During the pandemic, agencies became much more resourceful in helping their brand customers take the steps necessary to keep them successful. Many agencies already had resources in place, but some tweaking or better rendering of relevance became an integral part of navigating so many changes.

The Martin Agency, for example, has used its tension mapping approach a little differently to find new ways for its customers. By making a slight adjustment to a methodology already in place, the agency created a successful job that was more relevant to consumers’ lives.

EP + Co saw a similar opportunity, especially when testing the validity of ideas, especially as brands grappled with the messages that were to be brought to the world. The agency in Greenville, South Carolina calls their tests GutCheck, and while they do not necessarily replace traditional tests, this in-house, proprietary method is additive and enters the creative and strategic development process earlier.

According to Chris Plating, EP + co-director of brand and channel strategy, the system evolved from his research and analytics department as the agency faced a consumer landscape that was changing almost daily.

“There is a desire that things be black and white [in research and testing]”Said Plating.” Still, we are in the perception business where things are rarely black and white.

GutCheck, which was introduced about two years ago, is essentially designed for flexibility and speed and is being researched quickly. There is no exact methodology, but a process that delves deep into qualitative and quantitative research and is then incorporated into the creative process. This avoids the potential dangers of creating, executing, and then retrieving output in case something should go wrong.

Practice analyzes exactly how this research affects the business, growth, enthusiasm, and health of a client’s agency-client relationship. The method has proven particularly useful during the pandemic, as changing social dynamics can throw a brand’s original plans to the wind.

Two EP + Co customers, Denny’s and Men’s Wearhouse, are among the categories (restaurants and retail) that have been hard hit by the pandemic. Everyone worked with the agency to make sure the right messages were being communicated at the right time, even if the landscape was changing quickly.

John Dillon, evp and Chief Brand Officer at Denny’s, developed his tests from more traditional focus groups and found that EP + Co’s approach reflects its own philosophy of moving forward with consumers.

“Every marketer needs to know what tools are available and combine current needs,” said Dillon, who has been with the brand for over 13 years. “It’s about flexibility and one size doesn’t fit all and we are responding to consumer needs right now.”

Plating noted that the agency has worked with the brand for almost 11 years and with Dillon for 7 years. This has left a lot of time to iterate the agency and get deeper into the brand, testing creative work and basic business issues like price points and customer satisfaction. EP + Co even helped name it during the pandemic when the brand launched its Grand Slam Pack, a pick-up and delivery product.

When Covid-19 hit in earnest, EP + Co created a tracker for the brand to help Dillon and his team make faster decisions about programs, products and communications for guests. Denny’s invested heavily in sanitation for its locations and focused on calming messaging.

“Data and the consumer’s voice – and the ability to rotate internally and externally – made a huge difference in how quickly we responded,” noted Dillon. “It has largely paid off and is helping us make decisions.”

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