Markets are becoming ever more competitive, with new brands competing for a share of consumers’ hearts and minds. Building a relationship with consumers is a challenge facing all organisations, but particularly so in the case of ’emergent drinkers’ – those of legal drinking age up to 25. These consumers are highly experimental, and our only safe assumption is that their consumption habits will probably not follow on from those of preceding generations. In 1997 Allied Domecq Spirits and Wines (ADSW), www. allieddomecqplc. com, recognised the danger of being distanced from this crucial group, particularly across geographical markets.
They were not looking to understand a current user group per se, but rather to gain insight into the factors influencing brand adoption as these young drinkers mature. Working with Pegram Walters International (PWI), www. pegramwalters. com, a unique programme of research was created. The objectives went far beyond an exploration of the current usage and attitudes of these consumers towards spirits, but also encompassed an exploration of their personal values, their feelings about their lives, their universe, their hopes and dreams.
The project required a willingness to think beyond current market conditions and business objectives. The broad objectives of the research, covering an elusive respondent set, clearly required an approach that would be both informal and unconventional. It needed to venture beyond ‘traditional’ marketing research in order to maximise the quality of data. Moreover, because of the innovative nature of the project, it required a high level of openness, communication and trust between client and agency to ensure that the information was both usable and relevant.
In research terms there were two clear challenges: * Gathering information from this difficult-access consumer group * Integrating the information back into the organisation. Gaining access to the adult emergent drinker It was believed that to gain a real insight into the emergent drinker community, two realities would have to be taken into consideration: 1. Nobody can understand a community better than the community itself. 2. Information alone cannot provide valuable insight.
Insight can only be developed from the blending of community understanding with external analysis. Access to the community was provided via the development of the ‘information gatherers’ (IGs) concept. IGs would be representatives of the adult emergent drinker target group. They would participate in the research in order to interpret the dynamics of their own community for us. To accomplish this, adult emergent spirits drinkers were recruited, who were required to understand the objectives of the research project and to be able to communicate concepts.
In this way, they would not only provide feedback on their own needs and actions but, more importantly, they would also be able to gather and interpret information from their peer group. IGs would become effectively both respondents and researchers, with the ability to provide rich, value-added insight. It was felt that one of the key successes of this programme was a policy of maintaining honesty at all stages of the programme. By being completely open about the objectives with participants, by sharing the hopes and expectations with them, the IGs were empowered to have a stake in the project.
As a result, they felt as committed to gaining valuable insight as the client and research agency. However, the recruitment of IGs also required both the client and the research agency to step away from established comfort zones and let go of control – two key ingredients to any programme of innovation. Overall there were three stages to the research design in each market. In the first instance one-hour depth interviews were conducted. There were three clear objectives for this stage of research, to: 1. Understand personal viewpoints on marketing and lifestyle issues;
2. Clarify and/or narrow down topics for subsequent exploration at the workshop stage; 3. Recruit appropriate ‘information gatherers’ (IGs). Depth interviews were conducted to understand what was happening in respondents’ lives. They were invited to undertake ‘homework’ such as essays on their home lives, and to bring along items of personal importance to stimulate discussion. From this stage hypotheses were formulated on issues such as how they saw themselves and their future, relationships, self-discovery, and opting in or opting out of the system.
In each market, from 20 depth interviews, 10 respondents were retained as IGs to accompany the researchers through the rest of the programme. It was believed to be important to conduct the bulk of the research in the environment in which alcohol was consumed. Leading-edge bars were rented out where 50 adult emergent drinkers were invited to participate in workshops. From the time the participants entered the venue, the role of client and the research agency became purely observational, with the IGs leading the discussion throughout.
A task guideline was designed which empowered the IGs with an understanding of the research needs, and then they were left to do it. As an additional record, the workshops were video-recorded. Because of the way in which they had been recruited, the IGs felt a real responsibility to get the right information. The participants felt comfortable within their peer group and, in the more natural bar environment, fed back real, relevant and honest information. Moreover, both respondents and IGs respected the process, allowing them to ‘buy into’ the research.
On the night following the workshops, focus groups were reconvened with the IGs to discuss what actually happened, and their interpretation of what it actually meant. In this way, concentrated data were collected: what was observed, what consumers said, how it was reported back, and an initial understanding of what it all might actually mean. Communicating the findings with the client: Allied Domecq Spirits & Wines To infuse the exercise with knowledge, learning and a sense of adventure, ADSW business teams were invited to spend a day of discovery.
The day began by holding breakout sessions that included ADSW marketing and sales personnel, and their key agencies. The purpose was to gauge current assumptions about adult emergent drinkers, and where necessary to dispel some myths. They then ‘met’ the generation. It was felt that the best way to do this was to create fictional characters for the adult emergent drinker generation. These would enable ADSW marketing managers to visualise the consumers when developing new product development or communication strategies. The personalities created were brought to life using actors from the generation.
In France, for example, the clients were able to meet Matthias, Stephanie, Seb, Justine and Stan. These five characters symbolised the richness and diversity of the generation. They were not meant to represent a segmentation of the market – rather, they were intended to reflect a collage of adult emergent drinkers in order to help business managers enter into a relationship with this consumer group. Each of the characters engaged with the audience via dialogue, discussing for example their lifestyle, behaviours, in/outs, values, concerns and expectations for the future, as well as their current attitudes towards alcohol.
In addition, the audience was presented with workshop ‘souvenirs’, notebooks with pictures and ‘biographies’ of the character types where they could take notes during the presentation. The work groups were then reconvened to summarise learning. The effect was immediate: with the bar as a cue, business managers were able to step into a new world and easily meet and interact with their consumers. Moreover, their ‘consumers’ were eager to explain what was and wasn’t important to them. This multi-media/multi-layered presentation of findings allowed information to be assimilated both visually, audibly and kinaesthetically.
In order to ensure that the information remained topical, useful and easily accessible, it was felt important to create a vehicle for on-going communication and dialogue with the audience. To achieve this, a high impact ‘magazine’ was created to bring the research to life after the presentation. This is referred to as a magazine and not a research report, to reflect the lifestyle of the consumer group in question: it contained images, layouts and fonts typically associated with the generation.
This magazine, together with the videos containing live footage of the actors and the workshop, was distributed throughout Allied Domecq Spirits ; Wines. On-going innovation This research was considered to be an important exercise in terms of combining creativity of process and reportage with real business needs. It is often stated that researchers need to ‘get into consumers’ minds’, and to use creative/projective techniques to really understand what consumers are thinking.
However, researchers often fall short in that it is frequently forgotten to devote the same amount of time to understanding and to the context of a clients’ businesses. Such was the success of the research format that the research agency developed CommunityInsight, an information gathering process that aims to access primary target groups. CommunityInsight is based on the same two very simple premises: 1. Nobody can understand a community better than the community itself. 2. Information alone cannot provide valuable insight, which can only be developed from the blending of community understanding with external analysis.