Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Expert Dave Kaye talks about his love for qualitative research. Dave discusses his mobile-based ethnographic research platform, Field Notes, which allows researchers to capture consumers’ lives through their smartphones using video, photos, text, and screen recording features. We also explore some case studies and talk about how Dave’s business, Peek Content, guarantees high-quality videos for clients seeking to gain a deep understanding of people’s lives and behaviors.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Dave Kaye: When it comes to ethnography, It’s all about seeing and hearing what people do and what they say. What we do with smartphone ethnography, we are learning about people, we’re seeing how they behave and what they do, but we are using the smartphone to access them in their world.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. By understanding consumers’ behavior and motivations, product and service brands can develop relevant and effective marketing strategies that resonate with their target audiences. In commercial market research, a method that can help us achieve deep consumer insights is ethnography. Like anthropologists, ethnographers are interested in understanding the cultural, social, and psychological factors influencing people’s decisions and actions. While anthropologists may study different cultures and societies, ethnographic market research typically focuses on specific audiences or customer segments. It’s an approach that can yield unexpected insights into consumers’ needs, preferences, and pain points, which surveys and focus groups can miss. Our guest today is Dave Kaye, an ethnographic research expert who’s traveled the world observing and hearing firsthand accounts from hundreds of participants. A pioneer in mobile phone-based research, Dave founded Kiosk, the world’s first mobile qualitative agency, and as you’ll hear, Dave is passionate about incorporating new technologies into research, But in ways that keep things simple and accessible for participants. To discuss his research career and some of the tools and techniques of ethnographic research used to yield consumer insights, Dave is joining us today from Isleworth, West London, England. Dave, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Dave Kaye: Adrian, thank you for having It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to chat today.

Adrian Tennant: Well, Dave, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ve worked in the market research industry for quite a while. how did you enter the profession?

Dave Kaye: Yes, it’s been around 20 years now. As they say, time flies. I discovered the world of market research because I loved languages and I loved travel. I did French and Italian at university, ended up living in Japan after that. So I was fluent in a few languages. I ended up responding to, believe it or not, an actual newspaper advertisement for a company called Flamingo that was looking for people who could speak more than one language fluently, who lived abroad and were interested in culture. And I so I ticked all the boxes. So I applied for that, and before I knew it, I found myself working in international market research. And a key criteria thing for the hire was that I had that international experience, a real curiosity for people, for culture. And, yeah I sort of found myself doing that job without knowing the actual profession existed. So I do know what it’s about now. It’s been 20 years, so I’ve got a good understanding of the industry and everything within it. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, over the course of your career, you’ve focused on qualitative rather than quantitative research. So what is it about qualitative that’s kept you engaged for over two decades?

Dave Kaye: Yeah,  great question. I think, one, I love people, talking to them, and obviously, that’s at the heart of qualitative research. But also, I think the other thing about it is that if you work in the qualitative industry, you are going to learn a lot of little things, and you’re going to get a glimpse into not just people’s lives, but you’re going to get a glimpse into different industries, different products. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll be working one week on, potentially, a new product or a new bit of technology that gets you excited. In the next week, you might be finding out about a rare disease or a condition that people live with and how it impacts their ability to do something. So one of the things that have kept me interested is the fact that you are endlessly sort of learning stuff, not just about the trade and the industry, but also about people and, and new things, which fundamentally means that you are quite good at pub quizzes, I guess. And generally, are able to sort of have a conversation with people about pretty much anything. And I’ve always liked that. I like the fact that you’ve got a huge, wide spread of the world to cover when it comes to qualitative, and that’s always kept me really interested.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you lead the mobile-based ethnographic research platform, Field Notes. For anyone starting out in research or strategy, could you give us an overview of its practical applications? 

Dave Kaye: Yeah, sure. So I guess when it comes to ethnography, it’s all about seeing and hearing what people do and what they say. And the reality of it is, if you were to talk to a university professor about ethnography and how to do it, you’d get quite a different answer than talking to me. Because in its purest form, you’re spending time with people observing them, ideally in the same sort of environment as them. So watching them, hearing them, listening to them, never asking questions, and essentially, just understanding the world. Now that’s great. And pure ethnography obviously exists, and some brands do commit to it. Costs a huge amount of money to do those kinds of projects. I don’t imagine it’s the easiest sell-in, because you’re asking people to give up a lot of their time, and you’re asking for trained professionals to spend a lot of their time being with them. What we do with smartphone ethnography is, I still think very true to the discipline in that we are learning about people, we’re seeing how they behave, and what they do, but we are using the smartphone to access them in their world. You know, the constraints of the industry in research mean you have to get projects done in much shorter periods of time. Quite often, we’re in field for a week, maybe two weeks. You are connecting with people during that period. They’re telling you their stories, you are hearing them. You are seeing them and lots of different ways to set up a project, which means that people can be very natural on camera. And you’re also able to access everything that is on their phone because they’ve given you permission to do so. So you’re asking them to share photos, images, videos that they’ve created already, which are very natural and very personal to them. And you’re essentially accessing their world through the most personal device that exists, which is their smartphone. So everything’s on there, and it allows you to get to know them in a really powerful way. So,  with smartphone ethnography, you’re getting to the very heart of who these people are and the way that they’re sort of represented, and they can share with you a ton of stuff that you wouldn’t get otherwise. So you are essentially accessing their world through the most personal device that’s there. And as I say, sometimes you’re watching them, sometimes you’re listening to them, and sometimes you’re asking them to share with you images or videos that already exist. So you’ve got a really good sense of who they are.

Adrian Tennant: Dave, what’s the story behind the founding of Field Notes?

Dave Kaye: Field Notes has been around now for over a decade, I think around 11 years now it’s existed as a platform and a service. And it was first built, when I was actually at that business I mentioned earlier, Flamingo, where I was Head of Digital. And in that role, I was very excited by smartphones and what they could do for the world of research and how to get closer the people. So I went out, put together a business plan to essentially build a technology platform, which is what Field Notes was. And Field Notes was originally built by teams of researchers across different countries because the business itself is very international. So we have researchers from Asia, from South America, North America, Europe, all coming together and sort of brainstorming what a great tool would look like for them to get to know people in the ways we’ve mentioned. And we then went out and, you know, built it with, our technology partners, and ran it internally as a tool. About five years ago, we had the opportunity, due to big restructuring within the business, to actually take Field Notes out and make it an independent business. Field Notes became not just a tool for a limited amount of researchers, but actually then became a platform that was accessible for everyone and the research industry and the creative industries, et cetera. So, it’s something that we’ve been able to develop a lot, it’s gone from being a tool for a smaller group to a bigger group. We’ve brought new features in. We’ve basically worked with lots of different partners, and it’s come from strength to strength by doing that. And we’re still very much international, very much, you know, focused on bringing stories to life where everything might be around the globe. But yeah, it’s one of the longest established out there, and it’s remarkable how much things develop and change over time, but it gives you an opportunity to really get close, which has always been the key target right from day one.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of features or functions does the platform provide?

Dave Kaye: So at its heart is video. We encourage people to, when they come onto a project, to be themselves, of course, but they download the app onto their phones. And once they do that, they’re given the opportunity to introduce themselves, tell us about who they are. But they’re responding to a number of different assignments over the period of typically one or two weeks. Each of those assignments is task-based. For example, if it’s a project to do with food, they’ll be giving us a kitchen tool. They’ll be opening up their cupboards. They’ll be opening the fridge up for us. We’ll get to see who they are. We’ll get to see where they eat. We might ask ’em to film a breakfast, a lunch, or a dinner for us. and you get to know them through capturing those kinds of moments. Not all of our projects are video-based, but I would say it’s the core component of what we do, and we pride ourselves on providing really high-quality video content. You know, we ask ’em to upload, photos, images, text as well, always in response to what we are looking at. And the app also allows you to have a screen recording functionality where you can see online journeys, whatever they’re doing, whether that’s an online purchase journey. Or you wanna understand how they’re using their socials. That kind of thing as well is easy now to capture. So they just have to click a button to share and screen record for us as well. The thing to say is it’s always one-to-one connection. So we get deeper with individuals rather than connecting with a group. The closer the relationship you build, the better the content is that you generate from people. We’re not just asking people to record a video and send it off into space that never gives you good results. We’re giving them tons of feedback, tons of encouragement, and that’s how we get to know people really well. And that’s why I think it’s a really good tool in that respect, but always one-to-one engagement. 

Adrian Tennant: The participants are responding to prompts through a smartphone app. What about the research teams? Are we also working through an app, or are we going to a web-based portal? What does that look like?

Dave Kaye: That side of it’s all web-based. So you basically see all the content coming through from wherever it might be and it lands in your project portal within each task. It’s then fully searchable, and you can tag the content and use the platform to do your analysis. Everything comes in with a transcription. So if it’s video content, it gets transcribed, and you are then able to review the content, and select what you need to tell your story really. But it’s very easy to cover everything to see it. It’s all sort of put together in a very logical way and it’s also very easy to feedback to the participants to get them excited about the project. And then your teams can come in,  typically it’s the research team that’s kind of doing the hands-on stuff. But then the end clients have also got another view, which is a bit simplified, where you can just see the core sort of hero content where you can come in and have a look as well. So there are loads of different ways of presenting the content back, but ultimately it all lives there. So, it’s a really convenient and simple way of collecting lots and lots of people’s content and personal stories, et cetera.

Adrian Tennant: Well, Field Notes certainly sounds very versatile in terms of the kinds of projects that you and your clients can undertake. Rachel Lawes is coming on the podcast in a few weeks time to discuss the second edition of her book, Semiotics In Marketing. Does Field Notes support other qual methods like semiotics?

Dave Kaye: Yeah, I’ve not met Rachel, but I’ve heard really good things about her approach, and I’ll be looking forward to reading Semiotics In Marketing as well. We work a lot with semioticians and we work a lot with semiotic specialists, complimenting their work. So quite often we work with semiotic agencies, and one we work with often is it’s an agency called Sign Salad. Dr. Alex Gordon, based here in the UK, working on projects with Alex and his team, we’re essentially helping to see the actual cultural change they’re talking about quite often, or we’re using it to further bring to life sometimes quite sort of big ideas and big concepts. And for the actual end client, not only the agency providing the semiotic thinking, but some actual examples which then sort of anchor it. So in that context, we worked a lot with semiotics to help tell the larger, bigger story and to sort of help bring to life again and identify some of the things that have come out of the semiotic stage. There’s typically a semiotic stage followed by, Field Notes or a mobile ethnography stage. And that’s the way we tend to work with quantitative as well. Whilst you can do small, simple surveys within Field Notes itself, it’s not a quant tool in any sort of significant way. But what it is very, very good at is, using a focused sort of self-ethno to bring to life the segmentation story that a quant agency has written. So they basically discovered who the consumer is for their client. They’ve got pen portraits or pen profiles, but actually, some very focused video capture. Using a tool like this to get closer to that profile is really helpful. So quite often, quant agencies use Field Notes to bring those actual participants to life in the way that they know them. And it just makes a massive difference when you are sort of distributing the segmentation within the business and passing it on to other people. You’ve got some powerful video bring it further to life.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Renee Hartmann: Hi, I’m Renee Hartman, co-author of the book, Next Generation Retail: How To Use New Technology To Innovate For The Future. It’s a practical guide to retail marketing tech, including livestream shopping, quick commerce, and retail media networks. In it, we show you how to create compelling content, drive conversions in digital and physical channels, and monetize data, all while maintaining customer trust. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25% on a print or electronic version of Next Generation Retail by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and ebook bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan. Page, shipping is always free to the US and to the UK, which also helps us authors. So to order your copy of Next Generation Retail, go to That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. Thank you.

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called Engage: how to turn your board customers into brand fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an unclear focused listener, you can receive a hundred dollars discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics!

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dave Kaye, an expert in mobile ethnography and the co-founder of the qualitative research platform Field Notes. Those of us involved in consumer research, especially for CPGs, aim to get as close as possible to customers to understand their sequential moments of truth, those interactions with brands that inform or change their opinions. First comes a stimulus, say an advertisement for a product. The first moment of truth is when a customer comes into contact with a product. This term originated with Procter and Gamble in 2005, which described it as the first three to five seconds when a shopper notices a product in a retail environment. The second moment of truth is when the customer has purchased and started using the product and decides for themselves whether their experience supports the brand’s pre-purchase promises. And the third moment of truth is when the customer becomes a true fan and gives back to the brand with consumer-generated content such as product reviews, ratings, or posts on social media. Dave, in what kinds of ways can researchers use Field Notes, to identify and use knowledge about these moments of truth to develop optimal paths to purchase?

Dave Kaye: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the thing is about self-ethnography, it’s all about moments. You’re actually asking people to capture moments for you all the time. That’s effectively what you’re doing when you’re challenging people or inviting them to take part in tasks. So in each of those parts of the journey, there’s a role for, I feel, self-ethnography, where you can first, find out what those moments are, perhaps by having. your customers giving you a tour, a safari of whatever they’re looking at, they’re taking you out with them to the store. They’re taking you to their favorite locations. They’re showing you what’s interesting to them. So you might actually capture some of those first moments of truth, by doing this kind of work and really get some insights into what’s out there. Likewise, when people have made the purchase. So many of our projects involve that moment – the purchase moment, the point of sale moment. So whilst sometimes you can actually get it in a store, where people are actually capturing the actual, moment itself, you can also, if you don’t manage to do that, you can get the moment straight after. So retrospectives of the journey that they’ve just been on, tell us why you just bought. They can be in the parking lot outside, or they can be in their cars telling you about it, but they’re very close to the moment. So again, the self-ethnography gets you incredibly close to these moments that you are talking about, which are the really key marketing ones. Likewise, we work a lot in healthcare. The holy grail really is the prescription moment in healthcare, and again, with ethnography, whilst you can’t necessarily be there whilst the patient’s in the room, you can be there straight after when the prescription’s been given, when they can report back to you, the healthcare professionals, on what they’ve done, why they’ve done it. That’s as close as you can get to that moment as well. So I think it’s very well aligned. Everything that self-ethnography does with different moments and finally, the third moment of truth, when it comes to advocacy and sort of getting stuff out there, is very similar to what I was just talking about recently. Some of our clients are actually asking us to help them generate sometimes those sort of moments of truth where they’re asking for the consumers to show them the moments they’ve had with their brand, either for a research piece or potentially getting their permissions to then use that content either on social or on the website, et cetera, and that’s really powerful. So kind of thinking, well, actually, you know, what can you do with smartphone ethnography and with these different moments when the reality of it, I would say you can touch all three of those moments you’ve talked through, because at the very heart of it, everything that you capture with Field Notes or with this approach is to do about the moment. And it can be a really valuable tool, I think, across the board, throughout the whole process, and a very visual one, which is what makes it so powerful.

Adrian Tennant: Dave, we’ve talked quite a bit about how Field Notes takes advantage of the mainstream adoption of smartphones, but you also head up another business called Peek Content. Could you tell us a bit about what Peek Content is?

Dave Kaye: Yes. what Peek does is, is quite niche, and we basically specialize in generating really high-quality videos from real people anywhere in the world. Now we do use Field Notes to do that, so it’s our platform for doing it. But if you’re working with Peek Content, then we are, actually, the agency service. So we would recruit people for you, we’d find the right people, and then most importantly, we would give them remote direction and support on how to film. and really the key thing that. are doing is, guaranteeing that you’ll get really good high-quality videos for your, project, whatever your project might be Now, what it then gives you as an end result is really authentic, but high-quality self-shot video, which, is niche, as I say, but that’s what we offer. and the whole reason that the business has come into life is because years of working in market research, I’m just done. I’m finished with seeing badly-shot video. Everyone’s got the highest possible quality cameras, you know, four cameras on their phone, shoot you from every different angle. You can actually put it into the cinema, but yet still people are recording themselves up the nose. Or holding the camera the wrong way around, or have a pet in the background tap dancing on a kitchen floor, which is one of the worst noises to get rid of in any kind of editing. And the video itself is just disappointing when actually it shouldn’t be. The video is incredibly powerful. It’s what you are using to excite your clients, to excite other consumers to do whatever you need to do with it. And there’s no reason why it isn’t really high-quality video, and that’s what we guarantee. Our manifesto is to rid the world of poor-quality smartphone video content. And, you know, that’s what we try and do. That might mean stopping or asking them not to film in portrait mode and film and landscape. It’s thinking about lighting behind them. It’s thinking about audio levels. It’s thinking about what they’re wearing to a certain extent, but actually, it’s still authentic and real when they talk to us because they’re talking about things that are their own stories. We’re just giving them the tools to better film themselves and to better capture the moment for us.

Adrian Tennant: Dave, how do clients typically engage with Peek Content? 

Dave Kaye: So quite often, it’s through word of mouth. We’ve got a client who’s come across us because they’ve started asking around because actually, there is a need for high-quality video because if you’ve spent, you know, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on your segmentation study, and it’s being let down cause you’ve just got very poor video clips bringing it to life, why not spend a little bit more? It’s a fraction of what you would be spending otherwise to really do it justice. So the clients that will commission us, and they, these do tend to be end clients rather than agencies that we, we work with both, but it tends to be clients who value, high-quality video, when they show it in the boardroom. And they also like the fact that they got a lot of control over the process. So when we did a recruitment, we are recruiting to a very strict brief. We’re looking at, quite often, a recruit that is designed to illustrate research findings or a research story rather than discover new insights. It’s about right from the start bringing those insights to life and capturing them. So people have been recruited in a particular way, they might be agreeing already to certain statements They’ve been selected to participate in the research. But again, they’re real people, and clients want to, bring that story to life within their organization. So when they commission us, they ask us how do we do it. How do we go about that? And we’ve got lots of processes that kind of help guarantee the quality of the video and the story. But the fact that we come from a world of research and there’s been, you know, 20 years of qualitative expertise behind it, we know how to tease out what the main story is, to work closely with the partners to bring it all to life and essentially make sure that the end piece is what’s needed. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, we always like practical examples. So Dave, could you give us a real-life example of Peek Content’s role in a client initiative?

Dave Kaye: Yes. So as a leading bank here in the UK, so a high street bank or one of the big boys, so to speak, that commissioned us to bring to life their segmentation. So they have 12 different segments who are all very different, and key to them and important to them. And each of those segments is important, within the broader, bigger business. So again, this is one of the clients that spend a lot of money on a segmentation study, with the quant numbers, and then came to us to bring those numbers to life. And we have developed for them, two edits actually. One is a five-minute edit, which tells the story, of those participants, and of those segments. Where they live. They show us around their homes. They tell us about their anxieties around finance or tell us about what their hopes and aspirations are for the future. A whole story around each of them, and a five-minute edit, and then a one-minute edit. And all of that content then lives on the internal exchange for the business. So they’ve got, in the UK probably about 12,000 people accessing that, looking at the videos and hearing the stories of their actual, real-life stories of their segments and the profiles they’ve been bringing to life. So for them, it’s been very much about giving access to their marketing teams, their sales teams, everybody within the organization so they can actually hear real stories of who they are. So that’s one nice example. Otherwise, we’ve again done quite a lot of content production for clients where it’s been used across social media. So working with one healthcare client where we’ve been talking about dentures, and people have been telling us that if you are actually in the process of losing your teeth, you won’t be very happy about it. And the reality of it is it’s a very stressful time. However, if you actually go as far as to go then and have your dentures put in, then your life changes massively. You can smile with confidence. You can whistle. You can eat steak. You can kiss your partner. You can speak with confidence in a client meeting. Lots of really positive things happen. So we were engaged in creating real testimonial stories for our client to then go online on YouTube, where they could then see the other stories of people that have had their dentures put in, which is just incredible. And actually, in healthcare, we’ve done quite a few things like that where during coronavirus as well, we were doing a lot of work with a number of different brands encouraging people to still go in for their checkups and for, in some cases during the pandemic, finding real people, real patients, hearing their stories. And when those stories were useful to then distribute to other patients – that kind of reassurance from those similar to them is really powerful. So again, lots of content that’s gone on to live outside of the research world to kind of encourage people to do certain things.

Adrian Tennant: Dave, your wife is American, and I know you cross the pond regularly. What are some of the main differences you see between US-based brands’ approaches or attitudes toward research compared to your UK and European clients? 

Dave Kaye: Yes. I, I love my wife. I love America as well, to be honest with you, when it comes to the attitudes that the US clients tend to have. So mean, it’s great. I’m based in London. I have great clients here, but what I always love about the US is there’s a sense of adventure from the clients around new methodologies and new approaches. So I think what you tend to see is more of a desire to explore and to try things out. So, quite often in the UK, you might have a more cautious approach. And I think, to be honest with you, the pandemic changed a lot of things. I think mobile ethnography or smartphone ethnography is much less unusual than it used to be. But pre-pandemic, I think there was still a bit of caution. It still felt quite new. I think in the US when clients hear about it and they like the sound of it, they’re much more likely to push the button and give it a go. So maybe not, you know, a huge project, first time round, but they want to dip their toes in the water. They want to experience it. So generally, I would say there’s a desire and a passion for exploring new approaches in the US, which I really appreciate. And then I would also say that in the US, you’re more likely to come across client insight teams that are doing their own research. I think that’s quite exciting and quite different to the way it is in the UK, where it’s usually an agency involved.

Adrian Tennant: New artificial intelligence-based tools are popping up in consumer research, most commonly in the context of question generation and coding of quantitative survey open-ends and qualitative transcripts. Dave, do you foresee AI playing a greater role in the design, collection, and delivery of qualitative insights?

Dave Kaye: Yeah, again, it’s a question which is on everyone’s lips at the moment, I suppose, but it’s definitely making an impact in online, smartphone, qualitative. I can answer this question by basically saying what impact it’s already had for us as a platform. So, you know, we are still very early days of all of this and OpenAI’s ChatGPT has already impacted the way we do things. So, at the end of this month, we’re actually changing our transcription service completely, and moving it to an AI-driven transcription service, which is called Whisper. And we’re very excited going into that and working with them. And basically, the quality of the output that we’ve seen, and we’ve already got it on our staging server, is phenomenal. It makes a massive difference. You’re looking at it, and you are sadly, questioning whether transcription agencies are going to not have a hard time of it in the near future. Human transcription has always been a massive role in research, but as this technology’s improved, you’ve got away with not using human transcription on a few. What we’re seeing now is that level of, transcription is becoming phenomenal. That’s also true of, translation. So you know, whenever I talk and give tips on how to run an international, smartphone qualitative project, I always say, “Don’t get burned by translation because you’re not sure how much you’re going to have, how much it’s going to cost. It spirals outta control. That’s where the hole is when it comes to, managing it.” And the improvement in transcription is allowing for, I think, really cost-effective translation to come on the horizon. And I don’t think that’s going to be as good it’s a harder thing to essentially deliver, but it is still giving you, a massive opportunity. I mean, it’ll mean massive, massive differences in transcription and translation. We’re already seeing it in our business. And then finally, the other thing that’s already happening within our business is once you’ve got all of that AI-driven transcription, in place, you can then start to begin to ask the tools to provide you with summaries of the actual content. So you are looking at, say 10, 15 minutes of video from a participant, which as a researcher, would take you 10, 15 minutes to go through and then take notes, understand it. Take time on it. And now the click of a button, you can have a summary there of 200 words or whatever, bringing to life, you know, in written text, exactly what happens in that video. And the quality of that – people say, you know, “How good is it? How effective is it?” I think the best way of thinking about it is, it’s like having an extra junior team member, working with you for somebody who needs support, somebody who needs to have a little bit of supervision in terms of what the output looks like, but fundamentally, is doing a really good job getting through it. And that, if you think of the man-hours when it comes to like going through all the content, it’s going to save a huge amount of time. So, it’s going to go way beyond that, I think. But just in the last three months, those are the developments we’ve seen on our own platform, and I think it’s a really exciting time. I think people are going to work differently. New jobs will be created when it comes to analyzing the content, and understanding what best to do with the AI. So I think it will evolve and it will change. We’ve already seen that. I think just technology has changed the role of research, but it’s made it much more accessible to a lot of people. 

Adrian Tennant: Dave, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to know more about you, Field Notes, or Peek Content, where can they find you?

Dave Kaye: So you can come find us at, or likewise also if you’re interested in Peek, And I’m on LinkedIn. I’m pretty active on there, so if people wanna drop me a line, look for Dave Kaye, K-A-Y-E, and one of those two businesses you’ll be able to find me there as well.

Adrian Tennant: And we’ll be sure to include links in the transcript for this episode. Dave, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Dave Kaye: Thank you so much for your time, Adrian. I really enjoyed chatting.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to this week’s guest, Dave Kaye of Field Notes and Peek Content. You’ll find a transcript of this episode with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeye Just select podcast from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for joining us for IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tenant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

This week’s podcast guest Renee Hartmann is the co-author of the Bigeye Book Club selection for March, Next Generation Retail: How To Use New Technology To Innovate For The Future. In this episode, Renee discusses how retailers and brand marketers can embrace new technologies to respond to consumers’ changing demands. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 25 percent discount on Next Generation Retail at by using the promo code BIGEYE25 at the checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Renee Hartmann: I think there’s quite a lot that can be learned from looking at the east and some of the innovation and excitement happening there in the retail sector. It is starting to filter into the west now, of course there’s cultural nuances with each one of them, but I think the core is keeping retail as entertainment.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. As part of the Bigeye Book Club, in partnership with publisher Kogan Page, today’s episode focuses on our featured selection for March, Next Generation Retail: How To Use New Technology To Innovate For The Future by Deborah Weinswig and Renee Hartmann. Written with both digital-first and physical retailing in mind, the book presents ways in which retailers and brand marketers can respond to consumers’ changing demands and expectations by embracing new and emerging technologies. I’m delighted that our guest today is Next Generation Retail’s co-author, Renee Hartmann, who’s also the founder of CLA, a research and strategy consulting firm that advises consumer brands on their international expansion. Her firm’s clients include household names, including Giorgio, Amani, Fendi, and Yves Saint-Laurent. Renee has worked as a brand owner, retail operator, consumer researcher, and branding and market entry strategist for over 20 years. To discuss some of the key concepts in Next Generation Retail, Renee is joining us today from her office in Lisbon, Portugal. Renee, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Renee Hartmann: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here today. 

Adrian Tennant: So Renee, can you tell us a bit about your work with CLA and the types of clients you work with?

Renee Hartmann: Sure. so I’ve been working with CLA, I started the company about 10 years ago, and have been working with a number of brands, to help them expand internationally. So we do a lot of east to west, west to east, helping brands go into the Asian market, helping Asian brands come into the US and European market. And we tend to work with a lot of consumer brands, so working with people like L’Oreal or Coach, or Fendi, those types of brands, helping them engage with consumers in a different market. And increasingly, we’re working with a lot of Asian brands, particularly in the beauty sector and consumer sector, helping them go into the US and Europe. So it’s a lot of cross-cultural communication, and very much focus on the retail sector, whether it’s e-commerce or physical retail. 

Adrian Tennant: How did you meet your co-author, Deborah Weinswig? And what prompted you to write Next Generation Retail Together?

Renee Hartmann: Sure. Uh, so Deborah and I met, we both had lived in Asia for quite a long time. I was living in China and Deborah was living in Hong Kong. so we met over some dim sum in Hong Kong and,kind of had a shared love for retail and consumer brands. so started talking several years ago, back when we were in Asia. And I would say over the pandemic, we started talking a lot more just kind of a, I think shared experiences during the pandemic and kind of, uh, really got to connect more. so that was sort ofwhat prompted us to spend more time together. And, I think, when we were approached to write Next Generation Retail we really had a similar approach to the way we thought about retail and thought about kind of,future casting, if you will. So that sort of enabled us to come together, from a kind of an author, perspective.

Adrian Tennant: Deborah’s based in New York City, which is where her firm, Coresight Research is based. And you are in Lisbon. So what did the writing process look like for you both?

