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But I’m realizing as I’m meeting the buyers and decision-makers for our categories that the empathy channel has opened in another direction: from them to me. I am learning so much about what keeps them up at night, their cycles and processes to managing change, and their stuck points. I’m humbled, to be honest. I’ve spent so much time in my CPG insights and analytics career drilling “empathy for the consumer” into everyone around me but I have not been as passionate about “empathy for our partners” and “empathy for other functions within the company.” I’ve spent dozens of hours in consumer interviews across multiple countries to bring back stories to help “know the consumer,” but perhaps I haven’t been nearly as curious about what matters to our sales teams, distributors, or gatekeepers.

I think we as market researchers need to cast our empathy nets a bit wider. Everything we are doing right now to explore big data, merge it with small data, and leverage behavioral sciences and neuropsychology to uncover what makes people tick, click, and engage is invaluable. Our passion for understanding people is unparalleled when we are applying it to people who we want to buy our brands. We can take that level of passion for understanding people and extend it beyond consumers to include our sales teams, retailers, and other business partners.

I propose that we do this by opening the channels of communication much earlier and include a broader set of voices in our discussions on consumer questions and research. Because we often have limited ourselves to defining and solving a problem only within the walls of our headquarters’ building, we might be missing a few things. While I’m not proposing that everybody gets to play researcher or data scientist and define the research or analysis plans, I am suggesting that we lean on the knowledge and observations of people outside our usual insights and marketing bubbles. Here are some suggestions to do this:

  • Before starting a new project, gather the related burning questions your external partners have. Don’t build a research plan without understanding what retailers care about also.
  • Give a sneak peek of the research plan to one (or a few) of your key retailers to get their feedback and gauge their interest.
  • When doing qual work, invite more cross-functional (or even external) partners to observe. Attending one in-home interview or seeing one consumer video can open their eyes and build a greater partnership.
  • When discussing timelines for in-market testing or new item launches, give Sales a seat at the table. They know when it is best to drive those conversations with retailers based on planning cycles and retailer-led initiatives.
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The result of greater collaboration and inclusion on innovation and other insights-driven projects will not solely be that we have greater empathy for our business partners. Of course, we want to gain that, but moreover, these projects will be more actionable and impactful. If we have heard the voices of our partners and responded to them, we will co-create better solutions for our consumers as well. It’s a virtuous cycle of empathy.

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