Branding

Intercept Research Reveals the Why Behind Customer Actions

 Intercepts can be a valuable way to find out why a customer shopped in your store or bought a specific product.

Intercepts can be a valuable way to find out why a customer shopped in your store or bought a specific product.

One of the most overlooked research strategies is the intercept, where researchers observe or ask for customer comment at the point of sale.

It is one thing to ask someone whether they would this or that product and quite another to ask a customer why she just bought the product in her shopping bag.

In the marketing world, there is an entire universe of metrics to measure whether a marketing campaign is working. But one metric that often is missing is the interaction with a customer who purchased what is being marketed. Failure to use intercept research can lead to a lack of understanding of customer motivation – the why behind the purchase.

Marketers may think customers buy something because of clever messaging. However, intercept research might show customers are actually drawn to a product because its packaging sticks out on the shelf next to similar other products. Good to know. That could influence advertising to focus more on the package and less on the clever words.

My son-in-law runs a large number of Jack in the Box restaurants. The fast food chain has long used a quirky, wisecracking character as its brand mascot. Jack Box has been the dominant feature in the chain’s advertising for years, but after intercept testing, brand executives discovered customers came to the restaurant when they saw food they liked, not because of Jack’s white head or wisecracks. Jack in the Box ads now still show Jack, but give a far more prominent place to the food.

It’s a small difference, but a significant one. My son-in-law said business has been booming since the emphasis in the ads changed.

 Jack in the Box TV spots still include Jack Box, the quirky, ball-headed band mascot, but now the food the restaurant chain serves gets more prominent play.

Jack in the Box TV spots still include Jack Box, the quirky, ball-headed band mascot, but now the food the restaurant chain serves gets more prominent play.

Intercept research can take multiple forms – a follow-up phone call or email, a questionnaire at the point-of-sale or an exit interview. The more personal the intercept, the higher likelihood of a response. The closer to the point-of-sale, the most likely you will receive an unfiltered response.

The power of intercept research is that it is based on actions, not reactions or projections. Intercept research explores the realm of past tense, not future tense. You talk to actual customers or, in the case of elections, actual voters. What we call exit polls are in reality just another form of intercept research.

Some people don’t view intercepts as real research. They aren’t necessarily statistically valid as you would expect from a telephone survey. They may be skewed by who is willing to participate and those who don’t want to be bothered. But their saving grace is that the people who are interviewed are connected with the product, service or action being tested. That is its own form of validity.

Intercept research is the research tool to use when you want to measure what someone did or bought and ask the all-important question of why. Knowing why someone did something can be the golden key to encouraging them to do it again.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Getting the Message Right

 A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

Organizations can be forced to eat humble pie when they don’t test their branding, key messages or product explanations to make sure their intended audience understands what they are trying to convey.

Staff brainstorming can produce clever ideas, but they aren’t strategic concepts unless tested to make sure they click with customers. Ditto for creative material that can sing to an internal audience, but fall flat with the people you are trying to convince.

Getting the message right is all about making sure you're using the right words, images and emotional content for the particular audience. The only way to have a degree of confidence you are right is to run it by a representative sample of people you seek to reach.

Smart organizations tap into their consumers or target audiences to identify and test messages that work. It takes nothing more than asking questions. In fact, most organizations already have tools that could be employed for effective marketing and communications efforts.

Use focus groups

Invite a small sample of people who fit the target audience to meet with you. Ask questions about the issue or product. Listen closely to the words they use and the concepts they describe. The language they use is the language you need to use to make them understand what you mean. It could be as simple as turning a familiar phrase.

Example: A health insurance client used focus groups to identify new messaging for promotional material. After changing brochures and ads to new consumer-furnished messages, sales increased by 6 percent.

Add a few open-ended questions to surveys

Provide respondents the opportunity to explain what they like, want or need. Ask how they talk about products and issues with their friends. Identify what is important. A note of caution, though: Be sure the survey sample matches the characteristics of the intended audience for the communication effort.

Example: A physician network used comments from an online survey to identify topics for newsletters, content for social media posts and ad themes. The rate of opens and clicks increased as content became more relevant.

Tap into social media

Creating conversations about the product or issue. Follow up with certain individuals to probe for additional information. Again, pay close attention to the words they use and how they approach your product, service or concept.

