Conversations about “The Social Dilemma”

Audience analysis agency Bigeye reflects on global conversations sparked by the responses to Netflix’s controversial docu-drama, The Social Dilemma.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Audience analysis agency Bigeye discusses Netflix’s controversial docu-drama, The Social Dilemma. Alexander Bryson, Content and Product Marketing Executive with Pulsar, a social listening platform, discusses global responses to the show. Guest Dwight Bain of LifeWorks Group explains what we can do to avoid becoming addicted to social media, and why The Social Dilemma presents an opportunity to have important conversations that restore fractured family relationships.

In Clear Focus: Conversations about “The Social Dilemma”

In Clear Focus this week: Audience analysis agency Bigeye discusses Netflix’s controversial docu-drama, The Social Dilemma. Alexander Bryson, Content and Product Marketing Executive with Pulsar, a social listening platform, discusses global responses to the show.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Spoiler alert! Today, we’re going to be discussing global reactions to the Netflix docu-drama, The Social Dilemma. If you haven’t yet watched it, you might want to do so before listening to this. Okay. Netflix describes The Social Dilemma as an exploration of quote – “the dangerous human impact of social networking with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations” – end quote. The show posits that technology originally designed to facilitate and foster human connection has, in fact, become a powerful form of manipulation and control reducing personal agency, which threatens to erode democracies around the world. The Social Dilemma features 21 contributors, including Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist turned co-founder and president of The Center for Humane Technology; Tim Kendall, former director of monetization at Facebook and former president of Pinterest; Shoshana Zuboff, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School and the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”; and Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor and author of “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” First shown as a selection at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year, The Social Dilemma made its debut on Netflix on September 9th. Just this past week, Pew Research Center published the results of research it undertook among Americans in July, which found that about two-thirds – 64 percent – believe social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today. Americans are, it seems, increasingly concerned about misinformation appearing on the most popular platforms and social media’s role in stirring up partisanship and increasing polarization. It’s worth noting too, that people’s views on the positive and negative effects of social media vary widely by political affiliation and ideology – a sign, perhaps, of the very polarization that Americans attribute to these platforms. To talk about some of the issues raised by The Social Dilemma and how the docudrama has been received by viewers around the world, I’m joined today by two guests. First, Alexander Bryson joins us from London in the UK. Alex is a Content and Product Marketing Executive with Pulsar. Alex, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Alexander Bryson: Hi Adrian, and thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: First of all, could you tell us what Pulsar is?

Alexander Bryson: Pulsar is an Audience Intelligence company – we help organizations like NBC, Levis, Heineken, IMF and the UN to understand their audiences and create messages that will resonate with them. Our software is used by research, marketing, and comms teams at brands and agencies to take the pulse of topics of conversation, and the audiences behind them, as well as cultural and consumer trends. That breaks down into three solutions: so we offer TRENDS – Google trends for social media; CORE – which is the fitbit for your brand; and, finally, TRAC – which is an audience intelligence tool which blends social listening and audience segmentation. And that’s what we used here.

Adrian Tennant: Alex, what does your role at Pulsar entail?

Alexander Bryson: I’m part of the marketing team at Pulsar, and our approach to content marketing is very story-focused. We blend techniques from research and journalism to tell stories about the digital spaces we inhabit, and people’s collective behaviors in them.

In any given month, I’ll be writing and researching topics that range from how the conversation about “the future of work” has changed, to how gaming audiences are evolving, to taking the pulse of consumer preferences around alternative milks. So I’ve spent the past week knee-deep in oat lattes, so to speak. These days, big topics of conversation very often start on Netflix, and that’s how we came to do this study on The Social Dilemma. 

Adrian Tennant: So for listeners, a reminder that in late July of this year, chief executives of the four largest tech companies – so that’s Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook – faced over 200 questions from US lawmakers, during a five-hour hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Alex, using data from Pulsar’s platform you wrote an article describing how The Social Dilemma impacted the conversation about big tech. Can you tell us what you found noteworthy about the way the conversations flowed – and which communities were the most engaged?

Alexander Bryson: Sure. What we noticed and what made us curious about looking into this was how many shades of opinion it attracted. Previously, we researched Cancel Netflix, where the conversation there was much more bilaterally split between saying ‘this is morally wrong’ or ‘this is artistic expression’. Here, all the different elements meant more scope for opinion. So someone can hold one internet giant more responsible than others, for instance, or else criticise the film’s artistic credentials while still agreeing with its overall message. Perhaps what separates The Social Dilemma from other, similar works, was the fact that this was a conversation that’s quite fixed on tech-heavy concepts, but it was largely conducted by an audience who did not identify as being technophiles, academics, or digital professionals. 

Adrian Tennant: How does Pulsar enable researchers to identify different groups of people or segments from within social data?

Alexander Bryson: So what’s really cool about Pulsar is you can set the conversation you want to listen to, and then incredibly seamlessly – in a matter of minutes, really – auto-segment the audience that’s participating in that conversation. This displays a granular, real-time view of what different communities are saying, and how that changes over time. So, for instance, a segment we labelled ‘American Film and TV Fans’ were onto the topic a week before the world at large started hammering ‘The Social Dilemma’ into Google search and we can track that on the platform. Their interest cooled off, but now they’re engaging with a lot of content that says ‘Ok, you’ve seen the Social Dilemma, here’s what should be on your reading list’. So we can really dial in to these different segments and see where they’re entering the conversation and what they’re talking about. We always say “different people talk about the same topic differently” – which is the guiding principle behind how we structure both our tools and research. 

Adrian Tennant: So a few of the comments that I saw: “So the scariest part of The Social Dilemma is that it’s not an episode of Black Mirror. It’s a current reality.” @T-bone design tweeted, “Anyone else checked out The Social Dilemma on Netflix? More importantly, is anyone else as disturbed as I am?” But there were some more thoughtful comments. Frances Kong: “Netflix has a drama documentary, The Social Dilemma. Good to understand the effects of technology and how it influences the way we think and manipulate the way we behave.” So, since the House Judiciary Committee hearings in July, the US attorney general has announced that the Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against at least one of the big four: Google. Alex, your analysis of the comments around The Social Dilemma also reveals which of the tech giants attracted the most focus. The audience doesn’t perceive Google to be the worst offender, right?

Alexander Bryson: No, not at all. In fact it seems like Google pretty much escaped, and largely protected its reputation, certainly when compared to Twitter or Facebook. This runs counter to the kind of take you’ll read from people like Shoshana Zuboff, you mentioned earlier, who was a talking head in the film. But – as our data gets updated in real time, and is in fact continuing to run – I can tell you that the US’s apparent intention to open an antitrust case against Google, along with talk around Twitter and Facebook subsiding a little, means that it’s now seeing comparable volumes for all three. 

Adrian Tennant: UK voters’ decision to leave the European Economic Union – better known as “Brexit” – also brought with it more attention on social media and how it can be used to influence an electorate. Cambridge Analytica’s role, described by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and later by Brittany Kaiser – who was a contributor to the 2019 Netflix documentary, The Great Hack which is about Cambridge Analytica’s use of social media – revealed the many ways in which the company used commonplace data science techniques to predict voters’ political views and target them with ads on Facebook. In your analysis, how did audiences in different countries around the world respond to The Social Dilemma?

Alexander Bryson: Yeah, so that was something else that really stood out, actually. In the not so distant past, if you’d mapped the early-adopters of a film made by Americans, about American companies, and released via an American distribution company, you might have expected the conversation to gradually issue out from the US. But when you’re talking about a topic as universal as social media, distributed by a body as global as Netflix, it’s probably unsurprising to see such segments emerge as socially engaged South Africans and Indonesian music fans. On our platform, we can actually detect 70 languages, which allows us to view conversations as they’re playing out across the world. In this study, perhaps the most significant of these, within early-stage conversation, was that which took place in India. And the reason I say that is not only down to the size of that conversation, that was comparatively quite large, but also because the individuals having it shared a lot of common online affinities with their US counterparts. So that means that they followed a lot of the same pages. They shared a lot of the same tweets. Which meant the information could flow quite freely between the two.

Adrian Tennant: What were audiences’ responses to the acted scenes – so the drama part of the docu-drama – between the on-camera interviews? Did they help or hinder the narrative?

Alexander Bryson: So looking at the overall conversation and isolating any terms relating to the fictional subplot, and there are two things we see here. Number one, almost any direct reference is strongly negative. People describe it as corny, manipulative, or a wasted opportunity. Or if they did enjoy it, what they enjoyed was the utter strangeness of Pete from Mad Men playing the human embodiment of AI. But then, the second point is that this actually makes up a very small percentage of total conversation. If the two things that distinguished The Social Dilemma were its docu-drama elements but also its access to leading voices.

Adrian Tennant: In your analysis, who did you identify was most likely to be skeptical of the issues?

Alexander Bryson: We found the greatest degree of skepticism within the communities who are more tech-literate, many of whom won’t be coming across this information for the first time. So amongst the group, who we’ve labeled as ‘Digital Marketers’, but in particular the group we’ve dubbed ‘Tech Followers.’ This latter community tends to engage with and amplify the voices of skeptics like the author Michael Shermer. But the single most damning thing verdict this group presented was its apathy. 

Adrian Tennant: Michael Shermer tweeted, “I watched Netflix doc, The Social Dilemma. So many self-important people pronouncing such nonsense about their power to rule the world through social media, with our algorithms that control us helpless automata. Yet another existential threat to humanity. Be skeptical!” he tweets.

Alexander Bryson: So after about a week, the interest of this group just drops off a cliff, suggesting they don’t view it as the kind of red pill cultural event, the wider audience did. They saw it, they thought, “Okay, interesting points.” Or maybe they thought “Hmm, a bit of exaggeration,” and then they just stopped talking about it really.

Adrian Tennant: Alex, I’m guessing that you grew up with smartphones and that social media was well established when you were in school and college. Do the issues reflected in The Social Dilemma resonate with you, personally?

Alexander Bryson: I’m of an age where, when I went to high school it was all flip phones and very basic social media, and by the time I graduated university, people were very engaged with Snapchat, Instagram and all these social media accounts linked to the mechanics and possibilities of smartphones. So I feel like I’ve been fortunate enough really to socialize both with and without. And doing that, it becomes clear what a great means of connection social media can be, so long as we’re careful it doesn’t become a crutch for other issues.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your analysis and the audience intelligence platform Pulsar, where can they find you? 

Alexander Bryson: Sure! So our website is pulsarplatform.com, where you can check out more of our research. You can explore some of our tools. And you can also sign up for our weekly newsletter. And you can also find us across LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. And for each of those, it’s Pulsar Platform. 

Adrian Tennant: Alex, thank you so much indeed for joining us today to discuss The Social Dilemma.


Alexander Bryson: No, thank you. Thanks again for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. To continue our discussion about The Social Dilemma, we’ll be joined by Dwight Bain of Life Works Group, right after this message.

Karen Hidalgo: I’m Karen Hidalgo, Associate Account Manager at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising account professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our clients’ prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with your audience. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re discussing the Netflix docudrama, The Social Dilemma. Our next guest is no stranger to this podcast. Having first joined us right at the very start of the coronavirus pandemic, Dwight Bain is founder of the LifeWorks Group based in Winter Park, Florida. Dwight has guided thousands of people through challenging times as an author, nationally certified counselor and licensed mental health counselor in clinical practice since 1984. A trusted media source, Dwight has been quoted by and featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, Orlando Sentinel, and radio and television stations across the major networks. Welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Dwight!

Dwight Bain: I’m glad to be here and I’m especially glad, Adrian, on this topic, because I think people don’t realize the dangers that are happening right around them, that we can talk about today and open up some conversations. That’s our goal.

Adrian Tennant: Now The Social Dilemma features a scene in which the family gathers at the table for meal time. The mom springs a surprise on everyone by requiring them to put their smartphones in a cookie jar that has a lockable lid. She’s on a mission to create some family interaction, but we see the tension on everyone’s faces as their devices ping away in the jar. But the first to crack quite literally in this case is the tween-aged Generation Z daughter. So let’s start there. Do you think that the combination of pocket-sized computers, aka smartphones, and the accessibility of social media that they enable have changed the ways that families interact with one another, either at mealtimes or in other situations?

Dwight Bain: It absolutely has because what’s happened is that before families would sit together, there were not these distractions. And now every person at the table has a small device that can pull their attention away. There’s an old saying that “multitasking is distracting.” And so all of these different things are capturing our attention. One of the things that we know is that right now, there is a battle for attention. Who can capture the attention? And if I give my attention to a screen, now I don’t have that same attention to give to my family.

Adrian Tennant: Now, social media is not the first to challenge family mealtimes. In the 1950s, Swanson’s frozen meals became known as TV dinners because they enabled consumers to eat while watching the tube or “the goggle box,” as my great aunt called it. But at least the family was watching the same media in a shared experience rather than in their own individual bubbles. Is that part of the problem do you think – these personal echo chambers that limit a plurality of opinions or experiences?

Dwight Bain: I think it really is a good point, Adrian, because a shared experience like watching a film together, you’re still a family. There’s still connection, but when a family is going in multiple directions, they’re not just tied into one story, they’re tied into multiple storylines. It seems odd that something called social media creates so much loneliness. It creates so much isolation. It creates so much distance from other people. And so instead of a family being together watching a film, everybody’s alone and it’s that loneliness and the isolation that leads to catastrophic problems inside of a relationship. For some, they feel like my parents don’t understand me, my partner is not listening, but in reality it’s because everybody feels so isolated and so alone. And lonely people do not make good decisions.

Adrian Tennant: The Social Dilemma also highlights an increase in depression and anxiety among American teenagers. We learn from the show that the number of girls who were admitted to hospitals because they cut themselves or harm themselves in other ways, was stable until around 2011 or 2012. Then it started to go up. The show says for older girls, the hospitalizations are up 62 percent compared to just a decade ago and up 189 percent for the pre-teen girls. Dwight, it does seem that the most affected individuals belong to Gen Z – the first generation in history that got on social media in middle school. In what other ways, do you see the influence of social media on young people’s lives?

