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 Power of Authentic Storytelling

Storytelling is important.

In today’s world, the breadth of channels for telling stories is broad, and we are exposed to many more stories than we have been in the past. Research has always been in the business of telling stories but may not have always put a strong emphasis on telling a good story in a compelling way. The issue with storytelling in research is that a well told story can lead to strong action and decisiveness, but if some of the details are inaccurate or the conclusion is biased, teams can be much worse off.

The implication here is that we need to focus on the authenticity of the inputs to the story as much as we do in ensuring that the story itself is told well. Here are some tips for discovering and sharing a powerful insights story.

  • Focus on context and behavior: Consumers don’t always have an accurate view of what we do or how we will react. Gaining learning from people authentically primed by their real environment is critical for getting genuine data.
  • Ensure there is breadth and depth: Breadth is helpful in understanding themes, norms, etc. while also being useful in determining what is a breakthrough nugget that connects dots versus a potent outlier or distraction. Depth is needed to get to a level where those nuggets can be uncovered.
  • Bring humanity and humility (without forgetting the smarts): Humanity and humility are important attributes for researchers to possess in order to authentically connect with consumers and truly listen to their thoughts and opinions while remaining open to surprises in what is seen or heard. Using our smarts, we translate this data into insights and then these insights into recommended action.
  • Tell the story well: It is important to ensure the story is told succinctly and in a compelling way so that the key insights and recommendations are understood, and the team is motivated to act on them. Don’t sell your good insights short.

What story are you needing to discover and tell? From empathy to innovation and packaging to shopper insights, we have a team with solutions that cultivate authentic inputs while also knowing how to tell that story well.

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

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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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!

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:

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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!

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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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