Following a career in marketing and advertising, Fiona Blades founded MESH Experience, a market research consultancy helping marketers make quicker and better decisions about their investments. Fiona has developed a unique Experience Driven Marketing framework and Real-time Experience Tracking approach to capture people’s experiences with brands in the moment.
The company started in London, and now also has offices in New York (where Fiona lives) and São Paulo. Clients include Delta Air Lines, LG Electronics, Diageo, Unilever, RSA Insurance, Nuffield Healthcare and LATAM Airlines.
In this interview with Startup Savant, Fiona shares her experiences with top brands in doing market research and determining top customer experience through the use of mobile phones/SMS. Her biggest piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:
Dare to dream and think big! Find people, or business partners, that believe in your vision and have complementary skills to you. Remember that lots of little steps taken every day that will help you to succeed.
Learn more about Fiona and the MESH experience in this awesome interview. After you're done absorbing her insight and advice for starting a business, be sure to follow her on Twitter!
What was your first business idea? Is there a biggest lesson you learned from it?
House Story. The idea was to connect people who loved doing family history research (often retired and under-utilised in the work force) with people looking to buy or sell their home in order to create a unique story of their house from archive material—the people who lived there, the development of the environment around the house, etc. At that time, the property market was booming in London, where I lived, and new TV programs like “Who do you think you are?” were becoming popular.
Don’t just think it, do it.
How did you get the idea for MESH? Is there something you wanted to do different or better than your competitors?
In 2005, I was the Planning Director of an Omnicom agency, Claydon Heeley, in London, where I worked on brands like Mercedes-Benz. I could get plenty of market research on how the TV ad was working, but I knew that other experiences people were having with premium car brands were important, such as going into a dealership, seeing a new model on Top Gear, or noticing a neighbor’s car. If we could understand every experience that someone was having with Mercedes-Benz and its competitors, we could help clients know where to invest their money.
We just needed a way to capture these experiences as people had them. The answer lay in the mobile phone!
What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting MESH?
Ignorance. I didn’t know that using a mobile phone to capture market research data would be seen as an unreliable gimmick.
It also took persistence to demonstrate that there were enormous advantages to using people’s mobiles to capture data in real time.
What was your biggest business mistake and how you did you come out stronger at the end of the day?
Rushing into opening an office in Singapore just before the recession. Major global clients kept asking about our capabilities in China and APAC. We could service Europe and the US from London, but with time zones and cultural differences, we felt that we needed a physical presence in Asia. Once we had it, it took months for clients to commission.
Our MD Singapore had great presence of mind. When we said that we could no longer send out money from the UK, he responded 24 hours later with a proposal to half costs – a temporary move to Thailand! Our problem solving ability grew.
Subsequently, we have opened offices on the back of founding clients with annual contracts. No contract, no office.
Are you using any Apps that help run and manage your business?
When we started using mobile phones for data gathering, there were no apps (and no Twitter). We used SMS.
We use apps for data gathering, but do so selectively. Apps allow more intuitive data gathering, but using them often costs more than SMS due to charges within the market research infrastructure, and there’s a barrier to encourage participants to download another app to their phone. There are also some countries and demographics in which SMS or mobile diary is a better data collection option.
However, I envisage these being used more and more, not just for data gathering but for data transformation and delivery to marketers.
What are your visions for MESH? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?
Our vision is to make Experience Driven Marketing the universal framework for marketers. We want to help create and measure experiences that grow brands, people and society.
In the next 5 years, I see more marketers adopting Share of Experience as a key metric to drive brand growth and MESH facilitating more marketers to have access to Real-time Experience Data to keep their fingers on the pulse of how people are experiencing theirs and their competitors’ brands.
What makes MESH unique from others? How did you find your competitive advantage?
Our focus on experiences. Other market research consultancies focus on people’s perceptions of brands and TV advertising using traditional surveys. We believe that it is people’s experiences of brands that build their brand perceptions, whether that is seeing a TV ad or seeing someone drinking the product or spotting a comment on social media. These experiences and the emotions around them need to be captured in the moment.
Our Real-time Experience Tracking (RET) approach was described by Harvard Business Review as “a new tool (that) radically improves marketing research”.
Our experience ethos extends to the experiences we have with our clients, our partners, our people and our experience gatherers (research participants). When one of our longstanding clients has a business question they ask their Insight Director, “shall we MESH it?” That’s what we like to hear!
Do you have a specific question or test when hiring a new employee? What is your hiring secret?
One of my favorite questions, one which we usually use for graduate recruitment, is to ask the prospective employee to write an email to a client who isn’t responding to them. They need to communicate that there is a minor hitch in the fieldwork and to get a date into calendars for the final presentation of results. They’ve had a drink with the client once. The tone of voice reveals a lot about how the person will relate to a client.
An email is one of many ways that our own clients encounter MESH, so it’s important that these build positive experiences.
How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?
Specifically, my husband who has known me since I was a teenager and has an amazing ability to understand human nature and make complex problems simple for me; my mother, who owned an Indie nightclub in Manchester and knew how to generate extraordinary loyalty and memorable experiences; my father, who had his own business and provides me with practical, non-conformist advice; the way my sister has helped her children to grow; and everyone at MESH and beyond. These daily encounters give me enormous strength and focus when things are tough.
I also like the saying, “In disease, find ease. In discomfort, find comfort. And when you do, you are at the growing edge.”
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in New York? Where should they start?
Dare to dream and think big. Understand what about in your business you feel passionately because when things are difficult, you will need to remember why you are working on your business.
If you can, find people, or business partners, that believe in your vision and have complementary skills to you. Then, remember that lots of little steps taken every day that will help you to succeed.
Vision, strategy, plan and implement.