Fresh insight is the foundation of any successful organisation. However, if you’re a fledging or small business how do you get real consumer understanding when you don’t have deep pockets or dedicated experts? Well, all you need is curiosity, a nose for commercial opportunity and a good dose of empathy. Here’s how.
1 Seek out and apply consumer trends
Many organisations publish detailed, well researched and fascinating trend reports. They’re usually free and easy to access. My go-to source is the Bord Bia (Irish Food Board) Consumer Lifestyle Trends — click here to access them — which are updated on a regular basis and outline the big trends influencing our lives over the next 3–5 years. Other organisations such as Euromonitor publish trends reports regularly. Another organisation I keep my eye on is Trendwatching. There are many more. Brands sometimes publish their own trends reports. For example, here’s the Sainsbury’s report on the ‘Future of Food’. Keep on top of them. Think about which trends may be most relevant to your business and how to ‘ride’ them. They offer great food for thought and are particularly helpful when you’re working on innovation projects.
2 Immerse yourself in the competition
Spend time experiencing your competitors. Buy them, try them, compare them to your own. Evaluate them with an open mind. Our default mindset is to diss the opposition. I certainly used to when I was a brand manager. However it’s important to respect them. By all means seek out their flaws or blind spots. But at the same time, acknowledge their strengths and what they do well. Be rational. Think about what you can learn from them. If you’re working in a fast moving market, keep your eyes on the newcomers as well as the traditional players.
As well as trying our their products and services, go onto their website, read their annual reports. It’s so easy to get fresh insights into what your competitors are thinking and planning. We rarely do enough of this.
3 Read the tabloids
This is controversial I know, but if you want to keep on top of what’s happening in popular culture, read the popular newspapers. What topics are being discussed, which celebrities are being featured, what’s being reported? Their goal is to sell copies and to reflect the views of their readers, so their editorial reflects this. Obviously read them with a critical mindset, factoring in the editorial bias of the publication. They may not reflect your views, you many not agree with them, but at least you’re aware of what’s being read by the wider public Don’t be accused of being ‘out of touch’ or living in a bubble.
4 Immerse yourselves in the lives of your consumers
If reading the tabloids is a bit of a stretch for you, at a minimum read the publications or websites your consumers like to read. Go beyond reading or observing. Immerse yourself in their media channels. Discover their passions and interests and try them out yourself. Find out who they are and get to know them. If you work in the drinks business — it’s easy. Go and visit their bars. For others, you may have to dig deeper. Shop where they shop. Go where they go. Be brave and talk to them. Do your best to understand them.
5 Talk to experts
An easy shortcut to getting deeper customer understanding is to talk to people who know your consumers really well. For example. If you’re in the food industry, talk to chefs or food writer. If you’re in the travel industry, talk to the hotel concierge. Talk to your customer services team. They’re interacting with your consumers on a regular basis. They’ll offer a really good insight into what your customers are doing.
6 Ask your friends and family
If you’ve got a good relationship with your friends and family, they’ll give you honest feedback. Ask their opinion or try out an idea out on them. Children in particular are brutally honest. It doesn’t mean you have to follow their advice or suggestions, but it gives you more information to work with. You never know, they may provide with a really vital perspective.
7 Look at adjacent markets
Having a deep understanding of your market and your consumers is really important. But sometimes, you need to take a wider perspective. Take a look at an adjacent category and see what’s going on there. For example, if you work in food, look at the personal care category. There’s a lot of cross-over. If you work in a premium category, look at other premium brands, Equally, look at what’s going on in other parts of the world. Observe what’s going on in a different geographical region. It may well be coming to your part of the world soon.
Commissioning ‘proper’ market research, capturing robust, bespoke data and turning this into insight is vital. But if you’re not able to, don’t despair. There’s tons of free information and insight out there. And I’ve not even mentioned the vast expanses of our old friend Google. You’ve just got to be clear what you’re looking for and invest time and effort in looking for it. Make sure you have a curious, ‘always on’ mindset. This way, you’re likely to stumble across something illuminating at the oddest moments. Reflect on what you find. Think about how you can apply it your brand or business, because without fresh insight, we have very little to work with.