Got a Premium Brand? Here’s How to Win Over Consumers in China.

National Geographic’s 2014 Greendex found that consumer attitudes about sustainability and the urgency of climate change are shifting, although rather slowly. The 2014 study finds half of consumers surveyed are anxious about climate change’s negative impact. Chinese consumers were among a group (along with Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and India) that displayed greater willingness to modify habits that affect the environment – while those from more affluent countries didn’t appear to feel as threatened by the impact of a changing climate.

It might sound strange, but could this yearning to do better in terms of sustainability and the environment represent a marketing opportunity for brands in China? We think so.

Interestingly, in our recent, unrelated global study on Premium positioning, we discovered some unique associations that Chinese consumers had with the Premium theme. Using our creative verbalization and visualization techniques, Chinese consumers were the only ones who associated environmentally-friendly, natural and healthy with Premium.

DOWNLOAD NOW!   'Wooing The Premium Consumer' White Paper

What comes to mind when Chinese consumers think about Premium? Unlike obvious associations such as ‘special reward’ or ‘VIP treatment’ in the other markets, in China we saw strong visual associations around  natural, simple, health, good for them, and environmentally friendly. Using our engaging eCollageTM technique to express their Premium associations pictorially, Chinese consumers more frequently chose images that represented nature. And while gold and silk were among the top materials that signal premium across all markets, the Chinese were more likely to associate other materials found in nature like wood, cotton and diamonds.

Top words that are similar to Premium according to Chinese consumers include environmentally-friendly, natural, safe and dependable. Safe and dependable were notable word choices, considering recent food and product safety stories in the news.

To learn more about how Premium played out in China, and across the other markets in our study, or to learn about specific brands associated with Premium by category, download our Wooing The Premium Consumer white paper now.

More Delight. Less Disappointment.

Zappos. Warby Parker. Lumoid. Casper Mattresses. What do these companies have in common? A celebrated try-before-you-buy policy. These brands are pretty confident their products and services will be winners with consumers. After all, Casper claims to be “one perfect mattress.” That’s quite a high bar. Or a costly brag if they have to send a truck out to reclaim a mattress from an unsatisfied buyer.

This strategy is timely given increasingly sophisticated consumers who demand brands deliver on expectations. But it’s one that could be riddled with risk for companies that don’t test product positioning and even packaging.  Because consumers are more empowered, informed, and connected than ever, it’s critical for companies to clearly communicate the brand promise and have a firm grasp of the actual user experience with their product. Whether a $1 candy bar or an $800 mattress, customers don’t want unhappy surprises with their purchase – just delight.

How can brands ensure that the experience that they’re promising is fulfilling expectations? Usage testing is a wonderfully effective way to make sure what a company thinks they’re selling is in fact what the consumer is experiencing.

One shelf-stable food brand asked us to learn whether the positioning and messaging that they had developed matched what consumers were experiencing at home. We set out to determine which messaging elements worked and why – how well the product delivered on the promise being made. What communication facets needed to change? Our visual and verbal techniques – online projectives – are ideal for helping consumers articulate the experience and benefits of the product (including sensorial and tactile). Through in home product usage, we revealed the phrases and words that could be adopted or incorporated into copy. This helped craft an authentic message that was faithful to the experience.

This approach can be included further upstream when developing product concepts, and even later when testing packaging – all in effort to ensure each part of the consumer journey meets and exceeds expectations. This was the case with a beverage company who needed consumers to evaluate packaging. While consumers had previously raved about the product, they hated the proposed packaging – a delightful product could have been torpedoed by a disastrous container. We were able to identify specific packaging requirements that would be equally appealing as the product inside.

So, is your brand promising perfection? Fun? Luxury? Whatever the essence you believe it telegraphs – make sure it’s one grounded in the reality of the consumer usage experience.

Do Consumers Want Green Coca-Cola?

Earlier this month, Coca Cola unveiled its latest innovation. No, not a new beverage formulation. But a novel vessel for its products – a fully recyclable plastic bottle made entirely from renewable plant materials. Chalk one up for Planet Earth, as the “PlantBottle™” is a move away from petroleum based materials. Using a patented method that turns natural plant sugars into plastic bottle ingredients, Coca-Cola launched an earlier version in 2009 that was 30% plant-based – this 2015 edition is 100% bioplastic. According to a profile in Plastics Today, Coca Cola believes PlantBottle™ packaging is “estimated to have helped save the equivalent annual emissions of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.”