Dwight Bain: Remember one of the things we know for these pre-teens and the 10, 11, 12, even 13 year-olds, the brain hasn’t fully developed. And we know that social media digs deep into the brainstem by design. And what happens is now that girl’s sense of identity, her sense of worth is affected by these images. As you pointed out, psychiatric admissions have gone up dramatically since the advent of Snapchat, of Instagram in 2010, 2011.,But completed suicide rates have gone up 70 percent for teenage girls, 15 to 19. And for preteens completed suicides have gone up 151 percent. And we think what is happening when a person is measuring themselves against perfection, it sets them up to fail. And for a percentage of teen girls, it sets them up to feel like life is not worth living. Particularly if somebody bullies them, harasses them on social media. And we’ve seen that “well, you’ll never be as beautiful as Taylor Swift. You’ll never look like, and you may as well kill yourself.” And sometimes impulsive teenagers because that brain’s not fully developed, they will completely give up on life. It’s important for your listeners to know Adrian, that social media is a drug. Social media can become addictive because of how the brain processes this data and processes this information. And while watching The Social Dilemma, it was troubling for me to see that the people who designed it openly talked about, we wanted to psychologically figure out how to manipulate that person’s attention to be only on our screen, only at all times, to only be on Facebook or only be on Twitter, only be on Pinterest. Because it was designed that way. Now that was troubling to me. But the thing I appreciate The Social Dilemma opened up conversations for families or for people like you and me to say, “wait a minute, what is going on and how is it affecting me? How is it affecting my family?” I’ll tell you Adrian, since I’ve watched The Social Dilemma with my wife, Sheila, we both have put our phones face down, we both have made sure that half an hour before bedtime, it’s face down. And instead of using the phone as an alarm clock in the morning, we did something old-fashioned. We went to Target and we got a wind-up little clock and we said, “it’ll ring, and we’re not going to be distracted to go to our phone in the middle of the night because something pings or dings or blinks to capture and pull attention back out.” That’s the addictive piece. That’s that dopamine hit, as you start to understand brain functioning, dopamine is the same part of the brain is like with a cocaine addiction. It’s very exciting. And when that programmer who’s at social media saying “we’re keeping them moving their finger. So they’re being programmed at the very deepest level.” And what we’re seeing is that particularly for brains that are not fully developed, that would be somebody under the age of 20, 25, their brain’s not developed. So they’re going to be hurt the most. They’re going to have the tendency toward addiction at the highest level.

Adrian Tennant: One of the featured experts in The Social Dilemma is Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist who is chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, and a specialist in the opioid epidemic. Her view, expressed in the show, is that as human beings, we all have a basic biological imperative to connect with other people. She says that we’re wired to connect, to come together and live in communities, find mates and propagate the species. So in her view, social media, because it optimizes the connections between people has this potential for addiction. Do you agree with Anna Lembke’s assertion about social media’s potential for really destructive addiction?

Dwight Bain: Yes. I absolutely agree with her conclusions because when we start to look at what does a, what are basic human needs? Well, we need connection. We’re not designed to be isolated. We’re not designed to be alone. And when you start to look at the processing of the brain, it’s important to remember that when you start to look at the processing of the brain, it’s important to remember that we want to, and we long to belong. We want to be part of something. Sometimes people after a relationship change, they feel very hurt and isolated so they’ll go toward a virtual screen, looking for a way to connect. And while that may feel on a surface level, like “I’ve got 217 friends on Facebook,” in reality, what may be happening is I’ve got 217 places where I feel isolated. Real relationship, instead of virtual; real connection, instead of virtual – that’s what we want to build because we want to be able to reclaim that part of our life back. And we don’t want to give it up to the virtual piece. We want to be able to plug in and that’s what’s going to make our brains healthier. So it’s gonna make our lives healthier, and our relationships healthier. Real conversations over a cup of coffee, sitting down with someone and saying, “Hey, let’s talk about what’s going on.” Sharing a meal. Those connection points create mental wellness isolation for some people leads to mental illness.

Adrian Tennant: That being the case, what can we do as consumers to avoid addiction to social media in our own lives?

Dwight Bain: That’s a great question. One of the quotes from The Social Dilemma, a programmer said, “If you’re not paying for a product, remember you are the product.” And so what can we do is number one, be aware. There’s a concept that I teach called, “Face It, Feel It, Grieve It, Grow.” And the “Face It” part is to be aware this is happening. Certain social media sites are designed to be habit-forming. They’re not doing it because they’re evil or terrible or trying to take over the world. They’re trying to capture 100 percent of your attention, 100 percent of the time. You and I have a responsibility to step back and say, let me face this. This is now something that’s real. And this is not something that, you know, just one or two people are saying. Researchers at Harvard, at Yale, at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta at John Hopkin University, Stanford are saying, “this is happening.” This is how to respond: just as we saw in the 1950s and 60s, there was an awareness about the dangers of tobacco, because it was common in society. And then there was research and conversations and people started understanding this is going to lead to lung cancer. And what happened is a complete reversal. It took 50, 60 years, but society went from smoking as a norm to smoking tobacco as being viewed as an unhealthy high risk behavior. Right now, we’re still in the part where everyone is using – even small children who have access to iPads or tablets – everyone is connected to a screen. And what we want folks to understand is not only this can be addictive, but “how much of my time am I giving up? How much of my life am I giving away? How much of my life can I reclaim in talking with individuals to say, let’s look at some behavior management on every smartphone is a device that tells you how much screen time you were using. And to be able to see what would happen if you could get back six hours a week? What could we do if we could take those six hours a week and look at getting back one month of time, what would you do with one month of usable time every month, reclaiming life and not losing it to a distraction? That’s what we want to draw attention to, to face it and to feel maybe some regret look how much time I’ve lost, but my kids are growing up, but to manage those emotions and to grow, and we grow by having conversations like this, and then moving from the talking level to the doing level, what can we do about it? Just as we saw on The Social Dilemma, what did the mom do? How can we open up the conversation to lead toward positive and healthy and healing behaviors?

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Well, as you know, Facebook was sufficiently rattled by the content of The Social Dilemma that they fely it necessary to issue a rebuttal. 

Dwight Bain: When I saw the Facebook rebuttal and I was paying attention to it because for Facebook to be able to say, “no, no, no, no, no, that’s not us. We’re talking about somebody else.” I thought isn’t that really interesting? Now understand I’m not against Facebook, I’m on Facebook. Understanding when one group says this is happening and another group says, no, it’s not. Think of children’s cereal on the aisle that has a lot of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. It’s interesting that mom groups will say all of that sugar and all that high fructose corn syrup are not healthy. And then you’ll see commercials that will say, “Oh, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are healthy.” Now I’m not going to sign up on one side of the debate or the other. I’m not a farmer, but I am going to do this. I’m going to look at the research. I’m going to make conclusions for my family and we’re going to move forward and in a different direction. But for Facebook to issue a rebuttal, it not only touched a nerve, my hope is it will add to conversations just like this one, where we’re able to come together and for them to say, “it’s not dangerous.”And for this other group to say at Netflix to say “it is dangerous”, we need to come to some conclusions. I think that best happens with moms and dads, sit down with their kids just as we saw in the documentary to be able to sit down and say, “what’s happening to our family. Does this media make our life better? Does this media make our life worse?” When we’re able to sit down and have those conversations, I think we can see some real lasting change and the hope of a real restoration in family relationships.

Adrian Tennant: Great insights. Thank you as always, Dwight Bain, for joining us today. Appreciate it.

Dwight Bain: Glad to spend the time.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to both our guests this week, Dwight Bain, founder of Life Works Group, and Alexander Bryson, Content and Product Marketing Executive at Pulsar Platform, based in London. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player, and remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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2020 National Study of CBD Use

CBD marketing agency Bigeye reveals results from its 2020 National Study of CBD Use with insights from special guest and beauty brand expert Alexandra McClay.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: CBD marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast reveals results from its 2020 National Study of CBD Use. Beauty brand expert Alexandra McClay joins us to discuss key findings from the study. Alex shares her personal experiences of building a new beauty line and reflects on consumers’ concerns about the quality control of Cannabidiol-based products. We also discuss what Martha Stewart’s endorsement of CBD could mean for the long-term adoption and growth of this dynamic category.

In Clear Focus: 2020 National Study of CBD Use

In Clear Focus this week: CBD marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast reveals results from its 2020 National Study of CBD Use. Beauty brand expert Alexandra McClay joins us to discuss key findings from the study. Alex shares her personal experiences of building a new beauty line and reflects on consumers’ concerns about the quality control of Cannabidiol-based products.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today, we’re going to be talking about the national study of cannabidiol use that Bigeye published this week. Consumer’s receptivity to CBD use has been growing rapidly since the 2018 farm bill legalized industrial hemp production. Since March we’ve also been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CBD industry has reported a rise in the number of people using the product – up from 15% of US adults at the beginning of the year, to an estimated 18% last month. Yet in spite of this booming market, there’s been a lack of published sales data or detailed information about CBD users’ attitudes and purchasing behaviors. Until recently CBD sales were not captured by the largest scanner data agencies, such as Nielsen or IRI in the way that consumer packaged goods are. CBD product sales also occur in many unmeasured channels, such as cannabis dispensaries, vape shops, and online via e-commerce where there often isn’t syndicated data or reporting. So earlier this year at Bigeye we decided to undertake our own primary research to really understand CBD use and to help our clients identify opportunities that tap into this dynamic market. We collected data from around 800 respondents aged 18 years and older. To qualify, they had to be resident in one of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico, and have purchased a product containing CBD within the past six months. They completed a 32-question online survey. The sample reflected US population demographic characteristics divided evenly between age groups. The first thing we asked respondents was how long they’ve been using products containing CBD. We learned that this is a pretty new behavior for most respondents. Almost three quarters – 74% – of respondents have been using CBD products for two years or less. We asked users how they first learned about CBD. In the top spot, 40% of respondents reported learning about CBD from friends and family recommendations. Referrals from healthcare professionals and social media tied for second place with 11% each. So what are consumers actually using CBD for? Turns out it’s a lot of things. To support our analysis, we aggregated the results from the 37 potential indications selected and grouped them into six categories. First of all, well over one-third of all respondents – 38% – are using CBD products for mental health or to treat neurological disorders. This is especially true of respondents aged under 35. Female and male respondents are equally likely to use CBD to treat anxiety, stress, and depression. Respondents aged 18 to 34 represent almost half of all users in this category. And among respondents using CBD for mental health and neurological disorders, 35% have been using CBD products for less than one year. One third of all respondents seek out CBD for its pain-relieving properties. Respondents identifying as female are more likely to use CBD for pain relief. Respondents aged 55 and older represent over one-half of all users in this category. The third most popular use of CBD is for sleep and relaxation with 36% of respondents identifying this indication. This is an important use of CBD products for respondents age 35 to 44 and those age 65 and older. Half of the respondents selecting indications in this category have been using CBD for less than one year. Respondents identifying as male are most likely to use CBD to aid sleep and relaxation. This could be as a result of trying traditional over-the-counter products and not being satisfied with the results or just wanting to avoid prescription sleep medications, which have well-documented side effects. Eighteen percent of respondents are using CBD to treat medical conditions. Of the respondents that selected indications in this category, 63% identify as male. Over one-quarter of respondents using CBD to treat medical conditions at aged 45 to 54; over one fifth are aged 55 to 64. The penultimate category of CBD use that we analyzed for the study is the catch-all “other” selected by 11% of respondents. This includes use of CBD for a pet, sexual health, recreational, and spiritual use, to aid sports performance or post-exercise recovery. Respondents identifying as male are significantly more likely to use CBD to treat other conditions. Eight percent of respondents selected the indication “for a pet.” As is the case with their owners, the primary indications for CBD use on pets are anxiety and stress plus joint and muscle pain. Selected by 8% of respondents, the final category of CBD use is beauty and to treat skin conditions. This category reflects both the use of CBD as part of a general skin care regimen, as well as the treatment of specific conditions that can affect both men and women. Almost one-third of the respondents using CBD for indications in this category are age 45 to 54. One quarter are aged 35 to 44. Overall, reflecting the inclusion of skin conditions as well as general beauty skincare products in this category, respondents identifying as male are as likely as females to select these indications. However, focusing on beauty and skin care use, 59% identify as female 39% as male. To help us unpack these findings, it’s my pleasure to welcome a special guest to the podcast. Alexandra McClay is an experienced consultant and business development professional working across large global brands as well as early stage startups within the beauty and wellness industries. Previously in leadership roles with Johnson and Johnson, Elizabeth Arden, and Burt’s Bees, today Alex is spearheading all commercialization activity for a new consumer brand in the CBD and supplement space. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Alex!

Alexandra McClay: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So what first sparked your interest in CBD as an ingredient for beauty and wellness products?

Alexandra McClay: My first interest was sparked quite frankly, on a personal level. Once I found out that my mid-70 year-old father was using CBD on a daily basis, it piqued my interest. And so I quickly started to kind of study up on the benefits of CBD and started to become sort of a connoisseur of taking CBD myself. And from there, you know, really just looked at all the multi benefits of this new active ingredient and what it could do for the industry that I’ve been in my whole career – in beauty and wellness. And so from there, as I continued my journey and educating myself in this space, I was bridged to large cannabis companies that were looking to develop branded products within the beauty and wellness space. And from there, everything just sort of started to explode.

Adrian Tennant: Well, CBD use has exploded since December 2018, when, as I mentioned in the intro, the federal government legalized regulated production of hemp with the Farm Bill. This year, sales are estimated to be around $5 billion. What’s contributing to this continuing growth?

Alexandra McClay: I think it’s a few different things. I think you’ve got large conglomerates that are getting into the space and that are partnering with big beverage or food companies. You’ve got smaller players that are coming to this space, sort of like indie brands, like Lord Jones that is catching the attention and the eye of celebrities. They’re starting to use the, you know, the foot cream for when they wear stilettos on the red carpet. And I think all of this together, you’ve got consumers that are already what we’ve called “Canna-curious.” And so all of this groundswell is kind of making CBD become a little bit more mainstream and you see the celebrity endorsements that are starting to help make it a little more mainstream. 

