow's coders, there are opportunities for us now, even without those PhDs.

Impeccable iterative learning

Upon reflection, the inevitability of advanced AI taking over the time-consuming, highly repetitive and weighty data analysis to achieve better product targeting appeals. With our heads already having to grapple with Big Data, and spreadsheets (and spreadsheets and spreadsheets....) being the fundamental tools of the marketer's work more and more, dropping an AI in to handle this and spit out the optimised data-driven direction we should take seems an extremely attractive prospect.

The only downside is, when it becomes available, harnessed for the marketer through some cleverly designed, user friendly interface (HAL?), it will become available for all. And so you and your competitors will still remain at loggerheads. 

The way that AI differs from current computing can be simplified as this; it learns iteratively. It does not return an error or crash; it returns a best guess, and it does not need to be programmed to take every specific step. It observes available phenomena, and then acts in anticipation of the same set of circumstances. When the results are suprising, it learns more, and changes its future decisions accordingly.

So far, humans have been the only machines capable of storing the learnings from broad, complex, changing landscapes over time (fairly well, but often, unfortunately, with errors from cognitive bias (see our Perspective piece on this at the bottom of this page). Yet, we're given to believe that AI will serve this particular function, impeccably.

The truth is...

We remain some way off. Don't believe all the hype. Granted, some phenomenal leaps have been made with a recently developed AI now (arguably) being the global 'Go' champion (a game far more complex than Chess, and a journey admirably portrayed in this year's Netflix cult classic  'AlphaGo', about Google's DeepMind AI). But given that your AI will only perform as well as the data you give it, it turns out, there is work for us to do right now. 

Consider this: a child with 3 GCSE qualifications will, more than likely, be able to function at the same level as a child that has 10 GCSE qualifications in the long run. We are all pluripotential. But the premise here is that the child with 10 GCSEs will most likely get there faster. 

So what now, right now?

4 Lessons to prepare you for the Future of Data-driven Marketing

When it comes to optimising marketing spend, there are a series of factors that are needed for input. Spend, for one. Specifically, how much customers spend. Obviously. And the other factors are also pretty obvious. When, where, how (often), what. Then there is communication- what channels? And to tie this all together, there is who. Which of your customers spend how much. 

Lesson 1: Clean up, throw out and fortify your data architecture for exponential growth 

This lesson, in various forms, has kicked off thousands of articles on CRM for some years now, and so should be taken with great comfort. These data are also those which will be needed for our future AI to learn from. 

So, what's the learning? Build your information architecture to accommodate these (growing) data as well as concomitant data that you can also gather (e.g. the less important, but often interesting socio-demographic data). Remove silos; if you can't cross map it, you need to bin it; it's worthless. And finally... Review your data collection points. Are your postcodes being entered in free-text boxes? Are your customer emails being validated in real time, or at least every day or just before send? Are your opt in lists watertight? 

As all good CRM strategists will inform you, your data also needs to be clean, de-duped- and- current. If your product ranges have changed within the last 2 years, data from 3 or more years ago is simply a distraction. And finally, is your system able to handle new parameters easily? Can you flag groups of transactions easily for follow up analyses? Or does your agency charge you every time?

Lesson 2: Conduct marketing experiments; and track the results

Once your data is coming in cleanly, and mapping across to relevant historical transactions for each customer, to get insight that will serve the purposes of self-learning automation, marketing scenarios need to be played out, and results tracked. This largely involves executing campaigns to varying groups of customers over time with different messages or offers, tracking new product adoption and end-of-line behaviours; i.e. all normal marketing activities that currently go on. But add some housekeeping (record the dates of executions, the purposes of the campaigns and the thinking behind the audiences chosen), and deploy with iterative learning in mind; ideally, flagging, with a unique campaign code, every audience reached. 

Beyond offer value and price point testing, there is time of day, channel, creative, weather impact as well as product combination testing for upsell and cross sell insight. And different customer responses to all of these will help build a deeply complex and ROI savvy marketing strategy. Remember; your opt-outs are your control population.

Lesson 3: Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth 

It is a fallacy to believe the adage that "Man didn't get to the moon by analysing failed launches". Quite the opposite, in fact. And this is to be borne in mind when approaching the marketing test design and execution. When paving the way for the future of data driven marketing, campaigns that do not result in bottom line uplift are equally as insightful. In principle, this is an easy concept to grapple with, but when the finance team is waving sales data at the board meeting, this storm needs to be weathered. It is a really tough scenario, and I'm sorry to have to pass this on. But the beauty of data is that there is always another insight. There are two main goals with marketing; increase sales and increase awareness. Keep in mind that when a campaign did not increase the overall sales that month, concomitant factors may reveal very exciting, positive trends with customer lifetime value implications; did footfall increase? Did you recall more lapsed customers than previously? 

Lesson 4: Remember, ultimately it is a team effort - collaboration is critical to you future-proofing your business.

The advent of AI in marketing will no doubt result in significant movement towards lean marketing teams. And already, CRM job descriptors are requiring coding alongside marketing strategy. But the groundwork can be done now, and is being led by diligent marketers already adopting the iterative, data driven approach to their day-to-day. But, as with the data itself, it cannot be done in silos. Make sure marketing has a seat at the table in information architecture conversations between IT and data warehousing providers. Ensure that sales review teams at the highest levels are aware of the multi-faceted goals you seek and prepare them for the peaks and troughs. 

