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What would you do if you needed to immediately understand the unique needs of one of your core consumer segments, yet the national pandemic prevents you from meeting them in person? How can online tools help to engage with and learn about this segment – and then allow your team to translate these learnings into actionable steps?

Our client, a maker of flavored alcoholic beverages, sought to learn more about one of their key consumer segments in order to address their needs and win more of their business. Initially, the client wanted to use in-person ethnographic research to glean the needed insights, as well as an in-person workshop to come up with creative solutions to activate against the findings. However, the Coronavirus pandemic necessitated the entire research program be rescoped and executed online.

Our research team utilized a digital ethnography that included a combination of an online discussion board, kitchen/home tours, mobile journals, and webcam interviews to enable our client to gain an in-depth understanding of their segment. After the research was complete, the C+R team facilitated a virtual activation session to help the client translate the key insights into action steps. Across four virtual work sessions, the client team generated over 100 ideas and converged on six key themes to better engage with, and win more of the wallet of, this important segment.

Problem

Our client, an alcohol beverage brand, wanted to better understand the unique characteristics of one of its core female segments and how these consumers differed from other segments. Specifically, they wanted to understand this segment’s shopping behaviors, decision process, and brand and communication perceptions when it came to flavored alcoholic beverages. The client then wanted to utilize these insights to ideate ways to better attract and serve this core segment. 

Initially, the client sought to gain this understand via in-person ethnography. The plan was to meet the target in their homes for an in-depth understanding at who they are and how they engage with the category. After shopping with them, we planned to invite a friend to join us back at their home to explore the social dynamics in consuming the product, and to sample it. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and in-person research was not feasible. 

The client couldn’t wait for travel and in-person research to be permissible to get the insights they needed. Instead, we pivoted to an entirely online methodology, and took advantage of the hybrid asynchronous-live discussion approach.

Result

This hybrid approach allowed us to increase our sample size and engage with more women during fieldwork. First, we conducted a digital ethnography. In the online hub/community, we had the target segment complete various activities and questions via multi-modal responses on their own time. We were able to see the insides of their homes and fridges via video journals, and we observed as they sampled the client’s product. To dig deeper into the target, we hand-picked the “superstars” from the online hub/community to participate in a live webcam interview. We were able to expand on our initial learnings during these in-depth conversations. 

Ultimately, the research agenda enabled the client team to build empathy for the targeted segment, as they better understood her unique needs and wishes for flavored alcoholic beverages. To build on this empathy, we facilitated a virtual activation session to help the client develop a clear plan forward to win more of this segment’s wallet.

The activation sessions generated over 100 ideas for how to translate the research insights into actionable steps. Additionally, we were able to converge on six key themes for the team to work against to better engage with the target segment. 

Solution

C+R developed a three-stage research program to help our client both gain an understanding of their consumer segment and then activate against the findings. All three stages took place online, ensuring the safety of both the consumers and the research team during the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, we designed an online immersive digital ethnography to allow our clients to get to know their segment in the comfort of the participants’ homes. We recruited 28 female consumers that represented the target segment to participate. They ranged in age from 21 to 49 and had different backgrounds, including marital status, presence of kids in household, income, and education level. Twenty of the consumers were past three-month purchasers of our client’s brand; the rest were competitive consumers. Over the course of a week, the participants posted to an online discussion board. They provided the client with glimpses of their lives via videos, photos, and answering various questions about how they use and shop for alcoholic beverages. We also captured usage of the product in the moment, to uncover their perceptions of our client’s beverage options across flavor varieties. 

In the second stage of the research, we selected eight of the best respondents from the online board and invited them to participate in sixty-minute, one-on-one webcam interviews. The interviews were housed in the same platform as the digital ethnographies, making it an efficient process. Through these interviews, we were able to delve deeper into each participants’ thoughts and feelings about things shared on the discussion board, as well as new topics relating to our client’s product. 

Finally, we led a series of virtual activation workshops to help the client translate the findings from the first two phases of the research into action steps. Due to the fact that it can be difficult to sustain attention for long periods of time online, we broke the activation sessions up into four smaller workshops (instead of a day-long session, as was initially planned pre-pandemic). This allowed our client team to remain refreshed and engaged as they worked through all of the insights from the research. In these sessions, we explored the key learnings from the qualitative research and ideated product, messaging, and merchandizing ideas. The workshops used an online meeting and whitespace platform to present creative activities designed to inspire out-of-the-box thinking. After being in a generative, divergent mindset in the first three workshops, we prioritized the output in the last workshop. This allowed the key stakeholders to align on the most valuable themes to pursue moving forward.
 

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