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I’ve been involved in brand activism for years. When I worked for United Ways years ago companies joined volunteer days that we organized. Employees worked together to help local nonprofits. Those days still exist today and are a great way for companies to bond, be present in their communities and help others in need.
With so much going on in the world, I wanted to take the opportunity to dive into the state of brand activism today and share tips on how companies can get involved.
In this article, I discuss:
What is brand activism?
How do you do you do brand activism?
The importance of brand activism.
How do you know what customers and employees care about?
What is brand activism?
At its core, brand activism means that a company (aka a brand) ties its business activity to a social cause. Sometimes it’s also referred to as being socially active or as social responsibility.
For example, before the pandemic many events added social responsibility components like collecting donations, a volunteer activity for attendees or something similar.
At the Virtual Insight Summit, Voxpopme and Zappi donated to nonprofits for every registration. The project was announced as follows:
Together we can make meaningful change within the research community surrounding the important topic of diversity, equity and inclusion! Your registration donates $1 to each of our community partners: Colour of Research (CORe) and Insights in Color. Register today and spread the word!
Conscious capitalism is another term, said Gilad Barash, vice president of analytics at Dstillery, on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” Dstillery is a data science company that creates audiences for market researchers based on digital signals.
“As a consumer I’m being a lot more aware of where I spend my money,” said Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.” “It’s not just about the product or the price. It’s more about the brand ”
Oversimplified, brand activism means companies use their resources to help make the world a better place.
How do you do brand activism?
Today, brand activism can come in a number of ways:
Participation in events like the United Way one.
Donations to charitable causes.
Public stands on issues affecting our communities. This could come in the form of articles, livestreams/podcasts and ads, for example.
Tying in a new product launch to a social issue.
Hiring diverse team members and vendors/partners.
Some companies choose to not do anything, but depending on the severity of the issue in the community that might not be a good strategy.
“Some consumers will see that as being complicit,” Gilad said. “Silence is no longer a refuge.”
Years ago, in communications, we had rules: We get involved in this but not that. For some topics that’s fine, but when it comes to severe or dangerous situations that affect many people, brands likely have to consider taking a stand today.
Is doing brand activism a good thing?
Let’s just say it can affect business.
“There’s an expectation that the companies that are seeking their dollars should share their values,” said Gilad. “They want to see some involvement from the brands they love in the things they care about.”
Sticking with the United Way example, I know that some people choose the banks that participated in part because they stood for making the community better.
Why is brand activism important and why now?
Firstly, socially responsible brands can make our communities better. That can also lead to closer relationships with our customers. It’s so much harder to drop a brand if the brand also stands for what I stand for.
Gilad calls it a “social context” that now exists between consumers and brands. When values align, consumers are more likely to spend more, Gilad said.
In part, brand activism is top of mind now because it’s so much easier to connect with brands for consumers. They can easily tweet at their favorite brand, see what they post (or not post) and can easily send their feedback, including through video survey platforms.
“There’s just a lot more visibility,” Gilad said. “There’s more information on how brands spend their money and who they are contributing to politically. It’s become a bigger issue now especially with all the things going on in the world.”
“Patagonia or Ben & Jerry’s – they have a history of action,” said Jenn. “So when they do communicate something that they care about it is very authentic.”
Some brands might be cautious to start because of some of the negative examples they’ve seen. What happens if they appear performative but do actually mean it?
That’s why action is so important. Say something but then also do something!
Sometimes negative backlash doesn’t tell the whole story either. Think about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign. It received a ton of negative press but Nike share of voice skyrocketed and so did sales. Some people complained. Some burned their Nike shoes in the streets. Others bought Nike products in response to the social stand.
After the George Floyd murder, Nike ran anti-racism ads that said “Don’t do it,” a play on its usual “Just do it.” In addition, Nike also discussed other steps related to the issue – like hiring for diversity, donations and internal communications.
“It wasn’t just a marketing campaign,” Jenn said. “It’s got to be more than that.”
2. Do it right
“Even if your intentions are good, it’s important that you don’t offend anyone,” Gilad said. “And the only way to do that is by having a diverse team of people at the company making those decisions.”
Diverse teams can bring their own viewpoints to collaborations. Team mates can then share their feedback and ideas based on their experiences.
“Don’t hurry just for the sake of doing it,” Gilad added. “Don’t just put up a statement on your website or a black square on your social media. Those things tend to be performative. I would recommend to stop, sit down and think what you want it to look like. What you want maybe a year down the road to look like. And then start implementing those things.”
Customer health is important. For the customers and for the business. When the relationship is going well, everyone wins. Hugs all around. Or fist or elbow bumps at least. But how do you really know? How do you measure customer health?
Well, first of all, you’ll need to keep a finger on the pulse. (I will try to keep my doctor puns under control here, but trust me, it’s difficult.) And like any good doctor talks with their patients, customer-centric businesses talk with their customers!
What’s the definition of customer health?
Let’s start with the basics. Before we can treat any symptoms we have to understand our health goals.
“At the simplest level, customer health is just trying to understand the state of your relationship,” said Braden Johnstone, senior vice president of customer success at Voxpopme on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.”
And customer health and how it’s measured and looked at changes over time. Braden said that 20 years ago it was very different from today.
“Interactions with customers used to be pretty transactional,” he said. “Proposal, commissioning to execution. And then maybe at the end there would be some feedback.”
Some of that feedback and having a sales pipeline are all indicators for customer health.
Today, with subscription-models, for example, the life cycle of a customer relationship is different. Let’s say a customer signs up for a 12-month plan.
“A lot can happen in that time,” Braden said. “It’s just imperative for us to listen and understand the state of the relationship.”
Customer health is about that connectivity between you and your customers. Keep in mind that the landscape can change. New trends emerge and some behaviors stick around. All of them can impact the customer health.
“If you really want to understand customer health all those factors are very important,” Braden said.
How you measure customer health needs to be unique to your specific business as well. A subscription software business might have different measurements than a professional services firm or a physical store. But no matter what, make sure you are measuring it.
“For us, it was important that customer health is something we can measure and we can measure it in real time,” Braden said.
For that to work, it must be easy for customers to provide updates on how they feel about the relationship. Brands need to make it easy, which isn’t always the case. One way that I recently ran across that didn’t make it easy for me to share my feelings was this sideways survey:
Just like the doctor usually wants your pulse reading in the moment, so should companies. In this article we talked about how a Westin hotel uses text messages to get feedback during the experience. That’s helpful because companies can turn a potentially negative experience into a good one.
If the customer health check can’t happen during the interaction, it can certainly happen right after. For example, when I call American Airlines you just stay on the line after the agent hangs up and give feedback right then to the automated system.
Another way to get instant feedback is by following this process:
Customer engagement happens
Brand sends a video survey link to quickly get insights from the customer about the experience
While speed matters and we should be looking at customer health on an on-going basis, also look at trends over time.
“Everything is so fast moving but also realize that the change we are trying to achieve can’t always be done in a short amount of time,” Braden said.
Measurements of customer health
For software companies, user activity is one way to measure the strength of a relationship. After all, if customers aren’t using the platform how can it be a good relationship?
“We measure that usage against a perceived plan or desired outcome,” Braden said. “We always know where we would expect them to be – based on their lifecycle.”
Many people’s actions happen on “autopilot” as Melina Palmer, a behavioral economics experts, shared on an episode of “Reel Talk.” With that in mind it’s good to actually see how consumers are behaving. In the world of software, that comes in the form of usage.
It’s an indicator, Braden explained, of how the relationship is going. Makes sense. I spend my days in a variety of software platforms:
For the most part my usage does indicate that my heart skips a beat when I use these brands to create content experiences. I love them! they make my life easier.
“And when people aren’t engaging the way you thought they would what’s the reason for that?” Braden said.
In addition to usage, support requests might be an indicator of what’s going on and what customers are struggling with.
But, not all support tickets are a sign of declining customer health! For example, I recently opened a ticket with Switcher Studio – the platform we use to produce “Reel Talk.” I kept losing audio while screen sharing. Switcher quickly told me that Chrome was using too much bandwidth and caused the issue. Using Firefox for the screen share took care of the problem. Them responding quickly and with good information certainly helped us continue to have a positive relationship.
How good does all the listening do when it’s not addressed. When somebody shares their delight with your brand, thank them. When somebody has a problem, address it.
“Until you start talking to a customer and really start understanding what the barriers are it’s really hard actioning or solutioning anything,” Braden said. “That falls to the team and we try to make it as repeatable as possible.”
Keep an eye on what kinds of issues customers report and determine what is a one-off and what is a wider issue – which can be hard if your data is dispersed.
Once you have this information, start building playbooks that help teams address common types of issues directly in the moment.
“We try to make it as repeatable as possible,” Braden said. “Issues are also massive opportunities for us. Opportunities for us to help our customers overcome challenges within their own business while utilizing our tool.”
Internally, teams have to agree on what problems they are trying to solve for customers. That starts with:
Understanding the customer problems. (Find out more by asking).
Getting internal alignment.
Moving forward in an effective and efficient manner
Brands must grow and evolve or risk getting left behind. But how do you maintain your brands while taking advantage of new trends? And some new trends aren’t really long-term changes in consumer behavior while others are.
So which new trends are worth following and which ones aren’t can be a challenging question for brands. What kind of trends are we seeing?
“There are so many,” said Jennifer Saenz, global chief marketing officer at PepsiCo during her chat with Zappi President Ryan Barry, at the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit. “There’s some trends that are ever lasting and we don’t want to forget them. For example, there’s a need for indulgence, fun, entertainment and enjoyment across food and beverage. When people are eating and drinking they want to enjoy it. It’s silly to classify that as a trend, but it’s not going away.”
And with the COVID pandemic people have needed an uplift more than ever, she said. Also, some new trends aren’t truly new, but the pace of change is faster than it was before.
“You cannot forget the basics,” Jennifer said. “It is dangerous as you get pulled toward new development or new technologies you forget those basics.”
Those basics include to know your audience and understand what do they want to hear from you?
“It’s harder and harder to get the technologies to work for you if you don’t know the ‘why’ behind it,” Jennifer said. “There should be a lot of humanity in data-driven marketing.”
Don’t just chase new things to chase new things. Keep in mind how they are going to help you and how they fit in or replace what’s currently in play.
Consumer insights can help us figure out what trends are worth pursuing and which ones aren’t.
“Consumer insights, to me, is something that is useful, something that we can make decisions around,” said Dave Carruthers, Voxpopme founder and CEO on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “Ultimately, we are looking for these insights to help us build better brands and better experiences.”
Making the process easier to spot new trends
Dave mentioned that people sometimes make consumer insights harder than they need to be.
“The insights should literally be able to be explained in one sentence,” Dave said. “It should be something that should be succinct, but it should surprise you.”
That also makes understanding new trends easier.
Inefficiencies in internal workflows also can present a problem. Somebody has a PowerPoint somewhere that shares consumer insights. Then somebody else comes up with the same insights, confirms what’s in that PowerPoint — a PowerPoint they didn’t know anything about.
“It needs to be simple and surprising but also needs something you can make decisions on,” said Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing and host of “Reel Talk.” “It’s got to be actionable. It’s not just information for the sake of information. You have to do something with it. I think that’s really crucial.”
How has the global pandemic impacted customer insights?
Certainly a lot happened in 2020 and 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic keeps raging, Texans lost power after a snowstorm, and other disasters have impacted consumer behavior, which, of course, impacts businesses.
“The industry was already in a fairly aggressive stage of transformation,” Dave said. “You were seeing us adopt technology, both on the quantitative and qualitative side of consumer insights.”
Dave reports seeing businesses increase their investment in categories like experience management. Also, “listening to customers certainly is gaining traction.”
COVID and social distancing have pushed advances, especially in qualitative research, Dave explained. Before, you might have been able to go into somebody’s home or meet in-person. But now, much of that contact has moved online.
“It’s funny when people talk about ‘mobile research,’ ” Dave said. “That’s the medium now.” It’s no longer a standalone strategy.
Jenn added that the insights function has become more important in companies, in part because of recent events.
“Understanding a brand’s customers has been an ever bigger challenge than it had been,” Jenn said.
To truly understand trends and customer behavior we have to understand the person as a while.
Megan Kehr, analytics insights associate manager at PepsiCO, mentioned that insights professionals have talked about understanding “the person behind our consumer.”
“For example, take somebody like me and not just seeing me as a Pepsi drinker… and while my consumption behavior is part of who I am; I’m also a wife, a sister, a daughter, I’m a cat mom,” she said. “There are all these other aspects of my life outside of the beverage I drink that make up who I am.”
She said the idea of getting closer to the consumer isn’t new, “COVID has accelerated it and in the last year everyone’s lives have basically changed overnight. And what better way to do that than hearing from the customers?”
“To that end speed is super important,” she said. “Keeping our ears to the ground to understand what’s shifting and changing in our consumers’ lives.”
Truly understanding the customer also goes deeper than demographics, she explained. Megan called that the gift analogy. If you were told to buy a gift for a mom of a certain age group, that’s not highly useful information to get them a meaningful gift, she said.
“But then if you consider buying a gift for somebody much closer to you, it’s much easier to pick a gift that they really like because you know them on that deeper level,” Megan said. “Applying that analogy to a brand, it’s the same. If we don’t know our consumers at that deeper level then how are we going to do marketing campaigns or make brand decisions?”
Megan gave the example of a mom who wasn’t taking her medication because she felt that was tainting her picture of “Super Mom” in her children’s eyes. Once you understand that you can consider product updates.
“Maybe a patch would be better here,” Megan said.
But how do you get to that level of depth?
“There are so many layers that you can peel back,” Jenn added in her podcast chat with Megan. “So many stop at that first layer. What’s the best approach to peel back those layers and best understand the drivers and motivations?”
There certainly is value in asking specific questions about the products and the experience, Megan said. But also consider asking about family, lifestyles and tensions.
“When we do certain qualitative work, don’t just focus on the tactical,” Megan added. “We are putting blinders on when we do that.”
Consumer behaviors change
Things have changed so much. When the pandemic shut downtown metro areas, people weren’t working downtown, which affected bars, restaurants, all businesses in the area.
“It impacts snacking behavior, how people aren’t commuting, sports,” Dave added. “All of that is having an impact on clients. Many of our clients are seeing this as an opportunity to reinvent their business.”
Consumer insights can help them enter into and innovate in those open areas.
“This innovation shouldn’t happen in a silo,” Dave said. “The customer needs to be front and center in that change.”
React to what consumers are doing
Can Cheetos be stretched into Mac and Cheese, for example? Yes and consumers were already mixing the two, said Jennifer, the PepsiCo CMO.
“There was a pull for it and there was permission from consumers,” Jennifer said. “There was a need in the market to infuse this tasty treat into a product. A great place for a brand to stretch.”
Sometimes the answer is yes to try new things. Sometimes it’s no and sometimes we may have to readjust.
Always listen to the customer base and its mood.
“What are people feeling?” Jennifer said. “That’s really important to brands like ours. They move with culture. We have to understand and also look to the future.”
Understanding new persons as your customers
Sometimes new customers are buying your products. I still remember when Under Armour was really just for professional athletes, then other athletes started wearing it. Today, I sit here wearing Under Armour shoes and pants. So now writers wear high-performance gear, too. Don’t forget about all the kids wearing the brand now. So brands and their customers can evolve. In
Red Bull was focusing on high-energy type sports and experiences in their marketing and then they realized that another group drinks Red Bull energy drinks as well: Moms. Ross said moms were drinking several Red Bulls to get through the day.
“If you listen to your customers they will tell you what they want.”
Personalization at scale and data privacy
Understanding our customers also means that companies know more about them.
“We always see these articles that consumers want personalized messaging but also want their data protected,” Ryan said.
That can be a challenging balance.
“Consumers do want to see things that are relevant,” Jennifer said.
But, that also means companies know a lot about their customers.
“There’s definitely a tension,” she said. “And it’s also what people feel comfortable with. There might be some data that some people have no issue sharing and others want to keep it quite close.”
Be transparent how you’ll use data and share that, Jennifer said.
“With personalization there’s a lot of opportunity but there’s also a great responsibility,” she said. “The best thing is that we can just be transparent in what we are doing and what safeguards we have in place.”
How can consumer insights help brands adjust to new trends?
“Brand loyalty has been under attack, in my opinion,” Dave said. “We just have an abundance of brands, and the cost to switch for consumers is so easy. In this kind of time period, we – consumers – are open to exploring new opportunities.”
You have to look at the signal-noise ratio, Dave explained.
“What’s a temporary change, and what is a trend that we can actually see?” Dave said. “That’s been a focus for our clients. What’s a knee-jerk reaction to a situation we are under … how can I really understand what’s happening?”
Good consumer insights come back to being empathetic to consumers.
“What are people going through, and how can we help them?” Dave said. “We certainly have seen a quick move to technology. How can we still stay in touch with others during the pandemic?”
Come up with a hypothesis
Quickly test it with customers
“We are seeing product life cycles being trimmed down,” Dave said. “What used to be 18 months is now two to three months.”
Some businesses even pivoted completely in a short time.
“Had they not been able to bring the customer into the process, they would have gotten it wrong,” Dave said. “They would have made assumptions. But now with the plethora of marketing research tech, … I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s easier than before all this technology existed.”
“A lot of the trends we are seeing are just an acceleration of what’s already in place,” Jenn added. “It’s interesting to see that from necessity we need to build more empathy with people, and now we have the technology to help us with that.”
Before the pandemic, there were basically two cohorts:
Traditional methods businesses used
Outliers trying some new things
“Now we have more people moving into the future,” Dave said. “Like with anything new, people at first can be skeptical. Remember the first time you got into an Uber? So I’m just going to get into this random guy’s car? He drives me where I want to go? And that’s safe?”
