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Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Projective techniques are powerful consumer insights tools – but are often misunderstood. Our guests, Dr. John Whittle and Nigel Roth share ways in which projectives can uncover consumers’ deepest motivations, responses, and how they really feel about brands. We discuss real-world case studies and hear recommendations on how and when to use different projectives. A fascinating dive into techniques that encourage participants’ imagination, expression, and free association.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS

Dr. John Whittle: In a creepy, if somewhat ideal way as researchers, if you could just pluck an experience out of someone’s brain, that would be far easier.

Nigel Roth: What it comes down to is being able to make a decision that’s going to attract the kinds of consumers you want to your product, service, brand, or organization.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. When we conduct qualitative research or simply “qual”, we’re typically aiming to understand the “why” behind participants’ behaviors and opinions. One of the challenges facing qualitative and quantitative researchers is that people are often unaware of the reasons that lie behind the decisions and purchasing behaviors. So researchers use what are known as projective techniques to tap into participants’ deeper motivations and attitudes. During COVID-19, a lot of qualitative research that was previously conducted in-person, such as focus groups, moved online, either through synchronous Zoom calls or asynchronous online communities. I’m joined by two guests today who are experts in projective techniques and other consumer research methodologies. Both guests are from Further, a human insights agency headquartered in the UK. Dr. John Whittle is a social scientist who made the leap from academia to commercial research. As a market researcher, John has helped Google understand the emotional context and barriers to smart home technology, innovated bacon across three continents, and explored definitions of modern masculinity for Gillette. John teaches research best practices at universities across the UK, for the Market Research Society, and in Further’s own webinar series. He’s also directly involved with the management of Further’s online research platform, Together. John, who’s Director of Client and Research Experience at Further, is joining us today from his home office in Cheshire, England. Also joining us today is Nigel Roth, Further’s Head of Research. Nigel has been living and breathing marketing, insights, and advertising for over 25 years, living and working on three continents. During that time, he’s built strategy for clients across every sector and vertical uncovering insights and identifying the response triggers that encourage behavior change. Nigel’s career has included roles leading marketing and communication for the YMCA and Oxfam in India, the early-stage creative development division of Ipsos in North America, and providing quantitative and qualitative backed insight and strategy for brands, including Colgate-Palmolive, Ben and Jerry’s, and Tom’s of Maine. Nigel is joining us today from his home in Oxfordshire, England. John and Nigel, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Dr. John Whittle: Thank you for having us.

Nigel Roth: Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: John, could you start by telling us a little bit more about Further?

Dr. John Whittle: Sure. We’ve been in the industry for over a decade. We’ve had one of the longest-standing technology platforms in the industry, which is focused on online qual. But in the last five, six years since I joined really, we’ve expanded our scope and our services. We’ve really recognized that it’s very important to still have good technology. And we work really hard and there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes trying to keep our technology up to date. We recognize that, you know, that’s only one part of what people need. And the research industry has changed a lot actually in the time that we’ve been around. We recognize that because there are so many methodologies and there are so many platforms out there, even if you feel like you’ve nailed online qual with one platform, if it goes to another one, that’s got different nuances and different things. Our best position, and a lot of the work we do at the minute, is supporting research teams and we support them to get them ready for day one. We brought on excellent project managers. We’ve been forging links in the industry for a long time. So. if you just want to use us for the platform, we’re there and we’re going to support you, but if you want us to help you recruit and design, and I know we’ve done that work with you, Adrian as well, you know, in terms of making sure that when it comes to day one, when you guys need to focus on running the insight work and looking good and managing the client relationship and delivering the insights, that’s what we’re there for. And you know, we still have our own end clients – Nigel heads up that division. He’s a fantastic qual director and he’s responsible for running the side of the business – that is that agency model where the end clients comes and says, “What are the answers?” and Nigel brilliantly delivers on those. 

Adrian Tennant: Nigel, you’re relatively new to Further, but you have extensive experience in research for advertising strategy and account planning. Could you tell us a little bit about your role as Head of Research?

Nigel Roth: Everything that John does is one side of it and the other side is there’s a kind of more working with end-users, end-clients. And so my role is really to make sure that whatever they come to us with, we can deliver a project which leads them to one point. And at that one point there are always confident decisions. So there are research agencies that will talk about insight, learning, recommendations, all those things are wonderful. And they’re all part of what we do. But in the end, what it comes down to is being able to make a decision that you feel confident with, a decision that’s well-informed, a decision that makes sense within the context of the business. And a decision that’s going to attract the kinds of consumers you want to your product, service, brand, or organization. So my role is to pick up those projects, design them, work with the client to understand what their strategy is and what their goals and objectives are. Put together a design that gets to that point, run that project with my internal team, including John and the operations team that we have at Further, and then deliver a report that answers everything they’ve ever wanted to know plus more!

Adrian Tennant: Now, Nigel, although I think you’re primarily qualitative in your approach, you do employ mixed methods as well – is that correct?

Nigel Roth: Yeah, that’s true. I began in qual, well –  advertising research a long time ago. So advertising research was the first thing I ever did. And that was quantitative. That was back in 1980-something-or-other for a company called Burke Marketing, which actually was out of Cincinnati originally, but then was in the UK in a place called Stonebridge Park. That’s a long, long time ago. That’s where I began. And as soon as I started working in advertising research and understanding that we got certain numbers and scores back, the first thing I said was, “Well, those are great, but I don’t understand why we’re getting them.” So what I did was, I bolted on qualitative groups to the back of advertising research. I managed to create hybrid research without knowing what I was doing, I was only 24 or something. And so from then onwards, I’ve always been much more interested in this kind of hybrid of quant and qual communities, whatever it might be, anything that you need to do to get to where you need to get. And so, although I am primarily qualitative in my outlook and in the way I work, I understand the quant site as well and the importance of having those numbers to being able to, you know, say, “We absolutely know what’s going on here,” but I also want to add that qualitative pick to say, “Why is it going on? And what else can we do to learn from it?”

Adrian Tennant: Globally, we’ve experienced waves of lockdowns and social distancing over the past 18 months, of course, which has meant that here at Bigeye, we’ve not been doing any in-person depth interviews or focus groups. We’ve been conducting one-on-one interviews via Zoom and Google Meet. But for groups, we’ve been using Further’s asynchronous platform called Together that you referred to earlier. John, for listeners who are unfamiliar with the idea of Market Research Online Communities, could you describe the platform for us?

Dr. John Whittle: Yeah, of course. They’re like bespoke social media platforms, right? They’re places where you can invite people on and you can really explore and understand through rich multimedia methods – life! Methodologically, what we do in consumer research is we often say, “Right, we want to understand how you make decisions or the emotional drivers behind your decisions. The way we’re going to understand that is we’re going to take you out of that context, we’re going to put you in a facility with someone you’ve never met before, or a group of people you’ve never met before. And then we’re going to ask you questions about everything that happens outside of that room.” Now, sometimes that is the method that you need. Sometimes you need to be able to watch, you know, temperature changes, how people flush, to see the whites of their eyes. You need to test that stuff very quickly as well. Other times, if you’re really trying to understand emotional decision-makers or you’re trying to understand things across the diverse geographic region – because again, remember most people that attend interviews and focus groups are often, it skews towards being socially mobile. They have the ability to go and visit. They have the confidence to visit. And also most importantly, they have the ability to express themselves, at least in some way, verbally. ‘Cause you’re not going to invite someone there who’s a mute, or maybe you will, if they’ve very good at sign language, but often they have a way to express themselves And you need them to be able to do that in a performative sense. Online communities offer an answer to those well – if they’ve got a really valid point of view, right? What if they are actually the biggest part of the consumer market, but they’re really bad at talking to people?. What if they can’t travel to that focus group facility? Online communities offer you a gateway where you can bring people on and you can get them to share. Now because they make use of technology, they allow you to gather video, photo, documents, images, text, voice, and they allow you to share that. We’ve traditionally called Together an online qualitative platform, but really it has both quant and qual – it is a research toolbox. It allows you to explore things in an unstructured way. I can send you out to the shops. You can tell me about it via a lengthy paragraph If you want. Or as you’re in the shops, you can record your adventure and you can narrate it to me. We can get you to do very literal things. But because we’re also engaging with you – often over a sustained period of time – because most online communities run for days not hours, because again, it’s often asynchronous. You don’t need people like we’re speaking right now. They can phase in and phase out. You engage with them in different moods at different times in different locations, you have different ranges of identity. They give you a huge range and scope in terms of what you want to do. 

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the ways that you’ve seen other agencies using together during COVID? 

Dr. John Whittle: I’m always surprised that for an industry that is focused on innovation and newness, as an industry itself is quite stuck in the past in many ways. And COVID was fascinating because it really forced some researchers to have to start to learn online methodologies. And whilst they are rooted in the same understanding of human beings, there are slight differences. Interviews and focus groups are often about charisma. They’re about being able to pay attention to things in the moment. They’re not necessarily about planning and strategy. Online qual, because you’re not there, often has more similarities sometimes with quant. You’re scripting or writing a guide, you’re translating a live topic guide into activities that someone can complete without you being there to navigate. You will moderate a subsequent time. So we saw a lot of people having to jump into that and really get to grips with that very quickly. How agencies used it – we saw an increase in product testing. A lot of the work we did in the last 18 months was shipping products out. Helping consumers explore them. You know, stuff that would have normally been done in testing facilities was done online. And funnily enough, a lot of the teams who were doing that, who used to have to travel to these testing facilities suddenly went, “Hang oon a second. You mean that we could have done this in people’s homes? And it would cost the same or slightly less than what we were doing?” “Yeah, exactly.” “You mean that I didn’t actually have to leave my house?” Well, for a lot of teams, I think the biggest takeaway for them was volume. If you’re running things online, because you’re not physically needed in a location, if you’ve got good planning and good support, you can actually run a lot of projects side by side because they’re on a screen and you can dip between them. So you know, we often have a lot of projects running as a team ‘cause we can sit there and we can manage this bit and we can do this bit. And we’re organized. I think that’s what a lot of teams realized – it was about how can you suddenly streamline? You’re opening up the whole world –  that’s the thing – you’re not constrained now to planes. So a pandemic that put you at home, all of a sudden actually opened up the world of research to many in a really fascinating way.

Adrian Tennant: Qualitative research is rooted in clinical psychology. Early versions of personality tests were the antecedents of a category of qualitative research techniques we now refer to as projective. These are designed to prompt responses from participants And often deliberately ambiguous to engage people’s imagination. John, what are some of the most commonly used projective techniques originally developed for in-person groups that you see working really well online, either synchronously or asynchronously?

Dr. John Whittle: Yeah. I’m a big fan of projective and think online, because it is interactive and because it can display stimulus. And not only just because it can display stimulus, but because it can gather the data and output from that interaction real easy, I think it’s a really great place to use them. I mean, ultimately we use projectives because sometimes a topic or an experience is not going to be easy to share. In a creepy, if somewhat ideal way as researchers, if you could just pluck an experience out of someone’s brain, that would be far easier. But you know, we – all of us, whether we know it or not – we typically tend to work as qualitative researchers in what was called the interpretivist school of thought. So we believe that social reality is constructed and that in order to change it and understand it, we have to understand experience. in order to understand experience because we can’t read minds, we have to get people to share it. People are sometimes good at that. People are sometimes bad and more often than not what we’re interested in isn’t even necessarily the first layer of a question. Often, I think what we all do again, sometimes unknowingly as qual researchers, is we’ll ask you one thing, but we’re actually really interested in the other thing that you’re going to be doing. In terms of online, this is often where those tools, as I say, where you get people to interact with something a projective is often anything where you’re not just asking a straight question. “I want to understand this, do this for me.” So I was just having a chat with a client today about understanding emotion and culture and human elements. And he sent me this deck and he said, “How would we even do this online?” And it’s basically just a list of words – it’s like a list of emojis or words and stuff. And it’s a case of understanding employee culture. How would you use it online? Well, if I just said to you, “Yeah, so Adrian talk to me about how you’re feeling today.” What your brain immediately does, it goes, “Right. Hold on a second. Alright. Let me think about today. I’ve thought about today. Okay. What are the words I’m going to use? Right. These are the words, right. Then I’m going to speak about it. Then I’m getting…” You’ve already justified, rationalized, and then expressed. Okay. And you filtered it immediately. And only if you’ve done that, you’ve thought about the context you’re in, who you’re talking to, the identity that you’re trying to play, all these layers are starting to cloud this answer. And then I’ve got to hope Adrian – as I know you are – but I’ve got to hope that you’re really good at talking about that. And maybe I can unpick it a little bit. Projectives move past that. Projectives say “Look, here’s something. You just engage with it.” And it is often deliberately ambiguous because that ambiguity and that level of interpretation is what we’re interested in. “Here’s a series of characters. Here’s a series of archetypes. What works for you? What do you like?” And often then it’s our job as researchers to look at that. So, for example I was speaking to someone about this earlier. If I turned to a mother and I said, “Talk to me about your experiences of motherhood.” That’s a huge question. You know, there’s so many elements to that. If I use something more like the blob tree, which is a very renowned series of projectives and I said, “Look, here’s an image of all these characters on a blob tree, pick three that represent your experience of motherhood.” And this is what we did for UNICEF. All of a sudden everyone’s funneling into the same point, but then their experience is diverged. So we have a baseline that we can understand. So as I say, it’s about middle ground. It’s about often providing great stimulus and just good questions around that.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Sandra Marshall: I’m Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we’re committed not just to understanding our clients’ business challenges but also learning about their prospects and customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and collectively inspire the account, creative, media, and analytics teams working on our clients’ projects. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused consumer insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dr. John Whittle and Nigel Roth from Further, a human insights agency about the use of projective techniques. Nigel, thinking about qualitative research to yield insights that can help inform a brand strategy or inspire a creative brief, which projective techniques have you found especially useful?

Nigel Roth: Well, I mean, I think as John says, there’s an awful lot of different projective techniques and essentially, for a lot of it, it comes down to what I call stimulus-response. Right? So when you ask someone to come up with an ideal car, they typically come up with a BMW. Not because it’s the ideal car, but because as humans, we can’t often create things, but what we can do is respond. So a lot of times, with projective techniques that I use, it’s about response – as it always is, it’s the kind of response you get. So I think a couple of things I’ve found – and I’ll relate it to virtual qual as well – in the online world, which I think is really interesting. I remember 15 years ago, people saying, “If only we could get into people’s homes and do some ethnographic work and how much would that cost and is it difficult?” All of a sudden, that’s all we can do! So funnily enough, everyone is at home. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. I mean, I think they feel more comfortable at home in their own environment. And I think you can use all sorts of different techniques with them. We did some work recently with businesses around Europe, looking at a small business and what they’re really interested in. And we used virtual fridge magnets. One fridge was one brand, and the other fridge was another brand. And people could actually go on and pull those magnets over to different places. They also created words as well so they could kind of create words and phrases with those within different brands. And what a cool way to do it rather than, “Oh, tell me what you think about this”, right? Like they could actually drag them across and create those phrases and words, on different brand fridges, which I thought was really nice and good fun. And I think you can use that with strategy all the time. I mean, a lot of brand strategy’s about where does the brand go next? That’s why we’re called Further. What is happening next? What does it show up? We did some work recently with brands, we’d talk to marketing directors, a lot of them talked about how they show up, how does their brand show up? Because we do have a different world that we’ve come out of after two years of all sorts of craziness that’s gone on, which has churned everything up. And so what we’ve found is we’ve almost got this more mindful consumer, but we called it The Mindful Consumer – not necessarily mindful positively or negatively, they’re just thinking differently. And so if you take that mindful consumer, what are they now thinking? What do they now feel? What do they want, what do they require? And for a brand to show up and meet that you’ve got to kind of bridge that gap. So a lot of those techniques, it’s trying to understand that, to get to where brands should now be or what they should look like, which is quite interesting.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have a couple of examples you could share with us that demonstrate how qualitative research informed the direction of campaigns or initiatives that you worked on?

Nigel Roth: I have quite a few of those having been around for quite a few years. Let me give you a couple of good ones that I enjoyed. Oh, a long time ago we did some work for Diageo. It’s interesting, you know, people talk now about different segments in different communities. We did it 20 years ago. It was just called something different, but what we ended up having was a real youth section segment, which was really important. And was it really going to drive this particular brand forward? So what we did with that is we hired actors to come in. They were exactly the right age. They were male, female, whatever as needed, they came in dressed like they were going out for a night out or Saturday night, pockets full of whatever they would have. They sat down with attitude on the chair and they met the marketing team and the brand team, and they just sat there and looked at them. And I kind of started off by saying, “Do you want to tell these guys to think about yourself?” “No.” “Well, you gotta tell them something.” “None of them said anything. “It’s all me. It’s personal.” And it went like that. And then eventually these brand guys and girls we’re kind of saying, “No, come on, what’s in your pocket? What’s this? What’s going on?” And this was qualitative – alive. You know, these are their customers. There were consumers sitting there, which I thought was fascinating, and fantastic, and a lovely experience. I guess maybe another one would be we did some great work with Excedrin, the GSK brand in the US, and the work behind that was really interesting because it was all about migraines and the really strong migraine one. And what we were trying to get to was understanding migraine. Particularly for carers as well, because one of the things that was identified was that if you’re suffering from a really bad migraine, you say to your partner, “Bring me some medication, bring me something, give me something,” and they’re then responsible for bringing it. So if they’re responsible for bringing it, they’re probably responsible for buying the right stuff in the first place. So how do we get carers to understand what it’s like? And is there a way to create that empathy? And we did a lot of work on that. Bringing people with migraines and other people who didn’t suffer from migraines in rooms together, and having them sit there for 20 minutes and describe this to them. And we saw these people get it and become empathetic and understand what was happening. And so start to think about how they would change their behavior if their partner was suffering. And it got to a point where at some point, respondents or a carer, on the other side of the table – these are kind of paired depths – said something like, “I wish I could just experience that just to understand it.” And so what we helped GSK develop were these virtual reality glasses, where you could actually experience having a migraine. So they developed this technology, we gave it to carers and supporters and partners to look out and to understand. They wore it for half an hour and they understood exactly what migraine felt like. And of course, they realized that the only brand to buy was Excedrin Migraine, which was the best brand to use for that. But you do feel when you do a project like that that yes, of course it’s commercial, but you know, you’re also helping people and you’re also helping people be understood. And if you can combine those things, then you’ve got a perfect project.

Adrian Tennant: Great examples. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change during COVID-19, and I’m curious how you see research and insights developing during the remainder of this decade. John, what roles do you see marketing research and insights playing more or less of in the future?

Dr. John Whittle: It’s something I have to think about – especially being responsible for the direction that a technological platform might go in. The words “AI” always immediately flow into these conversations and I think we still have this dichotomous relationship of thinking AI is either gonna rise up and kill us, or why isn’t it already doing all the things that we hate doing immediately, right? I remember attending conferences all over the world and thinking, “Oh, AI will soon replace the core research.” I’m thinking, “Will they ever be able to pull together random series of events that our qualitative brain is able to pull together into a case of insight and look at what really matters?” I think there is an element in the technological sense. If we look at that first, particularly in research technology, as I said in the last 18 months to two years, we’ve seen a greater embracing of online. I think there is still a way to go, particularly with online research, there is a way to go to make that more approachable and amenable to people. When that happens, there’ll be a bit of a shift as there’s still quite a lot of barriers to learning and education. I still believe that researchers are perhaps the most underserved users of technology. Our research processes have not changed. The tools that we used to execute those I don’t think have kept up. I reckon most of us are still using a notepad and a pen or a word document somewhere or somewhere to write your notes. Right? Pretty much. Yeah. That’s not changed. There’s something around that. There’s an unmet need I think there. So I think maybe that’s where that will go. Will AI feature in that maybe, maybe not. Will it do my washing up for me? Let’s hope so. in terms of the rest of the industry, I think the research agency model was an interesting one. And I say that knowing that some of the work that we do anyway, I think there is pressure on a lot of brands to bring things in-house. And I think one of the things I’ve always struggled with is in our research industry there was not a lot of formal training. I think there’s a lot of expectation and I think what can sometimes happen is that the quality of insight that is produced sometimes isn’t always on the power of where it should be. And I think there’s a challenge when you see when people bring that in-house because there are brands making decisions off the back of research that may not necessarily be as quality-driven as it could be. I wonder if we’ll continue to see that. I think what we’re going to see is a lot more of a hybrid model of working. A lot more agencies, but particularly brands leaning on teams that can pitch in and support them, as they’re expected to do more, but with less resources and time. but yeah, I’m fascinated, I think less in terms of the technology than in terms of the people. I think that the last piece of the pie then is understanding experience. You know, for my generation, the generations below will probably keep up with technology right up until the point they try to implant it into you. That’s where the next game-changer will be. That’s where my generation will tap out and go, “Nope, no thank you. Don’t want to do that. I don’t want to turn into a cyborg.” That’s where I think there’s going to be a division. And I think that’s probably where you see the next big thing. Where actually, you’re getting biometric readouts of someone as they look at an ad. Internally, how much did the heart rate go up? What was their cortisol level? How much did that spike? What did that actually do in terms of their muscles twitching? That’s going to be where we’re going to start artificially engineering response times and response mechanics way, way down the line. But that’s where I eventually see it going. And I hopefully won’t be alive to see that we’ll be involved with it at that point!

Adrian Tennant: Nigel, how do you think the industry might change in the next decade?

Nigel Roth: I did a project recently which was all about talking to marketers about their business and how they buy marketing consultancy. And I think in a way, what came out of that was a new strategy for that agency to build a consultancy. And I think that strategy is more of what I’m seeing in the business I’m doing. It’s less about “Should it be blue or green?” or “Should it be this size or that size?” It’s a little bit more about “What does our business look like in the future?” And we’ve been doing a lot of business-to-business research as well recently, which has been really interesting, I think with all the areas of sustainability and regenerative brands and mindful consumers and diversity, inclusion – all these things that are bubbling around for businesses and companies – I think what I’m seeing is a lot more of the “What do we look like? What do we do? How do we become modern? How do we become contemporary?” And so a lot of the work I think is possibly not so much product-oriented, but more business-oriented at the moment. Certainly in the next couple of years it’s “What does a business look like?” Because the other thing we’ve seen is that people buy products from companies that are hitting some of those targets and ticking some of those boxes. And even with my own kids, you know, I’ve seen them… they came home the other day with these wooden toothbrushes. And I said, “What are those about?” and they said, “Oh, the company that produces them, it’s a sustainable production.” And I said, “Do they work?” And they’re like, “I don’t know. Guess so.” And how would you know whether it worked or not with teenagers? But I think the point was that, you know, they bought them because of the company that produced them. So a lot of the work I’m seeing more of is looking at getting that company or that organization in order in terms of some of these key things to be able to then say, “Hey, buy our product because we’re doing what we can and we’re doing the right thing.” That might be a little bit of a shift that we’re seeing certainly, maybe the industry will too.

