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September 22, 2016 Comments Closed

Exclusive Interview with Provisor Marketing, Part 1

Why research, and the insights it provides, is a necessary step for brands that want to grow

Kate Jones

Kate Jones

julie-circle

Julie McPeek

Rather listen? Click below for an audio version of this interview

“Consumer research is all about understanding consumers on all levels: their habits and practices, the language they use, their decision processes when making purchases.”

Kate Jones and Julie McPeek are consumer and 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. Julie and Kate are also strategic partners at Fenwick Brands, a private equity firm that specializes in early growth CPG brands with national potential. Julie and Kate help determine which brands are viable candidates for private equity funding and then work along side them to help the brands succeed. Julie and Kate were gracious enough to sit down with us recently to talk about the role consumer research plays in brand and product marketing. We are publishing the interview in two parts. Below is a condensed, edited version of part one.


What is “consumer research?”

Kate: Consumer research is all about deeply understanding your consumers: not just who they are, but their habits and practices, the language they use, their decision processes when making purchases.

Why should companies and brands engage in consumer research?

Julie: Because it’s important to deeply understand the people that are buying your product. Existing brands that want to grow often operate as if their target consumer is the person that has bought their brand for the last 15 years when, in reality, that customer may be a very small subset of the bigger available market.

“Consumer research allows us to set realistic boundaries for what brands should do versus what they can do.”

Consumer research allows brands to define the market and understand who the biggest purchasers are and why they purchase what they purchase. That information translates into business modeling that can grow the brand.

We quite often get clients who say, for example, “We make yogurt, and we think the next big thing is ‘yogurt in sleeves, to go,’” when, in reality, that may not be the best market for them without conducting research to really understand when and how consumers eat their yogurt. We always advise clients, “Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” Consumer research allows us to sets realistic boundaries for what they should do versus what they can do.

What insights can companies or brands derive from consumer research? 

“As brand marketers, we want to know four things: how consumers behave in a category, how they buy within that category, what they [consumers] think of the competition, and what they think of the brand.”

Julie: As brand marketers, it is important to know what consumers expect from brands in a category, how they decide to buy within that category, what they [consumers] think of the competition, and what they think of the brand.
Sometimes we do [a] concept test, where we have written two concepts for a brand and we want to see which one resonates better. We also use it for assortment – what should your product innovation pipeline look like and what do you have “permission” to introduce, based on what the consumer thinks of your brand and the category? What may be intuitive to you may not be what resonates with the consumer.

Kate:  Many brands have limited resources and has to invest in ways that bring the greatest return. Research allows them to hone in on what is most important from a consumer’s perspective. That’s where the value is: understanding exactly how a consumer reacts to your brand and your category and being able to align your business appropriately.

Julie: By getting feedback from the consumer, it helps us make educated decisions around marketing vehicles and how we are going to spend our marketing budget- especially with small and mid-sized brands, who typically have less money to create a brand. We have to be so careful around where we spend our money to be most effective.

Have you seen otherwise good products fail because they skimped or failed to do consumer research?

Julie: Oh, all the time. We now work for a private equity group, for whom we evaluate brands to help decide if they are a good fit from an investment standpoint. We see all kinds of brands who, in the absence of consumer research, make mistakes or assumptions about who their consumer is. They’ve been “drinking their own Kool-Aid.” At the end of the day, many of those brands don’t make it and close up shop.

What would you say to an entrepreneurial brand owner who feels they don’t need consumer research because “everybody loves my product?”

“ …just because consumers are eating [your product] for a snack in the afternoon doesn’t mean you can’t become a breakfast choice, too.”

Julie:  That’s fine if you want to be where you’re at right now, but if you’re actually looking to grow your brand you have to understand what the market is and who else is out there. Existing brands sometimes have that same point of view. They think narrowly. They don’t realize there is expandable consumption; in other words, selling more to the person that is currently your customer. For example, just because consumers are eating [your product] for a snack in the afternoon doesn’t mean you can’t become a breakfast choice, too. Consumer research helps new and existing brands understand how to frame their business objectives.

What role does consumer research play in new or emerging brands attracting investors and growing their business?

“Research validates that there is a consumer need outside of where you are today.”

Kate: Research validates that there is a consumer need outside of where you are today. You can sell your product locally, that’s great; but when you want to expand, you’re going to need to validate that consumers outside of your own immediate marketing area are going to be open to your product. Professionally-done consumer research provides that validation. The pros know how to ask questions in a way that gets answers that private equity folks and investors understand.

Julie: Kate and I always try to find the “ah ha” moment and I can say that there’s never been a study that we have conducted that we haven’t come out with an “ah ha.” That’s the magic to me in consumer research – in doing it correctly. You want to poke holes in your theory because, otherwise, why bother?

Which products or categories benefit most from consumer research? 

“ …unless you’re all-knowing, you can’t understand what a broad span of consumers think and feel about all the different aspects of your business model.”

Kate: They all need it. Once again, unless you’re all-knowing, you can’t understand what a broad span of consumers think and feel about all the different aspects of your business model. I don’t know if there’s ever been a brand where we didn’t need to better understand the consumer to make good decisions. With every brand we work on, we need to better understand the consumer.


Click here for part two of our interview, when Kate and Julie talk about the challenges of conducting good consumer research, whether or not you can “do it yourself,” and where things are headed in the future. 

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