Advertising, Business, Consumer Research, Marketing

Conduct the Best Consumer Research for FREE. Here’s how.

Many marketers spend a lot of time – I argue too much time – seeking the answer to one of these two questions on consumer behavior:

“Why did they buy?”

“Why didn’t they buy?”

It’s funny how 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? Of course.

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

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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 it a severe disservice by not stepping into that environment on a regular basis through the consumer lens.

It’s the ability to take off that super trendy (yet ironically blinding) marketing hat and 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 tenure at Sandbox, a full-service creative agency headquartered in Chicago, 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 Director of Planning to uncover opportunity for improvement, when approached from the consumer standpoint – the “you” perspective.

 “I noticed customers weren’t really picking up the brochure, and those that were, used it only with the help of a staff member.”

That was a real observation, made by a real employee that helped to better refine strategies for our client. And besides the hour or so spent outside the office, and the occasional client lunch, total cost for this type of invaluable insight was close to nothing.

I now practice immersive observation at my latest gig, co-owner at Piccolo, a contemporary Italian restaurant in the budding city of Nixa, MO. Sure, I still listen to social media chatter to help gauge brand buzz, but there’s nothing quite like being a fly on the wall to the conversation between two people as they take that first bite of food. Or observing the nuances of server-guest relations, and imagining myself as a consumer in these situations. Would the consumer-side of me actually be as satisfied right now as my business-side wants to believe I would be?

I believe 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.”

No matter your business, if you are trying to reach people, you must look at your world through their eyes.

Get into the environment you helped to create. You might be surprised at what you find.

 

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Business, Marketing

Can you impress me in less than one second?

I’ve always chosen the path less traveled.

In high school, while most of my classmates chose to study one of the more popular languages, like Spanish or French, I chose the lesser popular “German studies.” Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Around 95% of my graduating class chose to attend the University of Missouri, otherwise known as “Mizzou”. I chose Missouri State University. It wasn’t because I couldn’t get accepted into Mizzou, but because I wanted to do what everyone else wasn’t. Not to mention the fact that MSU just so happens to have the largest and most highly accredited Business Administration program in the state. (Take that, Tigers!)

Following graduation, most everyone I knew moved back to St. Louis to start careers in the city they knew since birth. My husband and I decided to pack up and start careers in Kansas City – a place I had never even been before.

As I approach my XX birthday (a lady never tells her age), I see that most of these same people have long started their own families. But instead of swan diving into parenthood this year, my husband and I decided to take a bucket list trip to the Maldives. It was incredible. See?

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I was recently reminded of this habit of going “against the grain” during a conversation with a prominent senior VP of marketing communications. She mentioned that one of her best marketing strategies is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. This strategy has worked quite well for her over the years.

I’d say this same strategy has worked pretty well for me, too – which got me thinking.

What’s something that everyone is doing right now?

Digital marketing.

What’s something hardly no one is doing right now?

Direct mail.

Well, I’ll take that back. There are still quite a few companies out there with a direct mail strategy; however, according to the Winter 2015 issue of “Chief Marketer”, direct mail volume is down overall.

Let’s rephrase the question then, shall we?

What’s something hardly no is doing effectively right now?

Direct mail.

Direct mail today is bad. Really bad. Maybe my mailbox is just unfortunate in that it attracts poorly executed pieces, like the pretty girl in high school that for whatever reason couldn’t land a decent boyfriend.

I still get excited to check the mail. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I can’t be the only one. Remember the days when people sent handwritten letters? How unfortunate to think that those born after the year 2000 probably don’t even have that recollection. It’s still a treat when I find a handwritten note or personalized card in my mailbox, although such occasions are usually reserved for holidays or following the attendance of a wedding. More typical is that I open my mailbox to disappointments similar to this:

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According to Michael Fortin of The Licorice Group, it takes a person less than one second to decide whether or not to throw away a direct mail piece.

Capturing attention through direct mail is by no means an easy task, and perhaps is the reason why so many fail. But, the challenge can be worth the strife. Consider that physical marketing materials such as direct mail better engage your audience and trigger more emotional responses than digital marketing, according to a study conducted by Millward Brown, Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail. The result? Deeper brand engagement.

This isn’t true for just any old mailer though. You have to get noticed.

It’s not enough to just be where others aren’t. Once you’re there, you have to do it better.

When is the last time a direct mail piece stopped you in your tracks? Better yet…when was the last time you were so impressed by a mailer that you actually wanted to save it, to show it off, like Phil? Phil from Paragon Design was absolutely wooed by this promotional piece from Veer – find out why here.

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This gives me hope. It tells me there are well-done direct mail pieces out there – somewhere. So, I’m going to hold a little contest. You could win one million dollars.

Not really. But there is a prize. Read on.

The request:

Send me a picture of the most impressive direct mail piece you’ve ever received. Tell me about what makes the piece so effective.

Judging rules:

Your submission must capture my attention in less than one second. (Yes – we’re going to be true to life here.)

Where most see this as a challenge, I see an opportunity. Perhaps it’s that “against the grain” mindset kicking in once again.

The top three submissions will be featured in an upcoming post.

To inspire your journey, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Robert Frost’s classic poem, “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood,

and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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