Adrian Tennant: John, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about Further, where can they find you? 

Dr. John Whittle: They need to head to www.go-further.co. They’ll be able to find out about us and the way we work. And if they want to, check out any of the free resources we give – we’re real big givers at Further! We really like to make sure we’re trying to give people as much as possible. They can head over to our resources page. There’s a ton of stuff written by Nigel, by myself, there are free guides on there. There’s just loads of stuff that we’re trying to pour out, to really help because we do understand that people are time-poor, there’s more pressure than ever to deliver. You know, obviously, we’re trying to show our own expertise and we’d love to partner and collaborate with people where possible, and they can always reach out and get in touch with me at john@go-further.co, as well.

Adrian Tennant: And if this episode has piqued your interest in projective techniques and their use in online qualitative research – John, I know you’re going to be leading a webinar focused on these topics.

Dr. John Whittle: Yeah. I’ll be looking at, you know, why do we use them? What are they used for? And I’ll be sharing some examples.

Adrian Tennant: The webinar is tomorrow, that’s Wednesday, December the first, and we’ll include a link with details in the transcript that accompanies this episode. John and Nigel, thank you both for being our guests this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Dr. John Whittle: Thank you.

Nigel Roth: Our pleasure. Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guests this week, Dr. John Whittle and Nigel Roth from the human insights agency, Further. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com/insights. And if you enjoyed this podcast, please consider following us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for supporting IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

The second in a special series of podcasts reflecting consumer insights from Bigeye’s national study, Retail Disrupted, looks at the role that smart speakers and displays play in consumers’ shopping behaviors. We also learn which consumers are most likely to use augmented reality apps to support their purchasing decisions. Discussing the findings are antitrust expert Tim Hwang, retail futurist Doug Stephens, and Justin Hadaegh from the mobile shopper survey platform, MFour.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: ​​Welcome to the second in a special series of podcasts, accompanying Bigeye’s national study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. Coming up:

Doug Stephens: Amazon knows full well how we behave online, but if Amazon can open a department store it gives them an opportunity to create yet another data point to begin to connect consumer behavior between the online world and the physical world.

Tim Hwang: Amazon we can talk about. This new generation of companies raise these very fascinating questions about what is the consumer harm? And can you actually show that there’s a monopolistic cost on the consumer?

Justin Hadaegh: Not only do we have visibility into psychographic and demographic information if they use the PetSmart app or the Petco app on their phone for delivery or pick up, we know that they’re pet owners we can target off of those people directly, as well as brick and mortar behavior.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to a special episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. In August of this year, Bigeye conducted a national survey of over 1,500 shoppers aged 18 to 55, that reveals how shoppers’ behaviors have changed during the pandemic and what they want and expect from brands today. In today’s podcast, we’re going to explore some of the data points relating to consumers’ use of personal and in-store technology, and their implications for retail and direct-to-consumer marketers. Amazon.com, with its vast selection and drive to deliver convenience and low prices, became the nation’s default retailer and an essential service for many consumers at the height of the coronavirus crisis. Amazon announced record sales during the second quarter of 2020. The e-commerce giant’s ecosystem today includes an advertising business, exclusive collaborations and partnerships with celebrities to create original products, plus physical stores to sell them, including Whole Foods, Amazon Books, and Amazon 4-Star, as well as a subscription-based music service, original TV series and movies, logistics and cloud services. According to an April estimate from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, Amazon has 105 million members in its Prime loyalty program. That’s 82 percent of all us households. Amazon’s Echo range of smart voice-enabled devices both support and promote synergies within the ecosystem. Based on the results from Bigeye’s study, approaching two-thirds of consumers aged 18 to 55 own at least one smart speaker or smart display, 64 percent. Smart speakers and displays are most popular with Gen Z, those born between 1996 and 2012, among whom 79 percent report owning at least one. Among Gen Y, those millennials born between 1980 and 1995, ownership is at 68 percent, while just over one-half of Gen X, those born between 1965 and 1979, report owning a smart device, 51 percent. Among those who own smart devices, Amazon is the leading brand with 56 percent of the market. Google and Apple both trail behind at 29 percent and 21 percent respectively. And at 67 percent, respondents identifying as male are six points more likely than females to own a smart speaker or display. Respondents identifying as Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx, or of Spanish origin are 19 percentage points more likely to own an Apple product at 29 percent than non-Hispanics, and 15 points more likely to own a Facebook Portal at 24 percent. In addition to being the generation most likely to own smart speakers and displays, approaching one-half of Gen Z owners have two or three such devices, while almost one-fifth own four to five devices, compared to 12 percent of Gen Y and 11 percent of Gen X. Those with annual household incomes of under $50,000 are most likely to have one device, 44 percent, or two to three devices, 43 percent. In contrast, almost one-quarter of those with annual household incomes of $150,000 have four or five devices, and 12 percent of this group own six or more. The most popular location for people to play smart speakers and displays are in a living room, 53 percent, followed by a bedroom, 46 percent, and one-third report having a device in their kitchen. Gen Z is the most likely to place a smart device in a bedroom, an office or study, or in a bathroom. Gen Y is the most likely to place a smart device in a dining room. And Gen X is the most likely to place their smart devices in a living room, kitchen, rec room, or den. Hispanic owners of smart devices are twice as likely to have a device in their dining room – 29 percent – compared with 14 percent of non-Hispanic owners. Three-quarters of all respondents who own smart speakers and displays use them for shopping. The most popular users are to find information about products, 28 percent, get shipping and delivery notifications, 27 percent, and to check the status of an existing order, 26 percent. Gen Z respondents are slightly more likely than others to use that device to manage a personal shopping list or wishlist, 24 percent, while Gen Y are slightly more likely to manage a family or household shopping list, 26 percent. Gen X are significantly more likely to use their devices to find information about products, 34 percent, get shipping and delivery notifications, 32 percent, and to check the status of an existing order. Thirty percent of respondents identifying as Hispanic are eight percentage points more likely than non-Hispanics to place and confirm orders with their devices, and six points more likely to copy the details of a previous order.

Consumers spent $861 billion online with US merchants in 2020. That’s a year-over-year increase of 44 percent, the highest annual e-commerce growth in at least two decades. Amazon benefited from the switch from in-store to online buying during the pandemic. In our study, compared to before COVID-19, nearly one-half of all respondents say that today, they’re doing more of their shopping on Amazon, 47 percent. Most likely to have increased their use of Amazon for shopping are Gen X at 49 percent and Gen Y at 48 percent. Respondents identifying as female or as nonbinary are more likely than males to report doing so. And Amazon just keeps on growing. Shortly before we started collecting data for Bigeye’s study, the Wall Street Journal published a story about Amazon’s plans to introduce brick and mortar department stores. I asked retail futurist Doug Stephens, the CEO of Retail Prophet, for his response to the rumors.

Doug Stephens: Amazon knows full well how we behave online, but it gives them an opportunity to create yet another data point in the marketplace to begin to connect consumer behavior between the online world and the physical world. And then there’s the more sinister side. As we know, from past announcements, it gives Amazon the ability to absolutely tank the market caps of companies like Kohls who could potentially even become acquisition targets. We know that anytime Amazon merely clears its throat and sort of fixes its gaze on a category, they have a tendency to really rock the market caps of incumbents in those categories. We’ve seen them do it in the pharmacy sector. We’ve seen them do it across various categories. So that could be potentially the play here as well. But I think the big message to the marketplace, Adrian, and my opinion is that this is a warning shot across the bow of all physical retailers. And most specifically I’m thinking of categories that have sort of dodged the bullet up until now, categories like home improvement. If Amazon can open a quote-unquote department store and sell in the physical world, well, that brings them one step closer to selling lumber and concrete and building supplies and maybe doing a much better job of it than the incumbents in that category. So I think everyone has to take this very seriously. And above all, Amazon has the luxury to spend a tremendous amount of money doing this and sticking with it and experimenting. So, it could have many, many strategic dimensions, but something that everyone in the retail industry should be taking note of, for sure.

Adrian Tennant: Amazon now captures two of every 5 dollars spent on e-commerce in the US, which has placed it in the Federal Trade Commission’s crosshairs. Several high profile stories have been published, including one from Reuters News Agency about the use of its merchant data to create Amazon-branded products and manipulating search engine results to favor Amazon’s own products. Concerns have also been raised about the company’s employees’ safety and working conditions at the growing number of Amazon fulfillment warehouses, including a lack of access to bathrooms. In this context, we wanted to know to what extent consumers believe that Amazon’s dominance in retail is a good or a bad thing for American shoppers. Thirty-one percent of all respondents say they fully support Amazon and have no misgivings about its dominance. Gen Y respondents are five percent more likely than Gen Z to do so. Thirty percent of respondents say they mostly support Amazon, but have some misgivings. Respondents identifying as Hispanic are four points more likely than non-Hispanics to select this response. Thirteen percent say they’re less likely to support Amazon now than in the past, but don’t think it warrants government intervention, while just 11 percent say they think Amazon’s dominance is a problem that needs to be addressed by the Federal Trade Commission. Tim Hwang is a writer and research fellow at The Center for Security and Emerging Technology. Tim joined me earlier this year on IN CLEAR FOCUS to discuss antitrust claims in relation to Amazon and other big tech companies being considered by the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan.

Tim Hwang: What’s really interesting is that the long-standing trend in American antitrust law over the last few decades is to really think about antitrust as it pertains to monopolies that influence price among consumers. So the notion is okay, well, if you’re a monopolist, you control the whole market. Then one of the things that we don’t like is that you use your market power to impose a cost on people. People have to spend more than they would otherwise spend had it been a more competitive market, right? And that’s actually where traditionally the case for antitrust has come from. Now this new generation of companies raise these very fascinating questions about okay. What is the consumer harm? And can you actually show that there’s a monopoly here that is imposing a monopolistic cost on the consumer, right? And this has been the crux of the battle. Can you show that the company that you’re trying to bring antitrust claims against really controls the market and engages in anti-competitive conduct in the way that you claim? It is actually really interesting how it’s evolving in DC right now, because needless to say we don’t live in a particularly bipartisan time, probably understatement of the century. But it is interesting to me that whether you are a hardcore progressive or a diehard Trumpist it actually has turned out that both sides agree that something needs to be done about big tech. and so I do think that the next two or three years really are the Superbowl, if you will, of tech policy, that if something big is going to happen, it’s going to happen in the next few years when there’s policy concern about these companies and what they’ve become. Now there’s actually an interesting question about Lina Khan and her view around some of these things and Amazon actually filed a petition trying to get Lina Khan disqualified from participation in antitrust prosecutions, arguing that basically she’s pre-judged the situation given her previous publications. And so I think the fight is really becoming a knife fight, and I think it actually is getting quite dirty in some ways, but I do believe that the tech companies are on defense now. And I think really now the question is, can we really articulate what we think is the right way forwards?

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Marissa Martin: I’m Marissa Martin on Bigeye’s operations team. Every week, Bigeye’s podcast IN CLEAR FOCUS explores how consumer behaviors are evolving as a result of COVID-19. From the influence of Generation Z, with its interest in social and environmental issues – to the fast-growing Hispanic market and the opportunity it presents  – Bigeye interprets signals from primary and secondary research, identifying the trends driving consumer spending today – and those that will have the greatest impact tomorrow. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s research-backed, data-driven insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before. To examine how the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has disrupted the retail industry, Bigeye recently conducted a national study with over 1,500 consumers. Our exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today, reveals that while people enjoy the convenience of online ordering and home delivery, many still prefer to shop in physical stores. But their expectations of merchandise selections, in-store technology, and customer service are all heightened. To understand consumers’ new shopping behaviors, and mindsets – and what they mean for retailers, direct-to-consumer marketers, and traditional brands – download the full, complimentary report available now at Bigeye.agency/retail. Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Americans now own a smartphone. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen retailers offering apps that take advantage of phones’ improved technical capabilities. Augmented reality, or AR, integrates digital information with the physical environment: live, and in real-time. During COVID-19, AR apps were especially appealing since they allowed consumers to try on clothing or makeup to see how they looked without having to go to a physical store. Similarly, furniture and homeware companies, including IKEA and Wayfair, offer apps that enable consumers to see how items of furniture will look in their own homes, thoughtfully providing options to superimpose the dimensions of their products. Etsy recently debuted an augmented reality experience that let shoppers tour a digital home decorated with curated items from its marketplace. The Artsy app enables buyers to visualize works of art, accurately sized on the walls of their own homes or offices. And AI apps can also be used to preview the results of various aesthetic interventions, such as dental treatments or cosmetic surgeries. Progressive advances in phone technology and making new types of shopping experiences possible. Shoppers can aim their phone cameras at an item they spot in real life or in an online catalog, then try that item on virtually. AR superimposes images of clothing or products over the live camera data and users can further personalize their avatar by selecting body types, colors, and styles. Warby Parker’s try on app for glasses and sunglasses was among the first to go mainstream, but other brands offering AR apps, including H&M, Nike, and Forever 21. Apple’s latest flagship iPhones have LIDAR technology, which allows the phone to scan the environment and create more faithful, responsive, augmented reality experiences for users. But how open are consumers to using these kinds of shopping technologies and how many shoppers are using them already? Well, our data shows that almost one-quarter of Gen Z shoppers have already used smartphone apps to try on clothes, glasses, or sunglasses, to see how they look. Among Gen Y, more than one fifth have. Gen X are the least likely to have done so at 15 percent. When it comes to homewares, 22 percent of Gen Z shoppers have used apps to see how furniture looks in their home compared to 19 percent of Gen Y and 14 percent of Gen X. I asked Doug Stephens if traditional retail stores should be introducing more augmented reality or virtual reality technologies to bridge the gap between physical and digital retailing – that some have dubbed “phygital”.

Doug Stephens: I think it depends. And this is often the question, so, I mean, you know, should stores be using virtual reality? Should they be using blockchain? Should they be experimenting with crypto? I mean, all of these questions around technology are good ones. But it ultimately comes down to being a brand decision, I think. So the question is not “which technology should we, or shouldn’t we use?” The question is, ” do we fully understand and have we completely mapped our entire consumer journey across all interactions, across all phases of that relationship with the consumer? Have we completely mapped that out in a meticulous way?” And if we have, that’s good news, because then you’re able to stand back as a brand and look at that consumer journey. And you’re able to identify these sort of choke points in that journey. You know, where clearly there’s a moment that the consumer could use help in obtaining information, of understanding the choices that they have, in trying something on perhaps. And that’s the point at which we can say, “okay, we’ve identified the consumer’s problem on that journey,” or “we’ve identified a place of friction. What is the best solution for alleviating that friction?” And it may not be one answer. It may not simply be, “Oh, well, we need to put augmented reality into the equation here.” It may be that there are several different choices that we present the consumer with. The most important thing – and frankly, 10 years from now, it may not be augmented reality, it may be something else. But the important thing is the mapping of the journey, is understanding every single moment and micro moment in that journey. And then, and only then, making cogent decisions about the technologies we can use to make that journey more pleasant and memorable.

Adrian Tennant: In Bigeye’s study, shoppers identifying as Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx or of Spanish origin are more likely than others to have already used a smartphone app to augment their shopping experience. Close to one quarter have already used an app to see what teeth whitening or alignment would look like compared with 10 percent of non-Hispanics, and one fifth have used an app to take a test drive in a vehicle compared with just 9 percent of non-Hispanics. Yes, automobile manufacturers are also getting into AR and virtual reality. In the US, it’s been estimated that car buyers typically spend 15 hours in the buying process, and 70 percent still don’t know which car they want until they visit dealerships and sit in different makes and models. With AI and virtual reality applications, consumers can take virtual test drives through different terrains and test conditions, giving them a feel of how the car will perform in real life. Brian Cooley is editor at large for CNET’s Road Show. Here’s an excerpt from a story Brian reported in June about how AR is bringing the car showroom to consumers and why he believes it could offer a better car buying experience.

Brian Cooley: You want to go see the car? You want to sit in it. And of course you want to take a test drive. However, we’ve had a big shift toward online purchasing of vehicles. And I think it’s now time to virtualize the showroom the same way! Flat pictures, rotating images and web videos. They’re good, but they’re flat. AR can bring the car to you where you are, let you put any paint job on it. Put on different options, change those wheels. See what it looks like in your driveway. That’s something unique that I think maps beautifully to the increased appetite for buying cars, largely online.

Adrian Tennant: I mentioned Apple’s iPhone support for LIDAR earlier. Brian highlights innovations from Google.

Brian Cooley: Notice if you’re on an Android device these days, and you search for a particular model of car, one of several hundred will show up in 3D. That’s essentially an AR activation that allows you to see the car in an AR presentation. And that’s powered by Google out of their own database. Several manufacturers have got this going as well. Jaguar was one of the first to let you do that. They all realize that the car needs to sit where you want to see it. Not someplace you have to go to get to it.

Adrian Tennant: You’ll find a link to the full video in the transcript for this episode. Let’s change focus from smartphone apps to in-store technology. A first of its kind media and merchandising platform called Cooler Screens adds a new twist to the in-store shopping experience. The company’s technology replaces regular glass cooler doors, the time you have to open to access refrigerated items, with new digital smart screens. The company claims to have built the world’s first and largest in-store digital merchandising and media platform for brick and mortar retail. Customers in a store equipped with cooler screens, see animated displays showing which products are in the cooler. These screens also support brand advertising, meaning that consumer packaged goods brands can engage directly with consumers in store. Retailers can now enter the digital media business, offering those CPG brands access to millions of consumers with contextually relevant messages and promotions at the point of purchase. Retailers already using cooler screens includes certain Walgreens locations, which is where I first encountered the technology in use. Cooler screens say they aim to engage three types of shopper. The first they describe as informed seekers, those familiar with the location and layout of the store, they’re quick to scan and then grab items, rarely deviating from their habitual routines. The second type are list driven gatherers. These consumers think through a list of items and are more open to considering items that are missing from their list. The third type are casual browsers. They do not know the location, are passively scanning items in store, and are the most receptive to novel items. Based on retail partners, pilot store sales, data, unit sales and stores equipped with cooler screens grow their sales by 50 to 100 percent more than comparable areas stores. In addition, products advertised on Cooler Screens see sales two to 10 times higher compared to non advertised products. Coolest Screens boasts that brands that advertise on the platform can measure the performance and consumer response to their media buys in real time. With instantaneous feedback, brands can rapidly test and refine their offerings. In my local Walgreens, where a bank of eight or so Cooler Screens are located, a QR code is displayed, which customers can snap on their phones to complete a short survey. So the company is also monitoring consumers’ reactions to the platform. By digitizing their in-store operations retailers, gain insight from real time, consumer analytics and efficiencies through automated merchandising, inventory tracking and pricing. By digitizing their in-store operations, retailers gain insight from real-time consumer analytics and efficiencies through automated merchandising, inventory tracking, and pricing. With digitized planograms, merchandising can also be improved as products are never hidden, disorganized, or unknowingly out of stock. The Cooler Screens technology certainly looks like it has the ability to enhance the brick and mortar shopping experience. Another way the brands can understand the consumers in-store shopping experiences is by working with research providers that collect in the moment, behavioral data. This is typically done via smartphone apps with opted-in shoppers. One company that offers this kind of shopper data is MFour. I recently spoke with MFour sales representative, Justin Hadaegh.

Justin Hadaegh: The way that we obtain our consumer data is through our first party app. It’s called Surveys on the Go. you can download Surveys on the Go and the iOS store or the Google Play store for Android and our consumers take surveys with us for a cash incentive. We have about 2.5 million across the US, almost three that have the app downloaded, but we like to base our feasibility on active panelists and that’s about 300,000 daily taking surveys with us for a cash incentive. Since we are all mobile, we have visibility into a lot of different behaviors that other data companies don’t have access to. We operate in the space between behaviors and opinions, a large majority of our panel opts-in to have their location tracked, so we have the ability to target off of brick and mortar visitation. So if someone visits a Target, we can ping them a survey as they enter, as they exit, or if they’ve been there in the last 30, 60, 90 days. Knowing that it’s validated behavior and we could ask them questions around their shopping experience.

Adrian Tennant: So that’s how MFour can target particular store buyers. I asked Justin how MFour targets specific category buyers.

Justin Hadaegh: Not only do we have visibility into psychographic and demographic information of our panelists, because when they download their app, they fill out a demographic survey, so we can target off of ethnicity, income, age, et cetera. If they use the PetSmart app or the Petco app on their phonefor delivery or pick up, or we know that they’re pet owners, we can target off of those people directly, as well as brick and mortar behavior. So if you’d like to survey people in-store of certain locations and ask them about what products they’re looking to buy – are they interested in buying another product than they currently do? You know, or can you take photos of the shelf, and see how product placement looks? We will then screen for have you purchased this product? Do you typically purchase this product? Are you interested in purchasing something else? We would screen for more of the granular components of what you’re looking for.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to the second episode of Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. My thanks to all the contributors to this podcast: Doug Stephens, Tim Hwang, and Justin Hadaegh. To download the full report on which this podcast is based, go to bigeye.agency/retail, where you can also watch the on-demand webinar highlighting results from our national study. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. Thank you for listening. Until next time, goodbye.

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Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

While many people profess a desire to help fight climate change by engaging in more sustainable behaviors, there’s often a gap between people’s expressed intentions and their actual behaviors. In this week’s podcast, applied consumer neuroscience expert Michael Smith joins us to discuss his new book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices. Hear what Michael believes marketers and advertising creatives need to do to encourage more consumers to purchase sustainable products and services.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Michael E. Smith: There’s a great need for brand advertisers to educate consumers about the real personal and societal benefits of sustainable products and pro-environmental behaviors.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. The international research firm Kantar recently published the 2021 edition of its annual report entitled, Who cares? Who does? The study examined environmentally responsible shopping behaviors, reflecting data collected from 88,000 respondents across 26 countries. The report finds that almost one-half of households, 49 percent, say the COVID-19 pandemic has made sustainability even more important to them. 22 percent of those surveyed indicate they’re highly concerned about the environment and taking steps to reduce their waste, a cohort Kantar dubs “eco actives”. Forty percent of households are “eco considerers”, that is, shoppers worried about the environment and plastic waste, but not yet engaged in actions to reduce their waste. And 38 percent of surveyed households are “eco dismissers” – shoppers who have little or no interest in the environment and are not taking any steps to reduce waste. Germany emerges as the country with the largest “eco active” segment at 46 percent. Among the most economically advanced countries, the United States has the lowest incidence of eco-actives. Recent years have seen an expansion of the global middle class, driven by improving financial conditions for people in developing countries, many of whom wish to emulate the typical middle-class American consumer lifestyle and all that entails. But our fragile planet cannot sustain such ambitions. Our guest today is the author of a new book exploring the ways in which our consumer economy has impacted the ecosystem we inhabit and explains why efforts to mitigate humanity’s impact have to start with an improved understanding of consumer behavior. The book is entitled Inspiring Green Consumer Choices: Leverage Neuroscience To Reshape Marketplace Behavior. Its author, Michael E. Smith, is an applied cognitive neuroscientist and management professional experienced in consumer research, neurotechnology research and development, and commercialization. Michael has held senior leadership positions in the research and technology space, including senior partner in Nielsen’s NeuroFocus consulting practice in Berkeley, president of Cortech labs in La Jolla, Vice President of Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience practice, and is the founder and principal scientist of Adaptation Research, as well as an advisory board member for CloudArmy Neuro, Inc. Currently focused on challenges at the intersection of psychology, behavior change, and environmentally sustainable products and services, Michael is joining us today from his home in La Jolla, California. Michael, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael E. Smith: Adrian, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: So, Michael, what prompted you to write Inspiring Green Consumer Choices?

Michael E. Smith: Well, several things. First, it integrates two topics I’ve had a long interest in. One of those is the emergence of the discipline of consumer neuroscience over the last decade or so. That discipline attempts to better understand consumer decision-making through advances in neuroscience, experimental psychology, behavioral economics, and other disciplines. As you noted in the introduction, I had been working in this field for many years and watched it grow from a niche discipline to something that’s become much more mainstream. The second topic was a growing interest in the expanding effort of marketers to both reduce the environmental footprints of the products and services they are creating and to promote those efforts and their marketing communications, there didn’t seem to be much overlap and the related literatures on these two issues. So I recognized that gap in the discussion and identified a need to introduce the fields to each other. Of course, another proximal backdrop that motivated me, was the growing impacts of extreme weather across the globe and evidence that increasing numbers of consumers were voicing both greater recognition of environmental problems and greater desire to adopt more sustainable ways of existing in the world.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the first chapter of Inspiring Green Consumer Choices includes some eye-popping stats, reflecting American consumerism. You write that the average individual living in a modern home now has over 200 percent more personal space in which to stretch out, consume media and store their personal collections of stuff than someone would have done just a few generations previously. And yet, even with all this extra room, often including one or two-car garages filled to the brim with more stuff, almost one in every 11 Americans pay for storage facilities outside their home, fueling the $40 billion a year self-storage industry. Michael, how did we get here?

Michael E. Smith: Well, slowly and then much faster. Following World War II and more developed nations and especially in the US which suffered much less than the Homeland from the war, consumer behavior grew to become an increasingly large component of GDP. This mainly reflected the growth of the middle class in the US with increasing prosperity and increasing availability of consumer goods. After a slow and relatively steady growth and demand for consumer products, essentially from the beginning of the industrial revolution onwards, beginning in the 1950s, demands for such goods enter a period of essentially exponential growth. That has put unsustainable impacts on the resources available to meet such demand and on the ability of planets, physical systems to absorb the polluting byproducts of meeting those demands. The period from around 1950 to the present is sometimes referred to by resource management experts and economists as the great acceleration. And while one might assume that much of this increase in environmental impact simply reflects population growth, in fact, most of the growth of the consumer economy has occurred in developed nations, which haven’t witnessed that much population growth. Whereas much of the population growth instead has occurred in less developed nations. Nations that are least responsible for the growth and consumption.

Adrian Tennant: What are the psychological factors behind our seemingly irrational consumption and hoarding behaviors?

Michael E. Smith: Well, this is not fully understood. So let me just be clear on that, but we have inklings of what’s driving it. It is clear that the same reward systems in the brain are involved in more extreme and pathological psychiatric aberrations, such as compulsive shopping, gambling addiction, extreme hoarding behavior, and also physical addictions to substances. Those same mechanisms are also engaged when clinically normal people buy things. The process of shopping for and purchasing attractive products engages deep brain structures involved with reward anticipation. Which provides a bit of a dopamine rush to the shopper, you know, when they select the purchase and decide to buy it. This is a very transient effect and our emotions regressed to a kind of equilibrium after a purchase. And, you know, in a pretty rapid fashion. As a result, the last shiny new thing we purchased is no longer quite as exciting anymore. And we step back on what is sometimes referred to as a hedonic treadmill in pursuit of other goals and desires and in a largely unconscious effort to reinstate the positive feelings we experienced on previous shopping occasions. Over time, based on that reinforcement, we develop automatic habits that drive purchasing of preferred products in a relatively autonomous fashion. We don’t give it much thought once it’s become a habit. And because we live in a social world, we tend to model our own behavior around what we see others doing and those others are also busily out there shopping. And because of that, it becomes a societal norm to do exactly that behavior. And to some degree, because people are concerned about how they are perceived by others, some purchasing relates directly to an effort to convey taste and status to our peers, you know to look good in the eyes of others.

Adrian Tennant: This is the concept of self – where what we choose to buy is really an expression of how we want others to perceive us?

Michael E. Smith: Very much so.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, in Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, you describe mental models of the relationship consumers have with the environment and the history of Earth Day, which has been celebrated in April every year since 1970. Could you just briefly explain the roots of the circular economy movement?

Michael E. Smith: Sure. So it’s this acceleration beginning in the 1950s. By the early 1960s, people were becoming more aware of the growing problem than many forms of environmental pollution. And by 1970, as you note, there emerged widespread concern about the impacts we were having on the planet and hence the emergence of the Earth Day phenomenon. Accompanying this concern was a growing realization that planetary resources were not unlimited. If we are to have a long-term future on the planet, we would need to move beyond the traditional, what is sometimes referred to as a linear “take, use, dispose” view of consumption to one that was less wasteful and that better mimics what happens in nature and in nature, nothing is really wasted or use it up, but rather materials are cycled through ecosystems, such that the outputs from one use becomes the inputs to another process. Since this period, was also the dawn of the space age, late in the 1960s, the sociologist and economist Kenneth Boulding characterize this the emerging difference in worldview, as essentially on the old perspective, he used the metaphor of a cowboy exploring and exploiting a limitless frontier versus the emerging relatively closed system of a spaceship astronaut dependent on life support systems that minimize environmental contaminants and that recycles limited resources. In more recent decades, this notion has evolved to a discussion of a circular economy, largely building on those metaphors. One where waste is minimized, and the end of life of one product cycle provides resources for the next or for some new upcycled phenomenon.

Adrian Tennant: All of us engaged in quantitative and qualitative research know that pro-social biases often result in marked differences between what survey respondents and the focus group participants say they’ll do and what they actually do in real life. Environmentally conscious behaviors are no different. The problem which you lay out in your book is the gap between what consumers say about the importance of sustainability considerations in their purchase decisions and their actual choices and post-purchase, pro-environmental behaviors they engage in. Can you explain this intention action gap?

Michael E. Smith: Pro-social response biases, undoubtedly play some role in explaining the gap. Additional influences may be at work as well and some of those influences may be inherent in the psychology of the consumer, while others may reflect a market failure of one form or another. On the consumer side, people just aren’t very good accountants of their own behavior. They may lack insight into how often they actually engage in pro-environmental behaviors. And because they’re well-known to rely on a variety of mental heuristics, one such being the availability bias, or how easy something comes to mind when you try to think of it, they may overweigh the frequency by which they engage in such behaviors, especially if it is easy to remember instances where environmental concerns weighed on their decision-making. If that comes easily to mind, it’s easy to assume that you do that more often than you actually, frankly, do. People also tend to discount some benefits such as environmental benefits if they promise to pay off only in the future. We discount future rewards to a great degree, whereas when they are trying to satisfy some immediate need state: hunger, thirst, a need for a new pair of shoes, they may be more attuned to immediate functional benefits rather than sustainability claims of more environmentally friendly products. And generally consciously considering the pros and cons of environmental benefits typically require more mental effort on their part. They might not fully understand a potential benefit and they may be skeptical of brands emphasizing such claims, and they may not really be willing to spend the extra mental effort to think through that problem. I’m reminded of the frequently cited quote, usually attributed to the Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman: “Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats. We can do it, but absolutely hate it!” So part of the gap may be attributable to human psychology. But another part of that gap may be attributable to problems brought on by marketers themselves. They have made claims that are difficult to understand in the first place. And those claims may in some cases, be rightly viewed with suspicion as there is a long history of brands engaging in greenwashing and purpose washing activities of that nature. And it’s well documented, so it’s not really controversial for me to say that, and as should be obvious. Marketers tend to price more sustainable products at a premium to more traditional products. Yeah, many consumers may not be able to afford that differential. And a third part that might contribute to this is that some barriers that are more institutional and structural in nature, a pro-environmental consumer may sincerely want to engage in behavior such as say, purchasing organic foods or recycling packaging, but if they live in a place where organic foods aren’t widely available or where recycling infrastructure is underdeveloped or undeveloped, they may not have the opportunity to engage in the behavior despite their desire to. So while the intention action gap is real, I think there are many things that contribute to it.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm, that’s interesting. Because the limitations of research instruments that rely upon respondents and participants self-reporting are generally well understood within the industry, there are also researchers and suppliers that offer implicit methods, including biometrics, like eye tracking, facial expression analysis, galvanic skin response, and electroencephalography, or EEG, that aim to decode consumers non-conscious thoughts. Michael, you’ve gone a lot further than most in understanding the shopping brain. Could you tell us a little about your experience as a leader in Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience practice and how the learnings could inspire brands to make it easier for consumers to make green choices?

Michael E. Smith: Happy to, and, I will say that all the types of tools you described, it is the case that much of the applied research I’ve been involved with, and commercial endeavors, have relied heavily on those tools. My experience in the domain actually precedes my being a direct employee of Nielsen because I previously worked for many years, in a startup that Nielsen, subsequently acquired much of that work focused on traditional, market research associated with evaluating commercial communications about brands and their benefits and, their attempts at persuasion in the marketplace. But such tools can serve the same purpose for sustainability marketing as they do for traditional marketing. In fact, the portion of the research agenda I was directly responsible for at Nielsen examined how the brain measurement tools frequently employed in the field for optimizing commercial marketing, in general, could also be used to optimize communications promoting different types of pro-social behavior. Some of the tools are really good for identifying what grabs your attention and what fails to. Others are good for estimating whether communication imposes too high of the mental workload to be effectively processed and which in turn can lead to a negative emotional response. And still others could help identify whether a communication promotes a positive emotional response, and whether it’s memorable. In the commercial world, these tools can be used to pre-test communications in order to evaluate what is working well and what requires some creative optimization before it’s unleashed into the media sphere of one form or another. I’m sure you’re well-acquainted with that process. For example, for an application in this domain, I’m reminded of one project that we did on behalf of a non-governmental organization that was developing public service advertisements to promote recycling behavior. We were able to identify parts of, you know, a 30-second ad or a 60-second ad under development, that was either eliciting confusion as to what the point was or failed to elicit an emotional connection. And in turn, the feedback from that measurement exercise provided information to the creative team working on the spot that they were able to use to increase the degree by relatively minor edits and the advertising copy to increase the degree to which viewers engaged with the advertisement. So applying these tools to sustainability marketing really are not intrinsically different than marketing in general.

Adrian Tennant: And the other name by which some of these tools go is neuromarketing. I’m wondering how you feel about that term.

Michael E. Smith: Well, I have mixed feelings about it. Neuromarketing is really, in my mind, the difference between consumer neuroscience and the use of the term neuromarketing is I think of the term consumer neuroscience applying more specifically to evaluating brain responses in response to marketing materials. Whereas neuromarketing, in my mind is more – well, it sounds scarier to some people, rightly so in some instances – but it’s also really the application of the insights that come from consumer neuroscience to marketing strategy. So it really, those insights may help a brand marketer or an advertising team construct effective communications. And if you rely on neuroscience inputs to construct those communications, and you’re the person putting those communications out into the wild, well, that’s more of what I conceive of as neuromarketing per se. Many other people would just equate the terms.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Sandra Marshall: I’m Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we’re committed not just to understanding our clients’ business challenges but also learning about their prospects and customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and collectively inspire the account, creative, media, and analytics teams working on our clients’ projects. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused consumer insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before. To examine how the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has disrupted the retail industry, Bigeye recently conducted a national study with over 1,500 consumers. Our exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today, reveals that while people enjoy the convenience of online ordering and home delivery, many still prefer to shop in physical stores. But their expectations of merchandise selections, in-store technology, and customer service are all heightened. To understand consumers’ new shopping behaviors, and mindsets – and what they mean for retailers, direct-to-consumer marketers, and traditional brands – download the full, complimentary report available now at Bigeye.agency/retail. Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Michael Smith, an applied cognitive neuroscientist and the principal scientist of Adaptation Research, based in La Jolla. Kantar’s recent report underscored the greater level of concern consumers now have about brands’ sustainability and environmental practices. Due to the pandemic, many US consumers had no choice but to order products online and have goods delivered to their homes. As previous guests on this podcast have noted, while we like the convenience of home delivery, it presents us with a lot more packaging waste to dispose of. Michael, you write about the important roles that habit and intent play in consumer behaviors. Could you explain why these are so important if we want to change how we shop in order to be more sustainable?

Michael E. Smith: Well, let me first say something about the first issue and then talk about habits, which are indeed very important. The other side of increased packaging for deliveries is that you’ve dramatically decreased the human time resource and the, you know, vehicle miles traveled by everybody going out, driving to the supermarket. and then when they’re wandering around in the marketplace, maybe buying things they never intended to in the first place. So I think there are pros and cons on the sustainability front, in terms of e-commerce and further, there’s a lot of pressure on the major e-commerce providers to clean up their act as much as possible, so there’s that going for it. but to get to your point about habits, psychologists have documented that habitual patterns of behavior influence a significant fraction of all consumer choices, especially if those choices are about products typically purchased frequently or routinely and purchased and the context of your favorite shopping center that you’ve been to many, many times shopping for many of the same products. Mainly because the habitual behavior is relatively easy: it requires a little thought and has fairly predictable rewards associated with it. You do the same thing over, you’re likely to have the same outcome that you did in the past, whereas doing something new as risk of remorse associated with the purchase, something that you short circuit by relying on habits. For highly ingrained behaviors, such as habits, explicit intentions, to do something different or to do the same thing more frequently, appear to have relatively little influence and academic research on this topic, if you compare the strength of an existing habit versus an individual’s explicit claims about their behavioral intentions, habit strength, in general, appears to be a better predictor of actual behavior than stated intent is. One way to overcome that: habits are driven by familiar contexts, providing cues that activate the habitual behavior. So one way to get around that is if you’re a marketer who wants to overcome existing habits is to disrupt the context in some way. And by disrupting the context, you’re more likely to give people the mental space to adopt new behaviors. And sometimes you don’t even need to disrupt the context. Sometimes life does that for you. So for example, if someone’s starting a new job, going to a new school, moving to a new neighborhood, they have to recalibrate all their routine behaviors to better adapt to the new environment. And if you can identify people, who’ve switched the context on themselves, you can approach them when they’re in a state of mind to actually try something new, with greater acceptance than they might otherwise.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, you cite a McKinsey and Company study that found that consumers feel that it’s largely the responsibility of companies and governments to reduce barriers to green consumption. What do brand marketers need to do to adjust to consumers growing intentions to shop more green?

Michael E. Smith: Brand marketers need to make their sustainability claims more trustworthy and transparent if people are going to be more accepting of those claims. They also need to focus more on highlighting the immediate and concrete, functional benefits of their products. And then more as a secondary consideration, focus on the more long-term and abstract environmental benefits, because at the end of the day, if we’re not getting our needs satisfied by a particular product or service, we will explore other ones. So, shoppers need to be convinced that whatever their primary need is be it taste or health or identifying something aesthetically pleasing they’re not going to go after the secondary needs. Also need to ensure that their offering has some degree of mental and physical availability. Byron Sharp, in his book, How Brands Grow, emphasizes that having something top of mind as a brand and have it physically available where you’re shopping are the keys to increasing sales and growth of your brand within the broader category. And this is as true for sustainable brands as it is for any other brand. And then I think marketers really need to get comfortable with letting go of the notion that just because somebody filling out a survey says they’re willing to pay more for more sustainable products doesn’t mean when the rubber hits the road, that that’s true. Some people can be distracted by a discount on a neighboring product that they find at the shelf. And many people – the majority of the population, really, especially these days – don’t have the resources to spend more money on fulfilling their product needs. And so I think there needs to be a greater emphasis for marketers marketing more sustainable products to do everything they can to achieve price parity with the competition if they want to have more success in this sphere.

Adrian Tennant: That’s a great point. What are the kinds of adjustments that those of us working in the advertising industry will need to make to support green consumption and the adoption of a post-consumerism mindset?

Michael E. Smith: There’s a great need for brand advertisers to educate consumers about the real personal and societal benefits of sustainable products and pro-environmental behavior. More generally, there’s a growing body of evidence that more informed consumers tend to be more receptive to sustainable marketing efforts. Whereas less informed consumers tend to be more skeptical. So advertising and creative development teams really need to work with marketers to convey, where we’re headed and, fashion that is informative, without eliciting so much despair that people just give up and try not to be more sustainably thoughtful. Beyond that, I think the advertising community needs to help marketers to build more trust with their consumers. They need to rely more on things like trusted third-party verifications of claims. especially on topics such as sustainably sourced and fair trade bonafides rather than promoting claims that lack such certification, or that may seem otherwise self-serving, you know, the creative agencies need to be conscious to avoid communications that smack of greenwashing. Consumers will be quick to detect it and will be turned off by it. And will be more likely to engage in negative word of mouth to disparage it. And finally, I think one thing that’s really critical and that’s missing and a lot of sustainability marketing is a failure to highlight the immediate personal benefits that a product might convey, rather than focusing on abstract environmental benefits that might be remote and in space, because if you’re not helping people to satisfy their immediate needs, they’re not going to have the bandwidth to try to aspire to help to satisfy a future generation’s needs.

Adrian Tennant:  When it comes to beliefs and attitudes about climate change, here in the US there is polarization among the general public, as the topic has become as politicized as mandatory precautions against COVID-19. Michael, how can marketers address those skeptical of climate change? 

Michael E. Smith: You know, the first thing to realize, trying to rationally argue this point with extreme deniers, it’s likely to get you nowhere. They’re likely to just harden their position because they’re not reasoning about it in a rational way, but rather in an emotional way, that may be based on their values, that may be based on their peer group, and the place of that peer group or many other factors. So, you know, one way to address this is, personalized to the extent possible communications, that makes sustainable goods and services more personally relevant to climate skeptics. And you can do that by not focusing on carbon emissions, but rather focusing on the functional and personal benefits of the sustainable products. For example, Tesla – they didn’t become a trillion-dollar company by highlighting environmental benefits. In fact, they do little direct advertising at all. And you very seldom hear Elon Musk tweeting about, you know, their impact on carbon emissions. Rather, in a variety of ways, they try to highlight their cars being cool, sexy, high-performance, and fun to drive. Their cars are an offering that also has the benefit, frankly of lifetime costs that although they seem expensive on the surface, once you take into account fuel savings, reduced repair costs because they’re actually mechanically simpler than an ice vehicle, they’re cheaper than other premium vehicles. So by convincing people, this is a cool choice that you’ll have fun with and that you’ll even save money on, none of that says anything about climate and, you know, that’s worked really well for them. You know, similarly, you might be able to convince a denialist to nonetheless hook up their house with LED lights for many of the similar reasons: they last virtually forever, they’re a little more costly, but they have such a dramatic reduction in your energy use, that they paid for themselves many times over once they’re installed. Who wouldn’t want to be receptive to that? I know before I got my solar panels, I put LEDs all over the house and monitored the impact, and it actually reduced my electrical bills by about 25 percent because we live in a climate where we don’t have to do much heating or cooling. So lighting is actually a big component of electrical expenses. And again, you don’t have to talk about the environmental benefits to highlight those benefits. So I think that’s a good strategy with those denialists, but you know, and this is my activism coming to light, focusing particularly on your industry, and not to be too pointed about it, but advertising creatives should follow the lead of the organization Clean Creatives, which you could look at CleanCreatives.org, which is an organization of advertisers bringing together leading agencies, their employees, and clients to address the AD and PR industry’s work with the fossil fuel industry, which is documented to be extensive. And the idea is to stop profiting from the sale of fossil fuels at the agency level. And instead, begin to combat the longstanding corporate greenwashing the fossil fuel industry has engaged in, that has, in fact, encouraged climate disinformation and denialism in the first place. They kind of manufactured that whole cognitive positioning. So, just again, my activist thoughts that given the question, I can’t help but bring up.

Adrian Tennant: I’m very glad that you did. Michael, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about you, your work in consumer neuroscience and psychology, or your book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, where can they find you?

Michael E. Smith: If they want to have direct communications, the best thing is just to email me at michael@adaptationresearch.com, or connect with me on LinkedIn. And if you’re interested in the book, there will be reviews coming out. They can listen to this podcast to learn more about it – clearly – but it’s available for order either on major e-commerce platforms like Amazon or Walmart, or from my publisher, Kogan Page, just Google Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, and you’ll get lots of hits on the topic.

Adrian Tennant: And we’ll certainly include a link to that in our transcript. Michael, thank you very much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael E. Smith: Thank you, Adrian. It’s been a real pleasure to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: Coming up next time on, IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Doug Stephens: Should stores be using virtual reality? Should they be using blockchain? Should they be experimenting with crypto? All of these questions around technology are good ones. But it ultimately comes down to being a brand decision.

Adrian Tennant: A look at shopping and technology in the second episode of a series of podcasts, examining issues highlighted in Bigeye’s national study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today – that’s next week. Thanks to my guest this week, Michael Smith, applied cognitive neuroscientist and the principal scientist of Adaptation Research. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Celebrating Bigeye’s 100th episode, we take a closer look at direct-to-consumer brands. Host Adrian Tennant catches up with previous guests to find out how COVID-19 supply chain disruptions and changing consumer behaviors have impacted their DTC businesses since they first appeared on the podcast. Listen in for lively conversations with Liz Mazzei of Provenance Meals, Delaney Doria of Luma & Leaf, Olivia Canlas of Meowbox, and Brandon Frank of Pacific Packaging Components.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this, the 100th episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Liz Mazzei: Where are our clients, especially now that we’re in a new market in LA? Are they online? Are they on Instagram and Facebook? I think they might be other places. 

Olivia Canlas: We have been diligently posting a lot of creative, like trending TikToks and it’s very silly, lighthearted, very random, we’re going to keep exploring it. It’s a place where a lot of people go for information.

Delaney Doria: Less waste is what I think everyone will be looking towards, being sustainable in packaging. So shipping materials, as well as the cartons for the actual product, all of that.

Brandon Frank: I think our development of sustainable packaging, the temptation was for us to also put it on hold, and instead of doing that, we said, “You know, we’re going to do it all at the same time.”

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to the one-hundredth episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, a weekly podcast produced by Bigeye. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us today. Bigeye recently published an exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today, which reflects responses from over 1,500 US consumers aged 18 to 55. One of the themes that emerges from the study is the growth of direct-to-consumer brands in parallel with the increased use of social media. The network effect amplifies social media’s popularity and effectiveness as a source for brand and product discovery. Warby Parker, Casper, Glossier, and Peloton all started life as online-only brands selling their products directly to consumers rather than via retailers. But what characterizes DTC shoppers? What we see in the study results are some significant generational differences. Members of Generation Z, those aged 18 to 24, are the most likely to have purchased from a direct-to-consumer brand in the past six months. Almost two-thirds of this group report doing so – at 63 percent – compared to just under one-half of Gen Y, those aged 25 to 39. And just over one-third of Gen X, those aged 40 to 55. Forty-nine percent of respondents identifying as male report purchasing from a DTC brand compared to 45 percent of those identifying as female. and approaching three-quarters of Hispanic consumers report purchasing from a DTC brand compared to two-fifths of non-Hispanics. Clothing, shoes, and accessories is the most popular category across all generations of respondents. Of those who purchased from a DTC brand in the past six months, 53 percent of Gen Z and X report doing so in this category. Approaching one-fifth of respondents report buying food or drink directly from brands. These include meal kits. Back in May of this year, we spoke with Liz Mazzei, Director of Marketing for DTC brand Provenance Meals. Liz explained the company’s founding story.

Liz Mazzei: The business started back in 2012 with our founder, Caroll Lee. She had a health coaching practice and she was recommending recipes and meal plans to her clients to help them reduce their weight, increase their energy, and overall really transform their health through the power of nutrition. And as long as she was actively coaching them and supplying them with guidance on what food to eat, they were very successful at reaching their goals. But when she stopped coaching them and they stopped eating the nutrient-dense food, they would quickly go back to those unhealthy routines because it was just too difficult to eat well on a consistent basis. And that’s how Provenance was born. The number one request she received was, “I know what I’m supposed to eat, but I just can’t find the time to go shopping and cook all week long.” We have to make time for exercise. We have to make time for meditation. But food is especially challenging because it’s three times a day, every day of the week. And if you’re feeding a family or you have a partner and spouse, it just makes it that much more complicated. So we realized that by providing these convenient meals prepared in really great ways with amazing ingredients, Caroll could help her clients get on that path towards health and longevity. You know, we really believe the fastest way from point A to B in your wellness journey is the food you eat. And it really is the best kind of health and preventative care. We make it easy to eat healthy in general.

Adrian Tennant: The market for direct-to-consumer meal kits in the US is highly competitive, yet the brand has carved out a very distinctive niche. So how many meals do you deliver each week?

Liz Mazzei: You know, we started in 2012, and we’re now delivering thousands of meals each week and we’re really expanding rapidly. Last year, during the pandemic, we started shipping our wellness products as well as a limited edition three-day meal program nationwide. And I’m very excited to share that we’re getting ready to launch our full meal delivery service in LA.

Adrian Tennant: Provenance Meals delivers organic prepared meal plans and detox programs that are gluten-free, dairy-free, with no refined sugar. What’s the strategy behind this approach?

Liz Mazzei: Well, Adrian, there is a health crisis happening, and I really believe that food is a major component that is contributing to the rise in obesity, the rise in heart disease, et cetera. Practically all food that you see that is convenient and on shelves is processed. It has large amounts of corn and rice byproducts, has GMO ingredients, industrial vegetable oils, it’s junk. And I really think that the Industrial Revolution harmed us in that way as a society. You know, these large food companies really started innovating to make food that is addictive with so much salt and sugar. It’s harmed our health collectively. Thankfully, consumers are becoming more aware of this. I think that they are choosing what their fork and their dollars to buy organic and to demand better products and companies, you know, offering alternatives to processed foods. So our strategy is to provide a convenient food solution that will help our clients improve their health.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned that provenance is going to be launching in Los Angeles. Why Los Angeles?

Liz Mazzei: Well, our business is really positioned at the intersection of the prepared meals industry, so ready-to-eat food, no cooking required, and the health and wellness industry. And we believe the LA market is really right for our business. It was ranked one of the 10 strongest wellness markets in America – I think it was by Mind Body Business and competition in that area is really smaller mom and pop operations. But we really feel there has yet to be a brand that has emerged to capture the attention of those health-conscious, busy Angelenos that are looking for organic, local, sustainable meal delivery and cleanse programs delivered to their door. Our strategy for the LA launch is already in development.  It will include a robust paid social and PR campaign. We’re also doing a combination of influencer and partnership activations, and similar to New York City, we plan to leverage those relationships we built, with the community of functional medicine, practitioners, doctors, nutritionists, health coaches, as well as those like-minded brands in clean beauty, fitness, and even sustainable fashion to help us spread the word. We love collaborating with other brands. And we really are focused on launching in LA and then we will continue to add in new markets and since we’ll have two hubs on both coasts, it will be a great base from which to ship nationwide products.

Adrian Tennant: I recently caught up with Liz to find out how things have been progressing since May and for an update on how Provenance’s launch in Los Angeles has been going.

Liz Mazzei: It’s been going really well. We are officially live in LA and delivering meals from our daily essentials program. So every week we have a different menu of options for both plant lovers and omnivores alike. And we’ve been live for about six weeks now, delivering and their response has been really great. You know, not only from clients who try out our six-day detox program that we launched back in May, but also new clients. We’ve seen a pretty good reorder rate, the clients ordering again every week, as well as clients becoming members. So setting a recurring delivery every week. So I’m proud of it. I’m really excited.

Adrian Tennant: Well, since we last spoke in May, what other changes have you noticed, if any, in the business?

Liz Mazzei: We’ve definitely noticed, I think, especially as people get back from the summertime, back into the routine of kids going to school. They want regular support, especially from the nutrition side to get delivery every week. I think that’s kind of been the biggest change we’ve seen since May is just the attitude that people have had in how they approach their lives. 

Adrian Tennant: We’re hearing from some direct consumer brands that Apple’s iOS 14 update has affected them adversely. Has that been true for Provenance? And if so, have you had to re-allocate any of your ad spend?

Liz Mazzei: I have noticed the impact. Obviously, results across the board have just been dramatically impacted. We’re currently working with our agency to understand what the real attribution loss is for our specific account. But it is very disheartening, that is where we spent a lot of our budget in the past because of the bang for the buck that it offered. So we are beginning to explore new channels. Actually, it’s kind of funny. I feel like we’re going back in time and exploring some at-home options, some direct mail options, just thinking about how we allocate that budget. And then it’s also kind of reminded me that, you know, where are our clients, especially now that we’re in a new market in LA? Are they online? Are they on Instagram and Facebook? I think they might be other places, especially since we have a little bit of an older audience. I’m excited about testing these new channels.

Adrian Tennant: What compels shoppers to buy from direct-to-consumer brands rather than traditional retail channels? In our study, among those who indicated they’d purchased from a DTC brand within the last six months, over one-third are motivated by the availability of fast or free shipping. Among Gen X consumers, this number is 43 percent. Twenty-nine percent of respondents believe that DTC brands represent cheaper costs than traditional retail, but again, this is most prevalent amongst Gen X at 35 percent. 29 percent of Gen Z and Gen Y respondents are motivated by reading positive reviews. 30 percent of Gen Y and Gen X are motivated to buy DTC due to the uniqueness of the product, or because it’s not available elsewhere compared with 23 percent of Gen Z. And almost one-fifth of Gen Z respondents by DTC because the brand aligns with their personal values or beliefs, compared with 16 percent of Gen Y, and 11 percent of Gen X. Gen Z is also the cohort most likely to buy because a DTC brand donates to people in need with every purchase at 17 percent. 40 percent of all respondents identifying as female report buying beauty and personal care products directly from brands. In June of this year, we spoke with Delaney Doria, Brand and Product Development Manager for a new skincare brand, Luma and Leaf. Delaney told us about the brand’s mission and the products in its line-up.

Delaney Doria: So Luma & Leaf leverages the best in clean, plant-powered active ingredients to provide gentle, effective, and uncomplicated solutions that restore skin to its most healthy and luminous state. Our debut line includes a brightening cleanser, a serum, a moisturizer, as well as a clearing serum, and a soothing moisturizer.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney you joined Luma & Leaf back in January 2020. What were the primary challenges facing you 18 months ago?

Delaney Doria: Luma & Leaf was really just an idea when I started, there was definitely an initial concept, but nothing was set in stone. I personally had never worked somewhere that didn’t have set standards or messaging. So in this case, the brand had to be established first. So it was truly working from the ground up, which was a really exciting and new challenge for me.

Adrian Tennant: How did you arrive at the name, Luma & Leaf?

Delaney Doria: We looked at the end results we wanted to achieve with the product, which was illuminated, healthy skin. Then we looked at how we’d maybe get to that end goal, which we knew was thoughtfully formulated botanical blends. So we combined that idea of bright illuminated skin with our plant-powered formulas, hence Luma & Leaf.

Adrian Tennant: Is plant-power a current skincare trend?

Delaney Doria: Definitely. Everyone is really just looking for a less harmful way to treat their skin. Vegan is definitely a big thing in the clean beauty market. So people are looking towards plants. It’s a natural alternative to a lot of these more harsh ingredients.

Adrian Tennant: Luma & Leaf’s brand mission is, and I quote, to “Illuminate the skin-obsessed and skin-confused with clean products that make a difference on people and the world.” Now it’s a very inclusive message. How did you approach the development of the brand positioning?

Delaney Doria: We knew we wanted the messaging to be approachable and inclusive. Because skincare is really confusing. The industry is flooded with so many brands and it’s really hard to know as a consumer, where to turn to, especially if you’re new to the world of clean beauty. So we harness this confusion and our confusion, to be honest, into “simple skincare” for all messaging.

Adrian Tennant: Last year, you and I collaborated on several consumer research studies, the results from which informed many of the decisions that you ultimately made about Luma & Leaf’s ingredients, product names, packaging, design, and pricing. Were there any findings arising from those studies that made you reconsider a previous decision, or maybe explore a different avenue?

Delaney Doria: We always found interesting results specifically when asking about product componentry. One example that we ran into was we found the majority of respondents preferred a glass bottle for their cleanser, which honestly we were hoping would be the outcome. But we just weren’t sure how it would survey as cleansers are sometimes used in the shower. And, we just weren’t sure how people would prefer that bottle to look.

Adrian Tennant: Insights from the primary research enabled us to develop buyer profiles – or Personas – for the kinds of customers that Luma & Leaf is designed to serve. In what kinds of ways have you used those Personas during the brand development process?

Delaney Doria: So definitely use them every day and I still do use them, just knowing their preferences on ingredient stories, even collection colors, really went into each and every decision when developing the brand. We could really tailor the messaging to the audience and the platform, knowing this, which makes for a much more personalized user experience.

Adrian Tennant: I checked in with Delaney a couple of weeks ago to learn what had changed since we recorded that interview in June.

Delaney Doria: There’s been actually a lot of changes. I’m still, of course staying true to the brand, but we’ve updated our packaging. Which we’ll launch for next year. And we have made the decision to remove CBD from our formulas for next year as well.

Adrian Tennant: Why did you remove CBD?

Delaney Doria: So we really just wanted to be more accessible for our consumers.we were constantly facing regulatory constraints, lack of education with CBD, and our hero ingredients and proprietary blends are just as efficacious without the inclusion of CBD. So we just really wanted to make it more accessible for the consumer so they could still shop clean skincare, without kind of that hesitation or restriction.

Adrian Tennant: Right? So that necessitated some changes to the packaging, I would guess.

Delaney Doria: Yes. So changes to the packaging and we also just wanted to feature more of our beautiful hero patterns. So the new packaging will show more of that. so it’ll look really beautiful, you know, on a counter, on a shelf and of course, on the website.

Adrian Tennant: Any new merch?

Delaney Doria: We’re always doing new merch! Holiday season’s approaching. So definitely some holiday-inspired pieces that will be available on our site.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any challenges that you’ve had to overcome since we last spoke?

Delaney Doria: Definitely just navigating shipping, you know, overseas. Just trying to get everything on time and planning for the holiday season, what’s to come next year. Trying to go with the flow in some ways, but also plan ahead has been a challenge, but something that we’ve definitely been able to get over.

Adrian Tennant: Have you made any changes to the website?.

Delaney Doria: Yeah. We’re actually making a bunch of changes right now for holiday gearing up for Black Friday, Cyber Monday. One of the features is being able to add a free merchandise item at checkout, which is really exciting because we have all of these beautiful merchandise pieces. So that is live and ready for the holiday season and we’re also making other changes, like a gift shop page, which will house our Black Friday, Cyber Monday sale of buy one, get one 50 percent off. So perfect time to stock up on gifts, anything for yourself as well.

Adrian Tennant: Last time, we talked about the popularity of plant-powered ingredients. Delaney, since that conversation, I have been seeing references to biophilic design and the use of nature-inspired imagery everywhere. As we close out the year, are you seeing any emerging trends in ingredients or packaging that you think we should be paying attention to in 2022?

Delaney Doria: Well, definitely still keeping up with plant-powered. People are moving towards that every day, but also just being sustainable in packaging. So shipping materials, as well as the cartons for the actual product, all of that. It could be through the material encouraging, reuse, or recycle. So just making strides towards less waste is what I think everyone will be looking towards.

Adrian Tennant: And you have recently announced a new partnership with Project Glimmer. Can you explain what it is and Luma & Leaf’s involvement?

Delaney Doria: Sure so Project Glimmer is a national nonprofit serving teenage girls and women through thousands of organizations like foster care, crisis care, and youth services. So as a brand partner, we’ve created a limited edition set of scrunchies that feature patterns inspired by project glimmer’s bold red shade and our plant-powered formulas. And we’ll be selling them on our website through the holiday season with 20 percent of proceeds going back to the girls at Project Glimmer.

Adrian Tennant: That’s excellent. Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Tim McCormack: I’m Tim McCormack, VP of Media and Analytics at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as media professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. Knowing who we’re targeting – their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations – is the foundational step in our media planning process. For every engagement, we undertake research that yields actionable insights. These inform our media and analytics strategies – and ensure that we’re working in unison to deliver measurable results for our clients. If you’d like to know more about putting Bigeye’s audience-focused media and analytics to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before. To examine how the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has disrupted the retail industry, Bigeye recently conducted a national study with over 1,500 consumers. Our exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today, reveals that while people enjoy the convenience of online ordering and home delivery, many still prefer to shop in physical stores. But their expectations of merchandise selections, in-store technology, and customer service are all heightened. To understand consumers’ new shopping behaviors, and mindsets – and what they mean for retailers, direct-to-consumer marketers, and traditional brands – download the full, complimentary report available now at Bigeye.agency/retail. Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to the one-hundredth episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. And this week we’re taking a look at direct-to-consumer brands. One of the ways that DTC brands generate recurring revenue is through product subscriptions, but just how popular is this model with consumers? The data in Bigeye’s report, Retail Disrupted, shows that Gen Y is the most likely to report having just one current product subscription, 19 percent, and the most likely to have canceled a subscription in the past 28 percent. Approaching one-third of all Gen Z respondents have more than one current product subscription, while Gen X is the most likely never to have had a product subscription with over one-half selecting this response, 55 percent. One-third of all respondents identifying as Hispanic report having more than one current product subscription, compared with 16 percent of non-Hispanics. Among all consumers who subscribed to a direct-to-consumer brand, one-quarter do so for pet care. In November of 2020, the co-founder and CEO of Meowbox, Olivia Canlas, talked to us about her brand’s pet subscription service.

Olivia Canlas: So I’d like to think of Meowbox as monthly deliveries of cat happiness. So it is a box full of themed cat toys and treats that we choose exclusively for our subscribers. And we deliver that monthly or bi-monthly, in the subscription model.

Adrian Tennant: Now, back in 2013, when you launched Meowbox, direct-to-consumer wasn’t nearly as well established as a business model, as it is today. What inspired you to start a subscription box for cat owners?

Olivia Canlas: I was a subscription box customer, maybe two or three years before I thought of the idea of Meowbox. I was a subscriber to cosmetics, so I knew that that was something that appealed to me, to my friends, people in a similar demographic as I was. And so I was aware of the concept of subscription boxes, but specifically like the moment where I thought, “You know what? There needs to be a Meowbox in this world” was when I started getting targeted on my Facebook for a dog subscription box. And I thought, you know what, instead of just ignoring it, thinking, well, that doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have a dog. I wondered – because I’m more of a cat person – I wonder if there was a box for cats and upon my initial research, there wasn’t a box that was dedicated just to cat parents.

Adrian Tennant: Meowboxes each contain a themed, curated collection of cat toys and treats. How do you come up with the ideas for the theming of each box?

Olivia Canlas: It used to be a lot easier, at the beginning when it was just the start and we had, we’re fresh with ideas. Like, you know, it was actually difficult to choose from all of our ideas and narrow it down to just 12 in a year. And now that we’ve been doing themes for a number of years, we also take into consideration what’s been popular. It kind of narrows down our choices. Cause I feel like we did our favorites right away and then, had to figure out, “Okay, how do we make the next year even better when we already did our favorite ones this previous year?” So what we like to do is actually send that request out to our audience on social media, our current subscribers and ask them for what they love to see in the box. So sometimes it’s like your classic themes, of course, like winter holidays and Halloween, Valentine’s Day. Those are the staples that we will likely repeat each year. But then in between all those major holidays and events, I mean it depends. Like some years it’s going to lean towards, I mean, like for example, this year with COVID everyone at home, some of the themes suggestions are like sort of tied to that. So things in the home. You know, for example, a lot of us have been staying in and taking up hobbies like gardening, baking. And so sort of things like that that are trending also help us choose what kinds of themes to do. And then like I had mentioned there’s our classic themes, separate from the holidays, but we’ve done sort of a camping theme one year and we did repeat, a similar theme to camping another year because the first time we did it, it was so popular.

Adrian Tennant: Now many established, direct-to-consumer brands initially acquire customers through social media. How does Meowbox typically attract new customers?

Olivia Canlas: The most effective way that we have found is yes, it’s associated with social media. I mean, especially even during this time, the past, I’d say five to six months, people are spending a lot more time at home, which means that they have more time to be closer to their cats. Perhaps take more photos of their cats, perhaps want to provide some, something more for their cats like Meowbox. So there’s been a lot of social sharing so that organically. Well, it helps us showcase our product to more people. Our community does that for us and with us, and also lean very heavily working with influencers on social media as well, and sending lots of boxes out and them sharing the word as well of what Meowbox is.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any emerging tools, technologies, or social apps that you foresee influencing the way that you connect with your customers or ways that you conduct your business in the future?

Olivia Canlas: Yes, we are spending more time on building our TikTok account and good news that it’s TikTok is going to stick around for a little bit longer, but I’ve always been a huge fan of jumping onto any of the social platforms that are trending and that seem interesting. And TikTok has been a lot of fun for us and something that we’re currently working on building right now.

Adrian Tennant: I recently caught up with Olivia and asked her what changes have occurred at Meowbox since we recorded that interview a year ago.

Olivia Canlas: I mean, honestly, we’ve grown a lot since last year. It’s been very busy for us. So last year, we did MeowFest digitally, and we decided that for 2022, we wanted to do it in person again. So we’re already choosing a venue, and vendors and talent and all of that. Yeah, we’ve been fortunate to have a lot to do in the past year, but also, we’re now dealing with some challenges with the supply chain. So a lot of challenges with shipping, bringing our international goods, across the water. Now that sort of has reached us for this year and so there’ll be some work next year to see how we work around that challenge.

Adrian Tennant: How did your experiments with TikTok go?

Olivia Canlas: Oh, so I love that question. So TikTok, we have been diligently posting once or twice a day doing a lot of creative, like trending TikToks. It’s not me doing it. We probably don’t want me doing it. A couple of team members who got really into it and we’ve actually hit a couple of viral TikToks. I mean, it’s really exciting to see, it’s a whole different audience when we compare definitely to Facebook, very different, different from our Instagram audience. So it’s really exciting to see people who we may not be reaching on other platforms, responding to the TikToks. It’s very like silly, lighthearted, very random, we’re going to keep exploring it. I recognize that it’s a place where a lot of people go for information, to see what’s new and trending. And I definitely don’t want to miss out on that. And it’s also a lot of fun and I like seeing my team also enjoying making these silly TikToks. So we should go take a look and see the stuff we’re doing.

Adrian Tennant: Have you introduced any new products that exceeded your expectations?

Olivia Canlas: So for new products that have gone really well, we have really tried to put focus into each individual toy having its own story. So it’s easy to see when we group four or five items together, sort of the theme that we’re projecting. But one of them um, directions we’re trying to go in is to have each toy, have its own sort of like, identity. One of our favorite toys that we created. It was the one for our work from home box and it was basically like a wool toy of a cat with no pants on, like if you’re on Zoom. You know, like business on the top and like, and party on the bottom. So we tried to make a toy like that. I’m not sure if we were the only ones who thought that was funny, but in that same box, we did also create like a mini laptop basically for your cat to sit in front of, while you’re working. So you have a coworker, while you’re working from home and that particular little laptop toy did extremely well.

Adrian Tennant: I love that.

Olivia Canlas: We love it too. We weren’t expecting some of the unboxing reactions from that toy. They were very positive and of course, just happy to see people enjoying those designs and that people get our sense of humor.

Adrian Tennant: Now you left us with a cliffhanger at the end of the podcast we recorded last year. Olivia, are you able to tell us what you did with all those crazy cat-related stories you invited your customers to submit.

Olivia Canlas: Oh, that was a while ago. Okay. So we did a call-out for some crazy cat tales from our audience. We emailed out and asked on social media and we actually created quite the large collection of very like interesting, cat stories. And the plan was to have them put out on a podcast, but unfortunately, that project is on hold. We just had other sort of I guess more operational things to accomplish. But we still have those stories and they’re still excellent. So that is like a TBD, to be determined, future project.

Adrian Tennant: In December of 2020, we talked about the growing interest in the use of sustainable materials in packaging design with Brandon Frank, the CEO of Pacific Packaging Components based in Los Angeles. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

Brandon Frank: My grandfather and grandmother started the company, like you said, about 50 years ago and my parents joined the company about 40 years ago. And so I was basically raised in the world of packaging. I like to joke that I knew about net finishes before I knew my ABCs, but that’s not probably totally accurate. And it was set up as a packaging distribution company. And that’s what we still are today. And so for, the listeners that don’t know what that is, basically we represent the customer and we figure out what they need from a packaging perspective. And then we go to our preferred vendors around the world and find the perfect manufacturer for their specific situation. And then we broker the deal. We buy the packaging from the manufacturer and sell to the end customer and manage the entire supply chain.

Adrian Tennant: Pacific Packaging Components developed custom packaging for the skincare line Drunk Elephant. How did that partnership originate? And what did the design process look like?

Brandon Frank: Tiffany Masterson is the founder and owner of Drunk Elephant – and they actually recently sold to Shiseido – but when we started with that company, they were still relatively small and still getting started. Their story with Drunk Elephant is very consistent with a lot of our kind of interactions and processes that we have with a lot of our other brands to where it starts off with a vision from the founder or from the owners or from the people in charge of kind of developing the packaging. And we were right there to basically guide and support and to go bring those things to reality. The other part too, is that we knew that there was going to be scaling with Drunk Elephant. She had a great idea, a great concept. And so we were expecting really great things. And so we weren’t just trying to supply the first round of packaging, but we were looking down the supply chain as well, to be able to make sure that as the brand grew, that there weren’t going to be supply chain issues from a packaging standpoint. But the creative process is really different, you know, for everybody. Sometimes it’s really straightforward and it’s really easy to be able to deliver on what the vision is. Other times it’s a little bit more fluid and a little more dynamic. And I think our agility is a real benefit in that regard because if things start to pivot away from kind of the initial concept or we’re going in a different direction, we have no problem changing manufacturers and going to someone else that can accomplish what we need to in order to make the customer happy.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the differences, if any, between packaging components used for beauty and skincare products versus food packaging? Are there any regulations that you have to take into account when dealing with food or drink?

Brandon Frank: Yes, absolutely. Really any time, you know, it’s going to be a CPG product there are going to be regulations that are going to be relevant, but if it’s going to be food beverage, anything that’s going to be ingested, there are strict laws through the FDA and other governing bodies. With beauty and personal care, there’s kind of less barrier because most of the products obviously are not being ingested. They’re kind of more topicals. But it’s still a really good idea to be able to use products and develop products that can be certified to some degree.

Adrian Tennant: We know that the youngest consumers – Generation Z – are very concerned about environmental issues. How is Pacific Packaging Components approaching the use of sustainable and recyclable materials?

Brandon Frank: Sustainability is incredibly important to us. And it’s been something that has kind of been, I would say, a focal point of how we’re viewing our own company and then the kind of industry as a whole. Obviously, we have been producing millions and millions of units of plastic and glass and other types of packaging for the past 50 years. And, as a family company, I’m looking at the legacy – what are we going to be a part of for the next 50 years? And so we want to be a part of the solution, and we are, you know, actively trying to improve, not only the sustainability of packaging, but really looking at the entire value chain. You know, I think traditionally we’ve really approached packaging from two central points: is it going to be functional? And is it going to look great and is it going to be on budget? And what’s really required right now is we need to take our blinders off – consumers, brands, packaging companies, packaging manufacturers, everyone involved – and say, “What materials are the best to use right now, according to the capabilities of our recycling stream?” So it’s really looking at the end and saying, “Okay, how can we design and choose packaging right now that it is going to be recycled?” Because it’s not enough to make something that’s quote, unquote “recyclable” if it’s not going to be recycled. We see this a lot with tubes and monolayer tubes. People call them recyclable all the time, but they’re never going to actually be recycled, especially here in the US. And so we’re taking a really active stand. We’re inspiring companies to be able to really consider and make sustainability a part of their brand and their ethos. You know, 81 percent of consumers in the US think that brands should be making decisions that are benefiting the environment rather than hurting. You know, we’ve seen the popularity of sustainability really come and go every decade for the last 50 years – It kind of comes, it’s really popular,and then it fades away. But something’s different this time. We feel like the levee’s kind of been broken on the topic of sustainability – whether it’s because of social media, or Netflix documentaries that have kind of shown the amount of plastic waste that’s in the ocean, but sustainability is going to be here to stay.

Adrian Tennant: I spoke to Brandon again recently and asked him about the availability of materials and logistics over the past 12 months.

Brandon Frank: So the supply chain issues have certainly continued to be one of the most significant issues, for most U.S. brands and companies. The challenges at the port have been the most popular in the media. But the way that we’ve seen it in the way that I like to describe it is that the supply chain issues are an interconnected, incredibly complex spider web that has tremendous ripples across multiple industries and product lines. And so this solution is not an easy one and there isn’t a legislative fix. There’s not a decision that can be made. There’s not more people that can be thrown at one part of the problem in order to fix this. And so while it’s continued to be an issue since we last spoke, I think what has changed is the realization that this is not going away anytime soon. And we need to kind of settle in, realize that 2022 is going to continue to bring these issues. Maybe in 2023, things will start to alleviate a little bit for some companies, and to plan accordingly. And so a lot of our customers, and our supply chain has really looked 12 months out and placed orders for their packaging, to make sure that their business isn’t held up by long lead times. You know, a difficult time in getting plastic resins or whatever it is.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, are there any significant challenges that you’ve had to overcome since we last spoke?

Brandon Frank: I mean, apart from the supply chain issues, COVID disrupted a lot of movement or progress that had been made on the sustainable packaging front. It was almost like the whole industry said, “We know it’s important. We know we eventually want to get to it, but timeout, we’ve got some other things we want to work on.” And I think our development of sustainable packaging, the temptation was for us to also put it on hold, to stop pursuing different PCR resin supply chains, or different refillable options. And instead of doing that, we said, you know, we’re going to do it all at the same time. We know that sustainable packaging is going to be important going forward. And so we’re not going to slow down the development of solutions. So we just continued there, but I have noticed that the conversation around sustainable packaging and the decision to actually purchase more sustainable packaging has certainly changed.

Adrian Tennant: Bigeye recently published a report, looking at consumer behavior and what shoppers want from brands today. Four in every five shoppers say that a brand’s policies and stances related to the environment and sustainability are extremely or somewhat important. And over three quarters say that whether a product packaging is made from sustainable materials or can be recycled or upcycled is also important to them. Brandon, I know these data points won’t surprise you. Have there been any initiatives or projects you’ve worked on in the past year that illustrate how brands have responded positively to changing consumer attitudes?

Brandon Frank: I don’t know if I’ll be able to share any specifics. We pride ourselves on being the best kept secret in the packaging industry. We sign a lot of NDAs and non-competes. And so just as a general, kind of comment, especially around the selection of glass and aluminum has continued to be popular and that when plastic needs to be used, the most sustainable option and that most people are going toward is to use the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled resin as possible. We know that there’s a lot of bio-based resins and other, biodegradable additives and things like that but we follow the guidance of the sustainable packaging guidelines. And we really say that, you know, if you’re going to use plastic, use the highest percentage of PCR that you can. There’s a lot of supply chain issues with that right now, because the largest companies in the world are buying up most of the highest quality PCR, which leaves a lot of large middle and small brands struggling to be able to meet MOQs and price points. but the industry is responding. We’re seeing investment in recycled facilities. And so I think, again, 2022 will continue to show a lot of issues and, hopefully, 2023 things will really start to come together for that. 

Adrian Tennant: Liz, what are you most excited about in 2022?

Liz Mazzei: Oh, I can’t wait for this new year. I’m really excited to test these additional channels. I think that’s one of my main goals. I’m also really excited about focusing on the customer and client experience. So thinking about how their experience online translates to offline and really understanding how it’s a complete ecosystem, make sure that we are supporting them in all those different activities. I really want it to be more holistic and look at the bigger picture there. I think I’m also excited about some brand evolution, to our creative strategy that we’re working on. The company’s been around for about 10 years and we have a really sophisticated and contemporary look and feel for the brand. And I want to continue to push that envelope and to continue to refine that. So we’re looking at some branding changes as well. That is going to be very exciting.

Adrian Tennant: Liz thank you for being a guest again today and helping us to make it to 100 episodes.

Liz Mazzei: Thank you for having me. It’s very exciting. I look forward to talking again in the future.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney, what are you most excited about for 2022?

Delaney Doria: So we are at the final stages with our rejuvenating collection. We are just at the stage right now where we’re ordering materials, packaging, all of that and getting it ready. So we’re very close. Of course with everyone there’s been supply chain issues and delays, so we’re just trying to navigate that but we’re all ready for a launch early next year.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney. Thank you very much for catching up with us today.

Delaney Doria: Thank you. And congrats on episode 100 of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Adrian Tennant: Thank you very much.

Adrian Tennant: Olivia, as you look ahead to 2022, what are you most excited about?

Olivia Canlas: So for 2022, I am very excited for our growth plans. One of the most fun things for me is building our team and bringing more people in, learning more and seeing more of the talents that people have. Everyone that we bring in has a set of talents that I don’t have so it fascinates me. We bring in someone who has the patience to do the customer service, the creativity to do design, and has the wisdom to do paid ad strategy. It’s fascinating to me to watch a group of people get together collectively to reach our goals and with growth, like I said, being our biggest goal for next year. It’s fun for me to bring people together like that. And it’s just so fascinating to watch people thrive and flourish and watch their talents come out. I’m optimistic and also putting into play all the things that we learned from last year. We feel much more prepared. But I mean, who knows what 2022 has to bring, but we feel prepared for whatever it may be as prepared as we can be. I personally love the unknown. It’s exciting. So, yeah, a little bit of the unknown and a little bit of being prepared for that too is exciting for me.

Adrian Tennant: Olivia, thank you for helping us make it to 100 episodes.

Olivia Canlas: A hundred episodes. Congratulations. That’s a lot of talking.

Adrian Tennant: And thank you for catching up with us on IN CLEAR FOCUS today.

Olivia Canlas: My pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, what are you most excited about for 2022?

Brandon Frank: There’s a lot that I’m hopeful for, for this next year. Certainly getting through COVID, together. Feeling more united in the way that we’re combating, that is certainly something that I’m hoping for. And then from a business standpoint, I am happy that, after 50 years of being in this industry, we’re on track to be able to double our size and revenue in a pretty short period of time. So 2022 from a business standpoint for us personally, I’m really excited to reach the milestones that we’ve never been able to reach before. Just as a company.

Adrian Tennant: Congratulations. That’s excellent. Brandon, thank you for catching up with us today and helping us make it to a hundred episodes of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Brandon Frank: Adrian, thank you so much. And it really is an honor to be on your show and you do such a great job as a host. So I wish you all the best.

Adrian Tennant: Thank you, Brandon, very much!

Adrian Tennant: As we come to the end of this 100th episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, I’d like to thank all the guests on today’s show: Liz Mazzei of Provenance Meals; Delaney Doria of Luma & Leaf; Olivia Canlas of Meowbox; and Brandon Frank of Pacific Packaging Components. And a big thank you too, to all our previous guests, who’ve been so generous with their time and willing to share their insights with us. I also want to thank the team at Bigeye that helps make this podcast possible every week: from brainstorming content ideas, identifying and scheduling guests, editing the audio and ad breaks, and creating episode artwork and show transcripts. But most of all, a very sincere “thank you” to you. Whether you’ve been with us since the first episode in 2019, or joining us for the first time today, I really appreciate you choosing to spend time with us. You’ve been listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS from Bigeye. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

IN CLEAR FOCUS: The first in a series of podcast episodes accompanying Bigeye’s 2021 study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. Based on a national survey of over 1,500 US shoppers, it’s clear that consumers are demanding more from retailers than ever before. In this pod, we explore key data points from the report with retail futurist Doug Stephens and influencer marketing expert Paige Garrett and discuss what the findings mean for retail and direct-to-consumer marketers.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Welcome to the first in a special series of podcasts accompanying Bigeye’s national study, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today.

Doug Stephens: Shopping, as it applies to food, is an incredibly entrenched behavior. The average in the United States is 2.2 visits per week to the grocery store.

Paige Garrett: Influencers are like the new version of reality TV, we see their struggles, we see their successes, and then we see what they use throughout their day to make them better.

Camila Swanson: I see photos with a broader range of body shapes and sizes more often. Plus size influencers have really created this push for brands and holding them responsible for showing more body shapes.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to a special episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. Fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye, a full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Last month, eMarketer published data that illustrated just how much the pandemic accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping in 2020, the number of digital grocery buyers in the U.S. increased by more than 39 million. By the end of this year, that number will surpass 142 million amounting to more than half the U.S. population – 52 percent – for the very first time. Corporations like Kroger, Walmart, Target, and Amazon with their finely tuned e-commerce platforms and logistics operations did well during the pandemic, but for less well-prepared retailers who were struggling even before COVID, things went from bad to worse. Fitch Ratings has reported that more than 100 regional shopping malls will be shuttered in the next five years with department stores like Macy’s and Sears closing down many of their locations. At Bigeye, we wanted to understand how shoppers’ behaviors have changed and to learn what they want and expect from brands today. So in August of this year, we conducted a national survey of over 1500 shoppers aged 18 to 55. In today’s podcast, we’re going to explore some of the data points from the study and what they mean for retail and direct-to-consumer marketers. In spite of changed consumer behaviors as a result of COVID, across all respondents and all categories, most people express a preference for shopping in-store, 44 percent. Over one third are equally happy to shop in-store or online And just one fifth say they prefer to shop online. Among respondents who shop for these categories, the most popular preferences are to shop in-store for food and drink at 61 percent followed by furniture and homewares at 51 percent, and clothing, shoes and accessories at 45 percent. Gen Y respondents, those born between 1980 and 1995, are the most likely to prefer shopping online and in-store equally for electronics and accessories, pet care and supplies, and baby and kids products. The categories respondents are most likely to prefer shopping for online are hobbies and sports and electronics and accessories. So, what is it that appeals most to consumers about shopping in-store? Well, almost 9 in every 10 shoppers say that their ability to see, touch, feel, smell, hear, or try on the product in a physical store, add value to their experience, to a great, or to some extent, 89 percent. 4 in every 5 shoppers indicate a preference for shopping in-store to access better prices or perceived value of products. Suggesting perhaps the consumers are growing weary of shipping costs associated with some goods purchased online. I asked retail futurist Doug Stephens, the CEO of Retail Prophet, why he thinks respondents indicate a preference for shopping in-store for food and drink in particular.

Doug Stephens: The truth of the matter is shopping, especially as it applies to food, is an incredibly entrenched behavior. You know, I think the average is in the United States, for example, about 2.2 visits per week to the grocery store to shop. And so, this is something that we probably shop more frequently for than anything else in our life. So it’s not surprising that this sort of heavily entrenched habit would take some time to modify. but the flip side is we have to appreciate that change doesn’t need to be absolute in order to be significant. We have a tendency to always focus on the bigger number, right? So we’ll say, you know, “Only 15 percent of the retail economy in the United States is e-commerce. Everything else, you know, 88 percent is purchased in-store.” And that may give a lot of retailers a sense of consolation but the fact of the matter is it wasn’t that long ago that that number was one percent and today it’s 15 percent. And we know that e-commerce is growing exponentially faster on a percentage basis than physical retail is and so it’s quite likely that at least our projection is by as early as 2033, we may find that 52 or more percent of our consumption on a daily or weekly basis is being performed online and, or by subscription. Why do I say this? Well, it’s not just pulling a number out of thin air. We know that in 2002, 2003, the Chinese economy had virtually no e-commerce as a component in the retail sector and through the pandemic, they crossed the 50 percent mark. You know, so we’re talking about a couple of decades, for an entire nation to buy most of its consumption online. So, on the one hand, I’m not surprised. Of course, consumers will say that they enjoy going to the grocery store. And frankly, grocers haven’t provided them with any sort of incentive, not to, by virtue of a great online experience. But I think what we have to focus on is the potential for that number to increase significantly. And it will.

Adrian Tennant: Almost three-quarters of Gen Z, those born between 1996 and 2012, say that the ability to shop with friends as a social activity adds value to their experience at 74 percent compared with 62 percent of Gen Y and one half of Gen X, those born between 1965 and 1979. Gen Z respondents are the most likely to say that discovering products they’ve not found or seen online adds value to a great or some extent when deciding to purchase in-store. When it comes to shopping in brick and mortar stores, 83 percent of all respondents say they pay some attention to visual signage and photographs. Across all generations around one-third of respondents assessed that they often pay attention. Gen Z respondents are the most likely to always pay close attention at 30 percent compared with just over one-fifth of Gen Y, 22 percent, and 16 percent of Gen X. Of those who always pay close attention, respondents identifying as Hispanic are 13 points more likely at 32 percent than non-Hispanics to do so. With just one point separating them, respondents who work in the retail industry are not more likely than people in other industries or professions to pay attention to store signage and photography. Thinking about the content of photography featured in-store merchandising and displays, just over one-half of all respondents say they’re seeing a broader range of body shapes and sizes compared to typical models, 51 percent and one-half are seeing more racial and ethnic diversity in photos of people. In all cases, Hispanic respondents reported seeing these visual elements more often. 61 percent also say they’re seeing more racial and ethnic diversity in photos of people compared with 48 percent of non-Hispanics. Similarly. Well, over one-half of black or African-American respondents say they’re seeing more racial and ethnic diversity in photographs compared to less than one-half of white respondents, 48 percent. Bigeye interns, Jorge Sedano and Camila Swanson and Camila’s mom, Nidia, all of whom identify as Hispanic, share their in-store experiences.

Camila Swanson: I often pay attention to these just because since COVID-19, there is still some stores that aren’t opening their fitting rooms, so it would be nice to see someone modeling clothes that’s close to my size or has the same body type as me, because then I would get an idea of maybe what size I should get in a certain pair of pants and kind of see if they’re stretchy, if they fit slim. So I would definitely say that I often pay attention just because it can make the shopping experience a little bit easier on my end.

Nidia Swanson: I often pay attention to how the clothes look on the model, you know? And I made the decision if I go in to buy it or not.

Jorge Sedano: Compared to before the Black Lives Matter movement, are you seeing greater racial and ethnic diversity in photographs of people in visual ads displayed in-store?

Nidia Swanson: About the same, but it’s important that young people see someone that looks like them in their advertisements. So they get used to it, so they don’t feel like less than other people.

Camila Swanson: I have noticed that in Sephora, they have created advertisements that show more racial and ethnic diversity. For example, they did a photoshoot with a influencer that went popular on TikTok, that is Native American. And they had like a giant billboard of her in the store and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big brand like Sephora endorse products using Native Americans as one of their target audiences.

Jorge Sedano: I have a lot of experience in retail. I’ve actually been working retail since I was 16 and I want to say that I have noticed a type of change in the race and the ethnicity in the people on the advertisements. I’ve worked at Abercrombie, Disneyworld and New Balance and I can tell you like, and that’s an opinion that I have been able to see these changes in advertisements. And what about photos showing a broader range of body shapes and sizes compared to typical models?

Nidia Swanson: Yes. I see them for example, in plus size. You can see it more. Like when I was growing up, you don’t see it that much. Now you see it more like in really, really retail  store you see in the, either on the internet or in the magazine, you see the plus-size model more often now.

Camila Swanson: I would say I would see photos with a broader range of body shapes and sizes more often. I think that more plus-size influencers on the internet have really created this push for brands and holding them responsible for showing more body shapes, just because not everyone is the same size. And it’s nice to walk past a store and see someone who looks similar to you and know that like that’s a brand that you can confide in to get certain products.

Jorge Sedano: I think it’s a big thing on social media as well that has influenced these movements in-store. And it’s definitely something that helps the consumer, because I think we’ve all been in a situation where we get maybe like a certain article of clothing that we see on the model. And then we don’t typically like the way it looks on us. So I think being able to see more body type closer to yours helps, to know what that article is going to look like on you.

Camila Swanson: So Jorge, that’s interesting, you are saying that what we’re seeing on social media is influencing what we’re seeing in stores.

Jorge Sedano: Because as a society, we are being more comfortable being in your own body, regardless of what you may think of what people looks like or what other people may think. And I think it’s very important for you to just be comfortable with yourself. And I think companies are learning that as well. They’re learning that we need to love ourselves first. If we’re able to see more of ourselves in these ads, we’re more likely to also buy the product.

Adrian Tennant: Influencer marketing is an important part of the social media ecosystem, representing an estimated $10 billion in sponsorship deals in 2020, more than one-half of all the consumers who responded to our survey follow social media influencers Those most likely to do so belong to Gen Z, among whom over three quarters follow at least one influencer. Gen Y respondents are less likely to do so at 58 percent and among Gen X, just under one-third, do at 30 percent. Respondents identifying as Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx or of Spanish origin are significantly more likely to follow influencers with three quarters doing so, 75 percent , compared with 47 percent among non-Hispanic respondents – a 28-point difference. I asked social media expert page Garrett, who’s assistant vice president of marketing with RVD communications in New York, what lies behind Hispanic followers’ greater engagement with influencers.

Paige Garrett: Hispanic social media users are looking to just connect. I think that, you know, like anyone, obviously, they are empowered consumers and also influential creators in their own right. But I do think that when it comes to this crazy time that we’re all coming out of, social media is a way to connect. It’s a way to stay up to date with our friends, our family, what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s a way to stay in tune with what’s happening in a specific industry that you follow, news, celebrity, entertainment, and it’s just a way to stay hyper-connected and I do think that when it comes to influencers’ recommendations and the way that you as a consumer feel connected to that influencer, it’s very similar to getting a recommendation from a family member or a friend. But you might not be in as close touch with your family members or friends as you are now with these influencers who you follow every single day and every minute of the day. And there was actually a quote that came to mind from Marie Cabo, who is a fortune 500 multicultural strategist and consultant. She essentially said that the Hispanic community in particular, they have that sense of established trust when it comes to these micro-influencers that they follow in the same way that they would their families. So it’s very similar to, again, just that person that you trust who is telling you you need to buy something, that coupled with, whether it’s a discount early access or a VIP experience that you might not get otherwise. It’s that established trust and credibility coupled with the fact that you feel as if you really know this person. And also you might, you know, I think influencers are really engaging with their communities in a way that they are actually in touch with them and actually friends. And if you ask an influencer a question, they’re more likely now to respond than I think they would have a few years ago. So, all of that just works towards greater engagement with influencers in particular and it makes sense again, from more of just like a human connection, perspective for the Hispanic community as well.

Adrian Tennant: So, what do people expect from following influencers? Well, among those who do follow influencers almost one-half expect them to see how a product works or looks. 47 percent expect influencers to provide helpful tips on using products and 43 percent expect to discover new brands and products that they might not otherwise find. These were the top responses across all age groups. I asked Paige if these findings align with most clients’ influencer marketing goals.

