The Guide to Stakeholder Interviews: What Works and What Doesn’t

What is a stakeholder interview?

Kicking-off brand positioning projects with stakeholder interviews is crucial. Why? Because understanding how interested parties and organisational leaders perceive and contribute to your brand is integral to your success.

Simply put, stakeholder interviews involve asking the right people the right questions in order to get the information you need to create consensus, align branding goals, and drive success when it comes to creating designs that work beautifully and effectively.

Your aim is to glean as much information as you can from your key stakeholders on their perceptions of the brand – who it represents, who the audience is, their customer insights, future ambitions, and any blockers.

These valuable insights will inform your decisions throughout the branding and design processes, allowing you to utilise stakeholder knowledge to enhance business, expose points of difference and confusion – and most importantly, pinpoint untapped opportunities and potential.

These interviews, when utilised effectively, can form the cornerstone of a successful brand strategy and delivery of effective brand equity. It’s about putting the people who live and breathe your business, at the heart of your strategy, lending authenticity and driving cohesion.

 

Who are the stakeholders?

Essentially, stakeholders are people who hold a personal or professional stake in the brand’s success – what you do matters to them, and their insights should certainly matter to you. A stakeholder can be anyone that is affected by (or can influence) the business.

Primary stakeholders are typically thought of as investors and high-level employees, or board directors in charge of decision-making. But they can also be lower-level employees, or even suppliers. Identifying interviewees from each stakeholder group will permit a broad spectrum of insights and unique points of view.

 

Why is a stakeholder interview important ?

When properly planned and executed – more on that later – these interviews are one of the most efficient tools in the branding process, allowing you to gain valuable insights that would otherwise be difficult to obtain or verify.

Stakeholder interviews are a fundamental first step in determining existing perceptions of your brand and your brands audience. You want to test internal assumptions around your brand image, potentially unearthing unaligned goals and targets – or off-brand thinking – alongside new opportunities, both of which will help re-define brand equity, purpose, and development.

By conducting a research project and interviewing your stakeholders, you can ground your project in organisational context, and capitalise on the knowledge, wisdom and experience of your stakeholders. These interviews will provide you with the guidance needed to deliver a brand that exceeds expectations. Talking to organisational leaders can provide insights into the role your brand plays in product design or product development, whilst conducting user research with your customers can help inform you on any usability needs.

You’ll be surprised at just how differently each key stakeholder interacts with your brand. This is why these interviews are a great way to get the lay of the land; be it understanding the deliverables, measures, and pressure points of the different departments within the business or defining key metrics for upholding your brand image as defined by your brand’s users.

By embracing your employees and stakeholders’ opinions, you welcome them into the branding process; earning their trust and buy-in. A strong brand is one with a distinct personality, vision, style, and tone; whilst being flexible enough to actively listen to its employees and clients and take action accordingly.

 

What to expect from a stakeholder interview? Benefits, goals, successful outcome

Seeking the perspectives of key stakeholders early in the process should arm you with the ability to:

  • Drive a cohesive brand vision, that drives culture, identity, and brand image.
  • Define goals. Gain context from those best situated within the organisation to establish clear goals and milestones, and prioritise accordingly.
  • Improve communication. Sitting down with your stakeholders is the perfect opportunity to collaborate and build good rapport – it’s a great opportunity to get to know the people behind the scenes and create authentic brand unity.
  • Problem solve. Interviewing key stakeholders helps you to locate any potential constraints at the beginning of the branding process, allowing you to address them proactively, rather than being set-back by them later in the process.
  • Save time and money. Avoiding assumptions allows you to get it right. Converting these insights into actions greatly reduces the chances of adverse reactions down the line (both internally and externally).

What better opportunity than the beginning of a project to reach a common consensus; allowing you to bring your stakeholders along on the journey from start-to-finish. Whether it be a large corporation, or a startup business – these interviews are crucial when it comes to demonstrating a willingness to open a dialogue and evolve.

 

How to prepare a stakeholder interview

Whatever you do, don’t try and save time by cutting stakeholder interviews, plan ahead and allocate time – as well as time to collate your insights – to enable you to deliver; ticking all the boxes that please both internally and externally.

There are a range of different methodologies that can be used for a stakeholder interview, but we recommend using the following steps, developing an in-depth case study of your brand:

 

Establish your goals

Establish your business goals – what are you here to find out? Prepare a guideline template to identify important questions, as with a user interview – you want to understand the stakeholders pains, motivations and needs. Preparing an interview guide will help you stay on track during the session – crafting specific questions is crucial to a successful interview.

By the end of the conversation, and prior to commencing the project, you will want to know the following:

  • What are the short-and long-term business goals?
  • Who are the project stakeholders?
  • What is the stakeholder’s relation to the company?
  • What is the stakeholder’s definition of success?
  • Who are the users?
  • What are their user needs? What is their user experience like – are there any pain points?
  • What are the technical limitations?
  • Who are your major competitors?
  • How are you currently perceived in relation to your competitors?
  • How can you better encapsulate your desired brand image

 

Identify your stakeholders

At the heart of stakeholder interviews are, well, the stakeholders. In smaller (or startup) companies, speaking with a founder or co-founder might suffice, but in larger companies – where more people engage with the product – you will need to interview more stakeholders.

We recommend that you choose up to 5 stakeholders who represent different company sectors, so you have a broader spectrum of insights. A good rule of thumb is to speak to those involved in the various stages of your business processes. This will allow you to collect the necessary information about goals, problems, expectations, and other data. Once you have a list of stakeholders you will be able to identify groups, with a different set of questions for each group.

It’s essential you understand who you are talking to. The more you know about your stakeholders, the better you’ll be able to frame your questions and understand their personal points of view. Why not check them out on LinkedIn to gain a deeper understanding of their previous experience, areas of expertise and areas of interest?

 

Define your timeline, budget and interview schedule

Once you know the scope of your interview process, you can outline at which points in your timeline it is best to speak to the respective stakeholder groups. For example, business goals and technical limitations are best addressed with internal stakeholders, whilst user needs, UX design, and UX research are better situated with your external stakeholders.

Having a clear idea of budget is key – your research budget will decide the volume of interviews that is feasible (which, in tandem with your desired timelines will inform your interview schedule), but it’s important to allocate budget to encompass all stakeholder groups.

 

Prepare your questions

Test, test, and test again. Before using in an interview, ensure you’ve thoroughly tested the content and flow of your questions to allow for a natural, conversational interview; with questions unique to each stakeholder group. These must be water-tight to allow no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation, whilst also allowing the interviewee to express themselves without restraint.

The best kind types of questions to ask are open-ended – these require interviewees to go into greater detail and provide greater insight. It’s likely you’ll want to ask intuitive follow up or clarifying questions, even for answers that appear obvious – it’s crucial that you get as much information as possible. Be sure to leave time to respond to the questions, comments and concerns of your interviewee.

 

12 important stakeholder interview questions to ask

Using pre-developed interview questions, a brand strategist can conduct a series of similar conversations across a range of stakeholder groups: suppliers, project managers, sales, marketing, operations, product managers, finance, and key customers. The results form a valuable study that indicates areas of alignment, strengths, challenges and opportunities.

Pick several questions to start with and let the conversation flow – whatever you do, don’t plan to read off a script. It might be worth keeping a moderator guide on hand in case you veer off course.

We suggest dividing your interview guides into two parts: the first, transversal, the second personalised. This transversal element will allow you compare different points of view and detect divergences, while the personalised element will allow you to cater your questions to each stakeholder, depending on their expertise and scope of responsibility.

Here are some examples from our sample stakeholder interview discussion guide:

  • Describe your brand in three words?
  • Who are your target users? Are there different user groups?
  • What are your brand’s USPs? What extra value do you bring?
  • What is your brand personality? Picture your brand as a person, what are their characteristics?
  • In your view, what is the objective of this project?
  • Why is this project important?
  • What does success look like for this project?
  • What concerns do you have about this project? What challenges do you foresee this project possibly running into?
  • What is your role in this project? What would you like it to be?
  • Above all, what problem are you trying to solve for users?
  • How will you use our insights to guide your role going forward?
  • What questions do you have for me?

 

Why stakeholder interviews are an important part of engagement and alignment

To understand who you are as a brand, you need to understand not just your users, but your brand builders – your stakeholders.