Adrian Tennant: Now for listeners who are not familiar, can you describe the different types of products that CBD is most commonly available in?

Alexandra McClay: Sure. So typically you’re going to see CBD in what we call topicals. So anything you’re putting topically onto the body or your skin, or even potentially hair, and that would be in the form of gels or creams, lotions, even washes, there’s bath bombs. We started seeing things like scrubs. And then the ingestibles, which is anything you’re going to take orally – and that could be in a pill format, it could be a powder you mix in a drink. One of the most popular formats is in a tincture, which would either be an oil-based or water soluble, which you take underneath the tongue. And then you have other products like gummies, chocolate, other formats that you can ingest as well.

Adrian Tennant: The rising popularity of CBD products has also brought greater scrutiny from the US Food and Drug Administration, which last November issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD. But given the significant level of interest among consumers, where does the FDA stand on this now?

Alexandra McClay: Great question. So first I want to clarify that the companies that were selling the CBD who had warning letters, were not necessarily selling it illegally. What they were doing was making claims that were illegal. So, hemp-derived CBD is legal, but you cannot claim things that are egregious like cures cancer or any of the multitude of other things that some of the companies are misleading consumers on. And so then you’re going to get into an issue with the FDA or even the FTC. My understanding right now, if you talk to the experts in the industry, is that the FDA has not yet ruled. They want to see more research, but the trend in the area in which the direction they seem to be going is treating CBD as a dietary supplement. As you would a melatonin, a vitamin C, other dietary that you would take as a dietary supplement. And any of the legal experts – and I have been working with the legal counsel as I’ve been developing this brand – their coaching is to follow all the guidelines, the labeling requirements, the product claims the ingredient listings as a dietary supplement, and then you’ll be considered to be the most compliant as it relates to any regularity.

Adrian Tennant: It’s a fast growing market full of opportunities, and you’re currently developing a new consumer brand, including some products that contain CBD. So Alex, how do you navigate this landscape with the continuing uncertainty around its regulation?

Alexandra McClay: That’s a great question. And I think what we’ve done is we’ve consulted with different bodies, whether it’s legal in the label, review, regulatory, and really are trying to understand what I’ll call the big gray area and understanding where we fall within that gray area. With our brand, we’re trying to be as conservative as possible, and we’re not making egregious claims where not warranted. But if there’s another active ingredient that is an FDA monograph ingredient, for example, mentor or camphor, we are labeling it as such as an OTC product and following the FDA guidelines. The CBD that’s within it is just sort of another active ingredient. So hopefully that’s clear, we’re trying to follow what we anticipate to be the guidelines by the FDA and not do anything that would put us on the radar as stating anything that might be egregious or above bounds of what we’re currently seeing in any FDA OTC monograph product.

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

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re discussing the results from Bigeye’s 2020 National Study of CBD Use. I’m joined Alexandra McClay, beauty and wellness expert. You’re focused on the beauty and wellness space. Are there any special considerations for how products containing CBD designed for application to the skin need to be formulated?

Alexandra McClay: Absolutely. And what we’re doing that we think is a little unique and proprietary is that we actually have some technology and some patented delivery systems that are enabling us to formulate in a new and more novel way, with the CBD. Mainly a lot of CBD you’re going to see is going to be an oil-based. And it’s problematic if you want to have a water based formula, for any type of skincare products or even vaginal lubricants, it’s more natural to be a water-based. And so we have a water soluble, a sort of nanotechnology. We also have a delivery system that helps penetrate deeper into the skin that is more efficacious, in terms of the delivery method. And so you’re going to get faster, better relief, but it’s a little more challenging to formulate with because it is a powder and it’s an encapsulated powder. And it can at times, kind of tweak the formula in terms of the scent or the aesthetics. And so we do have to play around quite carefully with the different aesthetics. It also helps to have a very high quality CBD, but at times a higher quality CBD might have more of that hemp aroma. It takes a long time and a lot of careful consideration, to really design something that you’re putting on the skin because you want it to not only feel great, smell great, but work really well.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any considerations too, for shelf life with CBD, compared to other types of ingredients?

Alexandra McClay: Yes, absolutely. Anything that you’re going to do really in terms of skincare and cosmetics, you’re really looking at a one- to two-year shelf life regardless. CBD you’re you should be doing – if you’re doing the formulation work properly – it should be third-party tested and should be viable for one year. And you should be able to provide those third-party lab tests directly to the consumers to provide transparency and traceability. But in general, we’re looking at a 12- to 24-month shelf stability.

Adrian Tennant: How do you determine what is an appropriate amount of CBD to be included in a product?

Alexandra McClay: Great question. It really depends at the end of the day, what you’re trying to solve for – what is that need state? So for something that I might put into a facial oil, that’s really about greatest aesthetics, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, I probably would put in a little bit less milligrams in terms of that strength, especially since it’s going to be used daily. Then if I know that I have a topical pain relief product that is going to address acute joint pain, then I’m going to want to put a very strong amount of CBD into that type of product versus a facial cream or oil.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any issues that you found around combining CBD with other ingredients?

Alexandra McClay: You know what? I have not. The biggest difference that I’ve found in doing anything in terms of formulations topically is the challenges with oil-based versus a water soluble. The oil can be challenging in that it does tend to separate, and it definitely needs to work in concert with other ingredients, but it does formulate very nicely with other botanical natural oils. And so what you get is this wonderful sort of recipe and cocktail of other ingredients that also have key known properties similar to CBD. So if the goal is anti-inflammatory, I may be using other ingredients that also have strong anti-inflammatory products. So it’s not just CBD standing on its own, but working in concert.

Adrian Tennant: Just last month, lifestyle guru Martha Stewart launched her own CBD wellness line in partnership with a Canadian company, Canopy Growth Corporation. Sold online through Canopy’s site, the line includes flavored oils, soft gels, and gummies – apparently inspired by French baked goods including blood-orange cheesecake, berries, and cream tartlets – sound delicious! Alex is Martha Stewart’s involvement designed to appeal to an affluent female demographic do you think, or is it more about connecting with Boomers?

Alexandra McClay: That’s a great question. I think specific to Martha Stewart, her brand I think really does span across multiple generations through some of the partnerships and work that she’s done with Snoop Dog. I think there’s a Boomer appeal. There’s certainly a Gen X appeal, which is my generation, who grew up listening to Snoop Dog. So I really think that in general, when these large companies are looking to utilize, whether it’s Martha Stewart or Rob Gronkowski or any of the other celebrities, I think it really is about one: dispelling, any myths, making CBD sort of mainstream, and also it’s about what size of a megaphone does that give you as a brand? I don’t recall the exact number of followers that Martha has, but it’s in the millions in social media. And with some of the restrictions that are placed on advertising for CBD, having a celebrity who can speak to the masses just helps generate that brand awareness as well as creates a comfort level for people who are canna-curious and want to jump into trying the products. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, Martha Stewart is not the only celebrity to be getting on board with CBD as you mentioned. Willie Nelson and golf legend Greg Norman also have their own CBD brands, both belong to the Boomer generation, which is redefining what it means to age. In our study, we also captured information about respondents’ pastimes and interests, and we did find that regardless of age or generational cohort CBD consumers are more likely than average to take multivitamins, natural supplements, and to meditate. How do you think CBD fits into this trend toward health and wellness?

Alexandra McClay: I think that my understanding is that people are, they call it “50 is the new 30”, their life expectancy is longer than ever. The interest and the need for overall health and wellness is at peak levels. And what goes along with that is trying to have the most natural, I think, health solutions possible. We see this within food. We’ve seen this within the personal care and beauty industry. It doesn’t surprise me that these consumers are taking more vitamins and natural supplements and meditating. They’re looking for alternatives. My belief is they’re looking for alternatives to taking OTC – over the counter – or prescription medication. And CBD being a plant-based solution, provides them the ability to do that and have a lower bio burden or body burden. And it’s going to be more efficacious and healthier in the long run. So it’s not surprising that CBD goes hand-in-hand with some of these other natural wellness solutions.

Adrian Tennant: We learned from our study that over one-third of CBD users are concerned about the potential for scams and black market companies. While another third are concerned about a lack of quality control. What do you think needs to be done to reassure consumers about the safety and efficacy of CBD-based products?

Alexandra McClay: I think it’s a really valid concern because we are in an unregulated sort of territory right now until the FDA comes out with their specific guidelines and rulings. What I would suggest is that people need to do their own research. You can look at other governing bodies. The American Arthritis Association has put out their guidelines around buying CBD products. You want to make sure that you are looking at products that have been third-party tested. So you have the traceability and the transparency of where the ingredients are coming from and what the lab results are saying. I think you want to see labeling that is clear. Ingredient lists that are comprehensive. And, you know, look to the website to make sure that this is a brand that has a FAQ section, maybe a CBD 101, are they providing content and helping to educate consumers that are curious about CBD.


Adrian Tennant: We asked users how much, on average, they spend on CBD products per month in total. In the full report, we break the results out by condition, but the key data points are that over two thirds – 67% – of CBD users spend up to $99 per month on products containing CBD. Over one quarter – 26% – spend between $100 and $199 monthly. For the most frequent indications, consistently around one-third of CBD users spend $50 to $99 per month. The full report, which you can download for free from our website, provides more details about the attitudes that characterize different groups of CBD users and identifies which factors are most influential in their decision to purchase and use each category of product. We asked survey respondents how likely they are to continue using products containing CBD long-term. It’s very clear that existing CBD users are true believers in its efficacy. 88% are somewhat or extremely likely to continue using CBD long-term. An estimated 18% of the US adult population is currently using CBD. But if those 88% plan to continue doing so long term, the other 82% of the US market represents an untapped opportunity. Alex, was there anything in our CBD report that stood out to you or that surprised you?

Alexandra McClay: I think what really surprised me the most was that there’s still a relatively low percentage of the population who have tried CBD at this point in time. You know, I think there was a statistic that 74% of the folks who have tried CBD have done so just within the last two years. So this is an industry that’s really in its infancy. And we know that people also stated in your report that they intend to use these products in the long-term. I was really sort of encouraged, but also surprised to see like the more people that enter in, and then the more people that enter in that are going to continue with the long-term use, it really just provides huge growth potential in this industry, in this sector.

Adrian Tennant: Alex, thank you so much for joining us today to discuss the results from Bigeye’s 2020 National Study of CBD Use.

Alexandra McClay:
Great, take care – thank you!

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Alexandra McClay, beauty and wellness expert and company founder. You’ll find a link to the CBD report on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And remember if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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DTC Pioneer Olivia Canlas, Meowbox

Olivia Canlas, co-founder and CEO of Meowbox, the direct-to-consumer cat treats and toys subscription box, joins pet marketing services agency Bigeye’s podcast.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: pet marketing services agency Bigeye’s podcast features Olivia Canlas, the co-founder and CEO of Meowbox, a pawpular direct-to-consumer cat treat and toy subscription. Olivia shares how she first had the idea for Meowbox and why social media has been purrfect for growing the brand. Olivia talks candidly about challenges during COVID, the importance of being part of an extended network of female entrepreneurs, and brainstorming pawsitively ameowzing creative box themes.

In Clear Focus: DTC Pioneer Olivia Canlas, Meowbox

In Clear Focus this week: Pet marketing services agency Bigeye’s podcast features Olivia Canlas, the co-founder and CEO of Meowbox, a pawpular direct-to-consumer cat treat and toy subscription. Olivia shares how she first had the idea for Meowbox and why social media has been purrfect for growing the brand.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us today. Over the past decade, a new type of business has disrupted retail. From Warby Parker, which sells eyeglasses and contact lenses to Everlane clothing, Casper mattresses, and The Honest Company for baby and beauty products, these companies all have one thing in common: they sell directly to consumers. Their ability to forge one-to-one relationships with their customers and capture valuable first-party data that is impossible via traditional retail is a unique advantage of the direct-to-consumer model. I am excited to welcome a pioneer in the direct-to-consumer space to this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. Launched in 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Meowbox delivers boxes of toys and food treats to cat owners across Canada and the US as a monthly or bi-monthly subscription. With operations in Portland, Oregon too, the company has been featured in Buzzfeed, New York Magazine, Vogue, The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and InStyle magazine. And most recently, the New York Times Wirecutter picked Meowbox as the best cat subscription box. The Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Meowbox is Olivia Canlas, who is joining us today from her office in Vancouver. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Olivia!

Olivia Canlas: Thank you so much. I’m very excited for our conversation today.

Adrian Tennant: Thank you. So, first of all, Olivia, can you tell us a little more about what Meowbox is?

Olivia Canlas: Of course. So I’d like to think of Meowbox as monthly deliveries of cat happiness. So it is a box full of themed cat toys and treats that we choose exclusively for our subscribers. And we deliver that monthly or bi-monthly, in the subscription model.

Adrian Tennant: Now, back in 2013, when you launched Meowbox, direct-to-consumer wasn’t nearly as well established as a business model, as it is today. What inspired you to start a subscription box for cat owners?

Olivia Canlas: I was a subscription box customer, maybe two or three years before I thought of the idea of Meowbox. I was a subscriber to cosmetics, so I knew that that was something that appealed to me, to my friends, people in a similar demographic as I was. And so I was aware of the concept of subscription boxes, but specifically like the moment where I thought, you know, “What there needs to be a Meowbox in this world” was when I started getting targeted on my Facebook for a dog subscription box. And I thought, you know what, instead of just ignoring it, thinking, well, that doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have a dog. I wondered – because I’m more of a cat person – I wonder if there was a box for cats and upon my initial research, there wasn’t a box that was dedicated just to cat parents.

Adrian Tennant: Now clearly the business is successful now, but looking back, do you think being a woman meant that you faced additional challenges as an entrepreneur?

Olivia Canlas: You know, I like to think that everything that I do and that I did, to build the company it’s not tied to gender in any way, but, I didn’t look at my gender as something that was going to hold me back from succeeding, but in reality, there were a few moments where I was reminded that maybe I might be viewed a little bit differently in terms of, you know, male versus female, business leaders. And one example that I can think of was I was at a trade show once looking for some new product with my co-founder who’s male, and, a handful of times the brand representatives would initiate the conversation, speaking to him. instead of me, as if just automatically thinking that he was the one who was the decision-maker. I wasn’t, like offended or insulted, but it was definitely something that I noticed at the time and just sort of little things like that. I mean, very easy for me to step in and let them know I was the one who was doing the product selection. so it could have just been like a subconscious, behavior of people to expect maybe that it was the male who was in charge of making the decisions.