Renee Hartmann: Sure. So we did a a lot of Zoom calls. I would say. you know, a lot of, uh, phone calls and, We were writing actually, last year. So we started in the spring and wrote during the summer. So it, it also coincided with a lot of travel. So at some points I was writing, I did interviews from a sailboat writing on my laptop,in the boat. I was at a friend’s, 50th birthday party in Hawaii and they had pictures of me of furiously writing in the background. So, uh it was a lot of kind of shared interviews. Um,and that’s the great thing about, I think during the pandemic is so many video calls and phone calls, just became normal.

Adrian Tennant: In Next Generation Retail, you explore many aspects of the future of retailing, which you summarize in the three by three by three rule. Renee, can you explain the rule and how it helps readers navigate the major themes in your book?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah, I mean I think when we started looking at the book,we really first started with the consumer and coming off the pandemic, how has the consumer changed? you know, one of the chapters, Deborah and I went through our own personal experiences during the pandemic and how that changed us as a consumer. And I think that’s one of the things, we hope readers will take away is thinking about how have you changed Your consumer preferences and habits, and I think all of us did. So I think, we started at the consumer as the core, and you know, how both the pandemic and then just changing, preferences and needs and technology is shaping consumer preferences. And as a result of that we really came up with kind of this framework of, uh, three by three by three. And so the way we think about it is, retailers have three new things to sell, they have three new ways to sell them and they deliver them in three new ways for the consumer. So we could talk a little bit about each one, but you know, when we talk about three new things to sell, those are actually new products that retailers are able to sell. It’s not just about products. They have new things they can sell, new ways to deliver them to the consumer from a channel perspective. And then the consumer expectations are really changing in three new ways. So I can talk a little bit about each one of ’em, but that’s the way that we thought about it.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s talk about the first of your three rules, new things to Sell. Now, last year it felt like new retail media networks were popping up every week. You have a chapter devoted to this in your book, but for anyone unfamiliar with RMNs, could you explain what they are and how you foresee them affecting brands’ marketing strategies?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah, so retail media networks, what it really does is it turns the retailer into the media network itself, right? So if you think about you know, say like a grocery store or even things like using Instacart, which a lot of us use over the pandemic. it turns the retailer into kind of, the media platform itself. Soyou know, when you think about it, the retailer is the one who has the consumers. The consumers come in, whether it’s physical retailer, whether it’s online retailer, and they’re providing data to the the retailer understands, what they’re purchasing, what types of, products they considered, and then they also have the ability to promote different products to them in a personalized way. So one way I think about it, probably the way that I had the most experience with it was using Instacart. when I go on Instacart all the time, I see, Instacart knows what I’ve purchased before from that retailer. those products are promoted to me first. There’s new products that are suggested to me that are according to my liking. They’re not just random things that are chosen to me. And I find myself, using the products that they recommend all the time because they are things that I like. So I think it. You know, kind of puts the power away from,traditional advertisers, like even things like Facebook and Instagram, and puts the data and the consumer interaction in the hands of the retailer. So it’ll enables the retailer to come up with some new, revenue platforms so they’re able to actually sell media. you know, they can replace the advertising for brands and it allows brands to have access to data that they didn’t have from, say, Instagram or a Facebook. Um, this is really a retailer who knows what people buy, and they have a lot of data about the consumer and themselves.

Adrian Tennant: Well if they haven’t already, what are some of the factors that retailers need to consider if they’re thinking about establishing a media network?

 we talk to retailers about this all the time, and I think the first thing that retailers really consider is, how do I do this in a way that’s not invasive to my customers? I don’t wanna,disenfranchise my consumers. I don’t wanna make them feel like I’m selling to them. So I think the most important thing for retailers is to really figure out how can I do this in a way that’s nuanced? And doesn’t make my customer feel like I’m selling their data or that I’m taking advantage of them. So I think that, the way that we’ve seen it really work well is by just what I was just saying in terms of personalizing the information. So it’s something that feels helpful to youversus feeling like I’m being sold at and given something that I don’t want. the other thing that I think retailers consider a lot of is how to anonymize the data. So it’s not that they’re providing customer data away to brands, but they’re providing insights. so I think those are probably the two key areas. the other thing from a retailer standpoint, where we usually tell people to start, thinking about it, is a multi-brand retailer versus a single brand retailer, they’re gonna have two very different strategies for retail media network. So multi-brands are probably the first place to start. if you are a multi-brand retailer and you’re not doing retail media that’s probably the, the top priority. I would say in terms of, where you start to develop that strategy and how you bring that to life 

Adrian Tennant: And what about brands? In what kinds of ways can they, or their agencies, evaluate whether investing in RMMs makes sense? 

Renee Hartmann: Yeah, I think one of the things that we’re hearing from brands a lot is, the cost of digital media, and the cost of digital advertising is going up a lot. You know, I think it used to be, very easy for brands to just go on, like I said, like all the social media networks use influencers, and they were able to, generate pretty high returns right away. I think that those days are, are pretty much gone now. It’s becoming a lot harder, it’s more expensive, and those social media networks don’t have as much data. So I think from a brand standpoint, if there is a a retailer that does have a retail media network how can you use them to, number one, to promote your product, number two, to learn more about your customer. and number three, to personalize your offerings in a way that will really resonate with that target consumer. So I would definitely encourage brands to, and their agencies to really seek out retail media networks, it provides this, sort of a streamlined way that feel can feel very natural if it’s done in a good way. So I think it provides, a deeper level of engagement than say, some of your more traditional advertising methods would have.

Adrian Tennant: The second of your three rules is New Ways To Sell. US Grocery Chain, the Fresh Market is one of the firms that’s launched a retail media network. The chain has also seen great success with live streaming cooking shows from its stores, and is reportedly set to offer shoppable advertisements during its broadcasts. Renee, you have a chapter in Next Generation Retail focusing on the rise of livestream shopping. So can you give us an overview of the current landscape and how US retailers and brands should be thinking about live streaming’s potential? 

Renee Hartmann: Sure. I mean, I think live streaming is an area that both Deborah and I are really passionate about. it’s something that we think is, really the future of retailing. Um, when you think about blending the online and offline experience, so you. We I mentioned we both had a lot of experience in Asia. China is the behemoth when it comes to live streaming. It is,the amount of money that is generated and that the size of the market in China is just staggering. it is the way that consumers, really understand products. They get to know them, they trust the livestream hosts. It’s become kind of a form of entertainment. and it really has become one of the most dominant shopping, ways that people interact online. . when you look at the US it’s still it’s still very early days when you compare it to a market like China. it’s growing quite a bit. I think you’re seeing, all kinds of, platforms getting involved, whether it’s TikTok or Instagram or,more traditional methods like Q V C. Um, we are seeing a lot of different, providers popping up technology providers as well as platforms that are getting involved in the live streaming sector. So I think it’s still very early. and the consumers that we’ve seen, You who do like to livestream? I think there’s this perception in the US in particular that livestream customers are more like traditional home shopping customers and they’re older, but that’s not really the case. You know, we, we’ve done core site in particular’s, done a lot of research on the consumers, who do you know, livestream shopping in the us and it’s some real mix. It’s everything from. Young kids to, men to women, to people who are looking for, things like fishing online or they want to learn more about different types of products. You’ve got beauty consumers. You really have a broad range of consumers. So I think for brands that are. seeking to, to get into live streaming shopping in the us. number one, it’s a great time to test and learn. It’s not something that’s so advanced that you’re late to the game. It’s a great time to get started. it’s pretty easy to get up and running. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. I think the other misperception we see from a lot of brands, they think I’ve gotta have this huge production capability and I’ve gotta be spending all this money to be making commercial, like video content. we found that’s not the case. with Core Site we did a livestream festival called 10 10, last October 10th. And we had one brand that was on there and the, one of the best selling brands we had was this very high end, cutting board company. And the thing that was really exciting is they took people back into their workshop and showed them how it was made. They showed them what kind of wood is being used, how they put it together really the behind the scenes. And that’s what consumers are looking for, is they’re looking for this really in-depth content and they want it to be authentic. they’re not looking for overly produced commercial glossy content. They really want this, In-depth content where they can learn. So I think that’s another area that we’ve seen. you know, it is pretty easy to get up and running. it doesn’t cost a lot of money. And the other thing is, it’s a great way to educate the consumer. so you mentioned, fresh market. we’ve seen a lot of interests,in the food sector in particular because you can do things like have chefs on, you can talk about, you can do wine tasting, you can do, cook alongs. There’s a lot of really fun content and engaging content. And you think about, the rise. even shows on Netflix, like Chef and all the cooking shows, if you can make it so simple that you’re watching somebody make a recipe and you can buy everything from your recipe right there in one basket, in one click, that makes things a lot easier. And it’s a way to really engage people and create these types of experiences where it is really that experiential shopping. So I think that’s something that. that we really see is a, is a new and innovative, like you said, one of the three ways to sell things. it’s a whole new way to sell and it is something that’s pretty easy to do. and just we think it’s kind of a no-brainer for brands to get started.

Adrian Tennant: I mentioned that the fresh market plans to incorporate shoppable ads into its live stream. So do you foresee shoppable ads and social media influences content converging in the future?

Renee Hartmann: I think so. I mean, I think that’s one of the things, there’s a company that we, that we know called nio, which is, an online,they’re enabling influencers to become retailers themselves, right? So I think the next step is influencers are not just about putting content out there, but. You know, consumers really trust them and they wanna get a curated selection of products that they have, and really be able to kind of buy the products that the influencer talking about. So we see it getting into that next level of how do you get to conversion, and it’s the same thing as live streaming. When you see the content. you wanna be able to buy right away. So I think this kind of content, and the overlap in between the two, whether it’s an ad, whether it’s a live stream, whether it’s an influencer post, as long as it’s engaging and interesting and relevant to the consumer. I think these are natural ways that the consumer is interested in it. I think the key point is the same as retail media network, which is how do you make it something that’s authentic, that doesn’t feel intrusive to the consumer and something they wanna buy. And if you can do it in that, Then absolutely. I think that’s where that convergence between content and commerce will become even stronger.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Renee Hartmann: Hi, I’m Renee Hartman, co-author of the book, Next Generation Retail: How To Use New Technology To Innovate For The Future. It’s a practical guide to retail marketing tech, including livestream shopping, quick commerce, and retail media networks. In it, we show you how to create compelling content, drive conversions in digital and physical channels, and monetize data, all while maintaining customer trust. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25% on a print or electronic version of Next Generation Retail by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and ebook bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan. Page, shipping is always free to the US and to the UK, which also helps us authors. So to order your copy of Next Generation Retail, go to That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. Thank you.

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called Engage: how to turn your board customers into brand fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an unclear focused listener, you can receive a hundred dollars discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics!

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Renee Hartmann, the co-author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Next Generation Retail: How To Use New Technology To Innovate For The Future. As the future of retail evolves, retailers will have new things to sell and new ways of selling them. Renee, the third of your three rules addresses new ways to deliver them. What factors do you believe will be the most significant in terms of serving customers?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah, we see three main ways. and this, again, I think when you talk about the consumers and how things have changed,number one thing we want people to, consumers are wanting products that are sustainable and they want the selling methods to be sustainable too. So sustainability is becoming much more important to the consumer. and we think the days of retailers and brands not thinking about sustainability at all or almost over, and consumers are really looking for that. So sustainable is number one. the next one is really personalized. So people are, the consumers are really wanting a personalized experience. This is where I think the convergence of offline and online and all this retail data that we talk about. how do you drive something to a consumer that feels very personal to them, that’s unique and relevant to them. and the third thing is experiential. I think that’s one area that. You know, when we think about, COVID is a great example. it became so easy to buy everything online. so convenience wise, you may as well buy online, but you’re still missing that experiential component of it. And that’s why everybody’s going back to retail, right? they want the entertainment value. They want the experiential value. And for retailers, they have to be able to provide that. It’s not just, I’m going to a retail store to buy something. It’s not a function. experience anymore. It really has to become, it has to become something that is fun, that’s relevant and it’s entertaining and is experiential. So those are the three things, sustainable, personalized, and experiential.

Adrian Tennant: Sustainability is the focus of a chapter in Next Generation Retail, and you acknowledge that It can be daunting to navigate the sheer volume of issues that fall under the umbrella of sustainability. You also cite a statistic from which finds corporations that plan with climate change in mind secure an 18% higher return on investment than those that do not. Renee, what are some ways retailers can achieve more sustainable business practices?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah. We talk about different ways that that companies can look at sustainability and I think one of the people that we interviewed through the book, his name was Andrew Sullivan, and he really made some good points. He focuses on sustainability and his point is you have to look across every aspect of all of the business. It’s not just one person’s job, it’s not a sustainability officer’s job. It has to be something that goes back to the CEO and has to be infused throughout the organization. and so we we encourage everybody to look at all different aspects of it. So in the retail store, it could be everything from, looking at the types of lights that you have in your retail environment. How can you make lower energy use? How can you reduce waste in your packaging? we talked to another, interviewee who talked about,automated, checkout and how that freed up time from the checkout person to go out and do shopping. And then when you deliver it to the customer, you’re using route that are using less, energy. You’re using electric cars, things like that. So even everything down to you know, delivery can become a more sustainable option. and then looking at,the product, we always talk about looking at the product backwards, right? um, look through the circular part of your supply chain. would people wanna reuse the product? We’re seeing, retailers all the time, or actually starting their own areas for resale of product themselves. So people who have used the product and wanna sell it back, they’re actually creating marketplaces for that themselves. and of course, obviously going through the entire supply chain, right? In terms of how can you reduce waste, how can you reduce energy, how can you use better materials? we’re even seeing, we have a chapter in the book on blockchain, and we’re even seeing, people use blockchain and sustainability efforts as well. So I think it’s really examining every single piece of the business and it, and really just thinking through how can everything be more sustainable. and then we always talk about reporting it, right? You know, one of the areas that we’ve, we talked about is some brands I think are a little bit shy to talk about their sustainability efforts because they’re worried about greenwashing, they’re worried about consumer backlash. But really, the more that you’re reporting to your employees, to your customers, to your suppliers, it keeps you accountable. And so really having these methods to track your sustainability efforts, and of course nobody can get there overnight. but to have an ongoing vision and something that’s created from the top of the organization is really important. So,sustainability, one of the things that makes it so hard, I think, is that it really can be affected through every part of the organization. And it really does take, a sort of an organization-wide, real mandate to make it become a reality.

Adrian Tennant: In the book Influencing Shopper Decisions, also published by Kogan Page and our featured selection last April, the authors included a quotation from anthropologist Michael Donovan illustrating how successful retailers provide cues, symbols, and spaces designed to engage our cultural imagination. Donovan also defines shopping as – quote – “A central creative activity of American life, a kind of popular performance art,” – end quote. So I’m curious, Renee, as someone who works with brands on their international expansion strategies, what are some of the most important differences between markets in the West and the East in terms of the role that shopping plays in people’s lives?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah, I mean I think this is one of those areas where shopping in the East I think was really ahead of shopping in the West. I think if you’d been going to malls in Asia, even for the last. Five to 10 years. they were always more advanced than in the West, in my opinion. They were always more integrated, they were more omnichannel. even take one silly example like QR codes. QR codes have been popular in China for years and years. and that really enabled that kind of omnichannel experience. They only just became popular in the west, as a result of Covid. so I think in the East,shopping has always been entertainment. It’s always been something you do with friends. This, the malls are open late, you go eat at the malls. You go you have full kind of, you spend hours in the mall and that really becomes your entertainment. And I think that, brands, even when you look to, doing, traveling art installations in malls, doing experiential pop-up stores, really having that kind of digital experience. one thing you do see that’s a little different in the east versus the west I think is you know, lot more things like facial recognition and automated,shopping experiences, which may be some of the privacy laws in Europe and the US don’t allow some of these types of integrations, but you really see that,made to measure personalization. All of these types of really fun experiential retail, advancements that happen in the East I think are just now starting to filter into the West, and we’re starting to see, some of these types of advancements in the west as well. And I think that things like the metaverse, things like, virtual reality, online offline integration, it’s really is becoming you look at a mall like a Mall of America or American Dream in the us, having the mall as entertainment itself. that is the future I think, of malls and that is the future of retail. And I think a lot of that came from Asia and a lot of that came from the east. So I think there’s quite a lot that can be learned from looking at the east and some of the innovation and excitement that was happening there in the retail sector. It is starting to filter into the west now, and I think that’s where of course there’s cultural nuances with each one of ’em, but I think the core is keeping retail as entertainment. And I like the quote you mentioned about retail as performance art. in China there are art malls. You know, when you go into a mall it is like a fun experience. You’ve got, crazy statues and you’ve got interactive art displays. that it is art to a certain extent and I think that way of having it something that you can experience and feel, is really important to the retail environment.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. 

Adrian Tennant: North America’s largest display of tile and stone, Coverings 2023, is coming to Orlando this April 18th through the 21st. Featuring nearly 1,000 exhibitors from more than 35 countries, at Coverings, you’ll explore the latest global trends, develop industry relationships, and experience transformative education sessions that’ll bolster your competitive edge in 2023 and beyond. I’ll be at Coverings recording an episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS and I’d love for you to join me. Simply go to and use promo code IN CLEAR FOCUS for free registration. That’s code IN CLEAR FOCUS at Prepare to be floored! And I hope to see you in April at coverings. 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Renee Hartmann, the co-author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Next Generation Retail: How To Use New Technology To Innovate For The Future. What are some of the most important factors for US-based retailers or brands considering international expansion?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah. I think the most important thing, and it’s, it sounds obvious, but you know, To, to understand what the consumer knows about your brand, to understand what they value. I mean, I think one of the things, that’s interesting and not every brand, always realizes, they may think, Hey, I’m really popular in the US for X, y, and z reasons. I assume I’ll be popular in another market for that same reason. And that’s often not the case. You know, it might be one product that you hear, a product it might be, the country that you’re from, that’s an issue. Um there was a lot of brands, for instance, when they went into China, people knew them from maybe from Gossip Girl or from certain types of movies or TV shows. So I think the first thing is to really understand, a, does the consumer know you at all? And b y and then c I would say would be, what are the trends that are happening in that market? And then how do you, how do you adapt to those? Cause I think one of the mistakes we see, make is that they get, a little bit,I don’t know if arrogant is the word, but they think that whatever worked in their home market’s gonna work in another market. And that’s often not the case. Um, sometimes people are lucky that way, but often it’s not. so I think really being able to understand, how you can localize your branding efforts, how you can localize your marketing efforts in a way that is authentic and doesn’t lose who you are, you don’t wanna change too much,really finding those nuances of what’s gonna connect with the consumer. I think whenever you go to a new market, the hardest part is creating consumer demand. Everything else is easy, right? Everything else, yes, there’s new social channels and e-commerce channels and sales methods and government restrictions and everything. But if you don’t have the consumer demand, the rest of it is, irrelevant and everything else can be done. So the core is really understanding, does the consumer want your brand and your product? and if they don’t already, how can you make them do that? So I think the, that’s really the most important area.

Adrian Tennant: And Renee, do you have any favorite consumer research methods for identifying those nuances of local markets?

Renee Hartmann: I think the best ones I’ve seen are ones that, really connect with the consumers on the platforms that they use. So I’ll take China again as an example. social media platforms in China are completely different than they are in the US. So you have, areas like Little Red Book, which is a type of, social platform that doesn’t even exist in the West. it’s almost like Yelp for brands, right? And so it’s about really understanding, what people are saying about you and talking about you. So I think, connecting with people, whether it’s doing surveys on a platform like WeChat, whether it’s, going to areas that people are interested. And I think also taking some of the cultural nuances, in context. So for instance, in some markets, focus groups don’t work as well. It’s better to do one-on-one interviews because of some of the social dynamics. So I think it’s really also localizing the market research techniques, and connecting with people in ways that are really relevant to them in their everyday life.

Adrian Tennant: A year ago, the Metaverse, Web3, and NFTs were all in the news quite a lot. But in 2023, we seem to be hearing less about these topics. Renee, should retailers and brands still be thinking about them?

Renee Hartmann: Should brands be doing NFTs? This is something that I keep hearing from people or NFTs dead. is it relevant anymore? and I think the answer is,we definitely think that brands should continue to be using, NFTs and engaging with the Metaverse. I think, sometimes these types of things like Metaverse, NFTs, they go through fads, and people become up and down with them. But I think at the heart of it, it’s really about engaging consumers in new ways. I was just talking to somebody today about their kids using Roblox and how they can buy virtual items. And I think that it really is the future in terms of how young consumers can really engage with brands and find new ways to understand them, whether it’s from metaverse experiences, whether it’s buying digital items. I talked to another company the other day that’s doing NFTs that are connected with phone numbers, so the consumer sometimes doesn’t even know it is an NFT. So I think there are a lot of different ways that brands and retailers can get involved in the Metaverse and NFTs in particular. And despite some of the news and the ups and downs with Bitcoin and all of the other currencies and markets, it is definitely an area that we see – when you look at Web3 in general – is definitely something that we see staying and we encourage brands to continue to get involved.

Adrian Tennant: We can’t discuss using new technologies without considering artificial intelligence. AI is certainly having a moment in popular culture, but in what kinds of ways is it already disrupting long-established practices in retail?

Renee Hartmann: There’s so many different parts of artificial intelligence and I think what’s getting a lot of press right now obviously is things like ChatGPT and like these types of virtual intelligence and artificial intelligence and how that’s getting involved. But I think, there’s so many different things we’ve seen. We talk about the CORE framework in the book, which is everything from Communication to Optimizing pricing, to Rationalizing inventory, and then creating Experiential retail. And I think that’s something that we’re seeing quite a lot, whether it’s things like chatbots and every time you go online, the quick customer service and the way that consumers are engaging with brands and virtual assistance personalization that’s coming through. I was actually just at EUROSHOP and I saw there is a company that was using AI to optimize pricing and grocery stores based on the expiration date. So I think you’re even seeing things like how to use dynamic pricing, how do you take data to make better decisions and optimize things like supply chain and inventory? So there’s so many different ways. I think there’s the kind of fun and creative ones that get the spotlight, but actually, when you get back into supply chain and some of the real data-intensive ways, it’s how do you take immense amounts of data and then how do you process it intelligently in ways that maybe humans couldn’t do before? I think that’s where a lot of the power comes from, really, disrupting the retail environment.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve included several examples of how well-known retailers apply AI and machine learning to their operations. Thinking about the examples you included in the book, were there one or two that really surprised you or stood out?

Renee Hartmann: There are so many great ones. One of the ones that resonated with me, I’ve just been renovating a house and just moved, and I think a lot of people during the pandemic did as well. One of the ones we talked about was Wayfair having a visual search where you could submit photos of items that you like and then find similar items on Wayfair. So when you think about retail, so much of it is the seeing and the exploring. And sometimes it is hard as a shopper, I think, to know exactly what you’re looking for. It’s not necessarily something you’re searching for. And that’s something where the browsing online sometimes can be a little bit different than say, like, when you’re walking around a retail store and having that sense of discovery. So I thought that was a really fun way to take AI and look at it from a visual standpoint, almost using different senses that you would use from online shopping. So I thought that was one just personally resonates to me. Cause it’s something I’ve been doing a lot of is walking around furniture stores and vintage stores and trying to find fun things. I think obviously one that everybody has used a lot is those chatbots and the ability to even when I’m just online shopping and things like that, whether we talked about Lowe’s and Kroger’s, and Nike. But being able to create that really quick response and being able to answer people’s questions and really, streamlining the customer service experience for consumers in ways that I think are really, making everyday shopping a lot better for people.

Adrian Tennant: Renee, what do you hope readers will take away from Next Generation Retail?

Renee Hartmann: Yeah, I think that, the hope I feel is it doesn’t need to be so complicated. I think people think about innovation and technology, and they sometimes don’t know where to start. so I think one of the things that we really tried to do in the book is to be really practical about, how can you do these, any of these, every chapter, every topic we talked about, whether it’s NFTs or blockchain, Online payments or supply chain or retail media. we tried to break it down into some very easy and tactical things that people can do to just get started. I think so much of this, it really is just starting out, like I said, I was just at a trade show in Germany, and the amount of new technology is overwhelming. I think it took up 20 different huge warehouse rooms. There’s so much out there. But it really just is about getting started, trying new things, seeing what works making incremental improvements, and then iterating. So I think that’s the key lesson and the key area that I hope people will take away is just dip your toe in and start trying things. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary. They don’t have to cost a lot. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s just a matter of trying things and seeing how they work for your organization. And I think the other thing is, Every organization, every brand is different, and what works for one is not gonna work for the other one. So I think really being able to have that test-and-learn mentality is really important when you think about innovation.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and your work at CLA or your book Next Generation Retail, where can they find you?

Renee Hartmann: They can find me at and I can certainly provide a link for the podcast as well.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of Renee’s book, Next Generation Retail, you can save 25 percent on either a print or electronic version when you purchase directly from the publisher online at Just add the promo code, BIGEYE25 at the checkout. Renee, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Renee Hartmann: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been really fun.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week. Renee Hartmann, the co-author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Next Generation Retail. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the unclear focus page at Just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts and contributing a rating or a review. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Rohit Bhargava is the co-author of The Future Normal, a new book featuring 30 non-obvious ideas and consumer trends that will shape the next decade. Rohit joins us on the day of the book’s publication to discuss how he identifies and curates non-obvious ideas, and how his background in ad agency strategy influences his approach to writing. Rohit also explains what motivated him to establish his own publishing company, IdeaPress, and why he’s positive about the future of humanity.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS,

Rohit Bhargava: The future that we’re going to have is the future that we can imagine. And if what we’re imagining is the Black Mirror version of the future, then that’s what someone will figure out a way to make happen.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. “Making outlandish predictions about the future is easy. Predicting the future normal is far harder.” Those are not my words, but those of Rohit Bhargava and Henry Courtino-Mason, who have both been on the front lines of the future leading successful trend consultancies, but on different sides of the Atlantic. Henry runs TrendWatching‘s global activity from his base in London, while Rohit is the founder of the Non-Obvious Company based here in the US. On a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world, Rohit is the three-time Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of nine books on marketing, innovation, diversity, and trends, including his number one bestseller, Non-Obvious Megatrends. Rohit also curates the Non-Obvious Insights Newsletter, which brings the most exciting consumer stories of the week to my inbox and thousands of others every Thursday. More fun facts about Rohit: he’s been invited to keynote events in 32 countries worldwide, he’s an adjunct professor of marketing and storytelling at Georgetown University, and an entrepreneur, founding three successful companies. To discuss his latest book, The Future Normal, Rohit is joining us today from Washington, DC. Rohit, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Rohit Bhargava: Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Well, Rohit, I’ve been following your work as an author since the publication of Personality Not Included in 2009, but before becoming an entrepreneur, you spent 15 years as a strategist in leadership roles at Leo Burnett and Ogilvy. I’m curious, what led you from a career in advertising agency strategy to writing full-time?

Rohit Bhargava: I’d say I have always been a writer and it was always a part of the role that I had in advertising. But for me, what ended up happening was I worked in a group that was starting to do social media as a part of the offering, and I remember there was a moment in 2004 actually where I thought, “Well if we’re going to do this social media stuff, I should probably be doing it myself, just so I understand it.” And so I started writing a blog. And the blog really just took off, and it’s what led me to the first book deal – blast from the past – Personality Not Included back in 2008. And it was after four years of writing the blog and building the audience, I got the book deal with McGraw-Hill. And so for me, the journey to writing and becoming an entrepreneur now and writing books and doing all of these other things, like speaking at conferences and things, kind of started there because of my passion for writing.

Adrian Tennant:  You are the founder and Chief Trend Curator of the Non-Obvious Company. So before we discuss your newest book, could you share a little about how you find, collect, and curate information about the business, marketing, and non-obvious consumer trends you identify and write about?

