Advertising, Consumer Research, Marketing

Gain consumer insight – for free.

A lot of marketers spend a lot of time seeking the answer to one of two questions on consumer behavior:

“Why did they buy?”

“Why didn’t they buy?”

It’s funny how these same marketers tend to think about “consumers”. It’s as if they are this elusive foreign species that can only be examined at arm’s length behind the cloak of a corner window office. Careful – don’t get too close – consumers have been known to bite!

So, the task of getting into their head is often delegated to research consulting firms. Thousands of dollars and several months later, results are produced, reviewed, and executed by way of revised marketing strategy and ad spend.

Does this approach work? Sure.

But, what if I told you there was an alternative way to gain consumer insight – for free?

Gaining valuable knowledge into consumer behavior is as simple as stepping out of your office (it’s alright – the consumers have been heavily sedated for your safety) and into the front lines. Whether your business is a restaurant, store, medical facility or bank, you are doing a severe disservice by not stepping into that environment on a regular basis and observing its functionality through the consumer lens.


Observing through the consumer lens is the ability to take off that super trendy (yet ironically blinding) marketing hat, and to experience your business from the standpoint of you – the consumer you. Because, I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but, you and I? We ARE the consumer. Yes, we’re marketing mavens and business aficionados. But we’re also consumers. Much can be learned by simply stopping to look around, observe, and get in tune to your thoughts within the environment.

During my time spent at Two West, an agency in Kansas City with a shopper marketing focus, we spent a lot of time at our client’s place of business. I’m not talking about their office – I’m talking about their store. Conducting store visits and audits was a regular part of life, whether you were a research director, project manager, or intern. And that’s the beauty of this type of observation – you don’t have to be a seasoned research director in order to uncover opportunity for improvement when approached from the consumer standpoint – the “you” perspective.

“After I watched the demo on the product, it was hard to navigate back to the home screen.”

“I noticed customer’s weren’t really picking up the brochure, and those that were, used it only with a store rep.”

These were real observations, made by real employees that helped to better refine strategies for real clients. And besides the hour or so spent outside the office, and the occasional compensated lunch, total cost for this type of invaluable insight is close to nothing.

Retail guru Paco Underhill best summarizes the idea of thoughtful observation in this quote from his national bestselling book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping”:

“The purest example of human shopping I know of can be seen by watching a child go through life touching absolutely everything. You’re watching that child shop for information, for understanding, for knowledge, for experience, for sensation. Especially for sensation, otherwise why would he have to touch or smell or taste or hear anything twice? Keep looking: Watch a dog. Watch a bird. Watch a bug. You might say the ant is searching for suitable food. I say he is shopping.”

Underhill’s insight transcends beyond just retail. No matter your business, if you are trying to reach people, you must look at your world through their eyes. It’s not done in an office, it’s not done through a mediary. It’s done firsthand, by you. So get out there, and watch. You might be surprised by what you – the consumer – can discover.

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