Breaking the Ask/Answer Cycle: Part II – Meeting Consumers Where They Are


By Katherine Ephlin, Chief Operating Officer, Gongos, Inc.

In Part I of Breaking the Ask/Answer Cycle, we covered off on one of the two dimensions essential in creating the two-way ‘bridge’ to help our clients build the capacity and competency to make better consumer-minded decisions – the interactions that occur within the walls of our clients. Now that we’ve had some time to digest that information, let’s delves into how we operate outside their walls—or, how we interface with consumers.

Out in the World: Meeting Consumers Where They Are

It’s a big world out there – go explore!  Great words to live by, but exploring how humans think about and use products within the context of their worldview is crucial. It doesn’t take a sociologist or psychologist to tell us that humans are complex creatures that adapt best to certain environments, as well as verbal and visual protocols. Despite the amount of enterprise data organizations have within their walls, three underlying tenets govern how we operate outside those walls and continue to allow us to uncover consumer truths.

  1. It’s as much mental as it is physical. In today’s world, when we talk about meeting consumers where they are, our minds tend to go to mobile. Smartphones are undoubtedly changing the way we conduct both qualitative and quantitative research, and offer real-time portals into consumers’ worlds. But meeting them where they are also extends beyond their physical location—it also means their mental state and needs. As researchers, we have the ability to hear what a computer cannot; empathize where an algorithm cannot; and use heuristics where a machine cannot. Often times this means bringing a humanistic factor into the equation. So beyond knowing someone owns an iPhone over an Android, it’s far more telling to know it’s “because their daughter has one and the connectivity apps provide security and peace of mind.”

  2. Don’t underestimate the power of observation. People often can’t out in the world_featurearticulate what they do, and can’t press an auto rewind button to recall their thoughts and actions from any given situation.  Sometimes you’ve just got to see it to believe it. Observational research, shop-alongs and ride-alongs are alive and well. So at the same time we can “observe” how a respondent navigates his way through an app-based survey to order a meal, we can observe how he navigates which line to get into, reads the menu board, asks questions of the counter clerk, and selects condiments for his food.  Non-verbal and visual cues, body language, and emotions allow us to break the standard ask/answer cycle and situationally determine those next critical steps.

  3. Make it engaging and rewarding. Recently at a conference I heard that the advertising industry as we know it will become obsolete by the year 2020.  Why?  Because it talks at you, it doesn’t talk with you. Pound for pound, while it can entertain and make for great water cooler talk, there’s simply no intrinsic value in watching an ad. This movement toward reciprocity is real, and researchers must continually think beyond straight-forward questions to offer levity and intrinsic value to their subjects.  At their core, people want to have fun while feeling like they are giving back – often this extends beyond a $75 incentive. Perhaps the most guilty offender of the ask/answer cycle is the survey itself, developed by none other than a researcher. But that was nearly a century ago, and today we conjure up the inventive, the at times unconventional, and always the humanistic way to gain insights from meaningful interactions outside your walls.

Moving Forward with Context Brings Added Confidence

Organizations continue to invest billions of dollars in consumer research initiatives—and today, more than ever, to triangulate with behavioral data. Its’ our job to usher in the kind of comprehensive thinking and ‘what if’ scenarios that drive decision making at the highest levels. Asking ourselves “What if?” should be equally, it not more, aligned with the business implications than the type of method we’ll leverage to get to the insights.

When you believe in the reciprocal nature of the company-consumer relationship, you will be more apt to see that context is an ever-changing dimension that must not only be understood, but challenged. By continually looking outward and upward, you can own your spot in a world where data is trying to win.

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