Monday, September 22, 2014

Consumer insights make marketing work.

Monday, September 22, 2014


I recently agreed to teach two marketing courses for “execs” at the University of Toronto, so in between shopping for a natty tweed with leather elbows and a burled walnut pipe I have been thinking about some brand fundamentals. One of the most challenging yet critically important concepts is the Consumer Insight. To keep our Marketing jobs we occasionally have to demonstrate that we can sell stuff by figuring out things about consumers that others have overlooked. Finding meaningful insight when you need it is a challenging task; a good first step is understanding what it is or is not.

It’s useful to make the distinction between THE Consumer Insight and Consumer Insights. THE insight is part of the Creative Brief (or sometimes a brand strategy document) as the link to the brand benefit to be conveyed. THE Consumer Insight might be: “Younger buyers still believe Cadillac stands for quality but are embarrassed by its lack of performance credentials”.  Consumer Insights, in general,  can happen at any level from merchandising to a great idea for a promotion. The principles are the same, but it is good to be clear on the context.

What’s your problem?

Consumer Insight is strategy work. Strategy is just a solution to a problem. Richard Rumelt one of my favorite strategy gurus says, “Unless you state what the problem is – and how to overcome it, then it’s not a strategy.”
A key component of any Consumer Insight is the definition of the problem (call it an “issue” or an “opportunity” if it fits better). The definition is not the preamble or just context. There is no Yin without a Yang.

In simple terms you can define the problem as a) target group plus b) action. As in, “get 19-24 year olds in Ontario to purchase Labatt Blue more often” Or, “get current Hall’s cough drop users to use the brand more frequently in the spring and summer”.  There may well be additional nuance that is useful in framing the problem. Go for it. In classic strategy work defining the problem, the depth of problem and the gains from solving the problem are essential parts of “insightful” planning.

Consumer observations

Having defined the problem, marketers can then set about looking for solutions by studying the target group in the context of the category. It’s obvious but the relationship between the consumer and our brand is only part of the story. You need to explore the buying process and the performance of competitors or substitutes.

It doesn’t matter HOW you do the research. Well, actually, it matters a great deal but the choice of methodology is idiosyncratic. Invariably, you will learn all sorts of things that, to a greater or lesser degree, shed light on your problem.  Some people call these learnings “insights”; I call them “observations”. You need to find the best solution to the problem at hand; that will be your Consumer Insight.

Choosing a Solution

Strategy is a solution to a problem. It is also matching opportunities to capabilities. Brands have limits to their effectiveness.  The limits, like the brands themselves, are a function of existing consumer perceptions. Having identified a particular problem the best solution will work with the “assets” of the brand in a way that is credible with consumers.

If Coca-Cola brand observes that it is losing consumers to beverages that are perceived to be more healthful, it strains credibility to pitch Coke as a healthful drink. This would likely be the case, even if they added vitamins and ginseng to it. While you may be chuckling at the absurdity of that example, the genuinely smart people at Amazon launched the Fire smartphone at $199 and are now flogging it for 99 cents.  Brand owners generally overestimate the capabilities of their brand. In my case on Labatt Blue in the nineties the problem was “Dad’s beer”, the DNA was as a fun/party brand and we had to figure out how to dip it in the Cocoon pool or market it to older drinkers. The Consumer Insight among the younger segment was that “the best kind of fun was spontaneous fun”. So, we chose to be the brand of spontaneous fun. Was it credible? Not so much.

The Consumer Insight is the observation about the consumer that solves the brand problem in a credible way. The insight is “leveraged” as a deliberate choice is made to follow a particular route. I suspect it is more of an “aha moment” only in the retelling of war stories years later. In practice, choosing a strategic path usually means rejecting a reasonably attractive alternative. They can be tough decisions.

Putting it into Practice


I often hear business leaders complaining that the Research team or Brand Management are failing to bring forward the “consumer insights” required for success. Assuming that the business is willing to do some studying of the consumer, the main cause of “no insights” is “no defined problems” to focus on. Use your planning process to figure out and define the important problems. Then allocate resources to studying the relevant consumer groups to reveal Consumer Insights that make marketing investment actually work.


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Monday, September 22, 2014

 

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