By Julie Vogel, Vice President
Okay, so here’s a true confession for you: There were times during my years managing brands for The Quaker Oats Company when I felt uncomfortably in the dark about the sales impact our multi-million dollar marketing programs would have once we launched them into the consumer-o-sphere. And there were times we flat out made mistakes and missed opportunities because of an understanding gap between us and our consumers that seemed impossible to bridge.
For example, I’m thinking of the time I and my brand team launched a wrongly-named Hispanic tortilla mix in Southern U.S. markets. The name meant ‘dirty wet dough’ in Spanish. (And wrapped in a paper bag, too!) But no one on the team spoke Spanish, and we couldn’t afford research, so the packaging department did some fancy guesswork. But they guessed wrong, and that product was on the shelf for years – with our target likely chuckling away – until a Spanish speaker fortuitously joined the team and alerted us of the mistake. The product was renamed, package redesigned, and sales jumped.
With the clarity of 20-20 hindsight, our blind-spots stemmed largely from a lack of immediate, back-and-forth communication avenues available at the time that would enable us to sustain the consumer understanding we needed to feel confident in our actions. Sure, we surveyed, ad-tested, conducted groups, and at times fooled ourselves into believing we could actually think like the target. In truth, we were just getting isolated ‘dipstick’ reads on certain topics, among certain consumers, at certain intervals, under certain conditions. There was no way to truly hear the right group of consumers share their motivations, experiences and actions as they went through life and interacted with our brands over time. Or to let them give us a heads-up if we were considering a silly name for a product.
Roll the tape forward, introduce social technologies that empower us – and our consumers—to exchange information almost any time, anywhere — and brands can now virtually make consumers their trusted co-pilots at the go-to-market controls. In particular, I have been astounded by the level of sustained, authentic insight and spot-on direction brands can obtain on a host of decisions large and small by setting up their own private online market research communities.
In my work building online market research communities for global brands, I have seen the peace-of-mind marketers can get from having a small (100s) or large (1000s) pool of ‘consumer-advisors’ virtually camped-out, at-the-ready to work together to resolve critical, time-sensitive decisions. These are often decisions that need to be nailed-down and gotten right, fast, to ensure successful in-market programs
Okay, so I admit: I am downright jealous of brand marketers today who have access to social technologies that empower them to take much of the guesswork out of who their consumers really are, and what they want from the companies they buy from.
After all, it’s downright embarrassing to be on shelf, or on-screen, with a proposition your audience finds ridiculous. But without the right tools in place, it can happen to the best of us. Better to do a reality-check with your audience before you hit the stage. And today, this is eminently doable for forward looking brands serious about getting it right.