Direct communication between brands and consumers is invaluable. Here's how consumer insights can enhance marketing strategy and create campaigns of substance.

CRM, surveys, panels, primary research - today's marketers have developed an unhealthy dependency on third-party research and data. Trying to get a better understanding of our consumers? Why not order a survey or report?

While surveys and panels are a great way to get some directionally-relevant answers to a set of pre-defined questions, they still leave out a lot of the important information that marketers need to develop meaningful campaigns that will truly resonate with their target audience. These studies and surveys often don't ask the "why" and "how" questions. There is rarely ever a "yes" or "no" question that can be answered accurately because there is no room for a more nuanced response. This generally leaves you with some pretty shallow insights that do not provide the right level of substance, and will eventually lead to mediocre campaign performance and gaps in consumer understanding.

In order to combat this behavior at our agency, we launched "Lunch With Consumers" for our client brands and their consumers. This program is sort of a matchmaking service designed to enhance our clients' understanding of their target audience and create better customer profiles. We do this by scheduling regular lunch "dates" between our brand marketers and their consumers, who are identified either inside a retail location or via their brand association in social media. We then set up a physical lunch meeting between a brand representative and three or four local consumers (lunch is on us).

Let me tell you, nothing is more exciting than seeing your client and its consumers having an honest conversation about the brand, product, and campaign while enjoying a light lunch. Don't get me wrong; it's not (Read more...) warm and fuzzy, and filled with roses. Consumers get passionate about the opportunity to enhance their favorite brand. It's a great forum for the consumer to voice honest concerns, feedback, and wishes. The brand also gets to actually "test" solutions by asking the right "what if" questions. Some of our most valuable insights have come out of casual conversations between our brands and their audience.

Obviously, this is not a new concept. In his Wall Street Journal bestseller, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works, Procter & Gamble chief executive (CEO) A.G. Lafley talks about Gillette's move into the Indian market, and how its engineers lived with local native families in order to understand their morning routines and how they shaved. Gillette uncovered some amazing real-world insights that would have never been identified through a study or survey. So while the approach of first-hand consumer connections is not new, it has been neglected due to the advances in and reliance on data and technology.

With the amount of noise and distraction in digital, it is more important than ever to have meaningful conversations with your consumers. Listening to them only gets you so far. In order to truly understand your consumers' behaviors, wants, and needs, you need to have actual conversations with them and ask the right questions. Are they talking to your brand on social media? Reach out, and have lunch and a real conversation with them. Ask them what your brand can do to keep and grow their loyalty. And don't just do it once; the more you talk to your consumers, the more you will learn.

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