FEATURE1 December 2011

Ups and downs – Colin Auton

Ci Research’s Colin Auton knows good research is part art, part science. His school careers adviser didn’t.

The best advice I’ve had is…
to put yourself in your client’s shoes when managing and delivering research work on their behalf. This advice applies to everyone working on a project – and at all stages. Looking at things from the client’s perspective really helps to focus the mind. It ensures that you ask the right questions of the right people in the right way. It also means that you’ll be able to present your results with the wider objectives of your clients’ businesses in mind.

From a business perspective, the best advice I’ve had is never stand still. If you aren’t continually looking to develop and improve your service, you will ultimately get left behind by the competition.

…and the worst advice I’ve had is
the careers advice I got at school. I wanted to do a mix of science and arts subjects but was told I could only do all sciences or all arts subjects. As a result, two years studying maths, physics and chemistry for my A Levels set me up for an engineering degree and 28 hours a week in lectures and practicals with a load of hairy blokes (no offence if any of my
ex-classmates are reading this).

I wouldn’t be doing that if I had my time again.

“Looking at things from the client’s perspective really helps to focus the mind. It ensures that you ask the right questions of the right people in the right way”

A campaign that grabbed me recently is…
NatWest’s Emergency Helpline ad – which reinforces their Helpful Banking vision, and the Next ad which shows models dancing in perfect time, to reinforce their commitment to deliver all goods ordered before 9pm by the following day. Having been working with a partner agency to develop a model for measuring brand alignment, I currently find myself drawn to ads that look to reinforce a company’s brand vision or service philosophy.

…and a campaign that needed more research was
the recent Halifax ad campaign featuring the Halifax radio station. The use of staff in their advertising (although I believe they actually use actors now) has been done to death. I found the ‘ISA ISA baby’ one particularly confusing and grating. Why are they wasting money running a radio station in the bank anyway? Why does the mug break? And what message is the ad trying to convey other than “We sell ISAs, just like every other bank”? Halifax, please get back to doing something new, groundbreaking and differentiating with your ads.

One thing this industry could use more of is…
true client-agency collaboration. When this happens, the benefits are there for all to see. Better knowledge and understanding of the clients’ businesses and requirements, a relationship built on openness and trust and a more flexible approach to working together. All these factors help to deliver insight that makes a real difference and contributes to the bottom line.

…and one thing this industry could use less of is
PowerPoint. We know of other agencies where clients come out of three-hour presentations having been bombarded with charts and data and not knowing what it all meant. Succinct dissemination of the findings to different audiences is a critical part of the research process. Let’s face it, no one likes death by PowerPoint.

One thing I hope to do is…
ensure that procurement departments don’t start to have an increased influence on the client’s choice of agencies. Client-facing staff should be seen to have the acumen and integrity to manage their own budgets.

…and one thing I wish I?hadn’t done is
re-brand our company as Ci Research. We previously traded as Customer Insight and changed our name, as we were being pigeon-holed for customer satisfaction research projects. Soon after we re-branded, the term ‘customer insight’ became a buzzword across the industry. We still own the trading name, so we have the option to switch back in the future.

If I hadn’t become a researcher…
I could well have ended up working in my father’s building business and going into property development.

…and on the other hand if I hadn’t become a researcher
I would never have been able to help many of our clients improve their service performance, manage successful rebrands and make changes to or introduce new products or services which have subsequently boosted sales.