Do we need to drop a hairdryer in the bath Mel Gibson-style to understand the needs of the modern-day consumer or is there a better, more scientific way?
We are supposedly living in a consumer focussed time. Retailers and brands alike are concentrating entirely on the consumer and spend untold hours attempting to align the brand and product values with those of the consumer. But do we really know what they’re thinking?
The shift to digital marketing supposedly allows us to track where every click came from and to trace the customer journey of every single purchase, but is this really helping us make better decisions? Do we have a more accurate knowledge of what motivates the consumer to buy?
Is research all it is cracked up to be? And are we drawing the correct conclusions from the data (big or otherwise) that we have at our fingertips?
In recent years we have witnessed some of the most significant political upsets in modern history – none of which were remotely predicted by research agencies in pre event polls. Brexit and Trump for example. Even the 2017 General Election. The Tories won and lost a majority when they weren’t supposed to. Brexit was never expected to gain the support it did, and as for Trump, has anyone ever met someone who voted for him (or would have done, given the chance)?
By the time you read this we may be looking at polls for a second EU referendum, can we really put our faith in those either? More relevantly to this column, how do we find out what our consumer wants (and why they want it)?
Before we try to predict the future, we need to understand the present. It’s difficult even now to find out what is selling in our European marketplace in terms of running shoes, apparel and accessories. As brands we have sell-in figures, but so much can change before the runner pulls on the shoes we sent from our warehouse. Were they motivated by a clearance deal, by lack of competition, or by great knowledge of our brand or products at a particular store?
In the US, two or three agencies have been providing this information for several years and even though there can be anomalies in the hard data, the trends are invaluable in showing how the market is moving. Key retailers provide data to industry analysts which helps us all serve the customer better. There is talk of this sort of monthly research coming to Europe too - the sooner the better!
At the other end of the qualitative – quantitative spectrum, as part of our latest brand-led research, I recently joined a group of researchers going into consumers’ homes and talked to them at length about their running habits, what makes them get out there run and what shoes and kit they select to get out there in, plus the process they go to make those purchases.
While practicality restricts sample sizes for obvious reasons, the depth and detail of the research is extremely high and can provide rich insights that are impossible to find elsewhere. Knowing the consumer and what makes them tick, can provide direction for every part of our business, from product through sales to marketing.
In addition, these interviews can give immediate clues to what our consumers want, as well as creating starting points for further research in the future. In many cases this deeper questioning showed viewpoints that we expected, but they also revealed many new points of interest that opened the eyes of a team of researchers with several decades of industry experience between them.
Ultimately, we need to listen to our consumers whenever, and wherever we can, to expect that often they will confirm our experience and predictions, but also to listen with an open mind and to allow our assumptions to be challenged, to seek out new information and to constantly question our established knowledge.