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Seeking Growth in the World of Conscientious Consumers

Millennials embrace brands that promise something bigger than product: environmental sustainability, fair trade and employment, transparent practices, whole ingredients. You might think that this “conscientious consumerism” is a new-ish thing, born into fashion with this generation.

But it’s not. It’s decades old. And it has different flavors, with different implications for your brand.

The Birth of Conscious Consumerism

First, let’s differentiate the words ‘conscious’ and ‘conscientious.’ Conscious consumerism arose among young people in the 1950s and 60s in response to the industrialization of Big Agriculture. Teens and young adults were highly concerned about pesticides, animal welfare, and what industrially produced food was doing to their bodies and the planet. They were the readers of J.I. Rodale and Rachel Carson and the acolytes of Euell Gibbons. They were hippies before hippies became a defined group.

Conscious consumers were the founders of the naturals movement, establishing the first natural food co-op stores, embracing yogurt and whole grains, avoiding animal products, and growing their own food. Broadly speaking, they operated outside popular culture, becoming metaphorical off-the-grid people.

Over time, the conscious consumer movement evolved to encompass other ethical issues like fair trade and fair wages. Conscious consumers hold the brands they buy to the highest standards. They’re vegan, they wear non-leather shoes, they embrace B-Corp brands.

Fast Forward to Conscientious Consumerism

The conscious consumers’ kids are Gen Xers and Millennials. And while they share their parents’ preference for brands that are clean, sustainable, fair, and ethical, their beliefs are less strident. They’ve tweaked the definition of conscious consumerism to make room for modern life and creature comforts. They demand choices, not rules. They don’t want to stand culturally apart; they fly the flags of brands whose values sync with their own. They’re not willing to suffer for the cause. They wear their Toms shoes as they climb into their SUVs.

The Intersection of Conscious and Conscientious

Conscious consumers remain on the fringes of the natural marketplace as an outspoken minority group representing less than 10% of the market. Meanwhile, more than 50% of American consumers identify themselves as conscientious consumers — preferring brands that take a stand for something more than just a product, but less freaked out by the threat of Big Ag than their parents were.

Legacy better-for-you brands grew up right alongside those conscious consumers. And yet the market opportunity lies in that larger 50% segment of conscientious consumers who want clean, fair, whole products but aren’t die-hard, hemp-wearing, electric car drivers.

In order to expand your brand into this broader audience, you need to understand the psychology and behavior of the conscious consumer. They’re opinionated, passionate, and vocal, so brands fear alienating their core customer base in search of new fans. They’re also fickle, always chasing the fairest-trade-cleanest-greenest-most-exclusive product. Ironically, they’re the most likely to be the anonymous haters bashing you on social media — while still buying your product, because that’s what they’ve always done.

The key is to identify the boundary between your most radical customers and a broader audience whose values also align with yours in a less radical way. Don’t fear your core audience but instead start talking to the rest of the world to bring more people into the club.

Our client Hilary’s Eat Well was in this challenging position when they came to us. Hilary’s is a badge brand for vegans. The company saw opportunity to grow its audience with new products that expand its mission to improve the American diet and to support grain farmers. Brand leaders feared their longtime vegan customers would beat them up if they added non-vegan products, so we coached them to change messaging. We touted the brand’s allergen-free culinary ingredients and focused on the story of the brand’s commitment to healthy eating and family farming. With the new positioning, Hilary’s didn’t lose much of their core audience but won new fans and market share.

Every brand in the naturals category has a subset of passionate fans, people who found you on the shelf in your very earliest days and who love your product and what you stand for. But they’re a fixed asset. Growth comes from creating a larger tent.

Expanding the Audience for a Better-for-You Brand

To move your BFY brand forward, you have to leverage the passion of your most devoted fans, even knowing that they’ll be disappointed. How? Four keys:

  • Enroll them in helping the brand stay on mission — invite their feedback and let them know they’re an important part of what you do.
  • Enlist their help in doing right in the world — create ways for them to partner with you.
  • Evangelize what your brand stands for — encourage them to talk about your shared values.
  • Emphasize the brand’s mission — center your marketing and promotion not on price, features, and benefits, but on what you stand for.

