How The Martin Agency Captures Consumer Pain Points for Brands

It's a tense world, and a radical shift in society and behaviors demands different insight

The Martin Agency
The Martin Agency's Covid-19 Tension Map reveals how brands can go beyond surface data. The Martin Agency
Headshot of Doug Zanger

The past few years have had a certain level of tension in America. More recently, however, the angst has ramped up with several crises like the pandemic and civil unrest unrolling simultaneously. Last night’s presidential debate is likely another agita-inducing moment that could exhaust an already frayed populace. 

While on the surface, this would seem an inopportune time to even think about marketing, The Martin Agency contends that the public’s emotional rollercoaster is precisely what brands need. A little over a year ago, Martin Agency vp and group director Taylor Grimes created what’s known as the Tension Map. The system goes beyond data (even big data) and existing tools and creates unique insights—borne from consumer pain points—that brands can use quickly and efficiently.

Grimes said the tools he was using were too rational, overly-complicated and didn’t help foster big ideas that connected with humans. It may seem counterintuitive for a brand and agency to hone in on the negative. In fact, that’s exactly what is needed to articulate a position and build new audiences.

“I had the data and could get to practicality, but ideas come from provocation,” he said. “I could give context, but I needed curiosities. I was finding tactics, but I needed to find tension.”

The Tension Map is highly-visual, easy-to-use, intuitive and goes beyond journey mapping, laying out specific attributes—and a score—that help build strategic and creative direction. It has been in use since spring 2019 to help the agency’s clients, yet the pandemic’s arrival created a new urgency. According to Martin Agency chief strategy officer Elizabeth Paul, she became frustrated with the quality of research and insights she was finding. Paul asked Grimes if it was possible to develop a map specifically for Covid-19.

“Could we take this methodology that we normally use for things like buying a car or a house and map the tensions that society is feeling [at the moment about the pandemic]?” Paul pondered. “Pain is the new purpose. Purpose statements are often lofty, but if you can figure out what consumers need, and the pain points to solve them, there’s good utility there.”

The technology and platform have been used for around seven clients, according to Grimes. However, the maps for Covid-19 are open source, free and available to anyone who wants to use it. While there is a level of benevolence to the idea, Paul noted that others outside of the Martin Agency ecosystem can feed the platform new tensions that may have been missed or are emerging. 

This can become the prototype for how we map all kinds of cultural tensions.

Elizabeth Paul, chief strategy officer, The Martin Agency

“This can become the prototype for how we map all kinds of cultural tensions,” Paul said. “We’re having conversations about how we can take things like civil unrest, for example, and share them with the world because I think that there are lots of problems that more than our clients can help solve.”

How DoorDash captured tension to get attention

DoorDash, one of The Martin Agency’s clients, was in a unique position to be of service to the public while ensuring that it became top-of-mind with consumers. Using tension mapping, the brand landed on its “Open for Delivery” campaign that, according to David Bornoff, DoorDash’s senior director and head of marketing, went from idea to launch in five days. 

“The reality is that local business is at risk [because of the pandemic],” he said. “And we have a role to play within preserving that local economy and standing for restaurants. To a degree, we can be agnostic within that, so it’s not just about DoorDash, but it’s about propping up the industry, even if it means people go to a competitor.”


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@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
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