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Consumer Insights: An Introduction To The Basics Of What It Takes

We live in rapidly changing times. Just over a couple decades ago, the only channels marketers had to contend with were a few television channels, one newspaper, and maybe a handful of radio stations in every major market across the country. The ease of access made the mass market so accessible because odds were, a company’s target audience was going to be watching, reading, or listening.

Today, marketers have to contend with cable television, digital television, the internet, social media, mobile accessibility and lots of other outlets. Marketers are now forced to re-think how to share their messages across the seemingly endless number of platforms and touch points to an almost impossibly complex dynamic of consumers. Luckily there is an equally modern solution that can help called, consumer insights.

Consumer Insights, or CI, is an interpretation used by businesses to gain a deeper understanding of their target audiences or perhaps define that target audience. It has also been defined by Paul Laughlin of the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing’s Journal as “a non-obvious understanding about your customers, which if acted upon, has the potential to change their behavior for mutual benefit.”

How is Consumer Insight Different From Research and Marketing?

Unlike broader market research, which determines target customers based on a few standard demographic options, such as sex, income, race, and marital status, consumer insights identifies the classification and trends in both demographic and psychographic behaviors exhibited by consumers. Consumers insights can enhance the effectiveness of a product or service for the company’s ideal audience.

This field of consumer study is designed to act as a bridge between a company’s research and marketing departments. Traditionally, the research team sets out to identify its target audience while the marketing team then uses that information to tailor the right message to sell its products and services to that specific audience.

But, consumer insights takes the understanding of the customer even deeper.

Consumer insight provides the company with the key reasons why or why not consumers care about their brand by studying the underlying mindsets, moods, motivations, desires, and aspirations, that ultimately trigger that consumers actions. In short, consumer insights collects, interprets, and deploys the information that the marketing team needs in order to acquire, develop, and retain customers.

Consumer Insights’ Impact on New Marketing

For modern companies, consumer insights plays an important role in the development of effective marketing strategies. The information gathered by the process provides a company with the timely data it needs to present its products and services to the buying public in the most effective way possible. Even better, the information can even assist in the actual development and production of the products and services themselves.

Historically, companies could afford to market to the masses simply because there were limited marketing channels available in the first place. The actual marketing messages themselves required only broad-spectrum attractors and much less thought and they would still have performed reasonably well.

While those tactics may have worked in the past, today’s consumer is more cynical and informed. The world has grown smaller thanks to the internet and connectivity. If a company wants to succeed in today’s digital landscape, it needs to focus on personalized marketing over mass marketing. Only consumer insights allow you to determine the best message that speaks to your right audience, when and where it’s most effective.

Here is an example of consumer insights in action: Haliborange, a popular multivitamin brand for kids, understood who its target customer was for its newly launched mini-pack range– mums with kids between the ages of 3-12 years old. What the brand wanted to do was to generate insights to better understand the drivers and barriers for consumption of its products and to better target its messaging toward its audience.

Thus, they turned to consumer insights to learn more. The brand aimed to identify the key factors that influence the purchasing decisions of mums as well as the marketing channels that were most relevant to them. The data collected enabled Haliborange to gain a clearer understanding of its unique selling points, to identify what its consumers resonated most with and what drove them through the brand funnel. Additionally, the team was also able to validate some hypotheses they had through qualitative and quantitative insights. Using these insights, the branding team was able to more effectively market to its particular segment of the population instead of targeting its messaging to a wider audience and hoping something would stick.

Consumer Insight in Action

When consumer insight research is conducted properly, it forces a consumer to really think about his or her situation in relation to the product or product category being studied. Every consumer is driven by certain desires, aspirations or social outcomes and through consumer insight, a company can piece together insights to better understand what the key common motivators are for the larger portion of its customer base.

The better the insight, the easier it should be to apply to a larger group of consumers. An insight that can provide a company with ideas and solutions for positioning its brand in such a way that it will appeal to the broadest subsector of its audience is the most ideal, but most difficult to achieve.

Here is an example of how it works:

  • Observation 1: Identifying the “Want” – Carl wants to lose weight. You acquired this information via a standard survey.
  • Observation 2: Identifying Intent – Carl is signing up for diet programs and trying out low carb food options. You acquired this information by observing Carl through your shopper data solutions and online tracking methods.
  • Observation 3: Identifying Motivators – Carl’s reason for wanting to lose weight is to stay as healthy as he can for his age and so that he can look better. This information you discern through a focus group that Carl participates in.