We live in a consumer society, and today, consumption is far more than a simple economic action: It has socio-cultural and psychological implications. Once you extend a welcoming hand to the conscientious consumers, you’ll find them to be fiercely loyal, even more so than the older, more ideological conscious consumers.

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.

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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.

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Taking Your Packaged Goods East: How to Achieve Success in the Chinese Market

With the ever-shifting marketplace of consumer packaged goods, more and more brands are looking to take their products to a different market on the east side. And no, we don’t just mean on the east side of town but the Eastern hemisphere — namely China. There is a booming market for strategically designed packaged goods across a variety of industries, mainly food and beverage, household goods, and of course beauty products.

In order to be successful overseas, it is important to know the key drivers of purchase intent for Chinese consumers — what they are looking for in their packaging, and inversely, what would make them walk away from your product on shelf.

How and Why the Chinese Shop

The first step in understanding how to design or market your product and brand to succeed in China is to understand their consumption habits. One of the key purchase drivers for the Chinese consumer is social recognition. They shop to be seen more than they shop for necessity. Given this fact, a brand’s ability to be connected and shared on WeChat (which is the Chinese’s version of Facebook but with a lot more features) is paramount to success on and off shelf. Because they are shopping for what will look ‘coolest’ to their friends, the Chinese have become extremely emotional shoppers, like Americans but even more so. Therefore any sort of marketing campaign that leans heavily on occasional uses (like Dove’s campaign targeting Chinese consumers that played on the concept of chocolate indulgence) has the potential to be very successful in this arena.

Another factor to keep in mind is that foreign brands are regarded as premium goods in China. The unique look of American package designs automatically signals quality without having to modify many more elements than language. Take this Nabisco packaging for example. Its simplicity and bright, prominent colors are foreign to those familiar with traditionally cluttered snack packaging that is more common from Chinese-owned brands (on the right). Therefore, without too much change to their existing design language, American brands already have a leg up on the local competition.

Because of this, American brands should absolutely market to a younger generation. According to a McKinsey & Company article, those born before 1985 in China mainly used the Internet for work. Those born after 1985, referred to as the Generation-2 (G2) consumer, are the first real generation to use the Internet for every aspect of their lives, and do so for everything they purchase.

Cultural Considerations in Symbols and Color

Since we just learned that when taking an existing brand overseas, the main element you need to focus on is the language, it is important to mention that this process involves more than just using a translator to change it from English to Mandarin. Symbols, words, and numbers have different connotations in Western vs. Eastern culture. For instance, in the Chinese language, the verbal English of the numerical “eight” sounds very similar to the word meaning “make a fortune.” As a result, Chinese people often try to make connections with the number eight whereas, in western cultures, the number seven is viewed as a symbol for good luck.

Color is another interesting factor to keep in mind since color theory and meaning are very different between American and Chinese cultures. For instance, the color red in Western culture produces a viscerally negative emotional reaction. However in Asian cultures, red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness. The color white also presents an interesting split in meaning. In the US white is often a color used to symbolize newness, cleanliness, and happiness whereas, in China, white is the color most often worn at funerals and is a symbol of death and mourning.

Overall Packaging Considerations

A dichotomy exists within the Chinese consumer where they want their packages to be bespoke and unique in order for them to stand out in the crowd, but packaging must not be wasteful in their form factor. Starting with the first aspect of this separation, studies have shown that younger shoppers are more often shopping the periphery of Chinese stores. Mintel noted how the use of transparent materials, contemporary design, recyclability, or unique shapes can help draw in younger consumers to the store center. In general, packages with more puzzling form factors or multiple elements that make “unboxing” a longer and more exciting experience are highly valued.

