A Decade at Mustard

Anthony Shephard-Williams, research director, shares his thoughts, learnings and observations having very recently passed the 10-year milestone as a Mustardite.

This month marks my ten-year work anniversary at Mustard, and to celebrate this milestone I’ve been getting all reflective and have been thinking about my time with the business and how some things have changed.

Keeping with the theme of “10”, here are my top 10 observations (not in any particular order) on the most significant developments of the last decade of my employment:

1) A previously unimaginable diversity of project work.

During my time at Mustard I’ve researched almost everything imaginable; innovations in the wet wipe category, workflows for scientists in relation to next generation sequencing, and lots (and lots) of insights into pets. Then everything else in-between! Some experiences that really stand out for me include:

  • Observational research at a leading New York University, witnessing a cellular biologist euthanase and then dissect mice at the bench (not for the faint hearted, but thankfully I held it together!).
  • Social research in North East England around bowel cancer interventions. This project required us to build close relationships with the Bangladeshi community (who at the time were much less likely to engage with bowel cancer services). Despite perceived challenges and barriers, client, agency and community worked together to achieve the desired outcome.
  • High impact video outputs that had (almost) an entire room in tears. Specifically, a 10-minute video that was collated from a 3-month online diary project, whereby people struggling financially were challenged to save £100 a month. The video was, at times, hard to watch however the clear change in both the current circumstances and positivity towards the future proved a real “tear jerker” and key decisions were taken as a result. The Mustard mantra is ‘Making the difference’, and this example delivered on that promise in so many ways.

2) The Mustard rebrand.

Probably the biggest change I’ve witnessed was the rebrand in 2012 from Ci Research to Mustard. Back then, our clients were telling us that the brand experience of working with us (how we behave, what we deliver) did not marry up with their perceptions of the brand’s visual identity. In essence, the brand was not doing us justice, so a big change was necessary. The mantra is clear and consistent, the identity is distinct and aligned with our ways of working, and we haven’t looked back.

3) The big office move.

To live and breathe this brand, we had to get out of our identikit Wilmslow “box”. A month after the rebrand, we moved to the bottom of Canal Street in Manchester City Centre. Our new HQ on Princess Street is in a much better location for both clients and team members, but equally important is it feels more ‘on brand’. We have a bright, open plan office, with enough space and areas to get creative, individually, in groups and as a team.

4) The people.

With most businesses, employees come and go. Thankfully, Mustard has had really low “churn” rates, and over the years it has been extremely rare for a researcher to leave us for another research agency. The people are what make any business, but that is particularly true for industries where clients are effectively buying the people. At Mustard there is a real diversity of skill sets and personalities. There are so many talented and team-focused people I know there is always someone around that I can bounce ideas off, or bring into a project team should there be a need for a specific specialism.

5) The growth in online research.

Before Mustard I was exposed to online qualitative research very early in my career, what were referred to back then as ‘bulletin boards’. Things have changed so much since those days (which warrants a whole blog in itself, so watch this space!). Since joining Mustard, I have spearheaded the development of our online community offer and continue to lead the strategy on online qualitative research. Over recent years we have seen significant growth in this area of the business, a few recent stats to be proud of include:

  • In 2019, circa a quarter of our revenue came from projects that included an online community as part of the methodology.
  • Between 2016 and 2019 the number of pop-up communities (shorter communities lasting anything from 4 days to 3 weeks) conducted by Mustard increased by 200%.

6) The team socials.

It’s not all work, work, work! Over the years we have frequented many a restaurant or bar (we usually have free drinks on the second Friday of the month), we have played crazy golf, been to many a comedy show, brewery tours, and even ventured further afield to places such as Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Munich and Lisbon for our annual Christmas party. In these Covid times, more recently team members have been preparing and delivering some pretty amazing quizzes over Zoom. Although right now the team can’t be as close together physically, it is great to see everyone so regularly virtually. I look forward to the day when we can all go out for a drink together in person again!

7) My own personal development.

Cliché, but the way I work and my positive experiences overall have increased exponentially since I joined Mustard. I’ve had amazing support from my peers. When I was told at my initial interview that the company invest in people and that I could play a part in deciding my own path, this turned out to be 100% true. I’ve attended numerous training days, watched countless webinars from both the comfort of Mustard HQ and home, and attended conferences and events all over the place!

8) Our respondents.

Although research methodologies, and the techniques that we have used to elicit insight have changed over the years, the one constant that remains is the brilliance of our respondents or research participants. They have welcomed me into their homes or businesses, or have taken part in focus groups (either on or offline) or online communities, and have given so much fuel for our difference making. Their willingness to share their personal stories and experiences never fails to amaze me, and for that I am always grateful.

9) The launch of Honeycomb.

Two years ago we announced the launch of Honeycomb, a business focused on bridging the gap between market research and data science. It has been an exciting time to see this new division of the business develop and become successful in its own right. Plenty more to come!

10) The challenges.

As with all businesses and careers there are going to be challenges along the way. When I first joined the company there was more public sector work than private, and a dominance of financial services clients within the latter. The recession of 2008 and subsequent public sector budget cuts combined with redundancies within our financial sector client-base meant we needed to act quickly and decisively to increase the proportion of non-FS private sector research programmes. Fast forward 10 years, no time has been more challenging than now, where uncertainty has reigned for the last four months. Prior to the pandemic, 2020 was shaping up to be a blockbuster, but although plans have to be refined, the business (and the sector) is demonstrating its resilience yet again with some fantastic projects being delivered in Q2/Q3 in financial services, food & drink, retail, housing and tech sectors in particular.

It is business as almost-usual for Mustard – albeit with even more online research happening and more remote working.

Looking forward to seeing what the next 10 years brings!

If you have a specific question for Anthony on his Mustard experiences – feel free to get in touch – anthony-shephard-williams@mustard-research.com