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Game Changers: Interview with Sven Hughes

Sven Hughes is the founder of Global Influence. The company provides cutting-edge influence solutions for challenging, complex and high-stakes environments. His clients include Prime Ministers, Presidents, Royal households, militaries and boardrooms.

Sven is an acknowledged authority on using advanced verbalisation techniques to win the 'war of words' for his clients and is a regular international speaker on the future of strategic communications.

From your experience how has customer experience changed in the digital era? And what does this mean for business leadership?

The advent of social media obviously provides entirely new ways to engage with audiences. This is both an opportunity and a risk for the broadcasters – whether that be manufacturers and their marketing agencies or governments. I think the key point to remember when managing any strategic communications within this context is that every new audience ‘touchpoint’ should also be considered a ‘talkpoint’ – as part of a coherent conversation. It amazes me how many companies, brands and governments don’t fully utilise each new talkpoint effectively. Whether it is to ensure that their talkpoints speak with one, consistent voice or to align their various talkpoints into a seamless, staggered conversation. So, customer experience has the ability to change profoundly within the digital era, but there is still work to do to get clients to recognise and utilise the new opportunities. That’s where we come in.

You have mentioned the term transformational insights, what does this mean?

Many clients struggle to see the wood from the trees. After all, big data is only getting bigger. The challenge is how to turn the sea of information into powerful, coherent and actionable insights. Too many brands still use insights like a drunk uses a lamppost; for support, not illumination. Real insights – born out of genuine deep listening – are often challenging to hear. They often require a client to fundamentally rethink their brand positioning or other aspects of their internal and external systems, process and messaging. The right insights can recalibrate a client’s entire beliefs and behaviour. But, this requires a very significant degree of trust in the insight process. That’s where RAID®comes in for us here at Global Influence. RAID® stands for Rapid Audience Insights Diagnostic. It’s our 24-parameter insights model that we have developed and tested over many years in 120 countries, in collaboration with some of the leading psychologists and sector experts from applied psychology, marketing and military influence operations. RAID®delivers the scientific rigour for us to be able to start our sentences with “assessed based on the evidence”, rather than “I think” or “I believe”. The consequence for our clients: genuinely transformational insights.

Can businesses trust noisy social media to reveal relevant customer insights anymore?

Not on its own, no. Any kind of intelligence work – and fundamentally, that is what social listening is – requires multiple data sources. No one in my former line of work as a reserve intelligence soldier would accept single source information. Social media can, however, be very useful as part of the overall data lake for Target Audience Analysis purposes. Especially for lexical analysis and ‘leakage’ indicators in relation to an audience’s underlying cognition. Social media provides part of the ‘collect’ phase. However, the information still needs to be converted into usable intelligence – and, self-evidently, that’s where the real work begins.

Who should own customer insights within the business - the CEO, CMO, CIO or someone else?

All of the above, as a team. Genuinely transformational insights are likely to affect every aspect of an organisation – not just the marketing department. Many of our customers rethink their R&D product pipelines as a consequence of our RAID®insights. They also regularly modify their staff training, sales staff methods, recruitment requirements and many other aspects of their company. It’s a little unfair to leave this to either the CIO or CMO in isolation. To accept and implement transformational insights, the entire C-Suite may wish to be involved, including the CFO. It is often much better to simply appoint a senior working team to implement the business consequences with one voice and one clear agenda. This ensures that both internal and external audiences are informed at all stages and have their expectations correctly managed.

How important are communications insights when developing a digital transformation strategy?

Communications insights can’t really be treated as separate from other insight areas. Fundamentally, the key insights a client is likely to need to know for their communications strategy fall into four main areas: contextual factors, transference structures, lexical analysis and underlying cognition. As a consequence, these are the four main areas we focus on with RAID®, our own insights IP. It is only by cross-referencing and assessing the various data sets between these four areas that accurate audience influences, drivers and motivations can be established. In combination, these insights identify the shape of the lock within the audience’s mind, as well as the specific messaging key necessary to fit that lock (the ‘decode’ to ‘encode’ process).

With such advanced techniques for tapping into psychology, behaviours and habits - should the public be worried about their privacy?

There is clear legislation in this space. In relation to data collection and storage. As long as everyone sticks to the rules, there isn’t cause for concern. If people break don’t stick to the rules, then of course they can and should expect consequences.

With such scientific precision around data and people’s habits - how important will creativity be in the future?

Perhaps it’s useful to think of the insights as part of the briefing process. Better insights deliver a better brief for the Creatives. However, the spark of human creativity is still very necessary to ensure that the defined messages and language reach the right audience in a fresh and dynamic way – engaging their hearts as well as their minds. The process of brands ‘pattern matching’ their communications to their audience’s psychology is certainly improved considerably by robust foundational research. However, the audience still needs wonder and inspiration. I’m quite sure that creativity has a long and vibrant future.

What are the biggest mistakes you see organisations making regarding insights and customer experience?

The whole “I have a nose to hold up my glasses” response to insights is perhaps the biggest mistake. It is often the case that people interpret data according to their own cognitive biases. This is very unwise. We certainly work hard to take our clients on a journey to trust the RAID®methodology and processes. We explain in detail the particular insight methods we use as well as the exact results from previous case studies – the cause and effect – to ensure that the client feels genuinely confident to rely on the analysis and insights. RAID®was developed as a result of several Global Influence employees having served in the military and within other areas of counter terrorism. We are very clear that insights must be so precise and accurate as to be actionable within high-stakes environments, where lives are at stake.

How do you see the work you are doing impacting business, or even society, in the future?

We work very hard to have a positive impact within high-stakes environments, right around the world. For clients facing complicated issues where a tangible result is a need to have, not a nice to have. Whether that be in the fight against Daesh, or working to ensure communities have a democratic voice in the face of oppressive regimes. Similarly, we work with businesses and charities who need a higher level of confidence in their Target Audience Analysis to ensure the efficacy of their own campaigns.

What are your predictions for the evolution of communications and insights in the next five years?

RAID®will become the insights benchmark. Anything less risks basing vital decisions on guesswork rather than certainty. Clients increasingly know the difference and want the difference.

Find out more about Global Influence at www.globalinfluence.com