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Brand Tracking Leaving You Flat? Try Brand Building!

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Brand Tracking Leaving Your Flan?

Brand tracking is a common practice across a lot of different businesses, particularly consumer-facing businesses. It’s one of the ways executives measure performance, providing statistics for their management team, board, and investors. Brand tracking usually reports on the current status of your company by analyzing past performance. If you want to know how you did last year, for example, brand tracking is ideal. But it typically doesn’t explain why you performed that way, or how to improve.

Brand Building is Insight Strategy Group's approach, and many of our clients prefer it. With Brand Building, we measure where our clients have been, and also indicators that suggest future performance and drive growth. It's a forward-thinking, 360° view, rather than the window to the past that is brand tracking.

More than a report card on traditional marketing and business metrics, Brand Building uncovers the relationship you have with your customers. It also explains that relationship. How does that relationship help contextualize your performance? What levers can you pull to strengthen your brand? Because Brand Building relies on metrics that tend to be predictive of future success, it gives you a direction or a recommendation for what you can do now to grow in the coming months and years.

More than a report card on traditional marketing and business metrics, Brand Building uncovers the relationship you have with your customers.

Say you run a grocery chain. You already have certain business performance indicators you’re looking at, like weekly sales and store traffic. You may also have information about name recognition, market penetration, and shopper behavior—both for your chain and your competitors.

These are all things that a brand tracker tells you. But Brand Building goes further—discerning details about customer experience and customers' emotional attitude toward your stores. Brand Building's advanced analytics mesh the tangible with the intangible, providing revelatory data that predicts the future of your brand.

Brand Building's advanced analytics mesh the tangible with the intangible, providing revelatory data that predicts the future of your brand.

You might find out—based on analysis that synthesizes survey responses, in-store observations, and sales data—that your target market increasingly values short check-out lines over all other factors. Or that they spend more money at stores with the most attractive produce selection, or the largest beer selection. Brand Building combines signals from multiple data sources, giving you the confidence to build more registers, or stock more Hefeweizen.

Because you’ve looked into the details that go beyond brand tracking, you can land on a data-driven strategy that builds success in a competitive context. And Brand Building, the most evolved approach there is, got you there.

Today’s Consumers Want To Unplug, And Want You To Help Them Do It Online (Really)

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Today's Consumers Want To Unplug, And Want You To Help Them Do It Online (Really)

As technology encroaches on our lives and as our smartphones start to feel like an extra appendage, more and more people say they are looking to "unplug"—to relieve that twitchy phone finger from the burden of non-stop engagement with the online world.

The challenge for brands in this atmosphere, it seems, is to get their audiences to engage online without appearing to add to the digital muck. But our research has shown that consumers who say they want to unplug don’t necessarily want brands to get them to turn off their phones. What they want is for brands to create an experience that makes them feel like they’re unplugging. And there are ways to do this without being disingenuous or deceptive.

Here are four ways brands can help consumers have more authentic social interactions online.

1) Concentrate on One Experience

Brands that try to accentuate one experience will probably have more luck getting users to engage online. Honing in on one digital experience makes users feel as though they are, at least for the most part, tuning out technology while still engaging with it.

Honing in on one digital experience makes users feel as though they are tuning out technology while still engaging with it.

The Light Phone is a credit card-sized phone that its designers say "is designed to be used as little as possible," but still keeps users connected. GoPro cameras and drones help users maximize their outdoor experiences through technology.

2) Create an Aspirational Atmosphere

Speaking of outdoor experiences, one of the best and most authentic ways to get consumers to engage on social media and other technologies is to project the lifestyle consumers aspire to, and invite them to contribute to the image-building. The #vanlife movement, which blossomed primarily on Instagram, is a perfect example of this. Users share their tranquil experiences of natural bliss on the road, but they do it on Instagram rather than in a diary. If you can get users to feel as though they are depicting, online, the lives they aspire to, then you’re on the right track.

3) Tap Into Nostalgia

The Netflix series Stranger Things was immensely popular in part because it tapped into a deep, widespread sense of nostalgia for simpler, pre-Internet times: the 1980s. This sense of nostalgia carries across generations—it's felt by Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The irony of this nostalgia is that even a show that taps into a deep yearning for a time before smartphones still requires engagement with technology. Stranger Things fans watched the show via a streaming service, on devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, or big screen TVs. Still, if you can tap into nostalgia, consumers don't care about those contradictions.

4) Unplug Now, Share Later

Some destinations force you to unplug in the moment and share your experience later. Long wilderness hikes take you out of range, so you have to curate and share your photos once you're back to civilization. Increasingly, organizers of social gatherings are trying to replicate this experience. At weddings, couples ask guests to pocket their phones and be more “present,” to create a more authentic experience. Online engagement still happens, it just happens later, when the couple posts their official photos to Facebook and Instagram. If brands could tap into this desire to disengage from technology in the moment, while encouraging consumers to get involved later, it could go a long way in how they present themselves as authentic to their audiences.

Project the lifestyle consumers aspire to, and invite them to contribute to the image-building.

Strava, a smartphone and smartwatch app, tracks runners and bikers as they exercise. After they've finished exercising, Strava users can share their route, time, and speed with followers, who can congratulate them with "kudos." The app tracks run and bike segments in a leaderboard, so, when a session is over, users can see how they compared to athletes in their area. And it does all this without interrupting the run or ride itself.

A Challenge for Marketers Everywhere

To get consumers to believe that you want them to unplug—which you do—you have to be in it together. Speaking directly to their frustrations about their desire to untether themselves from their smartphones will allow people to have authentic social interactions while, at the same time, also engaging on social media.

Research Questions:

What single experience/need could consumers see your brand fulfilling?

What unplugged experience does your target consumer aspire to?

What is your target consumer nostalgic about, and how could your brand fit in?

What are the best ways for your brand to help consumers unplug now and share later?

It’s Time To Rethink How You Do Segmentation Research

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It's time to rethink how you do segmentation research

Segmentation is the practice of dividing a large group of people into sub-groups that share characteristics. A group of Millennial men, for example, might be broken down into "Busy Dads" or "Striving Singles." Whether it's the hokey persona names or debate about whether dividing consumers into distinct categories actually works, segmentation studies have their skeptics.

In the coming years, that skepticism will diminish. We've never had more data about consumers, and we've never had more powerful ways to analyze them. We're about to enter a golden age of segmentation.

Melding New Tactics With Old

Demographic segmentation will always have a place, since it makes sense for some businesses to target their offerings by age, gender, or region. That said, the increasing amount of compelling data available on consumers, in conjunction with improved research techniques, allows sophisticated researchers and marketers to go well beyond basic demographics. Researchers who model their customers' perceptions and behavior more accurately will:

  • Stay ahead of trends
  • Validate new target audiences
  • Anticipate customer needs before they happen

  • Give a face to a target audience—bringing them to life beyond demographic stats

We're proud to use these emerging techniques that help our clients stay ahead of the competition.

Data Fusion

Customer data is valuable, but doesn't tell a complete story. It doesn't tell you anything concrete about people who aren't yet customers, and it may be thin on your audience's unanticipated needs. Often, companies have more than one customer or user database. Which one to use?

To remedy these challenges, we do original research on a company's customer base, then fuse it with their existing databases and applicable secondary sources.

Secondary sources answer questions that a customer database can't.

Secondary sources answer questions that a customer database can't. Have they done recent home repairs? A survey a customer filled out five years ago won't say. Do they have cats or dogs? An appliance company is unlikely to have asked. What do they value? Customer questionnaires rarely achieve such a deep level of understanding.

By combining primary research, existing data, and reliable outside data we're able to develop a deeper understanding of an audience. This understanding goes well beyond demographics and can drive a more nuanced, more successful strategy.

Micro-segmentation

Thanks to Internet browsing data and social media advertising, companies can now target customers in ever-smaller numbers. These micro-segments can be incredibly profitable—if you know what they are.

We define micro-segments as sub-groups within a larger traditional segment, defined by niche behaviors or interests. While there is a near limitless range of criteria to create a micro-segment, we suggest identifying micro-segments that have directly actionable marketing implications. For example, a marketer may generally target young music fans. Micro-segmenting could allow that marketer to advertise a new vinyl record release to vinyl enthusiasts from one of their favorite bands, while advertising that same record in digital or streaming formats to that band’s other fans.

Micro-segments can be incredibly profitable—if you know what they are.

Often we find that the same person belongs to more than one micro-segment. Smart marketers can use this information to deliver near-personalized messages to their target consumers—employing machine-learning and artificial intelligence to help.

The Glorious Future of Segmentation

As data collection increases alongside processing power, segmentation will only get better. We envision a world where, consistently:

  • TV executives drive social media buzz with a guest appearance from an actor beloved by an influential micro-segment
  • Product managers anticipate features based on the changing Internet browsing behavior of their target market
  • Fashion brands identify and successfully target potential consumers by matching their social media behaviors with those of existing customers

The era of mass marketing is coming to an end. From media to fashion, brands are finding success by starting small, making a strong connection with consumer needs, and riding a wave of deep engagement. Increasingly, companies will vie for supremacy within smaller and smaller customer niches. Advanced segmentation techniques will help them stay ahead of the competition.

What Millennials’ Passion For Soft Disruption Means For Brands

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What Millennials' Passion For Soft Disruption Means For Brands

The standard rap against Millennials is that they’re distracted, have short attention spans, can’t let a minute go by without looking at their phones. But what seems like distraction is actually deep engagement. Millennials are basically beta testing the products of the world, even if they haven’t been asked to. Nothing is ever finished or perfect in their eyes, and they won’t take a passive stance knowing that’s the case.

Millennials aren’t out to blow up the status quo; they just want to make things better—call it soft disruption. Whether that means making things fairer, more convenient, or more transparent depends on the situation.

Repeated conversations about Millennials’ needs for customization speaks to the soft disruptive sensibilities of this generation. Here are the three best ways for brands to engage with Millennials.

1) Solicit Input

Millennials are influenced by the technological landscape they inhabit. It's a hackable and malleable landscape that a generation weaned on a continuous stream of new technology loves shaping.

Many of today's most successful innovations rise from the people, through open data, hackathons, and unsolicited ideas. In the old model, companies created products. If consumers wanted specific improvements, companies might find out about them through customer feedback—or customer returns. But there’s a way to prevent that last step from happening, which saves everyone time and money.

Brands, it turns out, can learn a lot from the people who are or could be using their products. Rather than imposing a product on consumers, companies would do well to ask customers directly what they want. For example, Glossier started as a fashion blog, then expanded to include product sales by asking their readers what they wanted in a face wash. Then they developed the new product, already knowing that consumers would like it before it hit the shelves. Now, more than 100 top customers are on a Slack channel, leaving feedback that helps the company's product team innovate faster.

The companies who understand how Millennials think aren't just accepting customer feedback—they're asking for it.

New developments in tech plus opportunities for engagement give Millennials the space to shape products their way. And the companies who understand how Millennials think aren't just accepting customer feedback—they're asking for it.

2) Permit Experimentation

Like generations before them, Millennials face societal hurdles. Rather than withdrawing out of a sense of disenchantment, they’re motivated. Since everything is falling apart, they might as well follow their instincts and experiment. When Millennials aren’t pleased with the way something is working, the question they pose is, “How can I change this?” They don’t shy away from attacking a problem.

Millennials use the technologies and tools that are around them to innovate, molding the world to their liking. Out of a kind of existential fear of what the future may bring, Millennials feel that the time is now to put their imprint on it.

Twitter's rise is emblematic of this instinct. "At first, Twitter was more about telling your friends what you were doing right now," says media critic and journalist Jeff Jarvis in Fast Company's oral history of Twitter's early years. But, then, Twitter was "avidly embraced by young adults," as a 2009 Pew Research Center Report put it. Nearly one in five Millennials had used Twitter by 2008, the platform's third year of existence, but only 10% of those aged 35-44, and only 5% of 45-54 year olds. According to Pew researchers early in Twitter's existence, "Users have themselves expanded the information carried in a Twitter message through the development of tweet shorthand and symbols that allow for the sharing, replicating, and searching of tweets."

The Twitter we see today wasn't hatched by the brilliant minds of the platform's Gen X founders. Twitter's Millennial users invented it.

The Twitter we see today wasn't hatched by the brilliant minds of the platform's Gen X founders. Twitter's Millennial users invented it. And it has now spread to other generations. "My son had to push me to Twitter, I will confess," says Jarvis, a member of the Baby Boomer generation. (Donald Trump, another Baby Boomer, sent his first Tweet in May 2009.)

Does your brand give customers the opportunity to experiment with their own usage for your offerings?

3) Give Them Choices

Millennials have grown up in a world of choice. Generation X grew up reading the morning paper, while Millennials chose from infinite web sites. Generation X chose between Ragu and Prego. Millennials can choose between Ragu's roasted garlic or Prego's creamy vodka. Critics like to say Millennials have been coddled by the conveniences of the era, but this is simply their reality. For better or worse, Millennials expect lots of options.

Many Millennials are motivated by the number of options they have. Because they've always lived in a world partially tailored for them, Millennials are driven to pursue an aspirational lifestyle, with nuanced products customized to their every need.

Delivering a product that goes beyond "one-size-fits-all" is how you'll win with Millennials.

What's Next For Companies?

If marketers are saying you need flashy ads to break through to distracted Millennials, you're getting bad advice. Instead, satisfy their desire to provide input, to experiment, and to make choices.

The big question:

Where does your product fit in the world that Millennials are creating?

How Today’s Kids Will Shape The Future Of TV

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how today's kids will shape the future of tv

The TV that today’s kids will watch when they're older will be deeply shaped by the way they watch TV now. Factors like evolving technologies, socially-relevant programming, and the ever-expanding Internet will all play a part in how TV adapts to suit the needs of a future generation. And since most kids are already device-agnostic—looking for TV anywhere they can find it—content is the future focus of the medium, not individual devices.

The main thing to keep in mind? TV in the 2020s may not even look like TV as we know it.

Here are four ways kids’ viewing habits and expectations are set to shape the future of TV, based on Insight Strategy Group’s unique understanding of the past, present, and future media environment.

Participation

Kids today expect to participate with TV in a way their parents didn’t—and don’t. YouTube stars speak directly to kids and listen to their comments.

Apps like Minecraft let kids create worlds from scratch, and Musical.ly helps kids create their own videos.

They can participate in choose-your-own-adventure narratives, virtual reality explorations, customizable apps, and story-based video games.

Kids relish the control and creative input these new formats allow, and as kids grow they won’t want to let that go. Audience input may be the basis for the next decade's most successful TV shows.

Create auxiliary content like music videos, "making of" clips, bloopers, or actor interviews.

To foster fan-created content that will build enthusiasm for a show, interact with fans so they feel that they’re being heard and listened to. Highlight input from fans on social media and reach out to big fans and ask for their feedback.

This generation wants to see themselves, or a piece of themselves, or people like them, in their media.

Need for 360˚ Brand Development

Kids can discover brands virtually anywhere now—and expect to see their favorite brands both on and off TV. If you’re planning to build a TV show, you should be thinking from the get-go about how you’re going to roll out the brand in other areas, like apps or video games or perhaps movies.

What are the natural springboards into each version? If you have a TV show, what play patterns are you seeding in that will make great toys down the line? What’s the catch phrase or recurring visual joke that kids will want on a t-shirt? If you have a board game or toy, what can you add that would naturally lend itself to content later, without feeling awkwardly tacked on?

Constant Freshness

Kids’ favorite YouTubers post weekly, daily, or even hourly. Memes come and go by the minute. This sets up an expectation of freshness.

Beyond preschool age, today’s kids have very low tolerance for reruns. They also notice when out-of-date trends show up in content. YouTubers can be very timely and on-trend, because the content is produced and released so quickly. But TV producers typically have much longer production cycles, often making trendy content feel dated by the time the work is released.

So what to do? To try to keep pace with the ever-fresh supply of content on YouTube and other digital sources, make sure you are always staying current in between those long-form releases. Create auxiliary content like music videos, “making of” clips, bloopers, or actor interviews. Avoid plain-old reruns by releasing a different spin on full-length content so kids will want to watch it again. Provide clues to Easter eggs hidden in the content that they have to search for. Or why not release a version with ducks quacking instead of actors speaking? Can you play it backwards?

Audience input may be the basis for the next decade's most successful TV shows.

To make sure you don’t have a cultural misstep, be careful about putting very timely, trendy references into work that has a long production cycle. Remember the difference between timely and timeless content.

Embracing Different Types of Inclusivity

One of the defining features of the current generation of kids is they’re the most diverse ever—in terms of ethnicity, family make-up, and so much more. Inclusive content that welcomes a wide variety of viewers will succeed because kids expect their world to be mirrored. This isn’t likely to change as they get older.

Just one example from our research—kids tell us they don't like it when a show is targeted at one gender or another. They prefer content that breaks down gender barriers. Shows that reflect diversity and inclusivity resonate with kids today, and will continue to be popular with them as they grow.

Content creators who keep these four factors in mind will have the most success as the current generation grows up. But if you need just one guiding principle, this should be it: Plan for your TV show to be more than a TV show.

Research Questions

Where is their room in your show for viewers to participate and give feedback?

How will audiences want to experience your content off-screen, and how can you best plant the seeds for those experiences?

What are the best ways for your show to stay fresh in kids’ eyes?

How can your content be inclusive and diverse while staying true to your story-world? Does your audience view your content as inclusive and diverse?

3 Important Ways To Measure TV Viewing In 2017

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3 important ways to measure tv viewing in 2017

Since the dawn of television, executives have measured the success of a scripted show by how many people watched it "live"—that is, when it aired. Back then, live or same-day ratings were incredibly valuable metrics. They not only measured viewing behavior but also served as proxy for measuring viewers’ passion for the content.

Now, viewers who really care about a show can watch it whenever they want, and delaying the viewing occasion doesn’t mean they are any less passionate about a show. The historical link between the behavioral measure and viewers’ enthusiasm is broken.

So creators and advertisers must now answer this question: In a world where engagement can take so many different forms—different platforms, different devices, viewing at different times—how can we measure the full spectrum of attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a show’s success?

What new metrics should gauge emotional connection?

1) Real-Time Viewer Behavior

Real-time behavior tracking for TV viewers is just starting to take shape. One company installs a camera on top of the TV to track viewers' eyes. Another installs an app on their phones, using the microphone to listen to what they watch. NBC gave viewers Fitbits to measure when their heart rates increased while watching Olympic events.

Regardless of the method, measuring eyes on screen is the goal, because that proof of attention will attract more advertising dollars. Product placements and other content partnerships are no more effective than ads skipped on DVR if the viewer isn't actually watching the show.

Content that grips viewers' attention is likely to be the content they're heavily invested in emotionally. Attention metrics can help TV executives identify which of their shows audiences are truly connecting with. This new way of measuring shows will only increase in importance. Raw, live viewership will become less important.

Attention metrics can help TV executives identify which of their shows audiences are truly connecting with.

Research question: What types of content generate high attention metrics among the audience members you care about?

2) Viewer "Net Promoter Score"

When we gather TV fans for viewer research groups, we never have trouble getting opinions. Not only do they share their favorite shows with us, they usually start sharing with everyone else in the group too.

Back in the network era, only a few channels created quality scripted programming. Buzzed-about shows were well-covered by the local newspaper's television critic, or in mass market magazines like TV Guide. But today, with television criticism so fragmented, recommendations come from all directions rather than a few trusted publications.

Every TV viewer recognizes that discoverability is a problem, and they want to help their friends and fellow viewers out. Sharing the hottest new show is also a way to look cool. The extent to which your show inspires this sort of boosterism may say more about its long-term prospects than live viewership does.

Research Question: What is the level of enthusiasm for sharing of your content? What elements of shows make them so cool/unique, the audience can't wait to tell their friends about them?

3) Passion

The rise of self-publishing and fan culture has changed the landscape of how fans interact with shows. People have always dressed up as their favorite characters, but today's society celebrates and embraces fandom in a way it didn't in the past. Now, fandom is cool—aided and abetted by the digital tools that make it easier for fans to connect. Behaviors like cosplay, fan fiction, and participation in online message boards indicate long-term dedication to a show, no matter when viewers choose to watch it.

Behaviors like cosplay, fan fiction, and participation in online message boards indicate long-term dedication to a show.

We've interviewed people who consider themselves passionate fans of a show who have never watched it live—like the woman who said she saves up episodes on her DVR until she can binge watch them.

Research questions: Looking beyond the ratings, what's the viewer enthusiasm level for your content? And which aspects of your content are the sources of that enthusiasm?

Are Your Current KPIs Leading to Bad Content Decisions?

Your viewers don't really care when you want them to watch shows. They are going to watch when they want. Yet some TV networks still employ aggressive tactics that force viewers to watch in real-time. Today's audiences are smart enough to understand what's going on when you only let them watch the last five episodes of a show online, or don't put it online until the next day. Viewers tell us how frustrated this makes them. Will a person who feels like a show is patronizing them recommend it to their friends?

Forcing viewers to watch in real-time could make existing metrics sunnier to the detriment of a property's long-term success.

The solution? Consider whether you're judging shows on the wrong metrics.

The 4 Biggest Myths About Health-Conscious Consumers

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The 4 Biggest Myths About Health-Conscious Consumers

When someone buys a couch, they want to know how comfortable it is. When someone buys a jacket, they want to know if it fits. And, increasingly, when someone buys a food product, they want to know whether it's good for them or not.

