There is a quote reverberating across the consumer research industry. “The pace of change will never be this slow again.” It’s a neat description of what’s driving our sector right now.
Tech operations like ZAPPI and our own EXPRESS platform give access to consumer opinions, at a time when client budgets are under pressure. In addition to speed, we’re sticking our neck out by maintaining a level of human interpretation of the data. In our experience, insight rarely leaps off a dashboard. The search for deeper meaning usually requires the benefit of context, direct consumer experience and an intuitive disposition to uncover it.
This quest for deeper insight continues to get research professionals out of bed in the morning, but let me be frank, in the overall scheme of things, a research agency can often feel side-lined. While we enjoy strong relations within the insight community, the research sector often struggles to form strategic relations within the realms of senior management. I would like to see this change because I know many senior research directors would love to chew the fat and offer fresh thinking at the top table.
My driving force is that the world is a battle of ideas, and that research must strive towards creative techniques to ‘shake out’ potential opportunities from consumers’ daily lives. The research sector is ideally placed to help companies win with these ideas, but could do more to find its voice with senior directors, who can be forgiven for thinking we’re all about metrics, sample composition and action standards.
So, we recently introduced RETREATS – a high octane ‘event’ that springboards off seedling ideas to inform clients on the most compelling positioning, pack and product construction. It’s about getting all the stakeholders together – including target consumers – to solve the big innovation questions. Its short timeframe (typically 2 days) focuses minds and creates an energy that continues to power projects well after we have nailed the critical success factors.
Companies are using RETREATS to create products that are highly targeted, as well as those designed to maximise reach – but it’s the former that seems to be getting more airtime. Moreover, with categories fragmenting, the idea of targeting specific consumers is being replaced with specific needs on specific occasions. That’s why we also introduced MINDSETS – an approach that acknowledges that people are like chameleons. We change our colours depending on where we are, with whom, at what time, in what mood etc. Meeting exacting emotional and functional needs that are ‘razor sharp’ and define a specific occasion is increasingly where the money is. It’s how Fever Tree started after all.
For big ideas, we have one of our own. It is the realisation that brands can create deeper, more emotional relationships with consumers by understanding and acting upon the human senses. We passionately believe it’s a largely untapped resource for progressive marketers.
A sensory-led approach is about creating a stronger, more ownable sensory signature in a product, so that it stirs a specific emotional response. It’s about ensuring that an efficacy claim is felt and not just said. It’s about making sure that the brand, pack and product communications are optimised for System 1 decision making. More than any of these, it’s also about promoting more profound brand experiences.
Having spent most of my career leading insight on the client side of the fence, I can reassure you that the research sector has moved faster in the past couple of years than in the previous 10. This is a good thing. The growth in quick, effective, low cost tools is taking cost out of the innovation process where perhaps it has been over-engineered in the past. What’s important now is that companies use some of these savings to plough back into initiatives that have the immersive power to create the next kick-ass idea. By maintaining evaluative consumer connection at key junctures of an innovation journey, we can avoid nasty shocks down the line. Research budgets need to be targeted accordingly.
After all, it’s all about ideas that capture people’s imaginations, as well as their cash. Only creativity can do that.
Andrew Wardlaw is marketing director at MMR
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