It’s common for ambitious entrepreneurs to create brands based on their own insights and experiences. While it’s a good starting point, it can potentially inhibit the growth of a brand in the long term. The ability to jump into the shoes of your consumers on a regular basis will keep you grounded and relevant as you work towards scaling the business.
The Innovation Adoption Curve is a useful model to understand how consumers respond to innovation and sheds light on consumer adopter groups as well as their likelihood to accept new ideas, technologies and trends.
An entrepreneur’s initial insight usually aligns with a niche of innovators; these are the risk-taking group most willing and ready to adopt the new. Similarly, early adopters desire to be on the cutting edge and will therefore put up with rarity, inconvenience and cost to be there at the vanguard. Between the early adopters and early majority is the ‘innovation chasm’ ‘ which is difficult to cross but essential to navigate in order to scale a business successfully. The early majority have a broader set of needs than the previous niches; they are intolerant of inconvenience and strive for value, quality and proof. But to permeate this in-between space, conventional consumer research may be costly; yet there are tactics an entrepreneur can employ in order to get under the skin of the consumer, at a relatively low cost.
A form of ethnographic research, user observations are a great way of getting into the shoes of your consumers and assessing the complete user experience. Nothing really beats watching consumers interact with a product and its packaging, and it can reveal so much more than what they might say in a conventional focus group. From the initial purchase in-store through to disposal and everything in between, what affect does this relationship have on engagement and repeat purchase? If we look at what the user does as well as what they say, we will gain a holistic perspective and start to understand what really matters.
Building a community online
The building of an online community presents opportunities for greater consumer engagement. The community can be used as brand spokespeople and advocates, creating a reciprocal arrangement whereby the customer receives incentives and the brand receives feedback and recommendations. Take giffgaff as an example. Part of their brand proposition is a reciprocal brand and member relationship (its online community assists with problem solving as a way of engaging the broader community in the brand). Online chat forums with experts, regular announcements, tips and guides all contribute to the engagement of a broader audience.
Leveraging the power of social media
An online community is also hosted by social media. Social media has become an ingrained part of daily life for many – it would be foolish to not take advantage. Brands can use various platforms to build an audience and listen to feedback, particularly regarding Gen Z views. Twitter is often used as the platform to start a conversation ‘ brands can join trending topics for a peek inside the mind of their consumer.
Instagram is fast becoming a shopping platform; whereby online shops are taking precedence over the app’s other features. Social media offers a wealth of opportunity to directly tap into the mind of the consumer in a way that hasn’t been fabricated ‘ genuine thoughts about the brand will surface in the form of post comments and story tags. In fact, Mintel is now prioritising psychographics as more powerful purchase motivators and are tapping into social media to access this information.
An exclusive membership is a great way to ensure authentic feedback from the consumer ‘ they will want to contribute their thoughts because the brand has ensured that they will be getting something back. Customers can pay to test your products by signing up to a membership of annual delivery. For example, the gin brand Sipsmith established The Sipsmith Sipping Society where members receive a regular delivery of the latest experimental gins. Which leads on to the final point: the importance of experimenting with your consumer.
Test, try, experiment. No business owner ever hits the nail on the head on the first go. It’s important to test many avenues, see what works with the consumer and what doesn’t in the most cost-efficient manner. Take Innocent as an example. The brand continuously experimented by expanding their range to accommodate new trends in recycling, coconut water and dairy free products. Its new products including coconut water, which resulted in a 2016 sales surge and boosted sales by £28m.
Whilst established brand owners continually invest heavily in research and insight gathering, marketeers can become too removed from their consumer and where the action actually is. They could learn from the entrepreneur’s connection to their audiences and some of the learning strategies outlined above. There is no substitute for attending research in person and in context (e.g. in peoples’ own homes or shadowing them at the shops). Ethnographic studies, where what you observe is in real life, are always more revealing than what gets said in a contrived focus group environment.
Indeed, Unilever’s new marketing approach, Get on the Frontline, seeks to address the challenge of the marketing ‘bubble’ and to use insight and empathy to solve real problems for real people.
The instinctive approach of the entrepreneur and their disruptive approaches to marketing and communication will serve them well initially. However, the time will come when a keener, deeper understanding of their consumer will be required in order to cross the ‘innovation chasm’ and scale the business effectively.