Adrian Tennant: Now I mentioned in the introduction that Meowbox serves cat owners in Canada and the United States. Do you have customers in any other countries?

Olivia Canlas: In the earlier stages of Meowbox, we did offer Meowbox to the UK, as we were kind of testing out the markets. so we were able to tell from our social media insights where our audience was located, so US and then Canada, and then the UK, and then I think Australia after that. So, we dipped a toe in, into the UK waters and we did run into some issues with just getting stuff over the border, in terms of the VAT that they have there – the VAT, it’s like an additional tax to claim your packages from overseas. So that experience wasn’t something that we wanted our customers to have to deal with. We just want to deliver the Meowbox – you get it, you open up, not have to deal with paying an additional fee on top of what you already paid. So instead of focusing our efforts on continuing to enter the UK market, we decided to reel it back and focus on our more local customers. I mean, there’s so many households with cats in Canada and the US that we have yet to reach. And we want the experience to be dialed in where there isn’t that additional fee or step to have to claim your, Meowbox.

Adrian Tennant: Meowboxes each contain themed, curated collection of cat toys and treats. How far in advance do you have to plan the theme and the contents of each box to allow for sourcing products and manufacturers?

Olivia Canlas: This is a great question. It’s evolved a lot since we started. We used to plan one month ahead of time. And now, I think currently we are planning our April box. So, quite a few months ahead of time, in order to make sure our products are designed properly, we go through all the samples, all the other sort of different, contributors to what goes into the box. We have to make sure that it’s all timed well, our products, if they come from overseas, they need time to ship to us, go through customs, and get delivered to our warehouse. So it’s changed a lot since the beginning, since we’ve increased our volume, we need more time to prepare for each month.

Adrian Tennant: How do you come up with the ideas for the theming of each box?

Olivia Canlas: It used to be a lot easier, at the beginning when it was just the start and we had, we’re fresh with ideas. Like, you know, it was actually difficult to choose from all of our ideas and narrow it down to just 12 in a year. And now that we’ve been doing themes for a number of years, we also take into consideration what’s been popular. It kind of narrows down our choices. Cause I feel like we did our favorites right away and then, had to figure out, “Okay, how do we make the next year even better when we already did our favorite ones this previous year?” So what we like to do is actually, send that request out to our audience on social media, our current subscribers and ask them, for what they love to see in the box. So sometimes it’s like your classic themes, of course, like winter holidays and Halloween, Valentine’s Day. Those are the staples that we’ll likely repeat each year. But then in between all those major holidays and events, I mean it depends like some years it’s going to lean towards, I mean, like for example, this year with COVID everyone at home, some of the themes suggestions are like sort of tied to that. So things in the home, you know, for example, a lot of us have been staying in and taking up hobbies like gardening, baking. And so sort of things like that that are trending also help us choose what kinds of themes to do. And then like I had mentioned there’s our classic themes, separate from the holidays, but we’ve done sort of a camping theme one year and we did repeat, a similar theme to camping another year because the first time we did it, it was so popular.

Adrian Tennant: What have been some of your customers’ favorite individual cat toys or treats so far?

Olivia Canlas: That’s another great question. We love to know, so that we can continue to deliver toys that have similar characteristics to that. And so specifically, very popular, one of them is a little wool snake toy, so it’s just kind of like a thin, lightweight, sort of wavy shaped wool toy. It’s narrow, and I think the reason why it’s so popular is, just the cats can grab it in their mouth really easily and it’s lightweight so they can carry it around and toss it in the air. I would say that’s kind of one of our most number one requested toys. But also, kind of more unique toy that we offer is made of a material called silvervine, which is sort of similar to catnip in terms of, it kind of brings out like excitement, out of your cat. But if your cat doesn’t react to catnip, they will most likely react to silvervine and even more intensely. So that type of toy has been extremely popular as well.

Adrian Tennant: I’m guessing research and development for Meowbox is more fun than other product categories. And on your website, you list your cats, Harvey, and Zach, as Co-Chief Feline Officers. Now, do you test new products you’re considering for Meowbox with your own fur babies?

Olivia Canlas: Yes, absolutely. Most of us that work for Meowbox have cats. So we take turns in bringing a toy samples home to test out on our cats. And they really are the ones who are the tie-breakers, if we’re not sure which toy will be more popular or more well-liked – take it home, see what the cats say. And we go with that.

Adrian Tennant: I love it – a focus group of felines (laughter) Now we’ve talked about the theming of each Meowbox. The visual design of each box is really unique and your social media posts also capture a really fun sensibility with lots of catty word-play. Do you have an in-house creative team?

Olivia Canlas: So we have a little bit of both, when it comes to, what we share on our social media and the voice that we use, across those platforms,that’s in house. And it’s kind of an extension of our personality. So if we’re being cheeky and playful, sharing things that we think are funny, that’s us,that’s the personality of our team and of our social media manager. That’s like a direct link of like what our sense of humor is and what we find interesting in the cat world. And, in terms of our toy design, we work with a partner who helps bring our theme ideas to life in illustrations, and we select sort of what is translating best for us, for the theme that we chose. And amongst our group of people who work at Meowbox, we also have a group of us who are very creative in terms of illustrating and coming up with visual ideas. So it’s kind of a mix of people contributing, but we’re all very like-minded in terms of like we’re, you know, lighthearted and we like to sort of lean on sort of like a cheekier side of things, which seems to be received very well by, by our audience.

Adrian Tennant: Now many established direct-to-consumer brands initially acquire customers through social media. How does Meowbox typically attract new customers?

Olivia Canlas: The most effective way that we have found is yes, it’s associated with social media. I mean, especially even during this time, the past, I’d say five to six months, people are spending a lot more time at home, which means that they have more time to, be closer to their cats, perhaps take more photos of their cats, perhaps want to provide something more for their cats, like Meowbox. So there’s been a lot of social sharing. so that organically, well, it helps us, showcase our product to more people. Our community does that for us and with us. And also we’ve leaned very heavy working with influencers, on social media as well, and sending lots of boxes out, and them sharing the word as well of what Meowbox is.

Adrian Tennant: What have been some of your most successful customer acquisition programs for Meowbox, would you say?

Olivia Canlas: I would say number one consistently from the beginning is for us to be working with influencers and affiliates. So that would probably be our most successful, most consistent. If we had zero spend or very close to nothing to spend on marketing, I would never stop doing that.

Adrian Tennant: Hmmm.

Olivia Canlas: Yes. And then in terms of beyond that… I would say one of our best ways of bringing in customers and increasing our awareness is through email marketing. So bringing in people who are interested in what we have to say, and letting them know when we have something new, what our new themes are, or just like fun information that we want to share to our cat community.

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

Lauren Fore: I’m Lauren Fore, and I’m on the operations team at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as agency professionals and reflects the way that Bigeye puts audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with our clients’ audiences. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Olivia Canlas, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the direct-to-consumer cat treats and toys subscription service, Meowbox. Olivia, you also have ongoing customer engagement programs like the Supermeowdel Cat Club. Can you tell us how those work?

Olivia Canlas: Can you tell that we’re really good with cat puns? So specifically, that group, we built that as a place for our cat community to share, to share photos, to ask questions, and we find that cat people, and I’m a cat person myself with Zach and Harvey, we love to talk about our cats. Just any sort of like invitation to share information or stories or photos about our cats. Like we love to do it. You mentioned my cat’s names and it just sort of like, sort of lights me up. I don’t know what it is. I guess we love our animals so much. And so that group is built for our cat community to post photos of their cats. Just know, no one’s judging, there’s not necessarily like a rhyme or reason. We do encourage engagement when we ask a question, like show us a photo of what your cat is doing right now and everyone wants to share, and we’re happy to see those photos. I think that’s kind of part of why we were able to grow so quickly at the beginning too – it’s just, people want to share photos of their cats.

Adrian Tennant: You created an annual event called MeowFest. What is it? And how did you arrive at the idea?

Olivia Canlas:  So MeowFest is our way of bringing our online community, offline and to gather in person to network with each other, talk about their cats in person, put a name to a face for friends that you’ve perhaps made on Instagram, or someone who you’ve seen post photos of their cats on Facebook. So aside from bringing cat people together in person in one place, it’s also, one of our sort of larger sources of, donating and giving back to the cat community. So each event we choose a small handful of local cat shelters to donate proceeds to show that’s live and in person we would have an assortment of vendors in a marketplace where people can shop for all their cat-themed goodies and cat toys. We also invite knowledgeable cat influencers in our space to come speak about cat care, rescue, those kinds of topics that are important to us. And we also have cat celebrities that we bring in for people to have like a little meet and greet photo session with as well.

Adrian Tennant: That sounds a lot of fun. Now, looking to the future, how do you see Meowbox evolving over the next two to three years?

Olivia Canlas: Our plan is to continue with the momentum of the growth that we’re experiencing, and throughout everything that we’re learning and discovering, we’re just hoping to continue to become, you know, more and more in tune with what our customers want, you know, to continue to be nimble as the market changes, but we’re experiencing, some really impressive growth right now. And the plan is to keep growing, keep going, find ways to make our customers happier, keep them with us longer, you know, provide to them what they’re looking for and just keep growing. Our goal is to reach as many cats in as many households as possible.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any emerging tools, technologies, or social apps that you foresee influencing the way that you connect with your customers or ways that you conduct your business in the future?

Olivia Canlas: Yes. We are spending more time on building our TikTok account and good news that it’s still TikTok is going to stick around for a little bit longer. But I’ve always been a huge fan of jumping onto any of the social platforms that are trending and that seem interesting. And, TikTok has been a lot of fun for us and something that we’re currently working on to build right now.

Adrian Tennant: I saw one of your social posts that mentioned ideas for a new creative project. So I want to ask you the same question you asked cat parents. Olivia, what is the craziest, wackiest most extraordinary, creative, quirky, and or wow-worthy thing that you have done out of love for your fur babies?

Olivia Canlas: Okay, so one of the craziest things that has happened, since I’ve had my cats in my life is, I was away on vacation, overseas, for a couple of weeks. And, the cat stayed home. I had someone come and visit them regularly, visit the house and the cats make sure they had everything they needed. And, one of the days that I was away, I got a pretty frantic emergency phone call saying that there was water flooding into all those surrounding, townhouse units that were connected to my townhouse. So, just to sort of clarify the picture. So we’re a ground ground level townhouse with a unit to our left, a unit to our right, and a unit behind us. And I couldn’t even understand what was going on and what that meant. And what ended up happening was that water was flooding my unit and flooding everyone else’s units around us. and we could not figure out, obviously we didn’t leave our water on, you know, before the trip, it hadn’t been on, you know, for the first, like half of the trip. And the only thing that made sense was that one of the cats turned the water on in the kitchen sink, and turned the faucet so that the water was no longer pouring into the sink, but pouring onto the counter. And so I have no idea how long that water was on for, but it was pouring. Must’ve been hours, maybe an entire day just pouring out onto the counter, onto the floor and into all the surrounding units. And so we sent someone to turn it off and to make a long story short – my cats, I don’t know which one it was, created. I mean, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of water damage to our unit and the units around us. And, so to this day, you know, I kind of walk around my building, like thinking, are you looking at me because, you know, I’m the mom of the cats that flooded your unit? And wondering if people sort of just remember me as that person. One of the comments that came up was like, “Oh, did they leave? Did she leave the tap on for the cats while she was away?” And just thinking like, “No, I didn’t, but how do I defend myself? But I still love them. You know, I still go on vacation. We’re just a little bit smarter with like where the tap is turned. Sometimes I’ll turn the water off completely, but basically, you know, my cats, they can do no wrong. They’ve done as bad as that – and I love them even more than I did the day they did that.

Adrian Tennant: Well, some cats clearly prefer fresh water from the faucet. So what are you going to do?

Olivia Canlas: I know exactly. What can I do? I can’t even be mad. They have taught me forgiveness.

Adrian Tennant: So, Olivia, what inspires you on a daily basis? Are there any journals, podcasts, or social media accounts that you follow – cat related or not?

Olivia Canlas: My source of inspiration comes from my fellow female entrepreneurs. I have a small group of female entrepreneurs who I look up to whose businesses I follow, whose social media I follow, we’re in communication for sort of best practices or problem-solving, advice, and that kind of thing. And, it’s really blossomed and, become sort of a resource for me that I’ve come to rely on and go to, as of late. And I guess I didn’t really realize how important it was, maybe in early years to have that kind of a network of colleagues. But sort of as time goes by, I don’t know, maybe you lose a bit of your ego and, are just more open to sharing, you know, your challenges with other people, especially people who have, maybe dealt with that before, people in a similar businesses as you, and that’s kind of where my inspiration comes from. I see ladies who are running businesses that do certain things better than me, or certain things that I’ve never done before. And I’ll ask like, you know, “How can I do that? How did you reach that?” And then, and vice versa, it’s the same where there’ll be something that I’m doing really well with Meowbox. And they ask me, you know, “How did you do that? What tools did you use to reach that?” And it’s kind of just this feedback loop of all of us sharing and each of us supporting each other and just doing better and better.

Adrian Tennant: Which upcoming Meowbox projects – that you’re allowed to talk about – are you most excited about?

Olivia Canlas: Okay, let me think, what can I, what can I reveal? We have a project that’s coming up that is related to,the call out that we did for the stories you know, the wild and crazy wacky stories you asked me about that, but I can’t say what it is yet, and it will make more sense when it comes out.

Adrian Tennant: That is a great promo. So if listeners would like to learn more about Meowbox and follow you on social media, where can they find you?

Olivia Canlas: So on social media, we are @Meowbox, so that’s the same across all social media platforms. And our website is meowbox.com.

