Developing actionable insight is the true source of business growth

The Ultimate Guide to Developing Actionable Insights

One of the biggest challenges of many marketers is developing actionable insights about the market and it’s customers.

Are you satisfied with the way you turn your data and information into understanding and then develop insights on which you can take clear actions? If not, then you will find this post tremendously useful in helping you to update your practices.

Even if you are happy with your insight development process, converting them into actions can still be a stumbling block. In January 2013 Forrester wrote an article suggesting that last year would be the year for market insights. Eighteen months on, things don’t seem to have progressed much, so hopefully this post will enable your own organisation to advance and to get ahead of the competition.

#1. Be precise in your objectives

Your objectives for developing an insight should be presented as a desired change in your target (>>Tweet this<<). For example, if you are looking to increase your market share, you could be looking to find a way to convince competitive brand purchasers to buy your brand instead.

Identifying the change you are looking to encourage is the first step to uncovering a true actionable insight. Are you identifying the change you desire in your customers? If not then this is something you should start doing; it will make developing actionable insights more focused and thus also easier.

#2. Involve a wide range of experts

Insights are not the sole responsibility of the Market Research & Insight Department (>>Tweet this<<). Everyone in the company can bring valuable information and understanding to address the identified opportunity. Therefore, involving people with a wide range of perspectives can make insight development more effective.

Gather a team of experts to provide a 360° perspective of the category or brand, including for example:

  • R&D, who can bring understanding of available internal & external technical skills
  • operations who can share current defects and development aspects
  • sales who can add retail perspectives, including distribution, packaging and shelving limitations or opportunities
  • marketing who will provide the communications, image, equity and competitive environment
  • customer services who can add current customer sensitivities, problems or suggestions
  • finance who can highlight any budgetary limitations and ensure financial goals are met

The group you bring together will be a function of the change you are looking to make. I personally believe that the exercise should be run by your market research and insights team, since it is their profession to understand people and behaviour. They also generally have the widest and most detailed perspective of anyone in the company

#3. Review all available information & knowledge

All organisations have far more information than most employees realise (>>Tweet this<<), including your market research, insight, strategy and planning teams. This highlights the need for having a group of people from different departments since they will bring alternative perspectives and information sources to light.

Once the team has been formed and the objectives for the insight development exercise have been agreed, it is time to organise a complete review of all the available information and knowledge.  You should look for recurring themes, expressions and words across the different information sources that might provide indications of the issues or opportunities around the identified objectives.

As everyone completes the review of the information, a number of working sessions can help to share the information already found and start the process of getting closer to an insight. The actual insight development exercise will take place in another meeting once all available information has been assessed and any information gaps filled.

#4. Walk in your customers’ shoes

I am always disappointed that social media has further encouraged marketers to stay behind their desks instead of getting out and meeting their customers. Is this the case in your own organisation? Although you can certainly learn a lot about your customers’ opinions and needs online, it is only when you take their place that you get the chance to really see things from their perspective (>>Tweet this<<).

Walking in your customers’ shoes can be done in numerous ways and will depend upon the issue or opportunity you have identified, as well as the understanding you have gained from reviewing all the information you have gathered. You could for instance:

  • go out shopping and purchase item as one of your target customers. This will help you understand the decision making process of your target customers.
  • compare competitive offers online for a service you propose. Is your website as user-friendly as your competitors’? Have you thought of all the important elements you need to include?
  • call up the customer service departments of a number of your competitors and ask questions about their brand’s uses, reliability etc. Do your own staff provide the same information? Are they as knowledgeable, credible, empathetic?
  • role play your target customer in using your product and identify opportunities to improve for instance its packaging. If your product is used by mothers of toddlers, is it easy to open with one hand? If your product is used in certain demanding surroundings, such as outdoors, in the car, in the country, at night, is it easy to open and consume in such situations?

Whilst walking in your customers’ shoes, you should be extremely sensitive to any pain points you uncover in considering, evaluating, shopping and using your brand. If you are looking to define a completely new offer, then it is the pain points of your competitors’ offers that you also need to consider. Taking your customers perspective, rather than just observing them, can provide a wealth of information you might not get in any other way.

#5. Fill the gaps

Having gathered as much information and knowledge about your customer as you can, including walking in their shoes, it is important to turn it all into understanding. This also enables you to identify any information gaps there may be. Never do any market research until you have first identified all the information that is already available on the topic under review (>>Tweet this<<). These gaps can be filled by running a market research project or by acquiring the required information from other sources.

Before continuing with insight development, these new findings need to be summarised and integrated into the knowledge and information already reviewed. If the objectives of the project have been well defined, this should be relatively easy to do, as you had already clearly identified the need.

#6. Develop the insight

At this stage, you will certainly have a better understanding of your customer in relation to the identified issue or opportunity than you have ever had before. Insight development needs input from every member of the multidisciplinary team (>>Tweet this<<), which can take anything from a few hours to several days. Don’t hurry this process; we are often too keen to get to the action and accept to work with something that is not a true insight.

You will know when you have an insight. When you summarise it in one (or maximum two) sentences phrased as if it were being spoken by your customer, it creates what is known as an “ah-ha” moment. This is when everyone sees it is obvious and wonders why no-one ever thought of it before! I am sure you will agree with me that it is a wonderfully rewarding feeling when you get there.

Man taking the six steps to actionable insight

These are the six essential steps to developing true insight, but the most important step of all is still to come, that of actioning them. This is where the multi-disciplinary team really comes into its own. As all the team have agreed on the objectives and the insight, it is extremely easy for them to define the next steps that need to be taken. It also means that all areas of the organisation will work together to take the appropriate actions, rather than just the marketing department which may otherwise happen.

From my experience actioning insights is only a problem when not enough time has been spent at the beginning of the whole process, in understanding the change in your customers that you are looking to encourage. If you have trouble with this part of the process, then I would suggest reviewing the completeness of the definition of your objectives.

What areas of insight development do you find the most challenging? Do you have any questions about generating or improving your own insight development process? If so, then please add a comment or question below. I would be happy to answer them for you.

