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Global Growth Series: How Optimizing Communications Strategy Makes Brands More Competitive in Global Markets

by Jenni Forbes – Client Director, Strive Insight

and Erica Pondillo Vice President

In our continuing effort to grow our global reach, we recently merged with Strive Insight, a London-based firm known for their strategic thinking and consulting skills. Our Global Growth blog series features conversations with leaders from Radius and Strive offering their perspective on our Brand Growth Navigator approach. In this post, Jenni Forbes and Erica Pondillo discuss their approach to ensuring brands deliver effective communication in each market they serve.

Photos of authors Jenni Forbes and Erica Pondillo

How do you begin a Communications research study?

ERICA PONDILLO: Our first step is to talk with the client team and align on expectations. We meet with the core team and conduct one-on-one stakeholder interviews to hear firsthand from the various markets what success looks like for them. We want to understand what they need from the research and how they will use it. We then share the summary with the full group so that it’s visible and transparent; this helps us tailor our approach to best meet needs of local markets as well as the global team, if applicable.

JENNI FORBES: Often this research phase comes off the back of another project that might focus on targeting or optimization and the client is now looking to build a brand campaign for this target audience, or to communicate the launch of their new product. We might focus first on early-stage development to identify a core insight that will live at the heart of the campaign, inspiring all creative development. Together with this core insight, we might develop a set of creative guidelines, which could be delivered as a playbook for the creative teams, to synthesize and share everything needed to understand the audience, creative components to keep consistent for the global brand, as well as how delivery might vary in a local market. This helps creative teams create campaigns that are right for their category, brand and product and is successfully targeted to their audience at a global and local level. We can also look more specifically at developing and prioritizing claims or messages to achieve the greatest reach and gain the greatest traction in each market.


How does message testing lead to motivating messages?

JENNI: Early-stage creative development isn’t about final judgment on pieces of stimulus but in prompting a conversation to understand what resonates and why, and equally what doesn’t work and why not. It is important to work iteratively with clients and their creative teams or partners, to keep them in the loop, to provide iterative feedback and have discussions about implications and intentions as we progress. These insights help teams develop a strong plan of action based on a wider understanding of their audience and what they connect to, to develop future content beyond the stimulus we tested. Whereas if you are at later stages of development, testing specific claims or messages, the focus is on which benefits and articulations are most powerful and can best move the dial on your client’s specific KPIs for that campaign with the goal of providing clients with a clear messaging hierarchy to achieve their objectives.

ERICA: You have to go into testing with some flexibility and alternatives in your pocket, and know that you may need to iterate for the best application across markets. Checkpoints along the way help to identify the messages that work well in each market based on being both unique and believable.

What are methodologies that aid in optimizing communication strategies?

JENNI: Before putting concepts in front of consumers, we want to make sure we’re getting the most out of our primary research stage. In our scoping phase we’ll consider exploring existing data to help optimize the concepts or creative we want to test. This could include online and social data, past research, clients’ internal data, even big data. This way, we can test insights, not just assumptions and intuitions, and deliver research that has greater value to the client. We also take the time to get fully immersed in the creative vision and materials from the client, and if relevant their creative agency. This ensures we understand and deliver against their creative intention, not just the current articulation and execution of this.

ERICA: When we’re in a phase where we feel good about our communication platform and we want to optimize it, one of the helpful techniques we developed is Real-Time Concept Optimization (RTCO). This is a collaborative approach that leverages consumers, moderator/copywriter and client/agency teams. We put messaging in front of consumers to get their reactions and then integrate their feedback behind the scenes with our core team, then put the improved versions back into a fresh group of consumers and repeat the process. At the end of a few days, or even just a day, you can produce a fully optimized concept. The process is very powerful.

Quantitative methods, such as MaxDiff and TURF choice-based modeling, are critical in assessing communication and validating its appeal in each market. For example, asking consumers to make trade-offs helps us eliminate scale bias across markets. Applying the right methodology establishes a hierarchy of preferences for each market and also makes cross-country comparisons possible.


How are you using AI to optimize messaging?

JENNI: We’re starting to see the power of AI to help us understand market nuances and leverage existing data. We have been utilizing AI-powered ethnography, to understand what target consumers are saying online about specific topics, categories, brands, products. AI helps us to access and leverage a range of online sources to understand what consumers, influencers, experts and brands are saying, and how they’re saying it in text, images, and video. This data helps to optimize research design and reveals insight gaps that we can then fill with primary research to maximize impact of research spend.

ERICA: As a recent example, our innovation team helped a confectioner explore new product options in the On-Demand Delivery (ODD) space using AI to gain deep insights on customer opinions, and generative AI to develop taglines and messaging for a brainstorming session with the team. The research helped teams explore opportunities in the ODD space and develop powerful messaging tied directly to consumer desires and habits. Our team is also exploring ways to leverage AI and synthetic respondent technology.


How do you tailor communications to appeal to each specific market?

JENNI: In an international, non-English-speaking environment we’ll use local moderators paired with the core team that ran the sessions in the English speaking markets. In qualitative sessions with simultaneous translations, the teams can have a full briefing upfront to ensure constant quality control. It’s important to get the local information, nuance, and context.

ERICA: A key step is to understand if translated comms are working. Even in different markets that share the same language, the message may sound too formal or too informal depending on where you are, and those nuances really make a difference. Vetting the content with in-market experts and consumers is essential to getting the message right for the market, and your specific targets in that market.

How do you help clients activate the research insights?

JENNI: Activation sessions bring the teams together to build a sense of ownership and accountability for carrying on the work. For global projects, we can make sure teams are happy with the global intention for the brand and that every one of the local markets buy into the same plan, and understand how to localize as appropriate.

If we are at early-stage development, our intention is to immerse our client and also their creative agency in the audience and the creative guidelines to succeed with this audience. This could be through written deliverables like a playbook or an infographic, it could be an interactive session such as workshops or expos. This can be supported with rich media outputs such as videos, image books and look books to provide inspiration and ensure teams truly understand the insights and action against them to move forward with their commercial plans.

ERICA: Yes, we tailor the learning materials to the appetite of the team to make sure they can absorb the insights, with a focus on report storytelling. We let them know that our team is invested in making sure every stakeholder understands the learning and research outcomes. As we gain understanding from the group, we can work with individual teams to build their unique action plan by exploring the steps they can take, ensuring everything is crystal clear and taking time to help them understand how to integrate the insights into their overall plans. We want team members to feel empowered to take action. We will reconnect with groups after the engagement to see how their campaigns are doing, and it’s always inspiring to see the difference research can make for each team’s growth objectives.


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