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Consumer insight research has  been around since before you were born.

In the seven decades since the middle of the 20th Century, at least ten CI research tools  and techniques have tried to explain consumer attitudes and behavior.

Here are the main types of CI research, and the approximate year of each one’s introduction.  (See also  Timeline at the Home menu)

You can click on the buttons for a definition, plus the pros and cons of each research tool.

Consumer Insight Down The Years

1940 - Opinion Polling

Opinion polls were designed to represent public opinion, fielding pre-set questionnaires and expressing results as percentages. Typically posed the same questions repeatedly, to track trends. Originally politics-focused.

Pros:

  • The original technique for "taking the public pulse"
  • Rapid data turnaround, especially via phone/internet
  • Tracks changes over time
  • Omnibus polling allows quick, easy access
  • The basic demographic numbers

Cons:

  • Questionnaires mainly narrow and "topical" in range
  • Prone to sample bias without representative sampling
  • Broad-brush results, little light and shade
  • Difficult to relate accurately to consumer behavior
1942 - Demographics &  Socio-Economics

Analysis of census and other demographic data, e.g. gender, age, marital status, education, socio-economic grouping etc. Sometimes used to identify key groups. Examples: "Baby-Boomers", "Gen-Xers", "Yuppies".

Pros:

  • The basic demographic numbers
  • Who, what, where when
  • A broad picture of attitude types
  • Media applications

Cons:

  • Risk of stereotyping, oversimplification
  • Who, what, where when… but no why
  • Hides wide differences within demographic groups
  • Static, hides key movements and trends
1946 - Consumer Confidence Surveys

Consumer confidence has been defined as the degree of public optimism on the state of the economy. Confidence is calculated and trended on the basis of a survey of consumers' current and future economic expectations.

Pros:

  • A constantly-monitored backdrop for business
  • Can be taken to indicate purchase intentions
  • Some predictive value for consumer behavior
  • To some extent comparable internationally

Cons:

  • Limited to measuring one society at a time
  • Largely for mass-marketing approaches
  • Relies on unchanging standard questions
  • Difficult to relate precisely to consumer behavior
1965 - Usage & Attitude Studies

Brand-focused research that typically monitors a brand’s performance on brand and advertising awareness, product trial and usage, and attitudes about the brand versus its competitors. May isolate heavy, medium, light users etc.

Pros:

  • Focus on brands and their competitors
  • Brand usage, attitude details
  • Market quantification and volumetrics
  • Tracks effects of ad campaigns

Cons:

  • Narrow, limited context
  • Snapshots only, difficult to see 'outside the box'
  • Self-referential, little relation to social trends
  • Mostly "usage" rather than "attitude"
1970 - Lifestyle-based Segmentation

Early consumer segmentation studies challenged the principles of mass-marketing, showing different "lifestyle" and "interest groups" with different product preferences. Examples: "Soccer Moms", "NASCAR Dads".

Pros:

  • Consumers divided into fixed segments
  • Group labels based on "behavior sets"
  • Identifies influential consumer groups -- for a while
  • Can shift to reflect changing lifestyles

Cons:

  • Segments not necessarily mutually exclusive
  • Segment criteria may depend on fallible observation
  • Anecdotal (behavior) rather than explanatory (attitude)
  • Lack of stability over time, structural obsolescence
1978 - Values-Based Segmentation

A by-product of multi-variate psychographic studies, this breakthrough technique from the 1970s segmented society into values-based groupings, with names like "Strivers", "Achievers", "Experiencers" and "Believers".

Pros:

  • Consumers divided into fixed segments
  • Clear, consistent group labels
  • Identifies key consumer groups
  • Country comparisons, changes over time

Cons:

  • Hidden differences within segments
  • Segments not necessarily mutually exclusive
  • Important "stray impulses" mostly undetectable
  • Leads to a proliferation of sub-segments
1982- Focus Groups

Qualitative research in which consumers are grouped and asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a brand or product. A "moderator" supervises the group, encouraging free discussion.

Pros:

  • Subtle, detailed qualitative insight
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • "What-if?" scenarios
  • Rich verbatim responses

Cons:

  • Qualitative only, no statistical relevance
  • No projectability (sample may not be representative)
  • Depends on moderator & group composition
  • Does a "yes" response really mean yes?
1985 - Geodemographic Segmentation

This segmentation technique postulates that consumers living in the same neighborhood (or type of housing stock) share consumption patterns. Techniques typically cross demographics with housing/postcode/zipcode databases.

Pros:

  • Good use of both geographic and demographic data
  • Generally agreed geographic and housing definitions
  • Can pinpoint consumer characteristics by ethnicity
  • Easy to action in marketing, direct marketing and sales

Cons:

  • Multiple, complex and confusing group definitions
  • People in the same housing area can differ widely
  • Short on explanation, limited projectability
  • Limitations in terms of real insight
1988 - Perceptual Mapping

A graphic technique for visually displaying consumer perceptions in visual space. Often simultaneously charts brands and their rivals in terms of consumer opinions, media affiliations and product preferences.

Pros:

  • Locates brands in "perceptual space"
  • Relates brands to named attitudes
  • Flexible "palette" of attitudes and other variables
  • Visual appeal based on "vector separation" technique

Cons:

  • Maps are only as good as the questions incorporated
  • Graphic instability, sometimes illogical clustering
  • "Apples-and-oranges" comparisons
  • Maps are hard to label, interpret and action
1995 - Customer Relationship Management

CRM is a tool for managing brands' interaction with customers / prospects, automating business processes. It has grown with the switch from analog to internet media, especially social media and online shopping.

Pros:

  • Contact, shopper-card and sales database exploitation
  • Behavior-set and purchase-pattern analysis
  • Lead-management systems
  • Taps into social network activities

Cons:

  • Vast amounts of disparate data to manage
  • Data is difficult to interpret and project
  • Problems for merging with other data types
  • Actually… WHAT "relationship"?