For more information on insight development, please check out our website at: http://www.c3centricity.com/home/understand/ as well as available trainings at: http://www.c3centricity.com/training-and-evaluation/

C³Centricity used images from Dreamstime and Kozzi.

Cannes Lions Award

Award Winning Communications are Powered by Insight & Customer Understanding

This time last month, many marketing and communications professionals had just returned from Cannes, France, where they had attended the annual Lions Awards Festival. They are now back in their offices and have probably been comparing their own communications to this year’s winners and wondering what they can do to get one of these coveted prizes in the near future.

For the rest of us, we are also looking at the winners, but more for gathering learnings on how to make our own communications more creative and impactful, without any ambition of winning a Lions one day.

That is why I decided to review a selection of the Press Lions Category and analyse how they might appeal to their target customers. I found three dominant themes running through all the prize-winners, some of which even incorporated several of them in one single campaign. If you’d like to see all the winning ads from these campaigns they can be found in the AdWeek article linked above.

1. Simple & clear messaging

We are all in a hurry these days; we have far too much to do and so we no longer read with as much attention as we did in the past. Today we just skim headlines and articles, and quickly decide whether they’re worth digging into in more detail or whether to pass over to the next one. It is therefore essential that ads communicate their message in a way that is quick to read, understand and capture. Examples of this from amongst the print winners:

Harvey Nichols - Grand Prix Campaign

Harvey Nicols insight built communicationsThese are clean, simple ads showing nicely packaged but cheap seasonal gifts, because you decided to  #SpendItOnYourself, as the campaign is entitled. The eye is naturally drawn to the simple red words, since the articles themselves are white on a white background. The reader gets the message and immediately thinks whether they too could give such items, but then also reflect on why they don’t spend (more) on treating themselves. This feel-good reaction makes for good recall of the campaign as well as the positive image transfer to Harvey Nichols.

Zwilling J. A. Henckels – Gold Lion Campaign

Zwilling insight built communicationsRather than saying how sharp these high-end knives are, this is illustrated by the incredibly thin slices of different foods shown in the campaign. The thin slices are then overlapped to show the shape of the blade and the text below is kept in the form of the handle. The artful design of the whole ad further complements the idea that these are special – definitely not cheap – knives, for connaisseurs only.

 

2. Emotional resonance

The UK was one of the first countries to use shock tactics in their road safety and other public service campaigns. Stimulating people’s emotions is guaranteed to get ads noticed and remembered, but it doesn’t all have to be negative.  Examples from amongst the winners:

Shanghai General Motors / Buick - Gold Lion Campaign

Buick ads built with insightThese ads show real people who have been injured in road accidents, holding up the signs that the drivers that hit them had ignored. The tagline “Signs are there for a reason” is clear and simple, and the images of the injured people emotionally impactful. The reader immediately thinks about occasions when they too have driven recklessly, but were lucky enough not to have injured anyone. The impact of the visuals remains long after the reader has turned the page.

Volkswagen - Gold Lion Campaign

Volkswagen communications built on insightA completely different and definitely light-hearted approach to travel is taken by Volkswagen in this winning campaign. They show how getting from one place to another can be fun in these playful, product-free ads. The visuals appeal as the viewer takes the extra few seconds to understand it and then takes away the message that driving a Polo GTI is fun too.

 

3. Confirming intellectual superiority

In today’s overcrowded urban areas, people look for ways to differentiate and prove themselves, whether physically or intellectually. This is one of the reasons that gaming has become so popular in all age groups. Finding the hidden signs in an image or understanding a play on words in an ad can increase the engagement, provided of course that they are neither too difficult nor too easy to solve. Examples from amongst the print winners:

Jeep - Gold Lion Campaign

Jeep communications built on insightsThis campaign includes ads that are both a play on words and images, doubly clever. Jeep shows images of animals which, when inverted became different animals or birds. The tag line “See whatever you want to see” refers to both this as well as to the advantage of the Jeep to place the driver higher up, with better visibility.

Penguin Group China - Gold Lion Campaign

Penguin communications built on insightAt first you might find these Penguin ads rather crowded and confusing, and therefore you don’t immediately “get” the joke – I admit it took me a few seconds!. But look carefully and you will see penguins holding microphone booms in otherwise classical illustrations of well-known literature. The ads are for Penguin’s new audiobooks and are a clever and amusing way to communicate the novelty.

To sum up my findings from this quick analysis, the winners have three points in common:

      • Their messages are clear and simple to understand
      • They connect emotionally with their audience
      • They offer the viewer something in return for their looking at it

All these ads clearly demonstrate that working with customer understanding and insight increases the likelihood that your communications will resonate with your target customers. Now we need to wait until next year to see how well these ads perform in impacting the sales and images of the brands. Which of these will be the real winners of Cannes? I would love to hear what you think.

If you would like in improving your own communications, or in understanding and engaging with your customers, whether using traditional or new media, then why not give us a call? Let us catalyze your own communications with some of our unique tools; contact us here.

C³Centricity uses images from Forbes and AdWeek in this post.

The new marketing man is a brand manager

Are P&G Right to End Marketing?

In the last couple of weeks, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion around P&G’s decision to change marketing into brand management.

The consumer products world closely watches whenever P&G announces changes, whether to their strategy, marketing or in this case their organisational structure. As this AdAge article (herementions “P&G seems well out in front of the rest of the marketing world — or what used to be known as the marketing world — on this”.

As businesses have become more social, there have been a lot of articles about marketing. Some have spoken about the need for marketing and IT to get together, if not even merge in some way (See this Forbes article). Others have proclaimed the end of the CMO’s position altogether, including the infamous piece by IMD’s President Dominique Turpin “The CMO is Dead ..… Welcome to the CCO. Then there have been even more articles challenging marketing to show their worth and suggesting metrics to prove their ROI (See Fournaise 2011 study of 600 CEOs or Forrester’s Marketing Performance Management Survey).

The fact that there have been so many different pieces on the topic over the last year or so, suggests to me that marketing is still vital for and extremely attractive to business, but that it is in desperate need of reinventing itself. I believe this is behind P&G’s move.

