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101 of Consumer Insights for Brand Managers

With this piece, our agenda is to understand how a Brand Manager can initiate/commission various research methodologies at their disposal to derive Consumer Insights. As always, our approach will be to first define the basics of the research themselves, give you a high-level perspective and then talk about real-world examples to make reading this piece a fascinating experience for you.

The author of this piece is Saurabh Bajaj, let’s dive right in!

Consumer Insights

Consumer Insights is one of the teams/functions a Brand Manager works closely with. These teams are the experts in all tools & techniques that help answer the toughest questions puzzling the Brand Managers. While these teams seek to answer the questions, the accountability of asking the ‘right question’ lies with the Brand team. Unless a brand manager is absolutely clear about what she is seeking, she is unlikely to be able to make the best use of the partnership with the function.

In this regard, it’s critical for all Brand Managers to educate themselves on what is possible to be learnt through the consumer before they release a research brief.

Let’s get into the depth of how to ask the right questions as a Brand Manager! Let’s first start by asking where to find these questions.

The Research

Now, there are potentially a bunch of questions that a brand manager can ask and hence the number of researches methodologies possible can hence also be quite a few. However, it’s possible to broadly group these methods into a couple of buckets

1. Qualitative Research

2. Quantitative Research

Qualitative methods are usually about questions that start with “Why?” And hence attempt answers to the softer questions about consumer behaviour. While, Quantitative researches answer the “What?”. These methods offer more definite answers and provide Go/ No-Go decisions.

However, the sub-segmentation of these methods within these buckets is quite extensive too. Let us now look at some examples of the kind of answers that you can seek answers to.

Qualitative methods

I actually love getting under the skin of the consumer and if I weren’t a marketer I would have possibly run a qualitative research agency. Qualitative researchers love uncovering the vaguest questions about esoteric topics like what do consumers think about a product category, how customer trends are changing and connect dots to uncover patterns. Qualitative methods also use a wide variety of data to arrive at their observations for example: direct consumer groups, secondary data, chatter on social media or shifts in consumption patterns.

Now, let me take you through the examples of some types of qualitative research along with some interesting examples that I have observed throughout my career.

Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research is the branch of anthropology (the scientific study of humanity) that involves trying to understand how people live their lives. Unlike traditional market researchers who ask specific and practical questions, anthropological researchers visit the consumers at their homes and offices to observe and listen in a non-direct way.

One of the finest examples of this study that helped build a compelling strategy for Cadbury in India was what we called the “Mithaas” study that tried to understand how the mithai market has evolved in India. This research not only observed and studied various famous mithai shops in all parts of the country but also tried to understand the traditional and modern uses of Mithai.

At Cadbury, this deep understanding helped us arrive at the “circle of mithaas” where we mapped all possible occasions where mithai holds a role in the life of Indian consumers and we built a strategy to slowly chip away at each of these occasions that could make Cadbury Dairy Milk a Modern Mithai.

The obvious occasions were Diwali & Rakhi which were activated by Cadbury Celebrations, but then there were the more commonplace occasions of celebrating a Pay Day or eating a sweet after dinner both of which were activated through the “Pehli Tareeq” Campaign and “Khaane kay Baad Kuch Meetha”.

Recommended: Read the story of Cadbury in India

There were even deep occasions that were uncovered like eating something sweet before an important occasion like a Curd & Sugar before an Exam or as an offering to the gods.

However, in my opinion, ethnographic research is probably one of the purest forms of research as it tries to observe and understand consumer behaviour without providing an external stimulus, rather observes the behaviour in its most natural form.

Focus Group Researches

This is perhaps the most common way of doing consumer research where a qualitative researcher interacts with a group of consumers. In this kind of research, care is usually taken to capture data from a homogeneous group of individuals, they are either of the same Gender, Lifestage, Age or SEC or users or non-users of a product. This form of research helps a researcher collect a significant amount of data in the least amount of time. However, care must be taken because the group is prone to bias if one individual among the group is especially outspoken.

This kind of research can help in narrowing choices if one has a large number of concepts or stimuli. The data obtained is usually inexact and hence it’s often a precursor to quantitative research.