The key to effective messaging is making it relevant, informative and persuasive. Be sure what you say is important to the audience while providing meaningful information conveyed in words and imagery that resonates with them.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

Tried-and-True Next-Bench Market Research

 Think of market research as a map showing the way from a customer problem to a solution, a journey that often starts by experiencing or seeing something calling out for a fix.

Think of market research as a map showing the way from a customer problem to a solution, a journey that often starts by experiencing or seeing something calling out for a fix.

Tektronix was built on a simple but effective market research strategy: An engineer would lean over to the next bench and ask his co-worker what he needed. 

Next-bench market research carried Tektronix from a small startup to a Fortune 500 powerhouse. The Beaverton-based company made products that addressed real problems in the emerging electronics industry and created Emmy-winning opportunities in television broadcasting.

When a product to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity didn’t exist, Tektronix invented it, sometimes pioneering and patenting technology that made the product possible. At its best, Tektronix was an assembly line of engineers looking at the bench next to theirs to see what would make work easier and products more reliable. Engineers were less interested in whether they could make a product and more interested on why they needed to make it.

Today, it is fascinating to watch ABC's Shark Tank where countless entrepreneurs pitch their products and product ideas to high-profile investors. The pitches invariably start with a description of the problem their product aims to solve. 

Some of the products and problems aren’t monumental. A cooler with a light so you know what beverage you're grabbing in the dark. A smiley-faced yellow sponge that will remove sticky goo on plates, pans and utensils without scratching their surface. Ugly Christmas sweaters to give as gag gifts or to wear irreverently at family celebrations.

 The Breathometer, a smartphone breathalyzer, was Shark Tank's first $1 million deal. All five sharks were sold on the pitch. Now even Richard Branson is investing in it. 

The Breathometer, a smartphone breathalyzer, was Shark Tank's first $1 million deal. All five sharks were sold on the pitch. Now even Richard Branson is investing in it. 

Others have more import. A subscription service that will take pictures taken on a smartphone and convert them into keepsake picture books. A smartphone breathalyzer that enables someone to determine whether they have had too much to drink to drive. Ava the Elephant, a medicine dropper that offers a friendly face for kids when taking bad-tasting medicine.

The vast majority of the pitchmen and pitchwomen who appear on the popular TV show experience first-hand a problem and search the market for solutions but can't find answer. So they create their own. They engage in the equivalent of next-bench market research – finding a problem to fix.

Filling a need is the most fundamental reason to make a product or offer a service. If you start with filling a need, your market research will follow a path shaped by what it takes to fill that need. And it will define your market differentiator, what makes your product special and different.

A lot of other factors go into a successful business, but next-bench market research has a proven track record of getting someone headed in the right direction of fixing a problem, big or small, that people face in their everyday lives.

 Drop Stop, a long plastic gap-filler, was designed to prevent your personal belongings from getting lost under your car seat.  

Drop Stop, a long plastic gap-filler, was designed to prevent your personal belongings from getting lost under your car seat.  

Like Drop Stop, a 17-inch long piece of plastic that acts as a gap filler blocking keys, phones, loose change or your wallet from slipping into that impenetrable crevice next to your car seat. A simple idea and a practical, affordable solution to a perplexing problem. The product's co-inventor came up with the idea after he dropped his cell phone in his car seat gap, took his eye off the road to retrieve it and wound up in an accident. It was painful and embarrassing, but it proved to be invaluable next-bench market research.

Buyer Personas Bridge Market Research and Marketing

 One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

Constructing buyer personas is a great way to close the gap between market research and marketing.

Buyer personas built from solid market research help marketers understand their target audience, how and where to connect with them and the journey they take to become buyers. Buyer personas also make buyers more human and less like ciphers, a quality that goes a long way in the marketplace of the 21st century.

The path to red-blooded buyer personas is to talk formally or informally with every kind of buyer imaginable: current buyers, previous buyers, buyers who stopped buying and super buyers who influence other buyers. Their comments about your product, service, quality and customer experience can paint a telling picture and a real-life video of the buyer journey.

