Consumer Story is ‘The Hero’​

Why every brand needs to pivot around a critical human story for brand/category adoption or for driving consumer shift/disruption/behavior change ? 

Arindam Som, answers the above question as he talks of the jagged edges of market research. His interview below

Arindam talks about his experience when, around 10-15 years ago, Hindustan Unilever began hunting for compelling stories. This hunt for stories of change/shift in a consumer’s life led to development of a new technique called Critical Incident technique, which later on came to be known as ‘Moments’ .

Moments explored stories of consumers. It investigated sometime in the immediate past of the consumer to actually figure out what made a person shift from A to B. This shift was critical for being relevant since having generic consumer understanding was not helping HUL anymore in charting a new path for a brand or a sub-category. 

On the other hand, these stories of change or shifts, in the consumer’s past called ‘Moments’ provided great insights. Moments were really contextual to a consumer’s journey, capturing all the influence, triggers, barriers etc.  

The moments became a key driver for marketing communications, activations and even  innovation. These stories of ‘change’ delved into the consumer’s past. They explored the moment when the consumer made a shift from, for example, having home remedies to having a multivitamin supplement. These shifts were a big shift in the life of that particular consumer. These stories delivered far deeper insights than going to a consumer and asking her an open-ended question like ‘What would you want in a supplement?’ . While generic open-ended questions provide claimed answers, the ‘Moments’ provided a deep insight. 

So whenever we are researching something, which is for the future, it is very important to go back to the past, think of a similar situation and make sure that that consumer tells the story in her past.

Normally we ascribe a functional reasons for a change. Actually, the real reason is something deeper, completely different. The reason for shift is something big which has happened in a consumer’s life. It may be something like a show of status OR it might be redefining the relationship between the wife and the husband OR it might be the way the mother wants her son to look at her, recognize /reward her. 

In the fast digitizing landscape with all the tech brands, a lot of shift/change is happening. And there are some deep human stories, of why customers are embracing technology. If you look at EdTech the critical incident is not about, say, what the video can deliver or an interactive way of learning. It might be a manifestation of a mother’s desire for her child – ‘How do I push him forward, to become the top ranking student in the class?’ 

It is these emotional nuances which help us understand the consumer’s choice. These changes also help us understand why would a customer upgrade, pay a premium. Part of a premium that a product or service commands could be on account of  value adds, but most of the premium is because of an emotional reason like a ‘status uplift’.

As a brand if we have to thrive in the long term, we need to build these relationships with our customers, understand the emotional nuance, uncover the deep consumer insights for a shift/change. Whether one is a tech brand or a traditional brand we really have to get back to that ‘consumer story’. And make that story as our hero. 

As a marketer we need to continuously hear these consumer stories. And it is only when you continuously hear stories, you get patterns and insights. One needs to hear a substantial amount of stories and when you hear these stories, you become immersed in the consumer’s world. You begin seeing the patterns unfold, and then you see the stereotypes which are either being broken or reinforced. These stereotypes also help us in thinking of archetypes we can leverage for the brand OR building a specific community OR working with influencers.

So the key is to keep on hearing stories rather than doing like a qualitative research of say, a 30 interviews or 10 focus group discussions. 

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