Understanding consumers certainly can be a challenge. Especially in these challenging times of COVID, natural disasters and changes in consumer behavior. That’s why it’s so important to have good consumer insights at hand.
“Consumer insights, to me, is something that is useful, something that we can make decisions around,” said Dave Carruthers, Voxpopme founder and CEO. “Ultimately, we are looking for these insights to help us build better brands and better experiences.”
Dave joined Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing and podcast host, on this episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” They discussed how the future is shaping up for the consumer insights industry. You can watch their chat on YouTube or listen wherever you listen to podcasts.
Why are consumer insights hard?
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.”
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.
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“It needs to be simple and surprising but also needs something you can make decisions on,” Jenn added. “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 even in early 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.
Before the pandemic, market research was seen in some companies as a support role, Dave added. “Market research had kind of lost its seat at the boardroom table.”
That changed with the pandemic, and “things aren’t just rolling back into where we were,” Dave said. “What we’ve seen is insights teams inundated with requests by executives.”
Uptick in use of market research technology and results
Rick Kelly, chief product officer at Fuel Cycle – a Voxpopme partner, said that his market research technology platform saw an immediate upswing in usage starting in March 2020.
“The realization that customer insights is essential has become more and more apparent,” Rick said on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.”
Bianca Pryor, vice president of insights at BET, added that insight teams now are asked to help drive business decisions and results and can’t just function as a librarian that reports back data.
Understanding the person
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?”
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Understanding the customer’s life tensions
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 behavior changed
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.”
How can consumer insights help brands adjust to rapid consumer change?
“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.
- 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.”
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“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.”