Consumer Insights 101: Knowing the person before the consumer

Hello hello.......... Happy 2019 to everyone. Wishing for lots of goodness for everyone. I didn't keep up my promise of one blog entry every month last year but I am hoping I am going to be better this year. 

This year I plan to focus on the 'not so exact science' part of marketing. As Dumbledore told Harry in the Half Blood Prince - we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into the thickets of wildest guesswork. Consumer insights is pretty much like that. There are of course concrete quantitative proofs of what works for your consumers but we shall not focus on that part here. My entire focus in this piece will be to outline what is an insight and how to get there (at least eventually). 

Let me begin by putting down some caveats. This, as said above is my personal experience with delving deep into the realms of a person’s motivations, triggers & aspirations. There can be (in fact, definitely is) a better way for this journey. It is as the topic suggest – insights 101 so may be basic for some people. And lastly, while I firmly believe that basics of marketing transcend categories & segments & industries; this piece will be most useful for mass categories.

In our world, consumer insights may be the most abused & hence loosely used term. Simply put an insight is the why of a behaviour and not the what. For e.g. choosing a fixed deposit over a mutual fund as a saving instrument is a ‘what’ while need for security & surety is the ‘why’ behind making this decision. Taking an example closer home would be buying an antibacterial handwash for the kids is the ‘what’ driven by the need to keep children away from all evils of the world. It sounds extremely simple when its put down like this and also very intuitive. But to unearth a new insight is not only difficult sometimes its impossible because insights much like needs are simple & universally true. But finding an insight is just the first step. The key is to marry the insight with your brand’s promise. As I said, insights are universally true & are hence largely brand or category agnostic. One needs to find a way to convert them into triggers for your brand choice.

The following are my few tips to assimilate all the consumer information/knowledge you have into culling insights. I call it culling because much like data analytics it’s a step by step process (at least in the beginning) and when done methodologically brings better results.

1.       Know her/him before what she/he buys: one of the first things I was taught while writing my first concept was to define who am I talking about. And as would be normal for a newly minted ABM, I started rattling everything I knew about her. Women in the age of 30-44; SEC AB, living in Metros & top 35 cities (back then I didn’t even make it slicker by saying big urban centres); married; first greys (I used to work on hair colours then) and then just to complete the psychographic element I threw in bits like she is conscious about her looks & is looking for a natural fitting in look. This is when the person who initiated me into the world of consumer insight looked at me and said – but who is she? And then he taught me the most invaluable lesson of it all. Learn enough about her/him that you can talk about them in first person and describe them as you will describe your own family of friends. A typical description would be something like Anjali (I just like this name) lives in Andheri. She is married to Rahul for the last 10 years. They have 2 girls who they both love immensely. Anjali is a proud & competitive mom. Her girls & their upbringing takes precedence over everything else in her life. She herself was brought up in a conservative family where she wasn’t allowed to study beyond graduation & couldn’t work after marriage. She wants a different world for her daughters. She wants to create an open environment in the house so that the girls grow up with confidence & ambition. She continuously invests in herself to be updated to ensure she can create this world for them. Some of the new things she has learnt & experimented with are Cornflakes, liquid handwash, ready to cook pasta, online shopping for clothes & toys and western clothes for herself so that she can look like a modern mother.
I am sure this sounds super fuzzy and subjective and mostly not scalable. For this moment, I would request you to stay with this example and assume that this makes sense and has my 13 years of experience certification behind it. As we move along the rest of the points we will see how its actually scientific, data driven & is a large enough segment for brands to target & base their decisions on. 
Also, a watch out here – demographics & the size of the segment & everything of the sorts is super important and a MUST HAVE but only for the insights part there is merit in becoming a little less left brained.

2.       Immerse yourself culturally in her/his life: now that you know who these people are and can almost see their lives as much as you see yours; immerse yourself in their culture. Now, you may believe that coming from the same region, religion, country, language et al you know the culture well. Don’t fall in that trap. Even if everything matched to the T – you can never know their culture as well as them because culture is unique to a set of individuals and unless you are immediate family you will not know it. Culture for me includes everything that influences these people – region, religion, communities, entertainment, media & KOLs.
Let’s continue our journey with Anjali. Let me draw up two different scenarios for you here. Scenario 1 – Anjali is an avid Bollywood fan who believes in the make believe world of cinema. She watches most popular shows on TV and does follow up viewing on Hotstar for episodes she misses. She is very religious and ensure everyone in her family goes to the temple regularly & daily prayers are a must in the house. All festivals are celebrated with the extended family where everything is done from scratch by her.
Scenario 2 – Anjali finds TV & most of Bollywood tiresome. So, she only listens to radio/music channels for new music and is an avid consumer of news & sports. She is not big on religion and only the big festivals are celebrated in the house. However, all community activities are very important for her & she actively participates in them. She is the one who organises local community get togethers, teaches cooking to young girls in her society & also helps the ones who are uneducated with some daily chores like online payments etc.
Any of these 2 scenarios or a combination of both is a fair possibility and will lead to very different triggers & influencers for the TG & as a result on their motivations and decision making.

3.       Find out her/his entire basket before narrowing down to your category/brand: let’s now find our way to figuring out them as a consumer/buyer once we know who they are. I personally find category led questions are best answered through quantitative research and the intuitiveness when speaking to consumers about your own category or brand is not always accurate. This is only & only because (as is usually human nature & all of us are guilty of it) of our own knowledge about our category & brands. In this case ignorance truly is bliss. When we know nothing about the drivers of the brands or categories we listen to what consumers are saying without biases and without categorising every response in a pre-defined insight/usage/need segment.  Hence, get to know the entire purchase basket. What do they use in their kitchen, bathrooms, floors, brands of clothes they wear, where do they shop for all of these things, variants they use, does this basket differ by season, months of the year, time of the month et al. What are the brands/products they buy without ever rethinking their decision? What are the categories they decide about in the store? What are the new categories they have tried because their kids recommended them or another mother or someone in the family. What are the categories/brands they have changed in the past because the price increased. Check on their knowledge of prices for all the products they use. Basically, know their entire basket & then find your way to your own category & brand.

4.       Find trends: now that you have equipped yourself with all the knowledge, treat every consumer immersion like a data point and use all of them together to find trends. They will be inexact and qualitative yes. But they will definitely be far more textured & will help build knowledge nodes in your brain which will make you understand a consumer much like you understand yourself. Your consumer will become intuitive for you much as your friends & family are. It will also help you read your quantitative researches better. For example, lets pick up a U&A (Usage & Attitude Study). It is the most exhaustive consumer study you can do for your category & brand. Armed with all the knowledge about your consumers helps you understand the U&A, various segments, need states (both functional & emotional) much better. The kind of trends you can easily spot when you meet enough consumers will be things like – price sensitivity & at what point does it change, propensity to change brands frequently, disposition towards upcoming trends like naturals, feminism, urbanisation, globalisation, influencers set – celebrities, sports stars, peers or experts and the list is endless.
Let’s continue seeing this from Anjali’s POV. So, suppose we have met 20 Anjalis so far and they are mostly the scenario 2 Anjalis. The things we can predict about future Anjalis we meet will be things like – performance is important for her (sports viewer), she places a premium on information & hence will be predisposed to knowing more about her brands than just watching an ad (watches news), peers will be a big influence in her life (community focus). She seeks brands & experiences that make her a better parent & definitely a more modern woman.  
Now let’s pick her basket of products (and suppose these are often repeated across the 20 Anjalis we have met). Say she buys Goodknight, Lux soap, Surf detergent, Big Bazar shopper, Tata tea, Maruti Swift, Titan Raga Watch. If I was to read this list my understanding of her motivations will be on the lines of – she values Indian brands, trust is very important for her (common amongst all brands listed above), value for money is important to her (mid priced brands), technology & modernity is important within the Indian trustworthy brands (Swift, Goodknight, Titan Raga etc.)
And once you have met enough consumers, worked on different categories/brands within a category these trends will help you in instinctively getting the consumer. This doesn’t mean that the consumer will not spring surprises. In fact, one of the things I love about my job is that I have never walked out of a consumer immersion saying it was boring & I knew everything. I always learn something new & add it to my list of things I will find trends with.

5.       Find a method to rank everything: now this is the tricky bit & will need some hand holding initially. If not hand holding then definitely trial & error. One trick is to marry all your understanding with quantitative proof in the beginning and then you will be able to extend it easily. Remember what I said in the beginning – the job as a marketer is to convert insights in triggers for your brand. To be able to do that you need to be able to rank the motivators in order of priority in your consumers life. In Anjali’s life for example, parenting will always be her biggest motivator. So anything that can appeal to her need to be a better & more equipped mother will do well. Please note here that parenting is category & brand agnostic but can be used as a lever for different categories easily.

Hopefully, we have travelled a bit into the murky waters of inexact science & enjoying them much like how we loved the unknown in our childhood. Till next time. Happy 2019 to all once again!!!! 


  1. How large should our consumer research set be to get a good insight?


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