Collaboration and ideation working groups need to be set up at the development stages between Web, e-Commerce, app, marketing, data warehousing and mobile marketing teams. Otherwise, you may find a non-native POS software agency that cannot provide your internal teams with product level data kiboshing any real chance of succeeding in the targeted marketing game. 

By Dr Louisa Evans, Customer Loyalty and CRM Strategy Director at Kingfisher Consultancy

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Schedule a free consultation session with one of our Senior CRM Strategists by emailing We look forward to hearing from you.

Customer Segmentation: Value is Always Right


Flipchart fatigue

It was one of those meetings. You know, all the agencies are there, all the various client teams are there, and everyone had something to add, to prove why the way they had always done it was so great.

In various guises, we've all attended these meetings. You're gathered to shake up the marketing spend. To refocus on the customer; to develop a new path that is going to be the final ad infinitum customer targeting map that maximises every marketing pound spent. 

Often, the rooms we are in have 4 walls. Against each wall is a flip chart, where we are grouped into 4 teams to ideate around 1 or 2 personas, resulting in 4 to 8 different customer types. Obviously if you've only got 3 flip charts, then you get a range of customer personas that turn out to be a multiple of 3. Yeah. Flip chart availability becoming the most important determining factor of ongoing marketing strategy.

So anyway, in this meeting, we had 4 different agencies, each with 4 different segmentations. The agencies were responsible for direct marketing, email marketing, SMS marketing and data warehousing and analysis. 

Understandably, the client felt the need to coalesce or at least converge upon one segmentation, one model to keep one language they could move forward with for all of their customer service teams.

Direct marketing agency had rich geo-demographic data. All the postcodes. Grouped against all their local supply hubs.

Email marketing agency had rich email interaction data. Everyone listed in order of willingness to open emails.

SMS marketing agency knew exactly which of their contacts could be reached by SMS.

The data warehousing agency had all the sales data, and all the opted-in individuals details. So they knew who bought what when.

Before the sales data had been organised and distributed, there was no tie in, at the customer level, of who bought what

The segment personas were simply conceptions, each beautifully described (with the maximum number of characteristics afforded by the maximum number of bullet points on a PowerPoint slide in font size 18) from their available data. 

Value is always right

Turned out, people that live in big houses don't spend the most on the client's products.

Turned out, people that open their emails the most or have opted in for SMS communications don't spend the most on the client's products either.

Turned out, every single non-value segmentation resulted in customer segments with identical average spend over lifetime.

A shame really, when the client had access to all sales data for every transaction for all consumers, and a simple K means clustering analysis would have given them a list of their most valuable customers, and cross mapping those with opt in across email and SMS would result in fewer marketing pounds wasted on those that won't respond to SMS, email or pamphlet drops. 

In total, their optimal CRM strategy would have been to prioritise just 20% of those that they were in contact with, saving the rest of their marketing budget for national campaigns to increase their overall reach.

But there were 4 whiteboards and 4 walls and 4 agencies. So they ended up spending on 80% more marketing than they needed to. If only they'd spoken to us first.

By the CRM Strategy Team at Kingfisher Consultancy

We're here to help!

Schedule a free consultation session with one of our Senior CRM Strategists by emailing We look forward to hearing from you.

Demand Diversity in Advertising


What should your brand really be doing?

The demand for gender diversity is nothing new, but the recent social conversations around #TimesUp, #MeToo, and a 2017 report by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have forced brands to ask themselves if they're really doing enough to tackle gender stereotypes in ad campaigns. Is simply rallying around women on the odd occasion enough to achieve gender equality? Isn't that merely ticking the box for gender diversity?

There are occasions when you're allowed to applaud women, and then there are those when you're not!


International Women's Day serves as an annual prod to advertisers to ponder deeply about the sexist world we live in. Consider Vodafone's "Raising Voices" short film in 2018, which features children wondering: "Why are almost all super heroes men?", and "Why have there been so many male presidents but so few women?" Society, Vodafone seems to say, needs to face up to the position it has allowed women to occupy and do something about it. 

In addition to highlighting stereotypes on International Women's Day, some brands went further towards challenging them. HP continued its well-known tradition of advocating for gender equality in the advertising industry by centerring its 2018 campaign on a search for female storytellers. In this short film by HP Studios, an Indian girl is presented as a "dreamer with a pen" alongside the teacher who aids her ambition to be a writer. Filling the creative industry with female brains and ideas is one way to enable diverse and fair representation of women to flourish, but HP is not overlooking the challenges creative women will encounter in their career and the support they deserve across the globe. Other brands, such as Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, backed up their above-the-line ads with below-the-line commitments that reinforced their key messages. Through introducing a Rwandan microlot coffee produced exclusively by women, this business is able to support female coffee producers in regions, like Rwanda and Guatemala, where the industry has historically been male-dominated.

Rallying around women in these ways has been the first response to the shocking sexism and gender stereotyping plaguing the advertising industry. In June 2017, researchers from J Walter Thompson New York and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media collaborated with University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering to analyse over 2000 films from the Cannes Lions archive. They made some striking discoveries, including the fact that men tend to get four times as much screen time as women and speak seven times more than women. While men came from a range of age brackets from 20s, 30s, to 40s, the women starring in adverts were more often in their 20s. Occupationally, women were forty-eight per cent more likely to be shown to be in the kitchen, whereas men were fifty per cent more likely shown at sporting events. The statistics quoted here are not exhaustive, but they are arguably enough to highlight a problem. We may witness feminist outbursts from ad agencies around important social moments, such as International Women's Day or MeToo, but we still can't be sure that an everyday advert will not pass the sexism test.

How are brands still getting it wrong?

Take a humble chocolate advertisement, such as the Co-op's 2017 Easter egg commercial. Parents are encouraged to buy their daughter a chocolate easter egg to "treat her" for "doing the washing up". "Be a good egg", the ad insists. While doing house chores is commendable for many parents, cautious creatives may have avoided going for a chore that puts female identity firmly back in the kitchen. What's more, from Lindt to Cadbury's Dairy Milk, women of all ages have long been the target of chocolate advertising. For example, why is the child featured in Cadbury's 2018 ad campaign buying a chocolate bar for her mum, and not her dad? Not only is this little act of kindness a clichéd way to recognise mothers (especially on Mother's Day - GROAN), but also just imagine how the ad would change if the recipient was male. Would it then be challenging the prejudice that all women rely on treats and comfort in the form of chocolate?

Brands making bold feminist statements have not always done this well. 

BrewDog was called out for performing a marketing stunt when it launched a pink "beer for girls". Those who identified as "girls" could buy this drink for twenty per cent less than their male counterparts, a dig at the gender pay gap, it seems. Sarah Barton, the Director of Brewster's Brewing Company and initiator of Project Venus, a network of female brewers, told the Guardian: "BrewDog is trying to be clever, sarcastic and ironic but I think it may be viewed as a patronising beer from one of the big boys". Meanwhile, Paul Domenet, an Executive at Design Firm Dew Gibbons, adds that this launch reveals BrewDog's desperation to have "more of a share of the lucrative female drinkers' market." Perhaps a bolder move would be to ditch the creative who suggested that female targeting should be "girls" (not only in light of legal drinking age regulations but the insult inherent in that belittlement).

Nestle may have eventually shifted on their Yorkie bars being "Not for girls", but at least this positioning dared "girls" to snatch their chocolate off the shelves to rebel against the stereotype. Risky? Perhaps. Provocative? Most definitely!

Are brands forgetting the D word in "Gender Diversity"?

Even brands with the best intentions to rally around women may end up perpetuating the prejudices they are trying to destroy. Undoing such gender prejudices partly involves undoing the lack of diversity upholding prejudice in general.

H&M's 2016 Autumn-Winter commercial attempts to shed light on the sheer variety of people identifying as women in the world. For example, it features a muscular woman, black women with natural hair, women with shaven heads, an ethnically-mixed heritage woman, a septuagenarian, a transwoman, and lesbians. Accompanied by Tom Jones' "She's a Lady", skinny women guiltlessly stuff their faces, while others display armpit hair. These are the 'normal' women who are shopping at H&M, the ad says. In short, H&M aligns itself with 'contemporary notions of being a woman', which makes room for today's fluid racial, gender, and sexual identities. But let's not forget that a woman is not just a woman: beyond facing prejudice thrown at this supposedly catch-all identity, a woman of colour faces racial stereotyping on top of the macro and micro-aggressions of daily sexism, and her experience of 'being a woman' will be very different again if she has disabilities or is over a certain age, or is a single parent...

It's worth noting that shouting loudly about diversity hasn't gone down well in all quarters. A 2016 Maltesers UK ad campaign which cast disabled actors may have been the most successful in a decade, but it swept in 151 complaints. This advert, "New Boyfriend", invites viewers into a conversation between three women, where a young girl is telling her two friends about the awkward experience of having sex with her new boyfriend. Unusually for TV adverts, the woman speaking is sitting in an electric wheelchair and she explains, giggling, that the encounter with her boyfriend was in fact brought about by a spasm, a symptom of her cerebral palsy. To visually represent this, she shakes a bag of Maltesers on to the table and the three women collapse into laughter.

Critics of this advert focused on how it might offend disabled people and may have gone too far with its explicit sexual innuendo. One wonders whether these 151 complainants also complained about's advert starring a lesbian couple kissing passionately (one of the top ten most complained about ads in 2017 noted by ASA). Fear not creatives! Forge on, we say. Plus it's worth the effort, as Maltesers ended up producing its most successful ad campaign in a decade. Clearly these complainants never leave their homes to see the rich diversity outside their doors. And these 151 have missed how the creatives behind the Maltesers ad disrupted the tired concept of a chocolate fulfilling women's sexual needs. Instead, the creatives celebrate the empowered female lead's ability to make comic light of an awkward experience.

The Channel 4 'Superhumans' advert sought to flip prejudiced perceptions of disabled people on its head, but this ad campaign intentionally disorients its audience, making many previous assumptions about disabled people redundant. "It's uncomfortable but you have to keep with it", says Michele Oliver, Vice-President of Marketing at Mars UK. That uneasiness is what really gets us ready to reassess all our norms and take steps towards diversity and inclusion.