Rohit Bhargava: Absolutely, yeah. So my weekly discipline is to constantly be searching for stories, and I write about them in a weekly newsletter, which is really kind of the mental equivalent of constantly working out, for me, because I’m always looking for new stories. I’m always looking for new ideas. And when it comes to doing trend analysis, what I look at is over a larger span of time, what were the themes and patterns in all of those stories? So because I’m constantly looking at stories every week, by the end of any given year or some period of time, I can start to see patterns that have emerged in the long-term that maybe you wouldn’t notice on a daily, or even a weekly basis.

Adrian Tennant: Rohit, your latest book is entitled The Future Normal, which is described as “a handbook for visionaries featuring the 30 biggest non-obvious ideas and instigators that will shape humanity’s next decade.” Now, you co-authored this book with Henry Coutinho-Mason, who leads TrendWatching, and in the book, you describe yourselves as reluctant futurists. What’s the story behind your collaboration with Henry?

Rohit Bhargava: Henry and I have known each other for a long time, but the collaboration kind of came to us because of a moment when we were at a conference together, and we happened to both be speaking there. And we’d known each other kind of virtually, but we had not really met that many times until that moment. And we both sort of talked about how when we do our futurist work, it’s on a shorter time scale than a lot of futurists. So the whole, “What’s the world going to be like in 2050?” was not typically a question that we spent a lot of time thinking about. Instead, we really spent a lot of time saying, “What’s happening right now that’s going to impact business or people’s careers or the way that we live in the next year, two years, three years?” And for me, at that point, I had been writing an annual trend book, which is a crazy thing to do if you think about it from a futurist perspective. Because I would literally put the year of the book on the cover and you can imagine how many people today want to buy Non-Obvious 2017. Literally no one, right? So it was a limiting thing from a sales point of view, but it was a reinforcement of the philosophy, which is that we’re looking at this over the period of time when it really has an impact on what you do. And if you could anticipate what’s going to happen in the next six months or 12 months, you can do a lot of things with that versus anticipating what might happen in 2050. Is really fun and interesting to read, and I love reading things like that, but it’s not immediately applicable to what you would do with that today.

Adrian Tennant: The Future Normal is organized into three thematic sections that each include 10 chapters. In the first section, you explore innovations in health, learning, media, and entertainment. Rohit, could you give us a couple of examples from this section that you think have the potential to impact brand and marketing strategy? 

Rohit Bhargava: Well, one that is really top of mind right now is the psychedelic wellness, which has been a huge topic in the media. There’s been a show on Netflix about it. At the moment when we’re recording this, we’re just doing our prep for the big South by Southwest, show. And I was looking at the program, and there’s, I think eight different sessions about something related to psychedelics. And so this is exploding right now because there’s a new wave of interest in it. There’s new research behind it, and there’s this idea that it’s really unlike a lot of other drugs or pharmaceuticals in the sense that it’s not addictive. It has the capability and the capacity to – in some cases – permanently rewire how your brain works and provide a solution to these long-standing issues that many people have struggled with from a mental health perspective, like PTSD or depression. And so, when you have something like this that can be that transformative that’s really being studied and being applied in so many different sectors, it’s tempting to think, “Oh, this is going to impact healthcare.” But your question was like, “What should brands be aware of?” And I think that what’s fascinating about this one is that the applications of it in terms of how people think and what their mindset is towards something that seemed like it was off limits or even illegal, that now is becoming mainstream and desirable is hugely valuable for any brand in any situation because now you’re starting to think, “Well, what is the mindset of someone who shifts and thinks about things in this different way?” And that’s what’s fascinating to me about doing this trend work. It’s not that you can look at it and say, “Well, here’s your healthcare trend, and here’s your financial services trend, and here’s your retail trend.” We’ve never thought about it like that. Every single one of these has applications widely beyond a certain industry, and what we’re really trying to do is bring that human element to how we think about and define and write about trends.

Adrian Tennant: The second section of The Future Normal focuses on how people will live, work, and consume. Now, the first chapter in this section poses the question: What if artificial intelligence could make humans more creative? Rohit, it’s a topic we’ve been tracking on this podcast all season, so how will AI change how we approach creative tasks?

Rohit Bhargava: Well, I think the first thing we have to say about AI is that it could do these things if we use it in a certain way. And, and that’s one of the fundamental things that I think a lot of people and a lot of stories sometimes miss about the power of AI – that it really is driven by how we choose to use it. And as we started using it, which, you know, we’ll definitely get into, one of the things that was quickly apparent is that when you put garbage into it, you get garbage out of it! And when you become good at putting information into it, you actually get something pretty good out of it. And what that meant to me, pretty apparently, is that it’s going to become a skillset to learn how to use AI, for creative tasks or for mundane tasks. I have examples of both of those things that I could share with you. So it’s not only looking at what AI was able to do in terms of generating a painting or generating art or generating images or generating faces of people who don’t exist based on extrapolating facial features from pictures of people who do exist. It’s also [about] how can it make these tasks that we all need to do that sometimes we maybe don’t want to do, like writing a letter to get out of a parking ticket … How, how does it make those sorts of things easier for any one of us to do as well? I would consider those to be low-stakes moments versus kind of high-stakes or something that you put out there that has your name on it, right? Like ghostwriting a blog post, for example, that has your name on it, that just uses AI. And when you put it out there, people are like, it doesn’t really make sense.

Adrian Tennant: You used AI tools in the design of the book. Can you tell us about that?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah. Not just the design, but the writing too. What we didn’t use it for was to write the book or to write any parts of the book. But what was interesting about it is we used it in a couple of use cases. So if you do get the physical copy of the book, you’ll see that we have 30 trends in the book, and each one of them has an icon attached to it. And so as we were sourcing icons and finding them and deciding what icons to use, there were some chapters where we kind of hit this mental roadblock. “What should the icon be?” Brainstorming roadblock, we’ve all had those. And AI was really interesting to use as an idea generation tool, in that case, to say, “Here’s the text of the chapter. Can you suggest what some icons for this chapter might be?” And it would write some of the suggestions, and we would go in and say, “Oh, that suggestion’s actually kind of interesting.” And then we’d start going and looking for it. And in some cases, for some icons, what AI had suggested inspired what the icon actually was. So AI didn’t design the icon, but it helped us to find it. That was one example. Another example that’s more on the writing side was we’d written a chapter and we put the chapter into ChatGPT, and we asked it to write a negative one-star review of that chapter and identify why the chapter wasn’t good. And what it came up with in terms of spotting gaps in our arguments was actually useful for us editorially, to be able to say, “Oh, this point that we were trying to make wasn’t entirely clear. We need to go back and revise the writing.” So in this case, we used it as a critique of the writing, but then we did the writing ourselves, and we used it as a layer to say, “What would AI spot as a gap in our argument that we now need to go and fix?” So that was another example where it was quite interesting what it came up with.

Adrian Tennant: Your permission to completely steal that idea right away. I think that’s brilliant!

Rohit Bhargava: You definitely should! Yeah, anybody who’s writing anything should, I mean, if we can use AI, this is a perfect example, right? We’re not using it to do the creative or to replace the writing. We’re using it to make the writing better, and I think that’s the opportunity when it’s used well.

Adrian Tennant: So we’re all going to become prompt engineers, I guess!

Rohit Bhargava: Perhaps!

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Renee Hartmann: Hi, I’m Renee Hartman, co-author of the book, Next Generation Retail. It’s a practical guide to retail marketing tech, including livestream shopping, quick commerce, and retail media networks. In it, we show you how to create compelling content, drive conversions in digital and physical channels, and monetize data, all while maintaining customer trust. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25% on a print or electronic version of Next Generation Retail by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and ebook bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan. Page, shipping is always free to the US and to the UK, which also helps us authors. So to order your copy of Next Generation Retail, go to That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. Thank you. 

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called Engage: how to turn your board customers into brand fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an unclear focused listener, you can receive a hundred dollars discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics!

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Rohit Bhargava, a serial entrepreneur and the bestselling author of nine books on marketing, innovation, diversity, and trends. Today we’re discussing Rohit’s latest book, The Future Normal. The third section looks a little further out, focusing on how humanity will survive beyond the next decade. You have chapters here that address the future of cities, the environment, agriculture, and government. Rohit, are there a couple of examples that you feel could reverse the existential threat presented by climate change?

Rohit Bhargava: There are some. And this chapter was really interesting as an exercise for both Henry and I to work on writing, because it forced us to take a perspective. We talked a little bit about this reluctant futurist tag, and part of the reluctance was for us to look too far into the future. But in a book like this where we talked about the future normal, it felt like we had to do that. It would be incomplete if we didn’t. And so some of the ideas that were presented in this third section of how humanity will survive, need to be future-ranging in terms of solar geoengineering, for example, where we’re looking at ways of cooling the earth artificially, and all the ethical issues that come with that. There’s a great entrepreneurial company called Thaely that makes shoes out of recycled bags and recycled, plastic bottles. And I just got my pair that I ordered. It took a while to to come, but now I just got my pair. And so trying out a lot of those types of technologies that have potential farther into the future was really fascinating. One of the trends that we wrote about in this section specifically was what we called inhuman delivery. And that was an interesting exercise for us, because it was basically about drone delivery, which is a topic that’s not necessarily new, although it’s not mainstream. I mean, most places don’t have drone delivery yet, but it has a lot of issues attached to it too. Do we really want all these drones flying around overhead? And you can picture the dystopian landscape of just walking down the street and having all these drones in all these places. But what was fascinating about this one is that we started to look at the test cases of it. First of all, using a platform called What Three Words, which is a platform that allows you to map the entire grid of the earth into one cubic meter squares, and give every one square meter space, a three-word address. You could allow drones, for example, to deliver things to people who are standing in the middle of a forest or standing at a place that doesn’t have a physical street address. So that’s transformative to allow drones to deliver. But the huge opportunity is really to allow drones to deliver to places that are hard to deliver to. So we tend to think of innovation as, “Oh, it’s going to happen in the city first. It’s going to be like this urban thing first, and then the people in the country, the rural customers will be left behind.” And what was interesting about this one is that it was actually the reverse. The drone delivery may take off for rural environments much more quickly because it is the best option to be able to get delivery of packages to people in far-flung areas, but also, essential medicines, vaccines, things that are difficult to transport in other ways might start happening through drone delivery. And obviously, there’s more space out there as well. So you don’t have this issue of other things flying overhead or trying to navigate buildings or things like that, that make it difficult to enable this sort of delivery. So sometimes when we started looking at these innovations, what you think about innovation, the assumptions we make, “Ooh, it’s going to happen for this group of people first, and then these other group of people,” turn out to be exactly the opposite.

Adrian Tennant: Sustainability is a theme that appears several times in the pages of The Future Normal. What are some of the most interesting or inspiring examples for you?

Rohit Bhargava: You know, I would say that, there’s a lot of talk about, Net Zero or like having zero impact. And the final chapter, that we concluded the book with actually, was titled Beyond Net Zero. And the reason we called it Beyond Net Zero is because there’s some really interesting examples of companies looking at ways of creating things that have a net positive impact on the environment. So instead of just saying, “Oh, we didn’t have a negative impact, and we’re at zero, we’re indifferent,” what some of these companies are starting to say is, “Well, we could make the world better through the process of the work that we’re doing, through the process of, taking seaweed, for example, we can remove more carbon from the air and we can make the earth a better place.” And to me, like this idea of the climate positive vision as opposed to just do no harm, which has kind of become the standard, was really an interesting evolution because what it said is we could do exactly what you said, which is reverse some of the impact that’s happened on the environment by unlocking these new methods of making things, of making products, and of making them in a way that delivers a net positive to the earth.

Adrian Tennant: After each chapter of The Future Normal, you pose three provocative questions, and at the end of the book, you provide what you’ve called Industry Playlists. Rohit, how do you arrive at these content elements and how do you foresee them being used?

Rohit Bhargava: The Industry Playlists were a really interesting example for us because typically, we have resisted the idea of saying to someone, “Oh, you work in healthcare, you should only care about this,” right? Because that’s opposite to how we want people to think. We want them to take inspiration from multiple sectors. At the same time, we knew that we had to create a more digestible version of all of these visions of the future. And so, what we did at the back of the book, what you’re mentioning, the Industry Playlists are 10 chapters for multiple industries that you should read first. So not the only ones you should read, hopefully , but the ones you should read first. So if you work in consulting and creative services, start with these. If you work in education, start with these. Financial services, food and beverage, government, healthcare, real estate, retail, transportation – I mean, all of these sectors are ones that have these playlists. And the way we arrived at them was through asking some of our early readers, some of our panel of people who do work in these industries who looked at the book and who suggested back to us, “These were the ones that really resonated for us.” So partially it was because Henry and I have built this amazing community of early readers who’ve been able to give us feedback. And part of it was just the fact that both of us have worked in many of these industries. And so we had them in mind as we were doing the writing for the book.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve described writing about the future as feeling like – quote – “Writing a step-by-step guide to falling down the stairs,” – end quote. Rohit, can you unpack this for us, please?

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, this was a funny analogy that we landed on that just felt apt for this because I think so often when you’re writing about something that could happen, you set yourself up for a lot of criticism. If it doesn’t or if it happens in a different way than you anticipate, and that’s part of the danger of being in this category of futurism. People look to what you share, and it’s very easy and tempting to criticize you when it doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t happen exactly the way that you’ve described. And that’s okay. To some degree, when you write enough books, you develop that sort of thick skin. I mean, I remember I had a four-week time span where I got two one-star reviews for one of my books, and the first one said, “This book is just on the surface. It doesn’t have any detail. It’s way too short. The author did no research at all.” And the second one-star review said, “This is way too long, way too much detail. I don’t need all this stuff. They should have just simplified it.” And when you read two reviews like that in a short span of time, you realize that you can’t please everybody. You really can’t. And so you just do your best. You try and do what you can and hopefully it works out. And that’s what I tried to deliver with this. And so hopefully we achieve that balance. But the step-by-step guide to falling down the stairs was sort of a nod to the fact that you can never make everyone happy.

Adrian Tennant: Between 2009 and 2015, your books were published by McGraw-Hill. Yyou were already a bestselling author, so why did you launch your own publishing house, IdeaPress?

Rohit Bhargava: Well, my first one was published by McGraw-Hill. My second one was published by a different publisher. And as I went through those experiences, I realized that the lack of control really bothered me and the fact that I had all of these marketing ideas. I mean, I’m a marketing guy. I spent most of my career in marketing, and the things that I wanted to do were sort of impossible from a publishing perspective. And so what I had to do was, I had to go through and decide on what I wanted to be a priority. And for me, the priority was that I really needed to have the control to be able to do what I wanted. And so I went and self-published a book. And I also didn’t like that because I didn’t have widespread distribution. I couldn’t see the book in the airport. It just didn’t feel like a real book! And so for my fourth book, I decided to start a publishing company just so I could do my own books in the way that I wanted. And when that book that I did through that model hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, then I had all these friends who were authors who said, “That looks awesome. Can you do that for us too?” And that’s how we built IdeaPress Publishing, which is my publishing company now. And we’ve done over 90 books for other authors over the last eight years. but it didn’t start as intending to be a business; it started out of my frustration and just wanting to have more control back.

Adrian Tennant: So Rohit, what do you hope readers will take away from The Future Normal?

Rohit Bhargava: One of the things that we try to explain in The Future Normal is that we take a very optimistic view of the future, in particular with technologies or things that could go the opposite direction. And part of what we wanted to try and do is provide a balance to what we often see in entertainment because I love dystopian drama. I love dystopian science fiction. I think it’s great – like the whole idea that the earth has a nuclear holocaust, nobody can live there, and then you have to go up into space, and then you come back and see if the earth is survivable. Like I love watching that stuff. But to some degree, the future that we’re going to have is the future that we can imagine. And if what we’re imagining is the Black Mirror version of the future, then that’s what someone will figure out a way to make happen. And instead, what we wanted to try and do is balance that with an optimistic version of what could happen if these things do go right. So we know that this is an optimistic view of the future, and we know that probably it’s too optimistic in some cases. But what I hope people take away from The Future Normal is that we have the ability together to shape what becomes normal in the future. And the normal can be optimistic, and the normal can be all of these things succeeding if we choose to support them, if we choose to buy from them, if we choose to make them priorities and how we vote and how we act. And so the book tries to imagine that type of future and give people some actionable ways that they themselves can contribute to a future like that.

Adrian Tennant: You know, we spoke with Devon Powers a couple of years ago, who’s authored a book called On Trend, and she said that “Any prediction of the future is not a prediction about what’s going to happen, it’s an invitation to think about one’s agency in that future.” Rohit, sounds like you might agree with that.

Rohit Bhargava: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it is an exploration of how we can impact what’s going to happen in the future. And I think that that is what became apparent as we went through and looked at all of these different entrepreneurs and ideas and instigators that are shaping what’s going to happen. That they will only succeed if enough people support their idea, right? If enough people say, “This is the way we should act, and this is what we should do, and we’re going to support that instead of this.”

Adrian Tennant: Rohit, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your latest book, The Future Normal, where can they find details?

Rohit Bhargava: So just go to, and you can find all the information about the book. You can download an excerpt of it, and most importantly, you can sign up for these weekly newsletters that Henry and I are doing to share the best, most interesting ideas because it’s always changing. And that’s the difficulty with a book – you put it into a book, and now it’s kind of fixed. But you have all these opportunities to see what’s new and what’s interesting. And so we’re constantly doing that, and we’d love to have people follow that journey on the future through the newsletters.

Adrian Tennant: And if anyone listening is going to be at South by Southwest, they can see you and Henry in person. Is that right?

Rohit Bhargava: That’s right. That’s actually the world premiere of the book. So we’re launching the book actually, that week, and it’s going to be the first time that Henry and I are taking the stage together, as well. So that’s going to be a first on many levels, which we’re very excited about.

Adrian Tennant: And if people are interested in receiving your Non-Obvious Insights Newsletter, how do they sign up?

Rohit Bhargava: Super easy. Just go to and you can sign up for the newsletter and also see some of the past newsletters as well.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. Rohit, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLESAR FOCUS! 

Rohit Bhargava: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Rohit Bhargava, co-author of The Future Normal. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeye Just select podcast from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Sonia Thompson is a recognized expert on inclusive marketing. In this encore episode, Sonia shares her experiences as a Black woman that led her to notice how brands and retailers struggled to engage people who didn’t fit into what has been considered mainstream. Sonia discusses the success of Rihanna’s Fenty brand and Target’s focus on co-creating with Black employees and suppliers. Sonia also addresses common misconceptions about the Black community and representation in ads

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant:
Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Sonia Thompson: Representation matters. But representation isn’t only about the photography or the talent that you’re using. It permeates through every part of your organization and that includes where your brand spends money.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us. Black History Month, celebrated annually in February, is a time to recognize the significant contributions that African Americans have made throughout history. It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the unique challenges and experiences faced by Black Americans both past and present. As consumers, according to the University of Georgia, in 2020, cumulative Black buying power totaled $1.6 trillion. Black Americans are highly influential in shaping cultural trends and preferences, particularly in areas such as music, fashion, and entertainment. So understanding the needs and preferences of this consumer group is essential for businesses seeking to reach a diverse audience and build long-lasting relationships with customers. Today’s episode is another chance to hear a conversation with Sonia Thompson, an expert in inclusive marketing, a customer experience strategist, and a consultant with international experience. As CEO of Thompson Media Group, Sonia helps brands deliver inclusive and remarkable experiences that win customers. Previously, Sonia spent almost a decade as a marketer with Johnson and Johnson, growing billion-dollar brands worldwide. Sonia is also a regular contributor to Forbes and Inc. Sonia joined us from her office in Wesley Chapel, Florida for this interview, which we recorded last February. 

[Sound effect]

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Sonia Thompson: Thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure. It’s an honor to be asked to come back.

Adrian Tennant: What’s your definition of inclusive marketing?

Sonia Thompson: So inclusive marketing is all about acknowledging all the many ways in which people are different. And then intentionally choosing which of those differences you are going to serve as a brand, and then incorporating the ones that you’ve selected throughout all parts of your marketing mix.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you’re a recognized expert in inclusive marketing. So Sonia, what led you to focus on this particular area?

Sonia Thompson: I would say it came a lot from frustration. I’m somebody with a lot of differences. So I’m a marketer, that’s been my background, my experience for my entire career. I focus a lot on customer experience, but as I started talking more about my frustrations, and maybe if you’re a marketer, I feel like you’re always viewing the world through the lens of a marketer. I just kept running into challenges where I felt like brands struggled whenever trying to figure out how to engage people who had quote, unquote differences that made them not so cleanly fit into what was considered mainstream. So I’m a Black woman. I follow a gluten-free diet. I saw things, especially change whenever I started gluten-free, because I just realized how many brands struggled to cater to that. I lived outside the US for a little while. I’m left-handed, so that, you know, my adjustments started early on with scissors back in school. So the more I started talking about that and just exploring it within my columns – and, I went to a bootcamp that was all about public speaking to help prepare me and give me assets to get on the stage. And I did a talk on inclusive marketing and I started to see the responses that people were having to it. I started to receive the responses that people were having to my articles because people talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Very few people talk about it from a marketing standpoint. So thinking about things from an inclusivity standpoint, because even whatever people are talking about, diversity and marketing or multicultural marketing, they’re focusing it more so on ethnicity and race rather than all the different types of dimensions of diversity that exist. So if we think about that, that’s where we get the definition of inclusive marketing, because it’s not just multicultural or ethnic marketing, it’s thinking more broadly about all the ways that we’re different. So I got started in it because there was hunger in the market. People were latching onto the information because there wasn’t a ton out there. There’s a little bit more now than there was previously. But, yeah, I just started leaning in heavily where people were clamoring for information.

Adrian Tennant: Which brands do you think do a really good job of engaging with Black American consumers?

Sonia Thompson: I think Target consistently does a good job. Every year, I have people sending me photos of their Black History Month display, that they generally start showcasing in January. Because people are excited about it. And that’s the cool thing about celebrations that you’re doing for Black History Month or any other cultural group, or, just a specific group of people who are underrepresented and underserved. Anytime they see something that you’ve done to celebrate and honor them, and they’re excited about it, I generally feel like that’s a good sign that you’ve done a good job. How did Target get to the point where they were able to consistently deliver good experiences for Black History Month? One: they spend a lot of time getting to know their customer. They co-create with their internal teams. They have employee resource groups. They work a lot with their employee resource group for Black people and they help them curate the different merchandise that they’re going to be using, they help them find Black-owned suppliers that they’re going to be featuring. So because they spend so much time connecting with the community that they’re looking to serve and partnering with them, and co-creating with them, they’re generally able to deliver experiences and celebrations that make people feel seen.

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, what are some of the most common misconceptions you find marketers and brand managers have about the Black community?

Sonia Thompson: This is a pet peeve of mine: whenever people assume that the Black community doesn’t have any money – so whenever they feel like they want to reach out and engage the community, sometimes the default is what types of programs do we need to do to offer some type of financial assistance or scholarships or other types of things that have an economic solution to them. There are groups of the population that may struggle economically, but that exists with all groups, all racial and cultural, ethnic groups, across the US. And I think that while there are systemic challenges that have impacted the Black community in particular, that hasn’t allowed us consistently, collectively to advance in as many areas, the assumption shouldn’t be that we’re all poor and economically starved. I remember I was having a conversation with some girlfriends and there was something that came out that had kind of had that air of it. And she was, “Am I poor?” Right? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but we just don’t think of ourselves in that way. That’s not our lived experience. And it feels insulting that’s what people immediately equate with people who are from this community.

Adrian Tennant: Last time we spoke, you shared some of the ways that you typically help brands get to know customer groups with whom they may have no connection in terms of their cultural identity or ethnicity. Sonia, what have been some of your most interesting projects in the past year?

Sonia Thompson: I worked with two healthcare brands and did something similar where I helped them develop a deeper degree of customer intimacy for the people that they served and that included doing some in-depth interviews, one-on-one interviews where I was the moderator. And that was significant because in the process of seeing me, and someone who looked like them, we were able to develop a very clear rapport very quickly, which allowed me to dig in deep on some of the topics that we were exploring. And they shared things with me that they probably wouldn’t have shared with somebody else who didn’t look like them. So that was interesting in particular because we explored the role race played in their decision-making and their perceptions and how they felt they were treated. And ultimately that was going to impact their experience with the brand later on. Now we’re exploring the role of race, not just with the brand, but just overall within healthcare, but knowing what role race played, and exploring what role it did play gave the team a deeper degree of customer intimacy and cultural intelligence that would allow them to better tailor their programming and their support for this community because they had a much deeper understanding of who they were. So that was one thing. And another project that is newer, that I’m excited about, is I’m helping another client also in the world of healthcare –  I do work with companies outside of healthcare, but because my background is in healthcare, I think sometimes that’s where people reach out – and we are helping them with their Spanish engagement strategy in particular, from a customer experience standpoint. So that includes helping them with their translations, of course, but beyond that, engaging Spanish speakers isn’t just about translating content that already exists. It’s about how can you develop a full-on experience with them in mind that makes them feel seen and they belong and that delivers a stellar customer experience that isn’t diminished because they speak or prefer a different language from English.

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, you and I talked about a bias towards lighter-skinned Black models in advertising last year. So I’m curious, are you seeing more beauty and skincare brands representing a wider range of skin tones and ethnicities and their marketing?

Sonia Thompson: A little bit, right? So there’s a Fenty effect that’s happening from a beauty standpoint, from makeup. Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty launched with 40 shades of foundation, they kind of rocked the industry because they were super inclusive and took into account people who had a broad variety of skin complexions all over the world. As a result, 40 shades of foundation became the gold standard. It became the barrier to entry for other makeup brands. So other makeup brands have started to showcase that they’ve got all these different shades and that has then translated into a broader degree of representation and showcasing models of those different shades. Outside of that, there are more high fashion brands and brands that tend to have more well-known models that have in the past had a range of colors. Victoria’s Secret is one that they generally tended to have a good range of skin tones and complexions with their models. There is still work to be done for more brands that aren’t high fashion, that aren’t specifically connected to makeup to do a better job with that representation, particularly of darker-skinned people. This happens because I think that people feel like when it comes to representation, if they’re putting a person of color that seems to be racially ambiguous, they feel like they’re, for lack of a better term, killing two birds with one stone, right? They’re feeling like they’re checking a couple of boxes or covering a broader base of people by having racially ambiguous people. However, because in many cases they don’t have the cultural intelligence to know that skin color and skin complexion has long been a topic of conversation, and one that causes a lot of dispute and communities, particularly communities of color, whereas Black and darker-skinned has often been viewed as less than those who have lighter skin. So the idea is that people think, and people feel that only showing racially ambiguous people of color is harmful. So more brands can lean more heavily into this of both men and women and showcase a broader range. But knowing that it’s not just about putting a Black person or a Brown person or a Person of Color, you definitely have to think about the layers and the dimensions of the skin colors and that representation isn’t just about an ethnic group. There are a number of other factors that are important to consider like skin color and complexion. When Amazon Alexa did a commercial last year for the Super Bowl and they had that dark-skinned woman with natural hair, I still love it. I still have a visceral reaction thinking about it and how much that meant for people, including me, to see someone like that featured in an ad.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for February is Lateral Thinking For Every Day, by Paul Sloane. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with the exclusive promo code, BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK – and it helps the authors too. So, to order your copy of Lateral Thinking For Every Day, go to That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. 

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called, Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a hundred-dollar discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage! to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics! 

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, an expert in inclusive marketing. A 2021 survey by McKinsey and Company found that more than 60% of Black Americans have experienced racial discrimination inside a retail store. So Sonia, could you explain what the phrase “shopping while Black” means?