And now we don’t even think about getting into an Uber.
What does the future of consumer insights look like?
“What this pandemic has done is re-establish the importance of the market research industry,” Dave said. “Now we have to build upon that momentum we’ve created for ourselves. That’s about understanding the consumer and creating that bridge to the customer. We also don’t want these insights to live in eight different places.”
The pandemic also has reminded us how quickly things can change and how long those changes can persist.
Take March 2020 when the pandemic took off in full swing in the United States. “We said ‘things will be back to normal in September,” Dave said. A year later, COVID-related issues still are top of mind.
“Even with the rollout of the vaccine, the effects of it will still be felt for the next 12 to 14 months or so,” he added.
In the future, technology will continue to help brands have the voice of the customer at the table.
Technology now allows us to turn consumer insights around in 24 hours or less. For example, in a 2021 Valentine’s Day campaign, we gathered 100 love letters from consumers to brands in just a few hours.
“There will be opportunities for brands that are listening,” Dave said. “And to take market share away from their competitors.”
Added Jenn: “Understanding customers, consumers, people is no longer just an important thing. It’s an essential thing. Businesses will not survive without being really connected with consumer needs and empathizing with them.”
How to make consumer insights more of a priority
Review some of the examples of people who already do insights well. That includes:
Then look at what your tech stack looks like. What tools do you use internally that can help you be more successful?
Companies that do consumer insights well have their plan together. They use the right tools internally, with a mix of outside help, with the right people, with the right mindset, in place.
“Change management can be a big hill to climb, but there are a lot of examples of people that have done it well,” Jenn said.
“It’s not easy to drive forward, but if you get it right, the results can be exponential,” Dave added.
Consumer insights also have to be presented in a “snackable” way to decision makers.
“There’s no reason insights can’t be presented in a two-minute clip,” Dave said. “And if you can’t, it’s not an insight. It’s data, and people don’t care about data. We are just overwhelmed with data. We need to deliver insights, data and value.”
Insights for non-insights roles
Ryan, the president of Zappi, mentioned that other roles are now also being are being asked to do a lot more when it comes to customer understanding.
When marketing roles use insights to drive results the rest of the company is also seeing the investment and how strategic marketing can pay off.
“It allows people to see that we are building our brand and build those connections with our consumers for the long-term,” she said. “And that it’s very much worthwhile.”
Also, be sure to really need to consider your options when testing.
“If you are only testing to get to ‘yes’ you are only looking for that, but if you are taking a moment to be reflective and understand the ‘why’ and pour that into all the work you are doing,” Jennifer said. “It’s a very different mindset if you are testing to learn versus testing to check a box.”
But remember the basics…
Even though behaviors and industries change quickly, Elisabeth Trawinski, an insights professional at Reckitt, reminded us on a “Reel Talk” episode that yes, things are changing, but the purpose of customer insights is not.
Essentially customer insights is about understanding people and turning that insightfulness into a competitive advantage, she said.
“That’s always been the role of insights and in some ways becomes more and more critical each year as the world changes,” she said. “But there are so many different ways to understand our customers now – like video surveys – that didn’t exist years ago.”
Some things don’t change
Talking and listening to customers remains important.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of substitution for talking to a respondent and seeing their reactions to concepts, ideas … being able to see people’s facial expressions,” said Kristin Luck, founder at ScaleHouse.
Of course, it’s so much easier to spot trends when companies actually talk to and understand their customers.
“The need for information, the need for insights will not change, which means that role of the researcher will always be there,” said Babita Earle.
Technology, in general, has made connection easier between brands and customers. As new platforms emerge and grow, the ways you can connect with your customers have exploded. To make the best use of technology for your company, it’s important to run through the appropriate technology assessment.
Chief Mar-Tech Officer Scott Brinker shared with us on an episode of “Reel Talk” that teams need to set aside a part of their budget for those infrastructure-type software platforms. You need them to even do the work and help drive results.
I liken it to: What’s the ROI of my keyboard or the monitor I’m currently using to write this? Without them, I couldn’t even do my job. They are must-haves. A good technology needs assessment will help identify those as well.
Also consider comparing notes, Scott said. What percentage are peers spending of their budgets?
Approaches for your technology assessment
I like to break these approaches down into two areas:
A new technology solution comes along that solves a problem I didn’t know I had.
I have a specific problem I’m trying to solve with a technology solution.
The first example that comes to mind happened when Voxpopme launched “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.”
We wanted to share useful information around insights, and we also realized that professionals are busy and use a variety of networks. We kind of stumbled across technology to livestream our podcast to YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn before publishing the podcast version. Problem we didn’t know we had – solved.
“My mind is constantly going to how can I apply this. How can I maybe use this?” Khary said of how he approaches assessing technology he didn’t know existed. “What is maybe the value here versus things we are currently doing?”
But then the technology has to add value.
“As much as technology can help, it can also disrupt your ecosystem as well – especially if it doesn’t fit in with things that are already there,” Khary said, stressing the importance of getting technology assessments right.
For example, if new technology creates another data silo, that could create more problems. But new technology also could create a solution to silo problems if it becomes the place to house your centralized data.
At the end of the day, whatever technology you use, it needs to make it easier and more cost efficient for you to provide the products to people that they are willing to pay for.
Why is a good assessment necessary?
The biggest reason is that there are just a lot of potential technology solutions that teams can use. For example, Scott told us how the mar-tech landscape has grown from hundreds of solutions to about 8,000 in a few years.
“Most marketers have probably seen your map of the landscape and have experienced the shock of how technology has grown over the years,” Jenn said.
With so many options to consider, it’s essential to know how to evaluate what you need and why.
“It’s not about how big your tech stack is but about having the right pieces in place,” Jenn added.
How to run your technology assessment
Involving the right people
In your technology assessment, be sure to keep in mind who will use the product. Also, understand the problem the technology will solve.
“It really becomes a group effort,” Khary said. “When I want to learn something more, I look for people smarter than me.”
In addition, look for others who have experience with a particular technology.
“I start asking questions, whether that’s people internally or connections I’ve built externally, and picking their brain,” he said.
Then, Khary said, you want to get really close to the technology and see if the technology can help with your specific problem.
“Really share what the problem is that you are trying to solve,” he said. “I find that when you do that, it opens up a lot of new doors because, at that point, you are bringing that potential partner into the conversation. You build solutions together.”
As you consider technology, keep these pieces in mind:
Ease of use
Is the technology relatively easy to use? Also, can it be accessed on the variety of devices the teams use and in specific regions of the world? For example, with global teams, some tools can’t be used in some parts of the world.
Fit in tech stack
Many companies already use a number of tech solutions for various needs. This especially came out when we talked with insights expert Brenna Ivey about centralizing data. Many companies have data in so many different locations that it’s difficult to ever turn the data into insights.
Consider how this new technology fits into the overall ecosystem. Also, keep in mind how much technology you actually already use, Scott said. Most companies are surprised at how many tools are part of the tech stack and some aren’t even getting used much.
“The next thing you know there’s like 20 tools on the table,” he said. “And now there is a whole new category out there called SaaS Management Platforms.”
They basically manage all of your tools. Nonetheless, is it important to consider how new tools either replace or complement what already exists.
Talk to current users of the technology
Consider talking to peers who have used the platform you are considering, said Scott. You can ask them:
What they like about it
How it solved their problems
Ease of implementation
“Just going out into the world,” he said. “Talk to people you know and trust. I’m going to tell you what really happened. This was the good. This was the bad and this was the ugly.”
It’s also good to see how well the tech solution’s sales and customer success teams partner with customers.
Do they listen?
Are they asking good questions?
Do they see you as a partner?
Jenn said she especially likes to see open dialogue between a customer and technology provider because other clients already may have solved the same problem the potential new customer is facing. How companies communicate is an important part of a technology assessment.
“And they might be solving it in a way you hadn’t thought of,” Jenn said. “That also helps technology providers to understand what your big challenge is and help you get to that solution.”
Implementation and pilots
How hard is it to implement the technology? This also is a good place to start with a pilot project.
Once you see the potential, Khary said he’s a fan of running a pilot project.
“Start something small,” he said. “Something where we are not going to spend a large amount of time and resources.”
You also could start with a scaled-down version of another project to get a taste of the new technology and see if it would work.
Be clear with your pilot projects:
What do you want to get out of it?
How will you measure success?
“It can also take an inordinate amount of time to perfect what the pilot might look like,” Khary said. “That’s very counterproductive to what a pilot can actually do for you.”
A pilot project can help you quickly figure out what’s right, what’s wrong and what you want to do next, Khary said.
“And it allows you to build that communication with that partner,” he said.
Think of your pilot as an experiment, Jenn said.
“There’s an expectation of the word ‘pilot’ that people want to perfect it,” she said. “There’s an expectation that a pilot is going to work, whereas there’s an expectation that an experiment might fail and that’s OK.”