Approaching gender diversity without mentioning gender is what creatives like Alexandra Matine, Senior Strategist at 72AndSunny Amsterdam, is calling for: "a single message for women and men". Gender neutrality, Matine suggests, is what we need, especially if nearly two thirds of 14-34 year olds in Western countries declare they are testing the limits of what it means to be feminine and masculine.

As Ella Smillie, lead author of the aforementioned 2017 ASA report, said: "Advertising is not the only influence (on gender stereotyping) but does play a role, and it's right that we identify where there's a potential for harm". Here at Kingfisher Consultancy, we completely agree; one only needs to walk into a Baby Gap or the Infant section of a Next to see how gender prejudice starts making an impact in just the first few years of life. Brand managers should remember that to press for progress in gender diversity, they must also press for progress for all forms of diversity. This means truly waving the banner to celebrate human individuality - not just jumping on a band wagon when International Women's Day pops up in the calendar.

 By Crystal Evans, CEO of Kingfisher Consultancy

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Exciting the Senses


Unleashing Immersive Brand Experiences

Diageo, Asda, and Dove are just some of the brands waking to the realisation that stimulating consumers' senses, and if possible all five, would be earning entry to purchasers' hearts and their wallets. Why would this multi-sensory marketing need a cross-sensory mindset? Well, ask yourself: would you trust, or even notice, a store's "Gourmet Fresh Food" logo if it smelled like a disused garage? As brand strategists and creatives tasked with steering audiences' perceptions, you'll need to ask whether what they hear, touch, smell, and sometimes taste will make them see as you're intending them to.

The rise of the experience economy is epitomised by consumer demand for the personalised, immersive experiences produced by multi-sensory marketing. Appealing to more senses can increase the areas of the brain being stimulated, maximising the engagement with the brand and the emotional impact caused. It is no surprise then that investing in sensory branding brings significant financial returns. For example, research commissioned on Unilever's Dove brand revealed that the soap's smell contributes $63m (£39m) of annual US revenues, touch yields $34m, and sight accounts for $14m. Researchers found that smell made users feel calm and valued, all emotions that would make the product stick in buyers' memories and persuade them to come back.

Sensory Consistency is Key to Success

Smell, it appears, seems to be the best sensory mode for helping Dove's success, and this explains why the business makes it a focus, clinging close to the recipe for generating this scent. However, relying on smell without considering how other senses are being affected can backfire, as was found by scholars (Morrin & Chebat 2005). They discovered that featuring background music in shopping centres helped to increase sales, but adding ambient scent to the music did not have any impact. This leads us to wonder: did the scent and music in this context complement each other as well as they could have for maximum impact?

The importance of sensory consistency was made clear in a study by Oxford university and sensory architects, Condinment Junkie, who revealed that drinkers in a room with a red colour scheme and fruits found Scotch whisky- the Singleton- up to 13 per cent sweeter by comparison. Meanwhile, drinkers in a wood-panelled room listening to the sound of a crackling fire enjoyed the whisky up to 15 per cent more than in the other two rooms. Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology and a member of the research team, explains this result by drawing on the rules of sensory dominance, where brains prioritise information from one sense over another. Therefore, awareness of how multiple senses will be processed when received together is crucial to prevent conflicts between sensory cues and hence more effective multi-sensory marketing. Charles speculates how brands will come under growing pressure to make sensory alignment central to their strategy. Speaking to The Guardian, he said: "In five years' time, when you go into a wine store ... you'll be able to scan the label on the bottle and get the matching music for your wine."

Diageo has thought about sensory consistency already. Take a look at its Tasting Rooms, opened in August 2013, which welcomes visitors to chambers nestled in its brewery designed by food architects Bompas and Parr, who collaborated with flavour scientists to identify the environmental characteristics that would heighten taste perception. For instance, the offer included "flavour fountains" from which arise vapours of beer, malt, roasted barley and hops, all notable flavours in Guinness. Catherine Keegan, Manager at the Guinness Storehouse, told Marketing Week: "It's to get your sense of smell ready, so that you're tasting with your sense of smell". Diageo has made the most of this opportunity to control drinkers' physical environments, understanding that achieving their end goal of delicious beer can depend on an equally arousing aroma.

A Weapon in the Retailer’s Arsenal

With even beverage brands jumping at the chance to have a physical space they can control, it is clear that retailers have a golden opportunity, not available to E-commerce. Stores arguably have the best shot at sensory alignment, because they can mould a buyers' entire physical experience step-by-step, not merely the on-screen experience. For example, Tigerlily, the Australian swimwear brand, is well-known for its iconic coconut and lime scented candles, which are meant to evoke summer by the sea, and less known for the other sensory nudges that complement and enhance this effect. Amelia Mather, Creative Director at Tigerlily, points out in a interview that smell is not the only sense her creative team thought of: "Visually the stores represented what we stand for, but we wanted them to smell and sound like the beach". Without honing those sounds and sights hinting the seaside, it's doubtable that all consumers would have always thought about beaches, just by sniffing coconut and lime.

