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?


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.


Advertising, Business, Content, Editing, Marketing, Writing

The Million Dollar Mistake You’re Probably Making

A few weeks ago, I made a huge mistake.

I blogged under the influence of wine.

And not just one glass. After a couple generous pours, I sat down at 10:30 PM to crank out what I believed to be the most compelling piece of literature ever to be revealed to mankind. Because, there’s nothing that seems more logical after a half bottle of Apothic Red than to immerse yourself in the intricacies of WordPress.

The next morning, I hopped on the computer, sweating bullets of anticipation to reread the sure-fire masterpiece that emerged from my mind the night prior. What I discovered instead, in my newfound state of clarity, was appalling. If only I had heeded the advice of Ernest Hemingway: Write drunk. Edit sober.

There’s nothing that irks me more than careless typos, grammatical ignorance, and other like sins of the writing world. And here I was, staring at numerous, unequivocally blatant errors of my own doing.

Wait a minute…did that incorrect subject/verb agreement just snicker at me?!

Lesson learned.

In marketing communications, we often talk about the quantitative impact of an error:

500,000 brochures shipped nationwide, printed with an incorrect price that requires a reprint = $1,000,000 mistake

There’s also a qualitative component, however, that in the long run can be even more devastating than that short-term robbery of your marketing budget.

Numerous business studies have found that writing errors negatively impact a customer’s perception of you and your company – in more ways than one. And if you think that little typo on your flyer went unnoticed, or that “no one really cares” if you accidently misspelled “jalapeño” on your restaurant menu – think again. Consumers are highly judgmental and unforgiving creatures.

Larry Beason is a professor of English at the University of South Alabama. In his study, he had business people read error-filled documents, and then tested their reactions. Here’s what he concluded:

  • Errors create confusion regarding meaning
  • Errors affect a person’s credibility and image
  • People tend to brand writers who make mistakes as “hasty”, “uniformed”, “careless”, “lazy”, “uneducated”, and “uncaring”

Just as errors reflect on the individual, the individual reflects on the company. Beason noted that interviewees explicitly stated they saw these writers as poor representatives of the company. One businessperson said, “Errors tell what your company’s like.”

Enter the halo effect.

The halo effect is a cognitive bias which states that humans tend to apply generalized opinions of people and entities based on one element.

In short, the above noted negative perceptions associated with your bad writing are likely to be attached to your company. Bad writing = bad company.

Let’s take this a few steps further. Negative perceptions will tarnish your brand identity, can be cause for outside investors to jump ship (or not even board the ship in the first place) and will decrease your customer lifetime value (CLV). Depending on the size of your company and industry, these damages can equate to thousands – if not millions – in lost profits over time.

Good grief. The ramifications of those seemingly meaningless typos sure did escalate quickly, huh?

Marketing communications are the conduit for expressing your brand identity and directing consumer perception. It’s critical to get it right, and to get it right the first time.

So, as a business owner, how do you ensure your communications are presenting your brand identity in an accurate – and positive – light?

Well, you could try to take it on yourself. The problem is, many companies don’t even recognize their own errors – a gleaming example of, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

As someone who specializes in marketing communications, perhaps I’m a bit biased, but when it comes to something as important as perception – I advise that businesses leave the content strategy, writing and editing to the experts. One primary reason? We tend to see what we expect to see in our own writing, rather than what’s actually there. Therefore, a marketing communications professional can provide the fresh set of eyes necessary to objectively review.

And if you balk at the cost of hiring a professional, ask yourself this:

Is the cost of a typo in the budget?

Cassie D’Arpino is a freelance Marketing Communications & Strategy Specialist, helping brands better connect to their audiences in meaningful, emotional and effective new ways. Her experience prior to working as a freelancer includes six years in strategic planning and senior account service at a shopper marketing agency in Kansas City, Missouri. Cassie received her MBA from Missouri State University, and currently resides in Springfield, Missouri with her husband, Steve, Pekingese puppy named Bella, and two Persian cats, Garfield and Cubby. She is a lover of Sriracha, a neuromarketing nerd, and obviously, a fan of animals with short snouts.

For more marketing musings and random reverie, follow Cassie on Twitter: @Cassie_DArpino