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.

Looking for an Authentic Spark

As you know, perception is reality for shoppers. Relying on traditional concept evaluation tools presents a challenge; concepts are already fully explained before the consumer can share their thoughts even with more iterative, on-trend methodologies. Yet, concept understanding at-shelf is essentially a barometer of how much effort and cost will be required to gain traction.

Concepts are successful when they are seen, understood, valued, and deliver on expectations. As a company that specializes in in-context research, REAL Insight takes the lead in determining if packaging is noticeable on shelf, answering questions on consumer perceptions and gauging concept understanding.

unnamed (2)When learning about packaging impact, concepts are surrounded by likely shelf-mates. In this unique, in-context testing environment, we often gain significant understanding around category assumptions and concept performance. However, we are frequently brought in when innovation projects are nearing launch. At this last stage in the process, we frequently see concepts heavily challenged by ingrained assumptions or hard-to-rectify first moment of truth issues. Prioritizing at-shelf learning earlier can be beneficial for more nuanced concept testing and a successful launch.

With few product launches having significant marketing support out-of-aisle, these offerings need to be intuitive on-shelf to more easily gain traction. Understanding concept performance is helpful in prioritizing projects and determining what type of launch may be needed for success.

unnamed (1)To truly win in the category and gain insight to the degree of enthusiasm, the harsh reality of the typical CPG retail category needs to be accounted for: effective concepts need to change a behavior and prove they are a better solution than competing options. Seeing a shopper’s emotional reaction upon discovering a new product—bright smiles and eyes lighting up—is significant.

REAL Insight has the solutions to help gain early-on concept learning in-store without requiring significant prototype creation or sharing concept ideas with retail buyer partners until needed and keeps in mind already tight marketing budgets. Consider it a companion data point to the other quantitative concept work you are already doing or as an alternative to commonly used speed-dating approaches; a complement that will be highly valuable in setting expectations and appropriately prioritizing ideas.

Ready to learn more? Reach out to Luke for more details!

 

In-Context Research Requires Environment AND Mindset

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As a company whose roots lie with in-store intercepts, we have always had an appreciation for the purity and predictability of learning about shopping behavior and testing concepts/packaging in a real retail environment with shoppers who were in the store to shop.  

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Reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman reinforced the idea that we need to preserve as much of the thought process purity as possible because the brain and the subconscious have a powerful ability to impact what we see and how we respond to things.

Thinking about in-store research in particular, there is a powerful difference between consumers who walk through the doors of a store to shop and those who walk in the doors to take part in a research project.  For the actual shoppers, they are thinking of what they shopping for, time constraints, budget, etc.  For pre-recruits, they are thinking about who they are going to meet for the research, what questions they are going to get asked, how they will “perform”, etc.  Each are primed for very different things. 

For research to be truly in-context, the environment needs to be real AND the mindset needs to be real.

The mission and mindset within each category can be critical to understand when learning about objectives like shelf breakthrough and concept understanding.  Someone that is in autopilot within a category is highly unlikely to break routine to consider something new or different no matter how impactful the packaging is.  Additionally, consumers use a number of subconscious short-cuts when shopping categories to simplify their shopping experience. So, what’s the implication?

There is NO way for results to be predictive IF respondents are approaching the research with the “game” mindset.

  • Be cautious when testing within retail “labs” because they consistently only check the “environment” box.   The primary issue here is respondents who are familiar with the objective and process and approach the shopping exercise as a game of “find out what is new or different.”  Recruitment plays a huge role in preventing this: make sure respondents haven’t done a similar type of activity within the last year at least.  Or just do the research in-store.
  • Rely as much as possible on intercepts and in-store recruits if conducting research in-store. 
  • Don’t overuse stores.  We recommend waiting several months before using the same store again to prevent running into the same shoppers again who already “know the drill”.

We have appreciated the traction in-context research has gained in recent years.  However, we have seen how the focus is almost always on the environment, not the mindset.  Make sure your next in-context research project accounts for  both.

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Out of Focus

When the field of market research comes up, a common image that materializes in the mind is that of the traditional focus group: padded chairs clustered around a gray table set with uniform place settings of pens and paper, a white board easel off to the side, and a large two-way mirror leering omnisciently from the back. If you were to question the ability of such an environment to produce authentic and honest insight, you would not be alone.

Neil Stevenson lays out the case against continued use of this methodology, starting with its history and ending with one proposed replacement. Stevenson’s point is that the focus group either needs to be reinvented or left in the past. Initially ran by skilled psychologists contracted out by large companies, the insights produced from these focus groups were fairly large leaps based on emotional conversations that aimed to understand respondents at a deep level. Companies trusted these insights and built marketing and advertising campaigns around the interpretation of the psychologist.

Today, the format is much different and the types of questions asked in focus group tend to be direct, non-emotion driven (e.g. which design do you prefer?), with the hopes of eliciting verbatim quotes that can be used as evidence to prove the direction down which a company should go. However, this type of questioning can commonly lead respondents to either say what they think the moderator wants to hear, say something just to respond, or say something influenced by the group around them. If one person in the group is particularly vocal, it is not uncommon to have the rest of the group swayed along.

As a company, we at REAL Insight align with Stevenson’s argument against focus groups. Our advocacy has always fallen on the side of in context research due to its ability to elicit more honest and authentic feedback. Innovation options we bring to the table include our Brewed Insight sessions and REAL Immersion journeys. We have also created a design thinking team focused on growing and adapting our current methodologies. Innovation is a necessary component to successful research. As the history of the focus group shows, no methodology is guaranteed to remain relevant forever. REAL Insight knows this and makes a point to keep our methods current and relevant through innovation and adaptation. Focus groups are a comfort level for some companies, and stepping outside of that comfort zone can be daunting and nerve wracking, but general wisdom also says that’s where the magic happens. Or in this case, that’s where authentic, actionable insights can grow and flourish.

-Jennifer Carrasco, Associate Project Director

Introducing Brewed Insight Sessions by REAL Insight!

As a company specializing in in-context research, the lack of authenticity tied with traditional facility studies has often made them a less-than-ideal methodology. Especially now, as Millennials become the favorite targeted audience, the synthetic rapport of old-fashioned focus groups can be a barrier to truly understanding this target consumer.  They are harder to find, less willing to jump through the proverbial hoops, and are more affected by sterility.

With a desire for a more authentic, empathy-building environment (and inspired by our NE Minneapolis location), we recently fielded a project that overcame many of those challenges with focus groups and promptly tagged it a Brewed Insight Session. With a study structure created and facilitated by our team, and a taproom provided by a nearby microbrewery, we successfully introduced this new and promising methodology into our repertoire of in-context research.

Brewed Insight Sessions deliver strongly on understanding who a consumer is. (*Note, it isn’t  intended to be a solution for business questions better answered by observing buying or usage behavior.) In a relaxed, less-formal setting, consumers are more comfortable engaging in real conversations and honest sharing. This casual atmosphere is essential to create and maintain; therefore the facilitator/moderator must be someone who is able to keep the laidback vibe alive. Empathy and intuition building are imperative these days, and the environment created at a Brewed insight Session is designed specifically with these goals in mind. 

The time and activity breakdown can be structured a number of different ways, based on the specific project objectives, but our recommended method begins with a lead facilitator guiding the group through a few topics and then having time for small group breakouts with the client team. As there is no two-way mirror to hide behind, training and managing the client team is very important. However, the benefit is the team being able to directly interact with the consumers. Another point to consider is, though a little alcohol can help with the mood and authenticity of the session, it is important to have a plan for how to make sure things don’t get too loose. Our facilitators and moderators are effective at providing this plan, as well as offering any additional team training that may be required.

The Twin Cities, like many cities nationwide, have felt the impact of the brewery and distillery explosion. With such a large pool of locations available (and the consistent availability of these spaces early in the week), there is an abundance of options for fielding this type of research. If you are interested in learning more about Brewed Insight Sessions or want to partner on a similar type of project, please feel free to reach out to me at lcahill@insightrealized.com

-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal

Consumers Continue to Court Convenience

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Instacart is an app-based service that allows customers to order groceries from a number of different retailers in their area with just a few taps of the finger. After filling a digital cart, users then arrange for home delivery at a time convenient to them. While available for larger metropolitan areas, those outside of the delivery range have been left without access to the service. However, in March 2016, Whole Foods and Instacart announced an expanded partnership with the goal of increasing the number of Whole Foods stores with dedicated Instacart shoppers up to 50% by the end of 2016 while also expanding into areas that have yet to experience the convenience.

As shoppers move towards buying less and less in stores, it will be fascinating to see how CPG companies will react to these changes. Products and their packages are often optimized to draw consumer interest, whether it’s a new product hoping to be purchased or a tried and true favorite hoping to maintain its popularity. But oftentimes, these optimizations are made to attract shoppers standing in front of a shelf. As Instacart and similar apps become more and more popular, it will be interesting to see how studies change when objectives turn from “how much shelf appeal does this product have” to “how much app-appeal does this product have?”

In a world with Amazon Prime and the even speedier PrimeNow (in some markets) shoppers are clearly enamored with the convenience of fast delivery, especially if it’s same day. With the popularity of online shopping on the rise, in-context research will have to take on a whole new lens in order to remain on top of how shoppers choose products. If people are making their purchases through an app, wouldn’t it make sense that, in time, research on these purchases will be done in the same way? With our extensive experience in online and mobile methodologies, it will be interesting to see how much more these methods will come into play, and how they will evolve as customers shop more and more from their couch.

-Jennifer Carrasco, Associate Project Director

No Churn? No Problem.

In a recent article published in Quirk’s, authors Niels Schillewaert, Steven Debaere, and Tom De Ruyck tackle the topic of how to foster a healthy online community. Given that not all online communities achieve their desired result, what are some things that moderators and market researchers can do to attain a successful outcome? The authors start by analyzing why people participate in online studies: although most join for some sort of monetary incentive, the only way to maintain good participation is if participants feel like they are getting something out of the study beyond money. If participants feel intrinsically motivated, there is a better chance they will continue participating.

What are the factors that contribute to a healthy online community?

However, participation itself is not enough. In order for researchers to get the insights they need from online communities, participants must be active, and give useful information. Known as churn, passive participation is a threat to the health of an online community because it allows participants to be involved without actually contributing anything substantial and thus devalues the quality of information. Factors such as community size; recency, frequency, and monetary value; as well as positive and negative emotions all affect churn, which in turn influences if an online community will fly or flop.

With the increased possibilities mobile and online studies give to market research, being aware of negative factors such as churn is essential for any company hoping to produce and maintain a healthy online community. Participants who do nothing more than check the boxes not only deplete helpful contributions, but if the community is socialized, they can also detract from other respondents’ experiences. Acknowledging this risk is important because it demands that moderators be aware of churn potential and not only structure, but moderate studies in such a way to decrease this possible detriment.

Many market research companies are dipping their toes into the waters of online communities, but not all of them have the experience and knowledge to structure and moderate studies in a way that decreases the potential for churn. At REAL Insight, online and mobile options are something at which we have a lot of experience and expertise. We have seen firsthand the incredible insights that can be gleaned from online communities when moderated competently and appropriately. Theoretically understanding how to avoid churn is important, but even more so is having the practice and track record of doing so. Keeping an online community healthy, merry, and bright is something at which we excel and are constantly improving. As the mobile game in market research heats up, we will keep our skills sharp, our insights actionable, and churn at bay.

-Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator