Our take on research right now

This is certainly a unique time for Americans as we see bold steps being taken on a broad scale to curtail the spread of this virus. I have come to appreciate the prudent steps being taken and the unity that has emerged from people joining together to solve a shared problem.

Our Leadership Team at REAL Insight has been talking regularly and tracking the progress to better understand the potential risks of in-person projects as well as what research should be conducted in this environment. After all, we are big believers of context: both physical environment and mindset are both behavioral drivers.

REAL Insight has conducted technology-enabled mobile and online immersive research for over 7 years, spanning over 100 projects, in both domestic and international markets. If a remote testing option is the right fit, here is where and how we can help:

Foundational exploration into attitudes and behaviors?REAL Immersion: Moderated online/mobile study with video/photo/written response activities
Exploratory package design or creative development?REAL Iteration: An online multi-phase creative development process with the same group of consumers
Agile/Rapid Feedback on just about anything?REAL Agility Toolkit: A scrappy, not crappy REAL Immersion
At-shelf performance of concept product or packaging?Remote REAL Optimization: Mobile missions to shop specific store/category where prototypes are cut into the shelf
Keep a pulse on your foothold during this uncertain time?REAL Year: In-depth, small-scale virtual community available for bi-weekly or monthly touchpoints/activities over a 6-12 month period
Consumer or shopper journey mapping?REAL Immersion: Moderated online/mobile study with video/photo/written response activities

At REAL Insight, we feel our team, client, and participant safety is most important, which means limiting travel and in-person research for the short term. The good news is we have options and are here to help you think through these upcoming projects. Our commitment to you is to give our honest viewpoint about your current questions and if and how those are best addressed over the next few weeks.

Alienation: Subconscious Style

Behavioral Economics is HOT right now.

The industry is gaining appreciation for the inconsistencies between self-reported and actual behavior, which we at REAL Insight are obvious fans of. As a team, we spend thousands of hours in stores each year observing how these behaviors differ across shoppers. One specific area we have come to better understand is “subconscious alienation” and how it relates to package redesigns that impact structure and primary coloring.

A habituated shopper can enter a category they shop every week, scan the shelf for their typical item, and never notice a new package containing their product. Without even recognizing it, they have deselected the new packaging. This is what we mean by subconscious alienation.

Subconscious alienation, I would argue, is much more dangerous than conscious alienation because few consumers are so invested in a particular brand or package that they would consciously say, “no,” to it based on aesthetic. There are far more people who have acceptable alternatives in a given category; if they don’t see you, they will move on to the next option.

There is really only one way to test packaging for subconscious alienation. It is in a real store with real shoppers because authentic mindsets are just as important as authentic environments. We have directional and validational solutions to help you gain this critical learning. Let us show you how it’s done!

30 Years and Counting

Jim Cahill (we call him “The Founder”) discovered the importance of genuine engagement shortly after starting this company 30 years ago. He noticed there is something different about seeing how people behave in an environment and then speaking with them, for even a few minutes, rather than at a scheduled time in a research facility. At the time, very few companies understood or appreciated his approach, but he stuck with his convictions. 

He never made much money in the early days, but decades later, we continue to utilize similar methodologies in an evolved industry environment where companies and clients have a true appreciation for this authenticity.

‘Tis the Season to Reflect

This is the time of year when reflection is easy.

And this year, it is fun as well! REAL Insight enjoyed a good year full of successful projects, and some of our other developments truly made it great! Here are a few of the highlights:


We experienced a baby boom!

Five little researchers have joined the team. We can’t wait for their girl powers to take the world by storm.

Our team grew by three!

Morgan, Claire, and Carrie have joined us in the fun. Our team is as diverse in talents as we have always been, yet more cohesive than ever. We’ve had a great time executing projects together and providing grateful brand teams with actionable insights.

We continued to leverage our First Moment of Truth proprietary approaches.

Using our System 1 methodologies, we have uncovered some truly fascinating, unexpected, and critical insights.

We have refined our in-store quantitative methodology.

We put this validation methodology to work on several high profile projects which added huge value to teams facing challenging and significant business decisions.

We have built turn-key relationships in five new markets.

Hello Seattle, Denver, New York, Des Moines, and Kansas City!


We thank all of our clients this year for the trust you place in us, the fun you have had with us, and your commitment to executing research in real environments with real people to gain authentic insights.


Happy New Year from REAL Insight!

The start of a new year is always exciting!

A fresh beginning. Full of anticipation. It helps to be coming off of a strong end to 2017 and kicking off the new year with a busy January.

We are kicking off a fun year with a fresh environment: a newly renovated office! Our space now has more spots for collaboration (and more spots to escape from collaboration).

Continuity and closeness have always been appreciated and prioritized by our team and open-office layout.  However, as many recent articles suggest, sometimes you need to get away and get some work done. As with most things in life, the ideal set-up is creating a balance of both: so we did!

