“Consumer data will be the biggest differentiator in the next two to three years. Whoever unlocks the reams of data and uses it strategically will win.”
– Angela Ahrendts, former SVP of retail at Apple, former CEO at Burberry.
Consumers have a growing number of choices, which leaves brands competing for consumer attention, loyalty and ultimately, consumer dollars. To Angela’s point, the key to winning is understanding the consumer through data.
This can seem like a tall order. There’s no shortage of data that can be acquired to learn what drives our consumers, however, there is a shortage of usable information. With the mounds and mounds of statistics rolling in, uncovering usable insights that can be wielded into strategic advantage or even actionable insights is tough. Let’s break consumer data down into manageable chunks.
1. Category Data (aka, Consumer Options)
Let’s start with sizing up the competition. It’s important to fully understand available consumer options. The two places to focus on are product competition and purchase options. What brands are in the market? What point-of-sale options (stores, websites, marketplaces) are available to the consumer? For both product competition and retail options, you should know the differentiators and “reasons for being.” You also need to understand share and growth or who’s winning and why.
2. Consumer Insights
The next insight to dig into is the consumer. Learn as much as possible beyond demographics and generational differences. What problems are they facing? What’s important to them? What could they not care less about? What drives their purchase decision? What’s their experience with your product? The list of relevant questions is long. You’re looking for the reason behind purchase decisions, and the reason why your consumer needs your product. It’s important to understand the target consumer to build a differentiated brand and product strategy with a clear, actionable go-to-market plan.
3. Consumer Demand Influencers
When trying to increase demand for a product, usually, the first lever used is price. If you drop the price, the demand must go up…right? Usually that’s true, but it’s not the only way. What would cause a consumer to buy more? More means incremental purchases, and those come in a few ways.
- New consumers in the category
- Increased frequency of purchase in the category
- Increased consumption in the category
The data should be used to answer questions like what drives more or what drives incremental purchases? What are the sensitivities (price, weather, awareness, impulse, etc.) in the category? Inversely, what would prevent customers from entering the category and what motivates them to exit? To maximize results and focus tactics, you must know what triggers purchases and drives incrementality.
4. Business Performance (aka Consumer Votes)
Consumer purchases are like consumer votes. Ultimately, the consumer votes on which brands and retailers stay and which ones go, so it’s important to “count the votes” to understand where the consumer responded. Where did you succeed and where did you leave business on the table? This is where the really detailed work happens. Brands need to understand what’s hidden inside the data beyond sales, including inventory presentation, marketing reach and effectiveness. Assess your business, your competition and your point-of-sale partners. Look for points of success and points of correction to drive to actionable insights.
Where do I find all this consumer data?
The four needed insights outlined above are general and don’t give specific guidance on where to actually acquire the data. The information is intentionally vague because the data can come from a multitude of sources; everything from purchased market data like Nielsen and IRI, to extensive consumer ethnography studies. It can also come from online reviews, conducting shop-a-longs, competitive shopping or consumer surveys. There are many ways to acquire consumer data and unfortunately there isn’t one right formula that fits every category or brand.
Perhaps the most obvious but underutilized information is store-performance data. Understanding how your brand performs in-store helps you understand your consumer. Sales history reflects how the consumer voted with their dollars, and inventory history reflects what the customer visually experienced on-shelf. No two stores will perform the same or will have the same amount of inventory. What are the patterns? What’s driving the differences? Why would consumers in different stores convert differently? Push for the “why” in the data instead of stopping at data summaries. While there is no right formula for how to acquire data, the universal truth is that it’s what you do with the data that matters.
Now, let’s get honest. Ask yourself, how adept you and your organization are at interpreting consumer data to drive business results? It’s one thing to have the data, it’s another thing to have the ability to piece the multiple sources together and find actionable insights. There are tons of interesting nuggets hiding in your data, but interesting doesn’t keep the lights on. Business results do. If your team doesn’t have the skillset to turn the data into action, find analytical support that can help you utilize your data and understand your consumer.
At Callahan we use our Intelligence Platform to help our analysts get to the “why?” and understand how data uncovers the greatest areas of opportunity.
By understanding your target consumers, you can ensure your strategy will reach them. It will also help you manage sales projections, which are just as important. The more you know about your consumer, the better you will be able to answer the big question, “what’s it all worth?” Ultimately, a brand with a strong projection has a more solid financial outlook, pushing it into the “winning” category described in Angela Ahrendts’ opening quote. If a prediction from a veteran of Apple and Burberry can’t convince you, you can always reference statistician W. Edward Deming who said, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.”