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Nick Schön, Former Group CD at Saatchi and Saatchi, was working on Mars ice cream when communism collapsed in the USSR.
“Mars went into Russia immediately and started selling ice cream like crazy.
The thing was though, they couldn’t sell the stuff in the summer when it was hot, but in the winter the Russians couldn’t get enough of it. Mars couldn’t figure it out at all. It was the complete reverse of every other market in the world.” says Nick.
So Mars sent some executives over, and after a week or so they returned with one, simple yet powerful insight.
The kind of dumb game changer that is in front of those embedded in a certain society or market segment, but it’s often missing to who looks at it from outside, with little or wrong data to help.
“It’s obvious really. We don’t know why we never figured it out ourselves”.
“Really? What is it then? Why don’t Russians buy ice cream in the summer?” they asked.
“They don’t have refrigerated trucks. By the time it gets to where the consumers are they’ve all melted. It can only be distributed in the winter”.
This is a funny story and a simple example of how we can miss the point (meaning the need, the culture aspect or behaviour), by being out of touch with consumers.
Truth is, we don’t need to go all the way to post-communism USSR to encounter this problem. It’s said, by the very people that work there, to be largely afflicting both the advertising and marketing industries.
What? With all this data available on consumers?
A few months ago, I had the pleasure to assist to a great event, the APG Strategy Conference: On the Contrary. The speakers challenged, educated, and entertained a savvy audience in many memorable ways, but perhaps the biggest and ugliest truth that shook us all was in fact that
STRATEGISTS KNOW NOTHING ABOUT PEOPLE.
As Clémence Lépinard, Strategist at BBH London, writes here in the event’s aftermath, If you think you know people, if you think you know your consumers, and if you think your opinion, intuition or gut feeling can be the foundation of a good strategy, you are wrong.
In particular, I really loved Martin Weigel’s Escape from Fantasy, a funny and sharp provocation to restore the link we have severed between marketing and consumers.
I want to share with you a few stats that Martin pulled together. They might put in context the widespread ignorance about consumers we’re seeing here.
I think we definitely need some literature on the topic, and looking at what has worked in the past might help marketers and advertising agencies figure out how to use insights to thrive in the future.
So, I decided to create a list of case studies: some powerful consumer insights, part of bigger research but simple enough to be grasped by brilliant minds in marketing and advertising and to be turned into gold.
Be that gold in the form of revenues, brand equity, or even impact on the world.
Simple, right? We live in a consumer-centric world, with loads of data (and data suppliers) and lots of clever people working in marketing and advertising… so simple that I’ll be overwhelmed by the multitude of stories, I said to myself.
Nope, it wasn’t simple at all.
After several emails to some big names in the industry, a meaningful conversation on Twitter (thanks especially to the people quoted below, for taking the time to inspire and suggest case studies) and much research, I realized that most professionals working in marketing and advertising can recall very few, if not none, campaigns based on consumer insights.
Let me spell it out.
Most marketing and advertising professionals can recall very few, if not none, campaigns based on actual people they’re trying to reach.
And on the other hand, Rob Estreitinho, Senior Strategist at VCCP Kin, brilliantly woke me up with this tweet.
Ok, got it.
I learnt here that we, market researchers and consumer insight experts, have the responsibility to start building this bridge between campaigns and consumers (and some ads and marketing people seem pretty collaborative and motivated enough to join us on this quest).
So, here is my first step in this direction.
It matches well our mission of enabling marketers and brands to understand consumers’ intrinsic cultural values and needs, and it’s worth the time, I believe, as little or no knowledge on the topic was out there yet.
Below, you can find the first 10 out of 40 case studies. These are winning campaigns based on consumer insights, outlined in a simple format which should leave you with some inspiration and bits of know-how learnt in the field. I’ll update with 10 new case studies per month.
But first of all, a little premise based on the most googled question on this topic. Funny enough, from big data of global searches analysed to small data of interviews conducted for this article the same question emerged over and over: what do you mean by consumer insights? — so there’s definitely a need for clarification here.
In simple words, insights in advertising are pieces of information on consumers that allow our message or product to matter to them.
Consumer insight. Even though their profit was growing, the Automobile Association dedicated a new team to research beyond short-term results. What they found was a worrying picture of market share and membership decline. This was caused by consumers’ increased sensitivity for the price and the brand’s falling salience among them.
Action. The AA revised its marketing and re-invested in a campaign aimed at the long term revenue increase, through customer acquisition and retention.
They decided to take a brave step. They shifted from a rational, efficiency-focused message to emotional branding. They went from a world of spanners and sparkplugs to an emotional world of smiles and singalongs.
The strengthened brand enabled the group to raise prices — driving stable revenue growth and delivering a profit of £2.23 for every £1 invested.
You can watch the video here.
What should we learn from this? That we can be brave and build long term success with the right data on our side.
Cheryl Calverley, AA’s Marketing Director, describes the effort as transformational and commercially significant. She explains that attitudes, values, needs and desires drive people’s relationships with brands, and thus their propensity to buy.
But she also warns us that emotional advertising is highly data-driven. It’s only with deep and robust, rational data and analytics that a business can have the confidence to leap into an emotional communications strategy.
Consumer insight. The “insights” here are the actual campaign. Anonymous user data rearranged in a hilarious way and personal voice.
Action. Following the success of Thanks 2016, It’s Been Weird, where it poked fun at some of its quirkier users, Spotify did it again, only this time proposing new year’s resolutions.
The odd component comes back, as Spotify jokes about weird/funny habits of its consumers, plus it features some of the top artists on the platform and appears with geo-targeted OOH (out of home) messages.
The campaign was a success. Revenue tripled in Q1 of the year. They also saw a rise in subscribers, possibly due to the call to action launched during the campaign.
You can watch the video here.
What should we learn from this? How to talk about data on consumers.
One thing is having lots of consumers’ data, another thing is talking about it. The superpower of Spotify is understanding its user base better than any other music provider thanks to ML and user behaviour tracking (that’s how they power their amazing recommendation algorithm), but this doesn’t mean that it’s a sexy message to share. In times of privacy awareness and easy backlashes, the Spotify team found a way to talk about data, making it funny and extremely shareable.
From an analyst POV, the type of consumer insights that Spotify published might not be representative of the whole consumers’ base (sometimes not even a niche), and that’s exactly its strength. It’s mainly based, in fact, on the outliers of a huge amount of data.
…the weirdos. Which constitute much more interesting stories to tell than mere numbers.
So it does the job, as in: it makes people have something to joke about and share with the others, it makes them feel more connected to the brand.
But please, be aware that it doesn’t always go well. There’s a fine line between “understanding their consumers” as said about Spotify, and being “intrusive” and “tone-deaf”, as Revolut has been defined for its Spotify-style campaign.
These nuances in the approach to consumer insights should be never taken in a superficial way: my advice is to try understanding the culture and the values of the people we’re trying to reach before launching something confidential out there. Money is certainly not music, and consumer behaviour/cognitive implications are very different across product categories and topics.
You can watch the video here.
(picked by Mike Stevens, consumer insights expert, Founder of Insight Platforms)
Consumer insight. Ladies & gentlemen, a case of anti-insight, as Mike called it. When Channel 4 became official broadcaster of the Paralympics, just 14% of the population said they were looking forward to the event. But, as research showed viewers uncomfortable with a physical disability, the campaign went all-in with it.
Action. Channel 4 strategy for the London 2012 Paralympic Games was to make the event the biggest in the tv channel’s history and have an impact on the perception of a complex issue.
And they did: it was their biggest marketing push in 30 years and it used a new, powerful narrative on Paralympic athletes. This resulted in huge audience participation (peak of Channel 4’s last 10 years) and a cultural shift towards a topic that is influencing millions of people’s lives.
Some stats from D&AD case study:
What should we learn from this? Don’t fear the ugly truth.
It happens a lot. We seek insights on consumers, and they’re not always pretty. But they’re worth it, especially if we’re willing to listen and draft a brave, creative strategy based on them. Like in the case of Channel 4: coming to understand people’s reluctance towards disabilities was not exactly a pretty truth, but they took the challenge of shifting that perception for a greater good. Having measured the depth and breadth of the challenge with consumer insights enabled Channel 4 to take the risk and succeed.
(picked by Patrick Collins, Creative Agency Lead at Google and creator of the — really, really cool — Because The Internet newsletter)
Consumer insight. One in four men fights mental problems. Who or what can step in to help?
Action. Time to Change is a social movement working to change the way people think and act about mental health problems.
Ogilvy worked with them on this mission and kicked off a 5-year Time to Change campaign with ‘Be in your mate’s corner’.
With men no strangers to stepping up to the plate when their friends are physically in need, the campaign is a call for men to rise to the occasion in the same way where mental health is concerned.
I could find out only stats from Time To Change up to phase two of the strategy, so if you are from Ogilvy and you worked in the campaign, I would love to update here with your data on the perception of the campaign.
What should we learn from this? That we have to speak their language.
The way they speak and perceive things are two pieces of insights that all people working to reach them and have an impact should always care of.
In this case, Time To Change and Ogilvy talked about an uncomfortable topic in a way that resonates well with the target, in its own words. And people find it simple and brilliant.
Consumer insight. At puberty, nearly half of girls (49%) feel paralysed by the fear of failure (based on a 2017 study among 1,000 UK women aged 16–24 years).
Action. The original #LikeAGirl social experiment launched in 2014 was the start of what Always calls an epic battle: changing the perception of the expression “like a girl” and boosting girls’ confidence all over the world.
Since then, Always campaigns became synonymous of young women’ empowerment and reached a huge quantity of audiences.
In 2017, #LikeAGirl campaign was tweaked by the “fear of failing” insight to encourage girls everywhere to embrace failure as fuel to build confidence & Keep Going #LikeAGirl.
What should we learn from this? Keep searching for what matters.
Consistency is key in a branding strategy, so the best action we can take here is to keep studying the audiences, their needs and worldview, what matters for them, why they make specific choices, who and what influences them.
If I were working at Always, I’d wonder how girls communicate and gather in groups, as I've acknowledged through research that the social factor is extremely important at that age, almost for defining the self.
(picked by Rob Estreitinho, Senior Strategist at VCCP Kin)
Consumer insight. Twitter is often used as a ranting tool, especially at mealtime. Worth gamifing this behaviour?
Action. Increase Snickers’s penetration in a stagnant category like chocolate confectionery is quite a challenge.
BBDO and Snickers, in partnership with 7 Eleven, came up with a sort of gamification of the consumer insight: the Snickers Hungerithm.
Hungerithm is an hungry-algorithm that analyses Twitter’s anger levels through social listening and automated sentiment analysis: the angrier the sentiment, the lower the price of a Snickers bar in the 7 Eleven next to you.
The campaign resulted in 350 million media impressions and a 67% sales increase of Snickers bars.
You can watch the video here.
What should we learn from this? Integrate social data to increase sales.
As well explained by Rob, social is often used as a pure broadcast channel with little relation to commercial needs. This is a brilliant idea of how you can look at data in a creative way, turn it into something that lands your brand message and link it to retail activity.
Consumer insight. It’s 2010, and small businesses are struggling because of the economic recession. But, 93% of consumers agree it’s important to support small business.
In an effort to support local shops that make our communities strong, American Express launched Small Business Saturday® on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to bring more holiday shopping to small businesses.
This was the beginning of the Shop Small® Movement story.
Over the years, Small Business Saturday spending has now reached a reported estimate of $103 billion since the day began in 2010 — that’s $103 billion over 9 days alone. It also powered a community of 7,500 Neighborhood Champions across all US: individuals and organizations that rally their communities with events and activities on Small Business Saturday.
Finally, it’s also bringing the values of shopping small beyond the event’s timeframe, making people support their communities all year long.
What should we learn from this? When we solve a large scale real problem for actual people (our consumers), chances are we can start a movement.
I’m biased here, ’cause I love shopping small and I study communities and movements, so I guess I’m in love with this campaign for obvious reasons.
But I want to stress the “problem” element here: if we replace “small businesses” with our target audience and we “find in the information about them a way to make them thrive”, we have a win. Actually, a win-win ;)
Be that in the right timing (here is the other part of insight), it just became a national cause: the still-struggling economy after the depths of the recession had even the White House drumming the need for small businesses to re-emerge.
American Express and the creative agencies’ efforts went way beyond the comms to do lists and actively tried to meet a business goal, by creating value for Amex Business consumers.
Consumer insight — part 1. By 2015, Three had grown to 9m customers, especially through focus on data deals and low prices. But the company was suffering the highest churn rate in the category, so they decided to understand better their consumers in order to
They segmented the customer base and then worked across the segments to discover common insights regarding the mobile network world.
Here is what they found out:
Action 1 — Strategy/marketing. The marketing direction decided, based on the rich consumer insights gathered, to take a challenger brand stand and change a common mobile networks practice that was affecting all the consumers: the extra-charges abroad.
They decided to let people use their phone abroad at no extra cost so that consumers could “Feel at Home” and Three could be market-first in something they deeply cared for.
When Three launched the service, the positive reaction was said to be “overwhelming”.
So Three decided to keep gathering insights.
Consumer insight — part 2. Observing the consumers’ behaviour in using the new offer, Three has seen not much calls and text but an increment in data usage of 71%.
People were mainly using their phones’ data to publish photos of their holidays on social networks. A huge social phenomenon called by the media “braggie”.
Action 2 — Marketing/communications
So next step for the mobile company was to playfully embrace its consumers’ behaviour: Three, in fact, encouraged consumers to publish their photos using the #holidaybraggie hashtag, and then created a campaign to talk to the people affected by this ‘Holiday Spam’.
The campaign led to a 90% increase in Three’s social conversation volume, higher brand metrics and customers saving a collective £2.7bn on roaming charges. Customer acquisition and churn saving were doubled among the new consumers.
This resulted in doubling down the investment for a second campaign based on the same strategy.
You can watch the video here.
What should we learn from this? Gain consumer insights to struck a chord with consumers.
Three’s strategy from data to creative messages seems to have an ideal structure:
This is a bit of an outsider here, as it’s research powered by campaigns more than a campaign powered by research, but I’d like to include it as representative of different data types.
Action. Jacob L.H. Jones, Matthew Gillespie and Kelsey Libert from Fractl have conducted research on whether biometrics can predict a viral marketing campaign.
Galvanic skin response (GSR, which measures the skin’s resistance to a very mild electrical current), has been demonstrated to be a strong predictor of emotional arousal, and emotional arousal is known to be a crucial ingredient for viral content.
The study consisted of showing people a mix of popular and unpopular content and recording GSR. The researchers coupled these data with follow-up questions, such as: “Were you engaged in this content? Do you think you would share this?” and so on.
Consumer insight. With this kind of biometrics, they were able to predict the viral outcome of a piece of content significantly better than was possible via any of the usual survey measures.
What should we learn from this? In general, I agree with the research saying people are just pretty bad at knowing how they feel and why they feel that way.
We’ve seen this while comparing observational methods like netnography with survey research and consumer panels. Results sometimes differ, a lot.
Biometrics such as galvanic skin response, eye tracking, and EEG (electroencephalogram) can reveal new layers of understanding and consumer insights for us to use in addition to cheaper and more established methodologies.
Consumer insight. The initial campaign main consumer insights were:
Action. Ogilvy & Mather and Dove’s Real Beauty campaign was conceived in 2004 during a 3-year creative strategic research effort, conducted in partnership with three universities in four cities around the world, led by Joah Santos.
The aim of the campaign was to celebrate the Real Beauty — the natural physical variation embodied by all women — and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves (source).
Perhaps the first campaign to change a cultural perception starting from a marketing strategy, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” matched high understanding/empathy towards the target audiences with a shared effort across countries and agencies. This resulted in a remarkably targeted yet broad reach and long-lasting impact.
The 10-year-old campaign changed the conversation in advertising and beyond, as well described by Jack Neff in the Adage dossier (Dove was rated the best ad campaign of the 21st Century)
As for the business goal, Dove’s sales have increased from $2.5 billion to well over $4 billion during the campaign.
You can watch some videos:
What should we learn from this? Ah, the power of representing people as they are.
Really, I mean, it’s that simple. It’s about understanding consumers’ worldview so that the creative message resonates with them.
Even better when we spot a recurring misconception of any of the consumers’ values/cultural aspects that’s making them uncomfortable, angry or sad.
Like in the case of Dove and Ogilvy, the campaign’s biggest strength was understanding that women didn’t want to be represented with impossible beauty canons: this factor was having a bad impact on their self-esteem and relationship with beauty and beauty products.
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What’s your take on this? Please let me know, I would love to feature your case study here. Contact us.