For the picture to be more than a sketch, the market research needs to dig deeper than superficial observations about product characteristics and customer behavior. Market research must probe the “why" behind what customers do at different stages of the buyer journey so buyer personas reflect motivation, sources of influence and trigger points.

Once constructed, buyer personas represent an invaluable tool to segment customers for customized marketing outreach, product offerings, targeted discounts and purchasing options.

Well developed buyer personas don’t belong on the shelf or buried in a desk drawer. They should be the equivalent of having an actual customer sitting on the corner of a marketer's desk whispering into his or her ear.

Few may dispute the value of buyer personas, but many marketers overlook or ignore them in doing their jobs. Buyer personas can get in the way of a great marketing idea or message.

One solution to the disconnect between market research and marketing departments is to work together in fashioning buyer personas. The portraits from collaborative thinking are likely to be even more three dimensional than from isolated or strictly statistical market research. The conversations with present, past and potential buyers can explore marketing concepts to test their viability and bake in the findings to buyer persona portraits.

Perhaps the greatest contribution for marketers from buyer personas is a human-scale map of where to track down their ideal customers. Great content, useful information and fantastic offers can fall flat if they don’t reach their intended audience. Understanding your own buyer personas can help chart the map to find and connect with your customers. 

A Heaping Helping of KFC’s Comedy Colonels

 The always bronze George Hamilton is the latest in the carousel of Colonel Sanders characters in a new, buzzy KFC TV ad campaign. Hamilton is the new face for KFC’s extra crispy chicken.

The always bronze George Hamilton is the latest in the carousel of Colonel Sanders characters in a new, buzzy KFC TV ad campaign. Hamilton is the new face for KFC’s extra crispy chicken.

Keeping track of who wears KFC’s Colonel Sanders iconic white suit is becoming as hard as holding on to a greasy fried chicken leg.

The latest addition to the cast is George Hamilton who depicts, with a certain unsettling realism, Extra Crispy Colonel Sanders. Hamilton follows in the footsteps of Darrell Hammond, Norm Macdonald and Jim Gaffigan to assume the Southern fried charm of KFC founder Harland Sanders who died in 1980.

The rotating Colonels is an attempt by the restaurant chain to add zip and lightheartedness to its TV ads. KFC Chief Marketing Officer Keven Hochman says, “Just like no one person can play the Colonel, no one Colonel can sell both Original Recipe and Extra Crispy fried chicken.” In the sequence of ads, the Macdonald and Gaffigan “Colonels” call their predecessors an impostor and a bad dream, respectively.

 Who will be the next Colonel Sanders in KFC's clever marketing campaign?

Who will be the next Colonel Sanders in KFC's clever marketing campaign?

KFC has trafficked in Sanders’ image before. There was an animated Colonel in TV commercials from 1998-2001 with Randy Quaid’s voice.

 Jim Gaffigan made a bold impression in his round as Colonel Sanders.

Jim Gaffigan made a bold impression in his round as Colonel Sanders.

Unquestionably the new actor-shifting Colonel routine has attracted notice and brought some fun to the KFC brand, but not everyone is happy. Some traditional KFC consumers find it disrespectful to have a carousel of Colonels replace the original brand ambassador.

 Norm Macdonald brought his signature comedy style to the role, as each of his successors continues to do.

Norm Macdonald brought his signature comedy style to the role, as each of his successors continues to do.

Sanders may not have minded. In his lifetime, he worked as a steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, teamster in Cuba, lawyer and ferry boat operator before setting up a roadside stand next to a gas station in Kentucky to hawk his special recipe fried chicken. Viewed by some as a dandy Southern gentleman, Sanders was actually born in Indiana and spent much of his life away from Kentucky, including in Canada. He learned to cook after his father died, his mother was forced to take a job and he was left to care for his younger siblings. 

Many of Sanders’ occupations ended abruptly. He was fired as an insurance salesman for insubordination. His legal career ended after a brawl with a client.

There is plenty of evidence that Sanders was a character, but no trace that he told funny jokes, so the selection of an SNL regular, a Canadian stand-up comic and an American jokester who makes fun of fatherhood might seem questionable choices to carry on his legacy. George Hamilton is close to unthinkable, which is why his Colonel Sanders get-up features an unbuttoned white shirt with no tie.

Ironically, Hamilton makes the most sense as Colonel Sanders’ face for extra crispy chicken. "I like to think I know a thing or two about being extra crispy,” says the Hollywood actor known for his bronzed appearance. “It didn’t take long for me to get into character. One could argue that my entire career has been leading up to this role.” 

Instead of breezy ads, KFC might consider commissioning someone to make a movie about Sanders, though it may have to tone down the part about the Colonel throwing food on the floor, swearing and denouncing the restaurant chain he founded and was paid to promote in his adopted uniform. Sanders described KFC’s reformulated gravy as tasting like “wallpaper paste” and “sludge.”

A colorful character who once was almost a victim in a shootout involving a competitor was officially commissioned as a colonel in Kentucky and became a sort of cult figure. There is even a Japanese twist called the “Curse of the Colonel” that began when his statue was mistakenly tossed into a river causing the Hansin Tigers baseball team to go into a prolonged tailspin.

When Sanders died at age 90 in 1980, his body lay in state at the Kentucky state capitol and more than 1,000 people attended his funeral. Of course, Sanders was buried wearing his trademark white suit and string tie.

Metaphorically Speaking, Showing and Thinking

 Metaphors, like this one about gay marriage, touch the familiar and trigger emotions that can persuade, explain or entertain. Some of the most powerful metaphors are visuals that elegantly make a point with few or no words.

Metaphors, like this one about gay marriage, touch the familiar and trigger emotions that can persuade, explain or entertain. Some of the most powerful metaphors are visuals that elegantly make a point with few or no words.

Getting noticed is getting harder. With a lot of money, you can pummel your audience with advertising, assuming they are still tuning in where the advertising is placed. Without a lot of money, the best course is to penetrate the brains of your intended audience wherever they are.

Metaphors are a proven path into people’s brains. By piggybacking onto something familiar and that you can sense, your message has a better chance to get noticed, triggering a memory and evoking an emotion. Neuroscientists have found that emotional responses are accompanied by physical reactions, which are key to actual decision-making.

Journalist and writer James Geary said in a TED Talk that “metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter six metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent. Metaphor is a way of thought before it is a way with words.”

Linguist Adele Goldberg says a familiar line such as “that was a sweet comment" can activate human taste centers and the portion of the brain linked to fear or pleasure. The phrase touches emotions and memory. More importantly, it sticks because our subconsciousness tends to be literal.

Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick point out the value of “concrete” references to create mental “stickiness.” Something is concrete, according to the Heath brothers, when it can be “described or detected by human senses.” One example – a V-8 engine is a concrete reference contrasted to a high-performance engine, which is more abstract.

Metaphors add concrete to what you say. Instead of noting a box of movie popcorn contains 20 grams of fat, you could more persuasively say the box contains more fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, Big Mac lunch and steak dinner combined. People know what fat is, but they can taste, see and smell bacon and eggs, a hamburger and a steak.

Writing for ragan.com, Nick Morgan said metaphors reach the senses with “sweet lines, loud opinions, beautiful phrases, soft poetry and smelly scenes.” Put another way, metaphors put abstract concepts into concrete – and more familiar and digestible – terms.

While we commonly think of metaphors as words, pictures and symbols are often more powerful metaphors. Icons are a great example. We see a light bulb icon and our minds associate it with a “bright idea” or “innovation.” Familiar shapes or visual devices serve as handy metaphors, such as faces of clocks, luggage tags and party invites. Their shape sends a message our minds receive.

Visual metaphors help propel the eye through visual explanations and infographics. Metaphors also can take the form of familiar formats like a flipchart or a website with easy-to-find navigation that enhance user experience and lessen frustration over finding what they want. Pattern recognition can be a key to people’s willingness to explore or engage.

And there is such a thing as an anti-metaphor, which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Writers refer to it as a “man-bites-dog” statement that startles a listener. Geary’s example: “Some jobs are jails.” The juxtaposition isn’t familiar, but the imagery is concrete and the meaning is clear.

Metaphors can help you get noticed, make your point and earn valuable media coverage. Hillary Clinton showed how in her speech this week taking aim at Donald Trump’s business record. “He's written a lot of books about business,” she said. “They all seem to end at Chapter 11."

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.