Adrian Tennant: And of course we’ll include a link to that on our website too. Olivia, thank you very much indeed for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Olivia Canlas: Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Olivia Canlas, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Meowbox. You can find a transcript of our conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page, at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on your preferred podcast app. You can also use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Alexa Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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Rob Bloom, Creative Director, Universal Orlando Resort

With a career working in top advertising agencies, Bigeye’s podcast guest this week is Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Bigeye’s podcast features Rob Bloom. Building on his career working in top advertising agencies, Rob has made the move to an in-house role as Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. Rob discusses how the pandemic has impacted his team’s creative work and how they are navigating working from home. Rob explains his personal career journey, where he finds inspiration, and gives practical advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in advertising.

In Clear Focus: Rob Bloom, Creative Director, Universal Orlando Resort

In Clear Focus this week: Bigeye’s podcast features Rob Bloom. Building on his career working in top advertising agencies, Rob has made the move to an in-house role as Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. Rob discusses how the pandemic has impacted his team’s creative work and how they are navigating working from home.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full -service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us for the first episode of our fifth season. Universal Orlando Resort, which is owned by cable giant Comcast Corporation, typically welcomes around 20 million visitors combined to its Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks, and its Volcano Bay water park. I’m very excited to kick off this new season of IN CLEAR FOCUS with Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. Rob’s advertising agency resume is both extensive and impressive. Rob has worked with many household name clients, including the American Diabetes Association, AT&T, Baskin-Robbins, Cinnabon, CNN, Comcast, Dunkin’, Hanes, The Home Depot, Merlin Entertainment, NAPA Auto Parts, Nemours Children’s Health System, Pulte Homes Toyota, Verizon, the US Virgin islands, Yamaha, and the YMCA. Rob has worked at agencies in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and here in Orlando. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Rob!

Rob Bloom: Thank you, Adrian. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So first of all, Rob, can you tell us what your role as Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort entails?

Rob Bloom: Sure. So there’s actually a couple of different creative directors as part of the team and each one has a different focus. My primary focus is really in terms of producing engaging content. 

Adrian Tennant: Now we’re going to talk about your advertising agency career in a moment, but I’m curious – was Universal a company that you were always interested in. What led you to the role that you’re in now?

Rob Bloom: I’ve always been fascinated by theme parks. So I grew up in Orlando and, you know, we had annual passes to Disney for years. And then when Universal came to town in the late eighties, early nineties, you know, we went to Universal all the time and I was always so fascinated by the worlds of the theme parks and how they were able to create immersive experiences. And I mean, even as a kid and as a teenager, I mean, I loved the rides. I loved the attractions, I loved the shows, but I loved just walking around and being a part of the Disney and Universal landscapes. I just found it fascinating. I actually spent many years trying to make inroads at both Disney and Universal and it felt like, you know, like almost trying to break into, an impenetrable fortress. So, there’s only so many positions and, there’s very few openings, you know, cause people, people tend to get there and people tend to stay. At some point actually it became something where I thought, “You know what, this may happen. This may not happen, but if it does, it would be wonderful because it is a dream.” And then I don’t know, the stars kind of aligned and everything fell into place.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you’ve been a Universal Orlando Resort about a year now which means that for half of that time, COVID-19 has been a concern. How has the pandemic impacted the kind of creative work – and maybe the volume – that you’ve been managing?

Rob Bloom: I am so proud of not only our team, but the larger marketing group and the larger Universal organization itself, because they’ve done a really, really great job of taking care of us during the pandemic in many ways, but in one way specifically, you know, making sure that everyone is equipped to work at home and to be productive at home. That’s definitely not an easy task when you’ve got however many thousands of team members. For a good chunk of the time that we’ve been home, particularly towards the beginning, you know, we were full speed on producing work for Halloween Horror Nights 30, which was going to be the anniversary year. You know, obviously that event’s not happening this year due to the pandemic. But I mean, I’m incredibly proud that for many, many months, you know, we were able to have ideation sessions and tissue sessions and brainstorms and pitching work and tweaking work and back and forth. I mean all the way up to the actual production and pre-pro meetings and the production and the post production of all of the HHN creative, which had to happen remotely.

Adrian Tennant: We don’t know how long the coronavirus will be with us, but do you have any predictions for which behaviors picked up as a result of COVID will stick in a post-pandemic world?

Rob Bloom: I think communication has definitely become more efficient in some ways, you know, we’ve had some challenges like, if you have a question you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk and ask them a quick question or you want to have a brainstorm session, you can’t just have some impromptu idea meeting. So, there’s been some challenges like that that have required, maybe a little more planning, maybe a little more scheduling of meetings or video meetings or whatever. But I think it’s helped make communication more efficient because people realize, you know, “Look, if we’re going to be gathering four or five people together into a meeting and trying to juggle those schedules, you know, we need to make the most of the meeting.” So I just think all of these little hurdles that we’re constantly learning and adapting to are going to just help improve efficiency after the virus is over.

Adrian Tennant: Now Rob, you started your advertising agency experience as a copywriter in Atlanta and progressed to senior copywriter, associate creative director, and of course immediately prior to your position at Universal, you were both Creative Director and VP with an agency here in Orlando. Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and what you learned along the way?

Rob Bloom: My career journey was definitely not what I expected, I would say. I majored in advertising in college and, I think that I was under the mindset of, like the moment you leave college and you get your degree that there’s going to be all these agencies just standing on the corner, they’re gonna be offering you jobs and everyone’s going to have a job for you. And I got out and, after having done internships over the summer, and having made a good amount of agency contacts and then I got out and was faced with the reality of, you know, it’s hard to find a job when one, there aren’t that many jobs and two, at that time it seemed like people didn’t want to hire someone who really didn’t have any, practical experience, any real world experience, so to speak. So, I mean, I had this kind of Cinderella idea in my head, you know, that everything was just going to be a glorious fairytale and it was rough, you know? So I was able to find a job as an assistant account executive at an advertising agency in Atlanta. This is kind of dating myself, but they specialized in advertising for the Yellow Pages, you know, phone books. This is in the late nineties. So they had this massive room in this agency. I mean, almost like, I don’t know, half a football field, maybe a little bit bigger. And it was just filled like ceiling to floor with just racks of, Yellow Pages. And they had a copy of the Yellow Pages for every region in the country. So I had, I don’t know, two or three different clients that I was assisting with. And my primary responsibility was to go into this big room with the stacks of the Yellow Pages. And I would have to find my client’s ad in the previous edition of the Yellow Pages phone book. And I would take down the book from the rack and I would make a photocopy of it. And then I would fax it over to the client along with a note, basically asking them if they wanted to keep their Yellow Page ad that they had the previous year or in the previous edition and then make any changes to it. So I spent most of my time in this back gigantic room. And I never even saw anybody else in there like, this is the only person I ever saw in there. I didn’t know, like a practical joke or something, but so, I was getting down the phone book and make a copy of it, then I would fax them. And then I would wait for some feedback about if they wanted any changes on their Yellow Pages ad.  and I did that. It was awful. It was absolutely awful. I did that six months to the day. And I was able just really through persistence and just trying to get somebody to give me a chance, I was able to get a job as a junior copywriter at an ad agency in Atlanta, with a really, really wonderful creative director named Ben who I’m great friends with to this day. Came to my wedding. I talk to him every couple of weeks just a great guy. He was a copywriter and he gave me a chance, you know, when he really had no reason to. And it was incredible because he gave me opportunities to really learn and grow. And, before I knew it, I was actually writing copy that was getting used and I was doing radio scripts and casting the talent and helping to produce the spots. And, all of these little things that I was being exposed to just really gave me the opportunity to do a lot of different things. And so I guess to go back to your first question about, you know, what did I learn along the way? I think from the first job, you know, I learned that even when things really, really suck that kind of hang in there because everything is only for now. There’s always something else that’s coming. And I think the second thing when I got a job as a copywriter, I learned to embrace every opportunity and to be grateful for it. I was so happy to have a job at a real agency and I was so happy and grateful to be actually having a job as a copywriter and so grateful to actually be creating work and so grateful to have a mentor who would, who would take time out of his busy schedule to sit with me and to talk about my copy and to talk about my thinking. I mean, I was just, I was just very grateful for each of these little experiences. And I think it’s important to maintain that. And I’d like to think that I’ve carried that through into different opportunities, because you mentioned a lot of jobs and clients at the beginning and different titles, and I think it’s important, you know, that regardless of how long you’ve been doing it or what your title is, I think it’s important, you know, to never lose the gratitude, for whatever position you have or whatever client you’re working with. Because at the end of the day, you have the ability to make a living by being creative or by being in a creative field. that’s a gift and it’s a joy and it is something not to lose sight of.

Adrian Tennant: Now, Rob, you’ve worked within large holding company agencies, as well as smaller, independent ones. What do you see as the advantages of working in larger agencies versus smaller independents – and vice versa?

Rob Bloom: You know, I think they both have their pros and cons as does everything. And I think it’s really a personal preference. I think with large holding companies, you know, I mean, just to speak really practically, they’re in a position where they’re able to offer things maybe like less expensive health insurance or benefits, you know, or, you know, I once worked for a Publicis agency, you know, and, just again, speaking practically, I mean the amount of vacation days and official agency holidays was, just unbelievable, you know, and, you know, are international holding companies and they’re just able to offer things that smaller agencies are not, or that independent agencies are not. On the flip side, smaller, independent agencies, you know, because they’re smaller, you tend to be able to make more of an impact. You may not be viewed as a number, you know, you’re able to make more of a personal contribution, which is something that I always found very appealing too.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve made the move from the so-called agency side over to the client side. In what kinds of ways, if any, have you found in-house processes differ from agencies?

Rob Bloom: So I think there’s a lot of similarities between in-house and agencies. You know, I mean, at the end of the day, the goal is obviously still the same. The goal is to produce creative work that is going to get attention that is going to get results that is going to drive some kind of action. In some agencies, I think people have to wear more than one hat. Like if you’re talking about a smaller agency, perhaps, you know, there may be someone who is a project manager or doing traffic, but then maybe on occasion, you know, they’re also serving as a producer to get quotes on something or estimates on a broadcast spot, or maybe actually even trafficking that spot. Whereas in an in-house environment, you know, it tends to be, maybe more clearly defined roles. And people having the luxury of being able to specialize, you know, in, in their specialty. And, being able to focus on that.

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

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. In advertising agencies is typically the case that Creative Directors have either a background in art direction or copywriting yours is copywriting. How, if at all, do you think a background in either discipline influences Creative Directors’ approach to the work?

Rob Bloom: So I’ve worked with a lot of great Creative Directors. I’ve worked with some who have a copywriting background. I’ve worked with some who are Art Directors. I’ve worked with some who are hybrids, you know, who, who actually are both amazing Copywriters and Art Directors. And that makes me mad because I’m jealous of them for being so talented. I do think there’s a misconception, you know, that only an Art Director is able to look at something and recognize great design. And I think there’s a misconception that, you know, only a Copywriter is able to string words together and create some kind of poetry. I really don’t believe in that. And I’ve worked with Art Directors who are great Copywriters, you know, and, you know, I’ve been an Art Director in Copywriter teams where I’ve been struggling to come up with a headline and my Art Director partner just kind of spit something out and I’m like, “that’s way better than anything that I’ve had, you know? And at the same time, there’s been those instances where I’m with my Art Director partner and, you know, he may be struggling with the art direction on something. And I look at it and say, “Hey, how about if we do this, this, and this?” And it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” So, I can’t physically go into Illustrator say, and, arrange the pixels to do that magic and to make it look beautiful, but I can speak to elements of great art direction and great design. I think that especially, as advertising and creative evolves, you know, I think it’s important, for a quote unquote Art Director, to be able to know what is a good headline or what isn’t, or have the confidence to say, “Hey, how about if we say this? And on the flip side, I think it’s important for a Copywriter to be able to, to have opinions on art direction and not just think of their function as “I’m going to write the words. And then I’m going to email over this Word document. And the Art Director will just make it look pretty. I think it’s important for the two disciplines to really be thought of together and for teams to be working together and have to create that harmony.

Adrian Tennant: Well, my experience has been that Copywriters are also naturally curious about people and the world in general so make great partners when it comes to leveraging consumer insights. Now in larger agencies, strategists, or account planners typically write the Creative Briefs, but in smaller agencies, that’s not always the case. What do you want to see included in a brief, what are the key elements or ingredients that someone writing a brief needs to include to inspire you?

Rob Bloom: That is such a great question. And my gosh, this is an ongoing conversation that I have with a good friend of mine who’s also probably one of the best, brief writers I’ve ever met and I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. But I think writing a brief is the toughest thing that happens in any creative environment. I mean, I think it’s tougher than coming up with the idea. I think it’s tougher than being on production. I think it’s really hard because the brief writer, whoever it is, you know, strategist, account planner, brand strategist, it’s very, very hard. And, you know, essentially everything in a brief comes down to the single-minded proposition. So now you’re asking someone who is writing this brief to take all of the research and all of the data and all of the background, and summarize that into a sentence, maybe two, but a sentence that will not only provide this amazing insight that will hopefully lead to inspired work, but to make it inspiring that it’s going to inspire the creative team. And I think, like I said, that is the hardest thing. We have a process now at Universal, it’s a “Creative Brief Lab.” It’s about once a week and we have individuals come in from different disciplines and they bring briefs that they are working on real briefs for real projects. And there’s about four people involved who hear the brief as it is so far and present to them. And then we have a very, very candid conversation about how to make that brief better. And it’s basically poking all the holes in it. It’s basically looking at it from every angle inside and out and finding ways to really hone in again, on that single minded proposition. What is it? And, you know, we need to be honest with ourselves, like, are we really crafting something here that is original, that sounds original? Or are we just kind of regurgitating stuff that we’ve used before? Um, which I think is a very easy and natural and sensible trap that people fall into because it’s hard to do. I’ve worked at agencies before, you know, and I worked on a lot of CPG products. And I swear for like two years, every single brief we got the single-minded proposition was exactly the same thing, just literally copied and paste, and I say that not as a criticism, but I think as a point that it’s hard, you know, it is really, really hard to come up with an insight that’s true, that is baked in strategy, and then to take that insight and again, crack that single-minded proposition, that’s going to influence the whole work that everything should ladder back to. I think a great brief should also be brief. I’ve seen briefs that are half a page and I’ve seen briefs that are five pages. You need something that sums it up and that’s going to drive action the same way that an ad does, the same way that a TV spot does, the same way that any piece of creative does, it needs to inspire people to take some kind of action. And it’s the same thing with a brief. So I’m very passionate about this topic because as I said, I think briefs are unbelievably important and probably underrated too.

Adrian Tennant: Well on behalf of strategists and account planners around the world, thank you, Rob Bloom!

Rob Bloom: [laughter]

Adrian Tennant: Okay. So from receiving the brief, what does your ideation process look like? Do you have a formula that works for you? A sure-fire way of generating ideas?

Rob Bloom: I wish I did! Adrian, I’d be sitting on a tropical Island somewhere. For me personally, when I get a brief, you know, my ideation process is basically,  to start with the brief and reading it over and over and over again. And then usually I go and do some kind of exercise because, I don’t think that I’ve ever had, I was going to say a good idea, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had an idea just by forcing myself to sit down like at my desk and to say, “Okay, now I’m going to be creative. Now I’m going to think of an idea.” But what I found is because I did what I mentioned at the beginning of kind of holding the brief and sitting with it and thinking about it and rereading it and rereading it – but somewhere in that process, something seeps through, into my brain. So then when I put it down and I go for a run or I go lift some weights, or I go do some chin ups or whatever, like I said, I wish I understood it cause I wish I can harness it. But somewhere along the way, time and time again, something hits me when I’m not thinking about it. And that’s when the ideas start to come. Um, and usually, I mean, this is not fancy at all, but then usually what I’ll do is once I have a couple of ideas that I thought about while I was out for a run or working out or whatever, I go back and I start a Google Doc, not fancy, very, very, very basic. And I just start to type ideas, just stream of consciousness stuff. “Hey, how about if we did this? How about if we did this?” I’m not thinking about budget. I’m not thinking about reality, just a stream of consciousness on paper. But again, all based on the brief and all laddering up in some form or fashion to the single-minded proposition. But just putting ideas on paper. And then I’ll leave it, you know, and then maybe I’ll do something else, you know, maybe I’ll go, I don’t know, maybe I’ll go eat something or maybe I’ll go finish exercising, whatever the case. And then I come back to the document and then you’re able to start editing. You’re able to start looking at what you wrote in the stream of consciousness. You’re able to start eliminating stuff, sending all that out. “That’s a really stupid idea why didn’t I think of that?” You’re able to start kind of self-editing the process, or taking a kernel of an idea and making it better. But again, all of this comes from a good brief, and all of this comes from you as the creative being so closely attached to that brief you’ve got it memorized. You’re able to, you know, repeat the single-minded proposition. You’re able to rattle off the insight if somebody asked you. And once, once you have that familiarity with the brief, then all of your ideas will again, be married to the brief. you’re able to start getting to ideas that are sharper, that are smarter. And then I don’t know, it just kinda flows from there.

Adrian Tennant: So Rob, we have an internship program at Bigeye, and many of the people who intern with us are often concerned about how to secure their first position with an agency, especially now. What advice would you give to anyone listening that’s interested in pursuing a career in advertising?

Rob Bloom: That is a great question. Especially now these, these are challenging times. I’m an eternal optimist. So I would say that the flip side of that too, is that it’s never been easier to make connections with people. Again, not to date myself because I just had a birthday a couple of days ago, so I don’t want to date myself, but when I was starting, I mean, there wasn’t a LinkedIn, there was barely an Internet. It wasn’t only Universal and Disney that were kind of these impenetrable fortresses, but it was really any advertising agency because you didn’t know who worked where, or what they were doing. And now with the world of LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram you’re able to see who is working at the agencies that you want to work at. So the first thing that I would advise anyone to do is to follow the companies, follow the agencies, and follow the people whose work inspires you and the places where you want to be. That’s the biggest thing. And then try to make a connection. Don’t just send a LinkedIn message. You know, that’s a generic message. Send a message that is specific to something that they’ve worked on in the past that this individual has worked on in the past, say something interesting about yourself. Just like any ad, you know, needs to break out from the clutter and then again, persistence is important. Be nice, always be grateful and humble. And appreciative when anyone is taking the time to have a conversation with you or to give you advice, be respectful, and grateful for that person’s time. And, last but not least, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you’re sending out a resume, if you’re sending out work, if you’re just sending out an email, trying to make a connection, take a couple minutes and proof it. There’s few things that drive me crazier than when I get something from a person who is trying to connect and it’s just filled with typos or sloppy mistakes, where it’s clearly a form letter, but they haven’t changed the contact information. So they’re sending it to me, but it’s addressed to whoever Mike or Ryan. So just take a moment to proof what you’re doing, because a small mistake like that can really turn off a potential employer from wanting to continue the conversation.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of upcoming projects – that you’re allowed to talk about – are you most excited about now?

Rob Bloom: What’s really exciting is that we’re thinking and creating work that is going beyond traditional storytelling. And, I think it’s going to take some of the exciting things that are happening, for our guests and that the park is doing and take some of those exciting things and present them in ways that are as exciting as the projects themselves.

Adrian Tennant: If listeners would like to learn more about the work that you’re doing at Universal Orlando Resort, where can they find examples?

Rob Bloom: Well, I encourage everyone to stay tuned, and follow Universal Orlando on Twitter – it’s just @UniversalORL. There’s an Instagram account as well. There’s a Facebook page or YouTube page, you know, so you can certainly follow us on social channels, to see some of the work that we’re doing. If folks wanna follow me, you can follow me on Twitter @RobBloomCW. And it’s the same handle for Instagram as well.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Rob, thank you very much indeed for being a guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Rob Bloom: Yes, Adrian, thank you so much for the time. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Rob Bloom, Creative Director at Universal Orlando Resort. You can find a transcript of our conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on your preferred podcast app. You can also use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Alexa Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next time, goodbye.

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Marketing Research for Consumer Insights

Consumer insights company Bigeye’s podcast focuses on the differences between quantitative and qualitative marketing research online tools and techniques.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Using online marketing research tools and techniques for consumer insights. We revisit an interview with Mike Klotz of Cint, who explains how quantitative research can help us understand consumers’ evolving purchasing behaviors and sentiments towards brands and advertising. Stephen Cribbett and Terri Sorenson from Further join the podcast to discuss the benefits of asynchronous market research online communities, or MROCs, for generating qualitative insights at scale. 

In Clear Focus: Marketing Research for Consumer Insights

In Clear Focus this week: Using online marketing research tools and techniques for consumer insights. We revisit an interview with Mike Klotz of Cint, who explains how quantitative research can help us understand consumers’ evolving purchasing behaviors and sentiments towards brands and advertising.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS – fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. We’ve talked about research and the value of unlocking consumer insights quite a bit during this season of IN CLEAR FOCUS. As an audience-focused agency, Bigeye places a great deal of emphasis on really understanding our clients’ customers and prospects, and using that knowledge to craft media plans and inspire creative messaging. For an understanding of a client’s market, we typically turn first to syndicated data sources, also known as secondary research. That provides background, but rarely sufficiently detailed data to develop a breakthrough strategy. For that, we need to ask questions that are not answered by existing sources. Which is where primary research comes in. There’s an entire industry dedicated to supporting consumer insights and research professionals. Today, we’re going to revisit two interviews recorded earlier this year that look at quantitative and qualitative research methods. Back in April, we spoke with Michael Klotz, Director of Client Development at Cint, which primarily supports quantitative research studies. Mike has 20 years of experience in research and has helped hundreds of companies understand their consumers and their markets better through research and data collection. 

Adrian Tennant: Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Mike!

Mike Klotz: Thanks for having me on the show.

Adrian Tennant: First, could you tell us a little about Cint?

Mike Klotz: Cint is the technology backbone of the world’s most successful insights companies. Our platform automates fieldwork and operations so that companies gather insights faster, more cost-effectively, and at scale. We have 14 global offices in addition to all the folks we have, such as myself, that work remote. Through our platform, researchers have access to over a hundred million people in over 150 countries around the world. We work directly with many researchers, agencies, and brands.

Adrian Tennant: So Mike, what does your role with Cint entail?

Mike Klotz: My role at Cint is to help companies that are conducting online research to do so in the most efficient way possible. We’re a very solutions-focused company, so it’s never a one-size-fits-all approach. I work closely with my clients in order to learn about their business and help craft a partnership that allows them to gather insights quickly and efficiently. 

Adrian Tennant: So I gave an overview of marketing research during the introduction, but Mike, can you explain quantitative research in more detail and how it differs from qualitative research?

Mike Klotz: Sure. I think the easiest way to understand it is to look at each of the methodologies in terms of the type of information being collected. In qualitative research, you’re dealing with words and meanings and descriptions. Quantitative research deals with quantities and numbers and building out statistics. So qualitative research is almost like a brainstorming session. You’re seeking out ideas and concepts. While quantitative research can help show how many people feel that same way. So for example, in a focus group you’ll have six to eight people sitting around a table talking about a brand. They’ll discuss what the brand means to them or provide feedback on a specific product and why they like it or dislike it. However, those six to eight people don’t really speak for the thousands or millions of the brands’ consumers. So sometimes you need to take the things that you’ve learned in qualitative sessions and quantify them through online surveys, for example, in order to learn if it’s representative of your customer base.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common types of quantitative consumer research or studies that your clients typically undertake?

Mike Klotz: Right, so Cint currently has over 2,000 clients worldwide and we cover a wide variety of project types, so it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint it to the most common type. But what I can tell you is that we do see a lot of brands looking to understand their consumers’ decision-making process and path to purchase better. So they’ll do things like measure customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, for example. We also see some product concept tests and with marketing, we see a lot of messaging testing. Beyond that, this is an election year, so we saw a lot of political polling during the primaries in the US, and we expect to see a lot more as we get closer to November. And lately we’re seeing a lot of companies that are trying to understand consumer sentiment as it relates to COVID-19. We’ve seen a number of tracking studies and ad hoc projects on this topic in hopes of understanding where the consumer mindset currently stands.

Adrian Tennant: Now, you introduced Cint as a technology company. Where does it fit within the consumer research ecosystem?

Mike Klotz: So Cint’s role is to connect our surveys to their targeted respondents in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. We do that through our marketplace that connects researchers trying to understand more about the consumers with the respondents that we have access to. So we don’t really design studies or questionnaires and we don’t analyze or even see the data that’s being collected. We just ensure that our clients are collecting the data in the best way possible. So, what we’ve done with these respondents is we’ve had 150 profiling points for all the respondents that we have in our system. So, if you need to gather insights from dads of teenagers in New York, who go to the gym on a regular basis, or homeowners in California that make less than a hundred thousand, but own dogs, we can target those people directly. These profiling points, and the scale of the respondents we have, allows us to gather insights quickly and efficiently for our clients. In the past, fielding an online study could require a company to reach out to a number of panels, especially if the project is being conducted internationally. So project managers need to email back-and-forth with each of the panel sources about changes to the product specs, updates once it’s in the field, and any quotas that they need to fill. With Cint, all of that happens programmatically, without the need for all the back-and-forth, regardless of how many panels sources are feeding into the project or countries that the field work is being conducted in. So you’re cutting down potentially hundreds of emails during a project’s fielding to just a handful or none if you’re doing it through one of our DIY options.

Adrian Tennant: Can you explain the supply and demand sides of your business?

Mike Klotz: Yes, so the demand side of our business is really built up by our clients who are trying to understand consumer behavior better. We can measure that demand by simply looking at the number of consumers that companies want to collect behavior or opinions from. That’s dependent on the number of studies being fielded at any given time and the sample size desired in each study. The supply side is measured by the number of respondents available, which we can measure through the number of entries into our platform. In the simplest terms, our job is to ensure that we have enough supply to meet the demand through a completed interview.

Adrian Tennant: Where do the people that complete surveys typically come from?

Mike Klotz: So research panelists really come from all walks of life. In the US for example, we have access to over 20 million people who have either joined traditional panels, they’ve been recruited through social networks, or mobile games, through affiliate marketing, or website partners. There’s even an ad I see regularly on cable TV that asks people to help shape the future products they use. So all of these methods are designed to attract people who want their feedback and opinions to be heard.

Adrian Tennant: How are respondents rewarded for taking surveys?

Mike Klotz: So usually it’s monetary. Most panelists are incentivized either through direct payments or gift cards or some have point systems where you earn points for each study that you complete. And then you can buy things with those points or potentially enter those points into a sweepstakes for a larger prize.

Adrian Tennant: Now full disclosure here, Cint is one of Bigeye’s partners, so I know that you offer a variety of solutions. Can you explain a little more about Cint’s products and services and the types of clients or needs that each is designed to serve?

Mike Klotz: Right. So all of our solutions are designed to allow the client to collect data from respondents quickly, in a cost-effective manner, and as efficiently as possible. But that doesn’t always mean the same processes followed for each client. So the two main ways we work with clients are through what we call managed services and then through our DIY platform. So with managed services, a client of ours can take a survey that they’ve programmed in Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo – you know, whatever the platform of choice is – and send it to us along with the details that they want on who they want to collect insights from. So we’ll handle the fielding of the study, making adjustments for quotas that they have or controlling the fielding period until we have all of the completed interviews that they require. On the DIY side, clients can set up and field their studies directly without our intervention. They’ll set up the targeting and field it directly through our system. Those are really the two main ways that we work with our clients. You know, smaller companies that may not have a big operation staff may choose to leverage our managed services while companies that are fielding a lot of projects and, you know, maybe they have specs that change frequently, they’ll leverage our DIY platforms so that they can really see what the impact of the changes are as they formulate their sample plan. Beyond that, if a client has a tool that they need to feed respondents into, we can build the APIs directly so that they can field projects to our supply through their own tools or solutions. 

Adrian Tennant: How are respondents typically invited to participate in a study?

