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Uncovering valuable consumer insight: why qualitative research is so important


Consumer insight is key

‘Your customer is not a moron; she is your wife.’ If we ignore the fact that David Ogilvy may have been referring to brands that sold washing powder, soft drinks and stockings as only appealing to women, his words ring as true today as they did seventy years ago.

Ogilvy was an adman – a great man, who well understood the value of qualitative research. He recognised that the term “customer” is inherently bland, anonymous and absent of the multiple layers found in real people; fallible beings who have conscious and unconscious needs, desires and truths. Understood correctly, any brand needs to know what those layers are and before they start marketing to their audience.

Qualitative research starts with a conversation

Another great man told me that qualitative research was brilliant for brands and businesses who want to discover the “sh** you can’t Google”. If we substitute Google for stuff you don’t have numbers for, algorithms against or AI tools to listen to, you loop straight back to qualitative research.

Any brand or marketing team will tell you that they’re drowning in data. It’s only when you actually talk to real people that the data can truly come alive. The stories about why people buy what they buy, watch what they watch, or do what they do become vivid when they are humanised. That’s when connections are made, emotions are formed. We know that decision is not rational and it’s not obvious, but conversations with people are where sense is made of the seemingly senseless.

What’s consumer insight anyway?

Ask a consumer researcher to give you their definition of consumer insight and they’ll either give you a load of old waffle, or they’ll do what comes naturally and turn the question back on you.

Using qualitative research isn’t just about blinding you with new insights – we often hear clients tell us they’ve heard what they expected and that’s good. It means they know what they’re doing and who they’re doing it for. The value of qualitative research is that it’ll get you closer to your consumers’ wants and needs. It’s about checking you’re on track with the truths and the underlying reasons for why people behave the way they do.

Listening gives you deeper insight

Our clients will never listen to people talking about their category, business or brand and leave uninspired.

We’ve spoken to women about menopause and been deeply stirred by how ignored, underestimated and unidentified they feel – a great opportunity for brands to talk to a vast potential customer base with a unique set of physical and emotional needs.

We’ve talked to people about how their attitude to nutrition has changed during the lockdown. With more time to make mindful choices about what they’re putting in their bodies, new brands and categories are emerging as areas of interest. But listen closely and you’ll notice what’s fixed (alcohol, treats and luxuries) and what’s flexible.

We talk to people who say they’re watching loads more TV now, but that’s not the same as giving it more attention. They’re binge-watching fashion and cookery shows; it seems life’s too short for drama.

And with another lockdown imposed, most retail and hospitality businesses closed, and our clients thinking about what 2021 might bring (other than tightened belts), what can consumers tell us to help shape marketing campaigns and social media messaging? Talking to them is how we’re going to find out.

Consumer research and the focus group

Some might tell you the focus group is dead and buried (or should be). We beg to differ. But we do believe that qualitative research is far more than “just focus groups”; good researchers will take the time to figure out what you need to know and then suggest the best way to engage in consumer conversations.

We run virtual pop-up and long term communities to get real-time insights, videos and photos, giving people the chance to talk to us when it suits them (which for new parents could be 2am).

We hold video or at-home interviews to get into people’s cupboards, fridges and wardrobes – sometimes literally with them.

Pre-coronavirus, we asked people to host dinner parties, coffee mornings or tea parties and invite us amongst their friends to talk about food, drink or heady news topics such as, um, Brexit.

And yes, we do also run virtual focus groups because, quite often, they’re the most efficient and the most illuminating way to chat.

We also believe that our clients should be part of many of these conversations. We don’t just do the work and come back with a simple report – we find ways to create interaction and collaboration. We like it to be as transparent as possible.

Consumer insight at Hoxby

At Hoxby, we believe that understanding your consumer is central to delivering marketing campaigns or developing new products that truly resonate. To understand, you have to listen. To listen, you have to encourage conversation. That’s a craft, not just a skill. We don’t fixate on asking people “why” they do what they do, because it’s not their job to know the answer: it’s ours.

Consumer insight at Hoxby will:

  • Help you frame the data you own with understanding real people
  • Reignite your passion and respect for the people you want to engage with your brand or service
  • Inspire confidence that you’re making the right decisions

The qualitative research and insight teams within Hoxby can help you create a programme of consumer conversations. Even better, we’ll help you talk to them yourselves. And when time and budget are a barrier, we can mobilise our remote global community of freelance experts to give us their insights. After all, they have the subject matter; a great representation of societal and project audiences.

Find out more about Hoxby’s marketing and audience insight skills (PDF) from our diverse community of around 1,000 expert freelancers.

Hoxby can deliver high quality and fast turnaround projects, as and when you need them – whatever the sector, discipline or geography. Get in touch with us and find out more

Chloe Fowler is a qualitative researcher with 20+ years of experience; she is part of the Hoxby community.