Made with REAL Ingredients

REAL Insight has a compulsion to conduct research that authentically reflects reality so that the insights lead to specific recommendations and decisions that help brands grow and avoid costly mistakes. Made with Real Ingredients is a claim that has defined REAL Insight’s work over its 30+ year history, although this is our first time using this language. In terms of research, “real ingredients” means having the right people in the right mindset behaving and responding in the right environment.

Finding the right people is an ongoing challenge for everyone in the research industry. Coming from an intercept background, REAL Insight has a low tolerance for professional respondents—who often respond as experts rather than as themselves—and those too familiar with the process. As we entered this pandemic stay-at-home chapter, we immediately got to work developing a better recruitment solution that prioritizes quality and purity while being cost effective.

What emerged is REAL Recruitment, our proprietary in-house approach to recruitment that avoids overused panels, gives us the control to recruit people we feel good about engaging with, and passes along significant savings to our clients.

Recruiting the right people is important, but so is making sure those right people are in the right mindset for the mission at-hand. With intercepts, shoppers are already in a shopping mindset; with pre-recruits we need to be more intentional about priming respondents to get their mindsets in the right spot to authentically behave and respond on a specific aspect of their life.

Environment is also a critical ingredient because context has a huge impact on mindset. For instance, a delicious piece of pie looks amazing and will be an easy sell when presented in isolation. But a delicious piece of pie presented on a dessert cart (are those still a thing?) with other delicious looking options suddenly becomes less of a no brainer. New products, packaging, and new service opportunities never live in a black hole.

The moral of the story: ingredients matter. The right manufacturing process (research methods, technology, and strategic analysis) matters, too. We will talk more about those next week.

Missed part one? Check it out here!

Better Ingredients, Expertly Crafted

It is a pretty well-known fact that market research companies struggle with marketing. REAL Insight is no different. We care too much about the nuance of what makes our approaches effective, so we choose to focus on selling that instead of the higher-order benefits. However, we know so much about how to test new product innovation and packaging that we thought we might highlight the goodness of REAL Insight as if we were a product instead.

Introducing REAL Insight: Better Ingredients. Expertly Crafted.

So why is REAL Insight trail mix? It is real food, transparent, substantive. It is good for you but also has delighters to discover. You will feel good eating it and feel even better as it fuels you on your mission. It is versatile as a snack or a meal. This is NOT food that entices you into eating something you regret later.

When it comes to research ingredients, we look for authenticity and quality of both the consumers we invite to participate as well as the environment in which we learn. Delivering on both makes execution more difficult, but our expertise, proven process, right tools, and inspired team consistently bring it all together and ensure the quality ingredients turn into actionable outcomes every time.

This is part 1 of 3 introducing REAL Insight. Part 2 will dive more specifically into our ingredients are and what makes them better. Part 3 will then explore the process and expertise that is behind the craftsmanship.

Our take on research right now

This is certainly a unique time for Americans as we see bold steps being taken on a broad scale to curtail the spread of this virus. I have come to appreciate the prudent steps being taken and the unity that has emerged from people joining together to solve a shared problem.

Our Leadership Team at REAL Insight has been talking regularly and tracking the progress to better understand the potential risks of in-person projects as well as what research should be conducted in this environment. After all, we are big believers of context: both physical environment and mindset are both behavioral drivers.

REAL Insight has conducted technology-enabled mobile and online immersive research for over 7 years, spanning over 100 projects, in both domestic and international markets. If a remote testing option is the right fit, here is where and how we can help:

Foundational exploration into attitudes and behaviors?REAL Immersion: Moderated online/mobile study with video/photo/written response activities
Exploratory package design or creative development?REAL Iteration: An online multi-phase creative development process with the same group of consumers
Agile/Rapid Feedback on just about anything?REAL Agility Toolkit: A scrappy, not crappy REAL Immersion
At-shelf performance of concept product or packaging?Remote REAL Optimization: Mobile missions to shop specific store/category where prototypes are cut into the shelf
Keep a pulse on your foothold during this uncertain time?REAL Year: In-depth, small-scale virtual community available for bi-weekly or monthly touchpoints/activities over a 6-12 month period
Consumer or shopper journey mapping?REAL Immersion: Moderated online/mobile study with video/photo/written response activities

At REAL Insight, we feel our team, client, and participant safety is most important, which means limiting travel and in-person research for the short term. The good news is we have options and are here to help you think through these upcoming projects. Our commitment to you is to give our honest viewpoint about your current questions and if and how those are best addressed over the next few weeks.

Scrappy, Not Crappy

AGILE! SPRINT! LEAN START-UP! SCRAPPY!

We are in an age where many paradigms are shifting quickly. Brand equity isn’t functioning the way it used to. Consumers are demanding more transparency and authenticity from companies than ever before. Start-ups are taking on big companies and winning more than ever. Non-traditional success stories are becoming more of the norm for innovation as consumers are getting better at blocking out the expected.

As this challenging and rapidly evolving environment puts more pressure on successful new product launches, companies are adjusting their approach and timing. Some have adopted more formalized approaches—like innovation sprints or other agile frameworks—while others are doing what they can to innovate faster and cheaper than they have in the past.  

We love this new emphasis and its results. Brand teams are engaged around understanding real needs and solving problems. They are less likely to get bogged down in the weeds too early or miss fatal flaws until it’s too late. Consumer interactions are happening earlier in the process. These are all good things.

The process is good, but as research and psychology nerds, we also know that not all research is good research, and that scrappy can sometimes mean crappy.   Some of the common pitfalls are:

  • The method, although fast and cheap, isn’t right for the question
  • The method is right, but you aren’t talking with the right people
  • There isn’t enough objectivity or expertise present in the execution

REAL Insight has developed a new toolkit we call REAL Agility to support teams in this new faster/cheaper world. Our methods are scrappy, but because of our objective expertise and contextualized methods, we can help your team avoid the crappy pitfalls.

There is a point, often closer to launch, where a scrappy approach isn’t able to provide the answers you seek. In those moments, REAL Insight can provide more robust (yet timely) solutions—like a REAL World Assessment or REAL Optimization—to help you launch with confidence. 

Innovation teams, stay agile. We love what you are doing and are excited to continue helping you on the journey.

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

the-power-of-moments-9781501147760_hr

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