I took my nephews to a movie this weekend, and while leaving the theater, was greeted by a woman with a stack of papers. What did she want from me? To fill out a survey about the movie I just saw. The results of the survey would “go directly to the producer,” she said. This excited me, and from what I could tell, everyone else walking out was pretty excited that their thoughts would go directly to the producers of a big Hollywood movie. Truth is, this is what we expect as consumers in today’s world. We expect to be able to tell brands what we think, and have them act on our feedback. Give us better experiences that keep us coming back. And for that reason, I watched almost everyone walk out of the theater and start filling out the survey. Then, about 5 minutes in, people started turning over the piece of paper and groaning. There was a whole 2nd page crammed with just as many questions as page 1. Now, if all these people were anything like me, they likely breezed through the first page, skipping all of the open ends, and then gave up about two questions in on the 2nd page. Talk about bad data. I know, I should know better than to breeze through a survey like that, but who has the time to fill out a lengthy paper survey after a movie? The researchers putting on this survey wanted to understand how to give moviegoers a better experience, and what would get them to tell their friends about the movie, but they didn’t think about the research experience in and of itself. If you want useful feedback you need to inspire it, and this experience was not at all inspiring. Here are a few things the “producers of the big Hollywood movie” and their research partner should have thought about when designing this research:
1. Context: When are these people taking the survey? What kind of mood will they be in when they are handed the survey? Will they be alone? In a hurry? This survey was handed out after an animated children’s movie. Everyone in the theater was with one or more children under the age of 10 who just ate and drank their weight in sugar. Perfect time to hand out a two-page survey crammed with multiple choice and open-ended questions? Probably not.
2. Simplicity: Consumers today expect everything to be quick and easy. We are all busy and have short attention spans, so if you want good feedback, don’t hand out 20-question paper surveys during a mall intercept. If it is on paper, ask a few short questions, and if possible, ask them the questions and record their answers for them. Make it more of a conversation. If you have more than a few questions, why not put them on a tablet, or give consumers the chance to take it on their personal tablets or smartphones now, or later, when they have some free time.
3. Inspiration: Just as we as advertising professionals need inspiration for creating ads and experiences that get attention, consumers need to be inspired to give us feedback that will help us create those ads and experiences. Yes, incentives can help, but it is more than that. Be creative in the design of your research; ask questions in a way that really gets consumers thinking. There are many companies out there that know how to bring inspiration into their research, from adding image response to online surveys, to bringing focus groups and interviews out of research facilities and into the places “where the real magic happens,” to having consumers use their mobile phones to document shopping experiences, and the list goes on.
The point is, research that is simple, inspiring, and designed for the context in which it is given is more likely to result in better experiences that will keep your customers loyal and recommending you to their friends. And perhaps most importantly, research that is designed with all of these things in mind will do a better job at keeping consumers interested in participating in future studies.
Let’s be honest, we have all found ourselves sitting down with our agency teams, and sometimes the client, with a fully blown-out plan or creative idea, talking about the amazing possibilities, when suddenly someone (usually the brand planner) wakes up and says “I just don’t think this is going to work from a consumer standpoint.” I know, those words are like nails on a chalkboard (shiver), but unfortunately, we all get caught in the “great idea” trap and forget the goal at hand:
We need to get the consumer to do something!
Whether we are looking for sales, social shares, word of mouth, awareness, or any number of other measures of success, the common denominator is always the consumer. Without the consumer’s blessing, there will be no success.
I am in no way saying this means you should test everything. Testing is not always helpful. Consumers are usually going to react differently in real-life situations, and we all know that what we say and what we actually do can be two very different things. Instead, it is important you really understand the consumer, and yes, try to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes (sorry, I tried not to use a cliché, I promise). This is important throughout creative development, media plan creation, and everything else you are working on for a brand.
So, I have a feeling you are currently saying to yourself “Well, this talk bite is stating the obvious.” You were, weren’t you? With that, I say “Well, then stop forgetting about the consumer!” Oh, and here are three tools beyond formal research that have worked well for me over my years as a student researcher, a brand planner, and even a retail manager:
1. Talk to the people you know.
Listen to who the target is. Beyond demographics, who are they behaviorally? What are their values, their beliefs?
Who in your life are those people?
Talk to them. Understand them.
Something they say may just give you an idea.
2. Take yourself back and then bring that “you” to the present.
Were you once this person (e.g. were you ever an angst-filled teenager)?
Think back to that version of you. What did you care about? What did you not care about?
What if that version of you were around today? How would you be different? What would you respond to?
3. Go to them.
Is there a place where these like-minded consumers can be found en masse?
Go there. Participate. Observe them. Talk to them. Just don’t be creepy.
If you begin to incorporate these tools into your process and actually take your learnings to heart, your ideas will get better and the brand will be more successful. Why? Because, when you know your target this well, you are better equipped to create campaigns that get their attention and get them buying, sharing, and talking. And when your consumers like your brand so much that they are talking about it, your brand starts to become a part of their culture.