Curated Consumer Worlds

How Immersive events deepen our understanding of segments, personae or customer archetypes

Imagine being invited into your consumer’s home, looking around their bedroom, tasting their hospitality, smelling the air, and exploring what’s on their shelves and in their fridge.  

As marketeers and insights people, deeply understanding our consumers, customers, shoppers or experts is our job.  Sure, we know what they buy, where they buy, how much they buy, but do we know enough about them, their lives, their motivations, the context in which our products are used?  Truly understanding consumers is not only a data science – it is also a qualitative art that needs to be fed with inspiration and emotion.

These days travel budgets, sustainability issues, recruitment requirements and a lack of time prevent us from being in direct contact with all of our customers.

We recently immersed a cross-category marketing and insights team into the worlds of their new consumer segmentation.  2 role-playing facilitators welcomed and introduced small client groups to the 5 different consumer homes that we had created in one event space.  They were invited to discover their customers’ world through a discovery of tastes, scents, and a range of digital, data and interior aesthetics.  QR codes took them to the consumers’ digital behaviours, infographic posters brought to life the wealth of quant & qual, and films of real consumers from 5 different markets were shown on screen in each separate space.  This multi-sensory exploration deliberately provoked emotion through surprise and discovery, which made the content all the more memorable.

As we navigate the era of information overload, multi-sensory events like this serve to break through the noise of the overwhelming information and data we digest, offering marketers the opportunity to forge lasting and humanly close connections with their consumers.   The event was a brilliant example of the transformative power of multi-sensory experiences.  

Let’s delve into the top five tips for creating a brilliant immersive event:

  1. Deep Consumer Understanding: Ensure you know your consumers deeply. Data on preferences, desires, and pain points helps to craft an evidence-based event that resonates personally, for a meaningful and impactful experience.
  2. Engage All Senses: Create a holistic experience by engaging all five senses, from visual displays to tantalizing aromas. We considered everything from the lighting, if the room was more sparse or cluttered, neat or tidy and who else these people lived with.
  3. Interactive Participation: Transform passive observers into active participants, fostering a sense of ownership and connection with the event. We asked each visitor to capture what they were most excited about and pushed thinking to impact on current and future brand and innovation projects.
  4. Storytelling Through Senses: Weave a compelling narrative that unfolds through various spaces, enhancing the emotional impact of the event.  Everything element was connected in a human narrative to create a strong and memorable experience of the segments.
  5. Embedding Beyond the Event: Ensure the impact extends beyond the event, creating shareable content and ongoing engagement strategies that resonate long after the curtains close. We created films, infographics and a playbook so other teams could benefit from the deep consumer understanding.

In an age where digital interactions often lack the depth of genuine connection, multi-sensory events stand as a testament to the power of human experience.  These events go beyond the typical death-by-powerpoint debrief, leaving a profound imprint on the minds and hearts of participants.  Our empathy with our consumers and customers is deepened, and the decisions we make on their behalf are even more successful.

Marginal to Mainstream –
How a Co-Creation Sprint can help you embrace the fringes to discover future breakthroughs

As a student I once brought home a new boyfriend, who happened to be vegan, to meet my parents. My mother, who hadn’t met a vegan before, panicked – ‘can I give him salmon?’ she whispered.  Now she has six grandchildren who are vegetarian or vegan and is used to accommodating their needs. What was niche and seemed a little weird is now mainstream, with exponential growth benefits for those brands and categories who predicted and leveraged the change.  

Helen Edwards’ fascinating book ‘From Marginal to MAINSTREAM – why tomorrow’s brand growth will come from the fringes and how to get their first  is filled with examples of how fringe behaviours have broken through to become mainstream. She presents an imperative for modern business to break out of the ‘low growth zone’ by looking to the fringes for the future consumer-led disruptions, and defines 8 ‘M2M Beacons’ that can help us to predict which marginal behaviours are most likely to breakthrough.   

This made me think about how Paraffin’s Co-Creation Sprints can play a powerful role in helping M2M prediction and acceleration. At Paraffin we have always looked to experts and extreme users for inspiration to fuel and inspire our Innovation Sprints and have an ever-evolving database of ‘provocateurs’ who we have worked with to push our thinking and spark fresh ideas for our clients. 

Here are some practical tips from our experience on how to build the M2M Beacons thinking into a Co-Creation Sprint

 1. ‘Intense Advocates’ – marginal behaviour usually starts with a small group of passionate advocates who can provide insight into the drivers of the movement. Find them, observe and listen to them, bring their voice into the Sprint – they may hold the secrets to a mainstream future.  For a recent Dentures project, we worked with over 60s who were extreme users of online games and social media, to inform a digital strategy for those in the demographic who were more resistant to the online world. 

