London Calling

By Rupert Blackwell, April 2020

We’re all having to get used to new ways of working during the lockdown. Even so, I wasn’t expecting the virtual advertising groups I ran with respondents in Manchester a short while ago to work as well as they did. I’d worried we’d be unable to show the ideas clearly enough from a distance, and that it would be difficult to judge people’s responses properly when not in the same room. The reality, though, was encouraging. I don’t think virtual groups will ever match face-to-face ones, but they’re an excellent needs-must approach for the time being. Perhaps they’re particularly suited to projects where there’s something for respondents to look at, consider and judge – like concepts, propositions or advertising – because they make the sessions more of a focused task.

What particularly struck me is how engaged respondents are – people stuck at home are clearly hungry for contact from the outside world and will throw themselves into the process with real enthusiasm. I even had emails from a couple of my respondents afterwards saying how much they’d enjoyed taking part!

I think it helped running the groups via a conference call while showing the materials using a screen-sharing platform – an improvised combination of technologies which respondents could deal with easily enough and which fitted the spirit of make-do we’re having to live with. Probably, a week into the quarantine, everyone’s an old hand with Zoom, but at the time we were conscious that many people may not be used to video-conferencing, particularly with a bunch of a strangers. We didn’t want the technology to add to the weirdness of the situation and make them self-conscious and inhibited.

The screen-sharing element was effective at giving respondents a clear sense of the advertising ideas, including complex issues like tone of voice which are challenging even in the context of standard groups. The depth and quality of the responses were very good too. No, I couldn’t pick up on respondents’ body language in the normal way, but it’s amazing how revealing people’s intonation can be when that’s the only thing you can go on. We’ve since debriefed the research to our client and their agency and they felt entirely confident in the responses and our recommendations.   

So, despite the overall restrictions in our lives, we at Jigsaw are able to continue with an important part of our regular work, sort of as normal.