At the end of last year I wrote a post proposing what I thought would and wouldn’t change and what needs to. Six months on, in light of P&G’s announcement, I thought it useful to review my list:

What will change

  • Marketing can no longer work alone in a silo; it needs to become more collaborative and more commercial or business oriented. It can no longer remain fuzzy and hide behind claims that its ROI is difficult to measure.
  • Understanding customer service opportunitiesThe sales funnel will be (has already been) replaced by the purchase decision journey, which will be a multi-layered, flexible representation of the route to purchase. For more on this, read “How Great Customer Service Leads to Great Customer Loyalty”.
  • Advertising and messaging TO the customer will be replaced by valuable information made available FOR the customer. In line with the longer sales journey and multiple online consultations, communication will become more informative, more useful, more timely.
  • Local will no longer be geographic but “Native”. Whether it’s language, habits or interests, customers will be targeted on their similarities that will rarely, if ever, include geographical proximity.
  • Mobile web consulting will become the norm, so brand sites need to become adaptive. Content will aim to inform, educate and entertain first and foremost, rather than sell, and websites will become flexible and adaptive to the differing screens and customer needs.

What won’t change

  • The customer is still the king, but content joins the ranks in almost equal position, needing more respect and value, and less commoditisation. For a great post on this read “5 Ways Content Marketing Must Change in 2014”.
  • Recommendations will remain a vital part of choice and decision-making, but they will no longer come from just friends and family. They will come from organised collection – think TripAdvisor or Angie’s List – or from (self) proclaimed experts through their Blog posts and faithful followers.
  • Customer (consumer) understanding remains vital and in fact the need for understanding will even increase as customers will be in constant evolution.

What must change

  • We are all swamped with messages and information and yet – perhaps because of this – our attention span is declining. Messaging must become shorter and simpler as people use headlines to decide whether or not to stick around.
  • In addition to the increased need for informative content, it will need to engage as well as (or is it more than?) inform. Storytelling will become an essential skill for marketers, both internally and externally.
  • Wearable technology will totally change our where and when decisions of messaging. The customer will not only be in charge of what messages are received but when to be “visible” to receive them.
  • The old marketing funnel to advocacyHaving changed the sales funnel to a path to purchase, the usual loyalty funnel no longer works. The simple path from awareness to loyalty will be replaced by a constant and consistent battle for trust. What’s more it will never be truly “won” as customers continue to be fascinated by novelty.
  • Marketing can no longer depend on creativity alone. It won’t be enough, as if it ever was, and marketers will need to get (even more?) comfortable with their BigData and its usage.
  • Customer understanding will come from multiple sources and market researchers will become understanding analysts responsible for turning the unstoppable flow of information into the organisation, into palatable morsels of digestible stories.

Although I didn’t predict P&G’s change, it does in fact address most of the above, by combining four functions under the new title of Brand Management: brand management (formerly known as marketing), consumer and marketing knowledge (their name for market research), communications and design. At least by combining these groups under a single leader they will be forced to work less in silos and there should be more and better collaboration. Only time will tell if this move will be successful.

Do you think P&G’s change is the right move? Will you consider doing something similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you are, or aspire to the “old” CMO or marketing roles. 

If you need help in adapting to the new world of marketing, why not work with one of the new breed of marketers? Someone who combines cultural sensitivity with creativity and technical know-how; a catalyst for the change your organisation needs. Contact us here and let’s discuss your needs.

C³Centricity used an image from Microsoft in this post.

Getting better customer understanding

How Well do you Know your Customers? Can you Answer these 12 Questions?

How well do you know your target customers? I mean really know them? Are they men, women, young, old, Fortune 100 companies, local businesses? If you can at least answer that, then you have the basics, but how much more could you know about them? Can you answer the following twelve questions?

I was recently working with a local service company who was looking for help with their online presence. They were keen to get more active on social media and had asked for advice about the best platforms, optimal frequency of publishing and possible content ideas.

However they were in for a surprise. Rather than getting straight onto the “sexy” topic of social media, I started by taking them through the basics of target customer identification. Lucky for them that I did! When we had finished the exercise, we had found five different targets for them to target, rather than the mere two they had been addressing until now. This clearly would have a huge impact on the where, what and how they communicated online. The 4 Ws of customer understanding

These are the twelve questions that enabled us to brainstorm, identify and then complete a better and more complete description of their target customers. Their use also resulted in clear differentiated segments for their services – three more than they had originally thought! How would you like to double your own market potential? Read on:

  1. WHO DEMOGRAPHICS: OK this is usually a “no-brainer” and is how most organisations describe their customers. Not really original and definitely not competitive, but still the essential foundation.
  2. WHAT THEY USE: Whether you are offering a product or service, you need to know what your customers are using today. And not only for your category, but in adjacent categories too. What do they use – if anything – if your product / category is not available?
  3. WHAT THEY CONSUME: Here we need to understand what types of information and media they are consuming; what do they read, watch, listen to in their spare time. Which social media do they use, what websites do they consult on a regular basis?
  4. WHAT THEY DO: How do your customers spend their time? What type of lifestyle do they have? What are their hobbies? What do they do all day, and in the evening and at weekends?
  5. WHAT THEY BUY: This is where you describe their current category purchasing habits. How frequently and what quantity do they buy? Do they have regular buying habits? Do they do research before buying or repurchasing? Do they compare and if so how, where, why?
  6. WHERE THEY USE: Is the category consumed in home, in work, on vacation? With friends, with their partner, their children, with colleagues? Are there certain surroundings more conducive to consumption? What makes it so?
  7. WHERE THEY BUY: Do your target customers have certain places and times they buy? Is it an habitual or impulse purchase? Is it seasonal?
  8. WHERE THEY CONSUME: Today “consume” covers not just traditional media but new media as well. From where do they get information about products? From manufacturers, friends, family, colleagues? Do they access it online, in print, on radio or TV, at home or on the road? What websites and people do they follow, listen to and value the opinion of? What interests do they have in general and concerning the category?
  9. WHERE THEY SEE: One reason to target a specific group of customers is so that you can better communicate with them. Where are they most likely to be open to your messages; what media, what times, which days?
  10. WHY VALUES: What values do your customers have that you are meeting with your product or service, and explain why they are using it? Do they have other values that are not currently addressed, either by you or your competitors? Do these values offer the possibility of a differentiated communications platform or product / service concept?
  11. WHY EMOTIONS: What is the emotional state of your customers when they are considering a purchase or use, both of the category and the brand? Clearly identified emotions enable you to more easily resonate with your customers through empathising with their current situation. You are more likely to propose a solution that will satisfy their need or desire when their emotional state is precisely identified.
  12. WHY MOTIVATIONS: What motivates the customer to consider, buy and use their category and brand choice? Emotions and motivations are closely linked both to each other and to the customer’s need state. By identifying the need-state you want to address, you will be better able to understand your customers and increase the resonance of your communications.

If you can answer all twelve of these questions in detail, then you certainly know your customers intimately. But before you sit back and relax on your laurels, remember that people are constantly changing and what satisfies them today, is unlikely to satisfy them tomorrow. Therefore you need to keep a track on all four layers of your customer description to stay ahead of competition, as well as to satisfy and hopefully delight your customers.

As mentioned above, by answering and completing a detailed description of the target audience for my client, we were able to identify a couple of new segments that my client’s services could address. Although their demographics were similar, their emotional and need states were quite different. This gave us the opportunity to respond with slightly different service offers for each group.

If you would like to try out this exercise for yourself, we have some useful templates that we make available to C³C Members. Why not sign up and get access? It’s FREE to join.

For more information on better identifying and understanding target customers, please check out our website: http://www.c3centricity.com/home/understand/

C³Centricity used images from Dreamstime and Microsoft in this post.

This post has been adapted from one which first appeared on C³Centricity in April 2013.

Checking the 7Ps of outstanding customer service

Which of these 10 Customer Centricity Steps are you Missing?

Last Saturday was the start of Summer in the Northern hemisphere and the weather certainly confirms this, at least for now! Summer is a great time to reflect on the progress we have made to date on our journey to Customer Centricity.

Organisations need to take a step back occasionally and review how their plans are going. What changes do they need to make to ensure they meet their objectives over the remaining six months of the year? So here are my ten ways to tell if you are well on your way to becoming truly customer centric – and what actions you can take to get further along your journey.

#1. Identify the category in which you are competing

This may sound strange to you, but many brands are not competing in the category in which they first thought they were. Think soup which is now a meal replacement, or laptops which are now entertainment platforms.

Action: Review how your product or service fits into the customers’ daily life and how they compare and decide between options. This will help you identify your real competitors and the actual category in which you are competing.

#2. Understand your primary target

Knowing precisely who the customer is for each of your brands is the first essential step to satisfying them. Use the BCG Matrix to help select the best group. Do you already work with this matrix, or do you have a better system? Please share your own best practice below, so I can learn.

Boston Matrix for improved customer centricity and segmentation evaluationAction: Review the target audience for each of your brands and ensure you have information on their “4Ws”. In other words the Who, What, Where and Why: demographics, purchase, usage, media use, places of purchase, consumption, connections to communications, their values, usage motivations and emotions when doing so. If you would like to learn more about targeting, check out this post.

#3. Watch and listen to your customers

Personal experience of your customers is essential to putting them at the heart of your business.

Action: Ensure everyone has regular – ideally monthly – contact with the customer. This can be by listening in at the call centre, watching market research interviews & discussions, or observing customers as they shop and use your product / service.

#4. Know what current trends could mean for your business

Many organisations follow trends, but they don’t provide any competitive advantage. It’s time you started turning them into future scenarios or use future prototyping. (Contact us here to learn more about this)

Action: Identify the most relevant trends for your brand and then project them into the future to develop two axes of uncertainty and four plausible future worlds. These will help prepare the business for future opportunities and challenges. Alternatively, why not try Sci-Fi Future Prototyping? (Contact us here for more information)

#5. Reinvent your innovation

Most organisations innovate based upon their current knowledge or technical skills. This keeps them boxed into a narrow band of categories.

Action: Take your NPD thinking outside its box, by making use of all relevant innovation levers, including, but not limited to, packaging, channels, sourcing, communications, branding, services. Check last week’s post for more details about innovation.

#6. Follow your image

It is amazing how many companies don’t follow their brand images on a regular basis. Image trends are a great way to be alerted to possible sales issues before they appear in the numbers.

Action: Identify the major image attributes of both your own and competitor brands, and measure them regularly (annually for fast moving categories, every two to three years for slower moving ones).

#7. Turn your information into insight

Whilst information and knowledge are essential to gather, it is only when they are turned into understanding and insight that they become truly customer centric.

Action: Review your insight development process and ensure decisions about customer satisfaction are based on them and not just on information. Insights ensure your communications resonate with your customers and your product / service delights and sometime surprises them.

#8. Share your information and insights

Companies spend a lot of money gathering data and information about the market and customers. However, in most cases they spend far too much money, because the information that is needed is actually already available somewhere in the company.

Action: Review your organisation’s information needs and negotiate contracts and access company-wide rather than by department. Make your information and insights available to everyone in the company through a library or database with appropriately managed access rights.

#9. Evaluate your progress

As the infamous quote from Peter Drucker says:

“What gets measured gets managed” (>>Tweet this<<)

Besides brand image, are you following other KPIs to measure your progress on your journey to customer centricity?

Action: Identify the three to five most important areas you want to improve and then measure them consistently. If the numbers aren’t trending up, act – see #10. below. The actual metrics you follow will depend upon your industry, but may include market comparison (shares), availability (distribution or out-of-stock) communications impact, competitivity, value.

#10. Plan for action

Once you have identified the KPIs to follow, you need to take action to improve those that are trending downwards and perhaps also those which are stable.

Action: Since your KPIs are the most important metrics for your business, plan actions as soon as their trend changes and don’t wait for them to start declining. Once they are, it will be much more difficult to reverse.

These ten steps should ensure your organisation remains focussed on the customer and doesn’t get lost in the day-to-day issues of the business. After all, as I have been quoted many times for saying:

“There may be customers without brands, but there are no brands without customers”  (>>Tweet this<<)

Think about it; do you have the right priorities? How do you know? Have I missed an essential step off of my list above? If so, let me know. Please also share which of your actions towards customer centricity you are struggling with the most. Together we’ll find a solution.

