48 Hours in Lisbon –
What’s on the Insight Menu?

Digitisation and Technology Changing the Face of Research

Earlier this month, I led some workshops for a client in Portugal and decided to hang back an extra day to escape the political gloom in London, the unpredictability of the weather and to see if I could find some inspiration for writing my blog in a different space.

Inspire-me Lisbon

Armed with a notepad and pencil, I set off to explore the wider city, strolling up and around the hilly, cobbled alleyways, soaking up the quaint charm of streets and the buildings. I instantly loved the warmth and light from the sun, and the relaxed and cosmopolitan vibe.

Food is (brain) fuel ….

Back in the city centre, I chased down a colleague’s recommendation of the Time Out Food Hall for lunch. The commercial sponsorship seemed rather out of kilter with the oldie worldie Lisbon, yet the city feels like it is in transition, with a thriving tourist scene and this venue serving up Portuguese savoury and sweet choices, alongside global cuisine.

Disruption and change …

Post sustenance, I sharpened my pencil, while people watching, enjoying the foodie smells, and chatting to friendly, interested and attentive staff. The young bartender asked me if I thought he should move to London for work.  Brexit got minimal airtime! Instead I enthused more about the multicultural mix of people in London, and the ability to always find your tribe whatever that might be.

I reflected on the workshop I delivered the previous day. It had focussed on using insight to drive creative communications that would ultimately trigger behaviour change.  My mind wandered to the pace of digital and technological change, and how we have a multitude of data possibilities and tech solutions that make my job of understanding people and insight generation easier. I was transported to a discussion I’d had with semiologist and consumer psychologist, Dr Rachel Lawes, a few weeks back….

I’d been talking about disruptive change in our industry. I mentioned the proliferation of available data e.g. transactional data, social media conversations etc that can be used to inform client questions without using primary research or leading to new hypothesis and new needs from primary research. I spoke of the benefits of new and emerging tech and tools that help us go deeper in understanding people, often at a reduced cost for clients. I marvelled at mobile connectivity and how it has led to mobile ethnography*, thinking back to a decade or so ago when ethnographic studies in commercial market research were confined largely to the bigger budget projects.  At that time, they were more of a luxury component to complement a large qualitative project. Yet now mobile tech from providers such as Indeemo https://indeemo.com/ can bring rapid, rich insight (often with Skype depths in parallel) into the everyday lives of people, to help us understand behaviour.

A different perspective …

Rachel summarised this as the effect of digitisation and technology driving changes in how we do research contrasting “inside-out” and “outside-in” research approaches. “Inside-out” is where we focus on getting what’s inside people’s heads out. We do this using focus groups, in-depth interviews and surveys to find out people’s views, as well as emotional and rational responses. Alongside this practice are “outside-in” research methodologies, including ethnography and semiotics*, which are becoming increasingly popular.

The trend towards “outside-in” approaches is driven largely by two reasons; the desire for brands to better connect with consumers, to be heard and to resonate in a world with multiplying touchpoints and messages. The second driver is that digital, as an enabler, is making it much more cost-efficient than ever to conduct these practices.

Technoculture is a new(ish) phenomenon…

Readily available data via social media and its many conversations gives us a heightened potential to understand people and how they communicate with each other, and within their networks.

Social media is a place that gives people new meanings, new causes and new feelings. It is where people can learn new words, new terms, new techniques, new products, new answers and new ideas. It is now responsible for driving cultures, subcultures and microcultures. We’ve seen that culture adapts quickly to technologies – it becomes technoculture.

Semiotics can help give real and authentic meaning to brands that connect to the target audience’s cultural values, using the right language, symbolism and imagery tone.

How can we take these thoughts to create more impactful marketing communications?

Evolving behaviour change thinking

Some of us will be familiar with a range of more established behavioural change models used to understand why people do what they do, and the different influences on their behaviour. A model I worked with at COI (Central Office of Information), almost a decade ago now, but which still holds true today is outlined below.

Its value was played out to embed a deeper understanding of behavioural theory for campaigns focussed across many different policy areas e.g. smoking cessation, reducing speeding, encouraging uptake of skills etc.

More fuel is (brain) food …

The big question is does digital and tech disruption have an impact on this behaviour model?  I believe it does.   Prior to getting properly stuck into this thinking, I head back to Lisbon’s meandering streets destined for my client’s tip on one of the locals’ favourite spots for coffee and pastéis de nata.

Ah that’s better!  On the back of a postcard, here’s what I think is a helpful guide to measuring behaviour change when considering how to apply the newer methods of insight; while recognising that the established practice of using qualitative and quantitative methods continues to be a key tool in the insight toolbox.

This map can be a useful starting point to inform a marketing framework for behaviour change communications.  For a government department, the focus might be tackling knife crime among our young people. For a charity, it might be about how to encourage the wealthiest in society to contribute more financially, and for a commercial organisation, it might be about attracting an existing consumer target, to trade up to a different more premium brand.

Lisbon’s welcoming and relaxed vibe was the perfect place to do some inspired fresh thinking on disruption and change in our industry.  Where to next?!


* Ethnographic research drawn from nearly a century of anthropological and sociological studies brings marketers, planners and designers as close to the consumer as possible observing and understand their behaviour is their environment.

*Semiotics is the study of signs and how meaning is made. Ray Poynter’s post on “What is Semiotics and how it is used” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-semiotics-how-used-ray-poynter/ provides a useful explanation.