Sonia Thompson: Yeah. There are a number of things that people say in the Black community that feels like a bit of a tax – that we don’t start from equal footing because we’re treated differently without people even knowing anything about you, aside from your skin color and they make negative assumptions about you. So sometimes that may mean being followed in the store. We saw that happened in a Nordstrom Rack a couple of years ago with some young kids. They were followed, police were called, things like that. There are other times when there are people who assume the worst. There was a situation with Arlo hotels, where there was a consumer who accused a 14-year-old child of stealing her phone and was allowed to accuse him, talk down to him and even try to attack him. There are times when the store does it or in the retail situation where they are keeping their eyes on people. They’re following them. They’re assuming that they don’t have the money. Sometimes it’s that. Other times it’s not even having the products that will meet the needs of Black consumers. I remember going into a makeup store when I was traveling and going into three stores. The first two stores didn’t have anything that matched my complexion. So finally, undeterred because I needed the makeup, I got to the third store and they had something. That’s another instance of it just not having the products that we need or that cater to our specific needs. And then one other is just how other people relate, besides the employees, sometimes it is the consumers who are there shopping and experiencing the same store or retail environment and they behave badly. They behave negatively because of their preconceived notions about Black people that have an impact on the way people are treated as well. So, it would be lovely if we were all treated the same and that these biases didn’t exist, but there is, unfortunately, a bit of operating while Black, right? Living while Black. Shopping while Black. There are additional hoops or additional burdens that exist. I read something yesterday about a couple who was in California and they went to get their house appraised and it appraised lower than the value than they thought it would. They were able to go to their bank and get another appraisal. This time they took down any photos of them, of their family, they moved any hair products that were in the home. They tried to strip it down so that no one could possibly know that there was a Black family living there. And the second appraisal, after them doing that, came out $500,000 more. So that’s an example of shopping while Black. That was in real estate, but it’s just, you see the impact of different things that exist, unfortunately, still.

Adrian Tennant: Also in 2021, the beauty retailer Sephora commissioned a study to examine the scope of racial bias in retail. A majority of BIPOC shoppers who participated in the study believed skin color and ethnicity were the primary lenses through which sales associates judged them. Studies like these suggest that racial bias is entrenched in the shopping experience. Sonia, it’s a big topic, but what are some of the key implications for retailers and marketers, do you think?

Sonia Thompson: Some of the implications here are that you cannot assume that these biases and disparities and how people are treated don’t exist. You won’t know if these disparities exist and to what extent, unless you start asking the question. So going back to the research that I had done with a few clients last year, where we were doing some voice of the customer, particularly with Black consumers and we asked race-based questions. So I think a lot of times brands will do research and they’ll try to learn, but they don’t necessarily ask race-based questions to understand: are there differences in the experiences that some people have versus others? So, from what you just mentioned, and some of these studies, and from what came out of the Sephora study, is that every industry needs to spend some time figuring out how people are feeling because the feedback doesn’t always come, right? We hear every now and then – we hear anecdotal things, we hear stories – but you don’t know what is actually happening until you go and specifically try to find out what’s going on. Not to say that you’re actively looking for it and you’re expecting to find it, but if you go and you find out that, “Hey, we’ve been performing really well across the board”. Wonderful. But if you go and you do the research and you find out that there are some disparities, then you know that you have the opportunity to evaluate how to begin to close those gaps. Also, it’s a reminder that brands are made up of people, and people, by the nature of people, are flawed, and everybody is on a different journey with regards to diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, systemic racism, anti-racism. Everybody is on their own path and their own journey. And just because a brand establishes existing values that support and uphold these principles doesn’t mean that everybody on the team automatically does. Sometimes they do it unconsciously. They’ve got unconscious biases that caused them to treat people differently and they don’t even know that they’re doing so. But it’s incumbent upon the organization, not to just say, “Hey, these are our values. We don’t tolerate discrimination. We don’t tolerate these things that cause people to be treated differently and in a negative way.” The organization needs to figure out how we can train people to make sure that they are on an ongoing basis, because one training doesn’t do it, right? How can we train and equip people on an ongoing basis, so that they are delivering a uniform experience to the customers that they’re serving so that they can give people what they need and identify? Old Navy last year introduced their BODEQUALITY initiative, which was all about size inclusivity. And they did a number of changes in their stores and online, collapsing plus size from regular size quote unquote and you know, merchandising all the sizes together. But they also were planning on implementing extensive training for their in-store employees, to then ensure that they’re delivering a remarkable experience for everybody, no matter what their size, because they identified that sometimes those experiences were different. So don’t just assume that people will get it right. Don’t just assume that people are all on board. Find a way to bring everybody along with you through very specific and intentional training and programs.

Adrian Tennant: Following the international protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the 15% Pledge started as an online campaign that asked large retailers to commit to allotting 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. Now, it should be noted that Sephora was the first large retailer to sign onto the pledge. How do you think Black American consumers view retailers using their purchasing prowess and turning shopping into a form of activism?

Sonia Thompson: Positively, right! Representation matters. But representation isn’t only about the photography or the talent that you’re using. It permeates through every part of your organization and that includes where your brand spends money. So that can be with the talent that you hire. A wonderful sign or marker of how inclusive a brand is, is basically how representative their team is. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, we value the Black community or People of Color, or the LGBTQ+ community.” But if you don’t have any of the people from that community on your team, it doesn’t feel like you are as genuine about it, or you haven’t put your money where your mouth is, right? The same goes for supplier diversity. If you say you value diversity and you value other communities that are traditionally underrepresented and underserved, that isn’t just about reaching out to engaging people who can buy from you. It’s also about making sure that you are buying from people who are parts of these communities, you are investing in people who are parts of the communities, and you’re being very intentional about doing it. That is a sign of a company that is serious, and they are committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So there’s always going to be a positive, not only because it showcases the commitment of the company, but it should help these brands serve their customers better. So in the case of Sephora, having this 15% Pledge and investing in making sure that 15% of their suppliers be from the Black community makes a lot of sense if the Black community is, you know, just under 15%, right? So, it allows them to better have products and services, and resources that meet the needs of the customer. So it’s a win-win-win all around. 

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, in practical terms, how can teams that design products or are responsible for crafting in-store experiences, ensure that they’re taking an inclusive approach?

Sonia Thompson: Bake inclusivity into the process from the very beginning. I think a lot of brands do what they’re going to do. They build their plans, they build their materials, they build their campaigns. And then the last 10% they start thinking about how they can make sure that it’s inclusive. It’s like they’re doing a check at the end and figuring out, “Okay, we might need to make some tweaks!” versus starting from the beginning of the process and baking inclusivity into it from the very beginning. For instance, my husband is from Argentina and he’s a new immigrant here to the US, and he still very much operates in Spanish. So whenever we moved, we had to get a new car. We had to get two new cars, of course. And so I have mine. He has his. His car operates – like, everything is in Spanish, right? The dashboard where you’ve got the radio, all the other controls and different things. The control panel, it’s all set up in Spanish. His cell phone whenever we got here, we had to get his cell phone. It’s all configured and set up in Spanish. Whenever we watch TV – if we’re watching Netflix, for instance, we watch it in English, but there are Spanish subtitles. These are all brands that didn’t think about inclusivity at the end, they baked it into their product development process. Each of them has done it in different degrees, but they thought about who are all the different types of people who have the problem that our brands solve. How might they be different? So how can we deliver products, services, and experiences that allows them to participate, that allows them to be successful, that allows them to solve the problem that we help them with, even with the differences that they have? And you have more leeway to figure out what are the right solutions to bring more people along when you plan for it at the beginning versus doing it at the end and figuring out how can you retrofit or even if you can retrofit it at the end.

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, Thompson media group, and your articles, where can they find you?

Sonia Thompson: You can find me at There I’ve got articles if you want to get on the list, I share a lot of my articles from my columns there. I’ve got new podcasts, and coming very soon, new YouTube videos coming out on a variety of topics from inclusive marketing and building an inclusive brand.

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, thank you very much for being our guest again on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Sonia Thompson: It’s been totally my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest, Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, for this encore episode. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed in this conversation on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Combining food ideas and tips for an attainable eco-friendly lifestyle, Marley’s Menu is a web-based collection of recipes that promote sustainable living. It’s the brainchild of our guest this week, Marley Goldin, who labels herself as a mom, foodie, creator, and qualified environmental scientist. Marley shares her personal story about career switching, discusses food waste and sustainability, and offers insights about the business side of influencer marketing.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Marley Goldin: Something that a lot of people don’t know about food blogging as a business is that a lot of the recipes we create are based on intensive research about what keywords are good opportunities to either rank for on Google or maybe go viral on a social media platform to really drive traffic. 

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Do consumers really care about buying environmentally and ethically sustainable products? Well, according to a joint study by McKinsey and Company and NielsenIQ, it turns out the answer is yes. The study finds that products that claim to be environmentally and socially responsible averaged 28 percent cumulative growth over the past five years compared to 20 percent for products that made no such claims. And, according to research from Incisiv and Wynshop, 73 percent of US consumers want more transparency about sustainability on in-store displays and on product packaging. Over three-quarters of grocery retailers now consider sustainability to be a C-Suite issue, with 43 percent reportedly planning to name a senior executive to head their sustainability efforts in 2023. Targeting consumers, combining better-for-you food ideas and tips for an attainable eco-friendly lifestyle, Marley’s Menu is a web-based collection of recipes that promote sustainable living in an easily digestible way. It’s the brainchild of our guest this week, Marley Goldin, who labels herself as a mom, foodie, creator, and qualified environmental scientist. In 2020, Marley made the leap from her studies in environmental health to becoming a full-time content creator. In addition to her website, Marley has established herself as an influencer, creating content for Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest, including commercial partnerships with brands. To talk about career switching, food sustainability, and the business side of being an influencer, Marley is joining us today from her home and studio in southern coastal Georgia. Marley, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Marley Goldin: Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here. 

Adrian Tennant: You earned a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Health Science, and a Master’s in Health Services Administration. Can you tell us a bit about your journey from environmental health to being a creator of food and sustainability content? 

Marley Goldin: Well, I have a classic, “the pandemic changed the whole trajectory of my career” story. So, when the pandemic hit in 2020, I actually got furloughed from my job, and I am one of those people who really need a creative outlet. I have to keep moving. I needed something to feel productive throughout the day, and so I decided to start an Instagram account and just kind of share my food and recipes for fun. And pretty quickly I realized I was completely in love with coming up with new recipes, with styling food, with taking pictures of my food and pretty quickly there was a really positive response. And so I just kind of started researching if this was, you know, something I could do on the side maybe and make a little extra money. And I found out that it actually could be a full-time career if I really focused my energy into it. And once I kind of launched my blog and social media accounts, I knew I had to weave in sustainability somehow, just because it’s such a huge part of my life. And I have all this knowledge and background and I studied it for years, so I knew that I had to weave it in somehow. And luckily, food and sustainability are so closely related that it was really just a seamless way to integrate my two passions into one career.

Adrian Tennant: So what can folks expect to find when they visit the Marley’s Menu website? 

Marley Goldin: It’s a collection of primarily recipes. Within each recipe, I put three to five of what I call green tips. And what those are is they’re little tips about maybe how you can source an ingredient or maybe a specific brand you can use of a particular ingredient or an approach to cooking with a technique that might be more sustainability-focused. And the idea is to delicately and easily inform the reader about how to bring a sustainability mindset to your cooking. And outside of the recipes, I actually have a whole sustainability section that kind of shows how food and sustainability are related. So it’s a collection of articles about food and climate change, food waste, the food industry and microplastics. I have how to compost and why we should compost and composting particular ingredients that are maybe tougher to break down in your backyard compost. So it’s really a compilation of recipes and sustainability, on one platform.

Adrian Tennant: Well on the Marley’s Menu website, you state that and I’m going to quote, “with the environment always front of mind, I stand strong in my belief that you can live a modern lifestyle while still making sustainable food choices,” end quote. Marley, can you unpack that for us? 

Marley Goldin: Yeah. So what I really mean by modern lifestyle is kind of the convenience we’ve all really grown to, really have ingrained into our lifestyle. So food is available to us regardless of its seasonality or its regionality. Or maybe single-use plastic that is targeted to be more convenient for the consumer. And what I’ve found is that that modern lifestyle or that convenience that we’ve grown to know and love, doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with sustainability. And what that means is the idea of sustainability can sometimes be overwhelming to consumers. And I think because of that, a lot of people think, “Oh, I can’t make a difference” or “What I do doesn’t matter,” “What I do in my own household isn’t gonna really move the needle.” And I think it’s important for people to realize that yes, while we do need systemic change on a higher level, deepening our commitment on an individual scale to sustainability can actually make a change over time. It can make an impact. So what we’re doing, not only over time, can make an impact in our own individual lives, but it can also, you know, encourage other people around us to be more sustainable. And it can increase demand for more sustainable practices within corporations or within governance. So what I mean by that is: Yes, it can be overwhelming, and yes, we do need change at a higher level, but that doesn’t mean that what we’re doing doesn’t matter in our own individual lives.

Adrian Tennant: Marley, how did you arrive at your current mix of food and sustainability content?

Marley Goldin: When I created Marley’s menu, I really wanted to create a platform that maybe wasn’t as intimidating cuz there’s so many great bloggers who do, you know, full zero waste, or completely organic vegan, no meat, no cheese, all that stuff to be, really, really intensely sustainable, which I so look up to and I so appreciate. But I think there was a gap in our industry of people who are putting food out there that’s maybe a little more approachable in terms of people who either are just sustainability curious, or sustainability isn’t really even on their radar. I really wanted to cast a wide net and reach the most amount of people I can and teach in a very delicate way to kind of show that you can still eat what you want to eat and you can still have those modern lifestyle conveniences and luxuries, but you can do so in a way that is more mindful of sustainability and you can take small steps. And maybe that’s by starting with, practicing Meatless Monday. So cutting meat out one day a week and trying one of my vegetarian or vegan recipes, and maybe that’s just adding one organic produce ingredient to your cart when you’re shopping. You know, you can take these small steps and over time you can build upon that, but I just really wanted to make sure that people felt included, and they didn’t feel guilty about the choices they’re making and they understand that there are small things that they can change and still have an impact.

Adrian Tennant: In the US, responsibility for sustainable agricultural practices rests with the Department of Agriculture. Rules for the labeling of food products are set by the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines inform the kinds of environmental or green claims that can be made about products. So Marley, with information coming from multiple government agencies, how can consumers be confident that the food they’re purchasing is from sustainable sources or ethically produced?

Marley Goldin: I think what we’re touching on here is greenwashing, which is, you know, when marketers use buzzwords like “sustainably sourced” or “responsibly sourced,” “all-natural,” terms that aren’t necessarily regulated, so can be used by anyone without any evidence to back those claims up. And it’s used as a technique to sometimes over-exaggerate or even trick consumers into thinking that the practices that these brands are using are environmentally friendly when they’re sometimes not. And you know, that’s a problem because even people seeing like a green label or packaging with like a tree on it. Sometimes they just automatically assume that this is a safe choice in terms of sustainability. But what people really need to realize is that these terms are not regulated at all. So I think the easiest way for consumers to be more confident that the purchases they’re making align with their ethoses. I even do this at the store, like I’ll take my phone out and do a quick Google search of the brand. And if a brand is really sustainability-focused, oftentimes their website will have a whole page dedicated to sustainability, and the practices and the steps they’re taking, the goals they have for sustainability. If you get a brand that just says “sustainably sourced,” or “all-natural,” and then you Google them and there’s nothing more on their website at all about those practices that actually give you proof that these are real things that they’re trying to make a difference on, you can safely assume this might be a way of the brand greenwashing. So aside from doing a quick Google search and doing your own little research, you can also look for a certification. So within food that would look something like a Rainforest Alliance certification, Fair Trade. In coffee and chocolate, you can look for UTZ certification, USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project. When it comes to seafood, we have Marine Stewardship and Friend of the Sea. And these are all just certifications within food. So outside of food, other brands can have other green certifications, and if you’re interested in learning more about that, you can just do a quick Google search of green certifications for business and you can see lists of different certifications that you can look for on different brands. And the process to getting certified is pretty rigorous. So if you’re seeing any of these certifications, you can feel confident that the brand is sustainability-focused.

Adrian Tennant: We’ll talk about certifications again in a moment. I mentioned in the introduction that nearly three-quarters of consumers here in the US say they want more transparency about sustainability on store displays and product packaging. 

Marley Goldin: Mm-hmm. 

Adrian Tennant: Do you think our current system is set up to support it? 

Marley Goldin: No, I really don’t. I think based on what I just discussed with greenwashing, I think it’s very apparent that as the demand for greener products increases, we continue to see more of these greenwashing practices where brands really want to capitalize on the fact that people want more sustainability, but they’re not necessarily putting in the work to back up those claims. So I think just even being aware of that is really important for the consumer Because a lot of people think they can blindly trust these claims. They see sustainability source and they’re like, “Oh, okay, they must be sustainably sourced.” But really that can just be a marketing technique that is not grounded in any real evidence of green practices.

Adrian Tennant: Here in the US, the equivalent of 130 billion meals are thrown away every year. That’s around $408 billion worth of food. Marley, this seems like a crazy waste of time, money, and resources. What can consumers do to reverse these numbers?

Marley Goldin: Yeah, so that’s where we touched on overwhelm before. We hear those numbers, and it’s scary. But for me, what I perceive as good news about food waste is that it’s estimated of all food waste, that 50% of it happens in our homes. Which means we can really have a big impact when it comes to food waste. I just wanna touch on really quick why we should care about food waste and the reasoning is pretty much twofold. One is that the actual strain that the food industry has on the environment is astronomical. So the food industry accounts for 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. It consumes a quarter of our annual freshwater supply, contributes to deforestation, and air, water, soil, and noise pollution. So for any of the food to go waste that all of that strain has been put on the environment, that’s pretty catastrophic. So there’s that. But then there’s also the fact that food waste itself is a problem. So people think that “This banana went bad, but it’s organic. It’s okay, I’ll just throw it out and it will decompose naturally.” The problem is when food is diverted to a landfill and it no longer has access to the oxygen it needs to break down naturally. Instead of decomposing and, turning into soil, it will actually turn into methane and water. So the food waste itself is producing even more greenhouse gases. So what we can do at our homes, there’s a lot we can do: we can shop smarter, we can plan ahead, we can think about what we’ll actually need. We can take stock of what’s in our fridge and pantry once a week and try to use that up before it goes bad. We can properly store and reheat and consume our leftovers. That’s another thing you’ll always find on my site. Every single recipe I make will always inform you how to store and re-heat those leftovers. We can understand labels better. So “use by,” when you see a “use by” date, that is usually pertaining to meat and dairy and that is genuinely something you want to really pay attention to. But when you see “best by” and “sell by” dates, those are just loose guidelines. So if you see a date that’s “best by” or “sell by,” you don’t need to automatically throw out that food. And on top of that, we can do things like composting at home to diminish our own food waste, put less into the landfill in our individual homes. So there’s a lot we can do and we can really move the needle on food waste.

Adrian Tennant: I know you’re a big fan of composting. I recently came across an American company called Mill Industries, Inc., that’s created a bin that conserves the nutrients from food waste and sends them back to farms. And interestingly, they’re adopting a subscription model. Now Mill estimates that customers can avoid almost half a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions per household, per year. Marley, what are your thoughts on these kinds of in-home solutions?

Marley Goldin: So this is exactly what I mean when I say we can have a big impact here. So, because a lot of the food waste happens at home, if we take these matters into our own hands, these kinds of programs can really, really make a difference. And this is when we were talking about the food waste itself is a problem. So instead of contributing to more greenhouse gas emissions in the way of food waste, we can actually turn our food into something that’s usable and in agriculture. So I think things like this are really great. I love that Mill Industries is having this subscription model. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for February is Lateral Thinking For Every Day, by Paul Sloane. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with the exclusive promo code, BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK – and it helps the authors too. So, to order your copy of Lateral Thinking For Every Day, go to That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. 

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called, Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a hundred-dollar discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage! to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics! 

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Marley Goldin, a qualified environmental scientist who’s now a full-time influencer creating content focused on food and living an attainable, sustainable life. There’s a new global certification for farms and food products that meet stringent standards for soil health, animal welfare, and farm worker fairness. It’s called the Regenerative Organic Certification. Marley, could you tell us a bit about how this works?

Marley Goldin: Yes, so industrial farming, which unfortunately is the primary way we farm here, is meant to be efficient and productive and cheap -but it’s not really taking sustainability into mind. Whereas regenerative organic agriculture is designed to protect the next generation of farmers. So it’s built on sustainability, and it creates a standard for soil health, for animal welfare, for labor, and for farmers. And the certification itself encompasses the USDA Certified Organic standards, but then it takes it a step further to include things like the diversity of plants and animals on the farm to having continual live plants in the field to capture carbon year round. And minimizing soil disturbance, so no tilling. So basically, this is the highest standard in farming that can kind of give us hope that sustainability can be something that is built into our farming and agriculture system. So this is really optimistic.

Adrian Tennant: Can we talk about the plant-based milks category? I just came across a brand from Europe called DUG – D-U-G – which is a potato-based drink. Now it claims to be deliciously creamy, make perfect foaming coffee, and work just like any other milk, and according to their website is the most sustainable alternative on the market. Marley, what are the pros and cons of plant-based milk?

Marley Goldin: So this might be a little controversial, but I’m gonna say a blanket statement that for me, I can’t really think of any cons just from a sustainability standpoint, and that’s because the production of plant-based milk results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and it requires less land and water than dairy milk. So we’re not talking about, you know, a tiny local farm that you might go and get, a little pint of milk every now and then from your local farmer. We’re talking about industrial agriculture, we’re talking about dairy farms versus plant-based milk production. And while, within different plant-based milk, you can get, you know, like almond milk, it uses the most freshwater compared to, soy milk or rice milk. But then you look at rice milk and soy milk and almond milk has fewer greenhouse gas emissions, so there’s no clear winner within plant-based milk of what can be the most sustainable. Though I am optimistic about potato-based milk, I haven’t tried it, but, um, potatoes themselves require a lot less land and a lot less water to grow than things like almonds or rice. So that is something I definitely wanna look into. I can’t say I’ve tried it yet, but overall I would say yes, that plant-based milks are better for the environment than dairy milk, full stop.

Adrian Tennant:  Well, Marley, your passion for the topic of sustainability really comes through very authentically. In addition to your website, you are also creating content on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Pinterest. How do you feel about the term I’ve used to introduce you – influencer

Marley Goldin: You know, I think it’s important for people in my position who have platforms to take accountability that they are having an influence on what people are eating, or in some cases, buying. And so I like the term because I think it comes with an inherent responsibility that you actually are having an impact on people’s choices. And with that, hopefully, you know, you take on that responsibility in my case also, using my platform to inform people and educate people about sustainability. So I do like the term influencer, and I think it’s important for people in my position to have that label to really understand that they are having an influence, and with that comes a responsibility.

Adrian Tennant: Do your audiences differ in terms of the demographics based on the channel? 

Marley Goldin: They do. You know it’s interesting. I was actually looking at my analytics this morning and the demographics, and on my website, 61 percent of the users are aged 18 to 34, whereas on Instagram, 57 percent are aged 25 to 44. And on TikTok, it’s pretty much all 18 to 25. So there is a difference in age demographics depending on what platform you’re looking at, but my mission is always to drive people to my website, and that’s because that’s where I can give the most information. I’ve found that typically people don’t read through a long caption on Instagram, and I’ve also found that TikTok, with the younger demographic, really what performs well is kind of showing your face more and letting people more into your lives. Whereas Instagram, a lot of my content is very highly curated. So, the demographics do inspire the content I’m creating, but it also is always my main priority to drive people to the website because I think it’s the easiest way to get the most information in front of people’s eyes to consume in an easily digestible way, rather than just like a big, long caption on a social media channel.

Adrian Tennant: Well, let’s talk about how you partner with brands. Do they typically come to you? Do you reach out to them or some combination?

Marley Goldin: It’s definitely a combination of both. If I’m reaching out to a brand, it’s definitely a brand that I know and love and use in my daily or weekly life. If I have a dream partnership like that, you know, I won’t sit around and wait for them to reach out to me. But I do get brands that reach out to me as well, and that’s really exciting. I have on my website, I have a whole section dedicated to Work With Me and there’s a form that brands can fill out, which kind of gets the ball rolling in terms of what they’re looking for. and they’ll typically fill that out or email me, and then we get the conversation started from there. 

Adrian Tennant: How far in advance of an activation do you ideally need to prepare? Perhaps you could talk us through a typical timeline. 

Marley Goldin: Sure it depends of course on what the brand is looking for. And typically, I do try to work on a continuing basis with a brand because I’ve found, especially on social media channels, until I’ve mentioned a particular brand two or three times, I don’t generate enough interest by just mentioning it one time. So once I’ve mentioned a brand or create a recipe for a brand two or three times, I can look at my analytics and see people actually clicking through to their website or clicking through to their social media channels. So I do try to create ongoing partnerships with brands just to get the most, for both of us out of, the marketing there. But typically if it’s recipe development, I need at least a two-week turnaround because I will like to brainstorm ideas and research trends, and then I need to test the recipe at least one or two times to make sure it’s foolproof and then create the content, which of course means making the recipe, documenting making the recipe, taking the final images, whether it’s videography or photography, editing, and then coming up with the caption and writing out the recipe. So there’s a lot of work that goes into one single post. So typically, I need at least a two-week timeframe to get that done. But generally, if we’re planning out, I’ll give myself at least three weeks, to make sure that I have enough time to do all those things to my best ability.

Adrian Tennant: I’m also curious about how you assess a potential brand partnership. What do you look for in a brand?

Marley Goldin: You know, firstly it has to be something that I’m interested in eating because I think it comes across if I’m not genuine about a brand or a product. So for sure I don’t eat meat, So it can’t be something that contains meat that I wouldn’t actually eat in my daily life. I really, really prioritize brands that have a big emphasis on sustainability. It just works well with my brand and it performs better with my audience because that’s what they’re expecting to see from me. But aside from those things, there’s also so many different types of, aesthetics that brands can be looking for. I’ll typically look at their current content or their current branding and make sure it really aligns with what I do and my point of view and my artistic ability because I wanna make sure that we’re both really happy with the final outcome. 

Adrian Tennant: For brand managers and agencies, do you have some dos and don’ts you could share for getting the most out of an influencer relationship?

Marley Goldin: I think it goes hand in hand with what I was just saying, you know. For DOs, make sure you’re partnering with people who align with you creatively and you want to allow creative freedom for your influencer because you really want them to take ownership of the brief and really put their own spin on it, because that’s gonna translate the best for the audience every time. So if you’re getting an influencer who’s really out of their comfort zone in the brief and what you’re looking for, it’s most likely not gonna come across genuine. So you really wanna look for people who fit in with your ethos and with your aesthetic. And I think it’s really important to provide a detailed brief upfront to set the expectations, because, for my DON’Ts, I would say for sure, do not set unrealistic expectations. Look at what the influencer has done in the past. Assess their capabilities, and give a timeline that makes sense for both of you, because if the creator feels rushed or feels confused about the brief or feels like it’s out of their scope of, you know, their normal work, you’re not going to get a final product that you’re happy with on either end.

Adrian Tennant: Marley, I know your whole family is involved in the content you create. Your husband Rob, your child, Charlie, and your two dogs, Zazu and Lolo. Have you found that you need to set boundaries either around the use of your home or times of day when you’re creating content?

