“Consumer insights” are easy to take for granted. They generally are subtle- sounding observations such as “men need to embrace a new definition of masculinity,” which Draftfcb did for Dockers. It may seem a trivial process on paper, yet unearthing and correctly predicting trends and behaviors takes finely tuned intuition and research. They make or break campaigns with big budgets at stake.
This summer, I received firsthand experience in the market research process through my residency program with iris worldwide, a marketing, advertising and experiential agency. My team, consisting of Katrina Greenwood, Susan Monahan, Megan O’Malley and myself, were tasked with understanding U.S. college students and developing a sustainable tool to track ongoing trends on campus. Our initial reaction, following the excitement: Gulp.
After meeting with our client sponsor in New York, we had ideas buzzing around our heads and seven weeks left to complete the project. The best advice we received was from Professor Michelle Weinberger, our consumer insights expert-in-residence, who said, “Don’t think – just start doing.” So we did.
In that time, we mapped out a four-stage process before it was time to “ship” the final product. We enlisted a bevy of research tactics, such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, ethnography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a survey taken by students at more than 60 U.S. colleges and universities. We combined that research with other published articles, weekly brainstorms and loads of ice cream from George’s, our unofficial headquarters.
The result was an identification of seven values that currently manifest themselves within college campuses paired with timeless tensions every college student encounters. The values, combined with technology, media usage and communications channels, can then be interpreted specific to consumer brands and transformed into marketing opportunities.
Our team had the opportunity to present to iris and its client, glacéau, a Coca-Cola company that produces beverages such as Vitaminwater and smartwater. Brand managers even participated in a workshop where they put the values to work for their own brands, creating a number of potential campaigns in under an hour’s time.
Not only was it an incredibly rewarding experience, the residency project gave my team a real-world application of consumer insights and how they are critical to the IMC process. It’s now impossible to view a marketing message without also thinking, “What’s the insight there, and how’d they get it?”
Anne Mahoney is the Social Media Director at Vitamin IMC and a student in the Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School. She received the “Most Questions Asked” award at youth summer camp, and is still unrelenting in asking “Why?” She can be reached at AnneMahoney2010@u.northwestern.edu.