2. ‘Dig into Resistance’ – we often want to avoid negativity in creative sessions, but it is only by understanding the reasons why the marginal is marginal that we can anticipate changes to these barriers and predict potential positive shifts. Use resistance to fuel creativity in your Sprint. When we studied deeply the non-users of fabric conditioners,  we learned how their resistance changed at key life-stage moments such as the birth of a child or moving in with someone for the first time, highlighting opportunities for brands to motivate re-evaluation at the right time. This can equally be applied to marginal behaviour.   

3. ‘Re-framing’ – this is where brands have the power to shape change. Based on CBT principles, we use workshop techniques in the Sprint to explore ways to re-frame a behaviour to overcome resistance and shape a new positive narrative with mainstream potential.  The classic example Helen cites is re-framing ‘vegan’ food to ‘plant-based’ opening up new appeal for those resistant the concept of veganism.  Similarly, products that are designed for sustainability used to be considered less effective or boring – but many of our personal care clients have re-framed natural ingredients as powerful essences that have been harnessed to deliver real benefits.

4. ‘Dilution’ – more positive than it sounds, this is where innovation can really have an impact. We can use creative problem-solving Sprint exercises to find ways to overcome the difficulties that are limiting consumer adoption of fringe behaviour (which we understand through 1-2 above).  A great example of this was the recent ‘Say Maaaate  to a Mate’ campaign which gave male friendship groups an easy way to intervene in a  difficult situation when they see sexist behaviour amongst their friends. 

5. Co-creation – we have seen again and again how bringing articulate, creative, provocative consumers into the Sprint can supercharge your collective creativity – especially where a marginal behaviour is under scrutiny.  Find our how we do it here in our recent guide to Co-creation

Do read Helen’s fantastic, inspiring and practical book, and get in touch to discuss how we can design a Marginal to Mainstream Co-Creation Sprint for you 

Co-creating the Future: how to leverage consumers, influencers and experts for Front End Innovation

Co-creation is a creative process by which consumers, experts or influencers actively build and improve ideas for new products and services alongside company employees. By incorporating co-creation into front-end innovation sessions, we can provoke disruptive, creative thinking, use real consumer language in claims and communication, and create new products or services that meet consumer needs.

Who are our co-creators?

Co-creation is best with people who bring expert perspectives or personal experiences, such as customers, consumers, shoppers, influencers, employees, suppliers, medical experts, and even competitors. Their role is to bring a very different perspective to the opportunity or problem, in order to provoke and challenge sometime blinkered business thinking. It’s important that they can offer fresh opinions or ideas which can fuel creativity, and that they are not afraid to share their thoughts in a group.

We have a database of over three hundred co-creators who we’ve worked with over the last decade, including a Nordic biohacker, a Korean beauty influencer, an Indian anthropologist, a Nigerian business owner, an Artic explorer, a male nanny, a tea expert, a hair stylist for the over 50’s and many more!  We do recruit fresh co-creators for each project too.  Each person is carefully recruited and briefed on the needs of the project.

Co-creation projects

How might you design innovation sprints to include co-creators and what impact does this have on the project? Here are some of our favourite examples:

  • Consumers: for a global ice-cream brand, Gen Z creative consumers from three Asian markets co-created and optimised activation campaigns for digital media, resulting in a successful roll-out and excellent summer sales results!

  • Experts: with a global beauty brand we developed innovation ideas on ‘holistic wellness’ to fill their funnel for the next 5 years. Perspectives from a psychotherapist and a Diversity and Inclusion advocate inspired concepts that achieved the highest scores they had ever had across all categories.

  • Influencers: for a personal care client, Asian beauty and skin care influencers shared the latest trends around sustainable beauty products to help us build design principles that informed our ‘future of beauty’ innovation sprint. 

Here are our Top 5 Tips for leveraging consumers, experts and influencers in front-end innovation:

  1. Find the right people
    Excellent recruitment is key to finding the right people for your innovation sprint. Specify your recruitment criteria precisely and speak to each and every recruit yourself to ensure they are the right fit, confident and articulate, and to build trust between you.

  2. Prepare co-creators well
    We always set our co-creators a short prep work task that they complete before joining the innovation session. This warms co-creators up to the topic and is valuable input in the session (e.g. A Day In The Life Of; your favourite TikTok video on this subject…). We like to keep these short (not more than an hour of their time) and enjoyable.