Paige Garrett: Yes. Absolutely. I think that when it comes to establishing campaigns where there really isn’t an option in-store for people to touch, feel, experience, that brand or product in-person, leveraging influencers to do that is an incredible resource. And, I think that as consumers, that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for honest recommendations and beyond the recommendation, how does that influencer fit that brand or product into their actual everyday life? Influencers are like the new version of reality TV where we all have this inside glimpse into somebody’s life and we see their struggles, we see their successes, and then we see what they, use throughout their day to make them better, to make them feel better, whatever it is that specific brand or client is trying to achieve. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Marissa Martin: I’m Marissa Martin on Bigeye’s operations team. Every week, Bigeye’s podcast IN CLEAR FOCUS explores how consumer behaviors are evolving as a result of COVID-19. From the influence of Generation Z, with its interest in social and environmental issues – to the fast-growing Hispanic market and the opportunity it presents  – Bigeye interprets signals from primary and secondary research, identifying the trends driving consumer spending today – and those that will have the greatest impact tomorrow. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s research-backed, data-driven insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before. To examine how the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has disrupted the retail industry, Bigeye recently conducted a national study with over 1500 consumers. Our exclusive report, retail disrupted: what shoppers want from brands today reveals that while people enjoy the convenience of online ordering and home delivery, many still prefer to shop in physical stores. But their expectations of merchandise selections, in-store technology, and customer service are all heightened. To understand consumers’ new shopping behaviors, and mindsets – and what they mean for retailers, direct-to-consumer marketers, and traditional brands – download the full, complimentary report available now at Bigeye dot agency slash retail. Retail Disrupted: what shoppers want from brands today.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to Retail Disrupted: what shoppers want from brands today. It’s clear that influencers do impact consumers’ purchasing decisions. In the past six months, 90 percent of respondents who follow social media influencers have bought a product after seeing it used, reviewed, or recommended. And over one-half of these followers report buying two to five times, 54 percent. Gen Y respondents are the most likely to have bought two to five times at 57 percent. 91 percent of Gen Z that following influencers have bought something based on a recommendation in the past six months with approaching one-fifth of them buying 6 to 10 times. Gen X respondents are less engaged overall, but just under one-half of them report buying two to five times. Respondents who identify as Hispanic are more likely to have bought 6 to 10 times in the last six months at 21 percent compared to non-Hispanics at 13 percent. They’re also twice as likely to have bought more than 10 times than non-Hispanic respondents. Let’s hear more on this from Camila Swanson and her friend Haroldo Montero. 

Camila Swanson: Do you follow any social media influencers?

Haroldo Montero: Yeah, I would consider myself that I follow a few social media influencers. One of them that I really enjoy is MKBHD. He’s a tech YouTuber who reviews pretty much all kinds of technologies from the future of cars to like mobile devices, TVs, everything. So that’s like my favorite one.

Camila Swanson: Have you purchased something based on an influencer in the past six months?

Haroldo Montero: I have, it’s a pair of glasses actually. It’s from this YouTuber/influencer, I guess started his own clothing brand called Teaching Men’s Fashion. And yeah, he made his own like glasses company and clothing company. And I bought stuff from him, glasses, hoodie, and a shirt.

Camila Swanson: I actually follow Emma Chamberlain and I have actually purchased products from the company that she’s the creative director for. It’s called Bad Habit Beauty. But that’s the only time that a social media influencer has influenced me into purchasing a certain product.

Adrian Tennant: A characteristic of influencer marketing is its network effect. Over three-quarters of our survey respondents who’d purchased something based on an influencer, say they are extremely or somewhat likely to share information about their purchase with people in their social network, 77 percent. Gen Y respondents are the most likely to share information about their purchases with over four in five doing so Gen X is the next most likely with three-quarters of respondents in this group doing so followed by Gen Z at 71 percent. Four in every five respondents identifying as male report doing so compared with 74 percent of females and two-thirds of those identifying as nonbinary or other gender. COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives for over 18 months so we were curious to learn how people feel about influencers today compared to before the pandemic. Almost two in every five shoppers strongly or somewhat agree that compared to before COVID-19 they are discovering more new brands that they like from influencers’ posts, 65 percent, with respondents identifying as male being the most likely to report doing so at 71 percent. Approaching one-half of all respondents report that more of their buying decisions are based on influencer recommendations with those identifying as male, again, being most likely at 49 percent. And while family and friends have traditionally been important sources of information, 38 percent of all respondents say that when it comes to product recommendations, they trust influencers more than their friends. This is the case for 42 percent of Gen Z respondents and 47 percent of those identifying as male. I asked Paige Garrett why she thinks this is the case.

Paige Garrett: I don’t think that men had the same shopping habits as women, in the sense that, you know, we’re constantly talking with our friends about the items that we’re purchasing and sharing those recommendations, but even more so with influencers, because there is that established relationship, there’s a sense of trust. There’s a feeling like I know this person, that coupled with their recommendations, especially if they are an expert in whatever it is they’re sharing, is really helpful when it comes to finally deciding or taking that intent to purchase. So I think that that is kind of the secret sauce, and a lot of influencers will do some of that testing for their followers. So a lot of times we’ll see content that’s like, “I tried five different SPFs and this is the one that you need because you’ll get the most bang for your buck. And I tried the expensive ones and the less expensive ones.” It’s like, they’re doing a lot of that legwork. And that’s a lot of the content that we’re seeing coming out now where the way that influencers are recommending products is through that lens of,  “I’ve tried them all. This is the one you need.” And I think, while, women’s shopping habits might be, we just share more publicly about them, I think for men, in particular, to be able to have that buy-in and that honest feedback from an established person who they follow and trust, I think it makes a ton of sense as to why they’re even more so trusting an influencer’s recommendation to that, you know, over their friends.

Adrian Tennant: But our study results indicate that people’s trust in influencers has actually decreased compared to before the pandemic. Over one-half of all respondents think that influencers are flaunting their privileged lifestyles while normal people have to deal with COVID and well over one-half of Gen Z respondents say that most influencers are inauthentic and motivated only by sponsorship money. Around two in every five respondents think that influences seem out of touch with the sentiment most pronounced among those identifying as male at 44 percent. 40 percent of all respondents report that compared to before COVID their trust in influences has decreased. That percentage is a little higher among Gen Y respondents 42 percent and well over one-half of those identifying as nonbinary or other gender feel this way. I asked Paige if she believes influences are aware of this kind of feedback and changing the content they produce in response.

Paige Garrett: I think that there are a lot of influencers who haven’t woken up to this just yet. But I do think the vast majority, at least the influencers we are working with have. I think that respect for themselves as humans, but also as creators and the respect that they have for their communities and what their communities might be going through, is definitely prevalent. And I think it’ll only continue to become more prevalent as we go through these next few months and years. I think that’s the direction that influencer marketing is going in. And I do think as well, that with COVID and it not being the time or the place for people to be sharing about, going to restaurants or traveling, or the expensive items they just purchased. It’s really thinking about how is your brand adding value into this person’s day as a consumer first? So thinking through that lens and working with the influencers that you’re, Collaborating with, to come up with a piece of content that feels really realistic for where they are in their life. And also, it feels really realistic for where their communities are as well because our influencers are in constant touch with their communities. And that’s where we kind of defer to our creators in the sense of: here’s our brand, here’s why we think, you know, as an individual, you will really value from what it is that we’re offering. but how do you see this brand fitting into your daily content? What are some conversations you’ve been having with your followers recently, especially during this challenging time, are there any trends coming up? A lot of our influencers have quoted mental health and, needing to establish more self-care rituals or set boundaries for themselves. And I think that really leaning into that, and inserting your brand into those conversations in ways that feel genuine is kind of where that secret sauce is. But I do think also just seeing, you know, influencers leverage their platforms to encourage folks to get the vaccine, or, opening up these bigger conversations, using their platforms to do that. It doesn’t need to be always about specific the product. It can be a mission behind a brand that happens to align with an influencer and that in and of itself will drive brand awareness and ultimately conversion. But I think sort of moving away from just pushing product and collaborating with influencers on what the bigger conversation or bigger picture is, and I think hopefully it’s the direction that influencer marketing is going in general.

Adrian Tennant: When we asked people to describe what they think retailers need to do to add value or improve their customer experience when shopping in any physical store, over one-half of the responses mentioned issues relating to customer service, 52 percent good and bad. Seventeen percent of the responses suggest improvements to retailers’ product selections. While 13 percent of the respondents mentioned pricing and promotions, the same percentage relates to stores’ environment, perhaps reflecting a greater awareness of cleanliness and safety measures as a result of COVID-19. 5 percent of the responses mentioned product sampling in-store. So it’s clear that while shoppers are now returning to stores, they’re doing so with raised expectations, since they can easily discover brands, research products, read reviews from real people and shop all online. Doug Stevens offers his perspective on the significance of these changes.

Doug Stephens: No matter what you sell the internet has commodified it. The consumer has an endless well of choice, in every product category. So every brand needs to be the answer to a deeper question than where can I get this product. The first question that every brand today needs to answer is what is our purpose to consumers? What fundamental need do we satisfy by virtue of our presence? And if you can figure that out and bring it to life, then you can sort of move on to strategy part two. but this is a fundamental question that we have to answer.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to the first episode of Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. My thanks to all the contributors to this podcast: Doug Stevens, Paige Garrett, Camila and Nidia Swanson, Jorge Sedano, and Haroldo Montero. To download the full report on which this podcast is based, go to bigeye.agency/retail, where you can also watch the on-demand, webinar highlighting results through our national study. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. Thank you for listening. Until next time, goodbye!

Categories
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Encore: As millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging is an important part of the customer experience. Industry expert Brandon Frank explains how evolving consumer attitudes are leading brands to embrace sustainable packaging solutions. Brandon shares the inside story of innovative packaging his company, Pacific Packaging Components, developed for premium beauty brand Drunk Elephant, and his role as a member of Credo’s Clean Beauty Council.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS provides another chance to hear a conversation with sustainable packaging expert, Brandon Frank. Brandon is the CEO of Pacific Packaging Components in Los Angeles and explains how leading brands are embracing sustainable packaging solutions in response to evolving consumer attitudes. This is also one of the topics covered in Bigeye’s upcoming exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. And in a couple of weeks, we’ll be talking with Brandon again – along with other guests in the direct-to-consumer space – to mark the 100th episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. But for now, enjoy this encore of a conversation with Brandon Frank.

You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Consumers’ perceptions of products are affected by intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Intrinsic cues are a product’s specific attributes, such as their sensory properties: what a product looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds like. Extrinsic cues are purchase consideration factors, which in a retail setting, typically include point-of-sale displays, product placement, and the packaging that surrounds or contains the product. Of all the extrinsic cues, packaging is one of the most important since it’s often a brand’s first physical touchpoint with the consumer. Packaging needs to be impactful on store shelves, and, depending on the product, may also incorporate claims, descriptions, and ingredient lists. Designers also have to consider the weight of packaging, their physical dimensions, the visual form, opening and closing mechanisms, as well as color and texture. Packaging is then a really important consideration in the marketing mix. Being impactful on a store shelf while also looking good on a kitchen table or a bathroom vanity presents unique challenges and opportunities. Combining marketing elements into the design of a product’s packaging has been dubbed “packvertising.” For designers, this offers ways to bring a brand’s proposition to life on the shelf or online. And, as millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging can actually be an important part of the customer experience. To talk about how companies can use packaging to amplify a brand’s qualities, I’m joined today by a packaging industry expert. Based in Los Angeles, Brandon Frank is the President of Pacific Packaging Components, which this year celebrates 50 years in business. Brandon is also President of the Southern California chapter of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. Brandon, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Brandon Frank: Thank you very much.

Adrian Tennant: So, could you tell us about Pacific Packaging Components’ history and what the company offers today?

Brandon Frank: My grandfather and grandmother started the company, like you said, about 50 years ago and my parents joined the company about 40 years ago. And so I was basically raised in the world of packaging. I like to joke that I knew about net finishes before I knew my ABCs, but that’s not probably totally accurate. And it was set up as a packaging distribution company. And that’s what we still are today. And so for, the listeners that don’t know what that is, basically we represent the customer and we figure out what they need from a packaging perspective. And then we go to our preferred vendors around the world and find the perfect manufacturer for their specific situation. And then we broker the deal. We buy the packaging from the manufacturer and sell to the end customer and manage the entire supply chain.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of businesses do you serve? Is there a specific vertical that represents a significant portion of your business?

Brandon Frank: So I like to say that in 50 years, we’ve learned how to get in trouble in a lot of different ways. But we’re in three primary industries: beauty/personal care, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical and nutraceutical. I would say that our main specialty though is in primary rigid packaging. So think of like, glass bottles and jars, plastic containers, dispensers, closures, tubes, things like that.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned one vertical for your company is beauty and skincare. I understand that you advise several companies in this space, and that you’re a member of the Credo Clean Beauty Council. What does your role with Credo entail?

Brandon Frank: So, the title they gave me was Sustainable Packaging Expert and I’m always quick to qualify that there are brilliant people in the sustainable space, and I don’t consider myself at their level but I am certainly passionate about the topic. And so Credo is a really innovative retailer – they’re actually the largest clean beauty retailer in the United States. And their whole focus is to do things the right way. And so they started with ingredients, basically creating approved and unapproved ingredients for all their products. And so, if brands weren’t able to fulfill those obligations, they couldn’t sell their product through their channel. The next step was to create a sustainable packaging guideline that would inspire brands to choose more sustainable packaging. And that if they didn’t comply with the standards they were setting, then again, they wouldn’t sell those items through their platform. And so they brought me on to basically help craft and create those guidelines and then to serve as a resource to all of the brands currently in Credo and that are trying to get into Credo, to be able to help them make that transition to more sustainable packaging.

Adrian Tennant: Now Credo is an example of a retailer that’s really engaged in the “clean beauty” movement. How do you define “clean beauty?”

Brandon Frank: It’s a great question and I think there’s a lot of different ways to answer it, but generally I see clean beauty or even the topic of sustainability as looking at the entire value chain. And choosing ingredients or materials that are going to be more sustainable, more renewable, easier on the planet, far more natural or more organic sources. You know, there’s always going to be an impact to any type of consumer product, but I think it’s trying to minimize the impact as much as possible.

Adrian Tennant: There’s a lot of competing sources of information about what makes a beauty product clean. What are some of the things that consumers really need to watch out for?

Brandon Frank: I think that the actual ingredients in the product tend to be the primary focus. And so Credo, for example, has their quote-unquote “dirty” list. And that dirty list has a list of ingredients that are the really big no-nos  for their brand.

Adrian Tennant: Now Pacific Packaging Components developed custom packaging for the skincare line Drunk Elephant. How did that partnership originate? And what did the design process look like? 

Brandon Frank: Tiffany Masterson is the founder and owner of Drunk Elephant – and they actually recently sold to Shiseido – but when we started with that company, they were still relatively small and still getting started. Their story with Drunk Elephant is very consistent with a lot of our kind of interactions and processes that we have with a lot of our other brands to where it starts off with a vision from the founder or from the owners or from the people in charge of kind of developing the packaging. And we were right there to basically guide and support and to go bring those things to reality. The other part too, is that we knew that there was going to be scaling with Drunk Elephant. She had a great idea, a great concept. And so we were expecting really great things. And so we weren’t just trying to supply the first round of packaging, but we were looking down the supply chain as well, to be able to make sure that as the brand grew, that there weren’t going to be supply chain issues from a packaging standpoint. But the creative process is really different, you know, for everybody. Sometimes it’s really straightforward and it’s really easy to be able to deliver on what the vision is. Other times it’s a little bit more fluid and a little more dynamic. And I think our agility is a real benefit in that regard because if things start to pivot away from kind of the initial concept or we’re going in a different direction, we have no problem changing manufacturers and going to someone else that can accomplish what we need to in order to make the customer happy.

Adrian Tennant: A lot of direct-to-consumer brands engage with social media influencers to reach potential customers. At Pacific Packaging Components, you develop “influencer kits” for brands. Can you tell us more about those?

Brandon Frank: So influencer kits are basically a way a brand can create a special gift that features their brand,  that gives that kind of special feeling of opening something really unique and innovative. It’s kind of like their own brand, their own vision, their own products, all encapsulated within this box. And sometimes it has a really big focus on the story of the brand or what they’re trying to accomplish; other times it’s filled with lots of different products. And we can make some really creative ones. We’ve had some, with even little mini flat screen televisions that when it opens the video starts and it has an explanation of what’s in the pack. And then from there, the influencers are encouraged to be able to try the products, document what they think about things, review it online, and hopefully tell their followers to go and check it out.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the differences, if any, between packaging components used for beauty and skincare products versus food  packaging? Are there any regulations that you have to take into account when dealing with food or drink?

Brandon Frank: Yes, absolutely. Really any time, you know, it’s going to be a CPG product there are going to be regulations that are going to be relevant, but if it’s going to be food beverage, anything that’s going to be ingested, there are strict laws through the FDA and other governing bodies. With beauty and personal care, there’s kind of less barrier because most of the products obviously are not being ingested. They’re kind of more topicals. But it’s still a really good idea to be able to use products and develop products that can be certified to some degree.

Adrian Tennant: What tend to be the best materials to use for safe food packaging?

Brandon Frank: Boy, that’s a big question, ’cause you could approach it from a lot of different standpoints. So most of the time with food and beverage, the packaging has to be functional. And so it has to protect the product, it has to extend the shelf life or do other types of just really functional, practical things. Usually the cost of food and beverage packaging tends to be one of the most important drivers, because of the margins and the cost of those goods are usually relatively low. For beauty and personal care packaging, the cost of the packaging is significantly higher and usually the price points for those items are also higher. But beauty customers tend to want to feel the quality of the packaging. It’s kind of a representation of the product itself. For food and beverage, it’s a little bit less so, at least that’s been my experience.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Karen Hidalgo: I’m Karen Hidalgo, Associate Account Manager at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising account professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with your audience. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant:  Welcome back. As I mentioned in the introduction, brands that invest in packaging design do so to make them distinctive and instantly recognizable to potential customers. CPG giant Proctor and Gamble refers to this as the “First Moment of Truth” – that is when a consumer chooses to purchase one brand over competitors. Of course, during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen more e-commerce activity and a greater focus on hygiene. In other words, consumers are discovering another moment of truth: after they’ve used the product, they must dispose of the packaging. International research from Ipsos undertook a study published on Earth Day this year, which found that globally, “dealing with the amount of waste we generate” is a top environmental concern for around one-third of people, just behind “global warming and climate change” and on a par with “air pollution.” Research from Ipsos also shows that “avoiding products that have a lot of packaging” is one of the key actions that a majority of consumers – 57 percent – say they’re likely to do to limit their own contribution to climate change. To quote from the Ipsos study, “if the finished packaging has a large number of components and materials, if it has a high use of plastic and, or is not obviously able to be recycled, this might well have an impact on whether that product will be purchased again.” To talk about this, let’s return to our guest this week, Brandon Frank, President of Pacific Packaging Components. Brandon, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Harrold of Mohawk Fine Papers in New York in an earlier episode of our current season. Chris told us about Mohawk’s Renewal line of papers that use non-traditional fibers, such as hemp, straw, and cotton scraps, which are a by-product of denim and t-shirt manufacturing. Chris explained that younger designers were really drawn to these papers for use in packaging projects, in part because they demonstrate respect for the environment and an embrace of sustainability principles. We know that the youngest consumers – Generation Z – are very concerned about environmental issues. How is Pacific Packaging Components approaching the use of sustainable and recyclable materials?

Brandon Frank: Sustainability is incredibly important to us. And it’s been something that has kind of been, I would say, a focal point of how we’re viewing our own company and then the kind of industry as a whole. Obviously, we have been producing millions and millions of units of plastic and glass and other types of packaging for the past 50 years. And, as a family company, I’m looking at the legacy – what are we going to be a part of for the next 50 years? And so we want to be a part of the solution, and we are, you know, actively trying to improve, not only the sustainability of packaging, but really looking at the entire value chain. You know, I think traditionally we’ve really approached packaging from two central points: is it going to be functional? And is it going to look great and is it going to be on budget? And what’s really required right now is we need to take our blinders off – consumers, brands, packaging companies, packaging manufacturers, everyone involved – and say, “What materials are the best to use right now, according to the capabilities of our recycling stream?” So it’s really looking at the end and saying, “Okay, how can we design and choose packaging right now that it is going to be recycled?” Because it’s not enough to make something that’s quote, unquote “recyclable” if it’s not going to be recycled. We see this a lot with tubes and monolayer tubes people call them recyclable all the time, but they’re never going to actually be recycled, especially here in the US. And so we’re taking a really active stand. We’re inspiring companies to be able to really consider and make sustainability a part of their brand and their ethos. You know, 81 percent of consumers in the US think that brands should be making decisions that are benefiting the environment rather than hurting. You know, we’ve seen the popularity of sustainability really come and go every decade for the last 50 years – It kind of comes, it’s really popular,and then it fades away. But something’s different this time. We feel like the levee’s kind of been broken on the topic of sustainability – whether it’s because of social media, or Netflix documentaries that have kind of shown the amount of plastic waste that’s in the ocean, but sustainability is going to be here to stay. And that’s why I think we’re seeing a lot of large multinational companies and brands like Credo that are making really big statements that 50 percent or one hundred percent of our packaging is going to come from recycled sources. Now, by 2025 is kind of a popular year right now. And we’re seeing massive investments on the recycling stream because there’s going to be this really big opportunity for all of these brands that are demanding post-consumer recycled residence – sorry, that’s what PCR stands for – basically, it’s ground-up plastic that turns back into resin that can be reused to be able to make more plastic items. And that’s going to be kind of the standard going forward is that if you’re going to be using plastic, then there needs to be a percentage of PCR in that plastic and the whole recycling stream is going to really improve to make sure that the plastics is able to be processed, cleaned, and turned into a really reusable plastic resin.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you point out, sustainability comes in many guises.

Brandon Frank: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there’s some really practical parts about not reusing or touching lots of packaging, too. I think the days of going into a retail store  and touching a lotion pump that everyone else has touched and sampling things are going to be behind us. And there’s going to be a new normal going forward about those things. And there is an adverse relationship between those two, because really the most kind of sterile way to do it is to have a single use sachet that is opened, used, and then discarded. But even there, there’s going to be more opportunities for innovation. I’m seeing more compostable and biodegradable films, so if they do end up in the landfill that they’re breaking down a lot quicker.  You mentioned fiber-based earlier: I think fiber and different materials in fiber – so paper, hemp, mushrooms, sugar cane, corn stock, – I mean there’s going to be a lot of different, more renewable, natural sources that are going to be used to be able to make packaging that can be effective, that can be affordable, and it will hopefully look good too.

