Finding the Reality Amongst the Noise

In our modern world, the gap between in-person realities and online perceptions can feel vast.   Life, as seen on social media is filtered, perfected, and potentially polarized. These perspectives can feel exciting for those who have embraced this curated worldview and scary for those who would rather not. 

Connecting with people IRL feels much more familiar and normal.  I still have the same love for my kids. I still laugh and am silly with friends and coworkers.  I still have my hobbies, still celebrate birthdays and holidays, dinners still need to be prepared, etc.  Although my social media interactions have a big impact on the amount of dopamine I have coursing through my body, it hardly tells a full story of how I feel or what my life is actually like at that moment.

As marketers, it is important to acknowledge the macro noise we are inundated with via our devices while cutting through it to reveal actual behavior.  Feelings, attitudes, and senses of security can fluctuate rapidly, and keeping a current pulse on their key customers’ thoughts and mindsets can be very valuable for brand teams.

REAL YearLook is an online community solution we offer that goes deep with a small group of the right people over an extended period of time.  Over a full year, we connect with this same group for three days each month and look at happiness, confidence, shopping, and usage behaviors. Additionally, we introduce specific stim/concepts for feedback, when applicable, and tailor add-on activities to answer specific questions. This longitudinal look is useful for intuition building and concept feedback on digital messaging and communication, promotions, media/shopping channel prioritization, and innovation.  More importantly, the length of time in addition to our experienced researchers enable this digital method to move past the typical social media posturing to create a safe space where participants can be transparent and vulnerable, leading to actionable insights.

Our REAL Intuition Journey is another way to connect with consumer segments in a profound and authentic way while also providing brand teams with the opportunity to personally invest and be impacted by these connections.  This approach involves customizable online and in-person approaches with broad team engagement that builds strong, unified intuition across stakeholders.

We recently completed this type of project for a client in a unique situation. They had been hearing loud complaints from a certain segment of consumers, but simultaneously weren’t hearing much of anything from others.  By cutting through the filtered feedback gathered via social media, the press, etc., they realized there was much more openness and acceptance from the segment they assumed would be adverse, whereas there was more hurt and opportunity to improve relationships with the segment they hadn’t heard from.  This research had a big impact on how they expected to allocate their marketing dollars, the message to communicate, and the audience that needed to hear that message.

As you have needs to connect more authentically with a specific group of people, shoot us a note.  We would love to talk through which approach might be the right fit or at least send you white papers on these methods. 

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.

The Myth of Novelty

hitMakersAnother key note speaker at the Corporate Researchers conference was Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.  I was particularly struck by his analysis around the myth of novelty which directly impacts some of our innovation work. He describes this as “people like sneakily familiar positive variations of things of a moderate deviation to the mainstream”.  There are obvious exceptions to this claim, but for the large companies we work with who have teams searching for “breakthrough innovation,” the truth is that the vast majority of shoppers aren’t looking for something radically different.

We are uncomfortable with that.  We need a jumping off point.  A parallel comparison.



In our work, we frequently encounter this myth in action. Shoppers want to compare the offering to something they know and put it in a familiar mental “box”, which can impede their abilities to fully grasp the true essence of what they are looking at.  Product placement can further disrupt understanding in categories with inherent norms and assumptions; where a product is placed can be an advocate for similar-to-norm products or a hurdle to overcome for products that depart from the standard and are seeking to combat ingrained expectations.

Thompson would argue marketers should focus their attention on products that would qualify as familiar surprises—just enough familiarity to make shoppers comfortable with just enough surprise to make the product feel unique and novel.  That will require the least amount of effort with the greatest amount of impact.  For real breakthrough innovation to occur the runway to adoption can be very long and the cost of generating awareness and changing behavior can be very expensive; for publicly traded companies in such a challenging business environment, many big brands simply don’t have the ability to be patient.

Check out our Innovation Solutions

How do you determine if a product is innovative enough to be seen as unique without being alienating due to its uniqueness?  I am glad you asked.  We have a methodology for vetting concepts in-context early in the development process to see which ones spark yet are understood.

You may find it familiar, yet surprising.

The Power of Moments

Recently, I had a great three days at the Corporate Researchers Conference in Chicago. It was a blast to nerd out with fellow researchers, and it was hugely validating to both our primary focus on in-context research and some of the key initiatives we have been working on for the last couple of years. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts, analysis, and implications on a few of the more meaningful presentations/themes from the conference.

PEAK PRODUCTION

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Dan Heath gave a memorable presentation highlighting some of the principles talked about in his book, The Power of Moments, which has broad-reaching implications ranging from improving customer service to innovation.  The foundational premise Dan focused on is that we don’t remember every aspect of every experience; the peak-end rule indicates that we, in fact, remember only the moments that were best and worst. As such, fixing most problems generally doesn’t make people happy; it just produces an unremarkable, unmemorable, unappreciated experiences.

