CI Ultimate Guide: The Why and the How of Consumer Insights Today

A complete guide that answers all the main questions concerning consumer insights and consumer trends, from an insights definition to "How do you get customer insights online". It contains the infographic "Online Consumer Insights Roadmap"

This article is aimed to clarify the why and how of consumer insights in times of overwhelming industry changes and big data complexity.

I’ve tried to draw a state-of-the-art of consumer insights guide based on the most frequent doubts and concerns I’ve seen with clients (especially marketing executives), from a definition of consumers today to the best social data analytics tools out there.

After reading this article you should be able to:

  1. Understand how to derive strategic insights from different sources of data
  2. Make sense of complexity in the online data scenario
  3. Create an overarching consumer narrative that joins several data sources and offers a thorough view on consumers.

If you are a consumer insights expert, and you know it all, feel free to skip to the Online Consumer Insights Roadmap chapter.

If you are in a rush, and you want to get the article in your inbox, download it here

Have a good read, and please, let me know your thoughts!

 

Article Index

What is a consumer

  • Classic definition and role of the consumer
  • The Prosumer

Consumer marketing

  • What is consumer marketing
  • Understand what consumers want

Consumer trends

  • What do consumer trends mean?
  • What is the real power of consumer trends?
  • Identifying emerging consumer trends
  • How to find consumer trends online?

What does Insight mean in marketing?

  • Insights definition
  • What are Consumer Insights?

How do you get customer insights online?

  • Online Consumer Insights Roadmap (you can download it here)
  • What to ask your best consumers (or best potential consumers)
  • Insight Communities

Consumer Insights Analytics Tools

  • Think with Google and consumer insights in Google
  • Online Consumer Insights tools comparison
  • Final thoughts on the alternatives

One Last Thing

 

What is a consumer

Classic definition and role of the consumer

A consumer is

1. A purchaser of a good or service in retail

2. An end user, and not necessarily a purchaser, in the distribution chain of a good or service

according to the business dictionary.

It’s a definition that sounds as broad as “human beings”, as all of us consume products and services on a daily basis, for all our life. Nobody is exempt, even your hippy friend that just opened a little bar on some secluded beach of Brazil.

life is better at the beach

For this reason, the consumer is basically the foundation of our society, or better said, consumers play a vital role in the economic system of a nation. Without consumer demand, producers would lack one of the key motivations to produce: to sell to consumers.

In the much quoted The Unmanageable Consumer, Yiannis Gabriel and Tim Lang argued that, in spite of the best attempts to seduce them, coax them or chide them, consumers consistently proved themselves unpredictable, contradictory and unmanageable.

So, the consumer has a huge impact on society and economy while he’s extremely hard to understand and predict, or manage.

Things get more complicated once the classic definition of consumer = opposite of producer — yes, since 1745, consumer has been equivalent to “one who uses up goods or articles” (opposite of producer)gets disrupted by the digital revolution.

Gabriel and Lang predicted back in the 90s that the Fordist Deal (production and consumption being intrinsically interlinked through the socio-economic deal, pioneered by American automobile magnate Henry Ford) that dominated the 20th century, could easily be disturbed by sudden events and cultural shifts in the early 21st century.

One such shift is the emergence of the working consumer now often referred to as the ‘prosumer’, a word combining ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ to denote that the work process is being incorporated into the consumption process and vice versa.

In simple words, we are seeing a continuum of producer and consumer. Internet (then social media, and online participation in general) blurred the line between what used to be two different roles, generating a new one: the prosumer.

The Prosumer

What is a prosumer? When a consumer is also a producer, you have a prosumer.

The word, coined by Alvin Toffler back in 1980 in his futuristic The Third Wave, together with some meaningful predictions such as the Information Age that we’re living now, had a revival when George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson claimed the rise of prosumer capitalism with the advent of Web 2.0 and the explosion of user-generated content online.

Fast forward and here we are in the era of information, where the most profiting currency is… our data. Which we produce, and consume.

When some of the most successful companies in the world are powered by our content and connections (Google, Facebook), and the fastest growing player in the rental and travel industries owns no property. Airbnb, in fact, profits with our properties and services.

All the way to the companies smart enough to open their processes to consumers, to power communities, to make online tribes advocate for them.

The theme though is controversial. There are numerous dissertations on the consumers’ rights and future in a world that is making them unconscious and not paid prosumers. There are dark visions and futuristic ideas, pushed further by the fear of automation of classic job positions.

One that I’d suggest reading is Who Owns the Future? By Jaron Lanier, a founding father of virtual reality and computer philosophy writer that proposed a solution for our time and economy.

Furthermore, the impact of the digital on consumers is huge anywhere and for any brand, not only the ones that understand and foster consumers’ participation.