Adrian Tennant: How do you work with design agencies that want to build sustainability into their packaging designs?

Brandon Frank: So most design companies, I’ll be real honest, don’t have a lot of packaging manufacturing experience. It’s really rare to find a really good designer that knows kind of the manufacturing limitations when it comes to sustainable packaging. And so we’ve tried to work as closely as we can with those designers, whether they’re inside of the organization or they’re of a private firm, because really it’s a partnership – ‘cause the customer is going to end up telling the designer, “We want to do this.” And then they’re going to try to draw it up and create it. And before they go through all the trouble of creating this, they need to run it by us and say, “Hey, is this even possible?” You know, “Can we put this number of colors on a glass bottle?” Or, you know, “Can we really do a 360-degree artwork on this type of tube?” Or something like that. So, I’d say it’s a really great partnership and a lot of collaboration and communication.

Adrian Tennant: For designers that are new to packaging design, what are some best practices that you can share when it comes to packaging for say, beauty and skincare products?

Brandon Frank: When it comes to sustainability, one trend that we’re really seeing is don’t make things too complicated. Try to simplify the designs, simplify the amount of materials that are being used, if it can be eliminated or can be reduced, make those decisions. You know, hot stamping was a really popular way to kind of make your item pop. It’s like having a – basically like a metallic look or metallic decoration on the outside of a bottle. Well, for plastics or even glass, having metal on the outside of the packaging is not a great sustainable form of decorating. And so we’re seeing less and less hot stamping. Now people are saying, “You know what, let’s just stick to one pass. Let’s do you know, maybe just multiple colors. Let’s try to achieve that as close as we can with a silkscreen deco.” And so that’s kind of just one example. I think how sustainability is coming into the design process and designers are kind of modifying what they’re doing to kind of accommodate those goals.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned that you foresee new consumer behaviors emerging from COVID-19. What are some of those behaviors that you’re most excited about for the future of packaging?

Brandon Frank: Well, I think, you know, I mean, certainly online shopping and e-commerce is only going to continue to grow. And so I think brands are going to continue to look at the packaging that’s being sent to the brand. I have three young kids and my wife ordered a brand, I think it’s called Hello Bello or something like that. But the box came and there were a bunch of diapers in it and lotions and, All sorts of different baby items, but the box on the outside could actually be converted into a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin and the kids could interact with it by kind of punching out these different designs on all four sides of the box. And then it would all come together and it would be this really cool thing. It even had a handle on it. I think that the kids could put stuff in and the moms or dads could easily move it around the house. And so typically that box would just be a box. It would show up and it would be discarded. But now it’s coming into our home and we’re actually using it. And it’s having a second life as a toy before it’s being – hopefully – recycled. And so I think there’s going to be more opportunities for creativity in that regard. There’s some really popular blogs out there about how to convert plastic bottles that you’ve consumed into other really helpful household items or in your garden. How to reuse glass packaging by having refillable pouches sent to the house and then you refill this beautiful glass soap dispenser that has a really durable pump on it. So you’re not going out and consistently ordering or buying or having shipped, just more plastic bottles. And so  think that’s going to be one of the significant trends going forward is that there’s going to be a lot of innovation with refillables and reusable packaging, and then also creating fun and innovative packaging that maybe has a second life within the home before just thrown away.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, it’s interesting, you’re the third generation of a family business. If you hadn’t been working in the family of business, what else might you have done?

Brandon Frank: So, my grandparents and my parents actually had a rule that before I could have a leadership role in this company, I had to go out and the way they said it was, I had to “go make mistakes on someone else’s dime.” And so I went to college and got my degree and right out of college, I pursued a career in real estate. It was a startup company. We did 1031 exchanges into tenant and common properties. And predominantly we’re doing online advertising to be able to find our customers. A fascinating startup experience. And then from there  – I’m a big soccer fan and really enjoyed playing and coaching. And so after I had this stint in startup, I kind of missed just coaching. And so then I went back and I became a soccer coach again, and started running a summer camp in Maine – an all-boys, residential summer camp. I did that for four years. During that time, it was a lot of leadership, a lot of on-the-job training in terms of bringing a group of people together, crafting a clear vision for us, and then making sure that I was taking care of everyone and making sure everyone was having a great summer. And then from there, I’ve always fallen in love with brick and mortar businesses. I don’t know if it’s just because I like going in the opposite direction of the direction society’s going in, but I kind of started from scratch and went to work for a friend that owned a bunch of retail stores across the country and learned the business from him, and then opened up my own store, that I built up for three years and then I sold it to also a good friend of mine. And it was at that time after all those experiences that I felt ready to be able to come back home and end up where I kind of knew I was going to end up anyways, back here at the family business.

Adrian Tennant: What are your daily sources of inspiration? Are you a reader? A podcast listener? Music listener? What’s your thing?

Brandon Frank: So being a kind of lifelong jock and athlete, my best meditation is my daily workouts. I turn 40 next year and I have this goal of doing an Ironman, which is a really long triathlon, and it hurts a lot to do it. But it’s kind of been this goal that I’ve wanted to do. So I try to wake up early every morning, four thirty, five o’clock, and go for a good long run, ride, or a swim. I also try to do as much as I can with my kids. And I’ve gotten them into bike riding at an early age, so when I’m running, they’re usually riding their bikes next to me. I try to make that time as special as I can. I do like to read, but I really like the convenience of audio, of podcast news and other sources. I don’t have as much time as I like, so I tend to just do 15, 20 minutes of three or four different news sources in the morning to just kind of get caught up on what’s happening. And then, I love books on tape as well. So usually when I’m riding a bike or I’m running and I’m listening to some sort of audible, book recording

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, if listeners want to learn more about Pacific Packaging Components, where can they find you?

Brandon Frank: Yeah, so I encourage you to go to our website, PPCPackaging.com and it’s really easy to connect with me on LinkedIn as well. You can search for just Brandon Frank. I’m pretty active there. Or you can shoot me an email at brandon@ppcpackaging.com.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, thank you so much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Brandon Frank: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: According to data from McKinsey and Company, across 21 international markets they surveyed, an average of 29 percent of consumers said that compared to before the Coronavirus outbreak, they’re making more buying decisions based on healthy and hygienic packaging. And as we heard earlier, while consumers’ desire for sustainable packaging designs presents significant challenges for manufacturers and retailers, it also presents opportunities. Brands today have much greater permission, it seems, to more radically reinvent their packaging solutions potentially resulting in greater engagement with consumers. Thanks to my guest this week, Brandon Frank,  President of Pacific Packaging Components in Los Angeles. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Pet marketing services agency Bigeye’s podcast features Olivia Canlas, the co-founder and CEO of Meowbox, a pawpular direct-to-consumer cat treat and toy subscription. Olivia shares how she first had the idea for Meowbox and why social media has been purrfect for growing the brand. Olivia talks candidly about challenges during COVID, the importance of being part of an extended network of female entrepreneurs, and brainstorming pawsitively ameowzing creative box themes.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS provides another chance to hear a conversation with direct-to-consumer pioneer, Olivia Canlas, the co-founder and CEO of Meowbox. Olivia’s advice on building a community around her products and insights on the use of influencer marketing reflect topics we’ll be covering in Bigeye’s upcoming exclusive report, Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. And in a couple of weeks, we’ll be talking with Olivia again, along with other guests in the direct-to-consumer space to mark the 100th episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. But for now, enjoy this encore of a conversation with Olivia Canlas.

You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us today. Over the past decade, a new type of business has disrupted retail. From Warby Parker, which sells eyeglasses and contact lenses to Everlane clothing, Casper mattresses, and The Honest Company for baby and beauty products, these companies all have one thing in common: they sell directly to consumers. Their ability to forge one-to-one relationships with their customers and capture valuable first-party data that is impossible via traditional retail is a unique advantage of the direct-to-consumer model. I am excited to welcome a pioneer in the direct-to-consumer space to this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. Launched in 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Meowbox delivers boxes of toys and food treats to cat owners across Canada and the US as a monthly or bi-monthly subscription. With operations in Portland, Oregon too, the company has been featured in Buzzfeed, New York Magazine, Vogue, The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and InStyle magazine. And most recently, the New York Times Wirecutter picked Meowbox as the best cat subscription box. The Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Meowbox is Olivia Canlas, who is joining us today from her office in Vancouver. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Olivia!

Olivia Canlas: Thank you so much. I’m very excited for our conversation today.

Adrian Tennant: Thank you. So, first of all, Olivia, can you tell us a little more about what Meowbox is?

Olivia Canlas: Of course. So I’d like to think of Meowbox as monthly deliveries of cat happiness. So it is a box full of themed cat toys and treats that we choose exclusively for our subscribers. And we deliver that monthly or bi-monthly, in the subscription model.

Adrian Tennant: Now, back in 2013, when you launched Meowbox, direct-to-consumer wasn’t nearly as well established as a business model, as it is today. What inspired you to start a subscription box for cat owners?

Olivia Canlas: I was a subscription box customer, maybe two or three years before I thought of the idea of Meowbox. I was a subscriber to cosmetics, so I knew that that was something that appealed to me, to my friends, people in a similar demographic as I was. And so I was aware of the concept of subscription boxes, but specifically like the moment where I thought, you know, “What there needs to be a Meowbox in this world” was when I started getting targeted on my Facebook for a dog subscription box. And I thought, you know what, instead of just ignoring it, thinking, well, that doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have a dog. I wondered – because I’m more of a cat person – I wonder if there was a box for cats and upon my initial research, there wasn’t a box that was dedicated just to cat parents.

Adrian Tennant: Now clearly the business is successful now, but looking back, do you think being a woman meant that you faced additional challenges as an entrepreneur?

Olivia Canlas: You know, I like to think that everything that I do and that I did, to build the company it’s not tied to gender in any way, but, I didn’t look at my gender as something that was going to hold me back from succeeding, but in reality, there were a few moments where I was reminded that maybe I might be viewed a little bit differently in terms of, you know, male versus female, business leaders. And one example that I can think of was I was at a trade show once looking for some new product with my co-founder who’s male, and, a handful of times the brand representatives would initiate the conversation, speaking to him. instead of me, as if just automatically thinking that he was the one who was the decision-maker. I wasn’t, like offended or insulted, but it was definitely something that I noticed at the time and just sort of little things like that. I mean, very easy for me to step in and let them know I was the one who was doing the product selection. so it could have just been like a subconscious, behavior of people to expect maybe that it was the male who was in charge of making the decisions.

Adrian Tennant: Now I mentioned in the introduction that Meowbox serves cat owners in Canada and the United States. Do you have customers in any other countries?

Olivia Canlas: In the earlier stages of Meowbox, we did offer Meowbox to the UK, as we were kind of testing out the markets. so we were able to tell from our social media insights where our audience was located, so US and then Canada, and then the UK, and then I think Australia after that. So, we dipped a toe in, into the UK waters and we did run into some issues with just getting stuff over the border, in terms of the VAT that they have there – the VAT, it’s like an additional tax to claim your packages from overseas. So that experience wasn’t something that we wanted our customers to have to deal with. We just want to deliver the Meowbox – you get it, you open up, not have to deal with paying an additional fee on top of what you already paid. So instead of focusing our efforts on continuing to enter the UK market, we decided to reel it back and focus on our more local customers. I mean, there’s so many households with cats in Canada and the US that we have yet to reach. And we want the experience to be dialed in where there isn’t that additional fee or step to have to claim your, Meowbox.

Adrian Tennant: Meowboxes each contain themed, curated collection of cat toys and treats. How far in advance do you have to plan the theme and the contents of each box to allow for sourcing products and manufacturers?

Olivia Canlas: This is a great question. It’s evolved a lot since we started. We used to plan one month ahead of time. And now, I think currently we are planning our April box. So, quite a few months ahead of time, in order to make sure our products are designed properly, we go through all the samples, all the other sort of different, contributors to what goes into the box. We have to make sure that it’s all timed well, our products, if they come from overseas, they need time to ship to us, go through customs, and get delivered to our warehouse. So it’s changed a lot since the beginning, since we’ve increased our volume, we need more time to prepare for each month.

Adrian Tennant: How do you come up with the ideas for the theming of each box?

Olivia Canlas: It used to be a lot easier, at the beginning when it was just the start and we had, we’re fresh with ideas. Like, you know, it was actually difficult to choose from all of our ideas and narrow it down to just 12 in a year. And now that we’ve been doing themes for a number of years, we also take into consideration what’s been popular. It kind of narrows down our choices. Cause I feel like we did our favorites right away and then, had to figure out, “Okay, how do we make the next year even better when we already did our favorite ones this previous year?” So what we like to do is actually, send that request out to our audience on social media, our current subscribers and ask them, for what they love to see in the box. So sometimes it’s like your classic themes, of course, like winter holidays and Halloween, Valentine’s Day. Those are the staples that we’ll likely repeat each year. But then in between all those major holidays and events, I mean it depends like some years it’s going to lean towards, I mean, like for example, this year with COVID everyone at home, some of the themes suggestions are like sort of tied to that. So things in the home, you know, for example, a lot of us have been staying in and taking up hobbies like gardening, baking. And so sort of things like that that are trending also help us choose what kinds of themes to do. And then like I had mentioned there’s our classic themes, separate from the holidays, but we’ve done sort of a camping theme one year and we did repeat, a similar theme to camping another year because the first time we did it, it was so popular.

Adrian Tennant: What have been some of your customers’ favorite individual cat toys or treats so far?

Olivia Canlas: That’s another great question. We love to know, so that we can continue to deliver toys that have similar characteristics to that. And so specifically, very popular, one of them is a little wool snake toy, so it’s just kind of like a thin, lightweight, sort of wavy shaped wool toy. It’s narrow, and I think the reason why it’s so popular is, just the cats can grab it in their mouth really easily and it’s lightweight so they can carry it around and toss it in the air. I would say that’s kind of one of our most number one requested toys. But also, kind of more unique toy that we offer is made of a material called silvervine, which is sort of similar to catnip in terms of, it kind of brings out like excitement, out of your cat. But if your cat doesn’t react to catnip, they will most likely react to silvervine and even more intensely. So that type of toy has been extremely popular as well.

Adrian Tennant: I’m guessing research and development for Meowbox is more fun than other product categories. And on your website, you list your cats, Harvey, and Zach, as Co-Chief Feline Officers. Now, do you test new products you’re considering for Meowbox with your own fur babies?

Olivia Canlas: Yes, absolutely. Most of us that work for Meowbox have cats. So we take turns in bringing a toy samples home to test out on our cats. And they really are the ones who are the tie-breakers, if we’re not sure which toy will be more popular or more well-liked – take it home, see what the cats say. And we go with that.

Adrian Tennant: I love it – a focus group of felines (laughter) Now we’ve talked about the theming of each Meowbox. The visual design of each box is really unique and your social media posts also capture a really fun sensibility with lots of catty word-play. Do you have an in-house creative team?

Olivia Canlas: So we have a little bit of both, when it comes to, what we share on our social media and the voice that we use, across those platforms,that’s in house. And it’s kind of an extension of our personality. So if we’re being cheeky and playful, sharing things that we think are funny, that’s us,that’s the personality of our team and of our social media manager. That’s like a direct link of like what our sense of humor is and what we find interesting in the cat world. And, in terms of our toy design, we work with a partner who helps bring our theme ideas to life in illustrations, and we select sort of what is translating best for us, for the theme that we chose. And amongst our group of people who work at Meowbox, we also have a group of us who are very creative in terms of illustrating and coming up with visual ideas. So it’s kind of a mix of people contributing, but we’re all very like-minded in terms of like we’re, you know, lighthearted and we like to sort of lean on sort of like a cheekier side of things, which seems to be received very well by, by our audience.

Adrian Tennant: Now many established direct-to-consumer brands initially acquire customers through social media. How does Meowbox typically attract new customers?

Olivia Canlas: The most effective way that we have found is yes, it’s associated with social media. I mean, especially even during this time, the past, I’d say five to six months, people are spending a lot more time at home, which means that they have more time to, be closer to their cats, perhaps take more photos of their cats, perhaps want to provide something more for their cats, like Meowbox. So there’s been a lot of social sharing. so that organically, well, it helps us, showcase our product to more people. Our community does that for us and with us. And also we’ve leaned very heavy working with influencers, on social media as well, and sending lots of boxes out, and them sharing the word as well of what Meowbox is.

Adrian Tennant: What have been some of your most successful customer acquisition programs for Meowbox, would you say?

Olivia Canlas: I would say number one consistently from the beginning is for us to be working with influencers and affiliates. So that would probably be our most successful, most consistent. If we had zero spend or very close to nothing to spend on marketing, I would never stop doing that.

Adrian Tennant: Hmmm.

Olivia Canlas: Yes. And then in terms of beyond that… I would say one of our best ways of bringing in customers and increasing our awareness is through email marketing. So bringing in people who are interested in what we have to say, and letting them know when we have something new, what our new themes are, or just like fun information that we want to share to our cat community.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before.

Michael R. Solomon: A lot of people who never would have thought to order groceries online have seen the light. And I guess they’re going to continue to do that.

Paige Garrett: When it comes to influencers’ recommendations and the way that you as a consumer feel connected to that influencer, it’s very similar to getting a recommendation from a family member or friend.

Adrian Tennant: The widespread adoption of online shopping during the pandemic has heightened consumer expectations and challenged retailers to re-imagine the customer experience to entice people back to physical stores.

Dana Cassell: It’s clear that customer habits have solidified. And to me, that means the digital conversion funnel needs to be working well from top to bottom and your organization needs to know what levers to pull to convert better step to step.

Doug Stephens: E-commerce is growing exponentially faster on a percentage basis than physical retail. And so it’s quite likely that as early as 2033, we may find that 50 or more percent of our consumption is being performed online and or by subscription.

Adrian Tennant: Retail Disrupted: What U.S. Shoppers Want From Brands Today, a new report from Bigeye. Coming soon.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Olivia Canlas, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the direct-to-consumer cat treats and toys subscription service, Meowbox. Olivia, you also have ongoing customer engagement programs like the Supermeowdel Cat Club. Can you tell us how those work?

Olivia Canlas: Can you tell that we’re really good with cat puns? So specifically, that group, we built that as a place for our cat community to share, to share photos, to ask questions, and we find that cat people, and I’m a cat person myself with Zach and Harvey, we love to talk about our cats. Just any sort of like invitation to share information or stories or photos about our cats. Like we love to do it. You mentioned my cat’s names and it just sort of like, sort of lights me up. I don’t know what it is. I guess we love our animals so much. And so that group is built for our cat community to post photos of their cats. Just know, no one’s judging, there’s not necessarily like a rhyme or reason. We do encourage engagement when we ask a question, like show us a photo of what your cat is doing right now and everyone wants to share, and we’re happy to see those photos. I think that’s kind of part of why we were able to grow so quickly at the beginning too – it’s just, people want to share photos of their cats.

Adrian Tennant: You created an annual event called MeowFest. What is it? And how did you arrive at the idea?

Olivia Canlas:  So MeowFest is our way of bringing our online community, offline and to gather in-person to network with each other, talk about their cats in person, put a name to a face for friends that you’ve perhaps made on Instagram, or someone who you’ve seen post photos of their cats on Facebook. So aside from bringing cat people together in person in one place, it’s also, one of our sort of larger sources of, donating and giving back to the cat community. So each event we choose a small handful of local cat shelters to donate proceeds to show that’s live and in-person we would have an assortment of vendors in a marketplace where people can shop for all their cat-themed goodies and cat toys. We also invite knowledgeable cat influencers in our space to come speak about cat care, rescue, those kinds of topics that are important to us. And we also have cat celebrities that we bring in for people to have like a little meet and greet photo session with as well.

Adrian Tennant: That sounds a lot of fun. Now, looking to the future, how do you see Meowbox evolving over the next two to three years?

Olivia Canlas: Our plan is to continue with the momentum of the growth that we’re experiencing, and throughout everything that we’re learning and discovering, we’re just hoping to continue to become, you know, more and more in tune with what our customers want, you know, to continue to be nimble as the market changes, but we’re experiencing, some really impressive growth right now. And the plan is to keep growing, keep going, find ways to make our customers happier, keep them with us longer, you know, provide to them what they’re looking for and just keep growing. Our goal is to reach as many cats in as many households as possible.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any emerging tools, technologies, or social apps that you foresee influencing the way that you connect with your customers or ways that you conduct your business in the future?

Olivia Canlas: Yes. We are spending more time on building our TikTok account and good news that it’s still TikTok is going to stick around for a little bit longer. But I’ve always been a huge fan of jumping onto any of the social platforms that are trending and that seem interesting. And, TikTok has been a lot of fun for us and something that we’re currently working on to build right now.

Adrian Tennant: I saw one of your social posts that mentioned ideas for a new creative project. So I want to ask you the same question you asked cat parents. Olivia, what is the craziest, wackiest most extraordinary, creative, quirky, and or wow-worthy thing that you have done out of love for your fur babies?

Olivia Canlas: Okay, so one of the craziest things that has happened, since I’ve had my cats in my life is, I was away on vacation, overseas, for a couple of weeks. And, the cat stayed home. I had someone come and visit them regularly, visit the house and the cats make sure they had everything they needed. And, one of the days that I was away, I got a pretty frantic emergency phone call saying that there was water flooding into all those surrounding, townhouse units that were connected to my townhouse. So, just to sort of clarify the picture. So we’re a ground level townhouse with a unit to our left, a unit to our right, and a unit behind us. And I couldn’t even understand what was going on and what that meant. And what ended up happening was that water was flooding my unit and flooding everyone else’s units around us. and we could not figure out, obviously, we didn’t leave our water on, you know, before the trip, it hadn’t been on, you know, for the first, like half of the trip. And the only thing that made sense was that one of the cats turned the water on in the kitchen sink, and turned the faucet so that the water was no longer pouring into the sink, but pouring onto the counter. And so I have no idea how long that water was on for, but it was pouring. Must’ve been hours, maybe an entire day just pouring out onto the counter, onto the floor and into all the surrounding units. And so we sent someone to turn it off and to make a long story short – my cats, I don’t know which one it was, created. I mean, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of water damage to our unit and the units around us. And, so to this day, you know, I kind of walk around my building, like thinking, are you looking at me because, you know, I’m the mom of the cats that flooded your unit? And wondering if people sort of just remember me as that person. One of the comments that came up was like, “Oh, did they leave? Did she leave the tap on for the cats while she was away?” And just thinking like, “No, I didn’t, but how do I defend myself? But I still love them. You know, I still go on vacation. We’re just a little bit smarter with like where the tap is turned. Sometimes I’ll turn the water off completely, but basically, you know, my cats, they can do no wrong. They’ve done as bad as that – and I love them even more than I did the day they did that.