Coca Cola’s move is just the latest by an iconic brand looking to embrace more sustainable packaging. Other recent “green” newsmakers have included Method, Hershey and Clorox. But are these just good, practical business tactics or are companies making changes in response to a growing consumer trend? Is sustainability becoming a concern among everyday consumers? Is it increasingly something that companies should consider when exploring brand extensions, new product development, and packaging design?

According to our study on the subject, the answer is yes. While U.S. & U.K. consumers conveyed a basic understanding of sustainability, there were strong associations around the idea of preserving the environment for future generations. Our insights suggest that products with a sustainability label have a higher likelihood of success, as 80% of consumers said they would be more likely to purchase clearly-marked environmentally-responsible products.

In our study, we asked consumers to both verbalize and visualize their personal associations with sustainability. Brands looking to capture the hearts and minds of eco-aware consumers may want to take note. Positive words that came to mind include renewable, green and recycle. Negative ones included pollution, waste and greed. Visualization of sustainability resulted in imagery around preserving the environment and health (interestingly, in another study we recently led to learn what Healthy means to consumers, participants mentioned that taking care of the environment was a dimension of Healthy). While consumers may not have a full grasp of specific corporate sustainability initiatives, they did have definite ideas about what values they associate with sustainable brands: integrity, trust and authenticity.

As companies seek to help consumers navigate an ever overcrowded sea of choices toward their product line, sustainability can be an important competitive differentiator on shelf – as long as it can be communicated in a meaningful manner. Consumers expressed willingness to buy products from companies that align with their personal values. This creates an opportunity for brands to become a functionally and emotionally relevant solution at purchase

For more information on BuzzBack’s Sustainability study (or the one on Healthy), click here.



Are Avatars What’s Next for Your Brand?

What does online dress game, Stardoll and virtual world game, Second Life have in common with consumer insights? You might not think much, but actually there’s a key link when it comes to personal expression. Today more than 2 billion consumers participate in virtual gaming communities using avatars to represent and express themselves. Participants create fantasy characters using menu options of physical traits and wardrobe. But, as it turns out, these avatars are not all about gaming and play (well maybe just a little). Recent research shows that an avatar’s virtual appearance subconsciously signals important clues into the individual’s own and very real personality.

So what’s the link to consumer insights?  Creative visualization and expression tools have proven to be an effective means of getting at richer insights. At BuzzBack, we use these daily to get consumers to holistically express themselves – both obviously and latently – to better understand their behaviors, choices and motivations. It’s why we’re proud to be part of the GRIT Top 50 as one of the most innovative companies in our sector. These conceptual ideas behind avatars are the foundation for what’s next in innovating our tools and techniques for consumer self expression.

One of the many new directions we’re going in at BuzzBack – stay tuned to see what’s next as we illustrate why we deserve to be on the GRIT…



Why The Research Plan Needs to be Globalized

Did you know that there are 50 different Eskimo words for ‘snow‘? Or that those who live in northern Scandinavia and Russia who speak Saami, have about 1,000 different ways to say ‘reindeer’? This information is definitely interesting, but why does it matter? Well, it might matter if you’re thinking of taking a product or service to market anytime soon. Ok, maybe only if your product is a reindeer-mounted snow shovel. But seriously, knowing there are so many variations in these languages, makes you wonder about all the other many languages and possible communication problems that may arise. Of course, you might not be thinking of the global market just yet, but you should be. Our world is becoming increasingly global and increasingly instant, which brings new communication challenges. Today’s products and brands need to be prepared early on to compete on a global level. Being able to communicate according to each market’s values, understanding cultural sensitivities, and knowing how your product or service compares with top local brands in that space should all be top of mind.