Brands are now forms of immaterial capital, as explained by Adam Arvidsson in his “The Logic of the Brand”, and the valuable informational content does not only build on the efforts of the commanded labor of salaried knowledge workers or “creatives”, like brand managers or advertising executives. Increasingly, it also builds on the productive efforts of consumers and of the public at large.

Basically, we all participate in the creation of value of brands, as a matter of a fact working for the brands, whether we or the brands themselves recognize it or not.

I’m sure you can recall that time your friend made a sale for that fashion brand or that travel destination, just by posting a photo on Facebook, that convinced you to engage online with such a content (buffering its marketing) and eventually purchasing it.

That information (your friend on a stunning beach or wearing amazing shoes) is a basic example of prosumption: your friend is technically working for Thailand or Prada, influencing brand awareness and eventually purchase behaviour.

On the other hand, the value creation for brands makes consumers incredibly powerful.

Consumers now seek to exercise their influence in every part of the business system. Armed with new tools and dissatisfied with available choices, consumers want to interact with firms and thereby “co-create” value.

[…] Consumer-to-consumer communication and dialogue provides consumers an alternative source of information and perspective. They are not totally dependent on communication from the firm. Consumers can choose the firms they want to have a relationship with based on their own views of how value should be created for them (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004, 2017).

Hence, there are huge opportunities for brands that are willing to co-create value with their consumers, or better said, prosumers.

I’ll give you an example of how consumer insights can unveil opportunities with powerful prosumers.

When we analysed the mothers’ segment for one of our clients, millions of data points revealed how trust is shared within the mothers’ online tribes.

A huge consumer insight, if you are a brand that is constantly competing for their attention and, ultimately, for their trust.

The decision-making process, in fact, is totally influenced by other mothers, so much so that mothers are among the most powerful prosumers out there.

So, how can mothers help you foster your brand among other mothers? How can they create brand value with you?

  1. Content — what do they talk about? That’s what you should be talking about. Easy, peasy.
  2. Influencers — they constitute incredibly cohesive web tribes, with high influence on each other’s action. Why not invest in hundreds or thousands of mother micro-influencers — web tribes admins and influencers — instead of one celebrity
  3. Build awareness, reputation, trust — they DO talk about brands, a lot. They compare, love or destroy you. Start building advocacy among them now.
  4. Product development and consumer trends forecasting — they gather around topics based on their needs. You should take into account these needs when you want to launch a new product
  5. And most important, mothers are the gateway to sales. They generate a conversion, because of that huge trust. They are friends, not people working in advertising.

mothers consumer insights

 

Consumer marketing

We’ve just scratched the surface of how decisive the role of consumers is in marketing, both in the consumption of a product and its marketing, and in the production of them.

One of the most recurrent questions we see online is about consumer marketing.

What is consumer marketing

Traditionally, marketing research has two approaches, depending if it is directed to businesses (B2B marketing) or consumers (consumer marketing).

In short, if you sell a product or a service directly to consumers (individuals), as opposed to other businesses, you need consumer marketing.

Now, I find this classification a bit obsolete, and the techniques much more various and able to cross conventional lines than this. But just in case you were looking for that specific answer, you have it.

Now, let’s get into the serious stuff.

Understand what consumers want

I know. The problem with marketing is that it is complex, as in: it’s constituted by many techniques and actions, in an ever-changing, extremely competitive world.

I can count hundreds of pitches with clients that are ready to invest big budgets for marketing their products, yet they all want to know, ultimately, one thing: if it’s going to work.

After years of dealing with such complexity, we came up with a core definition of what clients need to succeed, the number one rule of marketing to consumers.

As simplistic as it sounds, ultimately, the way to thrive is to

Understand what consumers want, and give it to them.

In my experience, keeping this in mind at any stage of the marketing strategy and execution, like a mantra, helps assure the ROI of marketing. The consumer, and his journey, are central and decisive to any action to be taken.

This has always been like this, and it always will be, regardless of all the tech and cultural development that will happen.

But who are my consumers? Where are they? What do they think (of my brand, but not only)? How should I stand out to them from noise and competition? How to make them come to me? Who or what influences them? How can I find more of them? What do my consumers and potential consumers want?

These are the complex questions that hide behind the simple Understand what consumers want.

Good news is:

  1. There’s a market, more or less a niche, for anything. People want the most diversified and specific things that you could possibly imagine.
  2. There’s a lot of data on consumers. They constantly leave tracks in the online world, making their behaviour accessible to us for analysis.

This is exactly where consumer insights come in, to make you understand what consumers want.

While studying the tribes of mermaids lovers, for instance, I was blown away by the fact that one of the most successful niche markets in the US (the leader company is one of the fastest growing companies in America) was selling… mermaids fins.

