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Creative From the Living Room: How Up-Close Interviews Drive Great Work

Article by
Kari O'Neill
Vice President, Strategy
Young & Laramore

If you’re trying to get in touch with your audience, sit down at their kitchen tables.

Placeholder Image? Creative from the Living Room

As marketers, we’re constantly playing a matching game. Our entire industry revolves around identifying what people want and need and pairing them with brands that can fulfill those desires. In a matching set, everybody wins: consumers get a fix for their problem, and companies get a base for selling their product or service. It ties up nicely.

But here’s where it gets tricky: we’ve got to figure out which groups of people have which specific problems, and then help brands learn to answer those challenges. That’s where research comes in.

Marketers use all sorts of tactics in hopes of creating that perfect match. Plenty tackle the mission with mass surveys or focus groups. From the outset, their approach makes a lot of sense: talking to lots of people ought to give us a pretty good picture of what they have in common, right? But too often, agencies sink huge costs into these research tactics, only to emerge with surface-level insight.

At Young & Laramore, we have a different strategy. We’ve learned the best way to get to know consumers is to get up-close and personal with them. We connect with audience members, and then we hold hour-long, one-on-one sessions with them in their homes. When we meet them on their home turf, we discover what they want, think, and believe – not just how they’d rate a product on a scale of one to five.

Once we have a grasp on our audience’s perspective, we can build great creative campaigns. The work we produce isn’t just award-winning (though our work often is award-winning), it’s research-driven. It’s work that offers our audience direct solutions to their specific problems. It’s a perfect match – because we build our campaigns around the very behaviors we observe in interviews.

When it comes to home ownership, there’s a whole world of insights we’ve gained just from talking to people at home. And for each of our clients, we’ve produced creative campaigns that stem directly from customer conversations.

Placeholder Image? HT 1 article creative

Hotel Tango: The Story of the Spirit

When conducting interviews for Hotel Tango in 2018, we learned all about modern, discerning drinkers. When we spoke to them about their favorite beverages, they didn’t just tell us what was in their collections. They showed us. They got up from the table to open their liquor cabinets and pull out a favorite whiskey, and they eagerly told us why they chose that brand. It wasn’t only about flavor or quality – they wanted to show off the story behind the spirit.

As the first combat disabled veteran-owned distillery in the U.S., Hotel Tango already had an exciting history. It was a perfect match: customers wanted to tell stories, and our client had a great one.

Standing in our way, though, was the brand’s original packaging. It gave the impression that Hotel Tango was for veterans only – a novelty product that might make a great gift for an ex-Marine friend or coworker, but wasn’t meant for civilians.

With our interviews in mind, we changed the narrative. We repackaged the bottles to show buyers that while Hotel Tango distills with military precision and discipline, the resulting spirits are high-quality, elevated additions to any discerning collector’s shelf. And it worked – Hotel Tango’s spirits have been recognized by both advertising and beverage industry leaders, and their bottles sales increased 121% year-over-year.

Placeholder Image? Kalamazoo campaign article creative

Kalamazoo: A Sensory Experience

When we set out to conduct research for Kalamazoo in 2019, though, we wanted to help them define the product experience online and in print. So we set out to talk to grill masters all over the country. Casting a wider net for these interviews made home visits tricky, so instead, we spoke to customers over the phone.

Virtual interviews meant our subjects couldn’t take us out to the patio and show off their luxury grills. Still, they found ways to tell us about the product. Much of the time, people turned to sensory descriptions. They mentioned the smells, sights, and sensations of using a Kalamazoo grill to explain the elevated experience. “It’s the heat, it’s the elegance of it,” one user said of their grill. “When you touch it, you feel that you’re going to have the best.”

Grill owners also told us about a steep learning curve they faced when first using their products. One customer told us that they “probably cremated a couple of things in the first two weeks.” With a laugh, several self-identified grill masters admitted the machine’s power was more than they expected.

So we’d learned that Kalamazoo grills were intense. And we’d learned that the intensity of that experience intrigued their customers – sometimes to the point where they were transfixed. So we made “Nothing Else Exists,” a campaign that encapsulated the irresistible allure that defines the Kalamazoo experience – and the brand itself.

Once again, we’d used the interview process to help us precisely match our brand to its audience. We showed homeowners the luxury grill experience Kalamazoo could offer, and the brand’s awareness.

Placeholder Image? IFBI article creative

Farm Bureau Insurance: What’s In A Gesture?

Of course, there’s more to an interview than dialogue. We get to see reactions, expressions, gestures, sideways glances. And over time, we’ve learned to keep an eye out for the details that might just make a great campaign.

When we started research for Farm Bureau Insurance in 2010, we confirmed what pretty much everybody already knows about insurance: it’s utterly, thoroughly boring, no buts about it. People hate talking about their insurance policies – in fact, they don’t even like to learn about them. Consumers told us they rely on agents because “they’re the professionals” and “that’s their job.”

Even though consumers trusted their agents with policy matters, they worried about ‘worst-case scenarios’, and many of our interviewees talked about that fear in the same way: with superstition. When a scary what-if came up, they’d lean over a coffee table, rap the surface, and say the age-old adage: “knock on wood.”

The repetition of that saying brought us straight to the brand’s tagline, “Stop Knocking On Wood.” At once, we’d translated a nervous habit to a relatable slogan. We also created Slow Knock”, a campaign that skyrocketed the brand’s unaided awareness by 46% year-over-year. The success of the “Slow Knock” effort represents another effective customer-brand match: an insurance company made approachable for people who need quality coverage, even if they aren’t policy experts.

When we talk to homeowners, we don’t just get their surface-level opinions on a single subject. We learn how they think: the rituals they appreciate, the chores they despise, the highs and lows of home ownership in their own eyes. And with all that learning, we produce creative work that looks like a match made in heaven.

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