If you would like to know how customer centric your organisation really is, then why not complete the C³C Evaluator? Check it out on our website: http://www.c3centricity.com/C3Cmembers

Need help on your journey to customer centricity? Let us help you catalyze your business; contact us here.

C³Centricity uses images from Dreamstime.com and Kozzi.com

This post is based on one that was first published on C³Centricity in July 2013

Getting R&D excited about innovation

How to get R&D as Excited about Consumer Innovation as you are

Did you do a double-take when you read this post’s title? I bet you did. R&D is at the heart of innovation for most major manufacturers, so they should be excited by consumer understanding, shouldn’t they? You would think so, but in reality, their concepts are almost always based on the company’s current technical know-how and skills. If you want to break away from this very predictable process and get them excited so they add some “oomph” to your innovations, then read on.

One of my most loyal CPG clients contacted me recently about the latest problem (opportunity?) he has been asked to address: making R&D more consumer centric. Having faced a similar challenge in one of my previous jobs, I immediately empathised with him. It can really be a daunting task, especially when speaking to people who are usually more interested in numbers than emotions.

I remember speaking about consumer centricity at an annual R&D conference and in the discussion session that followed, the Head of Operations commented “You know Denyse, our R&D group is very consumer centric; we know exactly what consumers need. It’s marketing who don’t know how to explain to consumers why they need what we develop!”

Trying to keep a straight face, I thanked him for his comment and also for having just proven my point. I said that I believed it was time for R&D to become more consumer centric by developing a better understanding of consumers and their needs. I then went on to suggest some ways they could get closer to current or potential consumers. By the end of my talk I had a queue of volunteers wanting me to organise some of the suggested actions for them. Here’s what I shared:

Observe & Listen to your Consumers

Most people working in a company and certainly those working in R&D, know far more about the category than the average consumer. However, most employees – excluding hopefully the insight team – don’t know what their consumers really think about their products and services.

Observation of consumers as they go about their daily lives, helps us to identify pain points, whilst also stimulating new thinking and concepts. Listening to their complaints and ideas, whether online, through carelines or during a market research project, can provide the consumer perspective and input for new or better solutions.

It’s time for R&D to get out of the factory and into the shops & homes of consumers (>>Tweet this<<)

Involve your Consumers

Ben and Jerry are great at innovationLast year Ben & Jerry asked residents of five cities in the USA to vote for the names of new ice cream flavors that reflected their locales. The brand’s Scoop Truck toured 11 cities and also served as one of the campaigns’ voting platforms. Once consumers had eaten their free frozen treats, they were asked to use their spoons as “ballots” (they voted by depositing their spoons in one of several recycling boxes marked with various ingredient names). Doesn’t that remind you of another brand which used a similar voting tactic when it was starting out – Innocent?

Great brands and companies have no problem “stealing with pride” and recognise good ideas when they see them (>>Tweet this<<)

Ben & Jerry’s are by no means the only brand to involve their customers in developing or choosing new products and services. Nespresso have been collaborating with their Club members for years on many aspects of their marketing. Whether choosing the end of their commercials or identifying the next new blend to be launched, Nespresso Club members are made to feel important and privileged.

Involving customers in the development of new product and/or service concepts not only makes them feel valued, it also makes them more loyal and valuable advocates of your brands too (>>Tweet this<<)

Expand your Thinking

Innovation leversHow do you come up with ideas and concepts for new products and services today? If you are like most companies, they probably come in a majority from your current portfolio of brands. Whilst this can meet with a certain level of success, as it is what customers expect, or rather demand, there is another process that can drive even greater success. This is the use of what are often called innovation levers, or what others refer to as “the sand box”. I love the latter term as it suggests light-hearted play, which is an effective way to get people thinking “outside the box”.

Innovation levers enable thinking to “push the envelope” and to expand outside the box in which R&D and marketing can sometimes find themselves. Rather than thinking about the next flavour or packaging idea, why not consider a new channel or communications strategy?

Coca Cola takes brand innovation seriouslyLast year, Coke used two of these levers, but combined them, when it launched its “sharing can”. Not only can the can be split in two for sharing, it also enables new potential consumers to consider buying a can, such as those with smaller thirsts or those traveling.

This year they took this winning idea a step further and launched the bottle that could only be opened by another Coke bottle – another way of sharing.

Starting from a different innovation lever than the one you usually use can result in more creative NPD concepts (>>Tweet this<<)

Go Beyond Trend Following

Another challenge when looking to make R&D more customer centric, is in moving them from trend following to scenario planning. R&D people often seem to be more comfortable with trends and “poo poo” future scenarios as improbable forecasts. It is therefore important to explain to them that scenario planning is not forecasting. If they can allow themselves to be open to listening to a story, which exposes imaginary but plausible new worlds to them, they can become inspired by the opportunities.

The innovative ideas that are created from scenario planning, have in my experience been amongst the most ground-breaking ever developed. Isn’t that exactly what we would all like to market, rather than the staple diet of predictable renovations?

These are just four ideas that I shared during that conference a few years ago, to stimulate and excite the R&D department. Hopefully they have inspired you too to have a go at convincing your own operations people to get closer to the customer.

Have you other examples of how you got your own R&D people to think outside their technical box? Then I’d love to hear about them, so please share your thoughts and ideas below.

Need help in taking your innovation outside its box, or in connecting with your customers? Let’s discuss how we can help you catalyze your customer centricity; contact us today.

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft, Ben &Jerry’s and Coke in this post.

This post has been adapted from one first published on C³Centricity in June 2013

How to reverse trend and meet your marketing plan

Why Most Marketing Plans Fail & 9 Ways to Succeed with Yours

This Monday is Memorial Day in the US, when Americans everywhere think back to those in the US Armed Forces who gave their lives in the line of duty. I too am thinking back, but to all the marketing plans and ideas that have been sacrificed!

The reasons why some plans are accepted and others aren’t are many. Non-alignment with corporate plans is one of the most usual, but lack of clarity, consistency, preparation or budget are also common. And even when accepted, they aren’t always executed as planned. So I thought that it would be useful to take a look back at our own marketing plans that we set earlier this year and review what is and isn’t working. We still have time to make changes and meet our 2014 targets, so which of the following is your current issue?

Declining market share

Firstly, you should be ashamed that you’ve let your brand slide so much that you are actually losing share! Brand equity measures would have given you a clear warning that something was going wrong, months if not years ago! Did you ignore the numbers or were your efforts too small to have the necessary impact? Either way, it’s time to start working out what’s going wrong. Review the 5P’s of marketing for starters and prioritise actions based on what you find.

Stable market share

So your brand’s growth is slowing? This happens in the normal life-cycle of a brand, so no panic, but you do need to take action to renew growth. But don’t think that small tweaks will be enough. Competition is ruthless these days and you will need to create some buzz around your brand. Surprise and delight is the name of the game to win (back) consumers. Start from your strengths and then ramp one or two of them up a couple of levels.

Declining image

As mentioned above, your brand image will start to weaken before market share is affected (>>Tweet this<<), so in theory you still have time to prevent significant share loss. But you must act now! It is more effective to review your image ratings by experience group, to see what you need to do to recover lapsed users or convert more trialists. In my experience the answers should be clear from a regularly run and thoughtfully analysed brand image study using a well-developed attribute list.

Losing consumer trust

This is a serious issue. (as if the others aren’t!) Trust in companies and brands is what enables consumers to forgive mistakes or accept higher prices. (>>Tweet this<<) And it tips the balance in your favour in product comparability when performances are similar. Trust is a complex principle built out of a number of influencing factors, such as integrity, reliance, confidence, quality and worthiness. Which of these has resulted in your consumers’ loss of trust? Once identified, you will need to review how you can influence it. It will take time – sometimes a lot of time – to change perceptions.

Inconsistent communications

Since most companies have one product manager or group in charge of each brand, this shouldn’t happen and yet it still does. Multiple suppliers with differing interpretations of the brand promise, and annual revamps of simply the previous year’s work, makes for communications that gradually slip from the original positioning and message. Instead of just looking at the latest or planned communications, it is vital to also review the previous five years’ work. It then becomes obvious how messaging has shifted. (>>Tweet this<<)

Inconsistent product performance

As with communications, most product testing compares current to the proposed new product and sometimes also versus the competition. Unfortunately small changes made can be undetectable to consumers even in direct comparison, or are within statistical errors and so are ignored. But over time, consumers are likely to come to realise that the product to which they have been loyal for many, many years, is no longer what it used to be. Therefore it is useful (essential) to compare product ratings to those from previous years, as well as to the current product.

No emotional attachment

This is a dangerous situation to be in, since if consumers have no emotional attachment to your brand, they can switch without too much thought. In fact your brand is no longer a brand, it’s a commodity! It needs to stand for something in the hearts and minds of consumers, so that they will choose you rather than a competitor. Especially in categories where performance differences are minimal, emotional attachment is what keeps consumers loyal. (>>Tweet this<<)Review how your consumers feel about your brand and what you can do to build more emotional attachment. The stimulation of the senses is a great way to do this. (read more here).

Confusing brand hierarchy

Your line extensions are like family members. There should be a well-defined parent brand and each variant should have clear resemblances to it. As mentioned above concerning product and communications consistency, line extensions can drift away from the look and feel of the parent brand, especially in dynamic categories where innovation and renovation are vital. When was the last time you looked at your whole product range – together? Differences in fonts, colours, sub-brand descriptions and design become quickly obvious. Make the changes needed to get the family back in line.

Lack of (the right) social media presence

I couldn’t end this list without including social media and the internet as this is where most consumer product brands “live” today. (>>Tweet this<<)It is not enough to launch a website and Facebook page for every brand and promotion. Living is the operative word here, so it’s much better to have one site that is regularly updated than tens that are visited by twenty people a month (and yes I’ve found that in many major CPGs in the past). Also make sure that your tone online fits your tone offline and portrays the same personality. Social media is not new media, it’s just another channel, so it must fit into your overall communication’s strategy.

Hopefully this list has given you some food for thought and ideas on which to take action this week. If you are facing a different challenge I’d love to hear about it and possibly offer you some solutions. Just drop me a line here.      

C³Centricity used an image from Kozzi in this post.

Brand portfolio management requires limiting barcodes

Brand Portfolio Management: How to Make More (Money) with Less (Brands)

How do you know when you have too many brands and variants? In my opinion the answer is that you have too many when you can’t answer the question! A couple of months ago I wrote a very popular piece called “A Beginners Guide to Brand Portfolio Management”. This week I’d like to take it a little further and speak about some of the reasons brand portfolio management is so important.

 

Brand portfolio management

Brand management is essential to a healthy business, but marketing has one of the quickest promotion ladders of many professions. That’s great news for marketers, less so for brands. Why? Well because marketers want to make an impression and get that promotion as quickly as possible. And one of the easiest ways is by launching a new brand or variant.

 

I believe this is one of the main reasons why we poor consumers often end up NOT buying something, because we just can’t make our minds up between the vast choice of flavours, packs and sizes on display in some large hypermarkets. More is most definitely not always better when it comes to retailing! (>>Tweet this<<)

Does a brand really need tens of flavours / aromas and hundreds of variants? I decided to take a look at the leading global brands to help answer this. According to Interbrand, these are the top 10 most valuable global brands:

                1. Apple
                2. Google
                3. Coca-Cola
                4. IBM
                5. Microsoft
                6. General Electric
                7. McDonald’s
                8. Samsung
                9. Intel
                10. Toyota

Now most of these brands certainly don’t have hundreds of variants from which to choose and therefore final selection is relatively easy. However, interestingly only one of these is a CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand, so I decided to look at the sub-category of consumer brands (Interbrand separates Food and Beverage brands from other consumer brands, don’t ask me why, especially when many make both! The four beverage brands in the top 100 – Coca-Cola (3), Pepsi (22), Nescafe (37), Sprite (69) – would all fall into the top ten consumer brands):

                1. Gillette (16)
                2. Pampers (29)
                3. Kellogg’s (30)
                4. L’Oreal (39)
                5. Danone (49)
                6. Colgate (50)
                7. Heinz (53)
                8. Nestle (56)
                9. Johnson & Johnson (81)
                10. Duracell (85)

As Elan Cole from Interbrand says in the summary of this category

“Consumer brands bank on their unique versions of these products to generate and grow value. But as soon as one brand patents a technology, competitors (and the retailer that sells it) race to copy it, one-up it, or make it in strawberry flavor. The advantage that technology brings to a brand is only as valuable as the window of time that the brand controls the manufacturing and access to it. For consumer brands, that window is narrow.”

