New Product Development — Consumer Immersion

Markets are constantly in a state of flux. All around us we see changes driven by powerful market trends — digitization and personal empowerment through computing and internet, emergence of the net generation and their social media, growth of glamour queens, metrosexuals and ubersexuals, health consciousness, trade modernization, fragmentation of media and so on. The need to immerse in the world of consumers is as acute as ever.

Consumer immersion is all about getting close to consumers so that associates are able to see their brands and their markets through the eyes of their consumers. They get exposed to real consumers and real issues. The main techniques used for immersion into the consumers’ world include:

  • Day-to-day personal experiences.
  • Observing qualitative research sessions such as focus groups or interviews.
  • Interviews/probing sessions with consumer.
  • Accompanying consumers on their shopping trips.
  • Observing consumers in their homes or some other natural setting.
  • Video recording or diary maintained by participants: Proliferation of mobile video recording devices makes it feasible for participants to record their activities. Participants doing so are encouraged to relate any thoughts and emotions that arose during the activities.
  • Living with people in their community for a period of time (a week or more): This is known as ethnographic research. It differs in that it involves participating in people’s lives, whereas the other techniques mentioned above are confined to observing people.

To effectively immerse, associates need to learn to listen emphatically, with the intent to understand. They also need to be cognizant of the effect they may have on participant’s behaviour. Observing unobtrusively is important because observation tends to alter behaviour, a phenomenon referred to as the Hawthorne Effect.

In addition to active immersion, marketers rely also on research fields that supplement consumer and knowledge immersion and feed directly into the insight generation and strategy development process. Some of these research fields are listed below:

  • Usage and Attitude studies provide information about consumer attitudes and usage behaviours for the category and brands. The considerable amount of information that is contained in these studies can be used to segment consumers on the basis of their usage as well as their opinions, and identify growth opportunities for brands within the various segments.
  • Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, and how they are used in different cultures. It allows us to understand the implicit meaning these codes communicate, in the culture and context within which they are used. For example, the colour red signifies luck and prosperity in the Chinese culture, love or anger in the West, losses in a financial statement, and danger or caution on the roads.
  • Motivational research explains the underlying needs that drive behaviour. It focusses on identifying the emotional needs that are central to the relationships between the brand and its consumers. 
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