One way to do that is through research, which can be a crucial tool for understanding more about your consumer and creating more effective communications. However, there are many common pitfalls when it comes to reviewing open-ended questions. That’s when having a great research team and a skilled supplier in place can mean a world of difference. When it comes to global studies, we partner closely with Lionbridge because language is such an important component of the insights we deliver and Lionbridge ensures we provide top quality translation. In fact, our very own Carol Fitzgerald and Paula Shannon from Lionbridge are in Nashville at the SiriusDecision Summit today to talk about this very subject.

However, it’s important to note that the meaning of a word is not just important on a global scale. While in one language there may be more than one word used to convey a certain idea, there are also countless ways to interpret that word’s meaning. A company may think such a word means one thing, but in reality from a consumer’s point of view, it could mean something very different. Understanding what your brand stands for among your consumers – what you stand for, what the essence is – is of utmost importance when going to market. That’s why from time to time we conduct our own global exploratory studies to help our clients glean more insights on marketing terms that may be helpful in their own communication and positioning platforms. This year, BuzzBack conducted a study exploring the word ‘premium’, which aimed to understand what consumer language represents – verbally, visually and emotionally in the US, UK, China and Brazil. To request the white paper, contact us below, or to learn more about our ‘premium’ study, click here.

That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means…

Have you seen the post about the 25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong? It’s been showing up all over my social news feed lately. Basically, it’s a list of words that people have repeatedly used incorrectly over time. Some of the words might surprise you! For some of these words, the confusion was understandable – they sound like another word or the definition was close to another word.  However, reading through this list serves as a gentle reminder to those of us in our industry. The need to understand what consumers think and how they perceive certain words or ideas is imperative to a brand’s overall communication efforts. This goes to show that you can’t simply rely on what the dictionary says.

And, going beyond played back definitions, we’ve found through our own research on research that even surface level associations don’t oftentimes match what consumers feel about certain words. It’s often difficult to understand what motivates consumers and how they feel about a brand and why. So how do you extract the deeper feelings about a brand or a concept? Well, research has shown that 80% of human expression is non-verbal, with most decision-making happening in the subconscious.* This indicates a need for evolved market research methods that go beyond reporting what consumers say, and to provide understanding around what they are feeling. One of the ways that we are able to get at the deeper meaning is through eCollage™ which uses pictures and images as catalysts, to elicit emotions more effectively. This type of technique allows for deeper and more personal self-expression. Want to see how it works? Click the image below to go ahead and give it a try.

Click for a demo
Click to try eCollage™

*Zaltman, 1995 et al

Millennials + Sustainability

These days, it seems like everyone’s jumped onto the ‘going green’ bandwagon. Fast fashion retailer H&M is offering its customers a coupon for 15% off their next purchase every time they bring in a bag of used clothing to any store. In Sweden, McDonald’s launched a campaign in which you receive a free burger or cheeseburger for every 10 empty beer cans you bring in; 40 cans gets you a Big Mac. In further promotion of the campaign, McDonald’s has even installed billboards that double as trash bags for those walking by to easily pull off and fill with all their cans. What do these campaigns and earth-friendly initiatives have in common? They’re all aimed at Millennials.

Having recently become the largest generation group in the country, Millennials are the ones shopping at fast fashion stores and they used to be McDonald’s key customer base, until recently. This month, McDonald’s reported their biggest decline since 2003 and also found that diners between the ages of 19 to 21 have gone down by 12.9% since the start of 2011. The fast food chain has admitted that its latest campaign was an attempt to reach out to the Millennial generation, specifically the young music festival attendees in Sweden.

But, the question remains: are these efforts to appeal to the Millennial generation through green initiatives working? Millennials may say that they place a high value on issues such as social responsibility and sustainability, but are they actually following through on that? Or maybe it’s the campaigns that need to change – are companies able to effectively communicate their green initiatives to their Millennial consumers? When it comes to these topics, what are their perceptions? When it comes down to making a purchase, do they really care about companies being committed to sustainability?

We will be exploring several of these questions in our upcoming webinar in which we do a deep dive comparing Millennial, Boomer and Gen X perceptions on the word Sustainability. If your brand is tackling the challenge of increasing the connection consumers have with sustainability, check out our latest webinar.

Let The Consumer In

I recently read an article that resonated with me.  It covered the idea of including the consumer in the brand storytelling process so that the resulting brand message is not only compelling, but also meaningfully aligned with the consumer’s values.  I felt that the article actually sets the bar for anyone involved in the business of engaging consumers, including those of us in Market Research.