Often the next step teams take is filling the potholes by dealing with the smaller issues. While it can be important to fix what is missing in a product or experience, the focus should instead be on creating some peak moments that are the unexpected, unique, and/or special aspects of a product or experience that will be remembered and lead to consumer/customer delight and retention.

IMPLICATIONS

  • Overall, there is a tremendous need for a qualitative understanding (surprise!) to tap into emotional reactions and to understand what about the experience or product stuck with them.  REAL Insight has developed a “Spark Scale” for testing new concepts that is focused on understanding which products have something remarkable (memorable) about them.  Not all aspects of a product or experience are equal in the eyes of customers, so it is critical to be able to weigh the emotional reaction to understand which aspects, if any, are the true drivers of interest and loyalty and which are just along for the ride.
  • These peak moments aren’t anticipated by the experiencer/consumer, but rather something that they discover within the actual environment and moment.  For this reason, context is huge and understanding actual behavior is huge.  Don’t ask about how someone would react to a scenario.  Create a test scenario and have someone actually react to see what peak moments are produced.
  • From an innovation standpoint, with so many decisions to make in terms of investment and key success drivers, peak moments can simplify the risk.  If there is a delighting feature that can act as a peak, smaller issues and inconveniences can be deprioritized. Identifying which of these features are worth investing in and which function as “filling the pot holes” decreases the risk of adding to product cost without actually adding any value.

By thinking about the innovation and customer experience as building memorable peak moments, there is a huge opportunity to invest smarter for optimal success and retention. Doing so will, in the words of Dan Heath, “defy forgettable flatness”.

 

Luke

Large Companies Driving Disruptive Innovation?

Ford Motor Company recently announced a 5-year plan to develop and begin mass-producing fully autonomous cars.   As someone who has a 25 mile commute each way to work, enjoys a happy hour every now and then, and has 4 future teenage “drivers,” it’s easy to immediately think about the benefits of self-driving cars.  Ride-sharing through the likes of Uber has already started to transform the automobile transportation industry, and technology players like Google are trying to enter the autonomous vehicle market.

The auto industry, especially American manufacturers, developed a reputation for being traditionalist and stuck in their ways.  That tendency obviously caught up with them a decade ago when fuel efficiency and quality concerns caused them to lose significant shares, and they have been working hard to regain and maintain their edge ever since.  It’s easy to see how new autonomous technology—the lessening of our love-affair with cars, seeing them more as a Point A to Point B commodity, etc.—would be seen as a threat to future profits, but instead of doubling up on lobbyist spending,  Ford has decided to learn from past mistakes and embrace the shifting landscape by evolving to stay both relevant and profitable.

Their commitment to mass produce vehicles for ride-sharing purpose is fascinating because it not only shows a commitment to implementing innovative technology, but also to an innovative transportation system.  By investing in developing both fronts, Ford acknowledges how autonomous cars will likely lead to fewer cars being needed (and therefore being sold), but still affirms that transportation will continue to be needed, and that there are other ways to profit within the transportation industry.  Remember when IBM used to make computers?  Now, they are heavy investors in this next phase of innovation; by doubling their Silicon Valley presence and continued investments, they are acquiring the right pieces to be on the front-end of an evolving auto industry.

The food industry is another place where large companies are evolving to stay relevant and embracing disruptive innovation.  General Mills’ 301 team has gotten a fair amount of press for its evolution into an investment company that—rather than being an internal innovation company—is finding small innovative start-ups, giving them much needed capital, and sharing its expertise in distribution, production, research, etc. to help them leverage the passion and innovation that got them started and help them succeed in the areas where they struggle most.

The key ingredient to both of these examples if for key decision makers at large companies having the …let’s call it Fordsight…to see what their industry is evolving in a disruptive way, and then having the humility to accept the change and make whatever adjustments are needed to stay relevant and profitable.

-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal

(New)trition Labels

Though perhaps unconventional, one way a curious observer might monitor modern food trends is by studying the evolution of the nutrition information label on packaged foods. First mandated by the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, the latest chapter for the familiar black and white box will take effect by July 2018. Stalwarts against change might initially bristle at the news, but besides the new labels being yet another reminder that certainty can only be found in death and taxes, such a decree from the FDA merits further examination.

So what is going to change? Well, a few different things. To begin, the calorie count will be featured more prominently and in larger font. Though calorie count in itself is not indicative of a product’s health, for those who are calorie-conscious, the large font will be easy to see. Also, the serving size will change to better reflect what a normal person actually consumes in a serving. For example, ice cream will change from ½ cup to 2/3 a cup and soda will change from an 8 ounce serving size to a 12 ounce.  Which makes sense, because who stops drinking a can of soda 2/3 of the way through?

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U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The idea behind both of these changes is that the nutrition label should be there to help consumers manage their consumption and make it easier to interpret the numbers on the package. Doing mental math when a child is screaming and the ice cream is melting, and getting out of the store in ten minutes to make it home in time to get dinner started can be taxing. The new labels hope to streamline the process.

Further, the requirements for which vitamins need to be included on the package have changed, swapping out vitamins A and C for D and potassium. Back in the 90’s, Americans were lacking in A and C, but recent studies on food consumption have pointed out that deficiencies lay in other categories these days. The reasoning here is that people generally consume enough A and C, but need to be more mindful of their D and potassium consumption. Calcium and iron will stay put.

Of the proposed changes, the most debated is the requirement for specifically calling out added sugars from the total sugar amount. This decision stirred up some rumbling among food companies who argued that sugar is sugar and therefore, calling out added sugars is redundant. However, health advocates applaud the change, standing firm in the assertion that added sugars (as opposed to naturally occurring sugars) are a hidden danger to the health of the population.

The inclusion of added sugars took off in the anti-fat trends of the recent past (think anything “lite”), and have hung around even as fat has gained somewhat of a recovery in the public eye. Now, health professionals hope to draw attention to the empty calories associated with added sugars, which, unlike naturally occurring sugars that usually come along with vitamins and nutrients, offer no nutritional benefit whatsoever. Dairy products have naturally occurring sugars, so do fruits; pop does not. The FDA’s new rules aim at giving customers more knowledge about what they are consuming so that they can make the best choices for them and their loved ones.

The goal of the change in nutrition labels is to help consumers make good decisions based on current diet and consumption patterns. Time will tell if the intended impact comes to fruition, but the desire of the FDA to use data of current consumption as a basis for reformatting shows a desire to adapt regulations as the general public evolves. Time will also tell if the new labels have an effect on not only health, but purchase behavior. Will new nutrition labels affect FOP call-outs? Will they force a change in product formulation? Will they have an impact at all? Good questions. Time (and good research) will tell.

-Sierra Dooley, Research Associate and Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

The Future is Now, and It’s Focusing on Food

Shoppers paying more attention to what is in their food is not a new revelation; it’s a trend that has been growing in popularity for quite some time and has been influential in any number of products that have been rolled out recently. Target Corp. is taking this want for transparency a step farther in their new, multi-year collaboration with design firm IDEO and MIT’s Media Lab. In January 2016, they collaboratively launched the Food + Future coLab which will explore urban farming, food transparency and authenticity, and health.

Recently launched in a test store at a Fenway Target in Boston, the coLab-created Good & Gather initiative aims to capitalize on transparency by reimagining traditional food labels. Instead of listing ingredients on the back of packaging as they have been traditionally, they are being displayed on the front. The second concept allows consumers to scan produce and learn information about it in real time. As this technology develops, it will be interesting to see how food companies will react to a transparency they may not have been prepared for. How will products and packaging adapt to a food space that goes beyond the characteristics that currently aid in shopability? Research will be imperative as our interaction with food becomes more and more entwined with technological advances. Though we are heading into territories that are new and largely unexplored, the opportunity for innovation will be an exciting development to watch.

-Tyler McGruder, Research Assistant

Organic on Demand

The consumer call for organic food has been heard. Grocery chains throughout metropolitan areas are ramping up their organic offerings, though some rural areas have been left wanting. New Prague, Minnesota is a town of about 7500 that sits 45 miles southeast of Minneapolis, and is one of those locations whose organic options were limited. Motivated by a desire to have local, organic produce available in town, Kendra and Paul Rasmussen decided to find a way to bring natural, organic foods to their community.

After some difficulties navigating licensing and finding suppliers, that idea is now a reality—Farmhouse Market garnered the support from 230 members in just its first four months of existence. Membership costs $99 a year (and includes 24 hour access via a key card a la 24 hours gyms), and the market is also open to non-members about 9 hours a week. The owners use technology to monitor stock levels from home, which allows them to reach out to suppliers sooner when supplies are low. Farmers and suppliers have their own key cards to ease their deliveries to fit into any schedule.

Though a success in New Prague, questions arise regarding the transferability of the model. What works for a small town with a lot of industry and surrounded by farmstead, might not garner the same results in a different environment. Still, the success of the model should be acknowledged by other small communities that see price as the biggest barrier to having local, organic, and natural foods available in their own communities.

Market research companies are required to keep an eye on the ever-changing markets we study. Farmhouse Market is both a great example of the importance of organic foods to consumers at this time and as well as the growing influence technology has on how they can shop. The model itself is intriguing to study: by filling in gaps of existing grocery options in New Prague, Farmhouse Market is growing and succeeding. But what is still missing? How could this model be implemented in other demographic locations? As the traditional grocery store itself changes, so too do the competing options. The self-serve model of this store is intriguing and should be monitored as it develops, especially if the model takes root elsewhere.

-Sierra Dooley, Research Associate