Despite this desire though, China was the first country to pass an ‘Excessive Packaging Law’ in 2011 that prohibited companies from using environmentally dangerous and excessive retail packaging elements. The key rules put in place from this law are:

  • Packaging layers are limited to three.
  • The permitted headspace (void-space) volume is restricted.
  • A maximum ratio is specified between the cost of the packaging and the retail product price.

Therefore, the challenge for American brands is to do more with less in both form factor and differentiation.

Overall, whether your brand’s first application will be viewed in the Chinese market or you are a traditional American brand that is toying with the idea of bringing your product overseas, there are many factors to keep in mind. Social engagement, emotional ties, cross-cultural symbols, proper color use, and unique but not excessive packaging forms are all very important to make that transition a successful one.

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.

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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.

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The Role of Brand Strategy in Innovation

The Role of Brand Strategy in Innovation from Retail Voodoo on Vimeo.

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.

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How and Why You Should Target Generation Z Through Branding

Predicting market trends and anticipating consumer shifts can make or break your company. However, we’re so often hyper-focused on what’s happening right in front of us, we forget to look ahead. Don’t let Gen Z sneak up on you – arm yourself early with data and resources to engage this consumer base effectively and powerfully.

You might not have the time or the resources to fully understand how this up-and-coming generation will affect your brand, so we’ve done the work for you.

Who is Gen Z?

Remember when Millennials overtook Generation X? Well, it’s about to happen again – but this time with Generation Z. Born between the years 1997 and 2015, this group currently makes up 26 percent of the population. Undeniably, marketers need to pay attention to this demographic before it’s too late.

Massive Buying Power

Although they’re young now, Gen Zers already have a combined buying power of $44 billion in the United States. If that wasn’t enough, they also influence $600 billion of family spending and by 2020, they’ll own 40 percent of consumer spending.

Digital Natives

Often referred to as “Digital Natives,” individuals in Gen Z cannot remember a time without Internet. Given this, they spend the majority of their free time online. According to Mediakix, with an eight second attention span, they value speed and ease-of-use.

Their media consumption behaviors differ from previous generations as well. Approximately 85 percent watch anywhere between two and four hours of YouTube per day. They prefer brands communicate with them there as opposed to anywhere else (like television or direct mail). On average, they use five screens – a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and an iPad. That’s a lot of different screens communicating a lot of different messages.

Social Still Rules

Social media heavily impacts the way Gen Zers interact with one another and the way they view themselves. Because everything is so public and visible, personal appearances weigh heavy in their minds. Their parents – mostly Gen Xers – did not grow up with the same technology, so when it became available to them, they went all-in with snapping photos and sharing them with the whole world. Because, why not? Well, now we have an entire generation where their whole lives have been documented online. This is their “normal.”

Desire for Privacy

Since Gen Zers are accustomed to their whole lives being broadcast to the public, they crave privacy. More and more Gen Zers are setting up private social media accounts and being careful about what they post online. While Millennials like to share every experience and every thought with the online world, Gen Zers tend to share things among smaller, more intimate groups of people.

The “Instagram Effect”

The pressures presented by social media are encouraging Gen Zers to spend less on products and more on leisure services, such as vacations, dining out, and going out. This is what we call the “Instagram Effect.” Showing the awesome, cool, aspirational life they’re living draws more attention and satisfaction than just showing the latest, greatest product. Brand-name recognition holds far less credibility – in fact, many Gen Zers are extremely critical and less trusting of brands.

Money-Cautious

The older Gen Zers watched their families and older siblings suffer financially during the Great Recession. They see Millennials with thousands of dollars in debt and their parents’ businesses scrambling to get back on their feet. Although Gen Zers don’t have their own revenue stream yet, they have still felt the impact of financial crisis. This makes them far more cautious about spending money. They view college more as a time to hit the ground running to prepare for their career rather than a relaxing time of self-discovery.

What does this mean for my brand?

Brands can evolve to reach this new generation of consumers by following these steps:

Cater to Their Unique Shopping Habits

Gen Z individuals are twice as likely to shop on mobile devices – increasing the need for responsive websites and easy-to-navigate apps. Offering mobile-friendly shopping experiences and digestible product education is key. Convenience and visibility are critical here. If your site is too slow to load or difficult to traverse, Gen Zers will abandon ship quickly. More often than not, this generation will see your brand online before they see it on shelf.

This generation searches for information on their own, so proactive marketing will be most effective. Too impatient to wait for it to come to them, Gen Zers seek out to self-educate. They have a do-it-yourself, entrepreneurial mentality from being told “no” time after time during the Recession. They like to take things into their own hands.

Just as they look to their peers and influencers for recommendations on purchase decisions, they also love sharing their own knowledge online. This generation seeks out collaborative engagement and trusts peer recommendations before anything else. Influencing peers and sharing “insider” information on social media gives Gen Zers credibility among their followers. Brands need to give this consumer base easy ways to share this information digitally.

Since this generation lives with almost anything at their fingertips, they demand convenience. With the click of a button, they can have food delivered right to their door from their favorite restaurant in no time. Thousands of movies and television shows exist just beyond the tap of a screen. One-click smart shopping is a must.

Above all, Gen Zers demand speed. As they’ve grown up with quick load times and lightning fast streaming, they have very low tolerance for anything slow. Lagging apps or difficult-to-navigate websites will be the kiss of death for some brands. If a page takes too long to load, 60 percent of this generation won’t use it and will quickly move onto the next.

Put Values First

Gen Zers see themselves as do-gooders. As the most diverse generation, they believe people can coexist in society and want to make the world a more equal and fair place for all.

They’ve grown up seeing the Wall Street protests – rebellion against the establishment is practically in their DNA. They’re label-wary and challenge common “norms” like gender identity. Instead of relying on labels to define their personal identity, they actively craft their own personal brand through shared values.

This generation cares about transparency. They want to know how their beauty products are tested, who made the food they’re about to consume, etc. They will boycott a brand if the owner’s beliefs oppose their own or they don’t treat their employees fairly. Their money-conscious mentality makes them much more thoughtful about every purchase. If they’re spending their hard-earned money, they want to know exactly where it’s going.

With endless information always at their fingertips, anyone can be an “investigator” – looking for the truth behind veils of secrecy so prevalent in corporate America. When brands break their trust, they don’t forget that. Ethical and transparent brands that tell their story will resonate strongly with this generation.

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

The Millennials paved the way for Internet-based innovation. As Gen Zers have grown up with innovation after innovation, they now expect it.

That being said, they’re far less impressed and excited by technological innovation. They crave something more – experience. In-store virtual and augmented reality shopping experiences will define the customer experience in the next few years. This experiential, interactive technology physically connects this generation to brands – therefore building a much stronger bond.

It’s important for brands to offer value beyond the product offering itself. In other words, brands must offer a lifestyle. These price-conscious consumers want to spend on experience, rather than material.

Although this generation has yet to gain their own revenue streams, we can already confidently identify certain characteristics based on behaviors, culture, and history. This generation craves security (in every sense of the word), convenience, innovation, and brands they can connect with on an emotional level. The Recession made them cautious with their spending, but they’ll become brand-loyal when they’re offered what they crave. Educating customers on the value beyond the product itself and providing meaningful experiences will tap into this generation’s massive buying power.

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.

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We Think Consumers Shouldn’t Be Your Innovators – Here’s Why

There are few things as frustrating as having a research- and consumer-validated innovation flop once it hits shelves. You’ve spent a huge chunk of change on surveys and focus groups proving your new product will win at retail, so what went wrong? If you go back to where you started – with consumer-based innovation – you’ll find your answer. Consumers are important to the innovation channel, don’t get us wrong. But if you’re looking for seismic, category-defining innovation, you need to look beyond your customers.