Even supermarkets who showcase various brands, can aim to provide shoppers with a coherent, sensorially-aligned brand experience. Take Asda, for instance, which in 2015 worked with Google, YouTube, and Carat UK during Halloween to provide a fully immersive and interactive 360 YouTube video that was shoppable. This capacity to cohesively blend virtual experiences with direct contact could give retailers the upper hand on both maximising and smoothly synthesising users' sensory engagement with a brand. The luxury department store, Neiman Marcus, went further to install a physical and digital smart fitting room, allowing customers to view themselves in clothing from different angles and side-by-side with alternatives. In what is being called "total retail", customers' visual perceptions whilst trialing clothes online should echo what they would see in-store, as well as complementing what they would feel, hear, and smell.

What is a Cross-Sensory Mindset?

Multi-sensory marketing has taught us the importance of targeting more of consumers' senses and in complementary ways. In that case, a visual identity, for instance, is not simply what users perceive through their eyes, but it is shaped by what they feel, hear, taste, and smell.

Let's briefly immerse ourselves in this challenge: imagine you've joined the creative team behind Skittles's "Taste The Rainbow!" maxim. How do you think tasting the rainbow would sound? Are you thinking symphony, or mingling of several outdoor spring jam sessions, or the simulation of languages from around the world?

Would it feel like British weather- cold, warm, wet, dry, and cold again?

Would it smell like a chaos of Skittles flavours or an open food festival?

How would it look- a theme park, a street party, or firework display?

Incorporating this kind of cross-sensory thinking in marketing requires active collaboration between creatives. So if Skittles needed a visual rebrand, it's a call for sound, touch, smell, and taste experts to combine forces with colleagues in the vision department to push out a robust visual identity.

By Harsha Balasubramanian, Cultural Anthropologist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

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Brand Purpose: What You Need To Know

Brand Purpose

Firstly, 'To have or not to have’, (That is the wrong question)

In 2017, kneeling protests brought the NFL face to face with a ruthless brand dilemma: join the fierce political dialogue, or assert that this organisation's core function is to host football. An extreme example perhaps, but this is the kind of question that big and small brands are asking themselves today: namely, should we have a purpose that extends beyond making profit and includes changing society at large?

Before talking through the role of the term 'purpose' here, those for and against 'brand purpose' have launched offensives at each other. Armies of benevolent brands, as diverse as Google, P&G, Starbucks, Lush, and Nationwide, have started marching, claiming that their brand purpose responds aptly to consumers' current values and expectations. Rather than seeming aloof, they offer to get down with followers to orchestrate powerful social change, particularly when traditional institutions appear incapable of doing so. Meanwhile, other marketers fear that brands will sacrifice many must-haves at the altar of brand purpose. Obsessing about saving the world could put brand strategists out of touch with consumers, their product, shareholders, and reality.

Influenced by this debate, brands still ask: to have or not to have brand purpose? This quasi-Hamlet pondering totally misses the point. If brand purpose means producing impact beyond commercial gain, it's high time marketers acknowledged how brands are always somehow changing the world- through the meanings they signify and how these are appropriated to shape consumers' daily existence. Talking through 'purpose' reveals that, actually, all brands end up having a purpose, but they need to ask how it should be developed to suit the business model and consumers' needs.

Unpacking Brand Purpose

According to WARC, brand purpose is the "reason for a brand to exist beyond making profit". That is to say, brand purpose is not a one-off, tactical move but a long-term commitment that is developed over time and affects multiple aspects of the brand. Based on this definition, one element of a brand that falls outside money-making is how consumers interpret the meanings associated with a brand and build them into everyday life. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky, a Bourbon brand, aims to maximise the sale of its beverage. One strategy is to ensure that everything from manufacture, to packaging, to advertising interests potential buyers with its Kentucky heritage and the stories of men and women who brought it into being. Saturating all touch points with these associations may indeed help increase purchases, but it also projects notions of what it means to consume this whisky. As Mark Ritson recognises in a Marketing Mag article, consumer culture is all about "people who increasingly draw on the meanings derived from consumption to answer the questions of everyday existence". In other words, drinkers- and non-drinkers- of Buffalo Trace may use the meanings of consuming it, ie, what the brand stands for, to understand and change their worlds beyond whisky, such as how they perceive Kentucky, their value of tradition, and their attitude towards American products.

Because every brand is built with meanings and hence comes to signify something in people's everyday lives, every brand must have a purpose beyond making profit. Yet how this purpose can be crafted requires discussion.

The Opponents of Brand Purpose

Critics have one main bone to pick with brand purpose: it demands brands to be almost shameful of their first raison détre, namely making money. Byron Sharp put it like this in his blog: "No wonder marketers aren't respected- even marketers hate marketers it seems". This attitude makes marketers want to turn brands in to "saints", which for Sharp is "nuts". Lofty brand purposes then emerge, such as Starbucks's "Race Together" campaign, which hoped consumers would chew over race relations in America as they sipped their morning brew. Instead of making Starbucks coffee mentally and physically available to consumers at every touch point, the campaign would have distracted audiences from the actual coffee, according to Sharp and his Ehrenberg-Bass approach to brand building. For Neil Simpson, Associate Planning Director at DDB New York, hiding behind such a social purpose risks undermining a brand's authenticity, as for him "An authentic brand admits when it is trying to sell to you something and lives with it."


