We need to not only learn about the target audience for our brands but also "learn to like them", according to Andy Nair, co-founder of agency Lucky Generals in this interesting Campaign column. He suggests that marketing and agency teams often lack respect for and connection with the core consumer, which in turn leads to "clunky advertising, infuriating service design and shoddy ethical practices plaguing business at the moment."
Below I outline an approach to address this issue, which involves going beyond consumer exploration to consumer empathy.
1. Re-frame your consumer portrait
Marketing and agency people can be quite dismissive and even disrespectful of the consumers of their brands. And this can lead to what Andy calls "patronising prejudices" about people, such as "These guys are rate tarts" or "They just want to get pissed and get laid."
The challenge here is to "re-frame" the portrait of the core consumer and focus on the positive emotions underlying their behaviour. Only then can you have respect for and connection with them. Andy gives some great examples from his work where he has done this to see "another side to their stories":
Teenage knife-carriers => frightened kids looking for protection
Rural drink-drivers => the life and souls of the pub who get carried away in the moment
Potential tax-dodgers => self-employed grafters who resent the special treatment given to big businesses
One technique we use on projects to help paint a full portrait is to use the framework below (example for the Top Gear brand), which goes beyond demographics to explore "passion points" and attitudes to life.
2. Immersive research
To truly connect with the consumer, teams need to go beyond rational understanding and feel the insight in their guts. This is hard when there is "a lifestyle gap" between the team and the consumer group the brand is designed for. My first job as a P&G brand manager was working on Milton, a product for sterilising baby feeding bottles. As a 25 year old single guy, my world was miles away from that of the core consumer.
A solution we use on brandgym projects is designing "immersive insight" that breaks teams out of the one-way mirrored world of focus groups, spending time in the real world of the consumer. Andy tells a great story about how this approach helped him on a government anti-smoking campaign. Previous campaigns had focused on the physical health damage to the smoker. Immersive insight highlighted the emotional damage to the family of the smoker, especially kids. One great example was a child who would write notes about these worries and put them inside her mum's cigarette packets.
3. BE the consumer
Immersive insight can really help you connect with you core consumer. But it can only get you so far. To really connect, the best way is not to try and understand the consumer but rather to BE the consumer. I am still shocked and stunned to meet non-drinkers working on beer brands, or non-drivers working on cars. Back to my example of working on the Milton brand for baby bottle sterilising, we should have had at least one mum or dad on the team. Bring the real consumer into your company, ideally on the brand team or as a minimum, as part of an advisory panel. And try, where possible, to work on a brand and category you have a real interest in.
In conclusion, as Andy rightly says, "At a time when we’re accumulating more data than ever before, it would be a shame if this came at the expense of human connection."