Marketing strategy: the importance of insight

By Chris Blythe, director of The Brand Nursery

4 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Research is a good investment to test the effectiveness of changes to your branding.
  • It will provide information and insight which, with careful interpretation and the right approach, can help you answer the key issues facing your business.

A recent research study outlined in International Supermarket News (June 2021) reported 43% of consumers would pay more for a product or service if they knew it was ethically or sustainably sourced.

The research also indicated 69% of shoppers think it’s important for brands to be clearly able to demonstrate their sustainability credentials and that this is increasingly impacting on their purchase decisions.

Whilst all of this appears to reflect the evident trend towards more concerns about sustainability, the ethical approach of brands and manufacturers, and broader environmental issues, this particular report was met with some scepticism. In particular, questions were raised as to whether what these consumers claimed, would actually be reflected in their real-life actions within stores. Would a product’s unsustainability really stop all of them from buying it?

It’s a question researchers often have to deal with: to what extent can the findings from a questionnaire-based study, or the ‘hot-house’ of consumer focus group discussions, be relied upon to translate into actual behaviour? Aren’t consumers in the research environment just eager to please and present themselves in the best possible light?

In some cases, the answer is definitely ‘yes’ – after all, we all like to give good news, rather than disappoint. Most of us also like to present ourselves to the world as doing the right, responsible thing.

However, a good researcher will understand this natural human impulse and employ techniques and interpretive skills to step beyond these potential pitfalls.

One big benefit that face-to-face research still offers over online studies is the ability to see the respondents and judge them by their actions, as well as their words. Assertions can be made, but if behaviour runs counter to it then the skilled researcher should pick this up.

I have numerous examples of focus group discussions exploring new food products where respondents’ true attitudes towards the items that were placed before them were most potently revealed by how they ate the products in question, and how much was left on their plates at the end. Actions can definitely speak louder than words.

Within quantitative research – particularly online questionnaire studies or Omnibus research – this kind of observation isn’t possible. We simply have to trust that respondents will all give honest responses. And, of course, they may not.

There is a way around this though. If you want to understand how behaviour is changing – as a result of a new brand positioning or communications campaign for example – the best way to do this is to conduct studies both pre and post this activity

It’s reasonable to assume that the level of misreporting will be very similar between both studies, which means the difference between the scores before and after your activity should be reliable. It may sound a bit ‘old school’, but continuous monitoring of consumer attitudes or claimed behaviour towards a brand or issue (every 6-12 months) remains the best way to track change in attitudes, awareness levels and key brand dynamics. The more data you collect, the more reliable it will be.

Beyond this, it’s key to remember the single most important aspect of any research study is to make sure you are talking to the right people, be that a representative sample of all adults for a study like the one quoted earlier that seeks to understand general behaviour patterns, or the most relevant and useful target audience for more focused qualitative studies.

One of the pitfalls that has arisen in recent years is the temptation to use Facebook followers (or a similar social media user base) as the audience for research – given that the largest contributory cost to most research will be recruitment and incentivising respondents, this is understandable; why wouldn’t you use what is essentially a ‘free’ sample of respondents that you have ready access to?

But to do so means you will essentially be talking to those people who already know, like and use your brand (plus, of course, those canny competitors who pretend to be your consumers and who will be delighted to see which issues are currently concerning you).

Whilst there may be occasions when this may be the right audience to target for a study – when the research objective is to ensure any changes to your brand or product won’t negatively impact your core consumer – in most cases, it’s much more important to identify how you can best persuade new consumers to try your offering.

Whilst that means spending a little to recruit an appropriate sample that includes potential new-to-brand consumers, the value in the insight you will derive should enable you to more effectively target new recruits to your brand that will deliver incremental sales value. After all, what is marketing strategy for if not to boost sales?

So, don’t allow the cynics to dissuade you from investing in research. It’s never going to deliver an empirical ‘truth’, but it will provide information and insight which, with careful interpretation and the right approach, can help you answer the key issues facing your business or organisation.

The Brand Nursery are experts in delivering brand development. Its team consists of design brand strategists and digital specialists.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSRfoodpackaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategydesigncontent creationpublic relations and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.