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

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.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Improve Testing by Leaning on Brand Strategy

Keeping your packaging design relevant and effective in an ever-changing market can be daunting. With the pressure on, we continue to see our clients look to consumer testing to guide their next move, looking for quantifiable metrics to help guide the way. The downside is that the results you get from testing could give you false security, and even worse, push you in the wrong direction. Don’t worry, we have some tips to help you get the most out of the testing process.

Start with a validated brand strategy

Before you jump into testing, take a look at your brand strategy. Is your leadership team in alignment around your mission, with a rock-solid understanding of why you exist as a company and what you stand for? Do you have a vision for where the company needs to be in 12 months or two years? If not, you have some work to do. Testing creative without tying it back to strategy means you’re building a flawed testing environment built on instinct instead of data. When you start with strategy, you remove subjectivity from the decision-making process and you gain a tool that should be used to drive your design systems, product innovations, and inform your testing process.

With strategy in place giving you a clear diagnosis for where your brand should move next, and a new set of creative that will get you there, maybe you still feel that testing the new against the old will give you the extra push you need to take that brave leap into new territory. In that case, beware of certain risks—like a dynamically changing leadership team, or an outside ‘expert’ brought in to guide the testing process. They may come in thinking they know best, but if that expert authors the questionnaire that helps lead your existing creative to a win on paper, but doesn’t address all the failings uncovered during strategy, is that really a win? Trust your strategy, and let it guide your decisions.

Don’t only rely on consumer insights to inform your next move

Retail reality is nearly impossible to replicate. What consumers say in a testing environment will never fully reflect their behavior in the real world. They will always behave differently in a controlled environment than when they are out living their lives, naturally interacting with the brands they know and trust. And under observation, people will most often try to give you the right answer instead of the real answer—they will say what they think you want to hear.

A recent client of ours whose packaging was failing at retail experienced this kind of thing firsthand, after going through the strategy and design process with us. After presenting new creative that addressed all the pain points uncovered during strategy, they were still hesitant to abandon their existing packaging. They were too emotionally invested in the current designs and the beautiful product photography. So, they decided to test the current packaging against the new, and the current designs won by two-tenths of a point. That emotional validation might feel good, but where does that get you?

Understand testing for what it is—fire insurance

Testing is not a silver bullet, but it is a great form of fire insurance. If it is something you decide to invest in, make sure you do things in the right order. Know your vision and mission, have a clearly defined “why” for your business and a roadmap for where you want to be in the future. Use elements of your brand strategy to inform your testing stimuli so you are asking the right questions.

Ultimately, when testing is driven by strategy, you are creating a much more valuable testing ground. You have a clearer understanding of what you are testing against, and your test subjects can help you prioritize features and benefits instead of splitting hairs over the design itself. Supplement your test results with other forms of data and research, and you will start to see the way forward. Because in the end, even with that testing box checked, you will most likely still have to trust your gut—and won’t it feel better to trust your gut with strategy backing it up?

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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Use Research to Avoid Common Brand Strategy Pitfalls

We were thrilled to be interviewed by Kathy Ireland for Worldwide Business. She asked some great questions, and we shared how to use research to drive brand strategy so that your integrated marketing actually communicates to the right people for the right reasons.

Kathy Ireland: Welcome to Worldwide Business. I’m Kathy Ireland.

While most companies understand the importance of branding, they struggle with implementing all of the components that lead to success. Retail Voodoo helps their clients understand the power of branding and delivers a value-driven triple bottom line.

President David Lemley is here to tell us more. Welcome, David.

David Lemley: Thank you, Kathy.

Kathy Ireland: David, what are some of the traditional challenges companies face when it comes to design and brand strategy?

David Lemley: I think the biggest problem they face is really understanding the vocabulary. Many organizations push them together and consider them a single function. In reality, brand strategy is a set of diagnostics and insights that are used to create a language, and design is the creative translation of that language.

Kathy Ireland: How is Retail Voodoo helping these companies to re-define their message?

David Lemley: We’re helping them really connect with why they exist and what their purpose is.

Kathy Ireland: In this Worldwide Business field report, we take a closer look at Retail Voodoo and their brand strategy solutions.

Narrator: Many companies fall short of establishing an effective brand. This is often because they struggle to integrate their business strategy with their visuals, and they don’t know how to incorporate their research into a usable strategy.

Retail Voodoo helps values-focused triple bottom line companies make the world better by using disruptive brand strategy and category-defining design to make strong, sticky, and impactful brands.

Susan Strible (Ruffwear): Retail Voodoo was on our radar for a couple of years. We realized when we needed to redo our packaging, they were the obvious choice for us. They had such great alignment with Ruffwear’s values, that it was just a natural fit to work together. We really appreciate their focus on archetype branding, and we felt like with that understanding on their end, we could really do some magic together. I believe they were the best partner for us in the end.

Will Blount (Ruffwear): Early in the process when we brought the project to Retail Voodoo, David’s first comment was, “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to help with packaging.” As he went through the research and did some in-field studies, he quickly realized that we’d engineered the soul out of our packaging in an effort to create supply chain efficiency.

It was this observation that he brought back to us that was the “Aha” moment for us.

Diana Fryc: Most of our clients come to us for a few reasons. First of all, we’re a brand strategy firm and a graphic design firm second. Underneath that umbrella, we deliver brand strategy which is what the company stands for, how they’re going to move forward, we talk about innovation a little bit. Then we do the design deliverables. People usually engage with us when they’re looking at packaging systems, they need to reinvent themselves graphically.

Sometimes we’re involved with in-store marketing plans where we’re talking about designing an interior space, creating signage, connecting the consumer with a brand on a real-time basis in the store. Then we do some of the other things that you’d expect a firm like ours to do, like marketing plans and ongoing marketing collateral and deliverables.

Andrew Rubinstein: Retail Voodoo’s deliverables is everything from brand strategy to brand identity, in-store shopper experience, category audits, packaging systems, product portfolio alignment, and integrated marketing.

Our goal is to understand what the needs of our clients are first and foremost, try to prescribe the best strategy to move forward, and then through that continued relationship develop their whole identity, their look, and depending on who they are and what they need, complete this holistic package and hand it off to them.

Sharelle Klaus (Dry Soda): What I like about their approach is that they are fearless in what they ask you to do. They partner with you so they’re right by your side through the whole process. They’re very passionate partners as well.

Then what’s really amazing about that process is the amount of voices they bring to the table. From consumers to the different partners that we work with from buyers to vendors to our own team. Everybody has a voice in that and really is able to have an impact on the end result. For us, this whole rebranding has been an absolute success slam dunk!

Kathy Ireland: David, in your opinion, why is research so critical to developing an effective brand strategy?

David Lemley: Research takes it out of subjectivity. I really think the research helps you have a baseline for conversation. It really helps so that it’s no longer focused on the most outspoken personalities in the room and their taste. It really changes so that we understand how people think, what their need states are, and how we can connect our promises that we’re going to make into their lives and their needs.

Kathy Ireland: We all know that it’s important for companies to engage and connect with their customers. How does Retail Voodoo help clients do just that?

David Lemley: We’re helping them separate design-driven deliverables from a brand strategy. First, we help them set up their reason-to-be and understand what their people, their purpose, their planet, and their profit is going to be. We help them with things like portfolio category alignment and the language they’re going to use to talk to the world.

Then when we get into the creative translation, we do things where we will create immersive brand experiences that help people to slow down, understand what their need state is, and really help the company communicate with those people. We also do things like naming and all of the writing in order to help make sure that everything comes together and that it doesn’t sound like a marketer.

Will Blount (Ruffwear): One of the unexpected bonuses we’ve had with working with Retail Voodoo is we’ve really learned a lot about ourselves and really how our audience connects with us. We’ve been able to take all of this information that Retail Voodoo has given us, and we’ve begun implementing it in our overall branding strategies. I think it’s really made us a lot more approachable and friendly to our consumers. It’s really helped us to tell the more emotional, authentic side of who we are and why we do the things that we do.

Kathy Ireland: It looks like Retail Voodoo can really help companies transform their design and brand strategy. David, thank you so much for joining us today!

David Lemley: Thank you, Kathy.

Kathy Ireland: Thank you. For Worldwide Business, I’m Kathy Ireland. Thank you for watching.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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From Data to Insight: Measuring the Warmth of a Smile

As a brand owner, it’s no secret you’ve been entrusted with your company’s most valuable asset: your brand. Data plays a significant role in your drive to understand your most valued customer, what they care about, and how to convert them into loyal fans. It’s also no secret that data alone does not equal knowledge, and data is only valuable if it can be translated into measurable and actionable insights. We seek the kind of insights that give you a chill knowing you just found the proverbial needle in the haystack. Revealing a key insight is hard and requires substantial empathy. Chris Hart put it best when he said, “All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile.”

We can think of data as a recipe. Anyone can put ingredients together and cook a meal. However, only a chef that can create an original recipe, tell you where to get the right ingredients and tools, or know how to modify a recipe based off their experience, even how to garnish and plate it. Not everyone can do that – it takes a lot of experience and a bit of magic. This is the same with data. All that information doesn’t make sense unless you know what you need, what you’re looking for, where to find it, and have the expertise to identify it.

The Shiny and New Data

We’ve seen plenty of marketing experts choose the color blue because it was on trend. Alright, that’s a bit of an over-simplification, but let’s look at Sears as an example. They are brand that has been around for years and is trusted by blue collar, suburban families to help them live the American dream by selling trusted durable brands at a fair price. Did you know that at one point, someone in the organization decided that they should sell luxury handbags on their website? Yes, that’s right – they were selling Gucci, Prada and other designer labels. Why would they do this? Well, because at the time, luxury brand sales were surging and Sears was desperate to regain their brand strength. Without looking at the data that supported their core audience and what was important to them, they chose to look at other data that was “shiny and new.” As a result, they further alienated this core audience, and were unable to woo the customer they thought they could attract.

Measuring the Warmth of a Smile

So, here’s the rub: Data is processed through a highly-contextualized lens by the person looking at it. Using the same data-set, different people can come to different conclusions based on shared history, context or other predispositions – just like our Sears example. Revealing and measuring the “warmth of a smile” is where the art and the science of interpretation becomes critical.

We start with the basic premise that true, game-changing interpretation of data often only reveals itself by going deep (as opposed to wide). It’s not because we don’t also cast a wide net, it’s because the Retail Voodoo way requires that the data either be insightful and useful in our quest to help our client’s transformation, or it’s fire insurance. Founder David Lemley often says, “We have climbed off hundreds of mountains of data in the food, beverage, wellness and outdoor fitness worlds. This has helped us see our role as detective and translator using a sixth sense about what will provide meaningful insight to our client’s particular challenge.”

Turning Raw Data into Insight

Raw data comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes and sources. Parsing through it to find the magic can be daunting, so we start by asking the following questions:

  1. What problems are we trying to answer?
  2. What are the best research tools for answering these questions?
  3. How will answers to these questions further our client’s stated goals and success metrics?
  4. What is the cultural context that our client’s brand lives within?
  5. How can we leverage data to create meaningful consumer connections?
  6. Who is translating your data
  7. What is your data telling you?

Once you dig deep to answer these questions, you’ll understand the magic of extracting insights from data. You’ll find meaningfully different information that will drive concrete financial and cultural results for your brand.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana