MRXTalks - An interview with James Jesty, Shape new ideas

Published 03 Dec 2020 23 minute read

Market Research
MRXtalks

Since Covid-19 and the lockdown restrictions, we've been unable to put on our popular MRXTalks sessions, where we invite industry experts to speak, over coffee and croissants. So we've decided to take them online. Same great interviews with experts, more insights… bring your own coffee.

In this first online MRXTalk session, Further's CEO, Stephen Cribbett speaks to James Jesty, an innovation consultant — and former Cadbury, Nestle and Johnson & Johnson Marketer and innovation lead — about the value of consumer insight and the challenges of moving ideation workshops online.

Questions:

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your consultancy and what led you to set it up James?
  2. What are the projects you are most proud of, or that have had the most profound impact on the world around us?
  3. Was there a single insight that triggered that development? And what role do insight and research have in the work that you do?
  4. Up until COVID-19 hit, what did you see as the biggest challenges for brands?
  5. This is where good research and contextual insight comes in. Do you sense that some of the more established, mature brands were losing sight of the consumer context and paying a bit too much attention to business models and supply chains - the old ways of doing things?
  6. Do you have any other examples of great products and services that inspire people and creating value in new ways?
  7. What advice would you give young people who are looking to come into the world of brand marketing and innovation or young entrepreneurs who are looking to launch new products and services?
  8. And research, again, is the tool to enable that consumer or user empathy. What are the research methods, tools and techniques that you adopt to stay in touch with consumers?
  9. What impact is that the support that Further is providing – it's software and expert services - having on your work?
  10. What are the learnings you have made?
  11. With the asynchronous online qualitative research methodology, there's that potential for a lag, and there's a risk of losing some richness. Still, the flip side is that in a live engagement, sometimes you don't allow the participant time to reflect

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your consultancy and what led you to set it up James?

JJ:   I used to work for  Johnson & Johnson  (J&J) as a global innovation director. Over the years, I developed a passion for front-end innovation, and I saw the opportunity to set up our consultancy to help teams collaborate and co-design more effective novel solutions for new products, services and customer experiences.

We use a lot of different methodologies, primarily based around design thinking and human centricity. We tailor every project according to the needs of the situation to help people uncover surprising and novel insights and solutions to unresolved customer needs.

Q: What are the projects you are most proud of, or that have had the most profound impact on the world around us?

JJ: When I was at  Johnson & Johnson J&J, I was part of the team that introduced Benecol yogurt drinks, a specialist cholesterol-lowering food backed by science. The small yogurt drink format became a multimillion-dollar business and is still thriving today.

I'm proud of this project because it's a great example of some innovation fundamentals: cross-functional teamwork, great insights and a solution which had a profound impact on people's lives.

Q: Was there a single insight that triggered that development? And what role do insight and research have in the work that you do?

JJ: I believe that insight is vital to any innovation project. In the Benecol example, we identified that many people wanted a simple solution that could be part of the diet and lifestyle changes they were making to take control of their raised cholesterol. The 'one-a-day' yogurt drink proved to be intuitive, and something people could adopt into their routine with ease and feel optimistic about.

We always take client teams back to insights before we jump to ideas.

Without that profound and vivid understanding of what your customer is trying to accomplish, which isn't necessarily obvious, your solutions won't be relevant, or unique, and they won't have any real, sustainable impact in the marketplace.

Q: Up until COVID-19 hit, what did you see as the biggest challenges for brands?

JJ: Firstly, many categories are getting very crowded, and therefore brands need to have a strong point of uniqueness and relevance to remain competitive and grow. Incumbent brand leaders are confronted by start-ups that are changing business models and breaking the rules. Start-ups more often look at a problem through the eyes of the consumer and ask "What problem is not be solved, and how can we solve it in a way that is unique and relevant?"

Secondly, digital transformation is impacting how brands and companies communicate and interact with consumers. The COVID crisis has accelerated this change. Businesses have had to reappraise their digital transformation initiatives. As the digital terrain shifts brands need to understand how these services and experiences can help consumers better accomplish their goals.

Q: And this is where good research and contextual insight comes in. Do you sense that some of the more established, mature brands were losing sight of the consumer context and paying a bit too much attention to business models and supply chains - the old ways of doing things?

JJ: Large organisations are like an oil tanker: there are a lot of moving parts and complexity; it's challenging to do a quick U-turn even though many teams want to. To manage this complexity teams create playbooks: "This is how the category operates. These are the rules of success. These are the principles by which we need to operate." Such playbooks become embedded in the DNA of a team. It's hard to raise your head above the parapet and say, "Can we challenge these rules? Which ones are no longer relevant? Has the consumer moved on? Has the business model changed?"

Men's shaving is a good example. Gilette created the category playbook, and then brands such as Harry's and Dollar Shave Club have come in and challenged how you go to market by creating a more relevant user and shopper experience. BrewDog, in brewing, is another example of a start-up that's become a significantly-sized mainstream business by breaking the category norms and customer experience model.

