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“If you want to grow and expand your market, it’s critical to make the right choices.”
This is part 2 of our interview with Provisor Marketing’s Kate Jones and Julie McPeek, discussing the challenges of doing consumer research. (If you missed it, part 1 focuses on the role consumer research plays in growing a brand.)
Julie McPeek and Kate Jones are consumer & brand marketing specialists, having spent a collective 30+ years at Procter & Gamble, including five years guiding new business development, before leaving P&G to start their own firm: Provisor Marketing, LLC. Since 2001, Provisor has helped small and mid-sized brands develop and implement marketing plans in the food, drug, mass, club and specialty retail trade channels. Kate and Julie are also strategic partners at Fenwick Brands, a private equity firm that specializes in early growth CPG brands with national potential. They help determine which brands are viable candidates for private equity funding and then work alongside them to help the brands succeed.
Kate: There is a certain amount of ongoing consumer research that all companies should be doing, using the tools they have. But there is a point, at which, if you want to grow and expand your market, it’s critical to make the right choices because you’re investing a lot more, making more product, printing more labels. There’s a lot more at stake. You want to confirm that your decision-making is right. If an investor comes in and all you did was run a Survey Monkey, that’s not going to be perceived as valid as using a consumer market research firm.
Julie: Consumer research can make a small brand appear bigger to the retailers they are trying to sell distribution to. So, when you come in with consumer learning like Persuadable Research provides, it gives the retailer, as well as potential investors, confidence that you know what you’re talking about. Doing professional consumer research can serve many purposes, aside from just making good choices about your brand.
“You could have the best product idea ever, but if the consumer says, “So what?” then there is more work to be done before introducing or expanding the brand”
Julie: We see many business owners who believe that their “baby” is the most beautiful baby in the world – as they should! Consumer research can help them understand the “chinks in the armor” to be better prepared to go to market. You could have the best product idea ever, but if the consumer says, “So what?” then there is more work to be done before introducing or expanding the brand. It really helps them solidify the business model.
Kate: Budget. I rarely encounter someone who doesn’t want to find out what the consumer is saying. There may be some who think they “have it down” and don’t want to “waste their time” on it, but budget is almost always the challenge. It’s a dilemma, too: brands have to spend money to figure out the consumer SO they can spend their money more efficiently.
“It is important to really understand the target consumer before making many of the other budget choices.”
Julie: I also think that inherent in the budget conversation is the idea that, “I could do it cheaper.” Some brands think “consumer research is consumer research is consumer research,” whether they do a Survey Monkey questionnaire or an in-depth study. Recently, one of our clients did their own survey and got data that may not be as indicative as it should be, because of the way they asked the questions. So, quite often consumer research becomes a budget line item that can be reduced or deleted when evaluating all the potential places to spend your money. It’s a matter of choices so sometimes consumer research may fall further down the priority list. Half of our challenge is to convince them that it is important to really understand the target consumer before making many of the other budget choices.
Kate: Besides budget, the other big issue is that brands think they know. They think they already have it figured out, so they don’t want to spend money to be told what they think they already know. The hard part is telling them they are wrong and getting them to address the “what if you’re not right?” question. That’s the way we go about it – we ask a bunch of questions that they can’t really answer and then they realize, “Oh, I guess I need to know that.”
“…the more research they have, the more they have the ability to talk about how Millennials do things differently”
Kate: For our baby-boomer clients, there is acknowledgement that they just don’t understand the younger generations. In that case, because they are so baffled by the behaviors of those consumers, the more research they have, the more they have the ability to talk about how Millennials do things differently: how they find data differently, how they look and shop and learn so differently, because everything is done on their devices. So I think those dynamics are important in two ways: it emphasizes the need to ask and learn on a scale that is meaningful. You can’t just go ask your kid! You need to get enough data to really understand what their habits and practices are.What role does consumer research play in new or emerging brands attracting investors and growing their business?
“I wouldn’t even be surprised if you find companies like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon getting into the consumer research business: figuring out how to monetize the sheer amount of data they have around consumer behaviors.”
Kate: With so much time invested in our personal devices, I have to believe that it will allow us to learn and understand behaviors better. One of the challenges we have is, what consumers say they will do and what they actually do is often different. As you start to predict consumer behavior, it’s much easier to use what consumers are actually doing. When you start to ask them to predict what they might do in the future, that’s where it gets challenging. So that is where, with personal devices tacking so many behaviors, it’s going to help us better understand not just what they think, but what they actually do.
Julie: I wouldn’t even be surprised if you find companies like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon getting into the consumer research business: figuring out how to monetize the sheer amount of data they have around consumer behaviors – I think will happen.
“In every single research study we have done, there is something that we get out of it that is very dramatic.”
Julie: We had a marinade sauce client. When we started working with them, their target consumer was a “male grill enthusiast” because, of course, he would use the marinade to grill. What we discovered through consumer research was, in fact, that 80% of the marinade purchases were made by women! So, we were marketing to the guy that’s grilling with the marinade, but he’s not the person making the purchase. We completely flipped the business model and targeted the woman, who is planning the weekly meals and weekend entertaining, while avoiding alienation of the male grill enthusiast. Sales are up 20% and the business is now healthier than it’s ever been.
Kate: In every single research study we have done, there is something that we get out of it that is very dramatic. These insights trigger changes in our communication strategy to consumers and help us identify the target consumer. That’s so important because many brands are “scattershot.” We had a skin care client whose view was that everyone is in their target because everyone has skin (laughs). We said, “No! To effectively market, you need to pick a target group where you can focus your dollars and communication!” I think, in almost every research study that we have done, we have been able to identify a target consumer and then adjust the business model accordingly to the success of the brand. There have been a number of times where the target consumer wasn’t who we expected, so we changed the focus and the brand was able to reposition and make better choices.
We had one brand whose product I loved and thought their advertising message was adorable. We did some consumer research and the consumer said, “I don’t like that.” The consumers were young moms and they didn’t like it at all. It was hysterical because I thought it was great, but it didn’t work for them. These insights were invaluable. We completely changed the messaging for that brand based on the consumer research and it made a significant difference on the brand performance – not only on getting the right message out, but getting it to the right person in a way that they responded, and then bought the product.
“Being able to collaborate and get at those pieces of important information that help us craft the business model is very important.”
Kate: Experience and track record. Persuadable Research has done so many research studies and has experience across categories and across brands with consumers, so they bring their own expertise to the research study. They don’t just develop a study with a list of questions; they ask about your business challenges and help determine what is going to answer those questions.
You also want a company that is going to have a variety of approaches, one that has the experience and breadth of options.
Julie: Also, you want a collaborative approach to research. Being able to collaborate and get at those pieces of important information that help us craft the business model is very important. I find them [Persuadable Research] to be very collaborative in writing the survey, in delivering the data, in crafting the study – which is just so important for us with small and mid-sized brands. I think that’s why we value what PRC does because, you know, as Kate said, in every single thing you do, the consumer is the foundation – the consumer is “king,” so to speak. It’s not just demographics. It’s getting into the heads of consumers and understanding why they buy the category, what are their unmet needs, what makes them tick, where do they get their information? It’s so important go deeper than basic demographics, to get into psychological behavioral attributes, etc.