Author, Carlos Hernandez
The Consumer Insights Journey
The big question every brand needs to ask themselves is – why do I matter to my consumer? Do I even matter to my consumer at all? When you know why you matter to them, you can position your brand better. A good brand fulfils both the needs of their consumers and the purpose beyond the immediate need. The purpose is usually the part that many brands miss out on.
For instance, I worked for Vanish, a stain remover brand. While the immediate need was to remove a stain, the purpose behind why people used it was that they didn’t want to appear clumsy or be embarrassed. They wanted to look good and put together. So, when we connected that purpose to the product, we were able to connect with our customers on a deeper level emotionally.
Consumer insights isn’t just about finding out what users want but also about understanding the deep human truths and the purpose behind why they want something. Once we know that, we can then communicate it to them.
In consumer insights, you would work mostly with the marketing and public relations teams. In many cases, the insights team reports to the marketing team, but more recently the insights team is starting to become an independent function. This is because of the temptation for internal marketing teams to use research that they want to hear rather than research that represents the truth, which makes it hard to achieve independent and truthful results. With insights as a separate function, marketing can’t just challenge or ignore the findings as easily.
The consumer insights team should be sitting in for the marketing and public relations meetings to understand their strategy. They will tell you they need X, and then you need to ask them to look into Y. You need to have a say on what that decision will be, and help to craft a better retail strategy by showing them how to better connect with the consumers. The insights team used to be like a librarian, then it became a judge on whether the company hit their targets or not, and now it’s taking on more and more of a consulting role that helps senior management in decision making.
So how can you begin the process of uncovering the deep human truths and emotions of your consumers?
Map out the User Journey. You need to get to know your users and consumers, understand how they use the product, know what they use together with the product, and the entire experience they have with it. The easiest way to know your customers is to start with the ones who are buying from you. Do a survey with them and find out more about them. These days, there is a plethora of data available as well as different ways to reach out. If you do an online campaign, you can see what products customers have seen before your ad, and know what are the key interests of the people who click on your advertisements and come to your stores.
You can then do a detailed study by sending a researcher out to visit these consumers and observe how your product is being used. Find out the exact experience the users are having and how your product helps to meet the needs and purpose of the customers. Then you build an ecosystem around the brand and what the users need. From this intimate setting, you then zoom out a little and start looking at the quantitative data of how the user reaches your product. What is the journey from wanting the product to getting it? What is their shopping experience when they actually get the product? Then you zoom out even further and look at the analytics like the sales, finance, external market share and other research which you can often purchase from providers. Purchase research on your brand and your competitors to see how the market is responding to what you’re both doing.
Now that you know what to do, how can you go about reaching the consumer?
Emotionally Engage With Consumers. In advertising tests, it’s more about how consumers feel rather than what they think about the product. You need to learn how you can emotionally engage with them. If you show people advertisements and ask them what they thought about it, they tend to rate it badly, but if you ask how they felt about it, the rating goes up much higher.
For instance, Cadbury once had an advertisement where a Gorilla was playing the drums, and the music would keep building up and then at the end of the advertisement, it shows the brand Cadbury. Essentially Cadbury is about happiness, and this was a gorilla being happy. So, while it doesn’t make sense that a gorilla on the drums connects to chocolate, it made people feel good. This turned out to be the best advertisement that Cadbury ever had and increased their sales significantly.
We humans decide based on emotions, and we are not always rational, as much as we want to think that we are. Our emotional brain makes decisions quickly, and since it can’t express language, we get a gut feeling. Then our rational brain thinks things through and tries to explain it. Using our rational thinking takes more effort, so we generally make emotional decisions.
For instance, between a Jaguar and a Ford, the engine is the same, but many would choose a Jaguar because of the status and the prestige associated with it. This happens across other products, and especially in the cases of brands that have become iconic. You have a good feeling about the brand, so you trust them and think they are of high quality. Brands like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Starbucks build this emotional connection very well. The decision is very much an emotional process. This connection is created from knowing the consumers at a more emotional level and understanding how and why it connects to them.
