FIVE MINUTES WITH KELLY MCKNIGHT
Ignite@VERVE is a new initiative by VERVE agency, hoping to 'supercharge insight'. Executive director Kelly McKnight talks to Communicate magazine about the agency's latest venture.
What are the biggest future-focused questions that businesses are asking currently?
The single biggest future-focused question is: ‘how do we stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment?’. Brands are more tuned into the future than ever before because, today, change (mainly technological) is ever-present.
Brands are fearful of being the next ‘Blockbuster’ or ‘Kodak’. Even mightily successful giants Instagram and Google are today being usurped by TikTok, a platform launched globally only five years ago. Anything and everything can change and, in this environment, market-leader status can be a real disadvantage; with size comes a lack of agility and reduced proximity to consumers and culture.
What does ‘supercharged’ insight look like?
More important is what it feels like - a supercharged insight draws from multiple data sources: it looks to culture and consumers, it goes beyond what people can easily tell you, and it gets you closer to the future. But more than anything, it delivers that ‘wow’ factor - the confidence that you have got to a deeper truth. There is no shortage of information and data in the world, but there is a lack of insights.
We spend so much time measuring things, but not enough time exploring ‘what could be’ and thinking laterally about a problem. I want clients to be sitting at the edge of their seats when we are debriefing research; if we are telling them things they know already, then we have failed. We want to provide supercharged insights that inspire creativity, innovation and new ideas.
How will you be making your research more diverse?
Diversity is essential to generating great insights that positively impact businesses and consumers. At Verve, we think about diversity in two ways. Firstly, demographic diversity: working with our Verve Collaborations on one-to-one recruitment to ensure broad representation, actively targeting under-represented profiles and individuals who simply don’t show up on traditional research panels.
Secondly, we are passionate about ‘cognitive diversity’, or diversity of thought: here we include the views of experts and ‘outliers’ (creative individuals and those living ‘extreme’ lifestyles via our Ignite Collective). How people think is just as important as what they think. Diversity in research is a win-win, making brands more relevant to more people by improving understanding and meeting a diversity of needs.
What are the main global trends that businesses need to be aware of when future-planning?
The three big hitters are environmental change, demographic change and technological change. This trifecta will transform everything: from where we live and who we live with, to what we will eat and how we are governed, to how we interact with each other. It’s not enough to just be aware of these global trends; the skill is understanding people and how they will react to these changes, because people are in fact incredibly slow to change their core needs and values.
Businesses need to articulate changed narratives and future scenarios with people at the centre. Sharing big scary global trends stats alone isn’t going to result in creative thinking.
Do you believe ignite@VERVE represents the future for research methodologies in the industry?
Absolutely! Businesses often have lot of data sources, but a key challenge they face is pulling together all these disparate datasets and unlocking the value within them. They are having to work with multiple providers and it’s slowing them down, at a time when we need speed and agility like never before.
At ignite@VERVE, we are using blend of cutting-edge technology, AI and research specialisms borrowed from academia, including semiotics, behavioural science, anthropology, futurology and design-thinking to supercharge the insight process. Customer surveys and focus groups will still be key, but smarter ways of designing research and blending data sources is the future of the industry.
How does ignite@VERVE engage with Gen Z?
Gen Z is recognised as one of the hardest demographics to engage in research, but that’s not to say it’s impossible; just look at how active they are on communities like Discord, Roblox and Twitch. If they are passionate about a topic, they will engage with it.
The problem is that a lot of research design simply doesn’t put the target Gen Z consumer at the centre and uses blanket methodologies for approaching and rewarding people for taking part. We engage with Gen Z via the Ignite Collective, our global network of creative, consumers. This enables us to familiarise ourselves with a community of interest, whether gaming, sustainability or finance, identifying active individuals in that community and then working with them, ultimately building a research Collective around it. Having Gen Z talk about topics they are passionate about, in spaces they are comfortable with, for a fair reward is essential to successfully engaging them in research.
How have the events of recent years impacted your approach to future-proofing for businesses?
Recent global events such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and environmental disasters have led to a greater focus on Black Swan events and bolder scenario planning: businesses are now more prepared to think about the unthinkable and to want to plan for future uncertainties. We’ve also seen a greater appreciation of the value of gathering a diversity of perspectives on an issue – or applying different ‘lenses’ – which is something that has been central to our approach at ignite@VERVE.
The pandemic taught us that there isn’t only one space to find an answer, but rather we looked to virologists, sociologists, economists, behavioural scientists, historians and beyond. What the data means depends on the lens through which you are viewing it; no one can accurately predict the future, no matter what they tell you, so it’s important to get different perspectives, create different scenarios and make different plans.