A distraction from the brand's assets, combined with careless messaging, can lead consumers to misinterpret any brand purpose and down go the sales! The much-lambasted Pepsi 2017 advertising campaign featuring Kendall Jenner is one example. Briefly, the various protests that happened in 2017, from the Women's March to Black Lives Matter- amongst others, were thrown into an anonymous mob, made all the merrier by fizz from a can of Pepsi and a notoriously famous millennial. The advert was pulled 24 hours after first appearance, and though the brand slowly recovered, YouGov reported that Pepsi had reached its lowest consumer perception levels in nearly ten years during this time. As opponents of brand purpose would exclaim, Pepsi overreaching to support social good has made it seem even more out of touch with their youth target audience and insensitive to the significance of these protests. Such adds will do nothing to reassure the 42 percent of UK consumers who already distrust brands, according to a 2017 Trinity Mirror study.


Putting reprimands of Pepsi aside, we should recognise that this saga illustrates how a brand could acquire a completely unanticipated and unintended purpose in society. For example, Pepsi's interpretation of the protests caused backlash from some audiences, triggering reflections about what the protests meant and how ads portrayed minorities, including Muslim women. Not only had Pepsi unintentionally set off the social conversations that other brands like P&G had meticulously started, but during last year's May Day demonstrations protestors in Portland USA threw full Pepsi cans at police, suggesting that this product had now taken on a new reason for existence in consumers' lives. As opposed to being a soft drink that cooled tensions, these anti-Trump, pro-Labour protestors implied Pepsi cans, when hurled, could help heat up violence and mock the corporate establishment. Therefore, Pepsi's brand architects may have set down what it stands for, but they arguably did not estimate ways in which the chosen mode of expression could be interpreted by consumers to assign the brand a totally unforeseen purpose.


Harriet Lowe, Insight Manager at Ingenuity London, makes a useful distinction between what a brand stands for and how this is expressed. Although the meanings of driving a Volkswagen may be consistent throughout life of that brand, how VW expresses these can vary according to the target audience, chosen platform, and conveyed messaging. Sometimes, this may be to make a political statement, but at other times, it may be to promote its specific assets and enhance market performance. To determine the purposes that consumers might assign to brands in their lives, I suggest that brands should focus on consolidating what they stand for and making sure that this is expressed as accurately as possible.

The Proponents of Brand Purpose

The supporters of brand purpose insist that, in this era of endless choice, an undeniable way for brands to differentiate themselves is to profess some unique values, which are in sink with consumers' beliefs and ideally aim to make the world a better place. Julian Pearce, Communications Account Director at The Propaganda Agency, a brand consultancy, adds that "... those values are starting to be examined more closely ..." by audiences, and businesses can no longer simply "lip-service". If Google stands for open, democratic sharing of information, audiences expect this to be consistent and, as we saw in 2006, censoring searches in China caused backlash against the global brand. Just as belief-based brands must live up to high expectations, they can actually be more profitable, says Jim Stengel, former Head at P&G. A case in point is Nationwide: through collaboration with VCCP, a campaign was born that reassessed difference between regular banks and building societies, drawing on user-generated content, like poetry on "being a mum" and "loneliness in a connected world". YouGov brand tracking figures did show that there were higher impression scores for Nationwide compared to competitors, despite the remaining distrust of the entire industry following the financial crisis.

Motivated by the evident goods of purpose-driven marketing, Debbie Klein, Chief Executive for Europe and Asia Pacific at Engine, said: "During times of uncertainty, consumers inevitably turn to brands, companies and people they can trust,". Her example is Ben and Jerry's 2015 campaign to mark legalisation of same-sex marriage in the USA: calling its Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavour "I Dough, I dough". While stepping in for political and social institutions may come across a bit audacious, I agree with Klein that brands should define what they stand for and how to communicate these meanings consistently to their target audience. Lush is a good example of ensuring that what it stands for is precisely conveyed to consumers at every opportunity. The business opposes animal testing and enables the sustainability of its stance by providing financial incentives to those who use it. Therefore, Lush is able to control the purpose that consumers assign it in their everyday lives by carefully defining and practicing what it stands for.

Notably, the purposes that brands acquire in consumers' lives are not always philanthropic. Take Ryanair, for instance. Kenny Jacobs, Chief Marketing Officer at Ryanair, insists that, rather than chasing your love, Ryanair is about offering you "... the best schedule, the cheapest flights and being very good at execution." This rational emphasis on the product's functional quality, along with the business's focus on sales, is what differentiates the brand. Besides becoming the fastest growing airline in Europe during 2017, Ryanair has arguably changed society at large. Firstly, Ryanair consumers can identify themselves as the rational ones, which may impact their future choices, as well as how they perceive and interact with others in the sector of air travel and beyond. Also, the appeal to rational consumers, as opposed to their emotional counterparts, reinforces the social construct that distinguishes between rationality and emotions and endorses the former. So if like Ryanair your brand can attain a purpose in the world without intending to, this proves more than ever why your business should know what the brand stands for and how to successfully express this.

Let's Get Real

The debate for and against brand purpose has been dynamic and rigorous. Yet the discussion has lacked the realisation that causing impact beyond profit-making does not strictly require your business to back a highly-esteemed social good. A broader concept of purpose is necessary, recognising that the meanings and associations in brands, namely what they stand for, can be appropriated by consumers to answer questions in their everyday lives, even if this doesn't involve saving the world.

As brand teams evolve how they approach their marketing strategies, we will inevitably see more brands move away from "doing good" for the sake of it. My wish is that within this effort to grow impactful and meaningful brands, we see a return to well-grounded brand positioning thinking. 

Crucially, as a first step, this means asking your brand team, 'what is your brand's real reason for being?'

To determine the purposes that consumers find for your brand, you should then ask, 'are the meanings you want to convey communicated accurately at all touch points?' 

By forcing your business to continually ask these two critical sense-check questions, you will be able to confidently  see whether an action or planned direction on behalf of your brand is truly relevant to your consumers and in tune with your commercial goals. 

This is not a rallying cry to kill brand purpose thinking, but a reminder that a good brand purpose is not something you must have but it is something you must do, and regularly, to ensure your brand is heading in the right direction.

 By Crystal Evans, CEO of Kingfisher Consultancy

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A Brand Provocation

Emojis and Emotions

Emojis and Emotions: The questions brands don't ask

Since the rise of emojis, brand strategists have sought to answer one question: what do these small graphics tell us about the state of consumer emotions today? A question not echoing so loudly around the brainstorming table is: are emojis actually transforming emotions? Though the answers to the above may be different across cultures, both questions are vital in any market where emojis are involved.  

Emojis for communicating emotions

Certainly, analysing emojis for what they reveal about emotion has worked well for many campaigns. Let's turn to 'Say it with Pepsi', for instance. This 2016 campaign by PepsiCo understood that emojis indicated a change in how consumers communicated their emotions, and hence, something that should be appropriated in its own communication strategy. First, those behind the social media campaign knew that launching customised emojis would help fit seamlessly into the current digital vernacular, that is, short but expressive messages. One Microsoft statistic claims that humans have fallen behind goldfish with their attention span at eight seconds, and if so, an emoji might be, as the phrase goes, useful for saying a thousand words in one picture. PepsiCo had also grasped that consumers shared emojis with a view to displaying their own sentiments and were moved by others doing the same. That explains why this campaign dropped a former decision to feature emojis of different Pepsi cans and instead focused on producing various mood emojis. A new willingness to feel out loud may have become almost universal, but Pepsi campaigners were quick to recognise that emojis did not hold equal significance for everyone around the world. In order for consumers to reflect their cultural and regional influences online, PepsiCo introduced country-specific emojis to the mix. Therefore, in this campaign, emojis are a response to consumers who like to communicate emotions through means that seem transparent, personal, and entertaining.  

Emojis for projecting identities

Media tagged on to the long line of sectors trying to grapple with emojis. When the 'tears of joy' emoji was crowned word of 2015 by Oxford Dictionary, BBC Newsbeat marked the popularity of emojis with a feature entitled 'What your most frequently used emoji says about you'? Here, emojis are not only a medium through which individuals seem to open up their real feelings at a given moment. The article also suggests that emojis are tools which people use to fashion and project long-standing identities and, by the same token, identify connections with others.   No matter what critics thought of the Emoji Movie released in 2017, it clearly indicates that audiences are looking for character and narratives in emojis which they can adopt to enrich their own communication. An emoji choice is less often thought to be random but increasingly seen as a considered decision made after identifying closely with it. This perhaps explains why a seventeen year old New Yorker was arrested in January 2015 for terror threat suspicions when he posted the emoji of a gun pointing at a police officer. Emojis are almost being treated as windows to people's souls, revealing what they feel, how they like to express feelings, and their intentions and allegiances. They also hint the place that emotions are starting to occupy online- at the forefront of interaction, personal identity, and relationships.  

Interrogating emojis

However, is it safe to assume that emojis simply show us what's happening to emotions- how people think about, feel, and express them? If under this assumption, brands are missing out on a crucial detail. This is because emojis, like any other language, put restrictions on what can and cannot be expressed. Just as translators struggle to find exact equivalents for words across different languages, an emoji user may not always stumble on a graphic that accurately reflects their feelings.   Only three varieties of emojis dominate digital communication throughout the world. According to the BBC Newsbeat piece cited above, it appears that 45%, or almost half, of the emojis shared globally are happy faces. Sad faces, meanwhile, make up 14% of worldwide emoji circulation and 12% consists of various hearts. Of course, it's encouraging to see that today's internet users are full of positive vibes! Even if this reflected reality, what happened to all the other types of emotions we could feel, besides the three species noted here?   Simplifying emotional expression is not a new phenomenon. In her 'The Book of Human Emotions', Tiffany Watt Smith highlights that we have lost words like the Japanese Amae- which described the need to be comforted by a loved one- and the Portuguese saudade- which referred to a yearning for someone or somewhere far away or lost. Though consumers may still identify with these feelings, they are harder to distinctly express and so it becomes harder for brands to decipher them.   By being unexpressed, it may be that certain feelings are marginalised by a so-called 'normal'. In this sense, emojis seem to work like a normalising mechanism, disciplining users to express their feelings in approved ways. Consumers are also punished if their feelings don't correspond to the emoji options available, as they are then unable to reap the promised rewards of sharing their emotions online.  

Lessons for brands

Two things could happen when brand strategists ask what emojis are doing to emotions: First, you will discover that analysing the emojis people use is not a substitute for in-depth study of actual emotions. This could refine your brand's understanding and targeting of consumer sentiment. The insights may also lead you to stories that people want to but cannot tell and how your brand emoji could help them do that.   Second, more light will be shed on the consequences of emojis. How do they shape people's interpretations of feelings? Does their impact extend offline? 

