Connecting with Consumers in the Modern Age
By Zach Simmons
Michalis Michael, of DigitalMR, recently wrote a piece, “Cheap, Fast & Easy,” that made me shout a resounding “YES!” from my desk. In the article, Michael talks about a couple of key points that I’d like to dissect: democratization of research, affordability, and self-service (online). These points fit into a larger shift that’s happening in market research; by improving and speeding up brand’s ability to have real-time conversations, we’re able to focus on consumer engagement and connection.
Democratization of Research
For far too long, consumer research has been inaccessible to smaller brands and startups. We all know how critical research is to a brand’s potential for success, so the barriers to entry for smaller companies are particularly unfair. By allowing research to continue being so inaccessible, we encourage brands to forego research and in favor of guesswork. This should be alarming for us as an industry.
However, democratization of research doesn’t have to stop there. Increasingly, we’re seeing many of the world’s leading brands shifting toward a democratization of research within their organizations as well. They’re taking the formality out of research and encouraging their teams to speak to consumers directly. This is helping teams to build empathy and humanize consumers in order to build and market the best, most relevant products and campaigns. Different organizations call this sort of program by different names; we call them Consumer Connection programs.
Of course, one of the largest barriers to entry for democratization is affordability. Smaller brands and (seemingly) less integral members of the team won’t be included in the research process if it’s too expensive. And anyone who has ever worked on a research project knows just how expensive research can be! Fortunately, we can leverage modern technologies to help decrease some of these costs. By automating parts of the research process, we’re able to significantly cut unnecessary costs.
Automating the process also helps to make research solutions self-service and on-demand. When teams are empowering teams to connect directly with consumers, they are granted an opportunity to ask consumers questions according to their own timelines and needs. Because Consumer Connects are an ongoing initiative, so it’s important that brands can access consumers whenever necessary. The tools that they use for this, therefore, have to be self-service and on-demand. Naturally, that means that these tools have to be online.
Michael cites SurveyMonkey as a success story of self-service market research. He’s absolutely right. SurveyMonkey has taken the hassle out of creating surveys, making it easy for anyone across a team to create and share a survey in just a couple of minutes. Quant has been doing this for nearly a decade, so why has it taken qual so long to catch up? Qualitative research should also be self-service, on demand, and simple. Of course, traditionally qualitative research is more challenging to pull off. However, with the advancements of modern technologies, this no longer has to be the case.
By automating the process and leveraging ubiquitous technologies like webcams, web browsers, WebRTC, VoIP, NLPs (the list goes on and on), the qualitative process can be dramatically simplified. What’s more is it can be done not only asynchronously (with solutions like text-based communities), but synchronously (with video conferencing), meaning that brands are still able to connect face-to-face with consumers, but online, instead of in-person. Not only is this more convenient for both parties, but it also means that brands are able to speak with consumers contextually, within their own home and work environments, opening the door to a whole new set of possible insights.
A Changing Research Landscape
Consumer research is in a period of transition. It’s no longer as easy to talk about the qual/quant binary, because, increasingly, the landscape of research is changing. Today, qualitative research isn’t just focus groups and IDIs; brands are requesting closer, more regular contact with consumers. They want to understand them not just as respondents, but as consumers and as people. It’s not about conducting rigorous interviews or uncovering the perfect insight, but rather, about allowing teams and marketers to simply have a conversation with consumers. In trying to gain a holistic understanding of consumers, it’s important that brands build empathy and understand consumers within their contexts and cultures.