In other news…

Our Reno911 and In-O-v8 teams have been hard at work! We’ll keep you up-to-date with these new developments in coming newsletters and blog posts. Because of their efforts, we will be:
  • going live with a new project management system to help us groove even more smoothly
  • growing our list of turn-key retailer options
  • vetting a new quick-turn around video solution
  • working on a few other things we will announce as our dreams become reality!
 I am grateful to the team, our client partners, and our supplier partners for a good 2017. As we move into 2018, I look forward to an even better year ahead and am excited to see where it takes us. Happy New Year!


It’s Patio Season!

In Minnesota, there are 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and patio season. As soon as the snow melts (May 5th this year), we clamber outside with alacrity to make the most of those few months where you don’t need to keep a snow shovel in your trunk.

Ingredients for an ideal patio happy hour:

  1. Delicious eats and a tantalizing drink list
  2. Not being subject to clouds of exhaust permeating the atmosphere or saturating the libations.
  3. Some like it hot. Others have skin fair as the Minnesota snow. Sun and shade dual options foster a comfortable environment for all.
  4. Big tables because hey, we like each other (and want to sit with each other).
  5. Good people enjoying the company of one another

As a team, we enjoy a fun patio happy hour as much as anyone. Situated in the NE neighborhoods of Minneapolis, the toughest question we face on this issue is which awesome spot should we visit this time? While you really can’t go wrong (especially if you incorporate our 5 ideal ingredients), here are a few REAL recommendations:

Bauhaus: Rain or shine, this covered gem is conveniently located across the parking lot from our office. Play some bags, drink some beer, eat from a food truck, and take in a scenic freight train or two.

Eli’s: Tucked back off Hennepin, Eli’s is a favorite lunch spot due to its varied menu and sunny tables. Always check the specials list.

Able: Can you be a seedhouse and a brewery and have an amazing patio all at the same time? Only if you are Able.

Stanley’s: One of the spots most capable of seating our growing team outside, Stanley’s offers a variety of eats and drinks that keeps everyone happy.

Masu: A popular spot on fielding Fridays when the office crew is smaller, Masu’s fresh Japanese fare is the perfect food to feast on when the forecast is fiery.

Fair State: Tucked behind the brewery, the Fair State patio is a hidden respite from Central Avenue that provides the sun and shade we’re always seeking. We dare you to try the Roselle and not become a sour convert.

Tattersall: Words cannot describe the cocktails available at Tattersall. They have a nice patio outside for the warmer weather, but we almost prefer the cocktail room inside with its cozy club chairs. It’s worth it to visit, rain or shine!

Spotlight On: The RENO Team

With the mission of renovating our current methodologies and internal practices to reach their fullest potential, our Renovation Team (affectionately termed the RENO911 team) is always on the lookout for additional tools that can complement our in-context focus.

RENO Team (L-R): Emma Connolly, Quinten McGruder, Tyler McGruder, Adam Kneeland

One of these exciting new add-ons is eye tracking. Our moderators remain the best in the business with regard to eliciting honest and insightful feedback from respondents. However, for shopper insights in particular, subconscious thoughts and behaviors are harder to get at because shoppers rarely think about how they shop; consumers may say they have not seen certain signage, but their eyes may tell a different story. Now, with the eye tracking capabilities made possible through a partnership with Tobii, we are able to obtain a tangible read on exactly what respondents see and focus in on.


While this technology is not new to the industry, the trade-offs presented by available devices have, thus far, not been a worthy additional to our methodology arsenal. Only now, with the right technology and right partner, has eye tracking shown to have the capability to be an appropriate add-on to our solutions. Paired with our in-store methodologies, eye tracking can be a great addition, especially to studies focusing on packaging and signage. This way of seeing through the eyes of the respondents gives definitive backing to insights and a measurable method of analysis. Like Project Director Quinten McGruder says, “It’s a natural extension of our existing methods.”

In addition to researching and developing our eye tracking offering, RENO911 has also looked into other new and innovative additions to the field, such as text analytics, and has been devoting time to building relationships with retailers across the country. REAL Insight was born when founder Jim Cahill walked into a Cub Foods and asked to conduct research there. “We’ve been building on Jim’s legacy of maintaining good store relationships,” says Emma Connolly, Associate Project Director. These ongoing connections are imperative to the in-context research in which we excel and, therefore, we prioritize their maintenance and growth. RENO911 keeps our skills, practices, and methods sharp and current. Where will they lead us next?

Follow us on LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our future innovative endeavors!

Small Business

In a land where bigger is generally equated to better, we at REAL Insight dare to take an alternate perspective: Innovative is better. Flexible is better. Faster is better. Affordable is better. Personable is better. These qualities are all part of the value-added offerings our small business brings to the table.