This might explain why consumer brands tend to have far more variants than some of the other leading brands and categories mentioned above, whose technical advances often last longer.

Two of the leaders in CPG (Unilever and P&G) both culled the number of their brands’ SKUs about 15 years ago from thousands down to “mere” hundreds and continue to do so on a regular basis. Taking Pareto’s Principle as a guide, it is relatively easy to cut the bottom 5%, 10% or even 20% of brand variants without losing any significant share. This is why both companies continue to do this on a frequent basis.

What is surprising however, is that other CPG giants don’t, or at least not to the same extent! It’s as if they know they should be making cuts and so make a few, but in the end they don’t go far enough because they seem to be scared of losing share. If you are struggling to make this difficult decision yourself, then perhaps I can provide a few reasons to convince you to make that much needed pruning:

  • Those multiplications of flavours, aromas, packaging etc you are making are renovations, not innovations. Wake up marketers, you are not innovating!
  • Retailers can’t stock every variant, so the more you offer the less chance you have of getting wide distribution. Think back to your pre-launch market assumptions; I bet they included a wildly exaggerated level of distribution in order to get that precious launch approval.
  • Precise targeting and a deep understanding of your consumers are the most successful ways to limit SKU explosion. If you are suffering from too many variants, then perhaps you should go back and review what you know about your consumers and what they really need.
  • Arguably some categories need constant renovation (food?), but even that’s no excuse for simply multiplying SKUs. Use the “one in, one out” rule, because if you don’t the retailer probably will and without regard for your own plans and preferences.
  • Remember, that if you offer a vast choice of variants for each brand, consumers could get analysis paralysis and end up walking out of the store without buying anything

Coming back to the leading consumer brands from the Interbrands’ list, all top ten excel in brand portfolio strategies that are precisely differentiated, clearly targeted and well communicated. David Aaker wrote an article on L’Oreal a few months ago (Which firm has the best brand portfolio?) which explains the above theories quite well.

I believe most brands with hundreds of variants in a market, are being managed by a lazy marketer who also doesn’t have the courage to face up to the lack of success of some of his “babies”. Are you one of them? What’s your excuse? I’d love to hear your reasons for keeping all your SKUs.

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft and Dreamstime in this post.

Services and sourcing matter

Sourcing & Services Matter: Why Price Alone Won’t get your Customers to Stay

Price wars are a standard challenge of marketers, whether working on the retail or manufacturing side. They have become more frequent in the last couple of years following the recession. Consumers are today even more price sensitive and are searching for great value and even greater deals. However as most retailers are now claiming lower prices, it becomes less of a differentiator. I therefore read with interest that Walmart is moving from its emphasis on low prices to one on sourcing.

Walmart gives serviceIn 2007 Walmart replaced its “Always Low Prices, Always” slogan by “Save Money Live Better”, so this new push with the message “Made in the US” is worth noting. This latest announcement is made in conjunction with its promise of an additional $10 million in grants to non-profits focused on “on-shoring” manufacturing efforts.

 

Target gives serviceTarget announced last October its plans to introduce the “Target Sustainable Product Standard” which was developed to “establish a common language, definition, and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.” Target will ask vendors to complete an assessment that is designed to determine a sustainability score for their products. Products will be assigned a score of between zero and 100 “based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency, and overall environmental impact”.

 

Both these initiatives show a move to a more caring retail environment. A study run by the Boston Consulting Group at the end of last year, found that more than half of companies with sales greater than $1 billion are actively planning or considering to bring production back from China to the U.S. This rise from a mere 37% just six months earlier shows a significant shift in American sensitivity.

 

Jumping across the “pond” to the UK, something similar is happening in terms of shifting attention from price to value, or should I say values?

 

Tesco gives serviceTesco recently introduced their “Price Promise”, a pledge to match the price of a basket of both own-label and branded products at Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, or to offer customers a voucher at the till for the difference. Sainsbury’s has appealed to the Advertising Standards Authority, arguing that this claim was misleading customers. However, their wrath was, in part at least, sparked by the fact that this new Tesco pledge came in response to their own highly successful “Brand Match” scheme, although the latter only compares branded products.

 

Sainsbury's gives serviceSainsbury’s has now retaliated with the launch of a new campaign with the title “Same price, Different values”, a possible dig at the fact that although Tesco won the ASA appeal, Sainsbury’s might appeal as they claim that their own-label products cannot be compared since many are locally produced. To support this position, the National Farmers’ Union has now taken a stance, backing Sainsbury’s. In light of last year’s  horse-meat scandal, the values of retailers and the sourcing of food has become even more crucial, and Sainsbury’s sees this latest row as an opportunity to emphasise the difference between itself and Tesco.

 

If pricing has become (still is?) the entry stakes for retailers today, what else can they do to differentiate themselves and propose a viable alternative that appeals to today’s shoppers? Here are a few I came up with, based upon some of the more interesting initiatives and current trends in societal sensitivities:

  • Individualism: I live alone, as do a large minority of people in the developed world (47% in Sweden according to Euromonitor) How about offering smaller packs and individual servings? I would happily pay more for the convenience and the guilt avoidance. (I throw out vast quantities of food that is past its sell-buy date)
  • Localism: the horsemeat and other food scandals have made people wary of buying from countries where they are unsure of their controls, hygiene or ethics. Identified sourcing and traceability brings trust and reassurance.
  • Fair trade guarantees fairness and serviceFairness: This helps eliminate the guilt attached to buying (too) cheap products. We now know that products from the East are in general cheaper than products from the West. However, we still want reassurance that workers are being treated fairly. Fair Trade associations and the end to child-labour are causes most shoppers would be will to pay (a little) more for.
  • Sustainability: Recent weather changes have finally convinced everyone of the need to look after and protect our planet from further degradation. Therefore sustainability has become something to fight for. Whether this is reducing the use of palm oil to protect Indonesian rainforests or finding alternatives to bottled water which both wastes resources and pollutes the land, people are demanding more of manufacturers.
  • Packaging: Packs are no longer just for protection and shelf-impact, they provide information on ingredients, sourcing and links to apps that provide more about the company who made it or give access to reviews from other buyers.
  • Lowe's offers virtual room designerServices: Some retailers are offering schools for cooking, home repairs, creative pursuits or decorating (see Loew’s virtual room designer as a great example of this). No longer is it sufficient to sell products, people are getting help with making the best use of them and thus getting more value from their purchase.