A funny Snickers yet interesting demonstration of how focus groups work

Depth Interviews

This is usually the bread and butter of every brand manager where he spends anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour with a single consumer. In the early years of their marketing journey, Brand managers are advised to sharpen their consumer understanding skills through depth interviews. Here again, the intention must always be to understand the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of consumers and not to try and use this data to make business decisions. Because maybe individually very different but have collectively some patterns that help devise a marketing strategy.

However, I have personally found depth interviews the richest source of triggers and barriers that can lead to exciting new ideas of a fresh hypothesis that can later be validated through more structured research.

Shopper Research

While as marketers we all love consumer research, there is a lot to be learnt about store placements, the impact of your packaging and visibility through direct observations of your shoppers in a store environment. When marketers observe shoppers on a shopper safari they try and decode how the shopper behaves during her shopping mission much as how we might observe animals making a hunt in an African rainforest.

Shoppers are usually impacted by store placements. As in:

  1. Which categories catches their interest
  2. How soon they can notice the category they are looking for
  3. How their packaging helps cut through the clutter
  4. How the branding or product visuals entice the shopper
  5. Whether the claims or discounts help conduct the same

All of this can often be captured through direct observation or through the recording of shoppers in-store.

Quantitative Research

We next come to the part of research that is most often deployed by manufacturers in taking crucial business decisions, this method often influences the most crucial business decisions. Be it the launch of a new Product, Packaging or Advertising.

Quantitative research is often helpful in more ‘upstream’ questions that are questions that need to be solved before launching a mix, questions like Segmentation of Consumers, Concept Testing or Volumetric for new ideas.

Essentially, the core of quantitative research is to quantify a phenomenon and to understand its prevalence. The research then looks for correlations and discover cause and effect relationships.

Simply put, quantitative research tries to emulate the actual behaviour of consumers in real life through an appropriate sample size. The observed results are then shared in the form of statistical probability. Since we can’t expose an idea to the entire population, we are able to gauge the difference between 2 observations with a probability that they would be observed in real life. Also since we can only study what we test, we need to be careful about jumping to a cause and effect relationship and hence the role of correlation. However, enough technical jargon, let me try and share some of these through examples.


One of the first few steps in a marketer’s journey of understanding her consumer and devising services is to try and break the consumer into homogeneous groups. This then allows the marketer to take a logical call on the largest or the most attractive consumer group to target.

Now, the ideal way to do segmentation is to run a cluster analysis. Cluster analysis is done after a listing study which can often take between 3-6 months. In a listing study, we get a large array of data from significant sample size and then we try and plot the correlation between what we know of the target group and their buying choices.

A cluster analysis essentially tries to decode the common factors between target groups that most correlate to buying choices.

One form of segmentation that I am a fan of is Need Scope which is a proprietary segmentation tool offered by Kantar.

Now when traditionally segmentation is done through Demographic factors like Age, Gender, Occupation, Location & Education. However, Need Scope is extremely powerful as it leverages Psychographic factors like Personality traits, lifestyle, attitude, values, interests and beliefs.

In the alco-bev category, this form of segmentation is especially useful as the product is often functionally the same. Most alcohol is usually just Ethanol with a different colour, flavour or taste while delivering the same function benefit. Then need scope comes to the rescue.

Need scope helps uncover the fact the Rum & Beer is often consumed with consumers in a need state that is friendly, say when a cluster of friends sit together to drink without inhibitions. Perhaps this explains why Budweiser commercials that talk Buds bonding over beer are so popular.

While the need state for Vodka is often more high energy say at a disco. Perhaps this is the reason why Smirnoff and Magic Moments own the Electronic Dance Music scene across the country.

This form of segmentation also reveals why American Whiskey is such a hit with Millennials as it tells them to ‘Make their Own Rules’, while Scotch with its harsh taste and strict rules seems rooted in the past.

Mix Tests – Product & Packaging

Now, these can actually be a vast variety of researches and typically depend on pre-aligned “action standards”. These researches help marketers make decisions on the right product or packaging to launch.

