Blue Sky Thinking. Down to Earth Results.
Abbott Research


Conference panels: Boring or brilliant

Conference panels can either be the highlight of the day, or a yawn-fest with a room full of people checking their handhelds.

What a shame that so often these bright and accomplished individuals are not showcased better. From my point of view, it’s all about the moderation.

I’ve had some success moderating panels, and I’m here to share my Top 10 Tips to make your panel fantastic.

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How do you identify the right target and right message on a small budget?

Challenge: Our client was the trust division of a major bank, about to reformulate and relaunch a service targeted to high-net-worth, older individuals needing others to manage many of their day-to-day financial affairs, as well as portfolio management. The service would be sold through financial intermediaries. They needed to identify the right target and the right message with the right benefits — on a small budget.

Approach: We facilitated a half-day naming session which came up with more than 100 ideas, prioritized to a half-dozen to be taken in to testing. Focus groups were used to understand two segments, test names and validate the service concept.

Outcome: Of the two segments identified, one had little to no interest in the service concept, and the other segment was very interested. The client was able to modify their entire strategy, giving the launch a much better chance of success.

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How do you keep building your brand with your most active customers?

Challenge: Our client provides an online trading platform for FX trading that is used internationally, and competes with a large number of alternative services. They wanted to know how to keep building their brand with the most active traders and how to make their service more compelling.

Approach: We conducted webcam depth interviews with traders in three countries: Singapore, UK and USA. We also supported the second phase of the project, an online discussion forum to go deeper into specific topics.

Outcome: We identified the purchase path successful traders followed to find different platforms, as well as the perceived strengths and weaknesses in various contexts. The client had a solid basis for continuing to build a strong brand.

Note: Sklar-Wilton was the lead on this project.

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How does a mutual fund reverse poor sales of its portfolios?

people working at a large whiteboardChallenge: Our client was the mutual fund management division of a major bank. They had met with success selling a specific portfolio type through internal channels, but not through third-party financial advisors.

Previous research had not identified a solution.

Approach: We conducted in-depth interviews with successful internal advisors and sales managers to understand where success was coming from. Then we collaborated with the client to create a series of concepts isolating individual benefits.

An online discussion forum was used to obtain detailed feedback from a national sample of third-party financial advisors.

Outcome: The client has a clear path to market this product successfully: messaging, barriers, and training approaches. We were able to identify inflexion points in terms of advisor experience levels that will assist them in crafting the right messages.

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How does an electronic publisher find a different way to deliver and price expert information?

person with brain plugged into world of informationChallenge: Our client, an electronic publisher, needed to move to a different way of delivering and pricing the expert information they provide to lawyers, accountants, tax and HR professionals.

Approach: Team ethnographies were used to form an in-depth understanding of their clients’ needs across a wide spectrum. Customer labs were used to refine and validate new value propositions.

Outcome: The client was able to see a clear pathway forward for the development of new systems. A range of usage patterns from surface needs to deep research were identified and used to guide development.


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What are some of the ways to facilitate strategic planning?

signpost of speed bump aheadCase study #1

Challenge: A B2B division of a major telco had been through multiple re-organizations and mergers. Internal processes were frustrating staff at all levels.

Approach: We designed and facilitated a half-day workshop that identified the barriers to delivering quality. Teams created blueprints for making organizational change.

Outcome: The management team had only a few hours at a national conference to make progress on a huge challenge. We helped them leverage this very small window of time to get things moving.

blank signposts in several directionsCase study #2

Challenge: An industry association needed to refresh their strategic plan in a one-day board offsite. The board directors are marketing executives in a wide variety of industries.

Approach: We facilitated a full-day workshop, working with the association executive to formulate the plan.

Outcome: The executive director was able to focus on content instead of process. A successful event helps keep volunteer directors engaged.


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What products and services should we be working on today, to innovate for tomorrow?

A leading retail bank known for innovative products and marketing wanted to kick-start an innovation process. We began by identifying the target demographic: a middle income consumer that had seemingly average needs for transactional banking products.

To immerse the team in the customer experience, we started with a bus trip through a major city, visiting ethnically diverse shopping areas, and leading retailers from other industries.

Team members participated in advance “homework” exercises that ranged from household budgeting on a limited income to understanding the “freemium” model of pricing in other retail categories.

Initial idea generation sessions created far too many ideas to develop. So we created a Delphi process using online survey tools to help the team rank ideas.

Winning ideas were then taken into a concept development phase, before joining the innovation pipeline.

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What would influence consumers to stop at one gas station convenience store over another?

snack candyA texting/e-mailing assignment preceded focus groups with consumers. The texts revealed a pattern in convenience store usage that was quite different than what consumers reported, with lottery tickets playing a starring role.

Food choices (healthy or fast?) and need state were all contextualized better by using the advance exercise.

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How can we create world-class service training for contact centre employees?

photographerWe were asked to conduct a series of focus groups to support the custom training being built by another consulting firm. Our proposal: instead of just talking to customers, why not bring in a video operator to capture real customer stories?

Net result: instead of using actors to portray typical service encounters, real customers told real stories that were used in the creation of training modules.

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