Marley Goldin: Absolutely. So first of all, my husband is my business partner. We both work full-time on Marley’s Menu. So he is very, very involved in my workflow. But as for boundaries for me, I have chosen personally not to, share Charlie’s face on any social media or on my website except for a couple of family pictures on my bio. Just because, for me, I wanna make sure that he’s comfortable and when he gets to an age where he can choose to be involved, he absolutely can if he wants to. But for now, that’s just a boundary I’ve set for myself. And in terms of time, you know, when and where to work and all these things. I do utilize my kitchen a lot, but I also have a separate studio, which really helps with my workflow and allows me to kind of shut myself off. And the way that my husband and I work it is with, we split the day. You know, half the day he will be with Charlie and I’ll be working, and half the day I’ll be with Charlie and he will be working. And that’s really, really made a great flow for us and obviously we’re very privileged to have the opportunity to both be home and both be with him and both be working on this. But you know, it’s worked out so that we’ve been able to do that and it’s been really helpful and really awesome.

Adrian Tennant: Marley, do you have a favorite recipe that was either passed down to you or inspired by a family recipe that you’ve adapted to use contemporary ingredients? 

Marley Goldin: Yeah. I think something that a lot of people don’t know about food blogging as a business is that a lot of the recipes we create are based on really intensive research about what keywords are good opportunities to either rank for on Google or maybe go viral on a social media platform to really drive traffic. And so a lot of times things we’re creating, yes, they’re things that we love and are passionate about and would eat in normal lives, but they also have a very particular focus in terms of being a really smart business choice to create that recipe. So a lot of times when food bloggers are coming out with new recipes, they can’t necessarily do, you know, great grandma’s this or that, because it’s not a smart business choice. But for me, I try to mix that with at least two, what I call passion projects per month. And I ended up doing one of my great grandma’s potato Latke recipes, and it has, even though, based on my research, it may not be the best keyword, it ended up being one of my most popular recipes. And I think that just goes to show, you know, advice for any other people who are in this business or in a creative business is that having a good balance of strategy and passion is really gonna give you the best outcome in the end.

Adrian Tennant: If listeners would like to learn more about you, your recipes and social content, or discuss a brand partnership, where can they find you? 

Marley Goldin: So, that’s M-A-R-L-E-Y-S-M-E-N-U dot com is my website, And I do have in my About Me section, I have a Work With Me section that can give you an overview of my services as well as a form that marketers can fill out that would give me an idea of what they’re looking for and get the conversation started there. My social media channels, I have Instagram, and it’s @MarleysMenu. I have TikTok, @MarleysMenuOfficial. I have a Facebook page, which is also @MarleysMenuOfficial, and my Pinterest is @marleysmenuofficial. So you know, if you do a quick Google search of Marley’s Menu, you should be able to pull up all the best ways to find me and reach me.

Adrian Tennant: Marley, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Marley Goldin: Thank you!

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Marley Goldin of Marley’s Menu. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Michael Solomon is an expert on consumer psychology and why people buy. He joins us to discuss his new online course focused on consumer engagement. Called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics, the online course provides six hours of tuition. Michael gives us a taste of what to expect from the course and provides some examples drawn directly from the content. Listeners can save $100 with promo codes provided in the transcript accompanying this episode.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Michael Solomon: Today, we’re not just competing for revenue, We’re competing for attention. It’s great to have an engaging product, but if you don’t show people why they should be engaged with that product and you don’t present that message in an environment that’s conducive to their absorbing that , then that’s probably not enough.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. If you are a regular listener, you already know that understanding consumer attitudes and behaviors is a frequent topic of discussion on this podcast. Irrespective of the economy, marketers are always seeking new ways to engage with consumers, and our guest this week is an expert on the topic. Making a return visit to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Michael Solomon is a consumer behavior psychologist, marketing professor, and international keynote speaker. Currently, the Professor of Marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Michael also advises global clients on marketing strategy and consumer centricity, working with brands including Intel, BMW, eBay, McKinsey and Company, Ford, and Levi’s. And if you’ve taken a college marketing course anytime since the early 1990s, it’s quite likely that you are familiar with Michael’s work because he’s the author of Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being, the most widely used book on the subject in the world, and now in its 13th edition. To talk about how marketers can engage consumers, Michael is joining us from his home office in Philadelphia. Michael, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Michael Solomon: Well, thanks so much for having me back. I really appreciate it. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, back in March, 2021, we discussed your book, The New Chameleons: How To Connect With Consumers Who Defy Categorization, which back then had recently been published by Kogan Page. So Michael, can you explain why today’s consumers are like chameleons?

Michael Solomon: Yeah, sure. And it’s a little hard to believe that it’s been two years since we spoke, but it is, and yes, and we still have a lot of chameleons out there. So what do I mean by that? Well, I use that metaphor in my book because what I’m observing is that, in a sense, consumers are a lot like chameleons. As, as you know, a chameleon is a small reptile that changes its skin colors due to various changes in the environment, you know, camouflage, and so on. And, I’m not implying that we are changing our colors per se, but rather that we’re changing our identities, and we tend to do that pretty rapidly. We each play a lot of different identities. And by that I mean the roles that we play in society: parent, child, student, teacher, boss, employer, customer, athlete, on and on. Each of us is being asked to play a lot of different roles and far more varied lifestyles than we used to have back in the old days. What I found is that, a lot of the assumptions that we have made in traditional marketing thought and practice – and Maya Culpa I’ve been teaching marketing for 40 years, and I’ve been saying the same things – it’s no longer really possible to categorize people to put them into very traditional categories. And sometimes these are often dichotomies, like male versus female, rich versus poor, black versus white, et cetera. Those assumptions were very useful for a long period of time when we really relied on a broadcasting model rather than a narrowcasting model that we have today. And it made a lot of sense to just lump consumers into these big homogeneous groups and hope that we would say something to that group that would resonate with at least some of the people in that group. And so this idea is, that really because we are playing so many different roles, this kind of mass segmentation often doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes a lot more sense to talk, almost literally, about markets of one where each of us is our own, unique person. And we’re just like chameleons. We’re going through our day, trying on and discarding different identities. And of course, that’s very important to us in marketing because each of those identities is accompanied by a broad set of products and services that people believe they need or they want to really enact that identity properly. So understanding the identities that people play, acknowledging that there’s more than one, there’s no such thing as the consumer anymore, really forces us to rethink some of our very basic assumptions about marketing, and especially segmentation.

Adrian Tennant: The last time we spoke, you also explained that as consumers, we don’t buy things because of what they do; we buy them because of what they mean. Michael, can you unpack that for us? 

Michael Solomon: Yeah, sure. That’s my mantra. Because in so many cases, what we see is that people are not buying functionality. Now it’s a given that they’re going to get that functionality. I don’t mean to imply that it’s a trade-off, but you know, Adrian, the reality is that in today’s world – there are notable exceptions – but you know, pretty much the stuff that we buy is going to work. It’s going to work. It’s not going to explode or implode or anything like that. And so when you look at a lot of different categories, and of course, especially in the B2C space, but even B2B as well, I think, you’ll see that, in just about any category, there are one or two brands that are functionally, reasonably the same as the others, but their market share, their popularity is way, way above. And almost always the reason is not that they’re selling better functionality, but rather that it’s a brand that is telling a superior story. It’s giving us the background, it’s giving us a sense of who we might be, the possibilities of who we might be if we use this product or service, and so it’s really the story that we’re buying. So anybody who thinks that they’re competing strictly on the basis, whether my widget performs 3% better than yours, that is probably not going to work, in this age. Whereas we’ve already seen, each of us is so busy trying to acquire these different social identities, experiment with different lifestyles, express ourselves, and of course, that expression is a work in progress. So the brands that have figured this out, the Nikes and Apples and Lululemons of the world, they’ve done a wonderful job of building a really complex and desirable story. Even those brands, however, can’t rest on their laurels because we can also look at brands that used to do that then decided that they could check that box and move on, and they failed to keep their story developing, to be in line with what people are looking for. So it’s always a work in progress, and you know, the worst kind of marketer is the formerly successful one who thinks they can just rest on their laurels now and not keep innovating and changing. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, you are an expert on consumer psychology, including decision-making, that is, why people buy, and the importance of engagement. Now, since we last spoke, you’ve created an online course focusing on this topic, called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. Michael, what is it about engagement that’s so important that you decided to offer six hours of tuition on this topic?

Michael Solomon: Yeah, it’s a very important question. I actually polled about a hundred marketing executives, not a scientific poll, but I polled them and I said, “What keeps you up at night?” And overwhelmingly, the answer that came back is, “How do I keep my customers engaged? They’re jaded, they’re bored. There are so many distractions.” The so-called eyeball economy that we like to talk about – the notion that today, we’re not just competing for revenue, for dollars, we’re competing for eyeballs. We’re competing for attention. And understanding how to break through that clutter and persuading people that they really need to pay more attention to what you have to say because it’s going to somehow impact them, hopefully in a positive way. I mean, after all, all of us are just human. We always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” And that’s why that engagement is so important. We can talk about different ways to create engagement, but the key is just to do it one way or the other because the worst thing we can face is a totally apathetic customer who really can’t be bothered to look into more of what you have to say because they just don’t believe that it’s something that it’s worth wasting their time on, frankly.

Adrian Tennant: Well, at the risk of this being a spoiler alert, the introduction to the Engage! course mentions the million-dollar question. Michael, what’s the question? And why is it important for us to understand?

Michael Solomon: I guess the million-dollar question is, “How do we do it? How do we get people to focus their attention on us when there are so many demands on their time?” There’s so many distractions as I’ve said, engagement is the holy grail. And there’s actually a lot of research, both academic and I think in the corporate sector, that shows that there’s really substantial ROI associated with this. This is not just a marketer’s dream. This is about enhancing ROI. And the way you do that is by creating an engaged customer. And ironically, I think one of the mistakes that a lot of marketers make is they are –  and understandably – they’re always looking for the next customer. They’re always looking to expand their market. But they’re not necessarily thinking about the depth of engagement of the people they have already managed to convince to come into their fold. And so we know that, even though that’s a goal for many marketers, it’s significantly more expensive, for example, to attract a new customer than to keep an old one. And yet our best asset usually is our existing, and especially our loyal customers. There’s so much more value that we could give to them and get from them that I think many companies, large and small, are leaving a huge amount of money on the table because they’re just ignoring those people, taking them for granted, assuming, “Well, they bought once, they’re just going to keep buying. So I’m going to think about this next person who hasn’t bought yet.” So our million-dollar question is really how do we show someone that a company or an organization is really relating to and understanding how can they solve at least one of the various life projects that the customer’s working on at any point in time.

Adrian Tennant: Your Engage! course structure reflects the classic AIDA model of persuasion. That’s A-I-D-A. Michael, can you explain to us what that is? 

Michael Solomon: Absolutely. And it’s not rocket science. It’s definitely not new. And I definitely didn’t invent it! But it’s a framework that’s very simple, and we know that it works. It just makes sense. It’s attention, interest, desire, and action. Those are the stages that we need to move people through. And one of the reasons I structured the course around this framework is really just to remind everyone that engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. We can’t reasonably expect a customer who has just become familiar with what we offer to become a zealous fan overnight. There’s a process just like in a dating relationship. Yeah, sure, there might be love at first sight, but we’re trying to look for that relationship, and we’re trying to understand how the feelings are going to grow over time. And so we need to understand that, we start with a customer who literally doesn’t know who we are, perhaps. A company like Coca-Cola, they solved that problem many years ago, but most of us don’t have that luxury. We have to first deal with basic name recognition and in that awareness stage before we can build on to the other stages. And so what I’ve done in the course is to show how at each of the four stages of the AIDA model, awareness, interest, desire, and action, we can take various steps to maximize the likelihood that people are going to successfully pass through that stage and move on to the next one.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s look at some illustrations. The first two stages of the AIDA model are awareness and interest. Michael, what are some of the ways a brand can create awareness and then interest? 

Michael Solomon: You know, creating awareness is so crucial, and yet, what’s amazing is that by far the large majority of information about products and services never gets absorbed by the customer. By some estimates, the average person today in the western world is exposed to somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 commercial messages every day. And your listeners might say, “Wait a second, there’s no way that I’m seeing 5,000 messages!” And my answer is, well, you probably are, but, you know, 4,950 of them never were interesting enough or impactful enough or novel enough to make it to the next level. And so, at this crucial stage, you’re basically throwing your money away. If you build it, but no one comes, it’s basically a waste. So at these early stages of awareness and interest, you’re not selling the ultimate benefits of the product. You’re not necessarily showing someone how this product is going to solve a problem in their life. You’re simply getting them to turn their attention to it, which means that, for example, it probably doesn’t make sense to overwhelm people with a lot of detailed information about what the product does so early on. You’ve got to create that interest first. Now, if you get to the interest stage, that’s where people are going to start to search for more information. But at the awareness stage, for example, one thing I talk about in the course is we want to fall back on some very basic principles of perception. That is what are the characteristics of messages that make it more or less likely that they’re going to get through all of these barriers? And some of them are so basic and so much common sense that people tend to forget about them. So, for example, novelty or contrast: is your message standing out from other things in the environment? And you might say, “Well I use color in my print ads in order to stand out.” And I say, “Well, that’s great, except if all the other ads around your ad also are in vivid color. In that case, you might want to use black and white as a way to stand apart.” So there’s not really any absolutes. It’s a question of what’s going on and what you have to say relative to what’s going on in the person’s environment. Another strong suggestion that I make is to rely on some principles of what’s being called sensory marketing. A lot of companies are understanding that most of the competition for attention is going through our eyes, our visual channel, but there are other ways. We have four other sensory receptors that allow us also to learn, to absorb information. All of these senses are actually quite powerful, and what’s great about it is there is so, relatively speaking, little competition on these other levels. So, for example, you find in the hospitality industry, a lot of big hotels are starting to develop signature scents for their lobbies or maybe their rooms. That becomes a part of the brand. Other companies like MasterCard, McDonald’s, and Intel are turning to sonic branding where they’re engineering different sounds that would become a part of that brand story. So they’re not giving up on their visual identity, but I think they’re recognizing that it can’t hurt to have that extra boost by appealing to the person through their other senses as well. So there are different ways to build awareness, but you know, sometimes it’s just a matter of repetition. I think politicians know this. You know, the ones that are first trying to sell themselves to the electorate, they probably shouldn’t give a detailed list of their positions, but rather just put their name out there over and over again until people feel familiar with it. And we have this interesting psychological quality, which is that we tend to think that things we’ve encountered more often are better, because they’re more familiar to us. And even when you do research by showing people nonsense names, when they see a nonsense name that has no meaning, if they’re exposed to it several times, they actually like that name better than another one. So again, think about at the very basic level, don’t overwhelm us with this amazing Super Bowl-type message, but rather, who are you, and how do you stand out from the crowd? 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for February is Lateral Thinking For Every Day, by Paul Sloane. IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with the exclusive promo code, BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of Lateral Thinking For Every Day, go to That’s K-O-G-A-N, P-A-G-E dot com. 

Michael Solomon: Hi, I’m Michael Solomon. During my 40-year career as a marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, and author, I’ve had the privilege of developing strategies with many Fortune 500 companies to help them connect with their customers. Now, you can have access to these strategies through my online course. It’s called Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. I’ll show you how to apply years of research on consumer psychology to your brand or business. And as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a hundred dollars discount on your enrollment. Just follow the link in the transcript for this podcast on Bigeye’s website and use the provided coupon code to take advantage of this offer. I hope you’ll join me for Engage! to learn how to turn board customers into brand fanatics!

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Michael Solomon, a recognized authority on consumer psychology, a bestselling author, and the creator of an online course focused on consumer engagement called Engage! Staying with the AIDA model, let’s move down the funnel to the desire stage. What is it, and how can brands create consumer desire for the products or services they’re offering? 

Michael Solomon: Yes, desire. Here’s where it gets tricky. Anybody can become aware of a product. Maybe you can stimulate some interest, but if you don’t create that desire, then the race is over and you’re out of it. How do we create desire? Well, desire means that there’s an actual longing for that product or service because it’s something that we feel that we need or that we really want to have. Why do we want to have it? Well, obviously, there’s the functionality element, but there are so many other reasons why we want things, and after all, we all buy products that really don’t do very much, but we buy them because of their name value, or perhaps they’re linked to some important process or story in our personal lives. So, for example, one thing that you can do is to link your product to some kind of a ceremony or story that’s already going on in culture. Maybe it’s a holiday. So, when you link your product to a holiday, like Valentine’s Day for example, you’re basically taking a shortcut because you’re relying on the fact that your customers know what Valentine’s Day means. And so part of the story has already been told. In some cases, marketers invent a holiday or embellish one, to take a free ride on it. Like Cinco de Mayo, for example, the 5th of May, which really doesn’t mean anything, even to Mexicans, but in the US it means”Let’s sell a lot of alcohol and fast food.” So there’s an example where some companies, the beer companies, et cetera, have actually created a cultural event. And then they hitch their wagon to that. There are other kinds of rituals and ceremonies we can talk about. Many of your listeners may know the story of engagement rings and why it is we buy a diamond ring when we’re going to propose. Well, a lot of that had to do with the DeBeers Diamond Company and their ad agency back in the 1920s. That really gave us the idea that if you’re going to propose to her, you better put a ring on her finger. And by the way, here’s how much you should spend on it! So, there are a lot of great examples of cultural rituals that are either linked to products or where the products create a ritual in order to have another reason to sell their products. So basically, you want to tie your message to something that’s already going on in people’s lives, like a cultural observance or something that has some meaning to them. And that is how you can build desire.

Adrian Tennant: The final stage in the AIDA model is action. In your course, you talk about three distinct paths to engagement. Can you tell us more about these? 

Michael Solomon: Sure. And I do this actually in each of the four stages of the AIDA model. Most people think, “If I want to build engagement, I have to make a more engaging product,” and maybe that’s the case. However, we know that you can also build engagement, perhaps in addition to that or maybe sometimes instead of that, using at least two other channels. So we have the product, but we also have the messages about the product. And the third one is the environment in which the product or the message is being consumed. And that’s one that a lot of people frankly don’t think about very much. A lot of people aren’t aware, and psychologists and others are just starting to really, become aware of this, of the impact of very subtle cues in the environment that can profoundly affect our behavior, profoundly affect our preferences for different products, our shopping behaviors. And yet we tend to largely ignore that. And at a basic level, it can be something as simple as what is the temperature in a store when you walk into it. Is it freezing? Is it stifling? I mean, that’s just at the most basic level. You can, I’m sure, understand right there, that that’s going to have an impact regardless of what you’re selling in that store. So there are a lot of different ways to engineer the environment. Sometimes you can create what are called, nudges, or little hints in the environment, to get people to think a certain way or to notice something. But again, many of these things are quite subtle. And so it’s worth it for a lot of marketers, whether they are selling, in a bricks and mortar environment, or selling online, something as basic as the color of the font you use can make a difference. So we need to be sensitive to all of these things. It’s great to have an engaging product, but if you don’t show people why they should be engaged with that product and you don’t present that message in an environment that’s conducive to their absorbing that, then that’s probably not enough.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, as you mentioned, you’ve been a college professor for 40 years. You’re an experienced writer, speaker, and consultant. I’m curious, how did you approach the creation of your online course? Was it very different from, say, writing a manuscript for a book? 

Michael Solomon: Yes. That’s a great question. and I don’t think it’s one I’ve ever been asked before. In some ways it’s the same. I do, in addition to trade books, I write textbooks, and there I have the challenge of distilling maybe a complicated concept into a paragraph that will be understood by a 20-year-old who’s probably not that motivated to read it in the first place. So dealing with students for 40 years and trying to get them engaged is definitely a challenge. Trying to translate that material into a context that, say, executives or entrepreneurs would also appreciate is a challenge. But you know what, at some level, whether you’re a college student or an accomplished executive, we all want to be entertained to some degree while we’re learning. And so I actually adapted some of the techniques that I’ve used to write my textbooks over the years, by building in a lot of visuals, a lot of examples, now and then a little bit of humor, by the way – or at least I think it’s funny. But basically, not creating a course that’s just a “talking head” lecture, so you don’t see very much of me. I’m just up in the corner if you want to look at me. But, for the most part, what you’re going to see are pretty vivid, visual examples, and not just from the US either, but from around the world, of companies that have tried to engage their customers in different ways using different techniques. 

Adrian Tennant: And Michael, what do you hope the folks who enroll in your online course Engage! will take away from it?

Michael Solomon: Well, I hope that they’ll understand, first of all, that it is a process. You shouldn’t be discouraged if your initial efforts don’t result in wonderful engagement because it does take time. But it’s important to recognize that at every stage of that process, you do have tools available, but the things that you should be doing in that stage are not necessarily the ones you can use at another stage. So I would hope that people understand, number one, the importance of engagement and move away from the mindset of just counting the number of customers you have without really gauging how invested they are, and looking at especially their lifetime customer value. In other words, how much revenue they’re going to generate for you over their lifetimes and over your lifetime, rather than just a one-off kind of exchange. So, for the most part, we want to move away from a very transactional kind of perspective on buyers and sellers and think a lot more about a relationship and maybe use the metaphor of a dating relationship where that courtship process is going on. And then hopefully, eventually, there’s going to be a marriage of some kind. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and engagement doesn’t happen in a day either.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn about your online course, Engage! where can they find more details? 

Michael Solomon: I believe that you’re going to have a link to this. You’re welcome to go to my website, which is And you’ll see a link there where you can sign up. Anyone’s also welcome to email me at, and I’ll be happy to supply the link to your show and to obtain the course that way.

Go to Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics and save $100 with either of these discount coupon codes:For the full payment option: BIGEYEFor the three-payment plan option: 3PPBIGEYE 

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to enroll in Michael’s online course, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can receive a discount of one hundred dollars, when you use one of the special promo codes we have available. We’ll be sure to include a link to the course details and those codes in the transcript for this episode. Michael, thank you very much for being our guest again on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Michael Solomon: Well, thank you very much again. I appreciate it.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Michael Solomon, marketing professor, consumer psychologist, speaker, author, and the creator of the online course, Engage! How To Turn Your Bored Customers Into Brand Fanatics. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at, just select ‘Podcast’ from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Guest Paul Sloane is the author of Lateral Thinking For Every Day: Extraordinary solutions to ordinary problems, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Paul shares practical ways for marketing professionals to harness lateral thinking, explaining techniques for generating fresh, unexpected ideas and tackling problems more creatively. ICF listeners can claim a 25 percent discount on Lateral Thinking For Every Day at by using the promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Paul Sloane: We see time and time again, people who break the rules can get things done and achieve things that the people who conform to the rules don’t.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. In previous episodes of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’ve discussed how artificial intelligence and machine learning tools can augment human creativity. While AI and tools like ChatGPT can process huge amounts of data, they don’t yet yield true creative insight. For the time being, at least, humans are superior creative thinkers. This month’s Bigeye Book Club selection is entitled Lateral Thinking for Every Day: Extraordinary solutions to ordinary problems. It explains how readers can benefit from a lateral approach to problem-solving. With inspiring examples drawn from music, business, art, and crime, the book is a collection of tips, techniques, and puzzles that can help anyone find solutions to creative challenges. The book’s author is Paul Sloane, a recognized authority on innovation and creative thinking. Paul regularly delivers keynote speeches and facilitates workshops for leading corporations around the world. He’s also the author of 20 books. These include the best sellers, How to Be a Brilliant Thinker, The Innovative Leader, The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills, and A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, all published by Kogan Page. To talk about his latest book and how lateral thinking can be applied to marketing and advertising, Paul is joining us today from his office in Camberley, in the county of Surrey, England. Paul, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Paul Sloane: Great to be with you Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Paul, first of all, could you tell us a little about your career and what led you to focus on innovation and creativity?

Paul Sloane: So I trained in engineering. I studied engineering at Cambridge University. I worked for IBM for a while in manufacturing. Then I transferred into sales. I went through sales training. And I had a successful sales career, selling System 34s and System 38s way back in the day. I learned a lot about business from meeting small business owners and trying to help them with their problems through computers. I left IBM and became a marketing director for a software company, Ashton-Tate, who did dBASE™ and framework and MultiMate in the 1980s. I was promoted to Managing Director, Northern European Managing Director for them, and ran their operations over here. I then became CEO of a mathematical software company, and then for about the last 20 years, I’ve been running my own business helping organizations improve lateral thinking and innovation. And what got me into it was, funnily enough, I collected puzzles. I love lateral thinking puzzles. They’re all strange situations where you get a little bit of information, and you have to try and solve the problem. And you figure out what’s going on and the tools you use to solve those problems, I thought, “Can you use those same tools in business to solve business problems?” And I developed a workshop and approach on that, and I wrote a book on it: The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills, and it’s all gone from there. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, for the Bigeye Book Club this month, we selected your newest book, Lateral Thinking for Every Day, which was just published. What prompted you to write this book?

Paul Sloane: Well, as you may detect when you read the book, it is based on a collection of blogs that I wrote with some additional material. I developed a lot of the blogs and added material, but I’ve been a prolific blogger, and I’m on social media. I’ve got 41,000 followers on Twitter – I tweet a lot. I’m on LinkedIn, and I’ve got 8,000 first-level connections on LinkedIn. So I’m quite active on social media. And I promote a lot of ideas and discussions on lateral thinking. I’ve got my own group on LinkedIn called Lateral Thinking in Business, so I get a lot of ideas from there. And I decided to put them all together in something that was up to date and conveyed a lot of the up-to-date thinking on lateral thinking, a lot of examples and stories, but also techniques and methods that you can use at work and at home and in your everyday life to approach problems in fresh and better ways.

Adrian Tennant: So Paul, how do you define lateral thinking?

Paul Sloane: I define lateral thinking as coming at the problem from the side, from a fresh direction. We think about problems in the way that we’ve been trained to think about them in a sort of straight-on, direct, almost vertical thinking where we build block-on-block in a sensible, logical way. There’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes you need to rethink entirely, approach the problem from a different direction, and then you’ll come up with a creative, better way to do things. Doesn’t always work, but often it does. But you need some help. You need some help to displace yourself out of your comfort zone, out of your normal way of thinking. And that’s what a lot of the techniques in this book do. 

Adrian Tennant: In your book, you describe four aspects of lateral thinking. Can you explain what they are?

Paul Sloane: Well I quote Edward de Bono. And Edward de Bono was the great guru of lateral thinking. He wrote a lot of books on lateral thinking. He does have some good ideas, and I quoted his definition of elements of lateral thinking. And in the book, which I’ll read from now, what he said was: “… and the four main aspects of lateral thinking are: the recognition of dominant, polarizing ideas, (big assumptions); the search for different ways of looking at things, (different perspectives, different ways of approach); a relaxation of the rigid control of vertical thinking, or the disciplines that we use, (you have to loosen); and the use of chance, the use of random inputs.” So those were the four that he used and I certainly developed those ideas in the book.

Adrian Tennant: In Lateral Thinking for Every Day, you urge readers to fight the menace of groupthink. So Paul, what is groupthink and why do brand marketers and creative professionals need to fight it?

Paul Sloane: Well, it’s a well-researched phenomenon that people in a group will often think in a very similar way. They’ll support each other and be aligned and not discuss things or be contentious because they want to be supportive. If you are a junior person in a meeting and there are a lot of senior people there, you don’t want to look like an idiot. You don’t want to be criticized by powerful voices in the room. You’ll go along with what they say, even if you can see what you think is an obvious flaw in the proposal, you’ll go along with that. And groupthink is very dangerous because if you’re heading in the wrong direction, there’s nothing to stop you carry on in that direction. And that’s the big problem with it. And what we need to do is we need to encourage constructive dissent. We need to encourage what I call loyal rebels: people who believe in the mission, believe in what you’re trying to achieve, but are a little bit rebellious and doubtful as to whether you are using the best methods.

Adrian Tennant: So, Paul, could you give us some practical ways to fight groupthink?

Paul Sloane: Yes, there are quite a number mentioned in the book. One very good way is to use de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. So I remember when I was working for a big software company, we had an offsite meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. And the CEO, who was a very forceful, intelligent character, came up with his pet new idea, which was called, and it was, “We’re going to go away a lot of money, generate a lot of coverage, get a lot more software sales.” Nobody would nay-say him or go against him. And the idea went through on the nod, and very nearly bankrupted the company by the time we gave away millions and millions of dollars, we had to pull a plug on it. And I’m sure if we’d used de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, where everybody has to say what they think is good about the idea with the yellow hat on and then with the black hat on, everyone has to find fault and, articulate the downsides and risks of the idea, including its originator. Even if you think it’s your idea and you think it’s a great idea, you have to point out some risk or problem with it. If we’d have had a much more rounded and open and sensible discussion and come to a better conclusion, I’m sure. Maybe put some safeguards in place. So that’s one approach. Another is to bring in a provocative outsider. Somebody who will just challenge your thinking. You can even appoint someone as devil’s advocate whose job it is to do that. And there are methods that you can use where you generate a lot of ideas anonymously without anyone dominating the conversation. So a method like the nominal method in brainstorming, everyone writes down ideas, and then passes them around. And by the time you sort out the best ideas, you don’t know where they’ve come from. So you don’t get any ego invested in any particular idea.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you mentioned brainstorming. In your book, three sections are especially relevant to anyone tasked with getting the most out of brainstorming sessions and finding ways of differentiating brands from the competition. In the first of these, you encourage readers to break the rules. Paul, how so?

Paul Sloane: Yes. So the great thing about marketing is that you can try all sorts of different things. We conform to all sorts of rules, which are explicit and implicit in the companies that we work for and in the markets we work for, nobody would ever do this and nobody would ever do that. These are the implicit rules. And you know, in football, in soccer, you can only have 11 players on the pitch. But in marketing, you can spend $1 or a million dollars. You can do one advert, or 10 different ones, there’s no limit. You can break the rules. You can set your own rules. When Freddie Mercury wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, he didn’t follow any of the rules for a pop song. It had six different sections. It had lyrics about shooting a man. It was very long. It was orchestral. They took it to the producers, I think it was Deca Records, and said, “We want to release this as a single.” And the producers said, “No way. You can’t release this. It breaks all the rules. No one will play it on the radio. Iit’s six minutes long, and they won’t play anything that’s more than three minutes.” And what did he do? He approached a colleague of his, Kenny Everett, who was a DJ on Capital Radio, and he gave him a copy of this song, and he said “Play sections of it.” And he played sections of it all through the weekend. On Monday morning, fans went to Tower Records and Virgin Records, and other record stores, and said, “Can we have this?” And they said, “No, it’s not available yet.” And the pressure was such that the record company had to release it. So he broke all the rules, and he created what became one of the greatest songs of the last century for rock and pop music. And we see time and time again, people who break the rules can get things done and achieve things – that the people who conform to the rules don’t

Adrian Tennant: As a Brit living and working in the US, a section that really resonates with me in your book includes your advice to think like an outsider. Can you talk about that and why being an outsider can be beneficial?

Paul Sloane: Well, there’s a lot of evidence that if you look through the list of great innovators, and entrepreneurs in the USA, a lot of them are of immigrant descent, first- level immigrant descent. You know, the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both their parents are Jewish immigrants into the USA. Tony Hsieh, who founded Zappos, is another. Immigrants see things differently. They’ve fought their way in, and they don’t necessarily conform to the rules. They’ve seen a different culture. They know there’s a different way of doing things, and therefore, they’re more open-minded. And very often great innovators are outsiders. So, thinking like an outsider is one piece of advice. And if you can’t think like an outsider, bring in an outsider. One of my clients, Siemens Drives, they sponsor the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and they bring in the conductor. And they say, “Tell us some things about teamwork. Tell us some things about how you encourage your staff to turn up for all their rehearsals on time,” or whatever else. And getting somebody who comes from a completely different background to give their input gives you a fresh perspective. So think like an outsider or bring in an outsider!

Adrian Tennant: Paul, you also state in Lateral Thinking for Every Day that we need to be willing to ask dumb questions. How can playing dumb help us come up with new ideas?

Paul Sloane: Well, what I say is, the first day you joined the company you worked for, you asked a whole bunch of dumb questions. “Why do we do this?” “What’s the purpose of this report?” “What do these initials stand for?” You ask all those questions because you’re new in the company. Chances are you’ve stopped asking those questions now. You just take everything for granted. You just do that report whether it’s needed or not. And if you go back and ask the very basic questions – the very fundamental questions – “Why are we doing this?” “What’s the added value for the customer here?” “What’s the real benefit?” “Is this necessary?” “Is there a better way to do this?” – then you are more likely to challenge the assumptions on which everything is built and more likely to come up with great ideas. So I want you to imagine that you are working for Encyclopedia Britannica in 1990, and you go to a meeting, and you start asking some dumb questions. You say, “Do we have to charge a lot of money for encyclopedias?” “Could a free encyclopedia work?” People would’ve started laughing. And, “Do we need to hire experts or could we just use volunteers?” People would’ve howled with laughter and ridicule, and it may have ended your career to even ask those questions. But they were necessary to challenge the orthodoxies, which eventually, first of all, Microsoft Encarta, and then Wikipedia came along with a completely different model, which challenged all of those assumptions, and asked very basic questions. “Do we need to pay anyone to create an encyclopedia?” Turns out you don’t. It’s amazing.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for February is Lateral Thinking For Every Day: Extraordinary solutions to everyday problems by Paul Sloane. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with the exclusive promo code, BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of Lateral Thinking for Every Day, go to That’s K O G A N – P A G E dot com. 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Paul Sloane, the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club Selection, Lateral Thinking For Every Day, published by Kogan Page. Bigeye is headquartered in Orlando, which is also home to Walt Disney World. InLateral Thinking for Every Day, you describe the Disney Method for generating creative ideas. Paul, what is it about this method that you particularly like? 

Paul Sloane: What I like about this method is it forces you to adopt a different perspective, it pushes you out of your comfort zone. So normally in a meeting, you’ve got some optimists, and you’ve got some pessimists, and you’ve got some people who are very hard headed and practical. Some people are interested in production or finance or anything else, and they come at the problem from their perspective, their department’s point of view. Now, with the Disney Method, what you do is everyone has to adopt one of four perspectives in turn, and it’s very good for generating ideas and refining ideas for new projects. It isn’t applicable for every kind of management problem. But first of all, you go out of the room, and you come back as dreamers. And dreamers in Walt Disney terms can think of anything, and they come up with any idea at all, which would meet the objective without any constraint or restriction. They’re not worried about resources, they’re not worried about possibilities. They’re not worried about what can and can’t be done or can and can’t be afforded. So they come up with ideal solutions. They dream of an ideal solution, and they articulate this. They write this on flip charts around the wall. And they leave those, and they go out of the room. Then the same group of people re-enter the room with a different mindset. And this time they are realists. And what they do is they look at these ideas, and they constructively criticize them. And they look to choose the most practical, the best of these creative ideas. And they work it up into a plan. So they might take one or two of these, and they’ll say, “Well, what if we did it this way? This could work. And if we put in these resources, we could do it this way. We could experiment, we could do a trial here.” And they come up with a plan, and then they leave that plan on the wall, and they go out. And the next people that come in are the critics. And the critics are there to find fault with this plan in a constructive way, not in a cynical way, and to point out any drawbacks or downsides or risks. And off they go. And they will then criticize the plan. And at this stage, you could go back to the realists who could amend it, or you could go back to the dreamers and say, “No, it didn’t work. Critics were just too critical.” And the fourth group is the observers. And the observers represent the outside community. “How would this look to the outside world?” And you can start with them and say, “What does this problem look like to the outside world?” Or you can end with them, or they can come in any stage and say, “Well, as a complete outsider, it seems to me that what you’re doing is this or that this doesn’t fit with your brand…” or whatever else. And you move between those different personas as many times as is necessary. But you must all be in the same persona at the same time. In that sense, it’s similar to de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the Disney Method sounds great for in-person group ideation, but as you know, there’s been a shift toward remote working since the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul, do you have any examples of lateral thinking tools or techniques that you’ve observed work especially well for remote, distributed teams?

Paul Sloane: Well, yes, there’s a chapter in the book – chapter 69 – one of the last chapters, called Remote Collaboration. If you’ve got most of your team working from home, what can you do about it? And I talk about two musicians, Ben Gibbard, and Jimmy Tabrello. Way back in 2001, one would lay down some beats and send it to the other by post. And then they would add some melodies and then they send it back. And they kept doing this time and time again, refining at each point in a binary way. So one would do it, work on it, send it back, and then the other would work on it, send it. And they carried on like this. And they used the US Postal Service, and they came up with an album, and they called their band The US Postal Service which the US Postal Service initially was not too pleased about! But they went on to create some big hits, and they showed that remote collaboration is possible and you can do this, with groups, small groups. Everyone generates some ideas. You circulate them to different people. They select the most promising. They work in twos or threes on Zoom or Teams to refine the best ideas. It’s not as good as being in the room, I don’t think, but nonetheless, it still works. And you can generate creative ideas, circulate them, select the most promising, refine them, and then put forward proposals for trials. 

Adrian Tennant: Of course, much of the entertainment and information we consume is funded by advertising. In your book, you have a section entitled Lateral Marketing, the benefits of being outrageous. Paul, how can an idea be outrageous without it backfiring?

Paul Sloane: Well, there’s always a risk, and if you’re going to be outrageous, there’s a risk you’ll offend some people and people get offended very easily these days, I have to say. So you have to be watchful of that. But, as Michael O’Leary, the chairman of RyanAir says, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity!” Bad publicity sells more airline seats than good publicity. And there are companies that excel in this. And one of the companies I talk about is Paddy Power. And Paddy Power in the UK is a big gambling company. They have one of their officers, his title is Head of Mischief, and his job is to generate topical mischief. And they’ve done this several times. So when the horsemeat scandal hit the UK, and it was found there was horse meat in the food chain, it horrified a lot of people in Britain. I mean, people in France and Spain eat horse meat all the time, but in Britain, they don’t, and they were horrified. Paddy Power brought out with our annual results a book of horsemeat recipes called From Stable to Table. And it was outrageous, and it told you how you could prepare horsemeat, and it was deliberately provocative. It got a lot of coverage in the press, and it got them the publicity that they wanted. The most complained about advert on British TV featured a game, an advert about some blind footballers. And they were playing football with a ball with a bell in it. That’s what they do. So they hear it, and then they kick it. And a cat wanders into the game onto the field, and the cat’s got a bell on around his neck. And you can imagine what happens. So one of the players kicks he thinks what is the ball, sends [the] cat flying up into a tree, and then the man from Paddy Power comes in. He says, “Sorry, we can’t get Tiddles back, but you can get your money back if you bet with our special bet.” Anyway, thousands of people complained about this advert. Most of them were older women who are cat lovers. But that didn’t bother Paddy Power because that’s not their target market. Their target market is young men who they want to get gambling and they all loved it. So if you’re gonna offend a community, a demographic, just ask, “Does this demographic really matter to me? And what level of offense is it?” And if you can do it with some humor, it really helps. Humor helps when you’re outrageous. And there are many other examples in the book and many examples from, marketing, which are truly outrageous things that really worked. But sometimes they don’t work, and you’ve just gotta be careful.

Adrian Tennant: Paul, I know you mentioned earlier you’re a big fan of games that can boost the brain. What are some of your favorites and why?

Paul Sloane: Well, in the book, I do talk about games and I talk about different kinds of games for lateral thinking and logical thinking. So there are games that improve your logical thinking, and things like Sudoku, very good for that and maybe backgammon and some others and chess. And there are games that are very good for lateral thinking, and cryptic crosswords. Yeah. You read the clue and you have to think, “What assumption am I making here? Is there a completely different way to interpret what the setter has come up with here?” And I love cryptic crosswords. I love a game called Codenames where you have to find links between different words, which come up on a grid. and it’s a real test in lateral thinking as to how you can put these together with a clue, which will suggest two or three different words, in combination. So there are various games that I list in there, and things like Pictionary, you have to think differently and be creative. So there’s lots of games, which I think are very good for stimulating the brain. There’s a lot of evidence that older people who play games retain their cognitive abilities much better and longer than those who do not. So, I’m a big advocate of playing games. I love playing games, and I would recommend them as a way of developing your creative and logical thinking.

Adrian Tennant: Lateral Thinking for Every Day is your twentieth book. In what ways does lateral thinking help you develop ideas for your books or the process of researching and writing them?

Paul Sloane: Well, I’m always on the lookout for examples of lateral thinking, and I love to collect them and see them, and then I’ll write a blog about them. I was on a cruise recently, and I gave six different talks, and one of them was on the Dambusters and the Dambusters raid in 1943. And what got me interested in that was the concept of a bouncing bomb. You know, bombs drop vertically. That’s where everyone knows about bombs. They drop vertically. And Barnes Wallis had a very lateral idea. He asked a question, “Is it possible to make a bomb travel horizontally?” And he came up with this idea of the bouncing bomb. And then in a very English way, one of the people that worked with him in Vickers, who was a cricketer, said, “Well, it will bounce better if you put spin on it.” And he said, “Should I use topspin or backspin?” The cricketer said, “Backspin will give you more control.” And they put backspin on it. And then the rest of the story is a marvelous story of heroism and daring, and resourcefulness. ‘Cause they had to come up with a lot of innovations. It’s an amazing story, but it was all based on me observing this piece of lateral thinking of Barnes Wallis. So, everywhere I go, I’m looking for examples and things that I can either turn into stories or puzzles. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, in previous episodes of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’ve discussed some of the ways in which artificial intelligence and machine learning tools can be used to augment human creativity. But we’ve yet to see anything truly original. All the tools out there essentially use components of existing data. So Paul, I’m curious, do you think AI will ever rival human ingenuity?

Paul Sloane: That’s a very interesting question, and I think the answer is yes, it will. We’re getting there slowly and at the moment, what I say to people is, the one thing that computers can’t do is ask intelligent questions. They can give answers, but your job as a creative marketing professional is to ask really smart questions, and searching questions, and questions that other people aren’t asking, and that will help you come up with creative ideas. But ultimately, I think AI will come to that level where it can ask really smart questions based on masses of experience. And what you’ll do is you’ll give it a problem, global warming, inflation, or something else and say, “What ideas have you got?” And it can model all sorts of different things in great detail in a way that humans can’t do. So if we raised interest rates and we raised taxes, what would happen? So it can model all of these things. And similarly, in a marketing sense, it will eventually be smart enough to create models of consumer behavior. Which says, “If we raise the price and double the pack size or whatever, what would be the effect on our sales?” So I think artificial intelligence is going to be an amazing addition, and possibly in the long term, a threat to us as well in our jobs, maybe in our civilization! So there’s a very interesting discussion at the moment about what we do with artificial intelligence as it gets smarter and smarter. You know, I’m a chess player, and I’ve lived through the period when chess supercomputers eventually beat the world champion. Now they’ve gone way past the top players in the world, and the top chess programs play against each other. That’s all they can play because they’re so good. And they’re getting better still at the very top level. They’re still getting better because they can play millions of games and learn. So eventually, you can imagine a world in which there are no humans left. We’ve all killed each other, and there are just a number of computers playing chess against each other forever.

Adrian Tennant: Paul, what do you hope readers will take away from Lateral Thinking for Every Day?

Paul Sloane: I hope they’ll take away the idea that they can be more open-minded. They can challenge assumptions, they can ask questions, and they can have a more interesting life by just getting out of their comfort zone and doing some lateral thinking, and trying some new things. And I hope they’ll get inspiration from the stories in the book and ideas for how they can use the techniques to actually come up with new ideas. 

Adrian Tennant: Paul, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your books, your speaking engagements, or your workshops, where can they find you?

Paul Sloane: Well, you can find me if you go onto YouTube and you search Paul Sloane TEDx, you’ll see one. I’ve done two TEDx talks, one in English, one in French. So the English one’s very good, Are You Open-Minded? That will give you a flavor of my style for speaking if you want me to speak at your conference or workshop. And for more details on me and my books and my online courses, is my website, and it’s a little hyphen between the destination and the innovation. So destination hyphen is my website. And I’m also on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of Paul’s book, Lateral Thinking for Every Day: Extraordinary solutions to ordinary problems, you can save 25 percent on either a print or electronic version when you purchase directly from the publisher online at Just add the promo code, BIGEYE25 at the checkout. Paul, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Paul Sloane: It was my pleasure entirely, Adrian. Thank you very much.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Paul Sloane, innovation and creative thinking expert and the author of the book, Lateral Thinking For Every Day: As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Just select podcasts from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Guest Chris Harvey is the founder of Activate Research, based in the UK, and an expert in helping market researchers yield deeper consumer insights. Chris has developed research methods that leverage consumer psychology and especially behavioral science to help better understand, predict, and influence target audience behaviors. He shares some of his favorite models and frameworks that can help researchers look for new ways to understand – and change – consumer behaviors.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Chris Harvey: There’s quite a lot of academic evidence out there that says if we take this more evidence-based approach rather than what we think should work, or possibly what research respondents tell us will work to change their behavior, we can increase our odds of achieving successful change.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Traditional market research methods such as quantitative surveys or qualitative focus groups can be effective tools for gathering data about consumer attitudes and behaviors. But if your goal is to use research to inform marketing strategies that will result in lasting changes to consumer behavior, well, traditional research methods do have their limitations. One challenge is that research methods only usually capture data that the respondents or participants self-report. That data can be subject to biases, often subconscious, so people may not always accurately report their true attitudes or behaviors. And since most people don’t have degrees in psychology, they may not fully understand the reasons or deep-seated motivations behind their actions, or just as importantly, lack of actions. And of course, people often behave differently in the real world compared to how they respond to survey or focus group questions. So how can we gain a more complete understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviors? It’s an enduring topic, not just for researchers, but for anyone responsible for influencing public opinion or trying to guide people to make financial or health decisions that will be in their best interests. Today it’s my pleasure to be joined by a researcher suggesting new approaches to tackle the limitations of traditional research. Chris Harvey is the founder of Activate Research, an independent research consultancy based in the UK. Chris is an expert in helping client-side and agency-side market researchers yield deeper insights. Chris has developed methodologies that leverage consumer psychology and especially behavioral science to help better understand, predict, and influence target audience behaviors. Chris has approaching two decades of experience in the research industry, working for agencies, including Dunnhumby, GfK, and YouGov. Chris is also a noted industry thought leader, writing several papers exploring the practical application of behavioral science in market research. To discuss his work and share a preview of his most recent publication, Chris is joining us today from Fleet in the County of Hampshire, England. Chris, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Chris Harvey: Thanks, Adrian. Thanks for having me on. 

Adrian Tennant: Chris, as I mentioned in the intro, you’ve worked in the market research industry for quite a while. How did you enter the profession? 

Chris Harvey: I came in through probably quite a different route to most people. So I actually came in through the data science route, so, many years ago, I worked for a few years for a company called Dunnhumby, who I’m sure many of your listeners are aware of. and prior to that, my degree at university had been in maths, and so it just felt like both an interesting area, but also a very applicable area to apply those math skills to understanding the shopping behavior of what at the time was, around about 15 million Tesco supermarket Club Card loyalty scheme holders. So yeah, that was the route in. And I guess since then I’ve branched out to, most of the time since then, actually more traditional quantitative and qualitative research. But I’ve always held onto that keen interest in behavior that came from Dunnhumby really. Whereas, it’s all about what people do, which is not necessarily what they say they do.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you lead your consultancy, Activate Research. What types of projects do you typically undertake for your clients? 

Chris Harvey: Everything we do is all about behaviors. So we typically work in either understanding behaviors as deeply as possible, we do a lot of work in predicting likely behaviors, and then a lot of work in trying to help clients to change stakeholders’ behavior, whether that’s customers or anybody else. So a typical project is probably, where a client has maybe quite recently launched a new product or service or is about to launch or it is developing one. And they want to know things like, for example, you know, what’s the current buying process or decision-making process with regards to typical customers in this area at the moment. Perhaps, can we get some feedback on what potential consumers think of our new product or service? And as I say, also, what are some of the types of things we can do to help to increase uptake of this new product? So that’s the fairly typical project and I should probably say, we work quite evenly really across qual and quant as well. So this is not limited to one or the other.

Adrian Tennant: Activate Research focuses on behavioral science. For listeners who may be unfamiliar with the term, could you define behavioral science

Chris Harvey: Yeah, it’s a very good question. I guess I like to try and keep things as simple as I can. And so the definition I like to use for behavioral science, Is the understanding of why people do what they do. 

Adrian Tennant: How does behavioral science differ from behavioral economics? 

Chris Harvey: I actually tend to use that same definition for both. But in behavioral economics, the variety of scenarios that we are dealing with are more narrow. So as we can guess from the description, behavioral economics, it’s typically around understanding economic decision-making, whereas behavioral science is much more broad than that. I mean, of course there are some overlaps between the two. Both of them draw on different areas of psychology, such as, for example, cognitive psychology. But as I say, in order to try and keep things as simple as possible. What I generally tend to encourage people to think of is behavioral economics as a subset within behavioral science with both of those being about trying to best understand why people do what they do. 

Adrian Tennant: How did you become so interested in this branch of psychology?

Chris Harvey: There’s a bit of a story behind that. So around about 10, or a bit more than 10 years ago, the agency I was working for, we won a really interesting and quite big project helping to do research for a major global, sporting event that was going to take place in the UK, and it was all good. I guess the catch of the situation was that my agency was commissioned to do the quant, or the quantitative research, and a different agency was commissioned to do the qualitative research. To cut a long story short, we arrived at the first kickoff meeting. So there was the client, there was our agency and the other agency all in the room. And within five or 10 minutes of the kickoff meeting starting, one guy in particular from the other qualitative agency had already torn apart our entire quantitative research proposal. All sorts of questions around, you know, how do you know who these people on your panel are? How do you know they’ll answer the questions honestly and accurately? And all these kinds of questions. And we came out in the meeting and, about five or 10 minutes later, we got a call from the client and effectively they said, “we were so appalled at this guy’s behavior in this meeting that actually, we’re booting them off the project and we’re gonna give you both the qualitative and the quantitative aspects of the project.” So that all worked out quite well. But a couple of days later, I sat down and I thought, “that was really odd. I’ve never been in a meeting like that. Why was this guy behaving like that?” And I checked out his website, and his take on research or his approach to research was very driven and influenced by psychology. And actually, once I’d read some of the stuff on his website and indeed a book that he’d written as well, I came to see that many of the points he was making this meeting were actually really quite valid. And I guess that was the first time when I started to think, “Hang on a minute. Maybe we shouldn’t necessarily completely take market research respondents at face value all the time. You know, maybe there is something deeper to this behavior thing.” And I guess that  started me off on reading various other books by Daniel Kahneman and Nudge, and all these kinds of books. And then also ended up doing a Master’s in behavioral science, and then subsequently setting up Activate Research after that.

Adrian Tennant: Chris, was there a singular Aha! moment, when you thought, “This is what’s missing from market research,” or is it something that came to you over time?

Chris Harvey: I’d say more of a series of mini Aha! moments. As I say, that meeting and the fallout from that meeting started me off on this  journey of really educating myself and throughout various books that I’ve read in studying and I’ve done, I’ve come across a series of different, as I say, mini Aha!s really, and I think a lot of them focus on a key insight which is that I think in market research a lot of the time, not all the time, a lot of the time we fall victim to asking too much of respondents. I think you mentioned something in your introduction about how market research respondents are not always necessarily aware or able to articulate everything that’s driving their behavior or indeed not driving their behavior. And I think you’re absolutely right, and I think, if we talk about what’s missing from market research, I think a lot of the time it’s this awareness that market research respondents can’t necessarily take us to all the answers. And we should try not to overly rely on them. As I say, I think if there’s an insight of what’s missing from market research, it’s sometimes a lack of awareness as to the limits of what respondents are able to help us with. But also to some degree, a lack of awareness of what some of the different techniques that myself and many others are using to try and ensure that we don’t have to overly rely on respondents.

Adrian Tennant: So what are some ways that you help your clients integrate behavioral science into market research studies? 

Chris Harvey: So we have three different, broad approaches, or areas that we draw on. And again, as I say, this is both across qualitative and quantitative research and each of these three areas we use them on their own or a lot of the time, in combination with each other. so the first of the three we use is, we talked briefly about, behavioral economics. So this thing about understanding more deeply, people’s economic decision-making and behavior. I think probably many of your listeners will be aware of terms like heuristics, so mental shortcuts that people often use to minimize complexity. They may be also aware of the term cognitive bias as well, which is where some of these mental shortcuts we use can occasionally lead us astray. So incorporation of behavioral economics, insights and approaches is the first of the three areas we use. The second of the three areas we use is personality psychology. So this is about how if we can get a deep understanding of how people are, as people, in any situation that can sometimes open the door to us to insights, as to why they’re behaving as they do in specific situations. And then last but not least, we do probably the most work actually in academic behavior change models. So this is all about how, we can use academic behavior change models first of all to, help facilitate a very deep and broad, understanding of what the current behavioral drivers and barriers are in a particular situation, but secondary, so we can use those insights to go on to tell people what are some proven, behavior change methods that feed off the back of these models that we can use to change behavior. As I say, often without necessarily having to rely on market research respondents to tell us what it would take in order to get them to do a behavior. So yeah, that’s the three key areas I say across qual and quant and sometimes in combination with each other, sometimes in isolation.

Adrian Tennant: Chris, what is it about behavior change that most interests you? 

Chris Harvey: I guess a few things really. I think, throughout my time in market research, I’ve always been most interested in those projects where we want to make changes or we want to do a campaign, or we want to make recommendations off the back of it. I’ve always tried to steer myself more towards those types of projects than the more backward-looking evaluations or the more, “let’s do a few stats for PR purposes,” type of projects. So that’s one area in terms of my interests, really, and within behavior change there’s a lot of very interesting research, academic research out there. And indeed a lot of very robust academic research, which is not something you can always say for all branches of psychology and some of the other social sciences. So there’s a lot to draw on there as well. And the last reason why I’m particularly interested in the change area, is from a commercial perspective, there’s not actually a huge amount of agencies out there that are taking what I would describe as an evidence-led approach to behavior change. A lot of the time it is, for example, what do research respondents say it would take to change their behavior? Or what do we think, using our common sense, what do we think we should do? And so commercially that, as I say, more evidence-led approach to behavior change has been quite successful for me as well. 

Adrian Tennant: Okay, but isn’t behavior change just about providing people with the most relevant or persuasive information? 

Chris Harvey: That’s a good question. I think if you asked most people in the street or indeed most market research respondents, I think they would say, “yes, it is, gimme some information, make it persuasive, emotive, et cetera, et cetera. And sure, I’ll change my mind, I’ll change my behaviors.” But I guess that’s coming back to this point again about how we’re not always completely aware of what it would take to drive our behavior in a particular situation. One of the examples I often draw on in this challenge in many, many countries now of obesity and how one of the sorts of key tools the decision or policymakers and governments have used is an encouragement of, “let’s provide people with more information, for example, about how many calories are in this particular product in this cafe.” so, in the UK I think last year there was some legislation where many cafes and restaurants over a certain size had to publicly say on their menus, the number of calories in each of their food items. The logic being that people will see this, digest it, and then change their behavior. And of course, the problem is that this isn’t usually what happens. Sometimes people do notice the information, sometimes, within the first week or two they might try and take a healthier option. But most academic research shows that over time, or pretty much over a very short amount of time, people will start ignoring this information and revert back to their existing ways of doing things. And for me, that’s quite a nice example of something that sounds very logical: “provide me with more information and I’ll change my views and I’ll change my behavior.” And actually, the majority, certainly not all the time, but the majority of the time the evidence is against that. And this is the thing you can often hear from market research respondents. If you ask them that question, “Just give me a bit more information. I’ll digest it, and I’ll change my behavior.” It’s very compelling. It’s very tempting to take that as a recommendation and take it back to the client. Whereas, as I say, not all of the time, but a lot of the time, it will be a bit more complicated than simply providing people with that pertinent information.

