FEATURE1 June 2011

Ups and downs – Jon Priest

We speak to research industry figures about their career highs and lows. This month, SPA Future Thinking’s CEO Jon Priest tells us why it’s never a good idea to prank a nervy food industry client.

The best advice I’ve had is…
to take an experiential approach to each project you work on. Visit the shop, watch the TV programme, switch broadband provider, play the computer game – insight starts there and it’s the first step to true empirical understanding.

…and the worst advice I’ve had is
just be yourself. As George Herbert Mead might say, “Which self is that?”

A campaign that grabbed me recently is…
Ikea’s Boys vs Girls TV campaign, which manages to be simultaneously genre-defining and ground-breaking. Like all good ads it’s rooted in a consumer truth or two. It’s a brilliantly targeted idea which is nicely executed to position the brand about as far away from Furniture Village as it’s possible to get. It makes cupboard space interesting and worthy of everyone’s attention, which is no mean feat. But most of all I get the distinct feeling that everyone who works at Ikea is proud of it. My advice to them, though, is to give a more prominent role to their meatballs in future marcomms. That is Ikea’s true USP.

…and a campaign that needed more research was
Halifax Building Society’s Radio Hal-eee-fax. I’m still struggling manfully with the whole financial-services-provider-as-radio-station concept and some of the execution and casting are Room 101-level irritating (“ISA, ISA baby” anyone?). More constructively, the brand has got a long history of featuring its employees in advertising, but perhaps the whole staff involvement strategy should have been revisited in depth after Howard set the, erm, standard. NatWest seems to pull off the staff-as-hero advertising pretty well, although they are cast in their day jobs rather than as amateur DJs.

One thing this industry could use more of is…
market research that directly affects business decision-making in its own right; the moderated voice of the consumer if you will – a true recording rather than the marketing department’s digitised version. To a client, market research should be the non-executive director who turns up at meetings, offers insight, advice and a point of view rooted in a particular speciality, and then monitors how the client is getting on.

All this while not forgetting to put the expenses claim in. And just like a non-exec, market research should also be on standby to help at all times.

…and one thing this industry could use less of is
truth-sayers, insight scouts, imaginators or futurologists. At its core, what we as market researchers do is reasonably simple: we find out stuff in the right way that helps a client company make a decision for the better. In many ways, that’s about as important as it gets in business, so let’s not feel the need to over-dress ourselves.

One thing I hope to do is…?
Become a Cordon Bleu cook.

…and one thing I wish I?hadn’t done is
Those clients and agency practitioners known to me will, I’m sure, propagate the view that I have quite a list to choose from here. But if I could go back in time? The ill-advised practical joke played on a food manufacturer client when I informed one of their junior (and more needy) research department members that a panellist we had recruited for a product test had died from food poisoning and that the police would be calling the client and taking statements. Funny how quickly things can escalate. Some people just don’t have a sense of humour.

If I hadn’t become a researcher…
I had visions of becoming a sociologist, but that’s increasingly very close to market research these days. Perhaps a career in corporate finance? One can but dream.

…and on the other hand if I hadn’t become a researcher
I’d have missed 25 years of listening to people and looking at data tables, trying to decode what respondents are saying and what it all means. This self-imposed longitudinal study in human relations has genuinely taught me more about life than pretty much any other career I can think of.