For companies that don’t utilize consumer insights, the above information will suffice for their marketing needs. But, companies that do use consumer insights will use this information and a much more robust method of consumer research to build a more thorough picture of Carl.

The beauty about consumer insights is that it allows you to get a detailed overview over how consumers interact with your brand or product, and what drives them to try and re-purchase your products, or why they don’t. Additionally, the driver and barriers for conversion tell you what you need to focus on to grow your brand.

A company that does utilize consumer insights may then ascertain that Carl’s real reason for wanting to lose weight is because he is afraid of getting old. He feels that losing weight can help him reclaim his identity because he looks at his weight as proof that his best years are behind him. His excessive need to continually try new diet plans and healthy food fads only show that Carl really can’t stick to any one diet and the last thing he wants is to be embarrassed by being viewed as incapable of dropping pounds.

You can see the difference in the depth of a marketer’s understanding by taking a consumer insight approach to research. The only difference is – consumer insights provides this level of insight on a much grander scale.

10 Characteristics of Successful Consumer Insight

In a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review, more than 10,000 practitioners examined the strategies, structures, and capabilities that distinguish high-performing, customer-centric companies. It was determined that having an independent insights and analytics function integrated into the business’s planning and strategy is key to obtaining desired results.

One such study, the Insights2020 research, which involved a thorough investigation of the effectiveness of Unilever’s consumer insights programs revealed 10 characteristics of a successful insights engine, separated into two categories: Operational Characteristics and People Characteristics.

Operational Characteristics included:

  • Data Synthesis
  • Independence
  • Integrated Planning
  • Collaboration
  • Experimentation
  • Forward-Looking Orientation
  • Affinity for Action

People Characteristics included:

  • Whole-Brain Mindset
  • Business Focus
  • Storytelling

Good storytelling, in particular, plays a highly influential role in making sure companies get the most out of their consumer insight. Storytelling has taken the place of traditional reports with charts and figures. By embracing provocative storytelling, and taking a “show, don’t tell” approach, consumer insight teams can foster a deeper understanding of the company’s unique customer and their behaviors. More importantly, consumer insights told in a story inspire much greater action within a company.

Consumer insight is more than just traditional research. It’s a multi-dimensional view of customers derived from a strategic analysis of a variety of qualitative and quantitative data. It’s critical knowledge companies need to collect about their customers. Examples include demographic data, surveys and consultation, actual operational data, frontline staff feedback, formal and informal correspondence, customer feedback and more.

Consumer Insight’s 3 Key Elements

Companies typically turn to consumer insight in order to help them identify who their customers are or could be. However, it can also help answer a variety of so many other questions like “Why aren’t they buying?”, “How can I get them to buy again?”, “What do they think or feel after buying, before buying?”. Utilizing the three key elements of consumers insights: segmentation tools, data utilization, and customer engagement, consumer insights can help answer these questions and more.

Segmentation Tools are the commercial and/or internal tools used by a company to help its marketing team predict which customers are most likely to need its products or services.

Data utilization is the process of analyzing an existing customer database to identify which customers buy products or services, when they buy, and through which channels. Data utilization also helps businesses identify whether their customers prefer being contacted by email, direct mail, over the phone, or face-to-face.

Engagement is determined through the analyzing of data collected through consultation, customer journey mapping, customer satisfaction measurement, and other techniques and methods. The goal of engagement is to identify the customer’s core needs, their wants, expectations, and buying behavior in order to promote a repurchase of your product or service.

When properly performed, the three elements above create a perfect storm for consumer insights that provide a company with the information necessary for reaching several key outcomes, like the following:

  1. Increased customer satisfaction
  2. Reduced instances of avoidable contact
  3. Reduced costs in marketing
  4. More efficient match of need and provision

For years, the bulk of the work that was done by marketing and insight teams was to gather and analyze data. And, it was once believed that as long as you were able to run a leaner operation, make higher-quality products, and have broader distribution, your business could outlast the competition. The truth is, business just isn’t that simple anymore.

In today’s fast-changing landscape, more is needed in order to compete and succeed. A company needs to have customer centricity, which is a deep understanding of its customers’ needs that can only come from consumer insights, with the ultimate goal of fulfilling those needs better than anyone else. A company that can accomplish this typically knows how to translate data into customer-centric actions.

While consumer insights in itself is a powerful tool, in order to ensure that it can have the most positive impact, a company should work to ensure that every function and process along the way, from research to marketing activation, maintains a singular focus. This focus should be targeted to becoming more familiar with the company’s most profitable customer and that customers need in order to know how to properly invest the company’s time and resources.


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