  3. Make people welcome
    Have a dedicated key contact for co-creators, both before and during the event, and be warm, friendly and professional in every interaction you have with them. Be aware of diversity and inclusivity sensitivities so that you can give co-creators maximum support and be as respectful as possible to their contributions. Give people positive feedback to boost their confidence and courage during the session.

  4. Don’t do a focus group
    Co-creators are there to work alongside you, not to react to your ideas or create ideas alone. They won’t know how to write concepts, ad copy or design marketing mixes for you, but they will give you great language, ideas, challenges and examples to improve your ideas. Think of them as sitting next to you working on something, rather than sitting across the table reacting.

  5. Maintain your business filters
    Consumers, experts and influencers can only give input from their perspective; not every idea or request they have is on brand or logistically feasible and co-created ideas should always be filtered through a marketing and brands lens before being taken further.

Co-creation versus market research

Co-creation is not a replacement for market research, but it is complementary.  All co-created ideas will still need to be validated. Here are some important differences between the two:

Download the Paraffin
Co-Creation Template

How to build competitive advantage with a future fit insights team

What matters today will not matter tomorrow

In the past operational skills used to confer long-term advantage – if you had leaner manufacturing, made higher quality products or had superior distribution you could outrun competitors. But today those capabilities are table stakes.

The new source of competitive advantage today is consumer centricity – deeply understanding, anticipating and fulfilling your consumer’s needs better than anyone else. This places insight teams at the heart of potential future business success

The problem is, we all have access to the same data, and anybody (competitors and disruptors) can access and analyse consumer data and trends. To avoid irrelevance and be future fit, insight teams need to move beyond data and insights, translating it into powerful ideas and opportunities that drive business growth. This requires new skillsets and capabilities for insights people.

Future Fit Insights teams will be growth gurus leading the business growth agenda

  • Insight teams will become growth consultants that shape the future of the business by showing them where and how to win.
  • They will translate deep human and cultural insights combined with foresight and growth analytics into actionable growth opportunities that provide successful solutions in market.
  • Insight teams will rival McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte & Bain because they will provide sources of growth rather than purely seeking efficiencies.

We identified FIVE Future Fit Skills to make this future a reality

1. Commercial Acumen
2. Maths and Magic
3. Shaping the Future
4. Influencing and Narrative
5. Being Business Leaders

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        A call to action for our Insight Teams:

  • More courage: Building Commercial acumen and influencing skills will help teams say no more to low value work and focus on what matters to create more value
  • Create space: Focusing on these future five skill sets will help teams free up space for value through identifying and outsourcing or automating lower value  or repetitive tasks
  • Empowered to lead:  Shaping the future builds skills that help steer the future growth agenda is only way to get ahead of the competition, including insights leading strategy and decision-making
  • Build powerful influence: Influencing and strong narrative skills will focus teams on how to land insights, ideas & opportunities in a way that cuts through and makes people engage.
  • Place consumers at the heart of the business: Business leadership is as much about leading a team as leading the business to place the consumer at the heart of all decision making to drive success

A call to action for the Client Side Insights Industry:

Let’s join forces & collaborate

  • Insight professionals across client and agency side need to work together to build these skills and reinvent the value creation from insights work
  • We must ensure we leave behind legacy mindsets and focus on the why and the so what (and let go of insights in a vacuum, 100 page debriefs, death by powerpoint and kitchen sink research!)

Lets consistently measure value creation & ROI

  • To step up and lead the future of business transformation we must all put in place ways to continuously track, evaluate and report on commercial ROI of our efforts
  • This will be critical to focus on value creation and learn how to improve & accelerate over time

Let’s create a new Insights mindset

To be the source of competitive advantage and business growth, we need to support Insights people to change how they work, specifically:

  • They must build commercial acumen to know where to focus to add most value.
  • They need to be assertive and learn to say no to the old (market research and project management ‘service mindset’) to free up time to connect the dots and find growth opportunities to shape the future.
  • They must build strong influencing capabilities to inspire business transformation & decision-making.

A new mindset is hard and sometimes uncomfortable, but it is the mindset shift that help us to create competitive advantage, now and in the future.

Difficult people? Seven ways to manage difficult people in meetings

Whether I’m leading a big workshop or an everyday meeting, I expect there to be people who will make the meeting feel more difficult than it needs to be. People who don’t take part in the discussion, don’t answer questions or spend time on their phones rather than paying attention are common. There also those who dominate the group, talk about their ideas or opinions for far too long and don’t allow others to be heard. Sometimes people can be aggressive, refusing to collaborate, arguing and even getting angry.

