The drive to gain consumer insights cannot be an occasional endeavor. A company wishing to establish a brand or sell a product cannot simply conduct a focus group or survey, and say it now has everything it needs to know about consumers. It must take some very concrete steps to get a firm grasp of the target consumers’ tendencies, including:

  • Bringing an anthropologist on-board.
  • Changing the mind-set of senior level executives.
  • Going above and beyond to capture insights.
  • Showing a genuine interest in what consumers have to say.

Today’s consumers may like something for years, and then suddenly change their minds. We watch in amazement as Hewlett-Packard twists slowly in the wind, trying to figure out what their printer customers want. Perhaps if they had better insights into their consumers’ needs, they would have realized that relying solely on high-priced ink cartridges was a sure road to failure.

The company that does not have its finger on its consumers’ collective pulse may be in danger of falling behind more astute competitors. The drive to gather, analyze and capitalize on consumer insights must be an ongoing and integral function of the entire corporation. Perhaps those most tuned in, or best capable of understanding, how the consuming mind-set works are the anthropologists and ethnographers who make it their business to study such things. Of course, these individuals cannot be squirreled away in a cubicle somewhere “looking for insights.” They must be involved and included in management decisions, product development strategies, and marketing discussions to ensure that the company remains customer-focused. Even the Chinese are beginning to see the wisdom of business anthropology.

1. Consumer Insights Should be Driven From the Top Down

The decision to be consumer-driven often comes from the very top levels of the organization. Senior executives who lead by example inspire skill sets which allow everyone under them to search for new insights and understandings. Some of the characteristics which these open-minded leaders foster in their organization may include:

2. Ask Why

This childhood question has been known to inspire both curiosity and frustration. Corporations which try to understand “why” something happens or “why” consumers act a certain way may find answers they never expected, or that they don’t even like, but those who ask can also learn what they do right and build on it.

3. No Limits

Corporations that choose to rely only on old strategies are a long way from becoming truly consumer-centric. They need to be open to new ideas and insights when the winds of consumer needs change, and have the internal flexibility to be able to adapt quickly.

4. Break the Barrier of Conformity

It’s easier to set rules and regulations, or say that a product should be marketed in a certain way, but it’s not always best to do it that way. If consumers are changing so rapidly, what makes corporations think they can still market to them in the same old ways? Where would social media be today if Mark Zuckerberg continued to look at Facebook as “just a dating site?”

5. Respect for the Customer

Far too many corporations today view the customer as somewhat of an enemy. The goal is to make the most money possible, and force consumers to use what the company is offering. One only needs to look back at the disastrous introduction of “New Coke” to find out what happens when consumers push back. A far more effective strategy is to find out what the consumer wants, and then move the company in that direction.

6. Yes We Can

Many creative ideas that could have taken a product to the next level are stifled from the start by someone who simply says, “We can’t do that. It will never work.” These are the statements which need to be challenged and questioned, not the original concept. Some of the best products and marketing strategies have been initiated by someone who said, “Interesting. Let’s talk about this.”

7. The Nitty-Gritty of Consumer Insights

Of course, all of those concepts are more about attitudes and corporate mind-sets. To really find and act upon consumer insights takes some actual discipline and hard work as well. Some of the skill sets which come to the consumer insights table include:

8. Strong Research

Consumer insights are not formulated by guessing about what consumers want. They are found by going out and gathering this information. Remember the 1990s, when Clairol revitalized its tired Herbal Essences shampoo line by advertising the sensual experience of washing hair? The ‘‘Totally Organic’’ campaign featured women who simulated sexual ecstasy while shampooing their hair, instead of hum-drum shower shots. Anthropologists and ethnographers excel at finding out what is going on in the individual consumer’s mind, analyzing it in a cultural context of the society in which the consumer resides, and applying that knowledge to decision-making processes.

9. Analytical Thinking

Consumer insights are not all intuitive. Sometimes it requires studying information and formulating theories to make informed recommendations. Numbers need to be translated into actionable insights.

10. Problem Solving Capabilities

When sales are dropping, or brand recognition is fading rapidly, consumer insights can be applied to help point a way out of the dark.

A corporate culture that is consumer-driven is not afraid of finding out what consumers want. Ask yourself these questions to find out if your corporation is truly consumer-centric:

  • Do we have an anthropologist or ethnographer on board who can provide consumer insights?
  • When was the last time we really tried to find out what our consumers were thinking?
  • Are we stifling creativity by adhering to formulaic patterns?
  • What is one consumer need we can identify and fulfill using our current product line, or by making a minor adjustment?

The great news is that social media and today’s connected society make it easier than ever to mine the gold of the consumer mind-set. The results may not always be what you “want” to hear, but you do want to hear them so changes can be made.

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