We extend our warmest wishes for the Holiday Season to our clients, vendors, colleagues, and friends!
I am diligent about keeping my inbox at zero. It’s a personal accomplishment of mine, one that brings me a sense of joy. I love looking at the blank screen with all my email folders lined up nicely on the side, quietly awaiting the next incoming blitz of messages. If I were to describe the feeling of Zen it brings in mere words, it would go something like this: The noise has ceased, I have accomplished all my tasks, I am up to date.
Imagine my surprise when the world recently upended itself over COVID-19 and my email inbox was flooded with emails from all the food, clothing, furniture, bedding, makeup, pet supply, carpet cleaner, technology, and home appliance brand from which I’ve ever purchased a product (and this list I’ve shared is by far incomplete, it stretches on and on and on).
Did it feel comforting to have my favorite bedding company check in on me to let me know they’ll be there for me over these long weeks of social distancing? Hmm, maybe, a nap did sound good as stress over the state of the world mounted. What about that Australian-based company I purchased pool floaties from a few years ago? Did I care that they cared? I must admit, it felt good to know my health and wellbeing was on top of their radar too, even from half a world away. Did seeing all these emails increase my anxiety? Not at all, my anxiety was already through the roof. Was I annoyed at the deluge of messages? Since I regularly “Marie Kondo” my inbox, then honestly, yes. But that’s when I decided to look deeper and ask: What exactly were the ultimate intentions of these emails? What did they hope to accomplish?
Luckily I was not the only one mesmerized by the litany of “we care” communications and curious to dig into their language, message, and meaning. A “Moneybox” article over at Slate tackled the issue with a funny round up of relevant tweets about the email blitz. Adweek also got into the game by analyzing the language used in these emails. They even delivered a delightful word cloud demonstrating the most frequently used terms.
Overall, industry experts felt it important to look at the timeline of these emails to understand their full intent. Initial rounds were from a reactionary place, addressing the sense of financial disruption everyone feared and wanted to prevent. Next up was a vital informational angle: Here is what we are doing to make sure you are safe. These emails were perhaps most important, especially for small businesses who hope to keep their customer base around with curbside pickup and extra careful sanitation of their retail space.
Most recently, emails and advertising have shifted to a more heartfelt “we care” tone that feels like a warm cup of coffee on a cold day or a hug from a friend. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to evolve, brand communications will have to shift and alter in many ways. It’s important to remember that no matter what the circumstances, we exist in an age where consumers are demanding more from brands—especially as we have ample time to sit and think about what the company represents, what they offer, and their role in our lives. A noted trend among Gen-Z (who now make up 40% of consumers) is a desire to see real people with real problems. In other words, now more than ever transparency and authenticity are key for brands seeking to maintain a relationship with consumers and even go the extra mile to offer support.
What do you think about the deluge of COVID-19 communications from brands? Share your reaction with W5 in the comments below.
In “Where we fit” we explore the shifting role of people in the marketplace. In this post we discuss how assumptions about gig workers can drive decisions that do not represent real workers’ experiences.
The “gig worker” in our imagination
The explosion of the gig economy, from Uber to Door Dash to TaskRabbit, has solidified in people’s minds the idea of a “gig worker”—an intrepid entrepreneur with grit, hustle, and a car. Gig workers love the flexibility of setting their own hours and being their own bosses. Gig workers fit this part-time gig work in on the side—a “side-hustle”—and use their leftover time to pursue their dreams of whatever their real career will turn out to be. We have heard a lot about the gig worker.
The main problem with the “gig worker” concept is that in practice it serves more as a convenient employer category than as an actual lived experience. The statements about “setting your own schedule” or “being your own boss” align almost exactly with the legal conditions required to be classified an “independent contractor,” but they do not match with what many of these workers say they want.
What do gig workers say?
We recently conducted research with workers for a service company that uses the gig model to recruit and place workers in homes. They hypothesized that messaging leaning into the traditional gig economy themes would resonate with their current workers and help attract potential new workers. When we talked to workers, however, we found something very different.
Though we expected to hear about flexibility and independence, instead we heard about the challenges of relying on gig work as stable employment. We heard about unpredictability and insecurity around missing work. We heard about the need to be able to take a paid day off every now and then. We heard about healthcare. In short, we heard about all the benefits offered to “employees” at a traditional “nine to five” that are absent when it comes to “independent contractors.”
A gig is a step towards a career, not away.
Even if gig work is a side hustle for some, for others it is the most accessible way to quickly get an entry-level job. This can be especially true of jobs that demand a high level of professionalism, such as a long-term in-home service. These workers are not interested in flexibility as much as sustainability. They want to see themselves as professionals with skills, not workers with gigs.
Concepts like “gig worker” can provide colorful imagery but cannot be taken for granted when it comes to understanding what real people want and experience. Only by talking to people can we identify and challenge ideas that do not match reality and develop ideas that authentically represent people’s experiences.
As the saying goes there are plenty of fish in the sea. Same is true for marketing research firms. With over 40 thousand marketing research firms in the US alone, it is easy for brands to get lost in the endless swarm claiming to have answers to every marketing mystery known to man.