Pilot projects are about “trying it out and proving it right or wrong,” Khary said. “And then how do we roll into the next experiment? Just because it didn’t go right or the way you would have liked it to go the first time, that doesn’t mean you should pull away. What did we learn from this?”
How to ensure technology usage during the pilot
To get the most out of pilot projects, people within the company need to use the technology that’s being evaluated.
The important step here is to determine how to integrate the pilot into existing workflows.
“If that doesn’t happen, it can quickly come in and be placed to the side,” Khary said, adding that especially is true for teams in a high-pressure environment. “When pressure builds, a lot of us default back to our typical way of working. Which means if I default, I’m going back to the things I know and that I’m already comfortable with.”
While you want to iron out the process ahead of time, stay flexible, Khary said. That’s the point of the pilot -— to figure out what works, what doesn’t work and where you might be able to adjust something. Keep your mind open to possibilities.
Make sure people understand the goals of the pilot project and how it will help them. For example, many of us never have enough time, so time efficiency can be a huge motivator to participate in a pilot.
Using technology to move more quickly
“Technology is absolutely an enabler and sometimes an illuminator,” Khary said.
“Sometimes illumination comes from the fact that you can speak with more people than you physically can in person in a shorter period of time -— physically speaking to people in five different cities or five different countries. You just couldn’t do that in, let’s say, a one-week period.”
Easier technology or not, we still need to evaluate what technology to use, when to use it and how to use it.
Khary said technology has helped him in countless ways run better projects, especially early in product development.
“How do we get these prototypes into settings where people are actually using them?” he said.
In the retail location is one way. Another way is to create a virtual reality environment where you can observe consumer behavior. A third way is to use video surveys to ask consumers specific questions after – or before – an experience.
“And now I’m not just restricted to where our office is,” Khary said. “Now I can conceivably do this in any state or city.”
Then you build the product and customer experience as you go and as you are observing and understanding customer reaction.
“We are still creating the prototype, but we are more informed,” Khary said. “We have a better chance of being successful when we get the feedback we need from consumers.”
Timing: Emerging technology assessment
Jenn mentioned that people have said virtual reality will be useful in five or ten years but that the technology isn’t quite there yet. Figuring out when the time has come to jump on new tech can be a challenge.
“I think it’s much sooner than that,” Khary said, noting some teams are already using VR technology. “How do I validate virtual reality to be useful? But it doesn’t have to be useful for the same thing as something that’s existing. It’s going to have its advantages and disadvantages. And then you take it back to your fundamentals – risk to rigor.”
Figure out what the levels of your risk and effort are. If the levels are on the low side, it can be easier to run a technology assessment of emerging technologies.
It’s also good to remember what different technologies are best for. Some are better for some uses than others.
More about risk and rigor
“What’s the risk if we don’t get the learning right on this?” Khary asked.
The team’s mindset
Technology can make things easier keep up with new trends is easier with the right team – especially as things are changing quickly. As part of your technology assessment keep in mind what is and isn’t changing.
“The basics aren’t changing,” said Jennifer Saenz, global chief marketing officer at PepsiCo during her chat with Zappi President Ryan Barry, at the 2021 Virtual Insights Summit. “We still need to be amazing strategists. That’s why we are here. We are trying to drive a return for the business; trying to drive growth in the marketing place; trying to win.”
Now more than ever, marketers and insights professionals need to understand what unmet need a company can help consumers with.
Also keep in mind the ever-increasing technology stack that teams can use. Team members need to learn those skills as well.
“I need to now understand a lot of the technology and analytics that historically in many places has been siloed or kept at arm’s length and potentially even outsourced,” Jennifer said. “The marketer and insights professional – they need to own the data. They need to own the analytics. They need to understand it.”
And then you can get very quickly from looking at the data and creating a hypothesis. That also means we need to look at roles like data scientists, data anthropologists, financial, etc.
“You need a whole range of talent to build out a team that’s going to have diverse perspectives and really go after opportunity in a different way,” she said. “How do we make sure that the knowledge we are creating is really created to to create an impact.”
You can also drive impact by making positive changes in your employees’ experience, she said.
“When you can democratize that information all of a sudden the amount of impact that you can make with so many people having access to it … now my every-day marketer on the team can work with an easy user interface and have the benefit of that data in front of them,” she said. “That’s also impact you can make.”
Technology assessment wrap
The biggest advantage I’ve found in assessing technology is to truly start with the problem you are trying to solve. For example: The market research reports I’ve been getting aren’t that helpful to me. They aren’t comprehensive or clear enough for me to take action.
So my problem is: My market research process isn’t helping me make meaningful changes for my customers.
Then I can start looking for the right technology to help with that.
If you want to understand what someone is thinking, feeling or doing, chances are you’ll ask them a question.
How are you?
What do you think of this?
Why did you do that?
Expressing how we feel and our likes and dislikes is human. We do it every day in conversation and on social media. The how and why questions give us the answers we need to get to the bottom of what people think.
Open-ended questions are an essential way to uncover hidden truths that closed questions can’t. That’s why they are such an important part of market research.
It’s easy to get answers to open-ended questions through video surveys. People use video all the time already. To Facetime their friends and family. For selfie videos on Instagram. Slo-mo shots of their daughter playing softball.
Many, if not most of us, now have smartphones in our pockets or our hands nonstop. So why not use video surveys to get feedback from your customers in a way that is easy for them and meaningful to you.
“Instead of answering checkbox questions, respondents can answer on their phone or desktop and really tell their stories,” Jenn Vogel said. “They can add additional context to their stories.”
Video surveys allow you to gather market research from your customers, consumers, users – anyone! Brands can ask questions directly to the people they care about most, and respondents leave their thoughts and feedback via video.
Video surveys are easy for brands as they are hearing directly from people. The software analyzes:
Consumers do video surveys asynchronous, meaning they answer your brand’s questions on their own time, and the brand can see the results as they come in.
“There’s no need to have a moderator on the other side, which helps get consistent questions to the respondents and eliminates biases,” Jenn said.
Video open-ends are just like text-based open-ends. But instead of writing down responses, respondents simply record a video. Videos are often more authentic than edited written copy.
It’s a win-win for everyone:
Consumers love it because they can express their opinions
Researchers love it because it delivers rich insights
Decision-makers love it as they get to identify actual customer stories
Video makes it easier for respondents to express themselves. It’s also much more personal, adding more of a human aspect to communication. They can portray emotion through body language and facial expressions. It’s an experience that’s simple and easy to use. It delivers spontaneous and honest answers.
How video surveys work
Video open-ends can be added to any survey. Video surveys are added by inserting a block of code to whatever platform you’re using for surveys.
For quantitative researchers, video open-ends can be integrated directly into survey platforms such as
Video surveys can also be added into communities like FuelCycle. Just imagine the power of your NPS, Brand Tracker and CSAT scores, for example, with real customer stories to enhance them. The ease of end-to-end video research means you could also capture video feedback pre or post-survey by recruiting an audience from on-demand video feedback communities or panel providers.
So whether you want to utilize video in a new or existing study or collect your videos alongside or after a survey, in just a few clicks, it’s all possible. That means you can capture, analyze and share compelling customer stories across an array of quant and qual studies so you can boost the impact of your results without changing your existing program.
“I’m an evangelist for video,” said Kristin Luck, a serial marketing measurement entrepreneur. “The closer we can get to customers and potential buyers the better. And I think there’s no more powerful way than hearing it from them in their own words. I think it just resonates more deeply.”
What companies should do video surveys for their market research?
Video surveys can be used in all kinds of industries and verticals, Jenn said. From large brands to smaller businesses, video surveys are a way to understand their customers and hear from them directly.
“The real power comes in where it works alongside traditional methods,” Jenn said. “Adding a video layer to the quantitative data can help you understand your customers better.”
Video surveys success stories
In 2021, in the inaugural Viddys – the Voxpopme awards, we recognized companies that have used video surveys to their competitive advantage. The winners received the news through a personal Facetime call from our CEO and Founder Dave Carruthers. These are their video survey success stories.
Mars video surveys
Mars has been using Voxpopme for years and has done more than 200 video survey studies, with more than 40,000 minutes of recorded customer insights.
“You truly are an industry visionary when it comes to pioneering research and the willingness you’ve shown experimenting with an agile research tool,” Dave told Michelle Gansle of Mars on their Facetime call. “The application across so many study types excites us.”
PepsiCo video surveys
“In this past year with COVID, the lives of our consumers have been impacted in so many ways,” said Megan Kehr, analytics insights associate manager at PepsiCo, adding that includes how they do daily tasks differently and even how they consume beverages. “Our brands need to be aware of that and be prepared for the future. Our partnership with Voxpopme was super instrumental in us being able to keep our ear to the ground to see what our consumers were dealing with and how they are navigating this new world. I’m super excited to get this recognition.”
In PepsiCo’s “Humanize” initiative the company was trying to get marketers closer to customers and understand them better.