Whether a consumer is buying kombucha or candy corn, health is a consideration. For some, it may be a small or inconsistent consideration, but today's consumers never completely forget about it. And the way they think about health doesn't follow the patterns of the past.

This drastic shift has made the conventional wisdom about consumers and health obsolete.

Myth 1: Health-Conscious People Never Eat "Unhealthy" Food

Here’s the truth: The health-conscious Millennial who counts calories at meals and jogs for 30 minutes after work still enjoys a scoop of ice cream before she goes to bed.

But when she's at the store choosing that ice cream, she brings her health-conscious attitude to the freezer aisle with her. She seeks out products that clearly signify an awareness of the importance of eating healthy—like Halo Top, which emblazons calorie count and other health buzzwords like "protein" on every pint of ice cream.

Nutrition facts and buzzwords help validate unhealthy choices.

When healthy people want to make “unhealthy” choices, they look for ways to validate those choices. Nutrition facts and buzzwords make them feel better about their decision.

Myth 2: People Only Think About Health When They Buy "Healthy Food"

No one tells us that they think potato chips, crackers, or donuts are healthy. But, more and more, consumers tell us that they are trying to make healthier choices when they buy these items.

If you followed a busy mom on a search for snack food, you'd see her making health-related decisions every step of the way.

When she stops at the potato chips display, she picks a niche brand with photos of natural ingredients on its packaging, rather than the mass-market brand that emphasizes flavor. She isn't sure if the mass-market brand has chemicals in it that could damage her family's health, but thinks that the "all-natural" brand won't.

Just a hint of healthiness in an otherwise indulgent product can influence her buying decision. Stopping at the bakery, she picks jelly-filled donuts over glazed. At least they have some fruit in them.

When we asked fans of a certain sugary dessert whether they'd be more likely to buy it if the portion was larger, they surprised us by saying no. They told us the dessert was big enough. If it were any bigger, they said, it would be "unhealthy" and they wouldn't buy it.

Myth 3: My "Healthy" Is the Same as My Customer's "Healthy"

The long-distance runner trying to stay lean wouldn't consider eating broccoli smothered in cheese sauce. But to a busy parent, that same side dish is a healthier alternative to macaroni and cheese.

Everyone rates foods on a unique personal spectrum. Yet everyone expects to see their instinct validated somehow in the product's packaging or labeling.

Brands have many different ways to validate the healthiness of a product. The Food Marketing Institute's 2016 U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends Report identified 14 different health claims that at least 20% of shoppers seek when purchasing a food product. (Low-sodium, at 42%, and whole grain, at 38%, were the highest.)

A person's evaluation criteria may also encompass how the product is made. "Consumers attach increasing importance to the way food is produced," write the authors of an influential 2002 study of Danish consumers. "The production process has become a dimension of quality, even when it has no immediate bearing on the taste or healthiness of the product."

Claims like "organic" and "GMO-free" influence consumers' decisions, whether they're buying tomatoes or tortilla chips.

That's why claims like "organic" and "GMO-free" influence consumers' decisions, whether they're buying tomatoes or tortilla chips—even if consumers don't know exactly why "organic" is better, or what GMOs are.

Myth 4: Consumers Who Think About Health Are Savvy About It

When we interview consumers, they often say they're savvy about nutrition. Their dieticians disagree. Dietitians surveyed in 2013 said that 67% of nutrition information is based on personal beliefs rather than peer-reviewed research.

These personal beliefs often play a larger role in their decision process than the facts on the nutrition label. Many consumers will simply cherry-pick the facts that reinforce the decision they want to make anyway.

Take this example: A single guy is picking between two snack bars at a convenience store.

One is a new brand of health bar, the other is a mass-marketed, chocolate-covered granola bar. Granola was originally marketed as a health food, and he still sees it that way.

When he looks at the nutrition facts on the box, he sees that the two have the same number of calories per serving. He doesn't look closely at the label to compare the sugar content, or how big the serving size is. Both are snack bars, and if the calories are the same, he'll buy the product he wanted to eat anyway—even if the other bar is factually healthier.

Because people typically don't feel any better or worse immediately after eating a less-healthy product, they don't see any negative effects from a choice they think was a reasonable one.

This goes the other way, too. Consumers show a preference for brands and products that have "healthy" reputations—despite what the nutrition facts tell them.

What Brands Can Do

Signalling that a product is healthier will help drive sales. But how do you do it? Indications of health to consumers aren't always what you (brands) think they are.

Discovering how to effectively include healthy messaging may be the key factor that helps a brand retain its customer base in this time of growing preoccupation with what’s better for you.

We suggest starting with these research questions:

  • How do your consumers define “healthy?”

  • What health considerations are in play when consumers decide between your product and a competitor's?

  • What misconceptions or communication lapses could be keeping consumers from recognizing that your product is healthier than a competitor's, or, if it’s not healthier, then worth the splurge?

  • Could you add messaging that signals "health" on your packaging without turning off your core audience?

Memes Are A Marketing Opportunity Brands Can’t Ignore

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Memes are a marketing opportunity brands can't ignore

On the first Saturday of 2017, Turkish-born chef Nusret Gökçe posted a video of his unique steak preparation on Instagram.

Later that day, a Twitter user in Houston shared the video along with her a nickname for Gökçe: "Salt Bae."

Before January was over, "Salt Bae" was as culturally relevant as one of the world's biggest movie stars.

salt-bae-chris-pratt-google-trends

This is the power of memes. A meme can break through the noise of the internet and into the world's consciousness in a matter of days. It's the type of reach usually limited to Super Bowl ads. Unsurprisingly, marketers are trying to harness memes for their brands.

To succeed, they'll need a deep understanding of meme culture, and of their audience.

What Is A Meme?

Scientist Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" as an analogue to the word "gene." Dawkins defines a meme as "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” It’s similar to the way a gene spreads through organisms.

Internet memes are highly visual. The Salt Bae meme spread as people made their own comments and visual mashups of Gökçe's dramatic method of salting the steak.

salt bae photo with funny captions

While memes sometimes go viral, not all viral content is a meme. An incredible performance by a musician that millions of people watch is viral, but it's not a meme. People simply watch it. They don't add to it.

But the bizarre reaction of an audience member that people comment on and create their own stories around—that's a meme. A meme in its purest form is an idea, rather than standalone content.

The Life of a Meme

Most successful memes have a predictable, brief lifecycle. Often, a meme starts as original content that someone discovers, deems meme-able, and puts into a template for others to share.

Typically this process starts on meme-centric community sites like Reddit or 4Chan. Those sites feature mostly user-generated content. When members of the community upvote or comment on a post, it automatically gets more visibility to other members. Memes also start on more mainstream social networks like Twitter and Instagram, where they spread through likes, comments, and shares.

Once a meme catches on, the whole internet gets in on it with takes, remixes, and mashups. The meme migrates to mainstream social forms. Suddenly, it's is as talked-about as Chris Pratt.

salt bae remixes

Eventually, a successful meme leaks into the real world.

Entrepreneurs will try to make money off of it, and the mainstream media will catch on. You know a meme is dying when you see it on a t-shirt or on Good Morning America.

Where Memes Live

The most popular platforms where memes spread are the internet community Reddit and its associated photo platform, Imgur. Both sites have covetable audiences.

On Reddit, 87% of the audience is younger than 35; 63% is 24 or younger.

On Imgur, 74% of the audience is younger than 35, and the audience is 84% male. Advertisers view the site as a male-centric alternative to Pinterest, where the audience is 81% female.

Meme audiences are engaged: Imgur says that 83% of their audience spend at least three hours per week on the platform.

Brands constantly look for ways to engage with audiences on these platforms. Since 2015, Imgur has allowed brands to create promoted posts.

eBay was one of the first adopters, creating a series of posts based on Internet memes with links to products for sale on eBay. Home Decor That Brings Out Your Inner Geek alludes to cat photo memes and meme-derived slang.

cat meme in ebay advertising on imgur

Old Spice, Budweiser, and Frito Lay have also advertised on Imgur.

"We started tracking the amount of time people are spending on these promoted posts, and it's 25 seconds a post," Imgur VP of Marketing and Sales Steve Patrizi told AdWeek. "That's getting pretty close to the gold standard of TV advertising."

Why Memes Are Important

Memes are a visual reference guide to the trends of the wider culture. As a meme spreads, creators mash it up with aspects of culture that matter to them in that moment—what's in the news, their favorite shows, how they are feeling about the world.

The way people remix the meme reflects what's important to them. Taken together, they are a time-stamped snapshot of internet culture.

The way people remix memes reflects what's important to them.

Often, memes reflect the creator's identity. memes contribute to slang by spreading new terms like "fam," "on fleek," and "af." They become default reactions and celebrations. They're a means of expressing emotion.

football player does the salt bae motion

Meme creators use the form to bring underground phenomenons to the attention of new audiences. "Juju On That Beat" started as a novelty song that went viral. This low-budget video of two guys dressed as clowns doing that dance has 40 million views.

That's a level of engagement that even huge brands can't manufacture. At time of writing, Chevrolet's official YouTube account only had 35 million views.

Memes also serve as safe space where people can express themselves about difficult or controversial topics. Creators can imply something they're afraid to say explicitly through the medium.

Anxiety and depression

anxiety and depression in meme form

Race in the U.S.

race in the us meme

Politics (Note: the Pokémon cards are photoshopped in!)

politics in meme form

Who Makes Memes Big?

The people who create and spread memes form a community. They take pride in seeing a meme that they've worked on spread across the internet. They even track meme history with encyclopedic precision.

This community can launch a meme into the national consciousness in a matter of days. Brands who want their memes to succeed need to win them over. Here are our suggestions:

1) Always stay in the loop

Memes come and go at lightning speeds. If your content isn't fresh, it will be ridiculed on places like the #FellowKids subreddit.

2) Deploy memes in ephemeral media that you can take back

Because the Internet changes so fast, you don't want your memes in any format you can't easily take back if it hits the wrong note. A billboard is a bad place for a meme, and a meticulously-planned rollout is a bad strategy. Move quick. Fail fast.

3) Understand the line between cutting-edge and pandering

The meme community is savvy—they know brands exist to make sales, not mirth. Content that adopts meme styling for baldly commercial purposes won't succeed. tic tac ad trying to use a meme

Instead, be honest: “Look, I am a company that’s advertising, but this post/meme is interesting even when removed from my marketing campaign.” Wendy's brutally honest Twitter persona inspired fans to create their own meme: Smug Wendy.

4) Meet your target audience where they are—don’t advertise to the “general audience”

Memes aren't meant to appeal to everyone. Or at least a single take on a meme isn't. Target meme-based content to the group you're advertising to, and in the subreddits and message boards where they hang out.

Target meme-based content to the group you're advertising to.

How Research Can Help Memes Succeed

Successful memes start at a grassroots level, bubbling up from a specific subreddit or other online community. To succeed with this community, you need to understand it on a deep level.

A pre-meme research project would include:

  • Identifying the segment of your target audience that shares memes
  • Learning what memes they share and why
  • Finding the specific message boards / subreddits where they spend their time

Like every meme, "Salt Bae" died down. But the surrounding publicity was so substantial that Gökçe is now planning a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. As a marketing opportunity, memes are too popular to ignore.

Today’s Consumers Love Brands—And Expect More From Them

Millennials posted by Insight 0

As a portrait of teenage angst, The Breakfast Club holds up well after more than 30 years. But the film's non-diverse cast and social categories of "athlete," "princess," and "brain" are as outdated as the computer-less library where the characters served detention.

More than Baby Boomers and Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z use brands to define their identity. Teens today look for representations of themselves, and are much more likely to identify as "Swifties," "Potterheads," or "Whovians" than any of the categories Generation X used.

Superfans like these are very loyal, but that loyalty has a flip side—their expectations for brands go far beyond simply providing a quality product or compelling content.

Driven by Millennials and Generation Z, consumers now expect brands to behave just like their friends do, including:

  • Owning up to mistakes and fixing them quickly
  • Connecting with them in an authentic, personal way
  • Standing for more than the bottom line

Own Up to Mistakes and Fix Them Quickly

When 28-year-old Anna Hezel moved in with her boyfriend, she bought a $600 Peggy couch from West Elm. She wanted, she later wrote, “to prove [her] adulthood with mid-century furniture.”

But the couch was built so poorly, and the brand showed so little sympathy for her complaints, she ended up throwing it out and writing a long article for The Awl about her disastrous experience.

Hezel's article took off on social media, inspiring other Millennials to share photos of the frayed stitching and detached buttons of their own Peggy couches.

peggy couch tweet

West Elm's response? They agreed to refund all customers who bought the couch within the last three years.

Today's consumer has dozens of ways make their complaints public. Any story, anywhere, can mushroom into a public relations crisis. One study of UK consumers found that social media complaints increased eightfold between 2014 and 2015. Sometimes the shaming is deserved, but other times it can be a form of cyber-bullying. Often, companies (and consumers!) have no way to confirm whether the complaints are valid.

Because of this, many companies are faced with a “One strike and you’re out” ballgame. A single decision or action, however well-intentioned, can turn into a debate that threatens years of loyalty-building. Even established brands like West Elm are vulnerable to sudden changes in consumer attitudes towards them—like a best-selling couch rendered worthless overnight.

The stronger the brand, the less likely these tactics will have an impact. Starbucks was ridiculed for its "Race Together" campaign, which encouraged baristas to discuss racial issues with customers. But when the company walked back its request for baristas to write the phrase on cups, the ridicule went away too.

Smart brands don't hide from customer complaints. Just like a close friend, they want to know when they've done something to offend—and they want to repair the relationship.

JetBlue's customer service team quickly answers customer questions, and sometimes has airline staff follow up in-person at the terminal. On their Twitter account they help customers, respond to customers, and even joke around with them.

When brands own up to mistakes and make good, customers are often even more supportive of the brand. After all, they're only "human."

But consumer outreach doesn't have to be reactive. Brands should identify the underlying motivations for negative sharing and use this research to proactively surprise and delight their customers.

Connect with Customers in an Authentic, Personal Way

How do friends build trust? Not with blast emails or marketing jargon. Brands who default to these tactics won't succeed with young consumers, who seek authentic, personal connection to brands.

more than 7 in 10 teens say it's important for brands to be authentic

Insight Strategy Group research shows that more than 7 in 10 teens say it's important for brands to be authentic. Younger generations are savvy about advertising and seek communication that feels more honest.

Consumers who identify closely with brands expect those brands to show up in the same social media feeds where their friends are. The clothing company Everlane, which targets a Millennial and Generation Z audience, declared in 2015 that Snapchat would be the brand's main social channel. To create an authentic connection the brand uses Snapchat to show behind-the-scenes footage from its design studio.

Wendy's uses its Twitter account to banter with people—and sometimes scold them—just like a friend would.

wendy's roasts consumers

In the media world, networks and movie studios are increasingly letting fans and actors interact in the more intimate setting of social media. After Stranger Things was renewed for a second season, the youngest members of the show's cast conducted a 16-minute Facebook Live session, playing '80s trivia games and answering audience questions.

Reddit Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) allow stars to respond to fans' questions directly. Passengers star Chris Pratt did an AMA in December 2016, two weeks before the movie's release.

Between responding to customer complaints and giving fans behind-the-scenes access, brands can open up a constant feedback loop, driving conversation that can not only increase brand loyalty, but inform product decisions and future marketing campaigns.

Stand for More Than the Bottom Line

Brands need to go beyond just knowing what issues are important to their audience—they need to support their audience with social stances of their own. In March 2016, North Carolina enacted a law regulating restroom access in that state. LBGT advocates decried the law as discriminatory against transgendered people. More than 70 brands announced their opposition to the law. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. Deutsche Bank stopped plans to hire 250 new employees in the state.

Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores with a more conservative audience, sued the U.S. Government and won a Supreme Court case, arguing that the Affordable Care Act violated the company's religious beliefs.

brands need to support their audience with social stances of their own

When sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly went public, activists targeted brands that advertise on O'Reilly's Fox News show. More than 80 brands pulled advertisements from the show, and O'Reilly was fired.

With the news cycle constantly churning, and advertising diffused across thousands of sites and pieces of content, it's a daily effort for brands to maintain their image. But they have to. Because consumers have so many options, it's easy for them to avoid brands that don't align with their values—and throw support behind brands who stand up for shared beliefs.

Film and TV creators know that their content will perform better if the audience makes a personal connection to the actors involved. But their content can also lose part of its audience if an actor's statements or behavior offends a key demographic. The 2016 film Birth of a Nation faced a boycott and protests after sexual assault allegations against writer, director, and star Nate Parker came to light.

In 2015, the movie Aloha, set in Hawai'i, featured Emma Stone playing a character described as half-Chinese and one-quarter Hawaiian. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans released a statement condemning the film's casting.

In contrast, when making the movie Moana, Disney convened a panel of advisers from Polynesia, who weighed in on everything from how the characters were drawn to the lyrics of the songs they sang.

Every choice a brand makes will be debated on social media. Brands can't please everyone, but they must at least avoid stances and choices that offend their target audience.

Key Takeaway

The intense identification consumers now feel for content, companies, and products is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands. Superfans can be reliable customers for decades, and no-cost marketing engines that never stop.

But when a brand lets a superfan down, that negative experience feels much more personal—it's an attack on their identity. Just like a friendship, the consumer relationship requires effort, empathy, and near-daily maintenance.

5 Essential Elements for a TV Show’s Season 2 Success

Stuff to Spark You posted by Insight 0
going into every new season, a show needs a business strategy

According to Metacritic, of the 44 scripted shows that debuted on major networks in the 2015-16 season, only 19 were renewed. Any show that survives its first season has beaten long odds.

What's next? Making it to season three, of course.

These five key elements of season two success are based on Insight Strategy Group’s extensive experience surveying and interviewing media audiences.

1) Build Cliffhangers Around a Show's Main Characters

Planning for season two success must begin before season one ends.

To build anticipation for season two, build mystery into the end of season one. But not just any mystery. Cliffhangers should involve the characters that the show's superfans care about most. Storylines about secondary or less-beloved characters won't build audience interest—audiences just don't care.

Know which characters your superfans connect with before you plot your season-ending storylines.

2) Develop a Business Plan

No show makes it to a second season without a devoted core audience. But if that audience doesn't grow, a third season isn't likely to happen.

Going into every new season, a show needs a business strategy. Often this is a choice between deepening engagement among the target audience or expanding the show's appeal to a wider audience.

For example, many of today's prestige shows have a unique narrative structure. These shows might be able to reach a broader audience with a more conventional structure, but that would turn off the audience they've built.

It's a tricky problem—one that research can help solve.

3) Learn How to Super-Serve Your Core Audience

Audiences connect with television shows for a combination of these reasons:

Connection to Characters

Insight Strategy Group research shows that nine in ten TV viewers 18-49 say they enjoy characters dealing with moral or ethical dilemmas.

Audiences take the scraps and hints about television characters and construct versions of them that make them as real as anyone they know. Viewers’ investment and emotional connection make them care about the character's life.

Psychographic Needs

Audiences often watch television to help them process challenges in their own lives, or to challenge their own intellects.

Insight Strategy Group research shows that more than seven in ten TV fans 18-49 say they love shows that make them reflect on their own lives.

Viewing Occasion Needs

Audiences pick different shows to fulfill different needs at different times of the day: The show they watch in the den after Sunday dinner with the rest of the family is not the same one they watch in bed on their iPad.

Once a show has made it through season one, research can identify which of these factors drives audiences to watch. Creators can then decide which aspects of the show to emphasize to delight the audience even more.

4) Keep the Focus on the Main Story and Characters

Now that viewers can get an entire show's run on demand, few pick up a show in the middle. If a target viewer hasn't watched a show yet, they will catch up before the season two premiere.

As such, rather than using early episodes of season two to re-introduce the characters, shows should immediately pick up the cliffhangers from season one.

Shows should also never suddenly introduce new characters that might take the spotlight off of the ones audiences love. Audiences aren't as likely to connect with new characters unless they link to the main characters' families or existing relationships.

know which characters your superfans connect with

In addition, because audiences are so engaged, "previously on" montages don't need to be as long by the second season of a show. Many viewers fast-forward through them. "Next time on" clips are a better way to use this time. Viewers love getting hints about where the story is headed.

5) Use Teasers to Create Urgency and Intent-to-View

Fans follow entertainment news and even actors' Twitter accounts. They don't need to be reminded that a show exists—they want to get excited about it.

To fulfill this need, develop teasers to air in the weeks leading up to the season two premiere that are designed to:

  • Energize existing viewers, getting them to talk about the show and share the teasers on social media
  • Compel potential viewers to move a show out of their consideration queue and into their active list of shows

In conjunction with the marketing campaign, make all episodes of season one available free on demand so potential viewers can catch-up.

Season two teasers can incorporate the audience research from season one, highlighting characters and other aspects of the show that viewers love. But never reveal major plot points from season one, or anything definitive about the cliffhangers heading into season two. No spoilers! Audiences will want to make these discoveries on their own.

Once a scripted television show navigates the treacherous waters of season one, season two provides calmer sailing. Audience research helps by identifying the essential elements of a show's success, as well as what can be added or changed to increase fan devotion or audience size.

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