From Fortune 500s to agencies to everything in between W5 has guided countless brands alongside their insights journey for almost two decades. During this time, we’ve come to understand our clients’ journey normally begins before or shortly after drafting the RFP. They are forced to ask: “Who can I trust to conduct this research?”
The process of selecting a research partner is never easy. It requires time, patience, and a thorough evaluation of one’s research needs. Just to be clear research vendors and research partners are not synonymous. Research vendors are merely sellers of research and can be intermittently interchanged as new research needs emerge. Research partners are steadfast throughout the insights journey—acting as an extension of your team. Below are just a few benefits of the partner route:
- Increase Efficiency and Save Time: By establishing rapport with a dedicated firm, you bypass the learning curve that comes with continuously meeting new vendors with each new engagement.
- Feel Secure: Partnerships are the result of mutually beneficial working relationships. Leveraging this history, you can feel confident in your partner’s ability to provide the right insights.
- Build You Brand’s Story: Understand your brand’s insight is an evolving and constantly changing endeavor. A research partner supports the continuation of your brand’s story—providing guidance beyond the final report.
So, how does one go about selecting a research partner? Most importantly, how does one select the right research partner? See our latest infographic below, detailing tips and best practice recommendations.
Tomorrow, June 1 marks our seventeenth year since opening the doors of W5 at our first office in Charleston, SC. We’ve since moved to our current headquarters in Durham, NC, watched the economy go up…then down…then up again, worked with hundreds of brands and agencies, and hired the brightest minds in our industry. Through all this the one element that has remained consistent, in addition to our name, is our independence.
Influenced by the entrepreneurial spirit of our founders, W5 prides itself on our ability to grow on our own terms. Independence keeps W5 agile, flexible, and able to adapt quickly to changing business environments. Our lack of corporate hierarchy is advantageous for us, and our clients, allowing W5 to put efforts towards solving clients’ needs as opposed to appeasing shareholders.
Independence means we can do all this while remaining 100% true to ourselves.
Clients who work with W5 understand this unique advantage and see the value of our independence in the work we deliver. As stated by Managing Partner Jeremy Crisp of independent agency NAIL Communications, “being independent makes for better work, happier staff, and repeat business from clients whose trust is critical to our growth.”
Perhaps most importantly is the people fiercely independent companies attract, often those who value empowerment, accountability, and entrepreneurism. It brings together a tight-knit group of brilliant individuals bound by a common curiosity to understand human behavior and what makes people tick. Basically, the profile of any W5er.
Thank you to our clients, partners, employees, and vendors who enabled us to chart our own path and maintain autonomy for the past seventeen years. We are excited to see what the next seventeen years have in store…
Attitude & Usage Research: Gauge your competitive positioning within the marketplace to strengthen current and future campaigns. Click to learn more.
A leading producer of fruit-based foods and their advertising agency sought to understand consumers’ attitudes, purchasing behaviors, consumption, and preferences in the category. Insights into the marketing category, the client’s brand, and touchpoints were desired to inform growth strategies and creative development.
W5 leveraged past consumer segmentation and category behavior research conducted for the client to identify appropriate consumers for the robust survey. W5 collaborated closely with the client and agency to develop an in-depth online survey exploring consumers’ category engagement.
Study insights highlighted consumers’ category priorities, how the client’s product areas fit in, and the brand’s positioning in the marketplace. SWOT Analysis featuring strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats was conducted, founded upon a rich array of category insights. Opportunities emerged for branding, marketing, packaging, and product innovation, showcasing the long-term value of a comprehensive category data set in guiding future direction. The client gained comprehensive insight into the category and the advertising agency received clear direction for future branding and creative development.
There has been a familiar buzz around the W5 office lately. The wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones is airing their final episodes, and we here at W5 are full of opinions. Though one won’t get into discussing who should or shouldn’t sit on the Iron Throne. Let’s talk about the importance of detail, a trait arguably missing from this season, highlighted by the appearance of a modern paper coffee cup in the middle of a grand feast.
Game of Thrones is the brainchild of author George R.R. Martin from his book series A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin spent decades meticulously crafting his story centered in the complex and textured realm called Westeros. The books had been the show’s backbone up until three seasons ago, when they ran out of content. Tasked with blazing their own path, the showrunners have been playing loose with the storytelling and character development. Many fans are starting to see the strings.
Continuity is King
Continuity is how people make sense of the world. Simply, 1 + 1 must always equal 2, if not, then why does anything matter? When telling a story, the audience should be invested in the presentation and able to sequentially navigate the moments. A glaring issue in the path may cause the audience’s confidence in the story to spiral. Much like in research, if there is a hole or error in the data, the entire presentation becomes suspect. The goal is to keep the audience’s attention, deliver your message, and cover all your bases.
“Does Daenerys take 2% or almond milk in her Earl Grey? Inquiring minds want to know!”
Projects of this magnitude rely on the minds and talents of many people, there is not a single person at fault, but teams of professionals. Despite the number of eyes on screen and off the cup went unnoticed. Even the Script Supervisor who is solely responsible for continuity missed this pesky paper cup. Had the editor or post team noticed, they could have simply removed or covered it up digitally.
