Keep an Outward Focus

…while peering ahead through the horizontal vacancy between the main-top-sail and top-gallant-sail, he raised a gull-like cry in the air. "There she blows!--there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!" - "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville

Qualitative Research

Throughout history, we have looked toward the horizon to see what is before us as we chart our way through the seas. We are trying to find the smoothest course or, at the very least, we are trying to avoid the hidden reefs. In business, we are now too often apt (or forced) to constantly look inward within our “ships” (or companies or organizations) and focus on the here and now, rather than what may be a ways off, out on the horizon. It is not that these internally focused efforts are unnecessary, but it is critical that our organizations are also continuing to keep an eye looking outward in order to keep watch for paths forward, small areas of turbulence, or for gale-force storms.

Customer perceptions and behaviors can not only provide insights into the here and now, they can also be a key bellwether for monitoring the horizon. In essence, your customers can be a gauge for what your organization, brand, or product may (or will) encounter as you move forward on your journey. When we look to gauge the horizon through the customer lens, there are three areas that, when viewed alone or together in relationship to each other, can help to identify warnings (or areas of opportunity) on the horizon.

Customer Horizon

  • Consumer Needs—What are the underlying values and payoffs for each consumer? In essence, what is relevant and important to the consumer? What are the new trends we see?
  • Brand and Product Perceptions—What does the brand or product stand for in the mind of the consumer? How does the product “connect” to the consumer? Are there better options, either within or outside the current category?
  • Occasions and Situations of Use and/or Purchase—Consumer decision-making doesn’t happen in a vacuum; what is the context that usage and purchase happen in?

We recently tapped into a panel of consumers to get a glimpse of what they see in the future, focusing on the purchasing of general goods and products. Overall, these consumers expected future products and shopping experiences to be individualized, automated, and often delivered to them. Some of their specific thoughts that may be of interest include:

  • An emphasis on reordering.
    • Smart homes—automatic reordering from appliances and shelves when levels are low.
    • Scanning techniques that help to place orders.
    • Voice-controlled reordering.
  • Omnichannel interactions.
    • Shopping trips that are often for touching, feeling, or trying—but not for purchasing.
    • Electronic access to product information and ordering from anywhere and everywhere.
    • Drone delivery or pickup and delivery by robots.
  • Shifting Retail Experience.
    • Shopping trips are for entertainment, the experience, or just to get out of the house.
    • Fewer items will be purchased in-store; bulk food items will be purchased online, however, consumers will still want fresh milk, meat, and produce to be available locally.
    • Low-income consumers may not have credit cards and/or reliable internet access and still will be purchasing in-store.

For some companies, these "horizon" type insights may be opportunities, for others they may represent gale-force storms—but regardless of how they are perceived, it is important to know they are there. In closing, a customer-centric approach and keeping your finger on the pulse of the consumer, will help companies understand and identify not only those current (more immediate) issues, but issues or opportunities that may be there in the future.

“The gale that now hammers at us to stave us, we can turn it into a fair wind that will drive us towards home. Yonder, to windward, all is blackness of doom; but to leeward, homeward- I see it lightens up there; but not with the lightning.” - "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville


Clay Dethloff

Clay Dethloff

Senior VP, Insights and Innovation

Clay is an experienced marketing research professional with more than 25 years of experience in both leading and delivering qualitative research in the industry. As the head of qualitative research efforts at Decision Analyst, Clay is responsible for maintaining and improving the quality of qualitative research, identifying new/innovative qualitative research tools, and overall management of the qualitative team.

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