“In the past we’ve done one-on-one immersions with consumers where myself and somebody from the brand marketing team would speak directly to the consumer to gather learnings,” she said. With COVID upending so many lives, the team didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask consumers to join meetings.”
Understanding the customer goes beyond “what flavor they pick up at the store and why,” Megan said on an episode of Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show. “But there’s also so much more behind the people who are drinking our products and what’s going on in their lives. And then figure out how our brands can help them ease the tensions they are dealing with. How we can fit better into their lives and what they are facing on a day-to-day basis.”
With Voxpopme’s video surveys “they could just do it on their mobile phones, pick it up whenever they feel like it. They are not put on the spot or speaking to somebody that they don’t know.”
Megan said that she was getting “more authentic responses because we met them where they were.”
“You are certainly one of the most forward-thinking people that use the Voxpopme product and I’m looking forward to seeing what you and the team are going to achieve these next 12 months as we move forward.”
Subway video surveys
Subway used video surveys to get quick feedback from its 2021 Super Bowl campaign.
“Literally, we had like a 12-hour turnaround,” said Wendy Semrau of Subway. “It was just amazing how many responses we were able to generate in that short amount of time. We went through the results right away on Friday and shared them right away with the team. There’s no other tool that we can do that with. Honestly, a lifesaver for us.”
Global video surveys in the London Underground
Global used video surveys to understand brand recall and sentiment for Old Spice.
A new Old Spice campaign in the London Underground put the Old Spice scent into the posters in the subway system, Emma Brett of Global shared on the Facetime call.
“That was something new. Something we didn’t know would work,” she said. “We didn’t know if the posters would smell, what people would think. We used Voxpopme to get a few opinions around the posters. If the scent was strong enough, etc. It was really good feedback for the client. It proved that the campaign was a success.”
Dave added that “we love how they are pushing the boundaries” and making it a success.
Maher Beltaifa shared how Faurecia wanted to find out how people want to communicate in the future in their cars. Do they want to move beyond touching screens and buttons? What does that look like?
“We were looking at the future of communications,” Maher told Dave on their Facetime call. “Maybe not tomorrow, but maybe the day after tomorrow.”
They wanted to find out the future of voice and “maybe there will be something different even,” Maher said. That could be gestures to communicate with the devices in our cars.
“Amazing to see how you are pushing the boundaries of the automotive experience,” Dave said.
Maher said on an episode of “Reel Talk” that the project started with a gut feeling.
“They knew there was just too much happening and wanted to make it more seamless,” Maher said.
Ideas were discussed on allowing people to communicate with their hands and maybe even gesture with their eyes. The video surveys helped the team stay grounded and find out what people were saying about ideas.
In this clip, he discusses how the team decided to use qual and video surveys.
Reckitt video surveys
“We’ve had so much success inside the walls of RB,” Elisabeth Trawinski said to Dave on her Facetime call after she found out about the award.
“It’s so great to see what different teams are doing with Voxpopme and super excited to see what you and the team are doing in the next year,” Dave said.
Video surveys can help your brand understand your customers and make decisions to improve the customer experience. And as Jenn and Megan discussed on the podcast: Video surveys allow customers to answer your questions on their time.
“Just give people space to kind of talk about what’s important to them and what their lives look like,” Jenn said. “That’s where you can get answers to those questions that you didn’t know you needed to ask.”
The Reckitt team won their award for a program called “Outside In.”
Reckitt used video surveys to understand how customer behaviors and rituals change.
Using open-ended questions in video surveys
Open-ended questions open the doors to understanding what our customers are telling us. We can learn so much from asking open-ended questions. Responding to open-ended questions, customers can express emotions, likes and dislikes and everything about us. It’s human nature. Open-ended questions have been a major part of market research and, more specifically, surveys for many years. They are an essential method to unearthing hidden truths that closed-ended questions could otherwise miss.
As market researchers, we are all aware of the benefits open-ended questions, allowing respondents the flexibility to answer questions freely, without limits, could be the deciding factor between unlocking key customer insight and not.
What are video open-ends?
As the name suggests, video open-ends are just like text-based open-ends but instead require the respondent to record a video response as opposed to them typing/writing out their answer.
What are the benefits of video vs. text open-ends?
Video provides all the advantages of text-based open-ends, plus more.
Consumers love video because it allows them to easily portray their emotion, which in turn is valued highly by researchers for content richness and ability to drive action in the boardroom. After all, nothing is more powerful than seeing your customers face to face (digitally via video), sharing insight into their thoughts about your product, service or brand.
Consumers love giving feedback. Hear it from them directly…
At Voxpopme, we’ve tried and tested thousands of open video questions while collecting over a million consumer recorded video responses. So, we wanted to share our knowledge by offering some starter questions that have proven to deliver valuable, visual insights. We’ve put together a collection of simple, but effective open-ended questions you can use when you’re crafting your next video research project. These short-format templates will need adapting, combining or expanding to suit your specific needs but are here to get those creative juices flowing again.
We’ve segmented the question examples based on the various areas of a business to make them relevant to your particular research goals.
What would you change/improve about product X?
Why do you choose product X over Y?
What do you think of the taste/look/feel of new product X?
Any other products compare to this and how do they compare?
How does or doesn’t this product solve problem X for you?
What did you like most about product X?
Imagine and explain life without product X? (ethnography study)
Show us how you use product X? (ethnography study)
What are your expectations/requirements of service X?
Any changes you would most improve to the service of brand X?
How likely are you to recommend service X and why?
Where did you come across this service?
What was your primary reason for using/purchasing this service?
Any steps you took in your decision to use service X?
What did you think of advertisement X?
Your favorite part of ad X?
What emotions did the ad elicit?
Which ad was your favorite and why?
Are the claims made in the ad believable?
How does this ad fit with what you know about brand X?
How unique is this ad compared to others you have seen for similar products?
In what ways does the ad you just watched impact your purchase consideration for brand X (if at all)?
What makes a great ad?
What are your initial thoughts when you hear brand X?
In your opinion, what do you think brand X represents?
Is your perception of brand X positive or negative and why?
What traits are you looking for from a brand in category X?
How and where do you come into contact with brand X most?
What are the positive attributes of brand X?
Any negative attributes of brand X and what are they?
How was your last experience when visiting store X?
What did you think of the customer support in store X?
Why did you choose to shop in store X over its competitors?
Do you have an alternative to brand/store X and why?
Show us your favorite section/display in store X and tell us why it is?
When did you last go to buy a product/service but didn’t buy your intended item and why?
Please explain if you would return to this store and the reasons for your answer.
How was your experience shopping with brand X online?
Was it easy/difficult to navigate the site and find what you were looking for?
Did you experience any difficulties when trying to buy a product from mysite.com?
Explain your opinion of our website checkout experience?
How did online support work?
What don’t you like about your current service provider/product?
How does your online experience of ‘brand X’ differ across different digital devices?
What promotions come to mind when you think of season/event X?
Any seasonal promotions would you like to see product/service X offer?
What time of year do you begin looking for product or service X?
Any promotions stand out most for you in store X?
Please show us prominent category X promotions in store Y.
How do you prefer to discover promotions for product/service X?
What are your thoughts of our loyalty program?
How does loyalty program X compare to the loyalty program of competitor Y?
Would you say brand X provides value for your money?
What are your thoughts on product X’s quality for the price paid?
Does cost play a role when purchasing product/service X in category Y?
The cost of product/service give you a particular perception of brand X?
Wider brand exploration & personification
If Brand X was a celebrity who would they be and why?
Which make of car is brand X most similar to?
Brands are a party – what type of party guest would brand X be?
How has brand X changed over time?
Who do you think to be the leader in category X and why?
If brand X came to life as a person, what would they be like?
Where does brand X rank amongst its competitors and why?
Draw what you think X means and explain why.
Understanding the market
Video surveys can also be used to understand customer feelings about a current campaign. Here’s an example from Super Bowl ads and how viewers felt about them.
For Super Bowl LIV, we set out to find out which brands won and lost in the battle of the commercials. We asked a total of 150 North American consumers to tell us which ad was the most memorable one.
They each shared their most memorable Super Bowl ad during each quarter of the game in self-recorded responses to a single open-ended video question, in real-time. The study tested the unaided recall of the commercials, and scores were calculated based on the number of mentions for each ad across all video responses in less than 4 hours thanks to automated video analytics.
And now that the results are in, we can see who scored and who fumbled in the advertising game.
See what people said about our winner in the video:
Getting the most out of technology
Once you have technology in place, make sure you spend a good amount of time on making sure you are getting the most of out it, said Scott Brinker of HubSpot and creator of the mar-tech landscape map.
“It has to do with the strategy of how we are going to deploy them,” Scott said. “It has to do with how are we going to do enablement and training.” But also keep in mind that technology is updating and evolving quickly.
We live in a world that’s full of data. And the amount of data is increasing. Author Anthony Tasgal believes it’s because we live in a system where we worship numbers strongly and above all else. Some of us are afraid to make decisions without data. People want facts. So they say. But data alone doesn’t give the whole picture. I use data, too, but for great storytelling in market research we need the customer to appear as the main character. That means we need to hear from them. Directly.
