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Published May 28th 2019

Interview: Hall and Partners’ Vanella Jackson and Richard Owen on The Importance of Connecting, Not Just Collecting, Data

In which the Brandwatch blog interviews senior figures at global consumer market research agency Hall and Partners on their approach to extreme data abundance.

In my discussions with Hall and Partners I learned that the research industry is guilty of many sins.

“You could go on gathering data forever and the research industry has been a bit guilty of that,” says CEO Vanella Jackson.

“The world of research and insights has typically been quite slow, quite conservative, and the explosion of data, the explosion of tech, everything moving faster and in real time, has left the industry behind a bit,” Chief Transformation Officer Richard Owen explains.

Their descriptions conjure images of dinosaur-like institutions drowning in an explosive flow of data lava, with only their own inefficiencies to blame. Luckily for Hall and Partners, they’ve recognized what needs to be done to control the flow and use the resulting streams for good.

I sat down with Vanella and Richard to learn how a global agency specializing in the relationships between brands and consumers is evolving in a field overflowing with potential data points.

Connecting > collecting data

“Once we were just a survey and focus group business but that’s no longer how we define ourselves,” Vanella tells me.

“In the world of data and technology there are so many different sources and ways of understanding people and revealing new insight, so I think increasingly our job is to be editors of much broader sources of information and data than just doing surveys.”

Richard echoes her sentiments – reliance purely on surveys, which have proved slow and expensive in comparison to newer data sources, is something the business is doing away with.

“We can no longer rely on that survey data alone, and the phrase we’re pushing through the business is that we have to stop obsessing about the collection of data and obsess more about the connection of data. How do we take the power of survey data but connect it to social data, customer data, sales data? That’s the future.”

Combining streams of data

Hall and Partners’ commitment to blending data sources to generate better insights means Richard is continuously on the lookout for the latest, greatest technology that can be embedded in the business’s methodologies.

“It’s a really nice job to have, seeing the potential of what technology can do for us,” he says.

Of course, finding technology that brings clients value is no easy task.

“I start from quite a cynical place of ‘yeah it’s cool, but how is that actually going to help?’. It’s very easy to get blown away and over excited about cool stuff but then it doesn’t have any material benefit. You can waste time and lose money quite quickly.”

“The more ways you can understand people, the better. You can make too many presumptions if you only look at one data source,” Vanella says.

“I think one of the things is actually making sure that data is bought together in one place. I think too often we’re looking at different data sources in silos and it isn’t until you bring it together that you can actually see the whole picture.”

Hall and Partners have all kinds of different research methods to deploy on different projects. Vanella tells me about something called a “self reporting ethnography” in which research subjects take photographs and write mini diaries about their experiences with different products or services. These can be coupled with survey data, social data from Brandwatch, and all manner of other sources to help clients make better decisions.

Experiential insights

Hall and Partners’ central Hub is a central engine for collaboration with clients, data sharing and storytelling. It’s often where the cutting edge analysis from experts at the consultancy turns into action.

But the company is continually looking to share insights in new ways that make a meaningful impact with clients.

“Research has always been about ‘gather, distil and inspire’ – but now you have to work much harder and differently than we ever have before,” Vanella tells me. We’re all busy, there are distractions all around us. Increasingly, the agency is using innovative experiential insight sharing sessions that depart from traditional ways of sharing data and insights.

“If you think about how fast our lives are – how challenging it is to do all the things we need to do in our days – making sure that insight and data is seen and that decision making is really driven by evidence, we need to be louder and more creative in order to cut through.”

Richard tells me it’s important not to forget the impact of the physical, as opposed to screen-based interactions.

“You don’t invite people to a three hour research debriefing,” he says, as we discuss the exciting ways Hall and Partners have shared recent research with their clients. “You can even have a mini festival with little stations so people can come into reception in the morning, grab a coffee and absorb these insights almost by osmosis.”

Relationships at the heart

Despite the wild abundance of data available at analysts’ fingertips, the Hall and Partners prioritizes metrics which help businesses understand the relationships they have with their customers.

The agency’s research has always centred on emotional connections between business and consumer, although the methods they’re using are becoming increasingly complex.

New technology and data sources present new challenges, but Vanella tells me that working with her diverse team of experts on creative solutions is one of her favorite things to do.

“I think tech is the opportunity for every brand to become much more service driven and think more creatively about how they build relationships with customers,” she says.

Special thanks to Vanella and Richard for taking the time to chat with the Brandwatch blog.

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