Is Shopper Research The Only Option?

Is Shopper Research The Only OptionRecently, I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to marketing teams about how they can use shopper insight. On a number of occasions, I’ve been asked “doesn’t that mean that we’ll have to do loads of shopper research?” The answer to this question lies in the “shopper fitness” of the company. Some companies are like professional athletes when it comes to shopper insight – they have heaps of well-structured data which is used create clear strategies and plans and they work on it daily to hone their skills. Others don’t. We all know that to perform build muscle, you need spend a lot of time in the gym. The same is true with developing shopper marketing muscle – you have to work with and develop broad data sets to become really effective.

But just like novice athletes, getting going can seem daunting. And as with all things, taking the right first steps builds a foundation. Here’s a few tips that might help:

  1. Recognize you probably already do some shopper research: The start point for most shopper insights is often an understanding of what is bought where and in what quantities. So measures of retail sales are simple and accessible measures of shopper behavior. If you are buying data from Nielsen, GFK or similar providers, you are already buying data about shopping behavior (and importantly not about ‘consuming behavior’). Homescan™ type data gives you an idea of who is buying what, how often and where. If you are able to analyze data from retailers, a further level of detail is possible. All of this is ‘shopper research’ you are already doing. 
  2. You could be learning more about shoppers without spending money: Every single week, brands make subtle changes to how they are presented in retail. These changes have impacts on shopping behavior that are measurable. If these activities were evaluated carefully two things would happen: companies would learn what has a positive and negative effect on shopping behavior and they would save money by not repeating activities that have negative or neutral activities. We often meet people who avoid evaluating activities because they believe they don’t have enough data and yet, ironically, by evaluating activities one creates a massive amount of data.
  3. Don’t spend any money on research until you know what you want to know: Shopper research can be really disappointing. It’s quite common to hear that a whole load of work has been done and nothing has been learnt. Most often though the reason for this is because the questions asked are low value. If you want to drive consumption of a brand, shoppers will need to change their behavior to fill gaps in consumption so questions like “Who would buy product for our target consumer or consumption occasion? What stops them from buying? Where could we influence them to buy? AND, What would make them buy in those places?” would all help drive sales and consumption. Before you start a research program it’s wise to be super clear on the consumption occasions the brand needs to deliver upon and define what’s missing from your existing understanding.
  4. Remember you might be wrong: A lot of business decisions are based on beliefs. Research tests the validity of assumptions and therefore challenges belief. What research does not do is lie (unless it’s extraordinarily misconceived). So a well-researched hypothesis which shows that beliefs are wrong should never be ignored. So this poses a challenge to most businesses which is that if they are not prepared to act on the insight they get from research, it’s not really worth spending the money on research. After all as Mike Anthony often says, “you can be wrong for free”.

If your business is on the brink of beefing up its shopper marketing muscle right now, taking the following steps will get things going: First do an audit of the data you already have and define what this data tells you about consumers and shoppers; then identify the data that could easily be sourced that might fill in the gaps and start gathering that (for example data you can get from evaluating activities, voxpops you could run, in-store observations, customer interviews and so on); finally establish what you really need to know and build some research hypotheses to test. Overall you will find this is much effective way to start than jumping straight ill-conceived research programs.

It would be great to hear some success stories from anyone who tried other approaches.



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