Your consumers will tell you everything you need to know about them -- if you just know where to look. The answer, of course, is everywhere. Then you just need to put the data together. All of it.
Market research has traditionally had its fair share of compartmentalization -- separating consumer insight data from consumer behavior from consumer attitude...and so on. But, as McKinsey & Co. has pointed out in a 2014 white paper called Winning the Research Revolution, a customer lifecycle management (CLM) mindset, which focuses on testing consumer responses and consumer behavior, doesn't paint a complete picture of what makes a consumer tick. The CLM process can be slow and doesn't have the capacity to keep up with the data integration that is happening on every channel.
McKinsey & Co. suggest that companies can be a part of the research revolution by paying attention in four areas:
- Leverage the Internet to rapidly obtain details about consumers
- Keep the limitations of focus groups in mind
- Learn how people shop
- Link consumer attitudinal and behavioral data
The industry has pretty much moved beyond the first two of these recommendations -- that is how fast things are moving.
Information about consumers is being gleaned from the media faster than market researchers can get it all cataloged and analyzed. And the fact that market researchers are now conducting focus groups in virtual worlds like Second Life is a strong indicator that they long ago figured out the constraints imposed by conventional ways of implementing focus groups. So that leaves items three and four as the value-add from the consultants.
Data Integration Is Key to Consumer Insight
Customer relationship management can certainly be bolstered by melding information about consumer behavior and consumer attitudes. As the ways for consumers to engage with products and services increases, so do the associated databases. The effort to maintain databases with singular focus is more economical (in the beginning) than the effort involved with integrating several databases. One of the reasons market researchers maintain the data on consumer behavior and sales/client service associates maintain the data on customer lifecycle management (CLM)is that both groups are likely to have inherited legacy data management systems.
Another reason for the disjoint is that many companies still maintain functional silos the encourage a mindset that one group really doesn't have much to offer the other group. It is not new management thinking to suggest that the silos come down -- the concept has been around since the 1960s -- but silos are surprisingly resistant in some firms. The takeaway here, which extends the McKinsey & Co. Consumer and Shopper Insights consideration is that functional silos can undermine efforts to integrate the collection and the application of data useful across business units in firms.
What can a market researcher do about functional silos? One approach to bringing down the walls is to ensure that the market research data provided to internal clients is crystal clear and compellingly attractive. A good hard look at how your market research data is displayed can go a long way toward developing the kind of synergistic relationships that result in well-crafted data that is well utilized.
Tune Into How Your Shoppers Shop
For years, market research has asked why shoppers buy what they buy. Market segmentation is one of the primary ways that market researchers figure out why shoppers buy. Personas are developed by assembling psychographics, or one of the dozen other ways that market researchers classify consumer information. Traditionally, market research has emphasized what people buy. Differentiation is one of the primary tools that marketers use to attract consumers to products or services and get them moving into that funnel that leads to a purchase.
Market researchers have devised a number of ways to learn more about how shoppers shop. Early strategies consisted of some form of observation of consumers, whether through direct observation to videotaping to "shop-along" -- a method in which consumers are accompanied by a researcher to whom they relay a sort of "think aloud" monolog about how they shop during their shopping excursion. Newer strategies increasingly rely on technology. Smartphones that track shoppers as they make their way around a store or a mall give instant feedback to market researchers.
More On the Technology-Based Market Research Revolution
One of the newest methods utilizes scanning technology. One such method called Scan It!, has been adopted by US grocery stores. Shoppers carry a scanning device with them throughout the store. This method permits shoppers to avoid the check-out line and also permits them to take advantage of customized discounts as they shop.
The amount of market research data collected when shoppers use this device is remarkable. The previous purchasing behavior of the shoppers can be retained on a loyalty card that may be activated as the scanner is deployed, so location-specific discount offers can be provided as the shopper moves through the store, and the response of the shopper to the location-specific ads can be tracked.
The impact of the scanner on customer loyalty, spending levels, and buying behavior all become available to the market researcher. This what the new research revolution looks like. Doubtless, there will be many more copy-cat developments and fresh disruptive technology for market researchers to learn to use for the greatest effect.