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Observation: A Cost-Effective Method to Uncover Consumer Insights

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend ANA’s Master of Marketing annual conference and was inspired by the presentations delivered by the CMOs of legendary brands, Hilton Hotels and Crayola. Both executives focused their sessions on case studies showcasing how their brands created and executed insight-driven marketing campaigns to fuel growth strategies.

Mark Weinstein, CMO of Hilton Hotels, presented an overview of the one-year-old, post-COVID work to develop a marketing platform: It Matters Where You Stay and translating that platform into a marketing campaign: “Hilton. For the Stay.” The team observed that travel marketing had become “a sea of sameness,” focused exclusively on the destination, losing sight of a consumer insight that the hotel night’s stay is a pivotal experience determining the satisfaction of travel. The campaign was creatively executed focusing on the hotel experience – “the stay” – across multiple channels, aligned to the core insight, in an on-brand, credible, and ownable fashion to regain share lost during the pandemic.

Victoria Lozano, Executive Vice President of Marketing at Crayola, presented a case study on how Crayola created an experience campaign to fuel growth. The team created “Crayola Education Week” with a core insight that there are barriers to being creative and being creative needs to be taught. The brand combined this consumer insight to reframe its marketing strategy and identify new ways to draw consumers into a purpose-driven marketing campaign, focused on helping children reach their full potential. The campaign targeted educators, helping teachers teach creativity, and reached a previously untapped market, while connecting with children and their parents.

As a marketer, I appreciate the power of these insights-driven campaigns, but also cognizant of the expense pressures focused on marketing tactics not directly attributable to revenue, which includes the market research line item. This post explores how the art of keen observation can cost effectively provide unparalleled insights, foster innovation, and efficiently give marketing teams insights into key customer interactions during sales process.

Observation often requires fewer resources than primary marketing research tactics, including immersive ethnographic research, traditional surveys, and focus groups. Observing customers’ visual and verbal interactions can cost-effectively gather valuable insights.

This efficiency can be beneficial in expense-sensitive organizations, as well as for smaller businesses with limited research budgets and for B2B products, where recruiting research subjects from a professional environment may require higher compensation.

Validating Quantitative Testing with Qualitative Consumer Observations

By observing consumers throughout the path to purchase, marketing teams can gain real-time insights into behaviors, preferences, and pain points consumers experience throughout the buyer journey. These observations can inform marketing plans, and for higher-stake initiatives where statistical significance is a must, these observations can provide additional validation during the development of quantitative research hypothesis. By starting with observed consumer insights, teams can be more assured they are testing actual consumer insights, as opposed to theories, during more expensive quant testing.

Observing Digital Friction, First-Hand The research method of task-based usability testing can help uncover friction that consumers experience with digital experiences. This tactic allows researchers to observe test participants using web and mobile platforms to accomplish a series of tasks, such as navigating a web site or completing the checkout process. These observations allow research teams to identify shopping and conversion pain points that web analytics may not directly expose. Also, consumers may not be able to articulate specific challenges with digital experiences through traditional market research tactics of surveys or interviews. Observation in a usability setting can be effective with a low number of test participants. Branded as “discount usability testing,” a testing protocol with only 5 test participants can uncover 85% of usability issues, making this a cost-effective tactic. (Source:

Using Two Senses to Uncover Insights Listening to customer service calls is another low-cost tactic to uncover insights during the path to purchase. Also, traditional in-depth interviews with scripted conversation starters can uncover journey insights and can be conducted with recruiting both customers and prospects. However, this tactic is best executed by a trained facilitator and requires a research budget. While both methods allow researchers to hear issues first-hand, these tactics aren’t without limitations. Words may not tell the whole story. Physical observation captures non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures, and can provide deeper insights into understanding of consumer sentiments. Informing Other Business Disciplines In addition to gaining insights to inspire marketing campaigns, observation sessions can provide learnings to be used across the enterprise, including with marketing’s sister teams - product management and sales. By closely observing how consumers use existing products, product teams can fine-tune their roadmaps, ensuring that new products and features align with actual user needs and expectations. Also, observing how consumers interact with physical product placements and displays can help sales teams optimize their merchandising, enhancing the overall shopping experience and boosting sales. The benefits of observation as a market research tactic are diverse and impactful. Embracing this method empowers marketing to efficiently understand the customer, be their advocate as the voice of the customer, and reflect those insights back in high-performing, insights-driven marketing.


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