The lapse in judgement is a great reminder about the importance of teamwork and looking beyond one’s specialized focus. If you see something, say something. Having specialists does not guarantee flawlessness. Imagine, the audio engineer noticed the cup before rolling, but decided not to say anything because “It’s not my job, surely the director, set design, or even craft services will notice.”
There is Only One Thing We Say to Errors: Not Today
We are only human; mistakes will happen and there is the proof resting around 17:50 in episode “The Last of the Starks.” May this blimp be a reminder to always have your work reviewed by many eyes before going out. Reviewers may catch obvious mistakes that go overlooked. If the message you are trying to get across is important, it’s worth a second, third, or fifth look.
For its 19th year, Coachella enlisted its first black female headliner—Beyoncé to slay the stage and perform for over 100,000 music festival attendees and millions of streaming viewers. One year later, Beyoncé reminds us her work ethic is unmatched, dropping her new Netflix original, Homecoming, featuring her groundbreaking Coachella performance in addition to some behind-the-scenes clips. In these brief, but powerful moments, viewers get an authentic lens into Beyoncé’s life, thoughts, and challenges—as a woman, minority, mother, and professional. Her journey and determination are universally inspirational. However, as a woman of color, Homecoming served as a much-needed source of empowerment. Here are a few inspirational takeaways following Beyoncé’s Homecoming:
You Can Have It All
Throughout Homecoming, Beyoncé speaks to the tactful balance of work and motherhood. For many working moms, I can imagine a sense of camaraderie as she details her experience. In one behind-the-scenes clip, we see new mom Beyoncé as she tries to cope with her new body—covering her post-partum pooch while struggling to catch her breath during rehearsal. A strikingly different view compared to the picture-perfect mother we’re used to seeing. She acknowledged the challenges she had to overcome, working before she was mentally or physically ready. At one point she confesses, “My mind was not there. My mind wanted to be with my children.” Unfortunately, her words are not uncommon. As seen in our blog post on Women’s Day, only 12 percent of women in the private sector have access to any sort of paid maternity leave and 25 percent of women are forced to return to work within two weeks of giving birth to support their families. Nevertheless, Beyoncé exemplifies the phrase power through, as she still manages to successfully complete six months of rigorous rehearsals, abide by a strict low-calorie diet, manage over 200 dancers and performers—all while tending to her three young children. Beyoncé showed us that with #girlpower and ample determination, you can have it all.
Know Your Worth
Unfortunately, the pay discrepancy among men and women in the US is still prevalent. Those most affected by the pay gap are black and Hispanic women—earning 67% to 58% of what men earn. In a recent McKinsey report, data shows the promotion rate to manager is the lowest for black women compared to any race and gender. For every 100 men promoted to manager, just 60 black women are promoted. However, there is hope and reason to be inspired. Beyoncé, and her $500 million net-worth, provides a winning model for success as she reportedly walked away from her Coachella performance with an $8 million check. Wow! However, her brilliance shines through when evaluating the streams of income following the event. Attaining a $60 million partnership with Netflix, selling her live performance tracks to all major streaming platforms, and releasing new Homecoming-branded apparel, Beyoncé creates additional opportunities to pay herself. Ranked as the fastest growing subgroup of entrepreneurs in the US, it appears women of color are taking notes and taking action to create additional streams of revenue that may mitigate potential pay discrepancies. The quest to equal pay is still ongoing, but Beyoncé illustrates the importance of knowing your true worth, even if that means cultivating your own additional generators of revenue.
Stay True To Yourself
Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, shared her initial concerns about her daughter’s Coachella performance—worried the audience would not “get” it. Following the controversy of the Super Bowl, her concerns were valid. Beyoncé responded, “I have worked very hard to get to the point where I have a true voice, and at this point in my life and my career, I have a responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular.” Oftentimes, I see women of color undergo the unique experience of working in a space as both a race and gender minority. With women of color representing only 4% of C- level positions in the US (falling behind white men 68% and white women 19%), adapting and blending in majority white spaces is sometimes less intimidating than remaining individualist. However, Beyoncé embodies what is means to stay true to oneself by fueling confidence and empowerment for those who need it. Giving an unapologetic ode to black culture, body inclusivity, and female strength Beyoncé took a professional risk and remained steadfast in who she is and what she believes. Brava!
In recent years, shopper insights teams and agency partners have worked to adapt to shifting retail patterns, namely the rise of online shopping driven by its increased speed and convenience.
While the convenience of online shopping hasn’t worn off, perhaps the novelty has.
A recent PwC study showed that 82% want more human interaction in the future. Also, 73% of all people point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions. (Link)
Agencies and brands will need to focus on more than just visual merchandising to deliver a brand experience at retail. They will have to meet the elevated expectations of speed and convenience while delivering on a customer experience that is human and elevates the brand and product.
How do you get there? What are the first steps you can take to solving for this?
(1) Explore best practice brand experiences across categories
(2) Understand the thresholds for automation, speed of service, and convenience in your category… in other words when does the lack of a fulfilling customer and brand experience lead to diminishing returns on convenience factors or worse, simply refusing purchase?