People can also be unpredictable and things change. If researchers really want to start understanding why people behave the way they do, we need to start looking at the people behind the data.
Choosing insight over information
In this data-heavy age, it’s easy to think that the world revolves around numbers. Numbers matter. But, it’s also about insight. And stakeholders sometimes don’t remember data. They remember stories.
We should focus on unlocking insights and understanding what drives behavior. Be in the business of constructing and delivering meaning. Not just data points. Deliver insights.
Nothing beats truth, especially when it comes from a genuine person. It is an in-depth insight that allows researchers to unlock and share powerful customer stories that have real impact.
The importance of storytelling in market research
Tasgal writes that if numbers numb us, then stories stir us. They translate information into emotion – and it is that reason why storytelling in market research makes your findings and conclusions more impactful and memorable. It’s all about finding the people behind your data and unlocking the story behind your statistics to engage and excite your executives and shake up your stakeholders.
Stories are patterns with meaning that the brain is hardwired to respond to. In fact, neurochemically there is evidence that stories make us care, create empathy and build trust by producing oxytocin.
Unfortunately, today some researchers are data rich but insight poor. It’s the story that trumps information by turning information into emotion to create empathy. Empathy is the single biggest thing that can drive decisions. That means that in order to unlock real meaning, we need to start telling stories – and fast.
Why is there a disconnect?
Let’s talk about the influence on big data a bit.
“When I talk with executives, they often don’t leave the office or talk with customers,” said Graham Kenny, a speaker, consultant, strategy expert and regular Harvard Business Review contributor. He joined us on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “That alerted me to the need of executives needing to get out of the office and talk to customers. There’s an absence of that in most organizations.”
Much of the decisions are based on insights gleaned off big data in these cases. How customers interact with a brand, where they buy and other relationship points that can be collected by data without having to speak with people.
“I can understand that it’s hard for time-starved executives,” said Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.” “I don’t have enough time either for all the things I need to get done. But how can we run successful businesses if we never hear from the actual customers? I think it’s impossible.”
If executives can’t get out of the office, at least they can hear from their customers through video surveys.
In many companies, Graham said, the executives get isolated away from the customer experience. On the other hand, he’s seen a push toward big data.
Can one work without the other and how successfully would that be? Let’s discuss that topic a bit more here. Fittingly, we are starting with a lake. Dive right in.
The data lake
All the data goes into a “data lake” and you can then fish out what you want and when you need it, Graham said. Certainly, analyzing user behavior can help us understand some things about our customers. Let’s take the example of banking. Tellers can see your information when they talk to you and get instant recommendations on potential upsell opportunities.
What comes up in front of that teller is a profile of the customer that can include:
Potential interests based on previous behaviors
Situational-based recommendations – like what other similar customer have bought in similar circumstances
Interests based on demographics, time of the year, etc.
It’s really no different from what Amazon does online. When I buy something new, Amazon immediately recommends something else that I might be interested in and want to buy right then. Judging by the amount of Amazon packages on my door step this seems to work. Given that the Prime truck seems to be driving up and down my street all day, my neighbors seem to agree as well! So big data can help us!
“Relying on big data only or the end-all, be-all is just going to be a disaster,” said, Graham, stressing that big data is one piece of the puzzle to understanding our customers.
Data needs to be centralized and analyzed correctly. Silos in different departments won’t help. Some data is precisely inaccurate, Graham said. Those data points hide biases. With that in mind, a lot of data companies have can also be wrong.
To understand your customers start with a well-designed strategy, which is then followed by execution.
“Different people get involved and they have different challenges,” Graham said. “Big data is very helpful in the execution phase.”
Execution – everyone has to be involved. All the way from the CEO to the people in creating the products and working directly with customers. That can also make it difficult. Many organizations struggle with ensuring everyone understands their important part in the execution.
Strategy design – doesn’t include everyone and should fall to the executives, Graham said. The insights team can help here as well.
The implementers shouldn’t create the strategy: They focus on the implementation, efficiencies and often look at it from that lens. Graham also mentioned that strategy off-sites with everyone involved don’t work. Many people in fact, say nothing has changed after those sessions.
A better solution to doing an isolated off-site strategy session, which could include a visit to customers to hear from them. Or to run a video survey research product and hear from customers what they have to say.
“Don’t do what you’ve been doing all these previous years,” Graham said. “Don’t do what most organizations do. That is look inwardly. And try to come up with an outside view.”
He calls that process “strategy discovery.”
“Strategy discovery alone implies that you are looking elsewhere,” said Jenn. “That’s where the role of talking to customers is so crucial.”
And the voice of the customer matters
When teams bring the Voice of the Customer to their daily tasks and decision making a better customer experience can happen. But VoC programs don’t happen overnight. They take time and effort and a deliberate strategy. Storytelling in market research helps here as well.
What is the Voice of the Customer?
The Voice of the Customer refers to hearing from and implementing changes that are being shared by your customers.
That can be easier said than done. You want to listen to them, understand them and of course make sure they know that their feedback mattered. Many companies have started VoC programs and that’s a great start. But to make it truly work customers need to be heard and that’s often done through storytelling in market research as part of your overall process.
Using video for storytelling in market research
Agile video market research can help companies get to the bottom of what drives customer decisions. It’s the single most powerful way to deliver real human feedback, giving researchers unbeatable access to how customers truly feel about different brands, products, and services. Using video to uncover real human stories means you can give context to your data, get closer to what people think and make informed customer-centric decisions.
A typical, consumer-recorded video response is 6-8 times longer than a response to a text-based open-end. That means that in just a few clicks, video enables you to see what your customers truly think, feel and do by revealing real consumer responses. It goes beyond the information and data provided by scores and scales and unveils the true voice of the customer, unlocking real insights and telling the story behind the scores. The result? Multi-dimensional layers of insight and true customer stories that just aren’t achievable with scores and statistics alone.
Video cuts through the noise to obtain raw, unfiltered context. You can better understand your customers’ true feelings and build a deeper understanding of your consumers across your entire organization. Not only that, but it also increases customer closeness by allowing you to add depth, emotion, and authenticity to your data. That means instead of sharing yet more statistics with your stakeholders, you can humanize and add context to your data and deliver impactful, convincing and memorable stories that drive change.
How to leverage storytelling in market research
1. Bring your research to life
You can collect videos from consumers by adding open-ended video questions to your surveys. Elisabeth Trawinski, an insights pro at Reckitt, mentioned how showing videos to stakeholders can have more impact than PowerPoint.
2. See real people’s responses
Video feedback can help you see and understand genuine customer interactions. That helps you get to the bottom of what customers really think. People share their thoughts in their own words and in their own environment.
People – including stakeholders – relate to stories from customers. And the best way for those stories to be memorable is by hearing them directly from customers.
3. Tell the story behind your results
You can collect videos during or even after your research to boost the impact of your results. By supplementing your quant study with scalable video feedback you can add real weight to your research, find the golden thread and make everyone in your organization sit up and take notice by sharing impactful stories that drive change.
4. Find the insights you’re looking for
Once uploaded, videos can be searched by keyword or filtered by additional data such as age, gender or other customer tags so you can easily find the insights you need to tell customer stories. Additionally, because all videos are theme and sentiment coded you can easily discover what your customers are thinking and why – so in just a couple of clicks you can bring a topic to life and tell the story behind your scores.
“I think what you are doing as an organization is quite interesting,” Graham said referring to the Voxpopme online survey platform, which:
Allows brands to ask questions to consumers and customers through an online platform.
People can then answer the questions directly on video with their smartphones – on their own time.
Responses are transcribed and analyzed for sentiment and key topics.
Highlight reels can share the most impactful responses quickly and concisely. That works especially well for those busy executives.
“I think that’s a good approach,” Graham said. “We are getting people talking about their experiences.”
Hearing from customers directly is the only way to understand how the product or service works for them.
“That’s emotion and you can’t get that from a written document,” he said.
Challenges talking to customers
Graham said a lot of people agree hat they should talk to customers.
“But people say ‘we don’t know how do to that,'” he said. It’s really about these prioritization steps:
Also keep in mind that sometimes you want to consider behavioral economics. What are people doing in the real world with your product and why? One you can observe, the other needs a follow-up question.
“Somebody says ‘well, we are doing the survey anyway. Let’s just ask these 25 other questions,'” Melina said. “‘We are sending the direct mailer. We might as well put all this other stuff on there.’ That just doesn’t work very well with the brain.”
Have a single goal you are trying to figure out.
“What’s the most important one and how can you put all your eggs in that basket?” Melina said.
Understanding your customer health
Watch this “Reel Talk” episode with Voxpopme Senior Vice President Braden Johnstone to learn even more about customer health.
Survey fatigue is real. I see it all the time when I’m diving into surveys. The questions go on and on and on. Is this survey over yet? Nope! We are only at 3 percent complete, according to the little – literally – bar at the bottom. It’s not making things easier that the design is horrible and the survey is hard to read.
While survey fatigue can affect our customers, it also affects us – the insights professionals. After all, we need customer feedback – their opinions and thoughts on updates to products and their customer experience in general. But when consumers are fatigued and aren’t taking the time to give us feedback, we are a long ways from gathering insights.
Survey fatigue and the trouble with traditional surveys
“Please fill out this survey to give us your feedback” has been a common strategy. But when that turns into a never-ending game of 20 questions, no wonder consumers get tired of it.
Some surveys ask to provide more feedback through the written word. The idea is simple: It’s giving people the option to elaborate on their thoughts. But it also feels a bit like school. I’m a writer and I don’t like to write those out. Text-based surveys are often cumbersome, restrictive, and tricky to fill in.
Our best attempt to go beyond scores and scales has been open-ended questions that ask for written responses, with the idea being that text-based responses give people the chance to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings and give more insights than scores alone.
However, unfortunately, the reality is that text-based surveys are actually cumbersome, restrictive, and tricky to fill in – which only adds to mounting fatigue.
Can I just send you a quick selfie video with my response? I just got off a FaceTime call so I have some time.
Open text boxes usually deliver responses of just three or four words and nearly always less than 50 characters. Or they are skipped completely.
As a result, questions go unanswered, participants become disengaged and survey fatigue continues to grow, and all the while researchers are still none the wiser on how they can understand, excite and engage their target audience. But there is another way…
Video is a quick and easy way for people to express themselves and for you to get a real understanding of what drives them. It goes way beyond the confines of scores and rating scales by revealing the why behind the numbers.
Video surveys make your customers feel important
Video makes your customers feel like their opinions are important. That they are being listened to and that they are more than just data.
Easier for expression
Instead of answering closed questions or typing out tired text responses, video gives respondents a quick and easy way to express themselves.
It’s more personal than ticking boxes
Rather than just ticking boxes and getting lost in a sea of data, video adds a personal aspect to communication that engages respondents.
Video lets your respondents get to the point fast, so it can easily fit in around their busy lives.
Video responses can be recorded anytime, anywhere
Respondents can record video any time, any place, from their preferred digital device. That means that in-depth stories can be shared with ease and on the go. Or while sitting on the couch at home. Or during break at work. You get the idea!
Body language and facial expressions allow your respondents to show how they really feel. How do you read emotion in text-based answers? It’s a lot harder!
Younger audiences are used to video
Younger audiences are keen to express their opinions across various media and making a quick video reviewing a product or recounting an experience.
Avoid survey fatigue like this…
Insights professionals can at times be nervous about how long video will take. However today’s video market research allows you to capture hundreds of videos from your target audience in less than an hour.
By just adding a simple block of code to whatever platform you’re using, you can integrate video-open ends and capture video insights alongside or after a survey to boost the impact of your results.
You can embed video open ends into any survey on any platform, website or app to enable video responses across any device – and you can even tap into our app that make video the entire survey and give you access to video feedback communities.
You can utilize video in a new or existing study, collect videos alongside or after a survey.
In just a few clicks you can capture, analyze and share compelling customer stories across an array of quant and qual studies to boost the impact of your results.
And once your videos have been recorded and uploaded, we’ll use time-coded, automated transcription to make analysis even easier for you.
Preferences where customers want to interact, evaluate or buy your product certainly can be wide ranging. And ever changing. An omnichannel customer experience strategy can help to truly understand customer preferences.
That of course is an ever-evolving strategy. Where customers want to interact with us changes and evolves. For example, I’ve been eating gummy bears my whole life. I used to buy them in retail locations growing up in Germany. Today, I have them set as a Save and Subscribe item on Amazon and a new batch arrives every few months. I love it. I don’t even have to leave my house.
Customer preferences – like mine – change and with all these options comes competition. If we don’t understand our omnichannel customer experience and drive a useful strategy around it a competitor or emerging player might.
What’s an omnichannel customer experience anyway?
At the most basic level, it’s about understanding where our customers engage and connect with our products and services. The nuances of channels and touchpoints is important to remember as you are building and evolving the strategy. Since customer preferences change it’s also important to keep a pulse on customer feedback and what changes it signals.
We’ve all heard of Ring, the consumer security camera. Ring has seen huge growth in recent years, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that a deep understanding of consumer needs is at the heart of that story. Mimi Swain, Ring’s CRO, sits right at the center of marketing, sales, and customer teams. Voxpopme Vice President of Marketing Jenn Vogel chatted with Mimi at the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit.
“In the early days we were focused on the broader distribution strategy and took every opportunity to show up in our relevant channels,” Mimi said. “And that shaped our omnichannel approach across the verticals. And today, we are easily in 10,000-plus retail locations.”
In addition, to retail, Ring sells direct on Ring.com, Amazon and through installation services that will set up the cameras for consumers.
It’s really a fantastic example of knowing your customers and reaching and catering to different customer preferences. I’m not very handy around the house honestly but did install my own Ring cameras. I simply ordered them on Amazon and hopped on a ladder to set them up. But having do-it-yourself options and the option to hire a handyperson are examples of having a great omnichannel customer experience strategy in place.
“And we’ve done a ton of work in broadcast channels like HSN and QVC and I think that medium has been so great to demonstrate our product,” Mimi said. “We do this to give our customers, which we call neighbors, choice and selection where they buy.”
“We are always looking to evolve our approach,” said Mimi. “I’ve really loved being part of this evolution of retailers getting products to customers differently.”
Examples include curbside pickup and different delivery platforms – like Instacart. Ring partnered with Instacart through Best Buy to deliver Ring cameras.
“I love that. That’s so meeting customer needs,” Jenn added. “I’ve been thinking of Instacart as a grocery delivery service. I use it to get my groceries and don’t go to the store anymore. That’s a new behavior for me.”
It all comes back to understanding your customers, knowing what is going on in their lives that your product relates to and making it a seamless experience.
For Ring that means, from the shopping experience, to installation to after-care.
“If they have issues we take care of them,” Mimi said.
How customers are using the product
Ring has an advantage here as the cameras literally records things in front of them. Some customer stories recordings are about security, some are weird and some are just humanly interesting. Many clips are submitted by customers and highlighted on the Ring social channels. Media picks up some stories as well.
“They trust us with these moments and that’s a real honor,” Mimi said. “It’s really unique for a company to see its product in action and how it’s making an impact.”
How Ring listens to customers
Mimi’s team reads reviews every day.
“The good ones, the bad ones – what people are saying and how they are experiencing things,” she said. “We also keep a close pulse on what’s coming in through social media and customer success channels. And we look if we can identify an insight. Sometimes there are things we learn that we apply to a future launch.”
For example, the doorbell camera came on its own bracket at first. Now, it uses the existing bracket, Mimi said.
“So you can just take off the old one and put on the new one,” she said. “There are those little things we think about. How do we remove friction and delight our neighbors?”
Mimi’s team also visits stores when possible to get feedback that way.
“When Black Friday was an in-person thing we would be in stores working at the Best Buys and Costcos,” she said. “There’s this push to staying really connected to what’s happening on the ground. That’s how we stay customer obsessed.”
The CEO and founder’s email address is also listed on every box as an open invitation for customers to send in feedback, Mimi said.
“That’s how in tune he is with that he wants to hear from customers,” she said. “The emails range from super positive of what they love, things that happened at their home and also very vocal about things they feel disappointed by. It’s a great tool to get a good pulse on what’s happening and how we can do better.”
Jenn adds that Ring uses all these different ways to get customer feedback, which is also a good part of an omnichannel customer experience strategy. Connect with customers where they want to connect with you!
“There’s a gap of people willing to participate in research or filling out an NPS survey and all the rest of the customers that don’t give their feedback,” Jenn added. “So being there in store, reading the reviews just fills that gap of the people that wouldn’t take a particular type of survey.”
Mimi added that there is value in validating what was learned through traditional research methods. And there are some innovative strategy ideas that traditional focus groups wouldn’t capture.
“Think about the Echo devices,” Mimi said. “If you had asked a customer six or seven years ago ‘would you want a thing that looks like a Pringles can that talks to you – would you want that in your kitchen?’ Most would be like ‘no’.”
Some innovations are so new to the world that consumers might not realize they are ready for it.
“It’s that balance of asking the right questions and understanding the need, understanding the behavior and innovating for that,” Jenn added. “That doesn’t mean don’t do the research. It means to go deeper.”
Mimi added that customers will reward companies with business when the experience gets better for them.
David Cancel, CEO of Drift, said during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit that his company looks at how much time everyone is spending with customers.
“We measure that on a yearly basis, weekly, monthly and daily,” he said. “Want people to be close to the customer because that’s when you hear the pain and when the truth comes out.”
“We are all in business and businesses exist to serve the customer,” David said. “You need to hear the words that they are using. Not the words that you are using, but the words they are using. The words they are using to describe their problem. Not your problem. Their problem.”
