Words by Ben Wiedmaier and Tony Ho Tran, Visuals by Emma McKhann
Don Hall has seen a lot of the brand strategy world—from marketing and advertising to positioning and strategy.
He was (and still is) influenced by the power of the consumer technology to improve, enhance, and bring novel experiences to people’s lives. Coming of age in the dawn of the PC, he had a front-row seat to that evolution.
So it makes sense that he eventually found himself working at Microsoft spearheading brand strategy for the Xbox 360. His work linked the Xbox's brand with its growing, already-diehard user base.
In other words, creating—and retaining—fans.
He experienced first hand how maintaining visibility of user stories and drawing a brand's strategy from those perspectives can drive engagement, helping create a deeper emotional connection over time.
That’s given him a keen awareness of ways companies can create fans from their user base. He also knows how organizations can leverage story and narrative to weave compelling experiences through collaboration.
“My thinking on brands was heavily influenced by the Xbox 360 experience and the collaborators that I worked with,” Don says. “And one of the things that we incorporated into the Xbox 360 brand development both from a brand, product design, and user experience perspective was really deeply infusing the consumer voice into the process.”
For him, then, user stories are more than just nice, qual insights you can glean during the research process. They’re the key to any good brand strategy. “Good” brand decisions can’t be made without them.
This tenet is the driving force behind his work after Microsoft.
"When I left [Microsoft] to be a consultant, I really wanted to live in that world of crafting good stories based on brand ideas richly informed by consumer perspectives,” Don says.
Now as the Strategy Lead for Ten Gun Design, Don is collaborating with creative leaders to bring this approach to life for identity, story and experience design.
Recently, Ten Gun took on a project that required mobile ethnographic research. That led him to discover dscout—and the wealth of qual user insights it can generate.
It is so eye-opening to hear and see real people in their homes, their cars, wherever they do mobile work, talk about their pain points and what motivates them […] It’s really undeniable, once you’re exposed to it.
Unearthing mobile insights
Before a global pandemic tore through everyone’s personal and work life, Don was working on a project focused on how digital-first workers make sense of their worlds. Tackling the project required in-context, as-they-happen mobile moments.
In terms of scope, then, the team knew they needed to get more intimate with their users in order to unearth those insights. Luckily, dscout’s remote video platform is tailored to do just that.
“A lot of it comes down to the power of video,” Don says. “The power of looking and hearing consumers talk.”
Specifically, Don found that dscout—and remote qual broadly—gave them a look into their users they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. Something more intimate and revealing than a survey.
“It is so eye-opening to hear and see real people in their homes, their cars, wherever they do mobile work, talk about their pain points and what motivates them,” he says. “How they're responding to different product or communications experiences. It's really undeniable, once you're exposed to it.”
He continues, “My watchword is ‘context.’ We wanted to learn about mobile work. So the key to that was to have a tool that would capture mobile work in the context of people being mobile. And to be able to get those captured in the moment, as they were happening, and get that richer context around their mobile work life is really invaluable.”
With the surrounding context of the way their users, Don and his team had better data. And with better data, came better ideas for product storytelling.
That makes a tool like dscout indispensable to his work.
I think what’s exciting about having a really nimble consumer insights platform with this ‘always on’ potential, is that you can literally infuse the voice of the consumer, really efficiently, at every stage of development.
“Always on” research
Another boon with dscout is the fact that Don and his team at Ten Gun Design can conduct research more often, while sharpening the way they solve problems. This allows research to be done at scale while incorporating their users during the entire process.
“I think what's exciting about having a really nimble consumer insights platform with this ‘always on’ potential, is that you can literally infuse the voice of the consumer, really efficiently, at every stage of development,” he says.
“To inform a brief you could go do a quick ethnography study where you're just kind of getting rich texture around the consumer's life and the role that the brand or category plays in that life,” Don describes. “Creative teams can build on those insights with different concepts and approaches that address consumer pain points and we can go back to consumers to learn what resonates and what doesn’t and refine our thinking.”
Creating fans (one video at a time)
For Don, the ability to collaborate quickly while democratizing research is the sweet spot—and dscout is the tool that helped get his team there.
And when users have a voice, decisions about the positioning, market to explore, and value propositions become more aligned, increasing impact.
“If you think about foundational insights, generative insights, and then more evaluative work, we see the opportunity, with dscout, to be able to engage with consumers at each of those stages on projects where in the past, because of budget and timing constraints, we might have the opportunity to do it once at most,” he says. “That's really exciting.”
Tony Ho Tran is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Huff Post, Business Insider, Growthlab, and wherever else fine writing is published.