Consumer insights in marketing

Published 28 Oct 2021 5 minute read

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Consumer insights (or customer insights) are the gold that you’re after when conducting qualitative market research. 

Defining Consumer Insights

A consumer insight is a strong, specific, concise and actionable theory about why people do the things that they do (or think the things they think). Let’s break this down:

  • Strong. An insight isn’t a guess. It’s a strong theory because you’ve tested it, interpreted good consumer data, and have been able to replicate it.
  • Specific. Great insight narrows its scope to a precise population, behaviour and/or thought process. Sweeping generalizations are not insights.
  • Concise. An insight is not a long essay. It should be a few direct, short sentences that explains a behaviour or thought process clearly.
  • Actionable. The insight must relate to your client’s needs. In market research, this could take the form of a communication strategy, product development, revised customer journey or campaign tactic.
  • Theory. Customer insights can and should evolve. Rarely will you discover something that is an immovable truth regarding human behaviour.

If brands and businesses understand a consumer, they are able to create more relevant marketing messages and evolve a brand strategy to potentially enter new markets. Companies can design products and services that customers will want to use. Sales reps will be able to anticipate risks and navigate cultures and subcultures in their industry to increase sales. Marketers will be able to identify and map customer journeys to create customer experiences that motivate customers to purchase. And, customer experience professionals can better interpret customer feedback and build stronger customer relationships and improve customer experience.

And if you can do that better than the competition, your brand and business will outpace them accordingly.

Consumer understanding

Why consumer insights drive today's marketing strategies

Consumer insights have always been important to marketers. But in modern times, they’ve only increased in value.

This is thanks to technology, and the power it has given to the 21st century consumer. People are almost completely in charge of the media they consume. If you’re not satisfied with whatever it is you’re watching, reading, or listening to—you can simply switch to something else. While this has always been technically true, the sheer amount of choices available means that most customers have the luxury of nearly always finding something that resonates with them.

Marketers can no longer rely on a captive audience (like when there were only a few TV channels). Mass media has lost a lot of strength to the fragmented and decentralized nature of the Internet.

The bottom line: if you want your marketing communication to land and stick in the hearts and minds of your audience, you need it to resonate with them. You need your audience to ‘opt-in’ to your message instead of the thousands of other choices that exist one swipe or click away.

Thus, you need a deeper understanding of the customer. You need customer insights.

Two examples of consumer insight

Here are a couple of fictional consumer insights that demonstrate strong, specific, concise, actionable theories:

  • Men between the ages of 25 and 35 in Northern Europe want winter footwear to be a balance of fashion and function. Men under 25 strongly favour fashion, whilst men over 35 sharply prefer function. This is because younger men tend to be more concerned with status.
  • People who live south of the city’s river but commute to work north of the river are three times more likely to carpool. At least two things lead to this. (1) Public transit in the south took longer to develop, creating a habit of driving. (2) Education levels are higher in the south, so more people understand the cost and environmental benefits of carpooling.

For the first example, your client might be a footwear or clothing brand with a customer retention problem. The second client might be a municipal government or climate action organisation trying to develop a marketing strategy. 

These consumer insights can be leveraged in several ways.

audience insights

Using customer insight to develop buyer personas

Marketers use buyer personas (aka consumer personas) to help visualize and focus on their ideal target audiences. They are important parts of creating customer journey maps and other aspects of developing consumer journeys.

Oftentimes, these personas are cobbled together quickly without much effort or thought. You get some generic demographic information, a cute name thrown over it, and it’s done. (We refer to this as a two-dimensional buyer persona.)

Consumer insights can elevate you to a 3D buyer persona. Specific, precise psychographic and behavioural data layers over the basics, providing a much more complete picture of who you’re talking to.

Let’s say your client wants to reduce traffic pollution in their city. They’re developing personas of people who drive to work and do not carpool. Using the second insight above, you could first develop the ‘ideal persona’ (someone who is three times more likely to carpool). From that understanding, you now develop the ‘current persona’ by looking for key differences between cohorts.

Using consumer insight to amplify your marketing efforts

Your second client can use the insight about winter footwear more directly.

They sell hiking boots, and sales have slumped in Europe. Using your insights, they reexamine their communication strategy and come to find that they’ve been segmenting messaging only by gender and region—not by age or product.

Now they adjust their target audience to three distinct groups of men, and amplify messaging about products that match their preferences regarding fashion versus function. If your insight is solid, their sales will improve (possibly along with customer satisfaction and customer lifetime value).

market research

How to find consumer insights with market research

The short answer: thoroughly study consumers.

Consumer research can take many forms:

  • Exploratory research. Open-ended discussions with a lot of opportunity to observe. Eventually narrows down to specific ideas and thoughts. Can be done in person or online.
  • Concept research. Put something in front of people (e.g. a product prototype) and gather information, feedback and customer sentiment. Can be done in person or online.
  • Online qual market research. Recruiting an online community of participants that will engage with research methods over the course of a project.
  • Social listening. Instead of bringing people into a lab setting, gather public conversations from the Internet and conversations and conduct various forms of data analytics - text, image or sentiment analysis.
  • Segmentation research. Explore similarities and differences between predefined categories of people, often discovering new categories or subcategories along the way.
  • Data-driven research. If you have access to customer data, sometimes sales or marketing insights can be drawn from the numbers alone.

These kinds of research all share certain tenets that increase the odds of finding good consumer insights:

  • High quality data is imperative. Every study uses and produces data (even qualitative research). If your data isn’t properly captured and stored, or if the source is compromised or unreliable, the entire study is at risk of contamination. Comprehensive data hygiene is an absolute must.
  • Reduce bias wherever possible. Humans are imperfect and fickle, including those humans that conduct research. Our cognitive biases distort the objective truth all the time, and good researchers know how to protect their studies from it.
  • Invest in data analytics storytelling. You could do everything right and find the most amazing consumer insights, but if you can’t communicate them to your client, the effort is wasted. Data tables and complex methodological reasoning should not be the final output. Invest in people who can take those as inputs and produce compelling and actionable outputs.

Conclusion

Consumer insights have always been valuable to marketers, but they’re even more important in this age of nearly limitless consumer choice.

Great customer insight is best expressed as a strong, specific, concise theory about why people behave the way they do, or why they think the way they think. Armed with this knowledge, companies and businesses can develop better buyer personas, adjust communication strategies, create new features or even launch full campaigns. Access to actionable insights can be a serious competitive advantage.

Finding good consumer insights is not a trivial exercise. Researchers need to ensure good data hygiene, determine the proper methodology, and ensure that they can communicate end results.

Further empowers researchers to conduct robust online qualitative research on our flexible and adaptive platform to uncover customer insights. For more information about how we can help with online qual market research, click here.

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