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Opinion: A Big Secret to Share

Aoife Marron is a director of RED C Research and Marketing.

With marketing and insights departments across the country and globe facing budget cuts, it’s important that any investment made is wise and effective.  However, ensuring this activity comes from a consumer-informed position is vital to achieving this.  If you’re explaining, you’re losing, writes Aoife Marron.

As a qualitative researcher, I’m very close to consumers.  My expertise lies in humans and their behaviour as much as it does marketing.  I glean a macro level view of mindsets, trends and influences from working on projects investigating anything from service issues to NPD to advertising.  Commonalities ladder up, and the knowledge acquired from speaking to consumers for north of 500 hours a year, means I’m well placed to provide guidance on how consumers are feeling and how they respond.

One of the biggest learnings I’ve identified over the years, that’s relevant in a post and pre COVID-19 world, and to every single client I have or ever will work with, is the notion of assumed understanding.

Assumed understanding is a term I use to describe the level of clarity brands believe consumers have in relation to any topic, product or service that simply does not exist.  Behavioural Economics teaches us that consumers are not rational beings; they don’t behave as you think they would.  I would also argue that consumers are not fully informed beings; they don’t know what you think they should.

On many occasions, I’ve conducted research on concepts, propositions or creative that has been incredibly impressive.  I can feel the energy from the team and the effort from the stimulus.  The logic and rationale are explained by the stakeholders and it makes sense.  To everyone involved.

But that’s the thing, consumers aren’t involved.  They’re too busy living life within their own reality.  As such, sometimes the stimulus simply flunks.  The clear message coming from consumers is “I don’t get it” and it’s so disheartening for the team who worked so hard on the project to hear this.

Stakeholders engaging with researchers on the back of such feedback can naturally feel frustrated.  I have one big secret to share that tends to hit home in these scenarios: if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

If consumers don’t understand where you’re coming from or why the idea would be relevant to them or where the connection lies, it means it’s grounded in a place of assumed understanding.  The understanding simply does not exist.

Marketeers need to work from a place of assumed understanding; a place where brand and consumer are on the same page.   Sometimes this place is easy to find, whereas other times – and this is the important one to watch out for – it’s simply not.  Recognising and acting on this is so important for efficiencies and optimisation of budget, time – and morale.

Consider for instance, the highly successful 2007 Financial Regulator Tracker Mortgage campaign that had the repeatable line “I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is”.  The subject to be discussed was tricky and largely misunderstood within the market; consumers were not fully informed.  The campaign recognised and understood this.  It was acted from a place where consumer understanding and brand objectives overlapped.

Research is key to this recognition and acting.  It enables you to be innovative, creative and clear in a relevant and resonating way that’s tailored to your target’s understanding.

Figuring out when you need research is just as important as knowing that you need it.  Working with your research partner to identify this as early in the process as possible is key for your project and overall marketing and insights budget.  While insight that identifies the presence of assumed understanding enables teams to address and rectify retrospectively, involving research earlier in the process can save you time and money in the long run.

I have identified a number of different questions for brands and clients to consider when trying to resonate with consumers:

  1. Do we have a consumer-informed basis for the basic understanding that this idea is built on?
  2. Has anyone outside marketing or the business been involved or contributed to this thinking or formulation?
  3. Have we consulted with our research agency to identify knowledge and to collate findings from our previous research to involve the consumer?
  4. Have we figured that research will be required but haven’t started a conversation with our agency about when?

If you answer yes to one or more of the above, you are at risk of running into a territory of assumed understanding.

As we move into a global recession and consumer caution prevails, it’s vital that money is spent wisely by brands.  Investing in research at the right time, and perhaps on more than one occasion throughout the project, will allow you greater return on budget spend.


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