Stakeholder interviews allow you to identify how much common ground there is between your stakeholders, and the different ways they interact with the brand. Parallel swinglanes only complicate the design process, so this form of research is an effective means of aligning those lanes.

In brief, by welcoming stakeholders into the design process and giving them a voice, you encourage a vested interest in the brand’s success. And what’s more, you learn to better engage the respective stakeholder groups through your open conversations. Involvement = Engagement.

 

Six tactics that work

We’ll leave you with a handful of tips and tactics that we find useful when conducting stakeholder interviews:

  • Plan, plan, plan. Be clear about the goals of your stakeholder research. Clarified objectives will enable you to conduct focussed interviews, and make analysing easier. Allow enough time for each interview, ample time to analyse your data, and feedback your findings.
  • Conduct your interview more as a conversation. This should feel like a two-way conversation, not an interrogation. Be empathetic to the needs and feelings of your stakeholder. Listening to the interviewee will make them feel heard, respected and appreciated – building rapport and generating trust.
  • Dig deeper. The real insights lie in the follow up questions and answers. The key to a good interview is to listen carefully and coax out deeper insights. You always have more to learn from your stakeholders, so remain positive, engaged, and curious.
  • Record your interviews. This will allow you to pay full attention to your interviewee in the moment and ensure that you don’t miss any important insights – plus, it makes transcribing much simpler.
  • Transcribe, analyse and share. We find that it’s best to transcribe following each interview, and to share your summaries as you go – this will allow you to really focus on particular insights and pinpoint your next steps. Share your findings with the broader team and review the findings against your initial assumptions. What has surprised you? What have you learnt?
  • Keep the door open for future collaborations – set a new precedent. Don’t put down stakeholder interviews after you’ve received the data you set out to – keep the conversation going. You’ll find that once you’ve started the dialogue, some stakeholders will be receptive to sharing their feedback, input and needs. Stay up to date with who your stakeholders are and don’t close the door on the valuable dialogue you’ve initiated.

 

Six tactics that don’t work

  • Please, do not make assumptions. Whatever assumptions you have about the stakeholders’ needs, leave them at the door. It’s important to avoid guesswork – you’re here to get into the nitty-gritty details – and these details are what will drive your brand development forward. The chances are, that if you don’t understand something in the stakeholder meeting, others don’t either. By avoiding assumptions, you save your team from doing the time-consuming and costly rework.
  • Don’t ask anybody’s opinion if you’ve no intention of listening to what they have to say. Be genuinely curious and really listen to each stakeholder’s concerns – keep in mind that you are here to learn. You are in the discovery phase, so before you address solutions, you need to correctly identify them.
  • Don’t invite the same stakeholders. Diversify your interviewees to expand your perspective and gain a more holistic view.
  • Don’t get messy with the preparation: good prep is the key to success. There are many different interview methodologies, but make sure that yours are consistent and thoroughly planned. Plan space for questions, and respect the time limits set.
  • Don’t follow your interview guide to the letter. Keeping your end deliverable in mind, don’t be scared to take in more information than you’d planned for. No detail is too small.
  • Don’t skip introductions and closings. Take the time to explain your research, goals and the process to your stakeholders. Interviews tend to make people feel under pressure and uncomfortable; put them at ease and ensure they have all the information they need. Don’t rush your closing and open up the floor for your interviewees to ask questions.

 

Summary

Nurturing trust and involving your stakeholders from the outset will increase your chances of success. Central to building a strong brand are shared goals and a vision that is aligned across all stakeholder groups. The insights gleaned from those in-the-know can form the foundations of a powerful brand – providing a strong foundation on which to flourish.

 

How Studio Noel can help with your stakeholder interviews

By kick-starting conversations with your stakeholders – you can foster commitment and unison across the board, placing collaboration at the heart of business and connectivity at the centre of transformation.

Stakeholder interviews are an integral part of our brand strategy process, and we take the time to conduct them no matter the size or scale of the project – having working with an array of businesses, from startups to global organisations.

Our teams can help you conduct stakeholder interviews, collecting the information needed to guide you smoothly through your branding project, with individually tailored interviews, workshops, and more.

We will work with you to understand your business, your challenges, and your vision for the future, creating a unified rebrand or refresh that will ensure your success for years to come. Get in touch at michelle@studionoel.co.uk to get the conversation going.

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