• Role: Brand Consultant at Propoganda
  • Location: Leeds
  • University: York
  • Degree: MA in English and Related Literature

Cynthia Bell

I work as a brand consultant, and as such, wear a series of hats. I am responsible for:

  • Insight generation – getting to the heart of what an audience wants and translating this insight into a unique service or product.
  • Creative direction – using market and audience insight to brief, evaluate and drive a brand’s creative identity.
  • Strategic direction – developing brand strategies that inform all areas of a business and set the roadmap for how clients will achieve their objectives.

Consultancy is diverse, surprising and hugely rewarding. As a consultant at Propaganda, I have advised a telephony innovator, a business that sells sex toys and a specialist in waste management to name a few. The clients and sectors are different, but one thing is constant: they all face a significant business challenge. And they all want transformational change.

So, how do you achieve transformational change? Below are examples of key projects I worked on during my first 18 months as a consultant.

Project 1 – ReFood

Challenge – ReFood recycles food waste and transforms it into an energy source, which is sold to the National Grid. The business was set to expand, increasing recycling capacity by over 500%, but it also had an achilles heel, namely, the by-product of the process: digestate. Though digestate is rich in key nutrients for plant growth, its value wasn’t recognised by the agricultural industry and so ReFood needed to pay for disposal. ReFood was rapidly expanding and digestate disposal costs were set to grow six-fold. We needed to find a solution.

Process – We conducted a rigorous Discovery™ research programme, involving desk and primary research with a wide range of stakeholders from agriculture, science, academia, government and business. Digestate is a virgin industry, and I needed to fully understand the ecosystem, the market challenges and opportunities, before finding the answer.

Insight – The differentiator is clear – as a 100% sustainable fertiliser, created from an organic process, digestate ‘closes the loop’ and provides a fully sustainable alternative to mined and artificial fertilisers.

Solution – It was game-changing: to develop a first-to-market ‘branded’ organic fertiliser product called ReGrow.

Result – We launched the ReGrow brand to the agricultural market and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. Farmers, for the first time, recognised digestate as a valuable fertiliser instead of a waste by-product. Next, we plan to transform digestate into pellets, unlocking the lucrative organic fertiliser market. This is the industry ‘silver bullet’ and the output will be a sustainable, pelletised ReGrow product.

Project 2 – Ann Summers

Challenge – Ann Summers had always been at the forefront of the high street pleasure sector – in fact, in 1970, they created it. They had grown to a £100m business with over 140 stores; but in recent years, had lost their way. Competitor high street brands were stealing market share, footfall had dropped and Ann Summers was caught in a pattern of falling sales, but couldn’t understand why. The challenge was to identify the role for Ann Summers in today’s society by defining the target customer and getting to the heart of what they want. Ann Summers had created a forensic definition of who the Ann Summers customer is statistically – down to average bra and dress size – but they hadn’t explored who the Ann Summers customer could be.

Process – We re-interpreted the research and developed target customer segmentation based on attitude, which widened the prospective audience base. Then to help us define the role for Ann Summers, we conducted primary research with a diverse audience. We needed women and men to talk frankly and openly about their sexual habits, behaviours and preferences. So we designed a research programme to encourage this: a series of mini focus groups comprised of two friendship pairs, accompanied shops with friends, and a number of one-to-one interviews.

Insight – I discovered that the role Ann Summers believed it had – to sexually empower and liberate women – was redundant; women are already sexually empowered. What they want now, is for Ann Summers to enhance their sexual pleasure, helping them to be more sensual, adventurous, confident and in control.

Solution – The insight drove the creative development of the Ann Summers brand. We created a vibrant, sexual and confident creative identity, and developed a series of strategic creative campaigns, which have been rolled out across Ann Summers’ key stores.

Result – The creative and strategic approach has transformed the Ann Summers business. Its internal management structure and business processes have been streamlined, sales improved 50%, and Ann Summers is now trading at a profit.

Project 3 – The Car People

Challenge – Historically, the car dealer owned the car buying process – customers would choose the car dealer first and the car second. This model brought The Car People success; they were expert at advising and converting customers once they had entered the car showroom. But retail shopping behaviour was changing, and consequently, The Car People’s turnover had fallen by 13%. We needed to understand whether the traditional car-buying model was still fit for purpose.

Process – Working with The Car People, we conducted an extensive market audit, speaking with sales advisors, loyalist customers and prospective customers to understand their buying journey, their motivations and expectations.

Insight – The traditional car buying process has changed and the role of the dealership has shifted – customers choose the car they want before visiting a showroom. So the role of the car retailer had become one of fulfilment for pre-qualified customers.

Solution – We evolved The Car People business model, to ensure that they became relevant for customers across their entire car-buying journey, instead of solely at the fulfilment stage. We replicated the hassle-free showroom experience online, by re-purposing the website landing, search and product pages and placing emphasis on what customers will engage with first. We also evolved the in-store experience, developing Customer Research Hubs, where customers could review competitor, car review and national buying websites. The market audit highlighted the importance of aftercare, so we developed a branded ‘Friends’ loyalty programme, offering exclusive services, reminders and advice.

Result – The Car People transformed 13% decline in turnover to 17% growth, and with 98% of customers signing up to their ‘Friends’ programme, they have built a database of 30,000 opted-in and highly engaged loyalists.

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