Honestly, I would never imagine that women, not only young girls, needed such a product. That a mermaid fin is so important that sometimes it becomes a mean of identity, self-expression, and self-esteem for women in their 40s and 50s.

Before we got consumer insights on mermaids lovers, If you asked me, you wouldn’t get rich selling mermaid fins to women in the US.

Well, our research proved me wrong, clearly.

 

Consumer trends

What do consumer trends mean?

Zooming out, the tracks of consumers — that define consumers at any point of their journey — form trends.

From problem recognition, search and evaluation, to purchase and post-purchase (eg. mentioning/reviewing a certain product or service), consumers and their data take paths and streams that cluster them in overarching trends.  Purchase decision model

The image above shows the classic Purchase Decision Model, which is all good and well, except that today people are no longer following a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments.

When we see hundreds (or millions of them, depending on the business) that take one direction as opposed to another one, when the data highlights a prevalent choice among many consumers, we spot a trend.

What is the real power of consumer trends?

Consumer trends are powerful because they reveal opportunities to take over whole industries and amass new consumers. The early believers in natural ingredients, both in the beauty and in the food industries (but, really, anywhere) are now leading real movements, and huge economic success.

While running an analysis for a beauty multi-brands company, we discovered a consumer trend that now, years later, is well established and visible to everyone.

Natural ingredients and DIY beauty routines were, back then, popular among influencers and communities in the beauty world. It all starts with consumer needs, which were, as we found out, the needs of “feeling beautiful inside-out” and “understanding the ingredients” of beauty products. Natural ingredients and DIY beauty routines were a user-generated answer to a market growing demand.

beauty routine trend

Speaking of millennials trends in the food industry, one of the two major consumer trends having a large impact on millennial parents is a desire to feed babies homemade, natural, fresh foods.

According to a parent’s survey fielded in July of 2017 by BabyCenter, 67% of parents have prepared their own baby food for their child, a 20% increase in just the last 2 years. Additionally, 25% of parents chose a homemade fruit or vegetable puree as the first solid food to give their child. A majority of parents surveyed reported a desire to feed all their children the same foods rather than prepare different items for different aged children.

What should these consumer trends be translated into, in terms of strategy?

They can serve both the creation of the product (design, development) and the marketing of it. In fact, beauty brands started using natural ingredients in their products, and also educated their audiences on beauty rituals that include their products and other natural elements.

If I was working with baby food right now, I would recommend to market a product that is made of natural ingredients. I would also suggest educating your audience with recipes and everyday hacks that help parents feed their babies naturally while saving time.

Identifying emerging consumer trends

Now, you might say: what of Starbucks success. If we take Starbucks success, and we track back the emerging trend of the cafe as “your ‘third place”, we must admit that consumers didn’t express the need of an alternative hangout to a bar before Starbucks provided it, as Cagan and Vogel argue in Creating Breakthrough Products.

The same way people couldn’t envision that they wanted an iPhone. Steve Jobs is often quoted for what Forbes called a dangerous lesson:

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Or we could even quote the famous Henry Ford’s lesson:

Henry Ford Faster Horses

Reality is: do you really want to be in that position? Do you want to reimagine your industry or product category? Do you have that purpose and those skills?

The balance between innovation and consumers’ data has always been tricky.

Staying ahead of the curve while becoming hugely popular is not an easy equation.

Identifying an emerging trend — before it’s actually visible — is not just science.

It’s a result of millions of variables, and several factors determining a change in consumers, from culture to social interactions, to historical and economic context, to technology and its adoption by humans.

Back in the days when fashion was the coolest thing to do, I was hired to be a trend hunter.

Contrary to what people think, fashion goes way beyond clothing: it’s an interpretation of culture and human needs, the current one and the next ones coming. It’s a great place to read what’s happening in the world.

The way we used to hunt trends, in order to translate them into products before all the competitors, was to analyse any kind of underground ecosystem, emerging culture, and social weirdos. Being informed of what was going on among the masses, was just a small part of the job. The rest was hunting the seeds of change, with the hope that one day they would spread around like a virus.

Spotting an emerging trend is a mix of art and science, that takes into account the multitude of social, cultural, economic, and technological factors. A carefully balanced mix of these parameters results in a simple output called consumer needs.

We will go back to this topic, trends, with an article that digs deeper into it. For now, I would like to ask a question that I normally ask to businesses approaching the emerging trends topic, also in relation with consumer insights.

In reality, how many companies exist because they pushed a new idea of consumer need before the consumer even knew he needed it?

If you look around you, most companies you deem as disruptive and innovative today are simply early adopters of an opportunity presented by innovators who haven’t the slightest clue of the value of their creation, like an undiscovered gem in a mud of water.

These companies with a keen eye for hidden gems coupled with their ability to execute at a fast pace, give them the perfect playbook to keep churning out innovative products that consumers want.

Airbnb just rode the wave of Couchsurfers, added payments, and created a safer environment for people to share unutilized space in their home.

Google created a better search experience on the web already filled with people searching on web directories.

Uber, like Airbnb, rode the wave of early ride sharing adopters.

Amazon took advantage of the wave of open source technologies to build an easier experience for companies to utilize cloud computing. These companies were already using these technologies but Amazon presented an easier and cheaper option. This repackaging of open source technologies is Amazon’s most profitable product today, Amazon web services.

Spotify made a legal version of Napster, they simply captured the market of illegal file sharers (Bit torrent, Megaupload, Forums e.t.c) and presented them with a legal and easier option.

In the case of Apple, the biggest of them all, the wave of smartphones didn’t start with the iPhone, and the App Store was a more user-friendly Handango, and so on and so forth.

The success of the products from these companies was twofold: the first is the understanding of which consumer wave to ride, the second is the understanding of how to present their “innovative’ product to the consumer.

It’s more of a business play than spotting the wave before it got visible. I would call it “the power of early believers”.

Trends Wave

So, really, my questions is: would you rather be Yahoo or Google? Would you rather be Napster or Spotify? Would you rather be Couchsurfing or Airbnb?

Is it not easier and safer to jump on a trend with cult-like consumers at the earliest of stages than throw resources on creating “the next big thing”? In many cases, the next big thing is probably already here, it’s hidden in plain sight, too obvious, so you ignore it.

The good news is, we live in a time when we can

  1. Gather vast quantities of consumers data at the fastest pace, always up to date
  2. Sort quality consumers data, in places where consumers act naturally, in their own environments (solving Jobs’ main concern on focus groups)
  3. Refine the questions to stay ahead of the curve of competitors (instead of waiting for consumers to phrase their needs, we can help them)

So, the good news is, we can find consumer trends online. Which is a faster, better and easier way to spot a trend when people start talking about it or take action because of it.

How to find consumer trends online?

Taking into account the Emerging Trend Detection theory, we can define the emerging trend as a topic area that is growing in interest and utility over time.

To detect emerging trends, you can take a platform (or any source of data) as a whole data set, and monitor the frequency of topics across time, in an automatic way.

This happens for example when Youtube publishes emerging trends, or when researchers take a huge data set on Instagram to analyse the cultural movements through it.

Or, you can semi-automate the data analysis, identifying a specific data set and inquiring it with topics that are important for your business or project.

This way to detect trends, is not only more sustainable in terms of the quantity of data processed, but it’s also specific to your needs. I find it hard to believe that the whole Instagram or Youtube scraping would make sense for your business ;)

Explained simply, the process consists of 4 main steps.

  1. Identify an industry or a segment and one or few territories where the consumers are (data set)
  2. Decide which topics — it could be products, ingredients, specific needs or aspirations of your target — constitute potential trends (queries)
  3. Identify dates to compare. You want to understand how a certain query performs in, say, 4 different periods [January 2009, January 2013, January 2016, January 2018]
  4. Watch the trend: is it growing? How?

travel destinations trends

The image above refers to a trends analysis we conducted on the French travellers' target. In this graph, the main Mediterranean destinations were compared, showing both the seasonal trends and the overall trends.

The most crucial steps in finding consumer trends online are number one and two: deciding which data set and which queries. This means defining where your consumers (also potential ones) gather (social networks, online communities, searches, review sites, events, semantic areas…) and finding what’s relevant for them among hundreds of topics, including brands, products, needs and dreams.

Contrary to what most people I know think, the data is not that hard to gather, or analyse. But the data strategy is what makes a huge difference here: the right questions will lead to success.

This is the reason why the biggest mistake in approaching consumer trends is thinking that someone can buy them pre-packaged or automate them using consumer trends tools and analytic platforms.

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with consumer trends, just like it doesn’t work with consumer insights, if you want the insights to have an actual ROI.

Successful companies I know have a mix of internal and external resources for that. The marketing team, as well as the product development team, should be always up to date with consumer trends in their industry, and more generally what’s relevant among their consumers. For this reason, they use consulting firms specialized in consumer insights.

 

What does Insight mean in marketing?

Insights definition

You have an insight when you have a deep understanding of a certain factor.

Just like information is not knowledge, a data point IS NOT an insight.

One million data points (or the famous big data) ARE NOT a million insights. Not even one.

You have insights only when you’ve processed the data, upon the questions that make sense for your goal.

data information knowledge insights wisdom

An insight constitutes a new piece of rich information that works in the context of your goal.

For this reason, the most crucial steps in getting insights online are, as mentioned also in consumer trends, the definition of the data set to take into account and the queries. They are the necessary context for insights to happen.

What are Consumer Insights?

Consumer insights, or customer insights, mean a deep understanding of certain factors of consumers in relation to a certain business.

They are the goldmine of consumer marketing. They make you understand what consumers want, so that you give it to them

In advertising, insights are clues about consumer behaviour or the marketplace which shine a light on how to connect with a target audience in a more meaningful or efficient way

Things used to be much simpler and broader in terms of consumer insights: before globalization and digital advent, consumers had broader habits and needs.

They could be defined by large demographics. They had far fewer choices and needs.

They are now less manageable than ever, yet impacting your brand like never before, as explained above in the consumers’ chapter.

Getting consumer insights right is becoming more decisive yet harder every day.

What’s the solution?

  • Segment more. Narrow down. Watch them closely. With the help of today’s data on consumers, you can actually meet them, or a great portion of their representative.
  • Keep the focus on the consumer, at any stage of the analysis. Go back to the consumer journey, keep it as a map when you feel lost in the data.

The good news is, as mentioned before, there’s a lot of data on consumers. They constantly leave tracks in the online world, making their behaviour accessible to us for analysis.

 

How do you get customer insights online?

Online Consumer Insights Roadmap

We propose here an Online Consumer Insights Roadmap that includes all the steps mastered working closely with different clients and business needs. You can adapt it and use it for your goal.

(Want to get it in your inbox? Download it here)

consumer insights guide

1) Start with the consumer. What type of consumers do you want to analyse? New consumers? Consumers that have used you in the past? Current customers?

2) Where is the consumer? At which point of the level of awareness are the consumers you want to analyse?

Five Levels Awareness by Eugene Schwartz

2B) Where is the consumer? Keep in mind the customer journey, and any steps of their experience:

  • Problem recognition
  • Research
  • Evaluation
  • Purchase
  • Post-purchase (eg. mentioning/reviewing the product)

3) Touchpoints? Are there points of contact with the consumer along his journey? How is the consumer interacting with the brand at every turn?

4) Find target personas. Don’t design them, find them.

5) Based on these first insights, draw the data set. Find the tribes, topic groups, wispy communities, hashtags, clusters or actual communities and subcultures in your target market. Take into account all the online territories where you can gather the data: from platforms and apps, to official and unofficial events, physical and semantic places, owned and earned media channels and lookalike audiences.

(Topicgraphic Data and Tribes Analysis)

A way to guarantee the right sampling in drawing the data set, meaning choosing the right people to analyse, is targeting by topicgraphics, as opposed to demographic data.

We’ll go back to this with a dedicated article, but just so you know the basics of it:

Topicgraphic - market segment defined by a common interest (topic)

Benefits of targeting by Topicgraphic Data and Tribes Analysis? You can find new consumers in uncovered territories based on the culture, values and purpose (topics) of your brand/project/campaigns.

6) Gather the data. The process of data gathering (or data mining) can be a mix of techniques: social listening, behavioural tracking, content mining, user recruiting, online surveys, quantitative and qualitative data.

7) Also, as Google Consumer Insights says, do your data homework,

such as:

  • Filtering: Cut the noise and focus on the most interesting topic.
  • Sorting: Rank data by importance.
  • Grouping and segmentation: Summarize data and segment different groups.
  • Visualizing: Bring data to life using intuitive visuals.

In technical terms, we call these two steps (step 6 and 7) Data Wrangling. It goes from Data Gathering, to Data Cleaning, Integration and, sometimes, the building of a Custom Platform for Analysis for specific inquiries. I won’t bother you with the tech and details, but if you need to learn more, drop us an email.

8) Narrow down the best consumers (and potential consumers) you found. Choose, among all, one or two tribes that represent the culture of your brand (to do this, use the topicgraphic analysis to understand the semantic areas — areas of meaning — of the brand. Ask us more, if you have never heard of topicgraphic analysis).

9) Ask anything to the data. What do your consumers (and potential consumers) talk about? What do they love? What do they hate? What do they say about your brand or your competitors? What do they need in their everyday life? What are their priorities and challenges? Who or what influences their behaviour? How much are they willing to pay for a great product?

Now, you have consumer insights that highlight the best consumers you have, the opportunities to get more like them and, most importantly, what consumers want, so that you give it to them. Both in terms of product and marketing of it.

This is what we call actionable insights.

10) I usually take an extra step: at the end of the consumer insights presentation, I sum up all the actions to take in order to align the business strategy with the consumer’s needs.

actionable insights

Client’s feedback

“The research was very much appreciated, satisfying a particularly demanding and hard-to-please client. In particular, the client appreciated: the precise and realistic photography of the target expectations on the product, the confirmation of some evaluations that for them were only at the level of “intuitions” or “sensations” and most of everything, the indication of very concrete development tracks, meaning strategic insights.”