Adrian Tennant: Okay, if behavior change is more challenging than that, is there anything we can do to improve the chances of success?

Chris Harvey: Yeah. So this is where the behavioral frameworks and models guide that you briefly mentioned earlier comes in. And in a nutshell, you know, there’s quite a lot of academic evidence out there that says if we take this more evidence-based approach rather than what we think should work, or possibly what research respondents tell us will work to change their behavior, we can increase our odds of achieving successful change. And there are many different frameworks and models out there, which we can draw on. The guide that I’m bringing out, shortly, touches on four particular ones. But as I said, there’s many more out there that we could use to our advantage.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for January is Katie King’s book, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, connecting Marketing, sales, and Customer Experience. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of Katie’s book with the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders, and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, go to That’s K O G A N P A G E, dot com. 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Chris Harvey, the founder of Activate Research and author of a new free guide to frameworks and models to help drive behavior change. Chris, let’s turn to what readers will find in your newest publication. Let’s start with frameworks. What are they and how can researchers benefit from using them? 

Chris Harvey: So frameworks are really quite simple. Frameworks essentially provide us with a number of options, of things we might do in order to increase the likelihood of successfully changing other people’s behaviors. So to give you an example, here in the UK, The Behavioral Insights Team, which used to be part of the UK government, around about a decade ago, came up with one of the first more simple user-friendly frameworks. and it was called the EAST Framework, so E-A-S-T, and each of the letters within the EAST framework represents something that somebody designing communications or interventions can do in order to increase their chances of that intervention or comms being successful. So for example, the S within the EAST framework stands for Social. So this is all about this insight: we often follow the flock, and so if we tell people what other people are exhibiting good behaviors in this situation, that’s more likely to make us copy those behaviors. So, much of the research, for example, in this area is around things like encouraging people to pay their tax return on time. So for example, a messaging that most people within your particular town pay their taxes on time has been shown to be more successful than a generic, “Here’s your tax bill, please pay on time” message. So it’s quite a nice and simple way of coming up with, ways that we can try and change people’s behaviors, which again, are not necessarily the most obvious things are not necessarily the things that market research respondents, again, would necessarily come up with if we asked them what would it take to change your behavior? So as I say, there’s quite a few of these types of frameworks out there and they can be quite straightforward to apply as well.

Adrian Tennant: Chris, you make frameworks sound very easy to use yet with the potential to be very powerful if used appropriately. How common is the use of frameworks in market research, would you say?

Chris Harvey: I would say formerly, not particularly common. Although having said that, particularly with the quite big interest in behavioral economics over the last 10 years or so, I would say informally some people probably are using some of these kinds of techniques that they may have read about in more mainstream books, such as the use of social norms or social proof; what other people are doing to encourage that behavior. But overall I probably would say that, in general, not a huge amount of awareness or use of these types of frameworks. I guess the one thing I would also caution against a little bit on frameworks is choosing the most appropriate framework for the particular question you are trying to solve. So I think it’s one thing, it’s great to get people aware of frameworks, but at the same time, some of them are not always particularly well suited to every single type of behavior change challenge you might be trying to tackle. So for example, the EAST framework is great. It’s very simple to get your head around. but things like, for example, saying what other people do in a particular situation to encourage you to do that, they can tend to be more successful for slightly more simpler, one-off behaviors such as, for example, paying a tax bill, getting a vaccination, those types of things. They may not be as directly transferable and relevant to, for example, more complex behavior or entrenched behaviors that you need to keep repeating, changing, and then repeating over time. So I guess very valuable. But with that caution of, make sure you use the right one effectively. 

Adrian Tennant: Chris, If anyone listening is just starting out in market research, frameworks could be a bit intimidating. Are there alternatives to using frameworks and if so, what are their benefits? 

Chris Harvey: I guess the big alternative really, and actually the one that at Activate Research we use a lot more than frameworks is actually, behavioral models. So, a behavioral model is similar to a framework in the sense that it’s there to help you come up with suggestions of things you can do to change other people’s behavior. However, a model also takes a more research-informed view. It takes a more preliminary step before you get to these things you can do to change behavior. Models help you to develop and test hypotheses about the types of things that might be currently driving behavior or indeed be barriers to behavior. So models, whilst that makes it sound a bit more involved than frameworks actually, they’re probably in general better suited to research because they help us to do that first stage of, let’s make sure we cover all bases in terms of the research of what types of things could be driving behavior or stopping behavior. But then they also allow us to go to this second stage of, and off the back of that here are a bunch of common things that academics have proven, have proved to be successful in tackling those types of barriers. So frameworks and models, I would say the second one, both useful, but as I say, models are more useful and more conducive to the research process if you’d like.

Adrian Tennant: We really appreciate practical examples on IN CLEAR FOCUS, so Chris, could you give us a real life commercial example of where you’ve used a behavioral model? 

Chris Harvey: Yeah, sure. So, I guess before I give the example, I need to just explain the model itself, but let me try and do that as briefly as possible. So, one model I use quite a lot of the time is called the COM-B model, which one or two listeners may be aware of. It was developed at University College London, in the UK, and it’s quite a simple but powerful model. So the COM-B model effectively says that in order for somebody to do a particular behavior, they need to have three things. They need to have the capability, which is the C. They need to have the opportunity, which is the O. And they need to have the motivation, which is the M. Only once you’ve got all three of those things, does that lead to doing the behavior. So just very briefly, so capability, is typically things like the physical capability or the psychological capability. So for example, have I got the requisite knowledge or the requisite skills, or the requisite physical stamina, to do the particular behavior that we’re trying to encourage? So that’s the first thing. But capability on its own isn’t enough. We also need, opportunity to do it. So have I got for example, the necessary physical opportunity, which is things like the necessary time to do that behavior, the necessary financial resources perhaps to do that behavior. And similarly have I got the necessary social opportunity? Is the environment that I’m operating in conducive to me doing this behavior? So we need capability, we need opportunity, but we also need motivation as well. So once we’ve got those first two things, we also need to make sure that we’ve got the requisite level of motivation to do that behavior at the particular time in question. So hopefully that makes sense. I guess the reason I’m explaining this is that, these types of models such as COM-B, they can be very useful to us in helping us to, as I say, to generate a range of different hypotheses about what may or may not be driving or indeed inhibiting the behavior we, we want to see. Is it capability related? Is it opportunity related? Is it motivation related? Or, is it perhaps a combination of the three? So to give you an example of where I use that, recently we were working with a pharmaceutical client and they’d fairly recently launched a new product and they wanted to know more about, first of all, what did we think the likely uptake or adoption amongst the physicians that it was aimed at would be, how successful would it be? and equally importantly, what were some of the types of things they could do to try and increase adoption? And so what we did is we used this model throughout the entire process, this COM-B model, and we came up with a three stage approach. So the first stage was to take actually a bunch of evidence that the client already had around the types of needs that physicians operating in this space had, with regards to new products. So what types of things did they need in order to consider or adopt new products? And what we did with those findings is we mapped those against each of these three key pillars, within the COM-B model. So, for example, when physicians had previously talked about needing certain amounts of knowledge in order to consider adopting a product that was classed as a capability, barrier, or influencer. So that was the first stage. The second stage of the project was a quantitative stage, to where we took a set of physicians who the product was aimed at, and we asked them to evaluate the product, on each of those different, key needs that the physicians had. and as I say, again, mapped against each of those three areas. So some needs were in the capability, some were under opportunity and some were under motivation. So for example, we found knowledge of a product, which sat under capability was indeed a key need of physicians. They wanted to fairly, understandably, feel knowledgeable about the product before they would consider prescribing it. so we came with a bunch of different gaps or deficits between what physicians needed from a new product and what this product was providing under each of those three key pillars. And then the last stage was, perhaps haven’t really got too much time to go to this in detail, but the COM-B model actually contains a second part to it, which contains, believe it or not, 93 different, what they call, potential behavior change techniques which are very specific tactics that can be used to address any barriers identified in those more preliminary stages. So the whole point of embedding this model throughout the process and saying which of these barriers sit under capability, opportunity, and motivation, is that you can then feed this through into these many different potential, behavior change techniques at the end. And so you are actually selecting things that are not only academically proven, but are mapped back to specific barriers that you’ve uncovered in the research that need to be rectified. So again, it’s coming back to this thing, as I keep saying of not necessarily relying on respondents to tell us 100%, the gospel of what it would take to change their behavior. It’s about taking what respondents tell us, but also complimenting that with additional knowledge.

Adrian Tennant: Chris, are there any other models that you found useful that listeners should be aware of? 

Chris Harvey: Yeah, as I say, I tend to be a big fan of this COM-B model. It’s pretty straightforward. But, there are many more out there. I guess when I tend to use other models, it’s perhaps in a very specific scenario. So for example, one model I use, or I use a slightly adapted version of it, is called the adoption of innovations model. So this is to help us understand a bit more the mechanics behind how and why people do or don’t adopt new products. So a model like that can help us, in a discussion guide or in a quantitative survey, to come up with questions that try to go beyond appeal, liking, and some of those types of, more common questions. And then at the end, we analyze the responses in the context of this model and try and work out, where are the gaps here? where are we gonna get the best value in terms of tackling some of the barriers that have been raised. So there’s lots and lots of others out there. Another one I sometimes use called technology acceptance model. So, as it sounds, that’s all about if there’s a piece of technology that people are wanting consumers to adopt or clients to adopt. This model is based on a lot of evidence that said, here are some factors that we know, or we feel we know, are going to be important in terms of whether this product gets adopted or not. So as I said, they provide a very good basis for coming up with questions that go a bit more beyond the obvious. And lastly, I’ve developed my own model as well for Activate Research which is called the ASEN model as well. So yeah, there’s lots out there. But as I say, it’s all about really knowing what’s out there, but then knowing which model is going to be the most appropriate for that behavior change challenge you are trying to tackle.

Adrian Tennant: It’s a fascinating approach equally relevant to those of us working in qualitative and quantitative market research. Finally, Chris, have you got any research tips for identifying how, when or where to apply behavior change frameworks and models? 

Chris Harvey: Yeah. So I guess a couple of things. I think the first thing is: it’s really about recognizing, as early as possible, when you have a project where there is going to be an element of wanting to understand and or change people’s behavior and to consider, adopting some kind of framework or model as early as possible. The way we work with clients is that it’s very much about getting involved either at the design or even at the proposal stage of a project and saying, you know, “look, we think this model” or sometimes, “these two or three models might actually be very suitable here. And so let’s build the discussion guide or elements of the discussion guide or questionnaire around this particular model.” As opposed to getting to the end of the analysis period and saying, “Okay. We’re not quite sure what we should do about behavior change recommendations. Let’s maybe try and throw in some sort of model here.” So it’s about recognizing when you are wanting to change behavior, and trying to build in a framework or model as early as possible into the process. And as I say, it’s also about trying to make sure you use that most appropriate model as well. You know I’ve talked obviously about the COM-B model. I talked earlier about the EAST model and there’s definitely a place for both of those, but it’s not necessarily about just saying, “Okay, we’ve identified this is gonna be a behavioral, quite complex behavioral challenge. Let’s use one of those two.” It’s about looking around for maybe there’ll be something that will be even better than one of those two.

Adrian Tennant: Chris, If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to know more about you and your work at Activate Research, where can they find you? 

Chris Harvey: So my website is definitely the best place to go, so So there’s quite a lot of information on there. So I talked about the behavioral frameworks and models guide that’s coming out in early February. So there’s that and actually, four other 30-page free documents that can be accessed through the website. But there are also lots of much shorter bite-size articles and so on and book recommendations. There’s lots and lots of free stuff. I’m obviously also on LinkedIn, so please get in touch, or follow my company page or personal page, or just get in touch with me directly if you want to know more.

Adrian Tennant: And we’ll be sure to include a link to your introductory guide in the transcript for this episode. Chris, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Chris Harvey: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Chris Harvey, founder of Activate Research based in the UK. You’ll find a transcript of this episode with links to Chris’s guide to frameworks and models to help drive behavior change, as well as the other resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Just select ‘Podcast’ from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for joining us for IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Guest Katie King is the author of AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Katie offers practical advice on how creative agencies can use AI, providing inspiring case studies illustrating how AI is already impacting sales, marketing, and CX across several different industry sectors. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 25 percent discount on AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing at by using the promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Katie King: AI is not sentient, it isn’t creative, but it can turn creativity into a process.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. As we discussed in last week’s episode, so-called generative AI-based tools like DALL-E and ChatGPT-3 are already being used by creative agencies to develop visuals and writing. These tools have the potential to revolutionize the creative industry, disrupting traditional ideation, concepting, and production processes. This month’s Bigeye Book Club selection is entitled AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, Connecting Marketing, Sales, and Customer Experience. The book presents a framework for understanding how AI and machine learning can be harnessed for marketing and sales, and to boost customer centricity. The book’s author is Katie King, the CEO of AI in Business, a UK-based firm specializing in AI consulting and training. With over three decades of experience, Katie has advised many of the world’s leading brands and business leaders including Sir Richard Branson and Virgin, telecoms companies O2 and Orange, and the consulting giant, Accenture. Katie is also a member of the UK government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group task force for the enterprise adoption of AI. She’s delivered numerous TEDx talks and is a frequent commentator on BBC television and radio, as well as a sought-after keynote speaker. To discuss some of the ideas in her book, Katie is joining us today from her office, located in the county of East Sussex in England. Katie, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Katie King: Thank you very much, Adrian. Greetings from the UK!

Adrian Tennant: Katie, first of all, could you tell us a little about your career and what led you to specialize in artificial intelligence?

Katie King: With pleasure. I’m 56 as of last week, and I’ve spent the past 30 years in marketing starting, as you would expect in the late eighties, and early nineties, in a very traditional sort of environment. I’ve worked for big agencies, servicing some of the world’s biggest brands like Virgin and many others. And I started my own business, Zoodikers, in 2010, a digital marketing company, and I’ve always felt that it’s essential to be on this journey of continuous learning. I was ahead of the game with digital and did TEDx talks on that subject and then around 2015 I thought, “Alright, I’ve now moved out of London, I’m now over a certain age, I need some unique selling proposition to give me that edge.” And I got involved in AI, wrote a white paper for a major organization, and it’s gone from there. [I’ve] since written two books on the subject and got heavily involved in the industry. So it was really a question of survival, staying ahead, trying to foresee what’s coming down the line, doing my own research.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you know, for the Bigeye Book Club this month we selected AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, which came out at the beginning of 2022. But before that, in 2019, your first book Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing, was published by Kogan Page. Katie, what prompted you to write AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing so soon after your first book?

Katie King: Well, as many of your listeners will probably know, AI moves very fast! There are new developments and innovations every day. So I wrote book one in 2018, published in 2019, but already as you are writing it, and in that process of it being published, there are new case studies, there are new developments, new entrants into the market. So although the book was only a year old, it felt that a lot had moved on. It’s still very current, especially my scorecard for success. But I felt that particularly the sector of PR, public relations, marketing, comms, was late, so it hadn’t yet come to the party and I really did need to write another book. Book One opened lots of doors, but more and more vendors were coming onto the market, so I started writing book two and the conditions when I wrote book two were very, very different because we had the pandemic, and that was really reflecting the way the world was. You know, I got started on it and we couldn’t do all of the festive things, couldn’t go out to the shops, couldn’t see family, but we did have the technology. And technology meant we could all remain connected. And so actually the digitization that happened during the worldwide pandemic accelerated people’s interest and knowledge of AI and I think actually helped quite a lot of the vendors to get on board. So that’s really the main reason.

Adrian Tennant: So Katie, in brief, what can readers expect to learn from AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing? 

Katie King: Well, it’s packed with very pragmatic, accessible case studies. Lots of tech vendors, but also lots of end-user companies. It’s rich across a number of different industry sectors and where Book one had the scorecard for success, which a lot of companies have gamified, in the second book, I also, you know, realized that people liked those pragmatic, how do I get started? So I came up with my standardized framework. It talks about what’s the S? The S is the strategy, and the T is time. And then it sort of talks you through how do I get started? Who are some of the vendors that I could talk to? What are some of the limitations and is it affordable? So, like book one, a very pragmatic, honest overview of what AI machine learning is, how people can use them, how they’re impacting, particularly the business functions of sales, marketing, and CX across a number of different industry sectors.

Adrian Tennant: In your book, you identify, of course, several benefits of using AI in business. Now for folks involved in marketing and advertising, what are some ways AI is already being used to support marketing, communications, and sales functions? 

Katie King: Yeah, that’s such a good question. That’s what people want to know. How can we use it? So you’ve got many marketers using AI-powered tools so that they can craft their social media messages, their email marketing campaigns, their web copy. So on the sales side, it’s helping organizations to come up with a pitch to a potential customer to keep the pipeline of leads warm with prospects. There are tools like Concured and Phrasee, and it’s saying to people, how do I tailor my message to a specific audience so that I can offer the best value proposition every time? So contrary to what people think of big, shiny robots coming taking our jobs, this is mass personalization. So I like to talk about augmented intelligence, that’s what AI can give us, whether we’re in comms, PR, marketing, sales, or CX, it’s a series of tools that we need to invest in that can give us big data insights on all different aspects of what we do. And that might be analysis. It might be like I say, lead generation or lead scoring. It could be brand watch and it could actually be automating some of the more monotonous tasks that we do of creating reports and so on. But one of the keys is identifying trends and sentiment analysis and crunching data at volumes and speeds that our, albeit incredible human brains can do, but maybe across multiple languages all over the world, you know, and so on. That’s really the benefit at the moment of AI in the sectors that you mentioned.

Adrian Tennant: We often talk about retail marketing on IN CLEAR FOCUS, and you devote a chapter of your book to exploring how AI is reshaping retail and hospitality. In what kinds of ways are you seeing retailers using AI?

Katie King: Mmmm, retail’s such an interesting place right now. I mean, the pandemic changed a lot of our habits. But we haven’t given up on our old ways. So we’ve got some retailers struggling with, are we going all in on digital or are we holding onto some bricks and mortar? And so, what we’re doing is we’re seeing AI applied in a hybrid manner. So physically, you know, it might be delivering digital experiences to customers. They’ve come to expect that, and then it might be bringing something into the store, you know, for more of an omnichannel experience. So maybe the AI is part of the website for personalized product recommendations. And then maybe in the store it could be a sensor. So you’ve got artificial intelligence, but then you’ve also got the Internet of things. So these sensors could be used to track footfall, assessing which products customers are gravitating towards so that we can offer them push messages and offers and so on. and then you’ve got smart mirrors and other kinds of areas. Even wastage, it might be a food retailer and the AI might be really predicting with great accuracy how many people are going to dine in that store or purchase that amount of perishable goods. So, you know, really, really useful information that is making us as retailers greener, and more able to offer our customers what they require.

Adrian Tennant: Well, in the context of supermarket chains, many of whom now have their own retail media networks, do you foresee AI impacting food producers or CPG brands in some ways? 

Katie King: Most definitely. So I’ve got a whole section of book two that talks about how various grocery chains, particularly in the United States, you know, how they’ve adopted AI. And food producers and CPG brands aren’t any different. So one that springs to mind is Nestle, and Nestle actually featured in book two and gave me a really good review of book one. So I got to know them through that. And they’re using AI across their business from marketing to manufacturing, to product development. So, you know, for organizations like that, for retailers like those, it’s about AI helping develop, you know, better products, safer practices, as well as insights into what customers really, really want. And I think in the long run, what we’re looking at here is, um, a better, a more efficient supply chain, like I said a moment ago, less waste and a better product offering. Now all of this comes with the caveat of consent. You know, the consumer, the customer needs to give consent to the usage of that data in order for the retailer to be able to give a much better experience.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common pain points or problems that motivate your clients to reach out to you, and have they changed during the years that you’ve been advocating the adoption of AI?

Katie King: At the heart of everything is a competitive advantage. I think that’s the main one. The nature of that has changed, but that’s really been the crux. We need to survive. We need to thrive. We want to be an innovator, or we are a laggard and we need to kind of keep up. But for many of them that are adopting it, you know, in this sort of earlier phase, then it is about a competitive edge. Um, and many have found themselves having to do more with less or facing new challenges and setbacks post the pandemic. So I think, you know, the pandemic made us less loyal and more likely to switch, and now we’re going through difficult economic times globally. And the same is true there. You know, people are shopping around for the best bargains and so on. So what the AI is doing is enabling us to satisfy existing client demand and understand the profile of that customer and help us find customers and clients like that. And I think, you know, many struggle with where do we start? It’s such a wild west out there with thousands of different vendors, who do I turn to? So my advices are often around, you know, how do I access it? Who do I turn to? What are some of the big macro issues to consider with that?

Adrian Tennant: Your first book, Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing, presented a framework for marketers to identify and apply opportunities to maximize their results with AI. Katie, you referenced it a moment ago, but I’m interested in how you’ve expanded on this idea in your second book.

Katie King: It’s really interesting cuz I speak a lot, and I run training and you know, do podcasts like this and I keep going back to the scorecard cause it’s still super relevant even though it was published in 2019. But I did produce for book two, the standardized framework, which I touched on a moment ago. And I also included in the book other frameworks like the Rolls-Royce ALETHIA framework. So, some might be highly complex projects and some might be a customer in all different industry sectors, an organization looking to get started with AI. So, each chapter of the book has 10 tips, you know, for how people can get started. And the whole premise of the book is these are case studies that are analyzed and we’re giving you steps, as to how you get started. So both of those two frameworks plus the Elithia Rolls-Royce framework, plus lots of hints and tips is really how I advise and what the books focus on.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for January is Katie King’s book, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, connecting Marketing, sales, and Customer Experience. IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners can save 25% on a print or electronic version of Katie’s book with the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of AI strategy for sales and marketing, go to That’s K O G A N P A G E dot com. 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Katie King, the CEO of the consulting firm, AI in Business, and author of our Bigeye Book Club Selection, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, published by Kogan Page. Katie, your book includes case studies from organizations across a range of sectors, including Samsung, Rolls-Royce, Deloitte, and Hilton, to name a few. Is there one case in particular that you think would be especially relevant for brand marketers or folks working in advertising?

Katie King: Yeah, definitely. I mean, all of the case studies are compiled mostly from my own interviews, but also from my own research, I find really fascinating. Phrasee is a vendor, and the organization using their services is Dixon Warehouse and Nissan Car Manufacturing are really, really interesting case studies for marketers. So without delving deeply into them, what we’re really looking at here with Phrasee and Dixons is a case study of how AI is helping a brick-and-mortar business to get through the pandemic. And with Nisan it’s about allowing customers to be part of your business, which I think is really interesting for marketeers. So there’s excellent case studies in chapter three that talk about how advertisers and brand marketers can benefit like L’Oreal and Perfect Corp who are really intriguing cuz they’re demonstrating something really personal like beauty and how beauty can be shaped by technology. So they’re the ones that I would really sort of pick out, as some of the highlights for marketers.

Adrian Tennant: And for folks who may be unfamiliar, could you just give us an idea of what Phrasee is?

Katie King: Yes. So it’s really a tool for identifying, what is that sweet spot of marketing, how can we understand our customer and come up with some fantastic content and find out how that content is going to actually be served to that particular retailer, for example. So, you know, what is the profile of the Dixon’s customer? How can we create content that’s really gonna hit that sweet spot and make them really resonate with our particular offer and get better click-throughs and get better engagement with them.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. In chapter seven of AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, you state that “the new era of AI demands a more fitting economic model.” Katie, can you unpack that for us?

Katie King: Yes, definitely. So, you know, really what we’re saying here is we need to adopt an economic model that doesn’t just further the interests of the business, but has a positive impact on the world at large. So we’re seeing a rising corporate social responsibility and business for good, AI for good, and other types of initiatives. But the entire structure of our economic system needs to prioritize better outcomes for everybody involved. So I’ve been heavily involved with the All-Party Parliamentary group, which looks at adoption of AI, and we hear evidence from all over the world regularly, about initiatives about that. And I also run my own program: it’s all about the leaders of tomorrow in tech, and it’s all pro bono, and it’s looking at how young people in schools need to understand how AI is shaping the careers of tomorrow. So it’s really about, what are the ethical considerations of the way we collect data and the way that we use it. So it’s making sure that this new economic model prioritizes not just what’s best, you know, for businesses. And I’m really passionate about that. Um, and I don’t think this type of technology that AI and machine learning will really take off until we can reassure people that the frameworks and the regulation and the, you know, the guidelines are all in place. 

Adrian Tennant: Katie, how should educational institutions, many of them here in the US, facing declining numbers of students taking traditional courses, be thinking about their future in relation to AI?

Katie King: Yeah, I’m very passionate about that subject. Adrian. Like I mentioned briefly, I have this program, Leaders of Tomorrow in tech and I have a whole chapter in book two all about AI and education and some very frustrated, commentators in the book, you know, frustrated about how slow schools are, um, particularly governments, you know, the education, departments of governments all around the world in some countries are too slow to respond. But of course, the schools have got to work within that national curriculum, so you know, it’s finding opportunities if their governments are too slow and if the students aren’t being taught what they need to prepare them for careers that are going to be reshaped by this kind of technology, then from an extracurricular point of view, guest speakers and so on, they need to be thinking about, you know, how is this technology being leveraged? Because the technology can actually help the delivery of the actual training. And the training needs to teach them how is this technology gonna reshape all of the things you’re going to do in the workforce. So I think they need to try to influence their own education departments government-wise, and, you know, give some pushback, but also fill the gap in the meantime so that they inspire their students and equip them with what they need going forward.

Adrian Tennant: Since Open AI’s ChatGPT-3 was released in December, print and online publications covering marketing and advertising have been conjecturing whether or not AI will one day replace human creativity. Katie, what’s your take? Do agency copywriters and art directors need to fear applications like ChatGPT or DALL-E? 

Katie King: Not fear it. Not fear it in terms of it’s going to take away all of their jobs, but if they aren’t using it, then they’re going to get left behind quite quickly. So of course I’ve seen all the discourse on it and yes, it’s amazing what both can do, but they still are fairly limited. That’s the reality. They operate within the parameters we give them. So ChatGPT, it can only write what you tell it to. And DALL-E can create what we tell it to create. So we, the creatives, we are the, we are required to come up with the ideas, to analyze them, to be the person that interacts with the client about it. So, you know, AI is great at producing the insights following our lead, but it lacks that well-rounded knowledge to truly grasp what this information is about. How do we transform those insights into a strategy? Now, it’s interesting when you think about creative strategy, AI is not sentient, it isn’t creative, but it can turn creativity into a process. For example, IBM Watson working with Lexus luxury car brands and the AI studying many, many years of award-winning TV adverts, and then understanding what is it that makes it award-winning. Is it the setting? Is it the wording? Is it the people? Is it whatever it might be, the colors, the imagery, and it can then break all of that down and come up with an award-winning TV advert. So yes, we do need to be mindful of being left behind and not using these tools and our competitors will. And others might turn to them as a result. So I think we have to get on board with it, we have to continue enjoying maybe more of the strategic aspects of what we do, and leave the AI tools to do more of those analytical, data-driven tasks that we can then oversee. And I think it’s a very exciting space to be in and not to be feared.

Adrian Tennant: Katie, you and your team consult with businesses to help them develop AI strategies. Now, from a client’s perspective, what does an engagement with your team look like?

