What Do Consumers REALLY Want? And How Can Marketers Find Out?

What consumers say they do is usually very different from what they actually do, writes brand management expert, Anne Ricci, Founder & Director of via Marca. So how can we leverage this contradiction to uncover new needs or latent problems consumer may not even know they have?

Are you struggling to develop breakthrough ideas with your current consumer insights and innovation processes?

Does each research study keep delivering the same insights that result in products you can’t commercialise, aren’t worth the effort or even worse launch but don’t stick?

Are you stuck with a creative brief that can’t be cracked because the insight isn’t inspiring or specific enough to generate ideas that will cut-through and engage?

Unfortunately, all the low-hanging, easily identifiable fruit was picked years ago, and marketers now need to find new, unique insights to be able to deliver breakthrough innovation and communication. Today, it about finding those latent, unmet needs or problems. Sometimes problems consumers themselves don’t even know they have. Problems they may have found their own “workarounds” for. Like the house-key-tied-to- the-sneaker workaround before active wear brands launched the “key pocket” solution.

Having spent many years working in snacking, I have heard many a research report tell me that consumers want a snack that is healthy for them but also tastes great. This insight comes up time and time again. I can’t count how many times that I personally, my peers or my competitors have tried to launch a product leveraging this insight…..and failed.

Why does it fail? Because this shallow insight has not fully articulated the consumers real problem. Consumers may say they want this silver bullet of a snack but multiple launch failures have shown that they are not actually willing to trade off taste for health. It is almost impossible to create a snack that completely meets consumer’s expectations of good health & great taste in one. By trying to do both, you are often diluting the offer and not meeting either need well enough for consumers to take this product into their lives forever. They may try the snack in a desperate hope that it delivers, but it rarely does…hence the infamous launch curve or reverse hockey stick.

So how can we move on from these common insights and find deeper, richer ones that properly articulate the problem to be solved and will result in breakthrough ideas that connect and stick?

Sure we can go into some research groups and talk to consumers at length, but are you going to get the same answers you always do? Firstly, consumers can often only articulate something to a certain depth of insight, particularly when they are in a room with strangers knowing people behind a glass wall are watching them. Even 1:1 you may not get right to the heart of the problem.

Secondly, what consumers say and what consumers do are usually two very different things. Consumers will often tell you what they think you want to hear or what they themselves would actually like to believe they are doing, when in reality they aren’t. Who has been to the doctor and when asked how many drinks they have a day, they don’t often tell the whole truth…in fear of being judged or even worse……being told to cut back!

I have sat in consumers home many times listening to them tell me how healthy they are and that they don’t buy unhealthy snacks for their family, only to be confronted with a pantry full of the evil sins when I ask to view what’s behind the doors.

Unique insights lead to unique strategy and breakthrough thinking

Those of you who have sat in my workshops before would have heard me say this many times. I am a firm believer that success comes directly from the insight on which you build your plans and an inability to crack a creative brief or develop innovation that lasts, usually stems directly from a poor or shallow insight.

Moreover, I believe the key to finding new insights is observing consumers behaviour and stepping entirely into their world. Not only will you be able to uncover the real problems your consumers have, but you will likely discover new problems consumers don’t even know they have….or have found a workaround for.

We must move beyond surface level insights to ones which are more profound

Let’s use one of my favourite examples to demonstrate. Halo Top is one of those rare brands which has succeeded in building scale and longevity in the “healthy snack that tastes great” space. But the brand didn’t succeed by leveraging the common, surface level insight. The brand dug deeper and uncovered a much more specific problem that consumers were experiencing in their category.

The sharper insight came from observing the typical behaviour of eating premium indulgent ice cream straight from the tub and…….the guilt that sets in when you hit the bottom of that tub. By making it clear how few calories were in each tub of Halo Top the brand solved this deeper, more specific consumer problem by making consumers feel absolutely fine about eating a whole tub Halo Top.

So, if you are struggling to crack a creative brief or finding new, innovative ideas that excite your organisation, go back and take a look at your guiding insights. Have you dug deep enough? Have you really got to the root cause of your consumer problem? Have you refined your insights to be sharp, specific and motivating? If not, go back to your consumers, talk to them but more importantly observe them or step into their shoes for a day. You’ll be surprised with what you uncover beyond the words that come out of their mouth.

Want to learn how to dig deeper to uncover these game-changing insights?

Come and register for the AMI Strategic Brand Management program – a series of 5 masterclasses covering Insight Development, Brand Positioning, Strategic Brand Planning, Communications & Innovation over a period of 5 months.  We have taken the foundation brand management competencies and reimagined them for the future.

Masterclass 1 will teach you the tools to uncover and articulate these deeper insights.  Then over the course of three weeks, we will guide you as you apply these tools to your business.  This module is the foundation of the rest of the course as you will spend modules 2 -5 converting these insights into distinctive brand positionings, actionable brand plans and powerful communication briefs or innovation funnels.

Click here to register for

AMI’s Strategic Brand Management Program


About the author

Anne Ricci, Founder of via Marca Brand Strategy & Capability

Anne Ricci is a Marketing Capability Specialist, passionate brand advocate &  Founder of via Marca Brand Strategy & Capability.  Her mission is to help businesses build brands that matter & marketing teams that thrive.

With a corporate career spanning almost 20 years, Anne worked on some of Australia’s most loved brands, building a strong track record of delivering business results, positioning brands for success and leading marketing capability programs, both locally and globally.


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