This week I’ve been busy at our Marketing Forum having some amazing conversations with phenomenal market insights professionals. These conversations have centered on how we can move the piecemeal research we’re doing now to research that really helps understand consumers more completely. As consumers entrench themselves in a 360-degree experience with companies, it becomes more important that we understand them as 360-degree consumers. Anyone who deals with researching young consumers already knows how important this is, and there are lessons that youth research can teach us in general. For example:

  1. We can’t be afraid to try new methods or meld old methods in new ways. Sometimes we wed ourselves to a particular method at a particular time and for a particular purpose. We resort to our arsenal of tried and true approaches and feel limited by the methods that others within the company have bought into. Researching young consumers forces us to think outside the box about everything from question wording and type to selecting new methodologies. There’s no reason the same can’t (and shouldn’t) be done for general consumer studies. What we need to do is step back and consider what would really help us understand the consumers we’re trying to research and then devise a research plan that matches that need. It sounds basic (and is), but oftentimes we get stuck in a rut of how research is always done and forget to take that first important step.
  2. Context is everything. To paraphrase Todd Cunningham of MTV Networks from our session on researching young consumers, “Doing youth research without context is meaningless.” Understanding our target market on a 360-degree level also means understanding them in a 360-degree context of others. Simply launching a survey about young consumers will yield results, but won’t tell us how they fit into the consumer landscape in relation to others. The target group is just one piece of the puzzle, and although it is an important piece, it only makes a true picture when all of the pieces are put together.
  3. If done right, market research can be marketing. The great thing about young consumers is their willingness to share and engage with brands to help make them better. Ben Smithee with Spych Market Analytics showed us how the video interviews done as research for SXSW were then repackaged and used as marketing materials.* The honest feedback that they were able to collect about every facet of the consumer experience translated into material SXSW could point to and say, “This is what you said and this is how we fixed it.” The Millennials interviewed were willing to be completely open about what they liked and didn’t like, offering the researchers that 360-degree view they were looking for. By using the right methods (see point 1) we can uncover the complete story of our consumers, and this holistic, honest story translates well into marketing messages that resonate with all consumers, not just young ones.

If we force ourselves to think creatively, as we must do when researching young consumers, we  find that there are many ways, simple and more complex, to move toward that 360 degree view of our consumers.

*Of course you need to be very transparent with participants if you are even considering using anything collected in the research process for marketing materials