With 12 full time employees and an extended team of about 20, we embrace our small business status, but also challenge the title—we are small in size, but not in capability or impact. We are undaunted by large projects or tight timelines. Customization isn’t a dirty word; we prefer it. We do not shy away from hard-to-find consumers or needed nuance. We enjoy keeping current on innovation, both human and technological, and have a repertoire of tools, ideas, and methodologies that stand up to any task. We are ready to pivot as projects develop and inevitable obstacles crop up. We also enjoy being able to fit the whole team at a restaurant table to celebrate birthdays, sunny days, or happy hour 🙂

This week we celebrate all those businesses that are fast and flexible, innovative and imaginative, creative and capable, and also have small employee numbers. Happy Small Business Week!

Spring into Action

Spring in Minneapolis is quite the spectacle. Sounds such as birds chirping and creeks babbling return to the daily soundtrack; Target Field begins its thaw from the cold as opening day approaches; a collective sigh is heard as winter jackets are packed back in closets and snow boots are tucked away in favor of galoshes or, for some brave souls, sandals. And with spring, comes the green.

Here at REAL Insight, we have a particular preference for the color green and find spring to be a wonderful time to celebrate those warm feelings. With Earth Day on its way, our internal green team teamed up with our volunteer team to celebrate the planet and show our support for the continued “greening” of our community and world.

Earth Day is a great reason to think both globally and locally: what can be done in our neighborhoods, and how can we fit in with the bigger picture? To address both of these perspectives, we decided on supporting both a global initiative and a local need:


One Tree Planted is a non-profit organization focused on planting trees throughout the world. For every dollar donated, they plant a tree in one of their six global locations, selected based on the needs for reforestation in those regions. We decided to start a collection for One Tree Planted in the office and offered to have our volunteer/green team match all donations, which resulted in REAL Insight planting 100 trees throughout the world!

Locally, we decided to make a donation to support Arbor Day efforts and plant trees here in our fair city through giving to People for Parks, a local non-profit with the goal of enhancing and promoting Minneapolis parks. Giving back to the city that gives us so much is an important goal of out volunteer team and green team.

April showers bring May flowers, and nurture trees throughout our backyards and the world. Happy Earth Day and Happy Arbor Day from all of us!

-Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

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Our Year in Review

December is a good time to reflect on the year that has passed and to look ahead to the coming year.  Research projects tend to slow down over the holidays as our focus shifts to family (with a hint of accounting).  However, our December has been pretty packed this year and with a busy January on the horizon, we must take a step back to examine what we have learned and how we have grown throughout the past year.

2015 has been an interesting year.  Big brands are being challenged, and companies began reorganizing, merging, and trimming as a result.  As these companies adjusted to their leaner and meaner selves, we found ourselves dealing with some larger and longer lulls than normal. However, as these companies emerged in their new forms, they’ve shown themselves committed to evolving and rethinking their processes and allowing themselves to react and develop new ideas. Our initial calm start grew into a strong year as our directional, in-store and online/mobile solutions have provided these teams with actionable, rapid, and rich insights that have enabled them to more quickly determine their priorities and optimizations, adding to the increasing value of these methods.

Last year, building empathy and intuition was an ongoing theme.  The small brands that are taking the CPG world by storm are successful because they are deeply in-tune with their target consumer. They naturally ARE their target consumer, which usually isn’t the case with larger brands. As a result, significant efforts to immerse more fully and frequently with consumers are increasingly important. Both getting to know them and co-creating with them allows teams to more adequately make decisions that channel the correct consumer lens as opposed to their personal lenses. We have developed a multi-method, multi-phase solution we call REAL Intuition Journeys to best kick-start this intuition building necessity. With its ability to probe more fully into the consumer psyche, it has proven to be a powerful and unifying tool for these teams seeking greater empathy and intuition to guide their decisions.

Due to company reorganizations, we’ve found ourselves with friends who have landed at companies in new-to-us industries, and as a result, we have used our free time to apply our core strengths and abilities to new areas, such as Healthcare. With the launch of Patient Voice, we are able to offer a solution to these industries that are much less familiar with in-context approaches. As we continue to grow this area of research, the benefit we will bring will be significant and will continue to be rewarding as it is further developed.

As we look ahead to this upcoming year, we predict that it will be a good one.  You can count on us to apply our core values of excellence, dependability, strategic, fun, team oriented, and life balance to each and every project.  We are grateful to have a suite of tried-and-true methods that are highly valued while still being focused on the next big thing to continue to stay relevant and valued partners to you, our clients.

Now, as the year comes to an end, enjoy this time with your family and friends. Reflect on 2015 fondly, and look forward to what the coming year has to offer.

Happy Holidays from REAL Insight!

-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal