The chemistry of insight

18 Sep 2007|Added Value

There are a couple of opinions on how to grow a business. Cost cutting, mergers and acquisitions or stock listings can all add to a company’s bottom line, but are rarely about the long term building of a brand. The only real driving force of sustainable, profit-generating, lasting growth is increasing demand for whatever you are selling.

It sounds simple. Like anything in life, the more you want something, the more valuable it becomes. If that rather wishy washy ‘want’ turns into a full blown, red hot desire, you’ve got the makings of a winner. Some companies create products or provide services that people desire by default. But the majority of us need a little help lighting the flame.

Understanding what people want is the crucial first step. And, contrary to popular belief, people don’t want brands. They want outcomes. Studies in neuroscience show that people make decisions based on perceived outcomes – how they want to feel once the decision is made.

Brands are no different. Every time we experience or engage with a brand, every time it speaks to us, it signals what we can expect to feel and is added to our broader knowledge about that brand and its category. Consumers use this knowledge to consciously or subconsciously choose one brand over another based on how they think each individual brand will make them feel.

If Joe Bloggs doesn’t think your widget will provide what he needs, it will never matter how spectacular or innovative it is. Traditional research methodologies can help companies understand a little more about Joe, or Tom or Dumisani or Harriet, but unless you go beyond the obvious, you may never find that thing that really turns them on.

Most brands aim to be customer-centric, but they still approach market insight or strategy by asking brand-centric questions. By recognizing that consumers don’t desire brands – rather they desire an outcome, benefit or experience – you can hone in on that desired feeling and use it to resolve brand issues with far more accuracy.

It’s tricky. Emotions are personal, subconscious and often complicated. If people are honest, they often don’t even know why they hate x or love y, and certainly, if the reason for their choices is rooted in less socially accepted desires, behaviours or feelings, it’s unlikely they will share that information with you. Similarly, if you ask “why did you buy that”, respondents tend to give you nice, safe, rational answers. So how do you turn research into insight and tap into that desired feeling? Businesses need to climb into their consumers’ lives and feel with them.

A brand manager can read a report that tells her 80% of women want their washing to be clean and fresh smelling. And a communications campaign about your brand’s power and aroma might do the trick, but not necessarily. How do you make the majority of your market desire your brand over another?

Until you’ve shared Gladys of Nieu Bethesda’s wash day with her, it’s all pretty presumptive. Does she own a washing machine, use a Laundromat or wash by hand? How many people does she wash for? Where does she hang her washing? Does she have running water? If not, how far does she have to walk? Does she do her washing with other people in her community? Is this a regular meeting and is it a chore or a social occasion? What other brands touch her life at these points? Most importantly, how do all of these things make her feel? And is this different from how she’d like to feel when she’s doing her washing?

The answers to these questions could unlock a far more powerful range of opportunities for your brand, or portfolio of brands, that have nothing to do with cleanliness or smell and everything to do with understanding Gladys.

Similarly, understanding how she makes her decisions means you can approach insight avenues with greater perception, asking the right questions and using the right kinds of projective techniques. And if your insight specialist has brand experience or marketing knowledge, opportunities turn quickly into strategies. Do the same with a woman from Sandton, a student at Rhodes or a man from Bredasdorp and suddenly you have potential growth avenues up the wazoo.

This might sound like segmentation 1.01, but insight based, consumer-led marketing is more than just understanding the demographics of a market – it’s about getting under people’s skin, working out how they want to feel.

True insight can be an explosive catalyst. Mixed with sound strategic thinking, meticulous analysis and great marketing knowledge, insight can turn branding into alchemy and a brand into solid gold.

By: Alison Tucker, Added Value South Africa

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