Live Together with Paul Howarth

August 11, 2022

(highlights from Episode #9 of the Gutsiest Brands podcast)

Check out the latest lessons from our Gutsiest Brands podcast as GutCheck’sCEO, Rob Wengel, sits down with the CEO of Akumen & Pansensic, Paul Howarth. They talk about branding, the language of suicide, how data can lead to insights, and why bees teach us important life (and business!) lessons. 

Paul is a friend to GutCheck and a fellow researcher, and is passionate about helping people understand people, and giving them a voice. His company Pansensic works to analyze consumer experiences through narratives so brands can improve products and services. At Akumen, they analyze patient experiences to help the healthcare system deliver better services. But Paul actually started professional life as a farmer. After two debilitating farm accidents, he was forced to make a change from his active life to a desk job. But Paul says it’s his trauma that has led him to connect so deeply with people and truly understand them. Here are some of the key things Paul shared with us: 

Takeaway #1 Branding Means Belonging

To Paul, branding is more than taking a logo and sticking it on an item to sell. “Branding to me is when you grab hold of a cattle or a bull and you tie it up and you stick a hot thing on its backside, so you know what tribe it belongs to. From my kind of perspective, [branding] is something similar to that. It’s a bit tribal. People want to belong to a tribe.” Understanding customers is one thing, but making them feel they are a part of your brand will bring you diehard users for life. 

Takeaway #2 Something Always Lurks Below the Surface

It all started in the late 90s when Paul was working for his father’s business. After years of manually recording comments and categorizing them, Paul decided to take his process digital. “The way we do this is through basically categorizing words into various buckets of meaning and understanding. That allows us to work out what’s really going on.” And, according to Paul, there’s always something more going on below the surface of our decisions that affects our behaviors and psychology. “It’s all about those emotions and that intangible stuff the real reason and the good reason people do things. And the real reason why I like something is so different from the good reason.” Language analytics helped Paul discover both those reasons. 

Takeaway #3 Freedom from Frustration Is Key to Reaching People

Emotions that are negative in relation to a product or service are usually there because the brand has not solved the customer’s problems. “If you can understand the people your employees, your customers and how they feel about their products, you know you really don’t want to be frustrating [them]. That’s the number one [thing] for me. Let’s get rid of all frustration and replace that frustration with excitement or delight or a real positive emotion.” But he notes that not everyone has the same problem with, or feelings about, your product. “If you can tap into those multiple points of view and understand the product from multiple points of view, you’ve got to be in a much better position.” 

Takeaway #4 – Meaningful Connections Can Save Lives

Paul is deeply concerned with mental health and wellness – stemming from the challenges he himself faced after his life-altering farm accidents particularly surrounding suicide. He says, “If you want to support somebody that’s suicidal, it’s about making a connection without judging, without criticism, just being there and listening. It’s very much about making that connection, and that takes a degree of empathy and compassion.” This need for connection and empathy translates to branding as well. Paul explains, “If we want to create more connection with customers, we have to get in and understand…what does that relationship look like? What does that call center feel like to our customers? How does all that work? It’s about understanding that and improving it.” 

Takeaway #5 Money Isn’t a Brand Value

It’s okay for a brand to want to make money, but just imagining profits doesn’t actually bring value to the company. “If your organizations only value was making money and you never had any other values in that organization, then yeah, you’d probably make money, but you wouldn’t have a happy workforce. And you would probably struggle, especially with newer generations, to keep hold of people. Because the generations to come, they don’t live to work like our generation. They will be much more values driven and they want to be associated with better values. We can’t make money at the expense of the future generations.” 

Paul‘s Best Advice?

Paul keeps a small field that overlooks the Atlantic. Here, he plants trees and flowers and keeps bees. He says that bees “teach me a lot every day. It can be quite brutal, their way of life, but they teach me an awful lot. I can look at a bee, and I can tell how it’s feeling just by looking at it. And that’s such a pleasure. [Bees] teach you that you’ve got to live together. We cannot be solitary. We cannot disconnect. We are about connections as a society, and when you disconnect, you fail. If the colony disconnects from the queen, the queen either gets booted out and they breed a new one or the colony dies. So, the disconnect doesn’t work. You have to reconnect. 

Keep Learning 

Catch up on Rob and Paul’s full interview by listening to the Gutsiest Brands podcast. If you are interested in how your brand can uncover the deep customer insights that can enable you to lead with empathy, pioneer new paths, stand behind bold ideas, and lean into ‘the power of AND’, we’d love to help. Drop us a note!

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