Consumer Insights

The success or failure of a brand hinges these days almost entirely on consumer perception. It’s never been more important for a business to understand its customers and its market. Our Consumer Insights can help.

Melanie Beck und Jean Boucsein are both directors at diffferent. In the following interview, they explain how Consumer Insights can solve their clients’ problems. They also discuss which methods they use, and how their work differs from that of a traditional market research institute.

Melanie and Jean, Consumer Insights is an important topic for diffferent. But you’re not a market research institute. Can you explain the difference?

What we do, in a nutshell, is to provide empirically-proven answers to strategic questions. Our clients are often in the process of making big decisions about the direction of their business and their brand. The task at hand could be developing a new consumer electronics brand, or optimising the consumer journey for a major retailer, or developing new services within the automotive sector. For these tasks, you need expertise not only in market research but also in strategy. Traditional market research institutes tend to focus on operational questions, such as “should the packaging be red or blue?”. We’re not much involved in that side of the business.

Another key difference – and one that our clients value dearly – is that we place great emphasis on using the results of our research. That’s why we’re constantly working on smart solutions to get maximum value from the budget our clients have invested in Consumer Insights research. We often run workshops that bring together many different departments of the client’s organisation. We also use infographics, and we’ve recently created a platform that we like to think of as a “Pinterest for Insights”. It’s often the case, unfortunately, that far too many of our client’s insights are in fact just assumptions. It’s getting harder and harder to filter out the junk and keep an overview of what’s really important.

How would you approach a new project?

Melanie: In the first instance, we help our clients to figure out what the relevant questions are. Often this isn’t entirely clear. The client’s questions are often very generic, e.g. “which areas of our customer journey have the most potential to deliver great experiences?”. So our task is to prioritise and to understand the customers’ needs and buying habits in great detail.

Jean: Exactly. Another typical question might be “which brand scenario, such as Endorsed Brand vs. Family Brand, will add the most value to our business when entering a new market?”. Here we need to consider the opportunities and risk assessment, as well as the business case.

Once we’ve defined the relevant questions, the second step is to figure out which methods we can use to answer them. It might be primary research, such as conducting extensive interviews with consumers in their homes. Or we might need to pull together some hard numbers with a quantitative study. Often, though, there are alternative approaches. Because most businesses have numerous data sources already available: CRM data, transaction records, customer support interactions. Another source of information, not to be underrated, are the employees themselves. We often run internal interviews and group discussions to tease out the relevant insights.

Melanie: From here, we put together a study design, which articulates the methods we need, the points at which secondary analysis is required, and also which data we will need to gather. We do almost everything ourselves, from drafting the study design through to conducting the research and compiling the results in all their various formats. The only thing we don’t have is a call centre in the basement.

Can you give us an example of your work from a real-life project?

Jean: We were recently approached by a major food brand that had exciting questions about content marketing. Since the hype around content marketing has died down a bit, we can now focus on the more substantial questions of implementation. So we took a closer look at the target audience and began to analyse online communication in various channels. We went much further than traditional social media. To gather Consumer Insights, we also analysed expert forums and interactions with the news media. The goal was to discover what really moves the target audience when it comes to food. What’s being discussed? What topics are controversial? We dissected online conversations using methods borrowed from Natural Language Processing. This gave us a clear picture of the theme clusters, which we then connected to our client’s strategic communication goals. For us, good content marketing is finding a conversation that really moves people and then contributing something to it.

Melanie: Another great project was the Consumer Decision Journey for IKEA, with which we were deeply involved. The main question was “How can we better understand and interpret the customer’s purchasing decisions?”. This project had a major qualitative component. We made contact with IKEA customers in all the main product departments. Over a period of several months, we shadowed these customers during the buying process and conducted numerous interviews. We also shadowed the customers in furniture stores, not only at IKEA but also at competing retailers. In the end, we were able to describe the purchasing process in very precise detail, all the way from the customer’s initial interest to their final purchasing decision. Based on these insights, we gave IKEA a set of clear recommendations on how to optimise their stores and communications.

Does all this happen internally, or do you work with external partners too?

On certain projects, and where the workload demands it, we work with external partners. We often work with so-called field institutes, who we engage for particular tasks, such as conducting 300 telephone interviews or organising a group discussion. When we need to do web crawling or social listening, we’ll often use a data-gathering provider who already has the technical infrastructure set up. Wherever possible, we try to make use of available knowledge. We often speak with industry observers and internal experts from our clients’ businesses. If the client has already conducted market research, this material is naturally very helpful to our work. And certain employees – in sales and marketing, for example – have had a lot of direct contact with the customers.

Qualitative or quantitative – what’s more important to your team?

In the Consumer Insights area, it’s a pretty even mix. We’ve got eight experts on our team, each of whom has a unique focus. We’ve got a traditional qual researcher, who’s involved in, among other things, lots of Co-Creation workshops. We’ve got an expert in online communities and innovation, as well as two colleagues who are heavily invested in ethnographic design research. And then we have our data scientists, who work with big data, web analytics and the like. As you would expect, our educational backgrounds are very diverse. We’re psychologists, economists and social scientists.

Jean: And that, by the way, is exactly where our advantage lies. We can offer our clients the exact combination of methods that makes sense for any given project. At the same time, we have a very strong background in strategy, and that’s ultimately what our clients value above all. We understand the language of market researchers on the business development side, and also that of creatives on the marketing side. That’s why our clients can implement our recommendations so efficiently. We don’t deliver 1000-page reports. Rather, we present our findings in clean, well structured and visually appealing documents. And if anyone wants to get stuck into the finer details, we can always make these available.