Mirco Iadarola, President of CCCI Lyon — Responsible of the Visit Sardinia Research project.

— -

This is because we researchers should always start research from the decisions that you need to make to enable your brand to succeed (that we, researchers, transform in queries), so we should always end the research with those very decisions written down as a legacy for anybody that is going to handle the insights.

A good example is David F. Harris’ filling in the blank methodology, where he came up with six key decisions marketers need to make for the success of their brands, that we researchers need to be well versed in.

  1. Product Benefits: We will decide what benefits to offer.
  2. Targeting & Segmentation: We will decide whom to target with this benefit and whether we have more than one target, which is obviously segmentation. (Does it make economic sense to offer a different product benefit or different approach to defined, reachable groups?)
  3. Positioning: We will decide what we need customers within each target group to think for them to buy our product or service. (Here I am referring to product positioning as defined by Ries and Trout)
  4. Market Approach: We will decide whether to steal share, grow the market, or both. (Thanks TVG for teaching me this.)
  5. “Story” to Establish Positioning: We will decide what story we need to tell to establish that positioning. (By story I mean messages, creative, customer service, etc. There is a lot here!)
  6. Delivery: We will determine the media and sales campaign to deliver the story to establish the positioning within each target.

What to ask your best customers (or best potential customers)

Consumer insights is a work of balance between quantitative and qualitative data.

As mentioned in the Online Consumer Insights Roadmap, the way to go with more confidence is choosing the best consumers for your brand and digging deep into qualitative research with them.

If the customer journey is your map, the actual personas interview is your torch in the dark.

How does it work? You choose actual personas (real people) to interview and represent a tribe (a cluster, a segment or an actual community) particularly aligned with your brand.

There are benefits of choosing actual consumers to look at, as opposed to interviewing focus groups or imagining marketing personas are outstanding. Accuracy can’t ever be beaten.

But, there are some things to take into consideration.

When actual people (not marketing personas!) take the time to answer questions for the sake of making your product better (without getting paid for it, as it happens in focus groups) you have to remember two main rules:

  1. Their (free) time is extremely valuable, so you want to get on a call with them, and keep the questions brief and simple.
  2. They have to feel like shareholders of your company, pivoting your product with you. Their role is crucial and prestigious. Make sure they feel it.

While working on the launch of a new service for a client, we developed a list of questions aimed to unveil the needs and lifestyle of the brand’s target tribes. We then interviewed the main representants of the tribes and backed up their answers (qualitative data) in the online scenario (quantitative data).

Here are the questions we made, considering the profile of interviewed and the business goals: designing a successful new booking service in the travel industry.

In this way, we gathered qualitative data on what the triggers were for the target consumers to choose to act in a certain industry [why these consumers travel], and unveiled opportunities for the product and the marketing of it.

You can apply this draft to any service and industry, adapting the content in the [parenthesis] for your case.

  1. What are your job and income level?
  2. What habits and routines do you have? Including social activities.
  3. What social platforms are you the most active on?
  4. Where do you live?
  5. Why do you [travel]?
  6. What makes you decide to [travel to a destination], usually? What do you google?
  7. What’s the main reason you want to [travel] this way? What drives you?
  8. What do you look for in terms of [booking a room]? What do you google?
  9. Are you happy with the current solutions [Booking and Airbnb] or our solution and what would you improve/make different? What do you hate about them?
  10. How do you go about finding an [ethical way to travel]? What do you google or who do you ask? At what point do you give up and simply go to [booking.com/airbnb.com]? (this changes into the following version for already established brands: How did you find out about us? What did you google or who did you ask?)
  11. What are the topics connected to the [ethical consumption] that you would love to know more/to talk about?
  12. What are the topics connected to the [travel experience] that you would love to know more/to talk about?
  13. What are the biggest problems you face while [booking travel accommodation and experiences]?
  14. What are the influencers? Channels or people that you trust to find solutions for these problems?
  15. Do you feel this is a fair and satisfying solution? [description of the service] NPS (Net Promoter Score) If you had to give a score 1–10 to that solution, what would it be?

Insight Communities

We just examined all the steps involved in a consumer insights research with the help of the Online Consumer Insights Roadmap.

You’re halfway to prosumption!

If you asked me what’s the next step to gather consumer insights while co-creating value with consumers, I would shout: turn your consumers into prosumers with insight communities!

An insight community is a community of fans, customers, employees, shareholders and partners that want to have an impact on your brand.

Insight communities bring the consumers to the board members’ table. They officialize that you care about consumers’ needs and take a stand for them.

Benefits of insights communities:

  1. People that join the community opted in: they want to have an impact on your brand
  2. Long term relationship with consumers: trust that ends up in better customer retention and cheaper customer support
  3. Open conversation that otherwise would go public in review sites etc. Great for reputation
  4. Ongoing presence that guarantees speed of feedback delivery
  5. Back and forth communication that doesn’t feel like analysis
  6. Branded and personalised for your product
  7. Members’ privacy safety

Three examples of great insight communities are:

The Sephora Beauty Insider Community is an online community created by the brand Sephora. It’s a place for discussion, asking questions, posting photos and reviews, sharing experiences and connecting with other Beauty Insider members.

Best feature: it features more than 40 topic groups where members can discover content tailored to their interests and meet like-minded Beauty Insider members. Not quite what you would call little groups: the Skincare Aware group has some sort of 334,892 users.

Why it wins: while it serves research, marketing and sales (the photos are tagged with products so people can see what was used to create the looks they love), it wins because it’s a great resource for users of Sephora products.

The Ella’s Kitchen Bestie Community (in collaboration with C Space) won the award for Business Impact of the Year last year. The brand engaged with parents and children’ lives in an online community of 300 highly engaged mums and dads that were always ready to answer the brand, with transparency and proactive attitude.

Best feature: the target consumers get a seat at the table. Since July 2016, the community has made over 61,000 contributions across 18 projects, and the partnership has expanded from working with one to seven departments, including the company’s executive board.

Why it wins: speaking with the insight community revealed a gap in the toddler snack food market. This conversation — from identifying the opportunity, to consulting on flavours, packaging, product positioning, and even listing support — led to Melty Sticks, a healthy breadstick alternative, now one of Ella’s best-selling SKUs. A significant uplift in sales is said to have happened as a result of the Besties’ help in repositioning and redesigning Ella’s snacks.

The Harley Owners Group (HOG) is an online club for Harley-Davidson owners operated by Harley-Davidson. It’s said to be “the granddaddy of all community-building efforts” and it was born in 1983 as a way to build long-lasting and stronger relationships with Harley-Davidson’s customers, by making ties between the company, its employees, and consumers.

Best feature: it serves and promotes not just a consumer product, but a lifestyle. Additionally, events (gatherings, rallies, sponsored events) blur the line between online and offline, making the brand’s culture much more tangible by reinforcing connections among the members.

Why it wins: The HOG is so representative for brand culture and consumers analysis that it has inspired several studies, from “Subcultures of consumption — an ethnography of the new bikers”, to Building Brand Community. It counts over a million members worldwide, that averagely spend 30% more than the other Harley-Davidson’s consumers.

Ultimately, the insight communities are a perfect representation of brand prosumers, and the best way to look at a brand: through the eyes of its users.

brands are defined by consumers

This is why you should plan to build one as a natural succession to a great consumer insights analysis. We’ll come back soon with a guide on “How to Build and Manage an Insight Community”. For now, if you want to know more, drop us an email.

 

Consumer Insights Analytics Tools

Consumer insights request robust data sets and several data sources to give us an updated and objective view of the consumers.

Since the boom of social media and big data, we faced many challenges choosing suppliers and partners that would offer depth and breadth of consumers’ data. Sometimes, we were forced to build Analytics Tools ourselves, due to lack of availability and quality in the market (for instance: to analyse Netflix products).

Don’t take me wrong: big data is great news! The fact that there are billions of consumers’ tracks out there that can back up our predictions and strategies is a massive improvement in the consumer insights world. And, I believe, a great weapon for marketers.

But, as the market is relatively new, you might meet companies and platforms that offer bad data, with the excuse of speed and user-friendly interfaces.

In Big Data consumer analytics and the transformation of marketing, Erevelles, Fukawab and Swayne argue that we should add to the three classic dimensions of big data (Volume, Velocity and Variety) other two factors in collecting, analyzing, and extracting insights from Big Data:

  1. Veracity. Not all big data about consumers is accurate
  2. Value. The task is to eliminate unimportant and irrelevant data, so that the remaining data are useful. Further, the remaining pertinent data need to be valuable for obtaining insight and domain-specific interpretation

It took us a while to explore and evaluate the social listening and big data analytics world, so I hope that this mini-list can save you time when in need of consumer insights analytics tools and services.

Think with Google and consumer insights in Google

In terms of “what consumers search”, as you know, Google has the data.

Google developed a good set of consumer insights analytics tools, ranging from classic surveys, to consumer search trends and the Consumer Barometer (a tool to help you understand how people use the Internet across the world).

Perhaps my favourite read though, the one place I go once a week to stay updated across various industries insights, is Think with Google.

Think with Google is not a tool, but a powerful resource of insights that we’ve quoted, sometimes, in broader consumer insights analysis, to back specific hypothesis.

What does Think with Google have that other channels online don’t? Simple: the data.

Their mix of editorial content and, especially, data points collection, is quite unique.

think with google consumer insights

The only limit is that it may or may not happen that the insight you need has been already published by Think with Google, and it’s still relevant (fairly recent publishing).

The way to go otherwise, is running an analysis on the consumers’ searches, and for this, you can use the free Google Adwords Keyword Planner.

Or, if you, like us, have very limited time and big chunks of data to play with, so you need a great UX, I would recommend Ahrefs.

Online Consumer Insights tools comparison

The following are enterprise social media analysis software where companies try to answer critical business questions through the insights derived from social data. I include Trybes Agency, even though it’s not a platform but an agency, for its proprietary data analytics tools.

Crimson Hexagon

Best at Positioned as a high price tool, Crimson Hexagon seems to be “better at support” than some of the competitors, based on G2 Crowd user reviews.

It has a full partnership with Twitter, with access to historical data from 2008.

The topic data wheel is the most liked function, “provided you have the proper Boolean queries put in on the back end”, as customers say.

Worst at Qualitative data like sentiment score and influence score is not always accurate. The technology does not understand context, complexity or sarcasm, and Klout score doesn’t prove social influence.

The product is somewhat complicated to get the full value of, without analysts “playing with it”.

Some customers complain about the fact that Crimson Hexagon relies too much on Twitter data: “despite a multitude of platforms available to search (and checked accordingly), our results were nearly 100% from Twitter, with a very tiny minority from Facebook. I was unable to easily find an answer for why this was the case, or a method for how (or if) I could expand the results.

“While it provides data, there is little to show what the numbers mean since the Twitter platform is not a good representation of the majority of the country.

Pricing Plans vary based on data. When we asked for a full brand analysis, we were quoted a $40k starting plan per year.

Synthesio

Best at Synthesio has been defined as a “pure player in the social listening space” by The Forrester Wave report, and it’s ranked as having a particularly accurate technology and easy to use interface.

Worst at Rich data like psychographics, ecosystem data and a vision from the top of the state of the company aren’t (yet) easy to understand by the user. Like Crimson Hexagon, some customers say “it’s only extremely valuable for Twitter, and not for other platforms that provide our brand with ROI like Facebook & Instagram.”

Pricing Price is based on data (it depends on how many dashboards you’d need to install), starting plan $1.200 per month.

Trybes Agency

Best at Qualitative analysis on large datasets, topicgraphic analysis and micro-targeting at scale. It includes online communities, unlike the other platforms. Clients say “they don’t worry about anything, they just get the insights”

Worst at Speed, due to the need for social data analysts (ethnographers and psychologists) on the project and the variety of data sources. You’re looking at 2 weeks delivery, as opposed to instant delivery.

Trybes Agency is not an analytics platform. It’s an agency, but it owns a good range of proprietary analytics tools, covering Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, review sites and online scraping (basically all the web).

Pricing Price is based on project goals, contact here for more info.

Sysomos

Best at Sysomos goes beyond listening and is one of the most comprehensive tools around. “It’s definitely very easy to use — just about anyone could figure out how to run a quick report.”

Worst at Like the competitors, it’s said to be “Really only reliable on Twitter” and to fail on sentiment analysis and qualitative insights

Pricing Sysomos offers a separate pricing tier for SMB and enterprise. When we asked for a full brand analysis we’ve been quoted 2180 €/month starting plan.

Final thoughts on the alternatives

In our experience, a team of data analysts is needed to clean big data from noise and have goal oriented, easy to use, insights.

If this is your case, Trybes Agency is the best option, where you can “get the power of a million person survey without the hassle”.

If what you want is instead a tool for the social media and content team, to complete the engagement journey, Sysomos is the only one that allows you to close the circle with campaigns publishing.

Simple to use, it’s recommended for real-time Twitter conversation monitoring, while Trybes Agency for a broader and deeper analysis of tribes (interest clusters) across online data.

 

One Last Thing

And perhaps the most important.

No matter how much data you have and how sophisticated the automation or AI you employ in it is, there’s a classic principle that is still legitimate and won’t change.

People are complex. Insights about them are multi-faced, rich pieces of information that imply a deep understanding of human nature and contextual factors such as culture and technology.

What you mean is sometimes not even clear to your best friend or your spouse.

It’s definitely too early for machines to achieve that level of understanding.

This is why you should always add a human layer to all your analysis and analytics and value the queries (questions, information requests), not the tech or the data, as the most crucial part of the analysis.

All in all, how you translate business needs into questions to the data, is the most important part of the process of getting consumer insights and should be handled with such responsibility.

Tell us: how do you approach this part of the consumer insights analysis?

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