Nothing beats actually engaging with consumers in market. But not everyone can go. Here are some tips to help remember everything so that you can bring stories to life when you’re back in the office

Work immerses me into the lives of African consumers, which means I get to meet people I normally wouldn’t and hear their stories. I really enjoy understanding how they engage with brands and discovering the ingenious ways they devise to overcome obstacles in their lives.

Sometimes the conversation takes an unexpected, off-topic turn – like it did with a young man in Dube, Soweto. We were sitting in his home and I asked what it was like to be male in today’s South Africa. He began to cry, then sob. It unfolded that his reaction was linked to the pressure he felt as the only earning adult in his large, extended family. While not on brief, this moment added rich background context to the category that I was focused on.

Each project generates stories that are insightful and will help brand teams make better decisions. For me, the difficulty is how do I capture and recall the best bits that I’ve experienced on a multi-country project? I need to bring the most relevant stories alive for others who weren’t there. In my experience, the following can all help…

Tips to remember it all:

NOTES. I keep written notes – in real time or as soon as I can afterwards. Bullet points and mind maps mainly. Capturing key thoughts, using the unique way that they said it. Sometimes I employ a note-taker. I also capture notes on-the-go on my phone as see things when I move around

AUDIO. Sometimes I record ambient noises to bring a space alive. For interviews, I simply record them on my phone

PICS AND VIDEOS. After asking for permission, I take a lot of pics and videos on my phone. The quality is superb and everything is automatically backed up onto the cloud

SOFTWARE / APPS. I use editing software – standard Mac features like ‘Photos’ and ‘iMovie’ to package and enhance what I’ve captured. If I require something more sophisticated, Adobe’s suite of apps is my default choice

GEOLOCATION. I make liberal use of the ‘Explore’ feature in ‘Photos’ to help remind me of exactly where I’ve been or where I saw a particular billboard

WHATSAPP. We stay in regular contact with our suppliers and often respondents will use WhatsApp to message us. Sometimes, when I’m back at my desk, settling back into everyday life at home, market memories start to fade. A quick call or message helps wire me straight back in

EVERYDAY ITEMS. When I know that many in the audience have never been to Africa before, I have to engender a readiness for them to rethink their assumptions and beliefs about what is ‘normal’. At times like these I find it handy to use everyday items from the market that they can touch, feel and taste. For example, passing around and breaking Kola nuts, smelling different herbs, roots and spices, or eating some of the local common foods or snacks. When we explain the cultural significance of these – and they get to experience them at first hand – it usually ensures a much richer discussion

BOTTLE TOPS. Working in Africa is usually thirsty work. I find that keeping bottle tops is a handy way to evoke project memories. While not 100% perfect – I can generally tell you where I was, who I was with and a few other interesting details – based on seeing a particular bottle cap. For example: Goldberg reminds me of the rise of value beer in Nigeria. I got that top in Lagos, waiting for a flight to Kano, accompanied by Usman who enjoyed lunch (and the Goldberg) while I ribbed him about the poor state of our friendship

On top of that, we also create slick presentations, videos, booklets, posters and infographics. All of which help me to bring African consumers alive with client teams who may be unfamiliar with the markets concerned and are – in many cases – unlikely to spend much time there.

So – next time you’re in market, try bringing your consumers alive with a combo of the above.

And don’t forget the bottle tops – your trip will be more fun that way!

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