Mike Klotz: So, as I mentioned, all of the respondents we have in our system are profiled. So we already know who they are in terms of their demographics and some of their behaviors, for example, where they shop or the activities they participate in. So when a survey is being fielded that wants opinions from, say people that shop on Amazon.com or at Walmart, we can identify some of those in advance. And when we’re fielding that survey, they’ll receive an email invitation or a survey opportunity will pop up on the website or in the mobile app that they were recruited from. So, for example, they’ll see an opportunity to receive an incentive for doing a 10-minute study about their shopping habits. They can click on the link and enter our system. We also have algorithms on the back end, so when they enter the system, the respondent can be steered to the best-fit study for them.

Adrian Tennant: That was Mike Klotz of Cint, talking to us back in April. The other type of marketing research that Bigeye undertakes is qualitative. Focus groups are traditionally conducted in-person, but since March, with the closure of many research facilities as a result of COVID-19, we’ve been leveraging online solutions for the collection of qualitative insights. A couple of months ago, we interviewed Stephen Cribbett and Terri Sorenson from Further. Stephen is a pioneer in technology-enabled qualitative research, while Terri provides support, guidance, and inspiration to Further’s North American clients. We’ll pick up the conversation with Stephen’s definition of insight.

Stephen Cribbett: I think the human insight for me, or qualitative insight or consumer insight, is fraught with difficulty. It’s fraught with tension and challenge. I think we have to grapple with clients often. I don’t mean that in a sort of hostile relationship, but I think you need that tension to really unearth the kind of insight that gives clients the ability to move forward and understand what’s next or what the opportunity is. I think qualitative research for me is seeing a real Renaissance in the last five or so years, certainly as a response to big data, which has left clients still wanting and still searching for the answers. It hasn’t got anywhere near telling them why people are doing what they’re doing. It’s given them the ability to see what they’re doing, but in a way that lack of training has meant that they just keep coming back, wanting to know, “Why is that happening?” So for us, definitely it’s a good time to be in qualitative research and online qual in particular. And I think real insight, which on the qualitative spectrum can come from an interaction with one person, there’s never a better time to be doing it. 

Adrian Tennant: Terri, what are the most common misconceptions prospective clients have about qualitative research as opposed to quantitative?

Terri Sorenson: That’s a really great question. So we find, especially in the online space, that there is the misconception that an online qualitative research study is lower in costs and reduced time. The costs, if you’re traveling, of course, there’s no travel costs in an online qualitative research study. However, the costs for recruitment, the cost for time, for your moderators, for analysis, all of that is still applicable. And I would even say sometimes the amount of time a researcher puts into an online qualitative research study is possibly more because you’ll find participants in the studies that share quite a bit of detail and their responses are quite in-depth. So there’s increased time to go through those responses. As well, another myth or misconception I would have to say is that online qualitative, there is reduced effort in their moderation. So from the researcher’s perspective, it’s not a start and hit go and everything just comes in. You need to be engaged in those online qualitative studies, just as much as you would be if you were in-person and to allow – to really get out those insights from the participants that are taking part in this study. So again, being engaged, and being present within the online environment within your online qualitative study allows you to establish rapport with your participants and really get to know them in order to dig deep into those insights.

Adrian Tennant: What types of project is qualitative research especially well suited for?

Stephen Cribbett: I mean a lot of what we do and, and I think this is where qualitative research in the online version works really, really well is exploratory research. So the ability to spend time immersing oneself within consumers’ lives, over a short period of time, is exceptionally strong. And that means for us that we can often get through two or three different phases of work, starting with some exploration and consumer immersion, then developing some ideas and, and testing and evaluating those ideas with consumers. that works really, really well. I would say as an alternative to doing focus groups where you’ve got a very limited amount of time with the consumer, often highly scripted as well, online qual gives you that space and ability to meander, with consumers and to go off-piste. And so again, the skill of the moderator in that instance is to be prepared for that and to follow the ebbs and flows of the conversations and the dialogues that are happening. so I’d say the exploratory research is really, really good. I know Terri has been working on a couple of different areas recently as well, that I think, the online qual, lends itself to particularly well.

Terri Sorenson: Yeah, so recently we’ve seen an uptick in in-home product testing. So there’s been a lot of focus on getting to see that product in the home environment then immersing with the consumers or the users over that short given period of time, say a week with the product. Getting to know their perceptions of, initial reactions and what the experience is like over that given time. So that’s one area we’ve seen a bit of an uptick in, as well. We do see a bit, customer experience type of research, finding those gaps in the service that companies or brands are offering, are another great usage of online qualitative solutions.

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

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Stephen Cribbett and Terri Sorenson from Further. Now, in addition to market research services, Further has developed an online qualitative platform that you call Together. Can you tell us a bit about what the platform offers researchers?

Terri Sorenson: So Together is an activity-based platform. Researchers are able to engage with the consumers and the participants in a variety of different activity types. They can be activities such as a blog or a markup kind of activity for a concept test. They can track participants with daily habits through diary activities. you can send them on shopping missions, have participants upload photos of their experience in the store or photos or videos as well. So there’s a variety of activities that the researcher can engage with the participants in. There’s open discussion forums, collaboration or co-creation type activities, and participants can come up with their own new ideas for a product. And then, you run with that as the researcher to further develop what it is that the participants or these consumers are looking for. It’s a great way to allow the group as a whole to collaborate together. We also have a small bit of quant in our world of qual, allowing them to dig deeper into some concept testing, using survey-type activities as well. And then, from a researcher’s perspective, we have some analysis tools built in the backend that allow them to – when they’re uncovering those insights – be able to tag and really interact with that data for their future analysis.

Adrian Tennant: How do clients monitor the research as it’s taking place?

Terri Sorenson: Yeah. So the Together platform allows you as the data is coming in, allows you, of course, to see the responses and everything taking place. You can then, as a researcher, you are able to then what we call probing the participants or join in the conversation with the participants. As well, you can at any time of course, download the transcripts and work with it offline if you wanted. And you can also invite your end clients to come in and view the discussions that are taking part within the platform as well. 

Stephen Cribbett: Probably the simplest way of describing the platform – it’s like a professional Facebook platform. So you log on and see these conversations happening in real time. You see all of the data, the videos, the events and the moments that are being shared, and it is quite exciting. Often it can be quite addictive once you start looking into those. And, we get to see all manner of things taking place, and sometimes some really interesting relationships starting to form within these communities as well.

Adrian Tennant: Now, for anyone considering undertaking the very first online qualitative project, do you have some top tips for success that you could share?

Stephen Cribbett: Oh, good question. First and foremost, I think it’s important not to think like this is an alternative to a focus group and just lift a focus group discussion. So, we try to encourage the clients or the researchers that are using the technology, not to over-script all of the interactions and the task and activities with the clients. I think it’s important to allow that space and time for your participants to go off-piste and to share things outside of the realms of the project, because often that will shape their thinking and their approach. So those are really important. I think also when you are incentivizing and rewarding people for their participation, of course, these research respondents, they get paid some money to participate in these activities, but I think you need to go deeper and think about some of the more social and emotional rewards and incentives to participation for these people. You should recruit them on an attitudinal basis rather than just kind of the demographics. So think about how they might be interesting and interested in the project itself. What can they bring to the table that you might not otherwise get. And think about how to encourage them to interact and hang out with each other sometimes because that does lead to the sharing of different thoughts, different attitudes, and perceptions. So I think those are some of the sort of the very top-line tips alongside just being creative. I think a lot of the time that we spend with our clients is helping them think creatively about what’s possible with the tools that they have at their disposal, rather than seeing the technology is a barrier. See it as an enabler and think differently about how you might elicit the types of responses that you want. But Terri, I know you spend a lot of time guiding clients on these things and giving them the kind of, quick start programs that we have. What would you see as the most pertinent advice that you gave on a daily basis?

Terri Sorenson: Yeah. So on a daily basis, I would say, that the best advice is to know your technology and trust in your technology partner. Part of that is because yes, we offer an online qualitative platform, but we are invested in what we do here at Further, and we help our clients to learn the technology, to use it to its best advantage in order to gain their insights. Take time to learn that technology. So, play around with the software before you begin developing your guide, know what tools are available to you. And as Stephen said, one of the most important things is to be creative. Don’t just design a question-answer response type of research study. Because in all honesty, you can do that in an online survey. Get creative with your research design itself.

Adrian Tennant: Further has offices in the UK and of course, North America. Do you see any significant differences between European clients’ approaches to market research and the way North American clients work?

Terri Sorenson: So from my perspective, the research methodologies are quite similar. A large number of our clients do global research. So what’s being done in the UK versus the US are very similar in their approach. I do believe there’s a bit of cultural difference between the actual research design, compared to London and the US. And by that, I mean, I see a lot more fluid or holistic approach to research design from our London clients compared to a more rigid or structured approach to the research design in the US. Meaning there’s a lot more of the direct question, direct response type approach versus allowing research design such as when wanting to uncover their feelings or perceptions about a particular experience or brand. Creating and designing the activity in a way of, “Here’s some things to think about. Then we would like you to share your experience with this” compared to, “Alright. I want to know, when did you last use this? How was that experience with it?” Those direct, question-answer response. So I feel like there’s a little more of a human element when it comes to the London clients, whereas I find a lot more desire for automation, quick responses from the North American clients. 

Stephen Cribbett: I think what we’re seeing at the moment is there is an appetite as well for a lot of the North American clients to go through this kind of learn, test, and develop sort of process really that’s sort of three-stage approach. So they seem more willing to be using online methods to cycle through that really quickly with far-reaching audiences. And that’s really exciting for us. I think a little bit more of the work that we do in Europe at the moment is just purely on that kind of initial phase, that learning or insight phase. I’m not sure at the moment whether that’s just a cultural shift or that’s just by happy accident by the type of clients that we work with in the different regions. 

Adrian Tennant: That was Further’s founder and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Cribbett, and Further’s North American Client Success Manager, Terri Sorenson. Before that clip, we heard from Michael Klotz, Director of Client Development at Cint. And I’d like to extend my thanks to all the guests that have joined us on this fourth season of IN CLEAR FOCUS. You can find transcripts of all our episodes on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” So you don’t miss a future episode, please consider subscribing to the show on your podcast player of choice – and, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to this season of IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. I’ll see you in season five, but for now, goodbye.

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Signage for Multifamily Property Developments

Multifamily marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast this week focuses on property signage and the value of a cohesive strategy from lease up to resident engagement. 

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Multifamily marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast explores the design and fabrication of signage for multifamily and mixed-use developments. From lease-up to resident engagement, expert Steven Hauck of Poblocki Sign Co explains the importance of pre-planning and identifying branding and wayfinding signage needs early on. Steve explains the permitting process, provides “dos” and “don’ts” for visual design and discusses new opportunities afforded by digital solutions.

In Clear Focus: Signage for Multifamily Property Developments

In Clear Focus this week: Multifamily marketing agency Bigeye’s podcast explores the design and fabrication of signage for multifamily and mixed-use developments. From lease-up to resident engagement, expert Steven Hauck of Poblocki Sign Co explains the importance of pre-planning and identifying branding and wayfinding signage needs early on.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Bigeye is fortunate to serve a number of clients who develop and manage multifamily properties, student housing, and senior living communities. Influencing the success of any new or rebranded development is the strategic use of signage. Branding and directional signs need to be both visually impactful and easy to understand for residents and visitors alike. Modern multifamily apartments and student housing often have multiple buildings. Signage design can tie together amenities across several blocks, giving properties a cohesive look and feel and aid navigation.To discuss practical and logistical considerations for property signage, I’m joined in the studio today by Steven Hauck, who is Vice President of Business Development with Poblocki Sign Company. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Steve!

Steven Hauck: Thank you, Adrian. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So first, Steve, could you tell us something about your background in signage?

Steven Hauck: Absolutely. I started in the sign business in the mid-Nineties. Moved to Orlando with my girlfriend. She was going to UCF and I started at Valencia doing web and graphic design and quickly learned I was actually out-learning my teacher ’cause he was learning the class the night before and teaching it. So I started my own business then and got into the graphics side. Realized that coding wasn’t for me and liked the graphics and got into doing sign graphics and got a job as a designer. And then from there I got into the project management side and for the last 26 years, worked every position from install to design to sales and in the last 10 years actually had the fastest-growing sign company in Central Florida. And just recently, we went through a merger acquisition with Poblocki Sign Company, based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a 95-year history in the industry, it was a family-owned company so it was a perfect match for us ’cause they specialize in custom signage and do a lot of work with developers.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. So in what ways can signage influence the success of new multifamily property developments?

Steven Hauck: Well, signage is your curb appeal. It’s the first impression sometimes that visitors will have. So you want to have that lasting impression with them. Your wayfinding signage is highly important for a complex property because you don’t want visitors to get lost. So you want them to have that good feeling and positive feeling when visiting sites and that’s a great opportunity to also showcase the property amenities, social gathering areas, to give the visitors the sense that, “This is where I want to be,” “This is where I want to live,” or “This is where I want to visit.”

Adrian Tennant: So I mentioned in my intro, Steve, that branding and directional signage both need to be visually impactful and easy to understand for residents and visitors. Tell me about some of the tricks we can use to make sure that all visitors have a cohesive brand experience.

Steven Hauck: It’s important to maintain the brand through all the signage, but I also have seen where the brand can overpower the signage and make it less effective. So I think having your impact from the start, your curb appeal, which is your exterior signage, is the main full brand. And then as you enter the property, sometimes it’s hard to always incorporate the full brand in the signage, but have elements of the brand that tie it all in together. And I think if you can find that perfect balance, it has a great flow to it. And especially with wayfinding, ’cause wayfinding is highly important on complex properties. You want to have people to feel comfortable navigating the property and not feel lost. I think once you have issues of people not knowing where they’re at, not knowing where they’re going, it starts to create a negative feeling about the visit. So you want to make sure you have really good wayfinding so people can find their way to the amenities, to where they’re going, to visit friends or family. And it’s a good way to also showcase your property and what your property has to offer. I think sometimes the amenities are overlooked as far as on the branding to show, “Hey, this is what we have to offer.” It kind of gives people that feeling that, “Wow, I would love to live here. ‘Cause I have all this stuff that I can experience if I lived here as well.” So I think maintaining the brand through all of that helps tie it all in together. And it also helps your property stand out, especially if someone’s looking for a new place to live, they might remember the branding because it looked so good and it made them feel good and gave them that good feeling as opposed to the last property looked at, didn’t have that. And it helps kinda, I think, keep that in their mind as they’re exploring and touring properties.