Over the years I’ve learnt to be kinder and more understanding of difficult behaviours, because I’ve realised that people are worried, fearful or feel threatened by what is being discussed and how it affects them, and perhaps don’t feel they are being listened to. I try to look beyond their behaviour to work out what it is that’s making them behave badly, and then work out how best to manage them.

However, in addition to being understanding, I know that I need to manage a difficult person early on, so that they don’t get the chance to derail the meeting. All too often I think we ignore the difficult behaviour, hoping that the person will stop being difficult and calm down. In being polite (and sometimes embarrassed by how they are behaving) it can feel easier to pretend it’s not happening, and try to get along as best you can, despite the difficult elephant in the room.

The problem is that the meeting itself then does not achieve what it set out to, the other people in the room are less likely to contribute or even attend next time and the time of everyone, including the difficult person, is wasted. In not doing anything, you may be reinforcing that difficult behaviour, and they may get worse rather than better.

As the organiser or leader of any meeting, you must plan to manage difficult people, and their behaviours. Here are the things I always do before and during any meeting, to make the meeting as productive as possible for everyone.

  1. Set expectations before the meeting. For example, explain that you will ask people not to check their phones or use their laptops during the meeting. Explain that you want everyone’s full attention so that the meeting is effective. If appropriate go one step further and warn people that you will be putting their phones in a box as they walk in, and they will need to leave the room if they want to answer their phones or check their emails, and there is a £1 penalty (towards charity) for doing so.
  2. Set expectations for behaviour at the start of the meeting. Advise people you will be expecting them to be fully present and not check their phones. Tell them that you will make sure everyone has a chance to speak, and apologise in advance if you have to interrupt some people if they’ve spoken for long enough. Ask people to be constructive with their suggestions and ideas, using phrases such as “yes and…” to build on someone else’s point (instead of “yes but…”), and instead of pointing out what’s wrong with an idea (too easy), suggest positive improvements to build on it (much more clever).
  3. If you know in advance that a difficult person will attend, talk with them before the meeting. Ask them about the agenda and objectives, and ask for their support in making the meeting effective, or even give feedback on what you plan to cover. Sometimes this disarms people as they feel they have invested in the meeting and so are less likely to disrupt it.
  4. With very difficult people, you may need to have a really honest heart to heart with them in advance about their behaviour (using specific examples of their behaviour in previous meetings). Share your views and ask them to talk with you to avoid those issues together in the next meeting. Be very specific about how they effect the meeting and other people, and what you’d like them to do differently. Some people are not aware of the impact they are having. This can work if this is one of your peers or someone more junior to you.
  5. If the difficult person is senior to you or the most important person in the meeting, ask for their permission to have a really honest discussion with you about how to run the meeting more effectively. Share with them the examples of their behaviour in the past and ask for their perception. Most important here is whether or not they need to attend the whole meeting. We often ask very senior, dominant people to attend only at the end, to hear what the team have come up with, and then react. Rather than taking over the whole meeting and preventing others from having a say.
  6. Have a funny reward or penalty system, like giving anyone who’s negative or critical a wooden spoon of punishment to hold. This means that the people in the room can pull each other up on their behaviours in a light-hearted way, by handing each other the wooden spoon, making people aware of how they are behaving.
  7. Finally, something that always works to make the meeting more fair is to ask a question or set a discussion point, then ask everyone to write down their opinion or answer on a Post-It first, before anyone gets to speak. You really need to stop people from speaking until everyone is ready. You then ask each person to share their view in turn, collecting those Post-Its and theming them on the wall into similar groups. This means that the quiet people get a chance to talk, the loud people have to wait their turn, and everyone can see their own ideas represented and those with the most Post-Its get discussed first. It’s much fairer than the “who talks first or loudest” method most used in meetings!

I expect difficult people and difficult behaviours. If you plan for them by setting expectations before and during the meeting, you can make your meeting more effective. You must, however, do something – hoping that difficult people will eventually behave better will not get you anywhere, and they may even get worse if you don’t take control.

If you have a specific difficult situation or person to deal with, and you don’t feel like any of the above ideas are possible, please email me at and I will reply personally with further advice. Let us know if you’d like to see the films from our recent Mastery event “Dealing with Difficult People in Meetings and Workshops”, we’d be happy to share.