News & Thinking

Back To The Future? It’s time to get back to IRL with your audience.

  • News
News 13 Jun

Working from home has been a post-pandemic blessing for many people: less commuting, less stress, fewer expenses. We know that. And in our line of work the advancements in technology in recent times have allowed us to reach more varied audiences, conduct fieldwork more flexibly, and make viewing sessions more convenient for stakeholders. But what is the flip side of these changes and does this mean you are always getting the full picture?

Because when you place people physically in front of each other they make eye contact, they adjust their body language, they react to what others are saying – and how they are saying it. There is an energy and a dynamism which cannot be replicated online. The slight movements: the straightening of a back, the raise of an eyebrow, the ever-so-slight change in tone. Just like watching a huge sporting event on the telly is great, but it’s incomparable to the exhilaration, adrenaline and excitement of actually being there.

This shows my age, sadly, but 15 years ago I first set up an audience closeness proposition for the research agency where I worked. We branded the programme ‘Live It!’ and it was all about the benefits of bringing clients directly together with consumers, to better understand their needs, desires, and pain points to make more informed business decisions. They were able to take part in the conversation with their customers, face to face. To play an active, participatory role in shaping what is happening. To see first-hand, to read the body language, to – dare I say – Live It! and breathe it.

And do you know what? We’ve come full circle, all these years later and this is what our clients are asking for now. They want the complete picture. The experience itself is what audience closeness is all about. You and your stakeholders are able to explore the-issues-that-matter with the-people-that-matter. You can road-test that new product, explore possible content territories and test brand and marketing initiatives directly with the people who are, or you hope to be, end-users.

Does it excite them or does it bomb immediately? Is it clear and ready-to-go or does it require a re-think? And whatever the response you can have those conversations, ask the necessary questions and work together with the audience there-and-then to make it better.

The power of this is immeasurable. Our clients tell us that these are the moments that get relayed in the next big meeting. The chat a Senior Exec had with a respondent which sparked the next big idea, or the discussion which meant it completely changed their mind about something they were previously set on. And the benefits don’t stop there. These sessions demonstrate that you as an organisation are listening to your audience, by involving them in your thinking. You’re cultivating empathy, building trust and incorporating the voice of the customer into what you are trying to deliver to them.

The sessions we run at MTM vary widely in structure and scope, from quickfire workshops to immersive full-day ‘festivals’. Activities from our toolkit are developed bespoke to the needs of our clients, but can include quasi-ethnography, panel debates, speed-dating style discussions, guided gallery walks and immersive sessions. These formats help to unlock insights and golden nuggets – just one moment or interaction can often be the genesis for huge ideas. Whatever the method, the aim remains the same: to forge deeper connections that deliver visceral experiences.

These are much more than just another focus group – these are events. We foster an authentic, mutually respectful environment that allows dialogue to flow and ideas to be exchanged. To go beyond facts and figures and humanise the end-users of your products and services. But around this we generate a sense of excitement about the session to come, making it the must-see show in town. The event is branded, invites are sent in advance to all attendees and training sessions are provided to staff to upskill and empower them for the interactions to come. And we are always on hand: to guide, to moderate and to manage timings, ensuring that all runs smoothly.

With a touch of creativity and planning, we can tailor our audience closeness events to suit all budgets, making this a powerful tool to engage and inspire your internal teams.

The need for human connection endures and never goes away. We just had to put a pin in it for a while. So now is the time to re-embrace it; to enhance our understanding of what audiences think, say and do – beyond the data. To prioritise genuine interactions, to inspire innovation and to create lasting moments that live long in the memory.

To learn more about audience closeness, give me a shout.

In the spirit of this piece, we can even meet up IRL: