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!

 

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

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.

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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.

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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?

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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!