Why we need to start thinking differently about ‘bringing consumers to life’

‘Oh before I forget, we’ll need something that can help bring consumers to life in the debrief – is that ok?’

We’ve all been there. Typically appended to the end of a brief or mentioned in passing in a kick off session, the request to ‘bring consumers to life’ all too often emerges as something of an afterthought; a loosely defined ‘nice to have’ that leaves everyone feeling reassured about a box well ticked, but which frequently fails to deliver any significant value.

An opportunity missed

Experience tells us that when stakeholders get to hear, see and even meet the very consumers they serve, it can be nothing short of revelatory. Through video, in particular, we have the ability to tell powerful human stories that are able to challenge, provoke and inspire audiences in a way that even the most seasoned of presenters will struggle to when delivering the consumer voice second hand.

What a shame then that we so often fail to maximise the opportunity. ‘Do it properly or don’t do it at all’ goes the old adage, and that’s certainly true here. When tokenism defines the client request for (and agency response to) consumer-centric collateral, the fruits of this half-baked approach almost always underwhelm; average quality vox pop material that ends up getting side-lined in a debrief, before being consigned to a lifetime of gathering virtual dust in a dark corner of a business’ server. We shouldn’t tolerate this – and in an age where innovative tools are making the creation of compelling video material more user-friendly than ever, the industry is quickly running out of excuses.

Start thinking differently

Ultimately, the key to effecting positive change doesn’t lie in tools or technical ability. It’s about mindset. As long as ‘bringing the consumer to life’ continues to be perceived as an optional nice-to-have that exists outside of a project’s core remit, so the issues above will continue to surface. Only when it’s re-framed as a vital, necessary part of our duty to connect our clients with the consumer they serve, can we start to think more smartly about how it should manifest.

Does the material need to complement the story, or tell the story? Is it there to inform, inspire, challenge or provoke? Is it being presented as part of a debrief, or is it designed to be disseminated around a wider stakeholder group? Are stakeholders going to have the luxury of time required to sit back at their desk and slowly take it all in, or will they be looking for a quick fix as they run between meetings?

Those are just a small selection of the questions that should be dictating how and why this type of collateral is used to land consumer-centric stories within a business. And the answers to these questions have significant implications for the type of material agencies are producing, whether it be production value, length or editing style.

Keep the consumer in the conversation

Qualitative research continues to face a number of battles when it comes to influencing thinking at the sharp end of decision making. For some, the reassurance provided by big numbers can undermine its credibility. Elsewhere, the converse is often true, with an over-reliance on ‘human stories’ surfacing very different but equally problematic challenges; ‘insights’ being mistakenly misinterpreted or, worse, wilfully misconstrued. Either way, there is a responsibility incumbent on both clients and agencies to fight to ensure that the consumer voice stays present, persuasive and credible. To that end, ‘bringing the consumer to life’ remains one of our most powerful allies – but it’ll take more than a few grainy vox pops to ensure that it doesn’t arrive in the boardroom already clinging to life support.