Consumer Insights 101 Part 2: Simple Tricks to Cracking Consumer Immersions

Hello people! Continuing our journey into the murky waters of inexact science of consumer insights; here is my 2nd post on the topic. Also, as promised I am doing 1 every month (I started this in Feb just never managed to finish it & maybe I will do 2 in March)

I personally find doing qualitative research or groups is relatively easier than doing one on one consumer immersions. For those who are hearing this term for the first time; it’s a fancy word for consumer home visits where you get someone to recruit consumers for you and you go and talk to them by yourself. In the beginning you can also request for a moderator to know how its done or accompany someone else who has done a few of them. Eventually however, you will have to find your own rhythm & way of doing them. For me, it is also what I love about being a FMCG marketer most – the joy of talking to the consumers.

Unlike popular belief, I am a socially awkward person and hence talking to strangers doesn’t come easy to me at all. So, when I was a newly minted ABM; the thought of immersions was not only daunting it was also something I was convinced I could never be good at. I would listen to people around me telling stories of very insightful and interesting immersions and I would be filled with awe on how they managed them. Eventually, I sort of got into the groove as they say and have never looked back. What worked for me was well a fat load of help of course; but also, my inherent inquisitiveness about what made people do what they did.

Well, I can’t promise if this post will make it easier for anyone reading it, but it shall hopefully give you enough tips till you find your own way to do it. So, the following is my blueprint of how to do a consumer immersion (good, bad or ugly is a judgement I leave to you😊):

1. Form a hypothesis: it may sound like something you would do only when you can prove or disprove it quantitatively. However, it is very useful to form hypothesis even while doing immersions because as you meet more and more consumers you will be able to see a pattern and that will help you make better decisions in the absence of full fledged quantitative research all the time. Now its important to know what type of hypothesis one should form for immersions – they have to be around behavioural patterns and not exact or restrictive. An example of a good hypothesis is XYZ brand’s consumers are heavily influenced by celebrities or that peer recommendation is very important for my brand or that abc are the key influencers for my brand. What one definitely can’t be a hypothesis is stuff like on an average the consumers buy 4 packs; she watches prime time TV. These are prime examples of what is best left to syndicated research/quantitative exercises to answer.

What these hypotheses help in doing is structuring your own thoughts when you talk to consumers a then you can veer your conversation to either prove or disprove your null hypothesis. Some people also call this as defining the objective of the immersions. I prefer calling it hypothesis. Also, even when you don’t want to deep dive into a specific direction and want to just acquaint yourself with the consumer its useful to put down hypothesis like he/she thinks x about my brand; he/she has seen all my ads etc. It helps one structure the discussion better and eventually also put a method to the madness that unstructured talking can be.

2. Define your recruitment criteria well: basis your hypothesis, know who you want to meet and very specifically define them. For e.g. if you want to understand lapser behaviour on your brand then as the recruiter to look for people who were users of your brand but have stopped using it in the last 3 months/6 months. Or if you want to understand barriers to your brands then get aware not trialists recruited. Of course, please choose a definition that is easy to recruit & there are enough representation for such recruitment. For e.g. to say the consumer must have a smart phone is ok; is an active social media consumer is ok; but to say recruit someone with a smart phone who has Facebook, Instagram & YouTube apps on their phone is not.

3. Make a rough discussion guide: as a beginner, a bit of preparation doesn’t hurt. Do make a list of the type of questions you will ask the consumer. Please don’t treat it like a questionnaire that you have to go in order & tick mark each question but essentially as a guide for you to navigate your conversation around. Of course, the person will deviate and will go in different directions so please don’t become a prisoner to your own discussion guide. Be flexible but being structured helps.

4. Make him/her comfortable: its true that you are meeting the consumer for a specific purpose but much like a conversation between colleagues, new people we meet in life some effort needs to be made to break ice. They are as nervous as you and in fact are continuously feeling judged because in their minds you will be making an opinion on their life choices. Start with introducing yourself, talking a little about what do you do – don’t tell them where you work but stuff like you work for a market research company and just want to talk to them to understand their lifestyle. There are no right or wrong answers and you just want to talk. I find peppering the interview with personal anecdotes helps in putting the person as ease. If there are kids in the house or elders (mother in law or someone else who looks interested in what is happening) include them in the conversation. I have found is very helpful in making the consumers talk. In fact, one of my most insightful immersion was when my consumer’s teenage daughter joined her and talked about what modernity meant to her, her expectations from her mom etc.

5. Don’t judge: after a few tips on what to do I think its also important we cover a few don’ts. The most important one for me is not to judge. Don’t let your personal ideologies and perceptions surface when you are talking to a consumer. You are there to know what he/she thinks, what are their realities, what are their motivators. This exercise is not about making a difference in their lives or expressing your POV. I have made this mistake once or twice and have seen some people who have accompanied me on immersions also being judgemental about what the consumer is saying so much so that it shows on their face & body language. For example, if you go and meet a lower income group consumer in a smaller town in India, male domination comes up as a way of life and while you personally may like it or not its not your place to have an opinion about it. Your role in that moment is to understand what role such a social structure play in decision making, family structures, wants and desires. And there will be many other such instances. For e.g. enough and more consumers don’t care about expiry dates. Please don’t gasp when they tell you that. Make a silent note in your notepad.
6. Don’t lead: you will meet consumers who will not be articulate and those who will not talk enough. In these situations, my recco would be to try different approaches to make them talk but don’t lead their answers. Don’t give them multiple choices from what you already know and then ask them to choose because they will choose one, but it will not make you any wiser about your consumers than before you started. It would be better to cut short the interview instead. What I have found useful in these situations is also to at least find out their media habits, daily routines and repertoire across categories because these are facts which most consumers will share. They may just not be able to talk about a brand, product well.

Beyond this just talk. Home visits are what I still love marketing as much as I do. Every visit has been an eye opener. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration but for me this is where I see societal transformation. New trends, new beliefs, new lifestyle, new social structures all come alive in a more concrete way than any amount of information & numbers present all around you. Get over your initial anxiety and you will come your consumers because you will see them in their world. 


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