Wednesday 6th July, 2016

I always find conferences release the mind and encourage it to wander and make connections.

Yesterday’s Tees Valley Business Summit #TVSB2016 was no exception. There was a variety of great content on offer.

Matt Forster

Being a communicator – I naturally gravitated towards the communications oriented discussions, as well as checking out the North East and Europe: What’s Next? debate. 

Clearly, nobody really knows what happens next and we won’t until Article 50 is triggered and negotiations begin and nobody really expects them to yet. 

As part of the Q&A session, the panel was asked whether it had a view on why so many people in our region had voted to leave. Much like the question of where we’re headed – there was no clear answer, nor was it really expected. It’s widely accepted that campaigning on both sides of the debate relied on emotion over fact and people voted with their hearts and hearts can be unpredictable things.

So, both sides aimed to understand the emotional needs and frustrations of their audiences and use this insight to develop their campaigns. 

Nothing weird there right? Well, perhaps, according to some national newspapers which carried an article over the weekend suggesting that understanding an audience’s needs was tantamount to hypnosis. 

The story claimed that the Leave campaign had consulted Paul McKenna over its advertising in a bid to ‘bend minds’. 

I’m making no political comment here or making any comment on the advert in question. But it does beg the question: do we really view understanding an audience’s hopes and fears and using the insight generated as hypnosis? Do we see it as an under-handed dark art?

I would argue that understanding your audience is certainly not black magic – but it can be powerful stuff. And understanding our customer is something of which we are all capable – if we take the time to listen and learn a little. 

It was a repeating theme running through the Summit.

Omar Al-Janabi, Business Innovation Manager at Teesside University, wasn’t pulling rabbits from a hat when he set out a simple approach to establishing how a business creates value for its customers. 

He’s no Uri Geller. He’s just suggesting that we understand what gains our customers are looking to make, the pains they’re trying to avoid and how our services and products can help. 

It’s an approach to compelling audiences to act that we’ve long employed over here at Gardiner Richardson.

The session on communicating better was run by Martin Forster (no relation) rather than Derren Brown. Again, Martin’s message was simple. It was one of understanding. He urged us understand what our customers want to hear before broadcasting what we want to tell them. 

You see. No smoke and mirrors were used at all.

Meanwhile – back at the Brexit debate Ross Smith, NECC Director of Membership and Policy, offered reassurance in the face of the unknown. 

He expressed his confidence that North East businesses which provide great products and services will be OK wherever it is they’re doing business. I agree. We’re a fantastic, creative and productive region. But I’d like to add a simple caveat. We’ll be OK as long as we continue to understand our customers – wherever they may be.