The key is to focus on making the consumer the hero. The brand should be the mentor or the aid while the consumer is the hero. In the past, it was the other way around where the brand would be the hero who solved the problem. For example, in the past, a Vanish advertisement would show a housewife washing and failing to get rid of the stain. Then a lady in pink comes in, knocks her out of the frame and basically says that “you’re dumb, you don’t know what you’re doing, let me fix it”. So, the brand becomes the hero.
Today, however, a successful advertisement makes the consumer a hero. An advertisement for the same product today, in 2019, would be more of the mother relaxing on the couch while the children make a horrible mess. The mother then gets up calmly and tidies up with the Vanish product. It then sends the message that you can be like that relaxed mother who lets her children play outside and make a mess because she owns Vanish, the detergent to solve it. In doing this, you’re building a connection to the mother as you’re making her the hero.
The worst marketing surveys are centred around the brand. Marketers fall for this a lot because they think that their brand really matters and that consumers think very highly of them. Yet 70% of consumers have agreed that if their favourite brand disappeared tomorrow, they would be completely fine. Your brand is essentially good until something better comes along.
A bad survey concentrates on the brand itself and doesn’t try to understand the consumer and how the brand can make a difference to them. Bad questions are for example where the brand asks on a scale of 1-10, whether you think this product does this or that, and the question itself tends to be leading. So, people are led by the survey easily, and they go with the easy option for an answer. You need to put in elements in a survey that help to corroborate the information. One solution is to do time pressure questions where they have three seconds to answer yes or no. This forces people to be more honest and spontaneous, and to use their emotional brain more as their rational brain can’t keep up with the short time deadline.
In your survey, you want to find out basic demographics like their age, gender and other relevant questions, so you know which types of people you appeal to more. You will discover this more when you put your product out there, and sometimes you have surprises where you realise it reaches a different age group. For instance, Facebook was created to be used by younger people but now a lot of older people use it extensively, and younger people have mostly lost interest in Facebook.
As a consumer brand, you would generally want to attract people between 35 to 55 years old because that’s the sweet spot in terms of their income, spending power and financial stability. At 35 years old, people are often mid-career, and there is more of a discretion with income and a higher tendency to spend. Of course, this isn’t a one size fits all, it’s just a general measurement.
Next, find out what matters to the person in terms of using your product, brand or any items in the space you’re in. For instance, if you’re a tea manufacturer, you may want to understand if health habits matter to your consumers. Perhaps you may also want to know if they have tea in the morning, afternoon or evening? Does it help them concentrate or help them relax? What enriches that experience? You want to understand how they are using the product to meet their needs. You then position your product to suit either the health aspect, activity aspect or you tailor your messages to come out at the correct time of the day. Make sure that the questions you are asking connect you to the audience because when it does, they will see you as the brand that they can relate to and subsequently trust.
In the past, we did research on the streets, or we called consumers over the phone, but now it is all digital. We have companies that have samples of people that they send surveys out to. We then hire those companies to design the questionnaire and analytics behind it. Now it is done a lot faster than before.
If you are a small business that has a small customer base and a limited budget, you can use SurveyMonkey. It’s a great tool because it helps design the questionnaire and even helps you to reach the sample audience. After that, it offers a platform to do the final analytics on. I prefer SurveyMonkey over Google Forms because they provide a lot more support and different survey templates for specific purposes. For example, if you are doing a brand awareness survey, they would show you which questions to use for such a survey. Alternatively, if you’re doing a service feedback survey, then they would suggest other more suitable questions.
With the development of smartphones and social media, the landscape of marketing and the consumer’s experience of shopping has transformed significantly. All brands now need a strong digital campaign that translates into actual engagement.
In the past, people saw an advertisement on TV, and they would then shop for the products in the physical stores. If you used traditional media, just about everyone would hear and see you. This isn’t true anymore. Today, not everyone is on TV because there are other on- demand alternatives like Netflix and Amazon. While TV is still the popular choice for the mass audience, it is a much more fragmented media landscape today.
The most effective advertisements today are on Instagram and Facebook. This is true even in my own personal life. I bought a showerhead on Instagram because I love high-pressure showers. I saw it on Instagram, clicked shop, clicked PayPal, and now I’m just waiting for it to arrive. Traditional shops these days are for purchases that you want immediately or for items you can try and test in real life. Everything else is often bought online.