Social media groups
Jean-Michel Hoffman, vice president of brand marketing at SoFi, said during the 2021 Virtual Insight Summit, that the company started with face-to-face events across the country. The concept of connecting conversationally with customers, which SoFi calls members, was then translated into a Facebook Group, which now has 55,000 members. Ten thousand of those are active.
“It’s exclusive to our members,” he said. “They have to be a member to join it. And they are all talking about the key topics around their finances. We moderate that community and observe that community. And we prompt questions to them.”
He added he checks it daily to get a pulse on what members are talking about.
“There’s this feeling to be part of the community,” he said.
It can be hard to stay focused and customer obsessed when teams move fast through the multitude of channels.
“Teams can get stuck in the idea that we just need to get this done,” she said. “Teams at Ring are very collaborative the way we work together. We give team members the ownership to do what’s best for customers.”
Prioritization also plays a role here. With so much customer feedback coming in, it is important to figure out how to prioritize follow-up and updates to the customer experience.
“We certainly look for pattern matching,” Mimi said. “Sometimes there are things mentioned that are that light bulb moment. Yes, that completely makes sense.”
Certainly, not everything can be prioritized to the top of the list but the Ring team tries to focus on the tasks that have the biggest impact on customer experience.
“The prioritization question is a hard one,” added Jenn. “We want to do everything, but can’t do everything. We measure everything on an effort-impact scale. There are a hundred things could do, but really can only do five well.”
I write a lot about talking to our customers directly on here. Of course, that’s important. I mean, if I only get their feedback second or third-hand, that game of telephone can turn a bath product into something that’s supposed to be eaten for dinner. I wouldn’t recommend that, but there is value in finding out who your customer influencers are. Those are the people your customers listen to on the web and social media.
Personally, I hate when people ask me:
Who do you follow?
Who influences your decisions?
Heck, I don’t know. I scroll through Twitter and whomever is there is there. So how accurate and inclusive can my answer really be?
That’s where software platforms like SparkToro come in handy and can help you identify the people and brands your customers are listening to without you having to ask them. SparkToro was created by Rand Fishkin, who previously built Moz – a search engine optimization platform. Rand joined us on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” to talk about this latest endeavor to help brands identify customer influencers.
Using public social media and web data to identify these connections is easier to identify influencers than asking people, Rand said.
“I follow all kinds of interesting people and read their content,” said Voxpopme Vice President of Marketing Jenn Vogel. “But sometimes I can’t tell you what their name is.”
Or the name doesn’t come top of mind when somebody asks about it.
“You’ll get all kinds of bias baked into that question,” Rand added. “Those answers in a survey are very difficult. But when you get this data from thousands of public profiles – or tens of thousands depending on your audience size, you can really dig into the nitty gritty.”
From there, brands can connect with those influencers, maybe do co-marketing, speak at events, submit guest content and collaborate in other ways.
“There’s just a lot of opportunities in those spaces – unexecuted marketing opportunities – because it’s really hard to discover those sources,” Rand said.
When are customer influencers most helpful?
At Moz, Fiskin’s team worked on search engine optimization strategies, which is a strategy that usually looks like this:
You know what your company can offer to customers and what problems you can solve for customers
Your SEO strategy determines what the terms are your customers search for on Google and other search engines
The brand creates useful content around the topic in an effort to show up organically when potential customers search for the topic.
An SEO strategy works really well when people are already searching for topics, products and services related to it.
A customer influencers strategy on the other hand comes in handy when potential customers are not yet searching for that product or service.
“I can rank No. 1 for a keyword that nobody is searching for,” added Jenn. “But it doesn’t benefit you in any way shape or form.”
“The reality is nobody is specifically looking for this precise product,” Rand said. “Nobody is looking for exactly what you have to offer. So you need to reach your customers not through search but some other methodology. Through some source of influence that they are already paying attention to.”
Uncovering those customer influencers can be difficult when it’s done manually. That led to the creation of SparkToro, which analyzes public profiles and maps relationships.
Connecting product influencers, brands and customers
Rand gave the example of an engineering firm that created a new product for architects. The firm can then find out who architects listen to on social media, what websites they visit and perhaps what podcasts they listen to.
On the web, many people list their professional titles, job functions and more. On many networks you can also see whom they follow. In addition, you can see who engages with what content. Likes, shares and comments can all give you an idea of who appears to be influential.
Aggregating that public information then puts together information for brands that are trying to find out who is influencing who.
But aren’t most people just on social media to talk crap to each other about politics and the latest news headlines? Some days it seems like my feeds are dominated by that kind of discussion. SparkToro found that to be a problem at first, but filters out irrelevant information.
Keep in mind that people use networks for a variety of reasons – including – business. Even when they sometimes discuss politics.
SparkToro also doesn’t show global celebrities by default in searches. Yes, a lot of architects might be following a global superstar, but that following has little to do with their professional interests. Millions of people follow them.
Rand compared partnering with a global influencer to running an ad in the New York Times.
“Will some architects see it? Sure, but is that really worth your money?” he said. “Unless you are a big consumer brand company it doesn’t make sense. The targeting is off.”
If an account is globally popular and a high percentage of all users follow and engage with them, then we need to not show it by default, he said.
“Once we did that the results just became stellar and highly relevant.”
Not all brands would find targeting like this helpful, Rand explained.
For example, if you are targeting people that have a mortgage that’s a lot of people to begin with and few – if any – list that in their social media profiles.
“If you want to reach real estate agents, SparkToro is great,” Rand said. “If you want to reach homeowners, SparkToro is kind of terrible.”
It’s good to remember the strengths and weaknesses of platforms and what goals you are trying to solve.
Analyzing what target audiences do online can also help brands create personas that are more data-driven. Instead of making educated guesses you can determine what their interests are based on:
who they follow
what content they engage with
the content they share themselves
“I have this frustration with classic persona models,” Rand said. “My sense is that they are very stereotyping and reductive.”
Some of the traditional consumption information often included in personas can be helpful, though. For example, knowing what publications they read or what content they consume on the web can give you great insights into the language they use, what they are interested in and where you might be able to reach them.
“Now I know what phrases will be completely over their heads and what will resonate,” Rand said. “I see what hashtags they follow. What social accounts they follow. I have a sense of the zeitgeist of that customer group. I like that kind of persona better than ‘here’s CFO Charlie and here’s how many dogs he has.’”
The threshold is reached when brands know something about customers that customers feel should be private.
“There are two vectors where I have concerns. One is when it violates privacy that people really care about,” Rand said. “When a lot of marketers talk about privacy they talk about digital footprints and following people around the web.”
For example, when consumers visit your website and then see an ad. Some people say that’s creepy, but Rand counters that there’s really no security violation in that scenario.
“The risk of harm – nothing bad can or will happen to you from exclusively that,” he said, adding that there can be a potential issue if people can be individually identified – especially when it involves a vulnerable group of people.
At the end of the day, knowing the right amount of information about our customers can help us create better experiences for them.
I get that there’s a time and place for in-person focus groups. But the advantage of online focus groups can’t be denied.
You can reach a wider group of consumers, no matter their location or availability.
Responses are truly personal. You can see their facial expressions as they share their authentic feedback.
The analysis is easy and already in a digital format, which makes all aspects of analysis and sharing quick.
The emergence of video
Mobile and video technology have been changing the way people interact and the way we research.
More people are working with video than ever before. Even before COVID-19, a total of 93 percent of companies were using video for multiple use cases. A year into the pandemic, video communication has become even more prevalent.
Advancements in technology mean there’s no longer any need for research to take weeks or months to generate insightful results. In fact, today’s technology advancements mean researchers can uncover complex thoughts and deliver compelling insights faster than ever.
Using online focus groups allows you to uncover customer stories and get closer to what people really think. From there you can make informed customer-centric decisions.
Not only that, but video for the consumer is fun, quick and easy to use. It allows users to show emotion and express how they feel.
Video research can also fit in around respondents’ busy lives, which means there’s less need for time-consuming traditional research methods. Instead, customers can now share their thoughts and feelings easily at a time that suits them, giving you the data you need to deliver in-depth insights across your entire organization.
Capture online focus groups in a way that is convenient
Today’s technology and capture solutions of our online focus group software allow you to create the group on your time. From there consumers can answer on their own time. In theory, that could mean they’ll take their time, but they don’t.
Take this online focus group survey I ran for a Valentine’s Day campaign. It took just a few hours to get all the responses I needed. The next day we shared the results with the brands.
Analyze data instantly
There’s no need to wait weeks or even days for videos to be analyzed. Today’s technology means that responses are transcribed within minutes of being recorded and video can be delivered and analyzed shortly thereafter.
Not only that, but your videos can also be filtered and easily searched with interactive charts and word clouds, making it easier than ever before to analyze and explore your online focus group.
Share powerful customer stories
There’s no need to worry about lengthy editing processes because it’s so easy to create your own showreels and share your results.
Today’s technology means that it’s easier than ever before to unlock and share powerful insights.