Without answering these questions, any emoji strategy risks being incomplete.  

By Harsha Balasubramanian, Cultural Anthropologist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

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Thinking Allowed


Reducing Cognitive Bias

 Most people like to think of themselves as objective and rational, capable of evaluating all of the information available in order to make the right decision at the right time. In reality, the basis of human decision making is often influenced by biases. Biases emerge from a diversity of mental processes that include heuristics (problem solving mental shortcuts), framing (presentation), mental noise, moral and emotional motivators, and social influences.   A cognitive bias is an error in information processing or decision making.  These biases are most often a result of the shortcuts that we use to speed up or simplify everyday decision making.  

Anchoring & Framing

Anchoring is the tendency to rely too heavily on one piece of information when making decisions. Once the initial anchor is set, future responses are made by trying to adjust away from that anchor. 

The Framing Effect is “reacting to a particular choice in different ways depending on whether it is presented as a loss or a gain.”   

Consumers routinely come to different conclusions about the same problem, depending on how it’s presented. 

Perception of loss or gain drives human decision making in every aspect of our existence. Naturally we avoid risk (risk aversion) when a negative frame is presented, but seek risk (risk seeking) when a positive frame is presented. 

Language plays a key role in framing and can evoke completely different reactions to something.   

Why does this matter? 

Because this cognitive bias is particularly related to the persistence of irrational scepticism, social prejudice and reticence towards non-intuitive scientific knowledge.  

Outsmarting your own biases

It can be dangerous to rely too heavily on what experts call System 1 shortcut thinking—automatic judgments that stem from associations stored in memory—instead of logically working through the information that’s available.  As many psychologists have shown, system 1 response to stimuli is a common source of bias that can result in poor decision making, because our intuitions frequently lead us astray.  

Other sources of bias involve flawed System 2 thinking—essentially, deliberate reasoning gone awry.  

Cognitive limitations or laziness, for example, might cause people to focus intently on the wrong things or fail to seek out relevant information. We are all susceptible to such biases, especially when we’re fatigued, stressed, or multitasking. In situations like this, we’re far from decision-ready—we’re mentally, emotionally, and physically spent.    

We cope by relying even more heavily on intuitive, System 1 judgments and less on careful reasoning. Decision making becomes faster and simpler, but quality and ability to evaluate properly often suffers. Some of the most stubborn biases include tunnel vision about future scenarios, inflexibility about objectives, and seeing options in isolation.    

Why are these biases most stubborn? Because, we’re cognitive misers—we don’t like to spend our mental energy entertaining uncertainties. It’s easier to seek closure, so we do. This hems in our thinking, leading us to focus on one possible future, one objective, and one option in isolation.    

When this narrow thinking weaves a compelling story, System 1 kicks in: Intuition tells us, prematurely, that we’re ready to decide, and we venture forth with great, unfounded confidence.    

You can outsmart your own biases. To start, it’s helpful to understand where they’re coming from: excessive reliance on intuition, defective reasoning, or both.  

 Here are some strategies for overcoming biases, gleaned from the latest research on the psychology of judgment and decision making:  

Strategies for overcoming biases

Remember: the goal is not to completely remove your biases, but to become aware and adjust for them.  By recognizing that you’re thinking is subject to influence, you can work towards a higher level of control.  You can simultaneously correct and broaden your perspective. 

  • To “debias” our decisions, it’s essential to broaden our perspective  ie try not to focus on just one possible future, or one inflexible objective, or one option in isolation 
  • Strive for higher objectivity. Be aware of your own personal and corporate biases. 
  • Recognize that bias can inject itself into your interpretation of research and your own analysis of the data presented at any time. 
  • Try to avoid the temptation to default to that bias-ridden comfort zone. That’s the first step in getting clarity of understanding when watching effective qualitative research  

Remember: Cognitive rigidity gets amplified by time pressure, negative emotions, exhaustion, and other stressors.  

By Crystal Evans, CEO of Kingfisher Consultancy

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Know Your Cognitive Bias!

Recency Bias


Tendency to weight recent events more than earlier events. When we ask people about their past behavior, their answers are more likely to reflect their latest actions, the ones they remember best. Careful structured interviewing techniques help reduce this effect.

Selective Retention


The process whereby people more accurately remember messages that are closer to their interests, values and beliefs, than those that are in contrast with their values and beliefs, selecting what to keep in the memory, narrowing the information flow.

Confirmation Bias


Tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.  Internal politics, personal goals or simply lack of knowledge can turn insight users into cherry pickers. They will consider certain results and ignore others.

Social Desirability Bias


Tendency to over-report socially desirable behaviors and under-report socially undesirable ones. If you ask questions in a way people feel they can be judged they will give you socially desirable answers. Good questionnaire design is critical to avoid this bias.

Interaction Bias


Group particiapnts’ proximity to each other often leads to what is known as interaction bias. A group member may respond differently to a question after hearing the comments of several others. Careful moderation can help avoid this happening.

Irrational Escalation


Tendency to justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision is wrong. It is often triggered by looking back to what has been invested, rather than forward to what can be saved by cutting losses.

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