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Consumer Insight: An unending legacy in the digital world

The role of research has always been crucial in advertising. But the discussion needs to hinge on which part of the process research is indispensable, and which part of the process, not.

In advertising, the ‘idea’ is often spoken of in glorious terms. While the idea is definitely at the center of conversations, there is much that happens before and after the idea has been arrived at.

Every great campaign idea sits at that perfect juncture where brand truth meets consumer insight. So, the first step to a great idea is intimate knowledge of both the brand and consumer.While brand knowledge can be intrinsic to the organisation and comes from the brand journey, consumer knowledge can be attained only through research.

Really knowing our consumers means discovering themes of consumer behaviour, delving into attitudes and uncovering consumer motivations, as well as barriers. What makes a consumer tick is often the most difficult question to answer when designing a campaign that will create outstanding communication and have business impact. We need to know what moves the consumer not just emotionally, but also rationally enough to respond to a brand’s call to action.

The role of research therefore, is not just restricted to coming-up with breakthrough concepts.

Research plays a role in ‘crafting’ ideas, always keeping in view the consumer for whom the communication is created in the first place. How I see research playing alongside communication development largely revolves around three pillars: Exploration, Crafting and Validating.

The job of exploration allows for research to influence and uncover the main idea. Uncovering the new definition of “Friendship” as being about a phone book full of friends rather than BFFs– a key insight when developing a new proposition for Airtel, would be an apt example of meaningful exploratory research.

An equally important job of research is crafting and validation.

This is where my perspective differs from conventional advertising and the Pandeymonium wisdom, an argument based on the premise that consumers are either forced to or are incapable of sharing honest opinions on advertising shown, and hence such research is rubbish.

The truth is consumers are people and people have opinions. On everything.

This opinion gains even more weight when married with the fact that they are the people who will ultimately buy the product or the service. Seeking their opinion on communication intended to influence them, and therefore cannot be a bad thing. It could well be argued that they will be more critical in research than in real life when they actually see the communication in real-time.

The efficacy of this depends though on how and what we ask of consumers when we seek their opinion. The attempt to break down a consumer’s response doesn’t always go well. But, to use research as a validation of the key questions is definitely doable. Whether the key message was understood, whether the brand got picked up or whether it carried the consumer one step closer to the call to action, are all valid questions to be asked and answered by research.

Gaining consumer perspective on unfinished work will only help make it sharper and more effective in getting consumer buy-in months later. Surf Excel is a great example. The global ‘Dirt is Good’ idea in its pure form bombed in India but when it was given the context of ‘social good’ (brother fighting a puddle for his sister, cleaning the streets), it became the iconic piece of communication that we now cite fondly.

Research for validation is meant to validate belief – of creative and marketers in their ability to have chosen the right asset to achieve the marketing objective they have set for themselves. And if the belief in the work is strong, there should be no fear of validation.

In my opinion, this role of research doesn’t change dramatically even when we narrow into digital communication specifically. In fact, research has an even more important role to play when we start using it to refine user experience for consumers across digital properties. From using models of research, which led product development in the physical world to help define website/ app functionality to prototype task and flow testing, research works just as well in the crafting process of digital properties and content.

Preethi Sanjeevi

The author of this article, Preethi Sanjeevi, is the Regional Chief Marketing Officer and Head, Consumer Insights for VML SEA and India.