In addition to hearing about your product digitally, many people now go online to Google search your product, find alternatives and look at comparison websites to find what best meets their needs. You need to map this journey out as well, and have a good understanding of what will help people to purchase your product specifically. Digital transformation has enabled smaller businesses to have a large platform and presence just like the big brands. While big brands have more money, the digital world is levelling the playing field and giving smaller players a bigger voice. You can now open an account on YouTube and have your very own TV channel in an instant. If you put in more effort, you can even be a star and earn money from it.
These changes are dramatic for businesses, and while they are great for the consumer, they make it harder for the marketers to put their messages out effectively. It requires more analysis, thought and specific strategies for a fragmented media world. Today there are so many fraudulent accounts, fake likes and reach. There are even functions where thousands of smartphones are linked with bots clicking on the advertisement to make it seem like it has reached many people, when in fact it hasn’t had the reach you were hoping for.
Despite the drawbacks though, there is also a lot more opportunity, because we can now find the people we need more effectively through something called tagging.
Tagging. About 40 to 50 years ago, retail tracking was a very meticulous process done by hand. Someone would go to the store every month, count the stock in the backroom, on the shelves and look through the invoices to tally the records. They would also report back on where the products were placed and whether they were easily accessible for the consumer. When I started my career at Nielsen, Nielsen would buy such data from the supermarkets and then aggregate this information of all the stores in the country, and then sell it to manufacturers. The types of details covered spanned across SKU levels, sales values, volumes, prices and other metrics.
Today, things are very different as people are being tagged in physical stores. For instance, loyalty cards were not created just to reward customers but also to track what consumers buy so that promotional strategies could be more targeted and effective. Based on such information, you can get an understanding of who your customers are, whom you are losing and what their habits are. Loyalty cards like the Passion Card in Singapore show the retailer your purchasing habits. The retailer might sell this information to the manufacturer or use it to advertise the right products to you. If you pay by card, the card issuer has such information too, and they usually don’t reveal it, but today they are sitting on transaction data that they may one day monetise and use.
There’s also a lot of digital tagging going on today, as you may already be familiar with. When someone searches for something online, they can be tagged for this particular search. Other products and brands that are related can then target this customer based on their keyword search. This consumer would then get advertisements that make more sense to them. For instance, if you’re booking flights, you’ll start seeing more advertisements on travelling. If someone who is interested in photography has searched about cameras quite a bit, they would see advertisements on photography and professional cameras by relevant brands. So ultimately, you can target the right people more effectively now.
This is why it’s crucial to be on social media. In particular for consumer brands, it’s important to be on Instagram, more than Facebook and Twitter. That’s where the bulk of consumers are today. On Instagram, you need to differentiate yourself and focus on engagement rather than just the number of followers, because at the end of the day, you need to drive sales, and that comes from consumer engagement. There are a lot of viral Instagram campaigns going on, like the World Record Egg for example, which now has over eight million followers and over 50 million likes on one photo of an egg.
Instagram offers companies a platform to do such creative and disruptive things that have a great impact and amplifies their voice, but then again, it’s often individuals who tend to succeed at such viral campaigns. It’s likely because big companies don’t dare to rock the boat too much. These campaigns are very short-lived, and they have a certain luck factor which is hard to successfully recreate repeatedly. Nonetheless, Instagram is the place to be, and it provides a lot of consumer insights in terms of engagement and how consumers are reacting to your brand, as well as the additional analytics and insights that Instagram offers.
Consumer insights offers a wealth of information that can bring your brand great success.
Steps to Take in 24 Hours
- Get a Mentor. Find someone in the industry to connect with and ask for advice. Whether it’s regular sessions or just a one-off coffee, you can learn a lot from those ahead of you in the industry.
- Set up a SurveyMonkey Account. Go on and set up an account. Explore the various templates they have to offer and start creating a survey that will meet your most immediate needs.
- Start Learning. Just because you have a degree or you have data to back up your suggestions doesn’t mean you know everything. It is essential to have that level of humility and avoid being arrogant. You are hired for your intelligence and potential to learn, so, start reading more books on consumer insights and exposing yourself to all the information that you need continually. A job in consumer insights is essentially a job that’s all about continuous learning – always learning more about your customers.
Carlos Hernandez is the Head of Market Insights at Abbott