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. 

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.

Healthy Versus “Healthy”

The New York Times recently released an article detailing the differences between what nutritionists think is healthy versus what the general public believes is better for you. While a difference between the public and nutritionists is to be expected, NYT discovered quite a disparity in ranking within each group as well. Certain foods obviously ranked high (e.g. kale, chicken, oranges) and others were solidly in the low camp (e.g. chocolate chip cookies, white bread). The most interesting, however, are the foods that divided the public and nutritionists and just how those perceptions came to be.

Overwhelmingly, granola bars were the food that most divided the public from expert opinions, with 71% of consumer ranking them as “healthy” versus 28% of nutritionists. Granola, too, fell into a similar disparity, with 80% of the public ranking it has healthy versus 47% of experts. On the opposite side, 89% of nutritionists ranked quinoa as “healthy” while only 58% of the public agreed. So, where do these divisions come from?

On the quinoa side, it is probably safe to say that as an upcoming “superfood,” there is a large percent of the population that is still unfamiliar with the product (or stopped trying after being unable to figure out how to pronounce it).  Granola and granola bars, however, have been a “healthy” snack that has been popular for years and continues to find itself a staple in many American pantries.  Being that what is “healthy” and what is not flip-flops on nearly a daily basis, it is safe to say that marketing plays a considerable role in these public perceptions.  And by what we’re seeing here with public opinion, it’s working.

As a market research firm, REAL Insight is well versed in what cues “healthy” to a consumer and what will lead them to think the opposite. There is certain language and positioning that paints products in the perfect light that assures shoppers feel that what they are purchasing is good for them. Granola bars are a good example of a product that highlights the right qualities to appeal to its target audience.

While one could criticize the health halo that granola has granted itself, there is a second, perhaps more important takeaway from this survey. There are healthy and nutritional items that the public can purchase and consume. However, without cues as to how these items will benefit the consumer or assuage a need, their chances of going into the cart are slim. Where a box of granola bars will have claims leaping off the package about its benefits, a bulk bag of quinoa never will. Though as of today, only 58% of the public see quinoa as healthy, time (and marketing) will tell how that perception may change.

-Sarah Morrison, Communication Strategist & Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

Your Macaroni Isn’t What You Think It Is

In a surprising announcement, Kraft has revealed that their most loyal customers have been purchasing a new formula of the “Blue Box” macaroni and cheese they’ve loved for decades. The biggest revelation from this announcement? Barely anyone has noticed.

History has shown that when a new formula for a favorite product is unveiled, there’s often a backlash that may or may not be warranted (see: New Coke). When Kraft Heinz decided to remove the artificial preservatives and dyes from one of their top-selling products, they decided to keep it relatively quiet. They made a small announcement and shortly after, customers were complaining that “they thought the mac and cheese tasted different when, in reality, they were still eating the previous version.” So after that initial announcement, KH didn’t say anything further about the new formula’s roll-out.

The new formula has been on shelves since December, and unless a shopper has been diligent about reading labels, the change has gone unnoticed until now, with Kraft Heinz’s launch of a campaign announcing the change. Time will tell how consumers will react to this news as the change becomes better known, but as it stands, shoppers have been eating the new formula with no complaint.

What is so fascinating here is that while consumers are requesting less artificial ingredients in their foods, companies are concerned that these same shoppers won’t be satisfied with the new products. Just knowing that a formula is “new” is enough for consumers to project a different taste, texture, and eating experience onto a product that may not even be there. As CPG companies start to consider reformulating their products to include more natural ingredients, perhaps they will follow the macaroni and cheese model and keep quiet about it as consumers acclimate to the new product. Shoppers want to consume products that are better for them; it just might be even better if they don’t know about it.

-Sarah Morrison, Research Associate

Online on the Rise

The internet is a ubiquitous presence in our everyday lives that demands more and more of our attention over previous, traditional media sources. Jayson DeMers predicts that since our eyes are constantly glued to screens, businesses and advertisers will begin to maximize the ways in which they reach consumers by targeting marketing strategies specifically to the way we consume our content.

The Top 7 Online Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2016

DeMers suggests that:

  • Video ads will start dominating the internet, including the Google search engine. Though a huge opportunity for online marketing, their current low prices will likely go up.
  • Apps will start to replace websites at a rising rate, even for those with mobile-optimized sites. Businesses need to develop and update apps to make life for the consumer easy, and there will be more opportunity for app-based marketing.
  • Mobile usage will completely dominate desktop usage. Google has already begun optimizing searches to prioritize mobile friendly sites.
  • As digital assistants like Siri become more and more user friendly, businesses need to make sure their information is easily accessible as consumers begin to rely more and more on voice assistants over traditional search engines.
  • Virtual reality and wearable technology devices will start to emerge and gain popularity, offering new mediums for online advertising and changing marketing tactics.

Technology is quickly advancing and always changing. Trying to imagine what will come next is nearly impossible, but businesses and marketers need to keep up with the trends if they have a chance at competing with other companies and appealing to the masses. There will be a day in the not-so-distant future when online and mobile advertising tops television commercials. We recently ran a study where a number of participants mentioned seeing a television commercial that led them to purchase the particular product in question. As it were, the ad was never aired on TV, but instead as an advertisement on a streaming platform.  Already, the media lines of advertising are blurring, and while  online ads are still relatively inexpensive for the moment, they have huge profit potential in the future.

Moving forward, marketers need to consider research into how and where their target markets are getting their information.  A brilliant TV commercial is rendered ineffective if their audience is streaming reruns on Netflix. By staying on top of these trends, researchers can develop methodologies that reach consumers on their preferred avenues and will be able to better form relevant insights in regards to project objectives.

-Jennifer Carrasco, Associate Project Director