LONDON, January 1, 2021 — From her early days in college studying English and drama, Fiona Blades naturally gravitated toward the director’s role. As a director, she would set the vision for an entire production, managing the myriad aspects behind the scenes as well as on stage.
And in many ways, she sees that role as quite similar to her job as an entrepreneur. The parallels just may be why she ended up producing a successful, innovative company.
Blades’ career started in marketing and advertising for major companies in the United Kingdom. As she built campaigns for them, she wanted to know how every brand encounter helped form a customer’s brand perception. But that information wasn’t being tracked anywhere. In 2006, she set out to fill that gap. Not only would she gather the brand experience data, but she’d also devise a way to use mobile phones to track the information in real time, which was groundbreaking.
“If we understood people’s experiences with brands, we could help clients to make quicker and better decisions about their marketing investment,” Blades said.
At the same time, she submitted a research proposal about the idea in response to a call for papers. Once accepted, she launched an experiment, using survey and mobile phone service providers to ask customers to text their brand experiences for one week on their mobiles. Survey results quickly came in, and Blades had proof of concept. She was convinced clients would come to see the value in her “Experience-Driven Marketing.”
In January 2006, she founded MESH Experiences (MESH), and in September, she launched several pilots to test the market. By 2012 MESH caught the eye of the Harvard Business Review. The magazine described her real-time approach as “a new tool (that) radically improved marketing research.”
The years between that rave review and 2006 were certainly not all rosy. During the global recession of 2009, in the space of one week in March, MESH was nominated for four awards at the Market Research Society annual conference but by the end of the week only a quarter of the team was left due to necessary staff cuts.
However, the company survived and eventually expanded to Singapore, the US, Latin America and Australia. While in the US, she learned about rising corporate interest in supplier diversity suppliers and quickly certified MESH with WEConnect International.
Almost immediately, WEConnect International helped MESH bridge the gap between procurement and marketing research. New contracts soon resulted and MESH even won the Delta Woman Owned Business of the Year Award In 2017.
In 2020, she was honored for “paradigm shift” leadership at the “She Runs It” awards. And she has also worked to encourage the research industry to spread the word about WEConnect International and to make their directories searchable for diverse businesses
Moreover, MESH’s own practices have evolved as a result of certification.
“Now we behave differently,” Blades said. “We monitor our own suppliers/services for diversity and we’re much more active in supporting other women-owned businesses. Once you start something it leads to other things.”
That’s how this director translates the supplier diversity message into long-term benefits for MESH and for female entrepreneurs worldwide.