Storytelling at Shell to scope the new normal

We were delighted to have James Johnstone, Head of Shell’s Global Consumer Insights, join us at an ESOMAR webinar recently, where he shared how his team immediately (and impressively!) got ahead of the trend in March 2020 by leveraging their insights platform’s storytelling features.

James told us that Shell’s insights database “Customer Insights (CI) Heartbeat” (Customer Insights Heartbeat) is all about “being on the pulse.” And that’s exactly how it functioned when the world was shocked by COVID-19, and the global pandemic rapidly, and fundamentally, changed how consumers live, work, and shop.

Shell’s insights team used their platform to tell the right COVID stories at the right time to stakeholders, “making it personal while coming up with stories that people remember,” said James.

CI Heartbeat’s automated newsfeeds and expert-curated COVID knowledge zone liberated Shell’s small group of resource-strapped insights pros from manually answering questions and responding to requests for information. It allowed marketers to self-serve information from easy-to-browse magazine-style webpages on strategic topics.

“It’s the storytelling that really landed it,” shared James. In other words, storytelling cut through COVID information overload and kept stakeholders up to date and in the loop with information relevant to their roles and needs, while freeing up time for the insights team.

The result, James said, from the early days of the pandemic onward, was that his team spent more time “higher in the thought pyramid” (away from lower-impact research and time-consuming data gathering and reporting) to answer the critical business questions that drove quick, informed action.

“Because we weren’t spending loads of time integrating information and constantly servicing people, it allowed us to spend our time looking at the information and ask, what does it mean? What do we see as catalysts in terms of the health of the economy? What key themes will come out of COVID and which will remain or accelerate? And that had a huge impact to move from insights sharing to redefining the bigger business questions.”

With James’ team’s time freed up, they were quickly able to elevate their thinking around forward-looking COVID challenges, like the changing and disrupted cultural norms, the work-from-home revolution, digital acceleration, the role of the state and citizen and social unrest and nationalism, and the impact those challenges were going to have on the business.

COVID themes and actionable insights emerged including changing customer perceptions of Shell as a proximity hub. With most people working from home, they scaled up their home delivery partnership with their convenience retail offer via online ordering and frictionless payment, while also stocking more personal protective equipment. Using storytelling, they were able to take that thinking further, with digital delivery channels enabled by CI Heartbeat.

James pointed out that “redefining work from home may sound obvious now, but in April, it wasn’t necessarily clear.” And CI Heartbeat’s insights automation facilitated an insights environment that allowed them to move forward, fast and informed.

The themes the team curated back when the pandemic started, James says, have held up. He said that’s due to the fact that CI Heartbeat’s insights automation gave his team more time to elevate their thinking and get their storytelling framework right.