How Brands Can Understand Consumer Preferences in the New Normal

Now that everyone has endured several weeks of life under COVID-19, we’re getting a clearer picture of how consumer preferences and behaviors are changing under the new normal. Many of these behavioral changes make intuitive sense, but not all of them are predictable. It makes sense that Netflix saw its biggest quarterly rise in subscribers from January to March, but who could have predicted the popularity of the quirky Netflix show Tiger King? It makes sense that people are buying groceries online, but why have so many people tried to find toilet paper online and offline?

These questions are on brand’sminds as businesses try to figure out where consumers are going to act and behave going forward. The stakes are high, and as the digital world becomes more crowded, brands are going to have only small micro-moments to win over a consumer. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the pandemic is causing peak distraction right now as people juggle personal and professional responsibilities in the same space.

Shorter attention spans mean that people expect information to be as accessible as possible in the quickest possible time. Earlier this year, Euromonitor cited this as the “catch me in seconds” trend and called for businesses to offer more personalized content in easily digestible messages. The pandemic has deepened consumers’ distraction because they are overwhelmed by fast-changing information, and the lines between work, rest, play and exercise have blurred at home.

Ironically, one way to understand what consumers want from you is to capture their wants and needs in those micro-moments, before they are even able to express them.  In recent years, behavioral scientists, marketers, and many others have been studying how to best understand consumers’true wants and needs by sensing the emotional and physical signals that people send before they form judgments and take action.

For example, in 2005, Malcolm Gladwell published the best-selling Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. The book explored the power of first impressions to form remarkably accurate and useful conclusions. He argued that intuition is not a mystery – it’s an application of accumulated experiences and insights that make it possible for people to make useful decisions based on gut feel. The book was controversial because Gladwell espoused the notion that tracking first impressions had tremendous value to people in fields such as advertising. Market researchers mistook his views as an attack on focus groups and other forms of research.

But his ideas, although condensed into pop psychology, were not terribly unusual. For instance, academics such as David L. Forbes were decoding motivations for decision making to understand the science of why. He was fascinated with the ways people form connections with brands, including the powerful emotional impressions that are triggered within seconds. Ultimately his research influenced the creation of an Isobar tool called MindSight, which we use today in order to study how emotion drives behavior.

With MindSight, our market intelligence team uses a person’s visceral responses to a series of images to identify emotionally-based motivations that influence someone’s impressions and decision making processes. We call this process “rapid response” image selection, which creates direct access to the emotional experience, before someone can edit the response with rational thought.

The images used aren’t just a random assortment. They have been carefully curated and validated so that we know exactly what they mean. This output is then brought to life with a word exercise to truly expose the nuances of a person’s particular situation.

We dig deeper by mapping the results against our own “periodic table” of human motivations.  This proprietary model maps out emotional responses against several possible deeper, hidden, motivations behind our actions, ranging from the desire to belong to the need for security. As a result, we pinpoint the path a brand needs to make in order to connect not only with emotions but the underlying motives that drive behavioral change.

We uncover the wants and needs that people won’t or cannot express. We identify the positive emotions that might pull consumers toward a category and brand — and the negatives that might push them away. By targeting these aspirations and frustrations, MindSight provides critical insights for marketing to emotional end benefits.

MindSight solves for some limitations in traditional research. Simply asking people what they want provides an incomplete picture. People are not always willing to tell a business what they want, and they may not even be aware of them. Watching people (ethnographic research) can be extremely useful, but doing so is not always easy, and a business willonly get a picture of behaviors after people have formed judgments.

MindSight is a digital process that can be done remotely, too. We believe tools such as MindSight will become increasingly important at a time when brands are trying to forge closer emotional connections though digital-first world.  We’re already achieving results for a number of businesses. For example:

  • We helped a retailer flag a hitch in a campaign rollout: its audience was responding negatively to a series of ads. Using MindSight, we identified the problem, which consisted of the use of colors that were turning off the company’s audience.
  • For a maker of furniture polish, we applied MindSight to discover the motivations underlying both frequent use of polish and the willingness to buy a premium brand. We uncovered an unstated emotional need: people wanted to go beyond cleaning their most valuable furniture; they wanted to condition and protect it, too. From there, we helped the client develop branding that would convince its audience to buy its product based on the consumer’s driving emotion.

Now, more than ever, businesses need to quickly assess and launch products that will resonate with people at an emotional level. By connecting with people emotionally, brands form tribal loyalty. The good news is that it no longer requires a business months and years of expensive research. With a tool such as MindSight, a business can quickly test and learn new ideas and products in a digital format. By understanding the emotional needs that drive behavior, businesses can be ready with the right product at the right time.