Interview with Jessica Thomas, Founder of Ten Bear Group, a digital consumer insights company in the UK.
Hi Jessica, what is your background and what is included in your role at Ten Bear Group?
After working with the great team at Brandwatch, I started Ten Bear as a freelance project for a client. Word spread quickly, and now, four years down the line, the business has blossomed.
I’m sure everyone who works for an agency can empathise: my daily schedule is as varied as the projects which come along! Every morning, at 9 a.m., I have a Zoom call with my team. It helps us stay connected, social and aligned on the day’s tasks in order of priority. My weekly calendar is typically dictated by client calls, and I slot my strategy consulting, communications on LinkedIn, business maintenance and team training around that.
What differentiates Ten Bear from other competitor consumer insight companies?
It’s a cliche however, at our scale, it’s true: the people. We are primarily an agency, so when our clients work with us it’s because they see the people behind the Ten Bear logo and are confident in our ability to deliver to their requirements.
We are also uniquely positioned to identify whether we can deliver value before we agree to work together. We can do this by reviewing the data in advance, to ensure the insights can successfully answer the questions our clients have. We avoid “cookie-cutter” work and focus on the client’s true requirements rather than fitting the clients into a pattern of deliverables that would be more comfortable for us.
One competitive advantage - which was previously something we had to explain away fears around is - operating remotely. We’ve always been remote and have done some of our best work in beach bars, from jungle lodges and mountain resorts. When the pandemic of 2020 hit we were already operating in the new normal working environment.
What are the greatest challenges ahead at Ten Bear when it comes to serving your customers consumer insights and developing your service offering?
There’s always something new to learn, whether that be new techniques, platforms, data sources, industries or client requirements - we need to quickly become experts in everything to deliver answers to our clients’ questions. As consumer trends change so does the industry itself so we spend a lot of time with our ear to the ground finding the best possible solutions for clients. In agency world we are billing for that expertise, so nurturing that learning is essential to everything we do.
Ten Bear recently marked its 4th year in operation. Can you tell us about a standout project you have delivered where the client achieved a great result with the consumer insights you provided?
We have worked with some amazing clients in that time but one that really stands out was a large finance client who was looking to launch a new product in the digital payments space. We conducted this work in Spanish across multiple locations and there was an incredible amount of data.
The client's payment product was highly innovative, so the data we were looking at was less about an existing product type and more about how people handle money from a psychology perspective. We built market landscape analysis to help guide their product roadmap and location-specific investment strategy suggestions. The client was delighted with the end result.
Are there any type of consumer insights that your clients are surprised that you can deliver, that they did not expect?
Some of our clients are surprised that sensitive topics are often more possible to analyse than they first thought. For example one client was looking to understand teens' personal hygiene habits - a topic you wouldn’t typically expect to find discussed on the public web. By taking a sideways methodology we were able to use parental forums to discover all we needed to know about the subject through the eyes of the parents.
Can you give any advice on how to work with consumer insights?
I find the best way to approach customer insights is holistically, analytically and with an open mindset. It’s often surprising which data source will give the deepest understanding of your consumer. Don’t be afraid to pivot your research strategy if your team, agency or consumers uncover something powerful.
New social media apps, new uses for your product, new data regulations and new consumer groups will always crop up. I believe true consumer insights come from looking at data from a consumer psychology perspective, and applying a tested methodology - the source of your data will naturally evolve over time.
Whether you have a social listening tool in house or use an external research agency, I’d also recommend building ongoing reporting into your data strategy. One of the best ways to ensure your consumer data provides good ROI is to ensure you’re not working with out-of-date customer opinions.
Staying nimble and building a strategy which is comfortable adapting is a key part of what’s helped Ten Bear grow and flourish.
What kind of social data or media not currently used can be interesting to use for consumer insights in the future?
We’re using search data more and more because there’s a huge difference between how people express themselves on social versus what their needs are that they disclose through search engines. There has been a recent boom in search-derived insights tools that allow us more access to this side of the consumer, where previously it was just Google Trends.
How do you think the consumer insights industry will change in the next 5 years, and what are the greatest challenges ahead?
There’s likely to be more regulation as the market matures and more blending with traditional data sources. One very recent trend that we’re seeing playing out is the “unbundling of X”. For example, Reddit and LinkedIn are being unbundled into niche communities with features and functionalities to serve those specific users better. It will be interesting to see how that evolves. There could be implications on the availability of data and potential for even more extreme social bubbles (such as Parler).
By Peter Appleby