Consumer Research: Ask the Right Questions of the Right People to Yield the Right Insights

08.28.18 / David Lemley

Analysis paralysis.

It’s an affliction that’s all too common among marketers in the Wellness and Food & Beverage spaces. We’ve come to recognize the symptoms:

  • An overabundance of customer data, period
  • Misunderstanding of what that data is really telling you
  • Data that sits idly in spreadsheets, inactive in decision-making processes
  • Reliance on historical data to drive future plans
  • Overconfidence that comes when data confirms what you already know

To make smart decisions that grow your brand, you need the right kind of data, gathered from the right people, analyzed in the right ways, and used to generate real insight.

Seek the Bad News

The biggest problem we see with consumer research is confirmation bias. When the data tells you that every assumption you have about who your customers are and why they buy is correct, you feel smart. Like you know what you’re doing.

Marketers either avoid doing deep research or frame survey questions (consciously or not) that lead to known answers. We get that research is nerve-wracking: There’s always a risk that the data might reveal bad news about customers’ perception of your brand.

But here’s the thing: You want the bad news. Bad news is insight. And you can do something with insight.

Usage & Attitude Study: Just a Starting Point

Most marketers do a half-hearted job of understanding their consumers and their preferences, relying on the usage & attitude (U&A) study, a common research tool. It reveals:

  • Who uses your product, when, and how
  • How and why customers choose your product
  • How many people use it, and how frequently

U&A studies are effective at measuring certain aspects of the brand, both quantitatively (what’s going on) and qualitatively (why it’s going on).

But as it’s typically gathered, U&A data doesn’t give you the full picture. It tells you who has bought your product in the past, and why — but it doesn’t help you identify unmet needs in a broader universe of potential customers. More dangerously, it can reinforce your existing strategic assumptions instead of digging deep to discover what else is possible. Backward-looking U&A data — what worked to get you where you are — won’t get you to the future of your brand.

Reach Beyond Your Universe

If your goal is to increase sales and grow audiences — and it should be! — then you need to design your U&A study to help you understand not just your current customers, but also your lapsed customers and non-customers.

Two things to address here: 1) the survey group and 2) the questions.

U&A studies are commonly conducted by email or online outreach to existing loyalists, so the data is flawed from the get-go. You need to reach outside your database, working with a smart research partner with access to the right lists.

Then, you need to frame questions to address these non-buyers. Why did some people buy your product and then stop? Why do non-customers buy from your competitors instead of you? Probe for psychographic and behavioral insights, too: What do consumers think and feel about each brand? How do other products fit into their lifestyle? What might you do to change their minds? Again, a qualified researcher can bring an impartial eye to the survey design.

Look Backward & Forward

To give you a sense of the potential problem: One of our new clients came to us with customer insights that showed they’re in the top six brands in their category. But Nielsen and other channel data indicates that they’re not even in the top 15 nationally. Why the disconnect? They surveyed their own loyalists, a die-hard group of regional customers. Asking the wrong questions of people who already love your brand will give you broken data. Data that reinforces your own bias, that won’t guide you to growth.

When our clients have either zero or flawed data, we bring pure research companies we partner with into the mix. These experts have written hundreds of surveys and know what questions to ask. Most important, they’re agnostic about what they’re going to uncover, even it if looks like bad news to the brand’s marketing team.

Done right, U&A studies capture both backward-looking information about your loyalists and future-gazing data about the segments and psychographics of a broader audience. Then, based on what we know about your fans, we can invite other people into the tribe. The right questions asked of the right people yield the right insights that actually matter to your business. Paralysis averted.

Ready to talk about your project?

Or give us a call at 206.285.6900