Brand leaders: to get real insight, get out of your office

A risk for brand leaders is losing touch with the real world, spending too much time in the boardroom or, for the last 15 months, in your home office. I was interested to read how Will Shu, Deliveroo’s founder and CEO, does’t make this mistake. He goes “undercover” each week as a rider to test out the company’s delivery system (1).

In this post, I suggest why getting out of your office is a great way of getting insight.

1. Keep in touch with reality

Many business leaders live in a privileged bubble, both at work and home. Will Shu has shares worth around $0.5 billion, for example (2). This means that brand leaders can lose touch with the real lives led by both their consumers and their employees. Getting out into the marketplace every week is one way for Will to keep some sort of connection with reality.

In the same vein, Tesco had a system called Together Working In STore (TWIST), where all senior leaders spent a minimum one week a year working in a Tesco store.

But the prize for the CEO who does most to stay close to the real world has to be James Timpson, who runs the chain of shoe repair shops bearing his family name. “In normal times, I spend three days a week walking high streets and retail parks, visiting more than 900 shops a year,” he reveals in one of his brilliant weekly columns in the The Times (3). “Visiting shops is my main source of inspiration and free market research.” He also has a great name for the corporate head quarters, urging leader to “escape the ‘sales-prevention’ office”!

2. Don’t understand your employees. Be an employee

We talk about about going beyond consumer understanding to consumer empathy on our Mastering Brand Growth program. This involves being the consumer, or at least getting up close and personal via immersive insight (e.g. observation, accompanied shopping, in-home visits).

And the same principle applies to employees. Rather than just trying to understand his people via tools such as employee surveys, Will gets on his bike to do collections and deliveries. The benefit of not being a famous ‘face’ means that only the occasional Deliveroo rider realises who he is!

“I want to understand what the riders go through,” he explains. “As they (the restaurant) were being rude to me, this other rider walked up to me. He was just like, ‘You see, these guys are at it again’.” This way, Will experiences first-hand the challenges his delivery riders face on a daily basis. As a CEO, this puts him in a much better place to evaluate proposed people management changes from the HR team. The same thing goes for the app the riders use. “I always test our rider app, so it’s a good way to do it,” he goes on to say.

If you do get spotted, or reveal who you are, James Timpson has a good suggestion of three simple questions to ask employees: “How are the sales compared to last year’s? How can we help you take more money? And, most importantly, how are you?”

3. Getting immersive insight

Real world immersion is also a great way of getting fresh insight into the customer experience. Will was able to see how poor performance by restaurants can have a negative impact on the Deliveroo customer experience. The staff of one restaurant rudely rebuked him when pointed out that one customer’s food order was cold. “Hey, you know this food’s kind of cold”, he complained. Only to be told, “Just deliver it buddy.” The restaurant in question makes the same money if the food is hot or cold. But Deliveroo’s brand could suffer, with the customer probably blaming cold food on the delivery system.

Based on this insight, Deliveroo could develop ideas for encouraging restaurants to ensure food is hot for delivery. Importantly, this sort of insight might not come out of conventional research with Deliveroo consumers. “The consumer doesn’t want to talk to you, they just want their food,” Will says. “But you can learn a lot just by spending time there.”

In conclusion, to get real insight and stay in touch with the real world, get out of your office and spend time with consumers and customers on a regular basis.


1. Deliveroo boss Will Shu gets on his bike to expose poor restaurants: The Times

2. Deliveroo’s CEO’s Stake Falls to $474 Million

3. Yes! It’s time to escape the ‘sales-prevention’ office