Q: Do you have any other examples of great products and services that inspire people and creating value in new ways?

JJ: Oatly, the milk alternative, taps into the consumer desire for plant-based foods, in a way that's relevant and engaging. They've thought through the steps of the consumer experience in-depth: the product experience, the packaging experience, the marketing experience. They have a clear brand point of view. They also deliver an integrated customer experience at critical touchpoints and in doing so, stand out from the crowd. Innovation is no longer just about your product, but it's also how and where you engage people

Q: What advice would you give young people who are looking to come into the world of brand marketing and innovation or young entrepreneurs who are looking to launch new products and services?

JJ: Stay close to your target audience. Develop a good grasp of the customer's mindset: what they're thinking, feeling and doing. Identify the gap between what they want to achieve and their unresolved needs. This understanding will help you deliver distinct solutions to be of value and disruptive.

Q: And research, again, is the tool to enable that consumer or user empathy. What are the research methods, tools and techniques that you adopt to stay in touch with consumers

JJ:  We help brand teams experiment with insights and ideas. If you've got a problem, generate some hypotheses: what you think the problem the customer is wrestling with and possible solutions. Explore these insights and ideas with your target audience via a series of iterative steps. At each stage, you find the weaknesses in your thinking and how to improve your concept or prototype. Don't jump too quickly to implement your first set of ideas because they are typically flawed.

You have to be open to different techniques to empathise and co-create with your prospective users. Crucially, spend time with your target audience, to understand the context within which people use your product or service. Context is king. Whether it's a healthy food product that needs to justify its space in the fridge, or whether it's a new healthcare service that results in a better outcome for patients, you need to broaden the conversation out to understand the tensions and frustrations that users experience. In-context research leads to better and more robust innovation insights, which help you shape a more contextually appropriate solution.

Q:  What impact is that the support that Further is providing – it's software and expert services - having on your work?

JJ:  We typically run in-person co-creation workshops with users, to incubate and experiment with ideas. Obviously, with Covid-19, we couldn't do that, so working with your team, we were able to mirror the majority of those interactions online. We set up panels over a period of days, and give consumers a series of tasks to examine insights and ideas. We weren't going to jump into it unless we felt comfortable that we would get the depth of understanding that we wanted.
We've had to think hard about the way we've set up projects: the stimulus, the tasks and exercises to get into the heads of our consumers. Finding a way to mirror what we do face-to-face, online, enabled us to keep up the momentum of projects that, in the current situation, we wouldn't have otherwise been able to do.

Q: What are the learnings you have made?

JJ: Be clear on the questions to be answered, and be creative and provocative about how you explore those questions. It's essential to include activities to explore the broader context rather than jump straight into evaluating ideas — these insights will open everybody's mind. "Oh, that's interesting. We haven't thought about that. That's new. That has an impact on how we talk about this idea, on our messaging, and the broader proposition."

One thing we have recognised is when we do live workshops, over three or sometimes five hours, it can often be the conversations you have in between the main activities that lead to the 'aha' moments. So the challenge is how to replicate that online.

Q:  With the asynchronous online qualitative research methodology, there's that potential for a lag, and there's a risk of losing some richness. Still, the flip side is that in a live engagement, sometimes you don't allow the participant time to reflect

JJ:  Yes, that's apparent. We've been able to replicate those moments to an extent; we've got lots of rich contextual insights, and we've triangulated bits of information and insight. The challenge with the online portal is when you see something interesting, how do you probe that further. With more complex projects, we're thinking about breaking them up into parts so you can pause, reflect, refine your hypotheses and ideas and go back in for a further iteration.

Q: Like research sprints? That's an approach that's in line with design sprints and agile innovation processes. Many of our clients think in those terms.
Did you have any other observations about the work?

JJ:  One of the things that worked well was doing in-home cupboard and fridge safaris. We find consumers engage with this, and it provides a very helpful context.

Q: People love talking about their world and showing us around their homes. These types of exercises always work really well. We quite often use a mixed methodology as well; many clients would do an online community, but then engage with a focus group, or do a live online focus group. We like to think of our platform as an environment for managing the whole process.

JJ:  Yes, one of the lessons for me is the combination of tools. You could, for example, use online techniques at the front end of a project to start answering some initial questions or hunches. You could then go out into the field (Covid-19 notwithstanding) and observe behaviours or run co-creation workshops to probe an opportunity in more depth with simple prototypes, storyboards and concepts.

SC: Thanks so much, James, it's been fascinating talking to you. Is there anything else you would like to say to sum up?

JJ: Thanks, Stephen. Overall, I can't emphasise enough the importance of getting close to consumers. It's all about being clear about your target audience, finding people who are articulate and creative within the context of that target audience and using the right tools to be able to have good conversations with them.

Our MRXTalks will be returning next year and we're always looking out for new people, with interesting opinions to talk to. Our scouts are already out there and may be knocking on your door any day soon, but if you want to come forward and suggest anyone you would like us to interview, please get in touch.

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