In our increasingly connected, digitally-disrupted world, authenticity is the order of the day.  Consumers are seeking transparent and more meaningful relationships with brands.  One way of achieving that relationship is through insight development.   The techniques brands use to dialogue with consumers,should be engaging, approachable and easy to understand, ones that welcome consumers into an authentic co-creation process.   Traditional marketing approaches that position marketers as all-knowing are out of step in an open environment where empowered consumers, who given the right tools and inspiring techniques, will thoughtfully and profoundly express both their obvious and latent thoughts, feelings, behaviors and attitudes.  Get out of the way, and allow them to tell you about the product or brand that they will loyally support.

This article reminded me of a recent study we conducted in which we utilized our online social forum, Hive. By allowing respondents access to our unique and engaging tools like eCollage within the confines of Hive, we were able to get twice as much verbal playback as standard open-ends alone. Our Exploring Pet Ownership study revealed non-verbal thoughts and emotions by completing ‘a day in the life’ exercise through their online collages. Respondents also participated in photo sharing, blogs, product name ideation and generating ideas for the next development in pet products. The insights collected provided marketers with directions for product positioning and potential white space for new products or line extensions.

As I reflect on my first year with BuzzBack, I think about what an exciting time it is to be in Consumer Insights.  It’s rewarding to see the breakthroughs we make by providing creative, image-based and engaging tools to consumers who are increasingly willing to return the authenticity favor, by openly sharing and collaborating.

For more information on our Exploring Pet Ownership study or our other Hive studies, click here.

Get Me There (in comfort, please)

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Cool Hunting, and saw two posts interestingly juxtaposed. The first was on the new Rolls-Royce Wraith, a car with a $285,000+ price tag and every creature comfort one can imagine. Talk about traveling in style, this car has it all!

The second was on a new bicycle seat, called the MORGAW®, with built-in shock absorbers for the rider’s comfort. I’m not sure what it costs, but it’s nowhere near the price of the Wraith.

While the products are miles apart in price and complexity, they both meet two essential consumer needs – mobility and comfort. While mobility is arguably the greater need (we all need to get somewhere), comfort is the real selling point of the products. This is a consumer need that’s being recognized as more and more important by new product developers. It perhaps is correlated to the fact that we are becoming increasingly design-savvy consumers. A quick casual poll of BuzzBack staffers reveals a tendency toward comfort-centricity when asked to name favorite products – OXO gadgets, Bose Noise Cancelling headphones, My Pillow… How far we’ve evolved from our cave dwelling ancestors when products that increased your survival likelihood, rather than comfort level would probably have topped the list.

Are You Sick of Big Data?

Are you sick of Big Data? I get several emails every day about new ways to integrate and report Big Data. However, when it comes to Big Data, visualization is an important theme. Recent studies from 3M and the Aberdeen Group talk about visualizing data and why that’s important. First, humans can comprehend visuals faster than words. Second, we retain information presented in visuals at a rate that’s double what we retain from reading or text.

At BuzzBack, we agree. Visuals are a key theme in how we collect information as well as how we report it. A great example that comes to mind is our exploratory study on the word Quality. While immediate associations with quality are all about applying it to a product or service, our eCollages on quality revealed a broader perspective of the word ‘quality’ that includes words such as family–life–time.

More than any of the other words in our studies, the perception of quality seems to encompass an almost holistic outlook; in essence, it is about quality of life. This concept, obviously, could mean a myriad of different things to different people, but it runs very deep. In order for a brand or product to truly be seen as quality, it needs to ally itself with this way of thinking: it needs in some way to enhance consumers’ general well-being and sense of life satisfaction.

Ultimately, we found out that quality is about relationships – about building trust and reassurance – and this is just as important for brands as it is for people.

A lot of our tools such as eCollageScene BuilderConcept Focus — they all use visuals in connecting with consumers. These themes of comprehension and retention are important in our daily insights work at BuzzBack, but they also support another important thing about visuals — they drive emotions and behaviors when it comes to decision-making.

How are you using images to communicate insights? I’d love to know…