 

These are just a few of the ways that retailers are building their relationships with their shoppers. They may come for price, but that is an unsustainable competitive advantage in today’s world. Retailers that maintain the loyalty of their customers will be offering more in terms of support and services to keep them coming back.  

If you would like to update your own retail environment and services, why not contact us for an informal chat? We can provide shopper journey mapping, in-store eye-tracking, at shelf facial imaging and many more forward-thinking tools.

C3Centricity used images from Dreamstime and named company websites.

Blood brothers sparks many emotions

What Blood Brothers can teach us about Emotions & Customer Satisfaction

I recently had the privilege of seeing Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers at the wonderful Grand Theatre in Swansea. This musical is in its 29th year yet doesn’t have a wrinkle. It is still as relevant today as it was when it was first performed and continues to surprise and delight audiences from around the UK.

As the music continued to turn in my head for days afterwards, I wondered how a play that was written so many years ago, could continue to resonate with audiences so successfully. Furthermore, it is a story that is introduced from the end; you see the twin boys dead and go back to their early days to understand how it happened. As is also the case with the Titantic movie, despite knowing the ending, the story still fascinates and the audience is still surprised when the known event finally takes place.

I realised that in fact this is a similar situation to that in which many companies find themselves today. Their customers know the ending to the story (the product usage), yet would still love (expect?) to be surprised and delighted. So what can we learn from successes such as Blood Brothers and Titanic that we can apply to our own brands to build more emotional responses into our customer satisfaction? Here are a few that I came up with – once the music began to quiet in my head!

Resonate

One of the reasons for the success of both the Titanic movie and the Blood Brothers musical is that they are strong stories about a multitude of human emotions: love, trust, optimism, fear, sadness, anger. They are stories told by sharing the feelings of all the main characters. People empathise more easily with recognisable emotions and remember or imagine themselves in similar situations to those shown. The events then resonate without them even realising what is happening until their own emotions stir.

QUESTION: Are you identifying the needs of your customers so that you can better meet them from an emotional as well as rational perspective? What could you show or communicate that would stir memories or empathy?

Surprise

As I mentioned earlier, even though we know the story and more importantly the ending, we are still surprised when the fateful event takes place. In the case of the Blood Brothers musical, this was with surprisingly loud, double gun-shots taken from policemen discretely positioned amongst the audience. It  was something for which we in the audience were neither expecting nor prepared for at the time it occurred. There was an outburst of shock followed by nervous laughter amongst the spectators, proof that they were both surprised and emotionally involved.

QUESTION: What positive surprises have your customers experienced when purchasing or using your product, or when contacting you about the usage of your brands? Can you find more for them to enjoy so they then share their experiences with others?

Delight

Once the shooting of the twins had taken place and the audience had calmed down, the full company came on stage for the final song. The music and voices built to a crescendo and ended to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. I understand that 99 times out of 100 this is the case, which doesn’t surprise me. The relief of the engaging music after such a sad event made people happy and thankful for the wondrous performance and climax.

At the end of Titanic, the movie ends with the leading lady letting go of her childhood sweetheart’s memory in an emotional farewell as she tosses the diamond in the ocean and then sees him welcoming her as she passes over. I seem to remember that Top Gun has a similar event near the end, when Maverick is seen tossing Goose’s dogtags into the ocean. How do these all work so well? I believe it’s because they free the audience from all their pent up emotions and people are delighted with their new-found (emotional) freedom.

Customer satisfaction just works betterQUESTION: Is there a way you can work with your customers’ feelings and liberate them from their pent up emotions? In the case of products and services, these are more likely to be feelings of frustration or disappointment with the pre-purchase situation. If you can replace these through a positive experience, then your customers will be delighted and thankful to you, and memories of how you made them feel will remain in their memories for a long time. Emotions beat rational satisfaction every time, so work to stir them whenever you can.

Simplify

Too many things in life today are overly complex and unduly complicated. Those of us who are from an earlier generation, sometimes long for the ‘good old days’. Back then, life seemed simpler, things worked or they didn’t. When something works well, it just works. No bells and whistles, no lost energy, no difficult instructions to follow or manoeuvres to perform.

Apple still excels at customer satisfactionThis is one of the reasons why Apple’s products are so popular. They are solid, they perform as expected and you can use them immediately upon purchase, intuitively, without reading the instructions. In fact, have you seen how few instructions are actually included in the Apple product boxes?

We don’t read as much nor as thoroughly as we used to; communications must be simple, easy to scan and of minimal length.

QUESTION: Could you simplify the way your brand is purchased, used, consumed? Can you simplify its packaging or the information that is printed on it? Is you product information too complicated and long-winded; could it be shortened?

Engage

customer satisfaction comes from storytellingI can’t conclude without a mention of storytelling. I know everyone speaks about it these days and we all now understand its importance. But for me it’s not just about storytelling, it’s about engagement. Entertain, share, teach; make it worthwhile for your customers to spend their time, money and emotions on your products, services and communications.

QUESTION: Are you engaging your customers and do you understand how your stories are being heard, understood and shared?

 

One week after watching the Blood Brothers musical, the music is beginning to fade in my head, but the memory of how it made me feel is as alive and raw as it was seven days ago. This is the power of emotions. This is how to remain in your customers’ minds, memories and more importantly hearts. How will you do the same with your brands?

C³Centricity used images from Swansea’s Grand Theatre, Dreamstime, Microsoft and Apple in this post.