The action standards that we typically look at are superiority over an existing product or a lack of perceived alienation.

If a market wishes to launch a new product in the market, often the action standard is to beat the competition available in the market. If a marketer wishes to replace an existing product then we test if it’s superior to the existing product in a clutter of products already available in the market.

The most important thing that is done in such research is to build a model of how the consumer experiences the products or concepts being tested.

In case it’s a product test, the test is often done “blind” so that the packaging or visuals don’t bias the consumer in favour of the brand or competition.

In the case of packaging, a dummy shelf is created that replicates the clutter of various brands typically found in the market.

These are fairly standard researches and give results that we have seen historically to correlate with market performance.

Recommended: See how Coca-cola makes packaging its Product

Concept or New Idea Tests

One of the most exciting pursuits of marketers is to uncover new ideas to offer to the consumer. The most famous methodology for testing such innovations is BASES which has been developed by Nielsen, which is arguable one of the most famous quantitative research agencies out there.

The BASES methodology can guide the entire innovation process right from the idea stage where an Idea Screener methodology is used to filter top ideas from a set of multiple ideas.

Next is BASES I & BASES II which essentially provides the volumetric that a marketer can expect if she were to launch a new idea into the market.

After the marketer has shortlisted a relevant idea post the idea screener, she can next plan for a Concept Test which tests the appeal of a Concept from consumers. Ideally, a concept should be tested along with a product and it’s then called a Concept Product Test. Which tests how attractive a consumer find a Concept and validates how well the product delivers on the concept promised.

A BASES II however takes a lot more data from the marketer in terms of distribution gain expected, marketing mix planned to be deployed including money to be spent on sampling, advertising on-air etc to simulate the business gains expected.

DipStick & Brand Tracks

Another crucial study that is done by marketers, usually after a new launch or a new campaign is to study its performance. This is when a Dip Stick is deployed. In such a study we typically track the movement on consumer metrics including Awareness, Trials and Top of Mind.

Such a study take a sample of consumers from key centres and offers a battery of questions that help extrapolate the effect of a new product introduction or its advertising across a large geography.

The test also uses unbranded frames from a brands communication to track if the message has been registered and the brand noticed.

Such researches are crucial in making investment decisions and tracking performance versus competition.

Also, while a Dipstick measures the consumer metrics over a set duration, marketers often invest in Brand Tracks to track monthly or quarterly movements of the above parameters.

Advertising testing

The most famous tool for advertising testing is the Link ad testing methodology developed by Kantar and essentially relies on a number of possible stimuli including finished Ad film, an animatic, boardomatic, narration etc to study the opportunity of a new piece of creative in persuading the consumer to buy a particular product or services.

Link testing relies on 3 key criteria to decide if a piece of creativity is effective. The criteria are Enjoyability, Engagement and Brand Linkage.

A piece of creativity is usually effective if the consumer enjoys watching it and remains engaged through the entire duration of the edit. Hence enjoyability measures what sections of the film surprised or delighted the consumer. Also when the consumer is asked to narrate the story we understand how long through the edit the consumer remained engaged. However, neither enjoyability nor engagement is particularly effective if the Brand doesn’t play a central role in the film and this is where Brand linkage comes in.

While Link has been found extremely effective in delivering a high Return on Investment, it’s often criticised as being unable to decode ads that rely on culture or moment marketing.

Market Share Reports

While the above methods provide data on specific consumer questions, most brands rely on audited market share reports that track their brand’s performance versus completion. Nielsen is the largest company in this space and offers rich data beyond your own business to help you understand how you are performing versus the competition.

To Conclude

As mentioned at the start of the article the number of researches possible are possibly infinite and the above might just be a small sample of what a Marketer might use in her day to day life. However, the crucial point to understand is if the question that you are asking starts with a “Why?” you possible require formal or informal Qualitative research and if your question starts with a “What?” you are seeking Quantitative research.

The author of this piece is Saurabh Bajaj, we hope you enjoyed the piece, if you did please head on to LinkedIn, and drop a thank you to the Author. You can also share the piece with your best friend on WhatsApp.

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