In an era of focus group frenzy and online surveys intended to measure purchase intent, Retail Voodoo offers a contrarian view.

Consumers Don’t Know How to Innovate

If you ask a customer what they want, they’ll tell you one of two things: it should be cheaper or it should be quicker. They just want the same thing for less money and faster. Your current audience cannot tell you what your future audience wants. It’s just not possible.

Truly innovative products – like the iPhone or Tesla – fail consumer testing or never even go through consumer testing. Steve Jobs did not test the iPhone because consumers in focus group settings and online surveys tend to lack imagination. Someone who has never seen an iPhone could most likely not tell you they wanted a hand-held device that could make calls, surf the web, navigate the world, and record video. They certainly could not have told you this product would take off in such an explosive manner. Apple changed the trajectory of human communication forever. Elon Musk did not conduct consumer testing for Tesla because he had a radical vision he knew in his gut would succeed. As a result, he revolutionized a conventional category – transportation vehicles and energy – and now Tesla owns the tech world.

Consumers Only Tell You What They Think You Want to Hear

The reason focus groups and surveys fail is because consumers will also tell you what they think you want to hear. They say what they think they need to say to be liked. They’ll say they exercise four to five times a week when in reality, they hardly work out once a week. They think “that’s what I want to be doing, so I should say that’s what I do.” Statistically, the majority of men add an inch to their height on their drivers’ licenses. It makes them feel better. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all done something like this.

It’s a strange notion, isn’t it? How can you possibly give consumers what they want or need if you don’t ask them?

Customer feedback can often guide entrepreneurs, product developers, designers and marketers towards problems, but feedback should not be used to dictate the solution.

Design for the Consumers You Want, Not Just the Ones You Have

Let’s take Alden’s Ice Cream, for example. Before our work with them went to shelf, they spent a large amount on money focus group testing different packaging. When we saw the design that won, we asked their team to go back and examine their data. They found the “winning” design had not won by enough votes to be statistically significant. If that wasn’t enough proof, they also only talked to current customers when conducting this research. These consumers already had loyalty to the current packaging, hence why they leaned toward a design that felt more familiar. However, we pointed out that through a frosted, freezer section window, the chosen design would be illegible. After developing a comprehensive brand strategy using this insight, we introduced a new design, and Alden’s saw 45 percent growth in just one year.

Now, don’t get us wrong – surveys and focus groups are good for continuity and making sure you don’t alienate your loyal customers. This works well when you take a single design and test different features like certification, and benefits messaging. Consumer testing is a tool to use, for sure. But it’s the least accurate tool. For truly revolutionary innovation that disrupts your category, you must dive deeper.

Learn to Make Mistakes Quickly

Instead of focus groups and surveys, we use our network of humans and expertise as the lab to play in. We take the pulse of the internal collective of the company, using trusted stakeholders to prove our data-based theories. We encourage clients to make mistakes quickly, step by step, until they get it right. Bruce Mau’s incomplete manifesto for growth explains that the process is more important than the outcome and in order to see growth, “good” needs to be thrown out the door. The right answers live within the wrong answers and solutions exist within accidents.

Brands need to listen to what the data whispers. For our food and beverage brand strategy clients, we use trend analysis to flavor forecast. We look at what chefs are doing, have people do taste tests, and conduct extensive research. In the case of DRY, we suggested unique flavor offerings to their product portfolio and saw massive growth within their targeted foodie niche. This is also why sampling is such a better format for testing theoretical situations. Consumers gave real-time feedback on “out there” flavors produced in small batches, so that the brand could know if it was worth creating larger batches of that flavor. But if the flavor flopped, that was fine – for the cost of one batch of product, the brand learned invaluable insight. Brands need to learn mistakes quickly – if they have an idea, they need to test it rather than ponder it.

Ultimately, you can have all of the data in the world. But if you don’t understand how to turn that data into insight or how to listen to your gut instinct, you will be wasting time and money.

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.

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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.

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