Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fem Founder to talk about my expertise in human behavioural science research and my unique ability to identify what it is that makes people tick, both psychologically and physiologically. Moreover, I had the chance to talk about 'going it alone' as I began my own venture 'Adcock Solutions' which has led me to operate in 17 countries, with a client base consisting of many of the best-known names in retail, helping them to better understand how to communicate with their customers.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I have always had a passion for watching others and trying to understand why human beings do what they do. Even at school, I would observe and then analyse the interpersonal behaviour of others and myself. Early on, I realised that understanding the human brain, but not being confined to any specialist viewpoint offered rewarding career opportunities.
I recognised that there weren’t any relevant college or university courses that would ready me for a professional life in commercial psychology. I could have taken a more classical route and studied one of the traditional aspects of human psychology: The science and knowledge of the human brain from a point of view of relieving dysfunction and distress. Alternatively, I could have majored in business or motivational psychology; the subject of helping individuals reach their full potential by way of re-programming their brains for success.
Instead, I started reading books, academic papers, and scientific journals. The more I read, the more I realised how I could apply what I was learning in a commercial environment.
What inspired you to start your business?
With a real passion for understanding what makes people tick, I traveled along what has become a thirty-year course of self-teaching. In the early years, I worked as a retail display consultant, frustrated that many shop fixtures and fittings were designed and manufactured based on cost. I identified that by understanding how the shopper behaved in-store and aligning that with their needs and desires, it was possible to deliver point of purchase (POP) display solutions that dramatically increased sales and market share for an ever-increasing list of leading retailers and brands.
Frustrated by the lack of available psychological insights, in 1999, I founded one of only a few specialist shopper research agencies, Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd (SBXL). It became one of the leading shopping behaviour and emotions specialists which combined a range of state-of-the-art technology and techniques with academic studies and on-going research. This approach enabled us to provide retailers and brands with tangible and useable data to help them make changes that enhanced sales.
Where is your business based?
Although we are based in England, we have conducted projects in more than 20 Countries. Always sending our own uniquely expert team to be on the ground themselves.
Globally, there is a big problem with agencies selling and organisations buying ineffective research into consumers and shoppers. Why? Because of a lack of understanding regarding how the human brain works.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
This is where I had an amazing stroke of luck. While working as a display consultant, I started introducing psychology and behavioural science into conversations. One of the largest banks in the UK showed real interest and told me to produce a proposal and come back in a weeks’ time (on Friday). 2 days before I was set to pitch my proposal to the bank, I was made redundant. So instead of going in as a representative of a display company, I was able to be a commercial psychologist.
On the Friday, the bank said yes to my proposal, gave me an order for £80,000 and I was up and running. I spent my £10,000 redundancy money on the filming equipment I needed to complete the bank research project. My wife wasn’t pleased, may I add.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Over the years, we’ve undertaken numerous marketing initiatives. In addition, I’ve appeared in the media many times as the shopper expert. But frankly, there is a particular activity that outperformed all others by a large amount.
I deliver talks and presentations at major retail conferences and trade shows. Maybe it’s my delivery style or maybe I just say want people need to hear, I don’t know. But the fact remains that after just about any talk, I am approached by a number of prospects with a view to helping them better understand shoppers and consumers.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Staff, staff, staff! As somewhat of a visionary and creative thinker, I love looking at the big picture, planning for the big tomorrow and helping major brands excel in their marketplace.
What I don’t like is spoon-feeding and looking after the minute details that staff bring. From checking expenses to handling disputes and grievances. After a while, being mired in the detail really got me down. And let’s not even start talking about the masses of paperwork needed to be in business nowadays. Tax forms, procedures, health and safety, I could go on.
The only way I found to handle these challenges what to pay people whose job it is to deal with detail. Although this meant taking a hit on costs, it freed me up to go and get more business, which in hindsight more than paid for the layer of management, that for many years I resisted bringing in.
How do you stay focused?
When you are with others, be it in a professional capacity or in a bar with friends, having a fascination with behaviour, motivation and human emotion means that my brain is literally ‘always on’. Constantly seeking new opportunities to help clients better understand their customers.
Fortunately, today, we are learning more about the human mind than ever before. And we are learning ever faster. That means as long as I convert academic jargon and techno-speak into everyday language that helps clients sell products, then I’ll always be busy. And frankly, as long as scientists come up with new brain science, I’ll always be interested and that leads to an intense focus, 24/7.
Incidentally, I do find it hard not to focus. Even when I go on holiday, I’ll be armed with hundreds of pages of science. And the books I’ve written, I did most of the work while on holiday.
So in summary, I have no problem with focus because I’m just too passionate about the human mind.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Within market research, there are many failings. From those who think that focus groups are the only research tool ever needed, to others who make all their decisions for the future from sales data which is based in the past.
Our point of difference is simple: We go beyond what consumers say they do so that we uncover and analyse why they do what they really do and mean. As soon as we convince a prospect that consumers aren’t rational automatons, but more emotional creatures with flaws and biases, it becomes a no brainer as to why they should use us.
Here’s a summary of our elevator pitch: Consumers don’t say what they mean, mean what they say or do as they say they will. So where’s the value in just talking to them?
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Quite simply, taking the latest psychological insights, and distilling that down into everyday language and then sharing it with leading retailers and brands who can really benefit (and afford it).
Here’s where I think marginal gains apply. Marketing isn’t about doing 1 thing 100% better, but by doing 100 things each 1% better. So look at any aspect of marketing and analyse it form a psychological perspective. Will it really deliver? What is good about it and what needs to be improved?
Too many organisations conduct marketing in ways like many others, just because that’s the way most do it. Stop, stand back and say, if I had a blank sheet of paper, why would somebody want what I’m offering? And consider both the rational and emotional needs you can meet. For example, today, many executives work in fear of losing their jobs. As a result, they are resistant to change and opposed to trying anything new. As the saying goes, nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
My single best piece of advice is this. Stop thinking about when you might go it alone or leave the corporate rat-race to be an entrepreneur. Set a firm date and remind yourself every day that this is the date when you make it happen.
I meet with many, many more people who are glad they went after their dream. And hardly any who regret doing so.
What’s your favourite app, blog, and book? Why?
My favourite app is probably Apple Maps. Why? Because it is invaluable for the last mile. Most of us can find our way from city A to city B, but that last bit about finding that specific office block in that precise industrial park, that’s where Apple Maps really helps.
When it comes to blogs., I’m sorry, but that’s not something I do. I prefer to get stuck into heavier literature than be exposed to the more superficial stuff.
Favourite book: Emotions & Life, by Robert Plutchik. Heavy going, but the best there is if you want to fully understand human emotion. I have to give a mention to one of my books, Master Your Brain. Because I’m both extremely proud of it and it’s sold more than 20,000 copies.
What’s your favourite business tool or resource? Why?
iPhone: We are now able to be completely connected while being totally mobile. Brilliant. From phone to email, to Google, it’s all there on my iPhone X. You have to ask, do we really need offices any more?
Who is your business role model? Why?
It has to be Anthony Robbins. He made mind science accessible and relevant to the masses. It’s what I try to do in a commercial setting.
How do you balance work and life?
This is such an important thing right now. In my opinion, it takes people quite a while in the business to realise that there is life outside work. And only once you do, can you create the right work/life balance. I was in my late 30s before I realised how out of balance my work and life were.
I fear that a lot of professionals nowadays just work too hard for too many years. They need to realise that waking up at 65 and then dying soon after isn’t much of a payoff for all those years of stress and long hours.
Work to live, don’t live to work!
What’s your favourite way to decompress?
Swimming does it for me. A couple of miles twice a week, lets me unwind and decompress. Plus, according to my watch, I burn up about 800 calories each time I go to the pool.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
I’m fortunate in that I am able to focus on projects that really interest me as opposed to having to work just to pay the bank interest. So currently, I’m building a network of people who I can share my knowledge with. Not necessarily for profit, but for the greater good.
For example, I’m looking at the psychology of weight loss. How shoppers and consumers can fend off temptation and shop/eat more healthily using the power of their own mind.