Katie King: Good question. So everyone’s different, every client’s different. Their needs are different. Just to also clarify here, I’m not a technology company. I have uk, but I’m a management consultant. So I’m helping organizations first of all, what is ai? How do you apply this technology, in particular, to your comms, to your marketing, to your sales? How do you implement the software? How do you oversee the AI project? So I help them with that, help them find vendors. But more often than not, again, being completely direct here and transparent, I’m helping them from the point of view of running training workshops on it, delivering keynotes on it, some consultancy on it as well. And often that is about their mindset. Maybe the management team or the board need to understand why this is so important in order to get on board with it, in order to free up some cash, in order to then let it escalate down the organization. Or it might be a marketing team, training that team on how is it being deployed. Who are some of the vendors that they need to go out there? So they tend to be the types of products and services. I’ve got an MBA and 30 years of experience in the tech sector, but I’m not teaching people how to code, in AI and so on. There are many other very talented people who can do that.

Adrian Tennant: Katie, you’ve enjoyed a successful career in what is still typically a male-dominated industry. Have you faced challenging situations as a woman working in tech?

Katie King: Not necessarily. I know that women certainly, well, we are still outnumbered in the AI space, but I’m heavily involved with Women in AI and there’s so many groups like STEMX, and Girls Who Code, and Code First Girls. So there’s loads of, loads of initiatives, and I’ve had the pleasure over the years to work with people like Maria ? from PwC, Caroline Gorski from Rolls- Royce, and Professor Rose Luckin at University College London, and I haven’t necessarily, because of the nature of my personality, I’m gregarious and confident and have self-esteem, and I’m really, really tenacious. If you are not like that, you could find it daunting to walk into a room of men or go to a conference, very male-dominated. And so I do think it’s really, really important that we have programs that push girls forward in this space, like my Leaders of Tomorrow in Tech, like some of the other initiatives that I’ve mentioned. So I think it’s important that we redress that balance and that we encourage girls into technology, even in other sectors that they’re going into, whether it’s fashion or media or the law or construction, that they understand that still those industries are quite male-dominated. 

Adrian Tennant: Katie, if there are any young women listening that have an interest in some of the topics we’ve been discussing today, what advice would you give them?

Katie King: If you are of a technical nature, you love the sciences, the IT, and so on, amazing. You know, go and learn to code, go and get involved in some of the more technical aspects of these technologies. But whatever your type of skill set, it’s essential that you understand the impact that these technologies are gonna make. and really what I’m coming to is more of a personal trait, don’t have imposter syndrome. Go out there and join LinkedIn. Ask to join LinkedIn groups. Invest your own time in virtual and face-to-face networking groups. Ask for work experience. So it’s that tenacity and that self-esteem, you know, whatever your upbringing, whatever your financial means. There are so many free courses, like, there’s a fantastic free course on AI from the University of Helsinki, which isn’t that technical and is for the non-techy people. So it’s a mixture of that, you know, get involved in this space and enjoy it and make sure that you are tenacious and you ask, and you don’t wait for it passively to come to you.

Adrian Tennant: Katie, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and your consulting and training services, where can they find you?

Katie King: The best place to go to is uk. That’s my website and that covers the books, the keynotes, the training, and so on. You can find me on LinkedIn, you can find me on Twitter. So, Twitter is @KatieEKing and Facebook and others are KatieKingMBA. But go to the website, and all of the digital links, social links are there, you can listen to extracts from the book and from the book launch and so on. So yeah, please, I’d love to connect with many of your listeners.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of Katie’s book, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing,  you can save 25 percent on either a print or electronic version of Katie’s book when you purchase directly from the publisher online at Just add the promo code, BIGEYE25, at the checkout. Katie, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Katie King: Thank you, Adrian. Thank you for a stimulating conversation. Yeah, fantastic.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Katie King, the CEO of the consulting firm, AI in Business, and the author of the book, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, connecting Marketing, Sales, and Customer Experience. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeye Just select podcast from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Making his third appearance on the podcast, Nick Wolny is the Senior Editor of the Financial Independence Vertical at NextAdvisor, in partnership with Time. Nick’s career includes freelance writing, business consulting, and he’s a leading voice on LGBTQ+ capitalism. Nick joins us for a lively discussion about the evolution of the creator economy, and how new AI tools such as DALL-E and ChatGPT will impact marketers and creators in 2023.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Nick Wolny: I think AI could do away with the need for human writers, but I don’t know that it could do away with the need for human editors. If ChatGPT wrote it, but I edited 90 percent of it, who wrote this article? 

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. A recent eMarketer report illustrated how the creator economy has infiltrated almost every industry and is reshaping how consumers think about work and making a living. A study conducted by digital marketing agency, HigherVisibility in July found that one-in-four US consumers aged 16 to 25 say they plan to become a social media influencer. And they couldn’t be doing so at a better time. In today’s uncertain economy, creators provide a cost-effective and inventive way for brands to reach their audiences through boosted content. At the same time, we’re seeing continuing innovation in technologies that impact advertising, such as improvements in integrated media planning and execution, measurement solutions for non-cookie methods, and of course, artificial intelligence and machine learning being applied to creativity in visual design and writing. To discuss the evolution of the creator economy and the emergence of artificial intelligence-based tools, we’re joined today by a guest making his third appearance on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Nick Wolny is the Senior Editor of the Financial Independence Vertical at NextAdvisor, in partnership with Time. Nick’s career includes freelance writing, business consulting, and he’s a leading voice on LGBTQ+ capitalism. He’s contributed to numerous media platforms, including Fast Company, Business Insider, Fortune, Out Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, plus, CBS, NBC, Fox, and USA Today. Nick is joining us today from West Hollywood in Los Angeles. Nick, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Nick Wolny: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. 

Adrian Tennant: Nick, in the episode we published almost exactly a year ago, we talked about your success as a freelance writer and Camp Wordsmith, your business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. But last year you made a big move. 

Nick Wolny: Yeah. At the start of 2022, I was doing my thing. I’ve been self-employed for a little over six years, and an editor-in-chief approached me about taking an editor position with a media company. And, you know, it was a full-time job. It was a full-time employment position. And my initial response was, that sounds nice, but no, thanks. Not for me. I’m not gonna stop consulting, I’m not gonna stop my business in order to go back into the corporate world.” and so we went back and forth, uh, for a while talking about some potential contracting, some freelance writing. They were a great brand to write for. I had done a little bit of initial freelancing for them and finally they came back with a conversation along the lines of, “well, what would it look like for you to do both? Can you do both? Can you keep your business going and can we come up with some sort of a position that is, gonna end up being the best of both worlds?” and so they gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse, basically. And it’s really asynchronous my position. I took a senior editor position with NextAdvisor, which I’ve been partnered with Time and is part of a parent company called Red Ventures. Red Ventures owns 27 different media brands. So you probably interact with some of these publications without realizing it. They own CNET, they own Bankrate, they own they own Healthline, you know, so quite a few different popular publications. So this brand, it’s called NextAdvisor. It’s a personal finance brand. And they had seen, as many of us have also seen in business and marketing, that there’s just a lot of semi-entrepreneurial energy floating around since the pandemic. Lots of people getting side hustles, lots of people resigning and going into the gig economy and starting to do a more, gig-reliant career. And also lots of lifestyle design. You have a lot of people in this financial-independence, retire-early movement, the FIRE movement for short, who are just snapping a lot of the usual rules of personal finance, where it’s okay, lopped 3% off the top, and hope for the best, right? These people are lopping 60% off the top in terms of what they’re making per month, and they’re retiring at 35, 45 years old. And just all, a lot of the psychology that comes out of that, right? And so they’re like, “we need someone who’s kind of one foot in journalism and one foot in this really weird online business space, right? That’s got quite a few characters.” And the puzzle pieces all fell into place. And so last March I started as a Senior Editor with NextAdvisor. I maintained my business, I maintained Camp Wordsmith, in a little bit more of a product capacity, but to have the balance of those two has been great. And I’m the Senior Editor of Financial Independence, which sounds like a crazy title. But basically, if it involves making more money, then I am covering it, from a personal finance perspective. 

Adrian Tennant: How do you approach ideation and commissioning content that aligns with these content pillars?

Nick Wolny: It’s been so interesting to be on the other side of the fence right after pitching editors and pitching reporters for seven-plus years, and now to be on the receiving end of that. There are a couple of different factors that I think are good for anyone to know about. One is that I showed up on day one and I had all of my ideas for articles that I was gonna pitch and things like that— things I was gonna pitch to my editor-in-chief. And they were like, “oh no, honey! Sit down, we’ve got your first 30 articles already planned for you,” You know, and that’s, they’re very much, and with many media publications, these days. These are data companies, right? They’ve already done a lot of research in terms of what topics to write about, what topics to double down on, where is there traffic, and where is there traffic in places that there wasn’t traffic six months ago. You know, the audiences are fickle. And so seeing, okay, how do we stay ahead of that and stay ahead of trends and looking for content that aligns with that? So that’s one of the big things that was a shock to my system. I thought it was this, you just, everyone just tries to pitch and the best pitch wins, and that’s totally not how it is. Because at the end of the day, these publications, these media conglomerates, They’re companies, right? They’re trying to do things with SEO and some of those other common marketing tactics. They’re trying to do them just as well, because they’ve got these large websites with lots of traffic. In terms of commissioning content, I look for a mix of journalists and content producers. There are times when I wanna work with someone who’s got a really great journalistic eye. They’re gonna do some exclusive reporting. Perhaps they have a scoop or they have access to something that no one else really has access to. And for some of the people we’ve covered, sometimes that’s their own data. We ran a piece last month about a guy who was working on a book and his book draft is on pause, but he had interviewed 37 people who had doubled their salary. What were the trends of all these people? Some of them had done it entirely within their nine-to-five. Some of them had just left their job completely, but all of them had doubled their salary and these were the things they had in common. And so it was like, “yeah, I want that scoop. If you’re not gonna publish that anywhere, I want that.” And only he could have written that, right? Because he had that original data. So I looked for something like that. And then I like to just have one or two, what I like to call content producers in the picture. They’re just, big, muscley writers that, you know, I can just hand them whatever I want and they’re gonna turn it around in three or five business days. Nice and clean. Not a lot of creativity or imagination needed in that writing, but just getting it done. It’s always good to have one or two workhorses in the mix as well. So I think that was a big surprise to realize. One, quite a bit of it is strategic and already decided on the editor’s end. And then two, just really thinking of it at the end of the day as content production. If a journalist comes to me and they’re trying to win a Pulitzer Prize, that’s great, but my budget for you is a three-figure number. So you might wanna take that somewhere else if you want to go for that. So it’s been a good learning curve so far.

Adrian Tennant: Personally, how have you navigated this transition from being a freelancer to working with a dedicated team at NextAdvisor? 

Nick Wolny: It’s been interesting, especially to just to be the person who was previously pitching and to see what editors and senior writers and in-house reporters are focusing on. I think some of the things that I have done as a marketer have actually really come in handy. An example would be things like a Calendly workflow for sources, right? You know, we did a Calendly workflow to book this call. It was so easy, right? And I think a lot of us do that as business people, especially if we’re just talking on the phone with people talking on Zoom or whatever. And so to take that kind of efficiency and the productivity that we have to have as small business owners or as solopreneurs or entrepreneurs and to bring that into like a journalistic space where, sometimes some of these senior writers, they’ve gotta pump these articles out pretty quickly and for them to have their editorial merit, you need them to be reported. You need to be talking to sources, you need to be talking to subject matter experts. And so how do you do that at scale? How do you do that effectively? So I think that’s one of the things that’s been kind of a nice surprise, is that this really, you know, niche skill set actually does carry over nicely into mainstream, bigger corporate opportunities and things like that. But, I think also what’s been cool, you know, I’m the loan editor of this vertical and there are no writers. I contract all the writers. There’s no one on staff. But I have a design team. I’m an engineering team. I have an editorial team. So, I have a bunch of different groups of people to bounce ideas off of. And I think that’s opened up the conversation, Adrian, about content, beyond writing and thinking about like, okay, what modalities do we need to present this information? Like would this actually be better presented as a chart? Would it, would this actually be better presented as a slider that you can interact with or something like that? Being able to operate a little bit more from that space rather than “I know these six buttons in WordPress, and so that’s as far as we’re going on the, it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a written article and that’s that.” Um, we have space to throw that around a little bit, you know, and you’ve got design teams that can be like, “that’ll take five seconds,” or “that’s not possible at all,” and it is. So I think that’s been cool to step into a little bit more of multimedia journalism and multimedia content creation. And that’s been something that’s been, it’s definitely up-leveled me in the last year as well.

Adrian Tennant: Almost a year ago, we were discussing Li Jin’s prediction that within a decade, nearly everyone will be part of the creator economy. So, Nick, are you seeing signs that her prediction’s accurate? 

Nick Wolny: Oh, this question was so hard a year ago, and it’s still so hard. I feel like I’m no closer to analyzing it. Okay, here’s what I think. I think the creator economy is gonna shift. and here’s how I see things shaking out. We’ve got a lot more interest in the creator economy. I would assert you have more people interested in being creators, especially with TikTok. You know, TikTok has a disproportionately high number of people who have 1 million or more followers. People don’t realize that. They’re like, “Ooh, I have a million followers on TikTok!” And it’s actually not that special. They’re, gosh, I think it’s from Social Blade. There is data, the information reported on, that there’s already twice as many TikTok accounts with 1 million followers as there are Instagram accounts with 1 million followers. it is markedly more. And you know, Instagram came out in what, 2009? 2010? YouTube as well before that, the early 2000s really, and so for TikTok to already have so many more accounts that are at a million followers, like a million followers on TikTok and a million followers on YouTube are very different levels of influence, right? It’s just there’s been all this fast build, there’s been all these people thinking it’s just easy to become a creator and stuff like that. I promise I’m getting to the point. So as a result, so for many of these platforms, there’s like a creator pool. There’s a pool of money that’ll be doled out for people who are just trying to monetize from the app itself. So the problem there, particularly TikTok, is having this problem quite a lot, right now. you’ve got one pool of money that everyone’s gonna share. So the more people create the less there is to go around, right? And so I think that what we’re seeing is that creators are actually moving from platform to platform and they’re gonna prioritize the platform that’s gonna continue to pay them well to be spending this much time on quality content. That’s why YouTube is considered the gold standard for creators and has been all this time. There is just no ceiling. you’ve got Mr. Beast making 50 million dollars a year, right? Because it, you just, It’s either 45 or 55% cut of the ads. Hey, you drive a hundred million views to your channel. Good job. we’ll just pay you in proportion to how many ads we were able to run from that. So all that is to say, I think that, you know, more and more people are becoming a part of the creator economy. There will come a point where everyone is like, I agree with Li Jin’s prediction: everyone’s gonna be a part of the creator economy in terms of just having this sort of online persona in some way. but I think that along the way where the creators go and sort of our definition of a creator is gonna change, as the money continues to move.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be back after this message. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in consumer research, retail, and branding. Our featured book for January is AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, Connecting Marketing, Sales, and Customer Experience by Katie King. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with the exclusive promo code: BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order direct from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and UK, and it helps the authors too. So to order your copy of AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, go to That’s K O G A N P A G 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with writer, entrepreneur, and expert on LGBTQ+ Capitalism, Nick Wolny. The most recent CES in Las Vegas featured plenty of tech for content creators. How do you foresee the creator economy evolving in 2023? Are there any platforms that you think have the potential to really break through this year?

Nick Wolny: So I think TikTok is way out in front. and the buzz that I’m hearing in several marketing circles, the buzz phrase, I don’t know if you’re hearing it as well, Adrian is TikTok SEO. You have so many young people who are using TikTok as a search engine now that there is actually substantial search engine potential. Also, the way TikTok was set up, many links to TikTok or embeds or things like that, it goes to a web property. And so, TikTok has passed Google as the most popular website in the world in terms of sessions, in terms of views. Many people don’t realize that. Google held that top spot notoriously for years and years and years, mid-2000s, if not earlier. And TikTok has dethroned Google from that top spot. TikTok is the most popular website in the world. so you’ve got users who are on it, quite a long time each day, is something like 80 or 90 minutes a day. And they’re so acclimated to the platform, they’re starting to just look for things from the platform. And so it’s actually, it is very interesting how it’s happening. It’s, there’s so much content on there. It’s so robust that people are actually going to it as a search engine over Google. And so now it’s, particularly as TikTok is still early stage, do you have brands thinking about, okay, what’s the SEO game for TikTok? If someone is looking up, you know, “sushi in Los Angeles,” if you’ve got 50 videos on sushi in Los Angeles, then you’re in an awfully good spot as more and more people flock to that platform. And so that’s, it’s kind of interesting. We’ve got tons of people who now understand what SEO is, and now there’s this opportunity sitting in front of us where we could actually, travel back in time, 10 years, in terms of results, right? So much less competition. So I think the SEO piece is bringing the serious marketers in, it’s something beyond just this influencer thing where people are dancing and pointing. And, marketers are taking a look at it and they’re being like, “oh, there’s actually some real estate to claim on this platform.” So I think TikTok, you know, it’s, it’s the one to beat right now. And then, I think the other one is interesting. Just all this stuff with Twitter and like, where are people gonna go instead? You know, is a lot of people are going elsewhere, but there’s really no good alternatives. There’s Mastadon, there’s Post.News. A lot of these platforms are also having problems with content moderation. Content moderation is, it takes a ton of manpower to do it effectively, at these different brands. So I think it’ll be interesting to see if someone comes along with something that’ll assist with that. I feel like Medium coming back. I think Instagram has messed up a lot in the last year, so I think they should just take this little chat feature that they’re experimenting with and I think they should go and try claim some Twitter market share. You know, it’ll be, because it’ll be interesting to see how that evolves. And then beyond that, in terms of new platforms, I really don’t know. there are no others on my radar. I think, I just don’t think anyone’s gonna pass TikTok, given some strange situation or some sort of legislation around it. I just think they’re gonna be taking off, all year long.

Adrian Tennant: In your newsletter a couple of weekends ago you wrote that your word for 2023 is craft. Nick. Why is that? 

Nick Wolny: I think I’ve realized that when I go the extra mile on that written content, you know, content marketing is so easy to outsource, so easy to give your, to your junior team member or, it’s something for them to do. It gives them process, but particularly as these semi-automated tools start to come out, for different components of your marketing efforts: for design, for writing, for copy, I think people will gravitate towards the content that is just a little higher in quality. It’s a little more direct, like clearly handmade, so to speak. In a good way, not in a bad way. You don’t want your car to be handmade and all that, but, for, but for other things, having to, just be artisanal and stuff like that. And I think also from being at NextAdvisor, I mean, I already wrote a lot and when I arrived Adrian, I was just getting my butt kicked. just in terms of output and, not so much, writing more, but writing very well, very quickly. Um, because it’s something like a news story, like, it’s time is money. And it has to be completely precise, accurate, well reported, things like that. And so I think I just sped up, um, you know, and my writing got a lot better in the last year. And so taking some of those journalistic skills and bringing that back into my marketing consultant efforts, my marketing consultancy promotion, I think it’s been interesting. It’s something I wanna focus on for the year ahead. It’s also interesting to not have hard sales goals. So I’ve basically retrofitted my consultancy into intellectual property and, you know, to not have that be, I think a lot of us have been there, it’s the 26th of the month and you’re 60% to plan, and you’re like, “okay, I gotta make something up,” right? Or, “I gotta make some magic happen.” I don’t have to do that this year. And so, to just really center in on, okay, like what’s my corner of the internet? What do I really want be writing about and how do I wanna write about it? So that’s my focus for this year.

Adrian Tennant: Well, towards the end of our conversation last January, I asked you if you tried any of the artificial intelligence-assisted writing tools that had already started to emerge. Of course you had, and you also reminded us that the Washington Post has been using AI-written content for quite some time. Throughout 2022, creative applications of artificial intelligence gained widespread attention, first with the image generation tool DALL-E, then, in late November, OpenAI made its conversational dialogue tool ChatGPT, available as a beta – or you might say a beta. – less than a week after its launch, the chatbot attracted over 1 million users. Nick, when did you first take it for a spin? And I’m curious, what prompt did you enter?

Nick Wolny: Of course the first prompt I entered was: “Write me an article about how to write better.” It’s like just to completely see okay. What’s happening here? But yeah, I think it’s really exciting. Here’s the analogy that I’m working with, just when I’m talking to people about it, is that: about 10 years ago you had a tool come out called Canva, which a lot of people are really familiar with, right? And so Canva, which has over 50 million users now. democratized graphic design for people, right. It was just one of those tools. It’s kinda like Instagram suddenly made everyone a good enough photographer. It is a similar thing. Canva suddenly made everyone a good enough designer. And, from that though, Canva did not replace good designers. If anything, it increased the appetite for really good design because people got in there and they, they were able to work for a template, but you’re like, “oh, you know what, this, I still suck at this right?” And so I think that’s what’s gonna happen with ChatGPT as well, is that the people who were writing bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, they’re gonna get automated out for sure. But I think also what will happen is people will, they’ll begin relying on this automation and they’ll realize that the writing is just still not that good. Another point I like to make to people about ChatGPT, it can’t crawl the internet. It’s not a search engine. So anything it writes for you, it will not be able to pull in any context, anything like that. So in terms of replacing journalism, replacing editorial, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to that. it might get to that direction soon. But, I think the other thing too is as I, as you just mentioned, Journalism has already been experimenting with AI for quite a while. Most notoriously, I mean, this is so Jeff Bezos, but Jeff Bezos, when he purchased the Washington Post, one of the things he did was, you know, like, let’s create an AI that can take care of all of the really simple local reporting. That’s just kind of, of, mindless. And so they have an AI called Helio Graft. that was proprietary that they built. And Helio Graph will do things like, it will take the scores of the local high school football game and it will just put them into a recap article, that is, think about that sports recap writing. There’s no actual, there was no interview being done with the lineman who made the tackle. None of that’s being done. It’s just a recap of what happened based on the numbers. So all of that gets produced automatically. And so as a result, Washington Post is able to grab you know, it’s interesting. It’s almost, it’s just like Amazon, right? So that’s why I just think it’s, it’s so funny that it’s Jeff Bezos who implemented this, right? It’s just taking the Amazon playbook and basically applying it to the Washington Post. I really think that’s what happened there for a while. The Washington Post jumped over the New York Times in terms of traffic, which is pretty incredible. And it was because of this sort of long-tail strategy. We’re gonna talk about everything. But a lot of these just simple recaps and stuff, is gonna be totally automated out, just produced instantly. So it’s scary, but, um, but I think for many people it’s the first time they’ve interacted with an AI writing tool. And so I think everyone should get on it. Everyone should tinker around with it. I think it has real implications for things that are very black and white, like, uh, seen examples, checking code for errors. Adrian, I was a computer science minor for six weeks and I literally dropped out of the minor because I could not find like the extra comma in one of the lines of code. And this was back, you know how it is. This was back when we like, had to etch it into a stone with a chisel. but you know what I mean? It’s like I could definitely see helpful implications there. I think that’s an incredible use of AI. I think it’s gonna change the conversation about written content, because so many people will just be interacting with an AI who have never interacted with one before, and they’re just gonna get curious and excited about it. So, yeah.

Adrian Tennant: Well, ChatGPT has certainly felt like a watershed moment for AI. Back in 2017, Gallup reported that the surge in artificial intelligence puts as many as 47% of jobs in the US at risk of being replaced within the next 15 years, which begs the question, could AI do away with the need for human writers? Nick, what’s your take? Should writers fear ChatGPT?

Nick Wolny: I think it’s something to definitely watch and to keep an eye on. I’m not not paying attention to it. I’ll say that. I’d love to not pay attention to it cause it’s everywhere right now. But, uh, you know,I’m monitoring what’s happening. I think AI could do away with the need for human writers, but I don’t know that it could do away with the need for human editors right now. And that’s what I think is the distinction there, is that, when I receive an article draft from a journalist, or from a freelance writer, I go through that and I edit it based on obvious things like grammar, syntax, or context, or whatever. But then also based on some of our internal objectives, and that’s what many other people do who own a business, who run a website, are gonna and do something like that. And so I think if you can get good at taking what ChatGBT spits out at you and cleaning it up and then getting online, then I think it’s quite a force to be reckoned with and I’m curious to experiment with that. I’m gonna experiment with that personally. If I had ChatGBT write the draft and then I brought my editor’s eye to it, is it quicker and also the ethics of that – you know what I mean? It’s if ChatGPT wrote it, but I edited 90% of it, who wrote this article? It’s interesting to sort of think about from that perspective as well. I just also think going back to this multimedia journalism conversation we were having earlier, I think that people are starting to look for other more dynamic ways of getting the information that they want to get and be interested in. So yeah, if someone is just writing, they never do any editing, they never think about what they’re writing, then I think AI is gonna automate out those jobs or stuff that’s very dry and doesn’t need context, like policies and procedures that just have to be very highly accurate. Like I could see AI automating a lot of that out, maybe like instruction manuals and stuff like that. But it’ll, I think it’ll be a while before the intelligence gets to a level that it can automate out an editor who’s gonna be the person giving context, or connecting it to sales objectives or, you know, or whatever you’re trying to do with that content that you’re taking the time to produce and publish.

Adrian Tennant: Helping people become better editors and writers is your goal with Camp Wordsmith. For listeners who aren’t familiar, could you explain what Camp Wordsmith is and what motivates people to enroll in your courses?

Nick Wolny: Yeah. Camp Wordsmith is a free web writing education portal. It’s at You can go and sign up. There’s a free tier, and then there are opportunities to go a little deeper. I’ve got various writing courses focused on four different areas: content creation, sales copy, email newsletters, and pitching media. And then there’s also like a VIP Pass, it’s called the All Access Pass, which is sort of, if you’re the person who gets the fastpass at Disney World and things like that, then you would love that pass. Because it’s just access to everything on-demand. I noticed in my one-to-one consulting, that really that process of getting better at that developmental editing, and of writing, and even important skills like sales copywriting and sales messaging is that there are the concepts and then there’s the actual implementation of the concepts. And even just people who specialize in organizational psychology or learning and development and stuff like that. I think we’ve all put too much pressure on ourselves to go through the online course once and then never look at it again and just expect to suddenly be masterful at that. And so in Camp Wordsmith, I’ve taken like my editing and writing in journalism IP and package that up and so people can consume that on demand, they can do it however they like. and then throughout the year we also do various, like, group programs and stuff like that. You want that added piece where you can get actual feedback, bring those ChatGPT drafts for all I care, right. We’re gonna, we rip out the red pen, whether you wrote it or whether someone else wrote it. and I just think that one-two punch is best for people. My avatar is someone who probably doesn’t have a marketing copywriter on staff yet. About 80% of my clients are service providers, so it’s usually five employees or less, or sometimes just them. And so I think, I just think for me personally in my career, having the knowledge, how, you know, knowing that stuff myself has just, when I’m gonna whip up an offer, I need to do something sudden and agile in my business, knowing how to write it or how to message it properly. It just helps me move quickly and I think that everyone should have this skill set. 

Adrian Tennant: Nick, it’s always great talking with you. If listeners would like to learn more about you, your writing, or Camp Wordsmith, where can they find you?

Nick Wolny: I have a website. It’s I have a newsletter, that’s how Adrian found me. That’s how most people find me. I send polite newsletters twice a week. So get on that newsletter. It’s the best way to keep in touch with me. And then if you wanna poke around on Camp Wordsmith, there’s a free tier that’s fairly new: You can also just get to it from my website. We’d love to have you, we’ve got great tools on just improving your writing, writing for accessibility, and some little mini workshops in there. And then if you decide you wanna make an investment later on that, you know, there’s no pressure, there’s always an option to do that later. So come on over, it’s a lot of fun.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, thank you for being our guest again this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Nick Wolny: It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Nick Wolny, senior editor of the Financial Independence Vertical at NextAdvisor, and the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. You’ll find the transcript for this episode with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at just select podcast from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following IN CLEAR FOCUS wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.