Adrian Tennant: There are obviously some differences between permanent signage and that which is intended to be temporary. How does that temporary signage typically evolve as communities are being constructed?

Steven Hauck: Well, temporary signage is made with different materials so we’re using plastics or sometimes wood or just final decals. A lot of times with multifamily developments, we have to put temporary signage in for certain code compliance to identify doors and locations before the permanent signage is ready. And it’s also a good marketing piece as well. A lot of multifamily developments will have a construction fence up. So that’s a perfect opportunity to put branding around the property to build awareness before the property is actually available.

Adrian Tennant: Typically, what’s your role in the planning, design, and installation of property signage?

Steven Hauck: So I’m usually the first contact. So my role is typically to gather as much information as possible. So that way I can bring back as much information as I can to my team. So that way they start the process for usually the due diligence. Our first step is to always go through the code compliance and look at the wayfinding system to start to build the traffic patterns for pedestrians and vehicular as well as to look at the municipality where the project is located to see what logistical challenges they will have. Every municipality is different. So that timeline for permitting is controlled by them. And so we want to make sure that we get projects in the permitting for the right time to make sure that we can hit the deadlines and goals of the development.

Adrian Tennant: So different types of signage have different permitting rules?

Steven Hauck: They do. And every municipality has their own set of rules and some municipalities have multiple sets of rules for different overlay districts, so that can sometimes create major logistical challenges.

Adrian Tennant: How do you assess the number of signs that a property requires?

Steven Hauck: Typically what we do is once the drawings are at a 95 percent completion level, we’ll have our programmer come in and review the sitemaps and the location plans and the floor plans. And they identify every single location that their sign will be: interior, exterior, traffic patterns for pedestrians and vehicular, and they build a message schedule. So at the end, we will have a location plan that matches a message schedule that shows what the sign type is and the message on the sign for the entire property.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the logistical issues that you have to consider for signage designed for multifamily developments?

Steven Hauck: Most of that has to do with compliance. So for the interior signs, making sure that every door is marked and is marked properly, and the exterior signage goes back to the rules and regulations set by the municipality. So not all municipalities have the same rules. Some don’t allow high rise signs, some don’t allow illuminated signs. Some only have very minimal square footage allowances for residential where some municipalities are, I would say, more gracious on what they allow.

Adrian Tennant: What are the different categories of signage for property development?

Steven Hauck: Property development has a large sign family. So your interior signs, you have your regulatory signs, your ADA signs for door identification, wayfinding. You can have information kiosks, reception branding opportunities, as well as wall wraps, wall murals, your amenities’ rules, your amenity identification signs, and on your exterior, you have your monument signs, wall signs, your vehicular wayfinding signs, your parking, which is your DOT-style signs. That’s about it. 

Adrian Tennant: Just help me understand – you referred to a monument sign. What does that mean?

Steven Hauck: So a monument is a standalone ground sign. Typically that would be at the entry point or entry points of multifamily development. And then your wall signs would be something that would be identified on the wall which is not allowed in every municipality. So when you get a municipality that allows those, we’d like to capitalize on that ’cause that’s certainly a great way to get branding out there

Adrian Tennant: Now, depending on the scope of the project, signage needs may go beyond the branding and obviously, as you’ve described, incorporate onsite wayfinding to help visitors and residents navigate that physical space, especially if it’s a larger development. How early in the process are wayfinding requirements typically identified? Is it at that same drawing stage?

Steven Hauck: Exactly. I think that’s something that we like to get in the earlier the better. So when the initial meetings with our architect or your contractors and your agencies are kicking off, that’s a great time to bring us in because we want to be able to identify possible branding challenges in the design. Some logos and designs look great on paper, but when you try to build it in the three-dimensional world, they don’t always work out. So the earlier we can get in there and help contribute to those early design stages, the better.

Adrian Tennant: Now do timeframes for fabricating branding signage typically run in parallel with wayfinding signage?

Steven Hauck: Yeah. So all signs have their own kind of timeline. With Poblocki, our interior facility is in North Carolina. So that’s where 95 percent of all our interior signs are made. And the exterior signage, it’s either fabricated in Milwaukee or here in Florida at our facility, which obviously has a much longer lead time. Interior signs have compliance, but it is a compliance market we have to hit by the end of the job, whereas exterior signs, we have to go through permitting. So we have to prove compliance at the beginning stages to show the sizes meet the local ordinances. But both parts into your next year, both travel their own timelines, and we can move those around to make sure we hit the goals and needs of the clients.

Adrian Tennant: Steve, ideally how early in the process should a creative agency, like Bigeye, be involved in designing signage?

Steven Hauck: We’re ready for design assistance from the very beginning. So understanding the challenges of sign manufacturing gives us the ability to spot challenges in brand development early. So some logos, with the design, certainly it helps to have us there in the beginning. So we can point out a feature of the logo or something to say, “Hey, that’s going to be a difficult feature to produce in your branding.” So that way we can help kind of control some of that when it comes to the signage standpoint or maybe there’s an alternative brand standard for the signage compared to the other branding. So we can kind of help with that in the beginning.

Adrian Tennant: And in what kinds of ways can agencies partner most effectively with signage experts, such as yourself?

Steven Hauck: We’ve created successful relationships with design agencies all over the East coast of the United States. And we like to consider ourselves your signage partner when it comes to signage and wayfinding. So we’ve worked directly with the architects, the builders, we come in as your code experts to make sure that the project stays on task with compliance and code and we’ll meet the regulations of the local municipalities.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. Now are there certain types of materials that work best in all environments, or do you typically tailor fabrication recommendations based on each location’s local weather or average temperatures?

Steven Hauck: That’s a great question. I think aluminum is the best product all around for signage. It works great indoors outdoors. It’s lightweight, it holds up to the elements well, so that’s typically our go-to product. Obviously the price point of that’s usually sometimes higher. We also use lots of acrylics in photopolymers for interior signage. There’s PVC and foam, which are typically your temporary signage or at a low cost point. So it’s not something we would ever use in a permanent application. When it comes to colors, I certainly look at the fact that Florida has the sun and it is super bright here. And it’s funny, you will see on some signs, the east side of the sign looks perfectly fine and you look at the west side of the sign and it’s completely faded. The yellows and reds get beat up in the sun. So sometimes we try and keep those colors out of large exterior signs, just because of the impact from the sun.

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

Lauren Fore: Hi, I’m Lauren Fore on Bigeye’s operations team. Property development and management present their own unique sets of challenges. Growing a powerful, lasting brand takes industry expertise, strategy, and insight. Bigeye’s portfolio of property clients reflects our award-winning, extensive experience in all aspects of creative marketing – for multifamily and mixed-use developments as well as student housing, senior living, and real estate. To see case studies and learn more about Bigeye’s creative and media solutions tailored to property development and management, please visit BigeyeProperties.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Steven Hauck from Poblocki Sign Company about signage design and fabrication for property developments. Signage that appears a certain way during the daytime can be lit to look quite different at night. What practical issues should your agency partners consider when designing signage to be illuminated?

Steven Hauck: I think the most important question is, is when’s the most important visibility of the sign? Is it nighttime or daytime? That’s probably a good way to start. Obviously, your retail and restaurant spaces – the nighttime visibility is important. I think for family development projects the daytime is probably the most important. And then you also have to factor in that some municipalities don’t even allow illuminated signage for mixed use development. So the external illumination for signs to light up, shine up on a monument, is sometimes the only lighting you’re allowed to do.

Adrian Tennant: What are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for visual designers when it comes to selecting typefaces and colors in signage?

Steven Hauck: Well, thin font strokes are a challenge especially if you are working with illuminated signage to get LEDs inside of letters and some of the thinner strokes, which we’ve noticed branding has trended that way for a little while. I think it’s kind of trending back the other direction a little bit sometimes. And also with vehicular traffic and the speed of the traffic, thin fonts are difficult to read. So I think we take all those into consideration when looking at logo and brand design to make sure it would not have those challenges. For colors, there’s certainly compliance regulations for the interior signage and ADA. It has to have a contrast with the background. The ADA requirements do require certain contrasts of light and dark. They’re not necessarily policing it. It’s more implied so it’s one of those really hard targets to hit because the rules aren’t really clear. There’s a lot of interpretation open to that.

Adrian Tennant: We’ve been referring to ADA – that is of course the Americans With Disabilities Act. Steve, what are some of the most interesting property signage projects you’ve worked on?

Steven Hauck: Personally, my favorite sign that we did was for NASA. And I actually got to be there when they brought the Space Shuttle by the sign and the wing of the Space Shuttle just cleared the top of the sign by a couple feet. In fact, at one point when they knew this was going to happen, they told us to stop production until their engineers could confirm the wing was going to clear the sign and then they allowed us to continue. They did have to lay down all the streetlights to bring the Space Shuttle Atlantis through this business park on its way to the Kennedy Space Center where its final resting place is in the Visitor Complex. My plan was to get out there super early to have pictures of my sign with the Space Shuttle going by it. But by the time I got out there, the Space Shuttle was already in its parking spot. But it is still an amazing experience.

Adrian Tennant: Absolutely, on so many levels. Wow, truly iconic.

Steven Hauck: Absolutely. Another project just recently we did was for Lakewood Ranch, which is over in the Bradenton Sarasota area. We got to work on a full mixed development that has retail and multifamily in it. And the multifamily apartments’ called The Greens. So they have a very natural feel to it. And all the interior signage we got to use real pecky cypress with a green tactile braille panel over it. It was great to be able to use a natural product and it fit with their theme perfectly.

Adrian Tennant: You also work on signage projects for clients in different verticals. What similarities or differences, if any, are there between your approach to property developments and say, quick service restaurants?

Steven Hauck: Well, every project starts out the same way: understanding your client’s needs and identifying the challenges upfront: timing, location, municipality access. And then from there, it all changes considerably from the planning aspect. You know, retail signs usually have a shorter timeline to get in and out, whereas your larger development signs have much more time for planning. The retail signs also are a one-off location. So sometimes we’re working with a branding, it was already set in place and you know, if it’s a single location, sometimes we can work to tweak the design of the brand a little bit just for that location. Whereas some of the larger developments and larger brands, maintaining those brand standards is highly important. And so we’ll have to work through those challenges, uh, to maintain the brand at that time.

Adrian Tennant: What opportunities with signage design do clients often overlook?

Steven Hauck: I think the logistical challenges with permitting are overlooked the most, and the timing it takes to sometimes get a signage project approved, with a local municipality. There’s nothing worse than designing something that your client loves. It meets the budget and you go to permit it and then the city or County comes back and their interpretation of the code is different and they say, “You can’t have it.” So that’s kind of heartbreaking to do sometimes. So that due diligence upfront is highly important. There’s all kinds of situations we’ve run into. Like even the plan development, which is the first step of any new development that goes on record with the city or County, will sometimes have language in it that controls the signage. But sometimes the interpretation of it can be misleading. Like we just had one where the PD said no high rise signage. And the developer came up from Miami and he was putting in a five-story apartment building on his development. So he didn’t think anything of it because in high rise signage in South Florida is 10 stories or more. Well, in the city of Orlando, high rise signage is just anything above 30 feet. So he planned to put a sign at the top of his building and in his PD saw no high rise signage, and wasn’t concerned with it until we went to permit.

Adrian Tennant: So I notice a lot of multifamily properties when they’re launching use feather banners outside so there’s some kind of movement from the wind. Is that a good idea longer-term, or is it one of those very difficult things to find fabrics that will survive over a long period?

Steven Hauck: Typically, those are in the temporary signs category. They’re at a low cost point. So it’s something that can be refreshed or updated along the way. A lot of municipalities will only allow them to be up for a certain time as well. But most municipalities don’t have someone policing it so basically, developers will keep those up as long as they can until they are pretty much told they have to come down because I believe that they are a great attention-grabber for traffic. ‘Cause obviously the movement is something that draws people’s attention. So I think they’re pretty effective, especially for the cost point.

Adrian Tennant: How do you see signage evolving in the next few years? 

Steven Hauck: I’m a big fan of technology and about 12 years ago is when LEDs really completely changed our industry. The digital signage is actually becoming more effective and cost less. So I think you’re going to see that incorporated into more signage now than you have before, just because the price points are starting to come down. There’s lots of really unique digital signage out there for retail. That’s some of it’s a little scary. I’ve seen some stuff at our conventions where retail signs will actually have built in facial recognition software that can tell the age and gender of the people viewing the sign and it can change the message according to the age and gender of the person looking at it. So that’s kind of spooky at the same time, but I think the technology and the information kiosks we’re seeing a lot more requests for those. And the interactivity of some of these signs, I think that’s going to be a way of the future where you can walk up to signage and interact with it and get information faster. Here at Poblocki, one of the things we’re doing, we’re working with RFID chips and putting those into ADA signs. So that way the visually impaired can actually walk up with their cell phone wave in front of the sign and listen to a recorded message to help guide them to their location as opposed to having to read braille.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Steve, if listeners are interested in your organization, the services you offer, or want to see examples of signage, what’s the best way for them to learn more?

Steven Hauck: We’re on all the social media platforms, but I think Instagram is probably one of the best because we’re constantly posting pictures there, not only of projects we’re working on, but just of people in our organization. Since we have offices in four or five different States, it’s a great way for our team to always stay connected. Our website’s a great resource as well – we have drone footage of completed projects as well as testimonials from clients and you can see a lot of the projects we’ve worked on. And, we’d like to consider ourselves the sign company that people call when other sign companies say “we can’t do it.” So we have a lot of high difficulty, high challenging projects that we’re able to pull off which makes a great showcase for our company.

Adrian Tennant: Great! And of course we’ll include links to those on our website too. Steve, thank you very much for being on, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Steven Hauck: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Steven Hauck, Vice President of Business Development with Poblocki Sign Company. You can find a transcript of our conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And if you like the show, please tell a friend! If you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. If you’d like to see more of Bigeye’s work for multifamily, student housing, senior living communities, and real estate, please check out our dedicated website at BigeyeProperties.com. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next time, goodbye.

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