who we've helped

we’ve done research in 21 countries and 16 languages.



"We realize the connotation of instant in America and around the world is an uphill battle"

– Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks


It’s 2009 and instant coffee is still, well, instant coffee.  Especially in America, instant coffee is perceived as a low quality substitute for people who don’t really care about the taste of their coffee. 


Following years of development, Starbucks hopes to launch its own instant coffee, VIA, and change the way people think about the product – and the category. 

Our challenge:  give Starbucks the language to change perceptions of ready-to-brew coffee.




Test lots of articulations to find the one that works.  There were so many aspects of VIA coffee we could cover.  We could talk about flavor, or the roasting process.  We could make it all about Starbucks or compare to the competition.  Using our approach, we were able to test over 40 different articulations of the message including word and phrase choices.  For this study, we conducted discrete choice testing and TURF analysis of more than 3,000 interviews conducted online in the US, UK and Japan.  

Remember that a simple message can be effective.  Despite all the pushback about instant coffee, we found that we couldn’t run from the category.  The fancier the description of VIA, the less compelling.  Talking about the “patent pending microground process” fell flat.  Instead, the core insight was a simple turn of phrase, which explained that VIA was a different kind of instant coffee:



As one part of the team, we contributed to the successful launch of a product that has helped change a category.  It’s 2014, and instant coffee is no longer a synonym for “bland”.


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When the financial crisis hit, a number of insurance companies were forced out of the variable annuity business.  Those who remained scaled back and looked for ways to reduce the risks caused by bumpy stock markets and low interest rates – two things that make profitability difficult for variable annuity providers.  MetLife chose to create a lower-risk product built around new investment options that had no track record in the market.


Our challenge:  overcome skepticism of unproven investment products to effectively market MetLife’s product.     




Reframing the conversation from “what it is” to “what it does.”  In development message articulations for testing, we recognized that it would be critical to find a way of positioning these unproven products in a positive light.  Rather than focusing on explaining the products themselves, we emphasized how the products met client objectives, tapping into investors’ desire for stability, with “more consistent returns over time.” 


Speaking the language of the end consumer.  Most insurers created two sets of messages: one for the financial advisor and one for the client.  We argued that the best way to encourage advisors to sell this new product was to give them the tools and the confidence to communicate about it with clients.  By using one set of user-friendly messages, advisors understood the product and felt comfortable recommending it to their clients.




While many financial services companies were still struggling, MetLife launched their Max product, and in two months, they were in the number one sales spot in the industry.  They exceeded their annual sales goals in the first quarter and found that sales continued to be strong even as two product changes made the product itself less attractive. 

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Ask a consumer what they know about Toyota, and at best, he’ll say they’re a Japanese company that makes cars that last forever.  At worst, they’ll mention some bad press from recent years.  But as an active leader and community member in the American automotive industry, Toyota is much more than its products and heritage.  So they came to m+p to find the best communication strategy for improving their company’s corporate reputation.



We start every project by immersing ourselves in the client’s world.  With Toyota, we took a deep dive. Internal brainstorms, phone interviews with executives, visits to plants and engineering centers, and focus groups with Toyota employees all allowed us to uncover what it is that makes Toyota special.

Once we’d gathered information, our team started writing messages for testing, each a different way of boiling down what Toyota is all about.  And during the research, we spoke to nearly 700 people to get their take.  With participants’ moment-to-moment reactions on the dials, along with group discussion, we began immediately learning what language, facts, and stories worked, what didn’t, and why.



After the research, we analyzed everything we’d heard to create a framework everyone at Toyota could make their own when talking about the company.  Toyota’s actionable Language Dictionary included specific language to use, language to lose, and crucial context to keep in mind with each audience. 

Ultimately, our language strategy helped them shift from a data driven organization to a more personable company who is proud to tell their stories.  And not just any story, but the right stories, with the right language.  Our framework for storytelling resulted in an improved corporate reputation, and people took notice.


Our work with Toyota included extensive post-research work to ensure that the new voice of Toyota would stick.  We created a communications manual, built orientation decks, and conducted training sessions across the country.

We know implementing this level of change doesn’t happen overnight after one training session.  So we developed a virtual story resource center for Toyota employees to easily access all the tools, learnings, and recommendations from the research and integrate the new voice of Toyota into their daily work. 


Our storytelling framework has informed countless press releases, and even national ad campaigns that Toyota has launched since our partnership began.


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