Adrian Tennant: Well, some cats clearly prefer fresh water from the faucet. So what are you going to do?

Olivia Canlas: I know exactly. What can I do? I can’t even be mad. They have taught me forgiveness.

Adrian Tennant: So, Olivia, what inspires you on a daily basis? Are there any journals, podcasts, or social media accounts that you follow – cat-related or not?

Olivia Canlas: My source of inspiration comes from my fellow female entrepreneurs. I have a small group of female entrepreneurs who I look up to whose businesses I follow, whose social media I follow, we’re in communication for sort of best practices or problem-solving, advice, and that kind of thing. And, it’s really blossomed and, become sort of a resource for me that I’ve come to rely on and go to, as of late. And I guess I didn’t really realize how important it was, maybe in early years to have that kind of a network of colleagues. But sort of as time goes by, I don’t know, maybe you lose a bit of your ego and, are just more open to sharing, you know, your challenges with other people, especially people who have, maybe dealt with that before, people in a similar businesses as you, and that’s kind of where my inspiration comes from. I see ladies who are running businesses that do certain things better than me, or certain things that I’ve never done before. And I’ll ask like, you know, “How can I do that? How did you reach that?” And then, and vice versa, it’s the same where there’ll be something that I’m doing really well with Meowbox. And they ask me, you know, “How did you do that? What tools did you use to reach that?” And it’s kind of just this feedback loop of all of us sharing and each of us supporting each other and just doing better and better.

Adrian Tennant: Which upcoming Meowbox projects – that you’re allowed to talk about – are you most excited about?

Olivia Canlas: Okay, let me think, what can I, what can I reveal? We have a project that’s coming up that is related to,the call out that we did for the stories you know, the wild and crazy wacky stories you asked me about that, but I can’t say what it is yet, and it will make more sense when it comes out.

Adrian Tennant: That is a great promo. So if listeners would like to learn more about Meowbox and follow you on social media, where can they find you?

Olivia Canlas: So on social media, we are @Meowbox, so that’s the same across all social media platforms. And our website is meowbox.com.

Adrian Tennant: And of course we’ll include a link to that on our website too. Olivia, thank you very much indeed for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Olivia Canlas: Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Olivia Canlas, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mowbox. You can find a transcript of our conversation along with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page, at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on your preferred podcast app. You can also use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Alexa Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Bigeye insights interns Camila Swanson and Jorge Sedano reflect on their own experiences as multicultural consumers. Including candid interviews with friends and family members, the team examines influencer marketing and how Hispanic consumers are depicted in ads. We hear why ads on Spanish-language media can be more memorable, and the ways Hispanic consumers most commonly retain their families’ cultures and traditions.

Episode Transcript

Camila Swanson: It’s Hispanic Heritage Month. I’m your guest host, Camila Swanson, an intern on Bigeye’s Insights team. 

Jorge Sedano: And I’m Jorge Sedano, also an Insights intern. Coming up on this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Haroldo Montero: Well, American parents don’t really care as much about their kids. They send their kids off to college at 18 and they just don’t talk to them for a while. I think they’re not as close as Hispanics typically are. Hispanics withhold their kids at their house until they’re like in their late twenties, If they really wanted to!

Camila Swanson: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS. Fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye.

Jorge Sedano: A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, Bigeye is based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us.

Camila Swanson: The Hispanic population is the second-largest minority consumer group in the US and one of the fastest-growing, accounting for 57% of the population growth over the past two decades.

Jorge Sedano: There are over 63.6 million of us. Last year, Hispanic consumers had a combined buying power of $1.9 trillion and we will contribute disproportionately to growth in consumer spending over the next five years, when Hispanics are set to become 21% of this country’s population.

Camila Swanson: I belong to the youngest generation, Gen Z, born between 1996 and 2015, and nearly a quarter of my cohort – 23% – identify as Hispanic.

Jorge Sedano: I’m a Millennial or Gen Y, born between 1980 and 1995. And over a fifth of my generation is Hispanic.

Camila Swanson: In this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’re going to take a look at some of the differences between Hispanic cultures, values, and levels of acculturation and what they mean for marketers.

Jorge Sedano: One thing that’s challenging about marketing to Hispanic consumers is that we come from a variety of backgrounds. Our parents or grandparents might have come to the U.S. from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and many other Spanish-speaking countries. 

Camila Swanson: The dialects, cultures, behaviors, beliefs, interests, vary – perhaps more than non-Hispanic people might think. The syndicated research firm, Claritas, has a framework called Hispanicity, which measures the degree to which people of Hispanic heritage in the U.S. retain elements of their culture while acquiring elements of the American culture. Claritas uses various characteristics to segment consumers into one of five categories. These lie on a continuum from complete adoption of mainstream society’s values and beliefs to the retention of values and beliefs from an immigrant’s original culture.

Jorge Sedano: Claritas’s HA1 is Americanizado and reflects 17% of Hispanic consumers. These folks were born in the U.S., speak English predominantly, are likely to be third generation, and follow a few, if any, Hispanic cultural factors.

Camila Swanson: Hispanicity category, HA2 is Nueva Latina and reflects 29% of Hispanic consumers. They were born in the U.S., prefer to speak English, and are likely to be second generation, following some Hispanic cultural practices. This classifies me, I think.

Jorge Sedano: Category HA3 is Ambicultural and reflects 26% of Hispanic consumers. They immigrated to the U.S. as children or young adults and are bilingual, following many Hispanic cultural factors. I believe this category best qualifies me.

Camila Swanson: Category HA4 is Hispano and reflects 15% of Hispanic consumers. They immigrated to the U.S. as adults, and although they have been here 10 or more years, prefer to speak Spanish. They predominantly follow Hispanic cultural practices.

Jorge Sedano: And finally HA5 is Latino Americana and reflects 13% of Hispanic consumers. They immigrated to the U.S. as adults, less than 10 years ago, and Spanish language predominant. They follow Hispanic cultural practices and identify more with their home country than the U.S.

Camila Swanson: In their 2021 Hispanic market report, Claritas highlights some of the differences that exist between Hispanic consumers based on their country of origin, annual household incomes, and language use.

Jorge Sedano: These differences are reflected across a wide variety of consumer behaviors. From the use of internet and streaming services to insurance, e-commerce, and traditional in-store shopping. For this podcast, we want to understand how these and other categories play out in real people’s lives. So we asked some folks we know about their lives and consumption behaviors, starting with each other.

Camila Swanson: How in touch are you with your Hispanic roots, would you say?

Jorge Sedano: I actually am very in touch with my Hispanic roots. I was born in Mexico and I immigrated here in the first grade, I believe. I was also raised in a border city, which meant I was able to be raised both in the U.S. and Mexico. So I was able to take in both of those cultures and still keep in touch with my family and all those things that influence all my behaviors on all my purchases or anything that I do to this day. So Camila, how do you think you are with your Hispanic roots?

Camila Swanson: I would say I’m pretty in touch with my Hispanic roots, as much as I could be being from a household where my dad is more American and my mom is Dominican. I’ve never visited the Dominican Republic just because we were supposed to, and then the pandemic hit, but we would go to Latin concerts and we would play that music in the house, in the car. And it really kept me in touch with, you know, the bachata culture and, you know, my mom cooks homemade food every single day that I’m home. And that really keeps me in touch with my Hispanic roots, because I feel like I can connect so much through music and food.

Jorge Sedano: So you would say it’s always like a part of your daily life and a part of your culture as a person?

Camila Swanson: Yes. Yes. A hundred percent.

Haroldo Montero: Hi, my name is Haroldo Montero. While I am a Millennial by birth, I consider myself a Gen Z sometimes. I was born in Venezuela. I moved to the US when I was around 12 years old.

Camila Swanson: Haroldo, how in touch do you feel with your family’s Venezuelan roots?

Haroldo Montero: I feel pretty close to them, right? Like I speak to my parents on a daily basis. That’s one of the cultural things I have with them. They call me, or I call them just to let them know pretty much really anything. And I still keep in touch with a lot of my cousins and aunts over there. So I feel very Venezuelan, I guess.

Nidia Swanson: My name is Nidia, I’m in Gen X and I live in Pembroke Pines in South Florida. I was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the U.S. when I was 23 years old. And I’m Camila’s mom.

Jorge Sedano: How in touch do you feel you are with your Dominican roots?

Nidia Swanson: Oh, I’m really in touch with my roots because I have a lot of family in my country still in and we keep in touch really often.

Jorge Sedano: And what aspects of your Dominican culture, if any, do you hold onto in preference to mainstream American?

Nidia Swanson: The food and the music, especially the music. I cook the food from my country really often. So I can introduce Camila and my husband to my culture. I introduced Camila really, really to the music. So she can have a little bit of my side of my culture.

Jorge Sedano: So you want to be able to educate both, then be able to show them a part of who you are?

Nidia Swanson: Yeah. Yeah.

Haroldo Montero: Before I was moving to the states, right. You hear a lot of things, how Americans are. And one of the main things that caught my attention was like, “Oh, parents don’t really care as much about their kids.” Like it’s a little more distant, I guess you could say like. They send their kids off to college at 18 and they just don’t talk to them for a while. And that’s something that I was kind of shocked to listen to at first I was like, “Wow, they don’t care, I guess!” But I guess like that distancing between their parents and their kids, I think they’re not as close as Hispanics typically are like Hispanics withhold their kids at their house until they’re like in their late twenties, if they really wanted to. So even myself, when I moved out of the house at age 21, My mom was like, “Wow!” Like very surprised at that. So I would say like how close you are to family.

Jorge Sedano: What aspects do you think you keep from your culture?

Camila Swanson: I think the aspects of my culture that I keep would definitely still be the music. I feel like I can still connect with my family through the music that my extended family would listen to when they were growing up, I listened to growing up. For example, we all listened to Maná. Like when their songs come on, we all know all the lyrics. And although we’re a small little family, it does keep us all really close and it just makes the holidays that much better. And that I would just never give it up.

Jorge Sedano: I think there’s a lot of things, actually, you know, being in a border city, you have access to so many things from Mexico. So like to this day, I try to find the best tortillas that I can find. I try to, you know, cook beans the way my mom used to make it. Any recipe really I try to base it off how my mom does it and I call her up for the recipe and she’ll be able to tell me what I need to buy, you know, how to make it and things like that. And just give me the things that I need to get that are more in tune with like Mexican products, than American products. Do you consider Spanish or English to be your primary language?

Nidia Swanson: Both, because with them I have to communicate in English because my husband is really American and with my parents, when I’m in their house, I have to speak Spanish because they don’t speak English. So I consider both primary.

Haroldo Montero: I know very basic Spanish. So like I said, I moved here when I was 12. So my Spanish is pretty middle school level. I would say. I mean, I can speak it, understand and hold a pretty decent conversation with somebody, but you know, going to college here, having to study for the SATs and ACTs, you kind of have to like expand your vocabulary in English. But right now my primary language is English. Yeah.

Camila Swanson: I consider English to be my primary language, just because since my father speaks English and little to no Spanish, that was the number one language we could use for our whole family to communicate. But I still consider myself bilingual.

Jorge Sedano: I like to think Spanish is my primary language growing up in my household. It was always, you know, Spanish at home, English, outside, To this day with my siblings. It’s like we sneak in some English in there sometimes, but I always like based on Spanish and maybe like a little bit of Spanglish, but it’s definitely mostly Spanish. When I go see my family, obviously in Mexico, we have to speak Spanish. So it’s definitely a bigger part of my culture and my life to speak the Spanish language.

Camila Swanson: Do you primarily watch English language TV shows, Spanish language TV shows, or a mixture?

Haroldo Montero: I will say about 70% of the entertainment that I watch is in English, I would say, because growing up as a teen here and going to college here, that’s kind of what you’re starting to develop the things that you like and being here. I was a little bit more familiar with entertainment in English, but I still watch a lot of media in Spanish as well. Like mostly sports though, because I liked the sportscasters in Spanish a lot better than in English. 

Nidia Swanson: It’s a mix of both because when I watch the Spanish one, it’s the news. That’s the way I can get in touch with my country because sometimes they have news from my country on Spanish TV and English I watch most of my shows, they’re American shows. So I watch both, but in different – news for the Spanish one, and then my shows and some news from the American one.

Jorge Sedano: And when you watch Spanish language programs, how do the ads you see on those channels influence the type of brands or products that you buy?

Haroldo Montero: That a lot of times it has some influence on the things that I pick. For example, like if, if I know there’s like a business or a brand that’s, it was started by somebody who is from Venezuela and they’re trying to get it kicked off. Sometimes that resonates with me and like, yeah, I’ll pick that particular brand. But sometimes they’re also like more focused on like the demographic, like myself as Hispanic, let’s say as a skin product. Right. So may not have the same skin tone with somebody else who’s born in the United States. So maybe those kinds of things are aimed more towards kind of what I want. So yeah, that does affect sometimes the products that I buy or services.

Camila Swanson: While watching Spanish television programs do products you see advertised stand out more than those shown in English language shows?

Jorge Sedano: I believe they do. And I think it’s really based on the fact that I do watch mainly English television. So like when my mom is watching Spanish television, it’ll be a different type of situation. The commercials will be in Spanish. So I retain them like more, more than an English commercial because it’ll be like, it’ll be something different in my day. So I definitely, yeah, I think I’ll remember a Spanish commercial more than I would an English one.

Jorge Sedano: So Camila, thinking about your shopping habits, would you say that your everyday grocery, consumer packaged goods, and personal care items, you continue to purchase the brands that your parents bought, or have you developed your own personal preferences?

Camila Swanson: I think that growing up and then moving away from my house, I’ve kind of had to form my own personal preferences since I was primarily being my own grocery shopper. Anytime my mom would go grocery shopping and she would bring things back, she would just bring back the tried and true products. And then when I went to college, I would be able to find my way. So I would say it’s still half and half, because some of the things I buy, I still text my mom and I’m like, “Hey do you remember the name or do you have a picture of the thing that you bought me that I really liked?” Or if it’s something that I kind of don’t place that high of a value on I’ll just go ahead and purchase whatever preference I like.

Nidia Swanson: I have developed my own preferences, because for example, when I cook the Spanish food, I incorporate the American products to adapt a Spanish recipe. So I have to buy the American because we can’t find sometimes, some of the products that we have in our country. So we have to adapt everything, the recipe with American products.

Haroldo Montero: I still buy what my parents buy, especially if I’m making Venezuelan food, like there is this kind of like flour, that we have to make, when we make out arepas or any other type of things, like I know I have to pick that specific brand just because I don’t trust the other ones. Not because they’re bad or anything, but I just know what I’m going to get if I’m going to buy that one. And it applies to other things like vegetables and even stores themselves, not just like the brands. Like if I know that they trust the products from this particular store, I might go there.

Camila Swanson: Are there any brands from your childhood that you’ve remained loyal to?

Haroldo Montero: Yes. Arepas is the most popular Venezuelan dish, I would say, arena de pan – it just like this corn meal, essentially, I think is what it is. And it’s like, I buy that one brand it’s called arena de pan. I mean, and that’s, that’s the one I picked too and also Polar is a brand of beverages from Venezuela also. And Malta is a beverage that a lot of Hispanics drink. I only drink Malta from the Polar brand. Cause that’s what I grew up on. And that’s the flavor that I like.

Jorge Sedano: Moving over here to Orlando, it’s so difficult to find a good tortilla! So we found one at Walmart from Las Missiones, it’s a corn tortilla. That’s the closest we could get to a semblance of what we’re used to. So we definitely have stuck with that one and we have not moved away from it. So it’s little things like that, where if we find something that’s close to what we know, we’ll definitely stick to it. But yeah, there’s not that many things. It’s just, when it’s something that’s very, very cultural. And how about you? Is there anything that you remember that you kept from your parent’s childhood?

Camila Swanson: I don’t know the specific brand, but whenever I’m baking something, there’s a specific type of vanilla syrup that my mom always used when I was growing up. And it does not taste the same if it is not that syrup. So I will go out of my way to go to Sedanos to get it. Or my mom will go out of her way to Sedanos to get it. And I have like a bottle in my cupboard up here to always have.

Jorge Sedano: And when it comes to shopping for food and drink to be consumed at home do you tend to shop at stores that serve local Hispanic populations, such as Sedanos, Bravo, or Fresca y Mas. Or do you prefer to shop at Walmart, Target, or Publix? And whichever one it is, why is that?

Camila Swanson: I definitely try to lean on Walmart, Target, or Publix, just because I don’t want to have that many stops in my day as a college student. If it’s something super important to me, I will go out of my way to go to Sedano’s, Bravo, or Fresca y Mas. But when I’m back home, those stores are a lot more accessible to me and my family. And here it’s kind of like a 20-minute drive away from my college town. So if I can just get a good alternative at a big brand, I’ll do so. But for example, if it’s vanilla, I’ll go out of my way to find a Bravo that will have it.

Jorge Sedano: There’s actually this, a Hispanic store that I know of. It’s called Jalisco. That’s where I get like my meat for like doing carne asadas or I’m big believer that the peppers here in Orlando are not as spicy as the ones over there. So when I go there, I can trust that I’m gonna have a pepper that’s going to be spicy so I can make a good salsa. If it’s just chips or, you know, regular household items, I’ll definitely just go to like a Walmart, Target, Publix, whatever’s closest to me. But if it’s something niche that I need, that I’m not going to be satisfied with, I will definitely go to that Hispanic market.

Camila Swanson: Are there any food items or products from Mexico that you can’t live without? And what do you do if it isn’t available from where you normally shop?

Jorge Sedano: I can not have breakfast without tortillas. We’re so used to a certain brand. And I even bring some from, from Juarez when I come to visit. So it’s like, when I run out of those then I pick up like the one that I can substitute it with, but definitely in my fridge, it has to be like a packet of tortillas, ready to go for the morning. And how about you? Is there anything that you can’t live without that you can think of?

Camila Swanson: Something that I can think of is a soda brand called Country Club from the Dominican Republic, specifically the merengue flavor. It’s very hard to find. So I tend to buy it in bulk. So I’ll buy like two or three liters at a time. So that way I always have it in my fridge whenever I want it. And if my mom sees it, she’ll buy it for me and bring it up for me. And if it normally isn’t available where I shop, I’ll just probably wait it out and put like an in-stock alert on my phone to be able to have it just because it’s a nice thing to have with my meals when I cook at home.

Haroldo Montero: I went to high school in Ohio for three years of my life, I lived up there. I was the only Hispanic kid in the school, well the only one that spoke fluent Spanish, I would say. And a lot of times when I was there, I know my mom struggled to find some products and we had to get them shipped from the internet, essentially, because we did try other brands while we were up there. But none of us were happy with the outcome, I guess.

Jorge Sedano: We’ll be right back after these short messages.

Rachel Willis: Hi, I’m Rachel Willis, account specialist at Bigeye. Property development and management present their own unique sets of challenges. Growing a powerful lasting brand takes industry expertise with strategy and insights. Bigeye’s portfolio of property clients reflects our award-winning, extensive experience in all aspects of creative marketing for multi-family and mixed-use developments, as well as student housing, senior living, and real estate. To see case studies and learn more about Bigeye’s award award-winning creative and media solutions, perfectly tailored to property development and management, please visit the bigeyeproperties.com. Bigeye: reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before.

Michael R. Solomon: A lot of people who never would have thought to order groceries online have seen the light. And I guess they’re going to continue to do that.

Paige Garrett: When it comes to influencers’ recommendations and the way that you as a consumer feel connected to that influencer, it’s very similar to getting a recommendation from a family member or friend.

Adrian Tennant: The widespread adoption of online shopping during the pandemic has heightened consumer expectations and challenged retailers to re-imagine the customer experience to entice people back to physical stores.

Dana Cassell: It’s clear that customer habits have solidified. And to me, that means the digital conversion funnel needs to be working well from top to bottom and your organization needs to know what levers to pull to convert better step to step.

Doug Stephens: E-commerce is growing exponentially faster on a percentage basis than physical retail. And so it’s quite likely that as early as 2033, we may find that 50 or more percent of our consumption is being performed online and or by subscription.

Adrian Tennant: Retail Disrupted: What U.S. Shoppers Want From Brands Today, a new report from Bigeye. Coming soon.

Camila Swanson: Welcome back. You’re listening to a special episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with me, Camila Swanson.

Jorge Sedano: And me, Jorge Sedano.

Camila Swanson: A recent report from Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Hispanic consumers in the United States say global climate change and other environmental issues impact their local communities.

Jorge Sedano: 8 in every 10, that’s 81%, say addressing global climate changes is either a top concern or one of several important concerns to them personally, with 39% saying it is a top personal concern.

Camila Swanson: By comparison, a lower share of non-Hispanics, 67%, say addressing global climate change is at least one of several important concerns due in large part to a lower share who say it is a top concern, 29%.

Jorge Sedano: How likely are you to purchase a product from a company or brand that you believe is environmentally friendly, even if it costs more than alternative options?

Nidia Swanson: For me, it’s really important the climate change because if we don’t take care of the environment, we aren’t going to have a place to live. Yes, I will buy it because if it’s going to take care of the environmental issues, yeah. I don’t care how much I pay for it. 

Haroldo Montero: So environmental concern is actually a big concern of mine. Since I was a little kid, my dad was always big into nature and told me how much we need to care about our planet and our plants and everything else. I grew up in a very nature-y area, surrounded by the mountains. So like my dad always like, made sure I understood the importance of maintaining our natural habitat intact and protect it. So it’s a very big thing for me. So luckily I’m in a position right now where I can afford to spend some more extra money and like brands that support protecting the environment and using like sustainable materials. So yeah, it is a big concern for me. And if I can do my part of it, I will.

Camila Swanson: I would purchase a product from a company that is environmentally friendly, even if it costs more just because I feel like I can do my part in lessening my carbon footprint and putting in my work to help the environment. The only time I would say that I wouldn’t buy something, if it was environmentally friendly would be if it was like a huge price gouge type of situation, because I am a college student and I’m on a budget. So it kind of goes into this either/or, but if it’s around the same price or not too much more expensive then I will go ahead and get the environmentally friendly product.

Jorge Sedano: So I think I’m pretty likely to get the more environmentally friendly item. I’m not the type of person who would really check too much into that. But if I know for a fact that a product is going to be better for the environment, and I think I will pay a little more money to get that product.

Camila Swanson: Who do you think has the most responsibility for adopting more sustainable behaviors? Manufacturers and major corporations or regular people like us who buy the stuff that they produce?

Nidia Swanson: For me, both, because if they produce the product, we’re going to buy it. But I say before, I will buy a more expensive if the corporation made the product good for environment that I will pay more money.

Haroldo Montero: So we can do our part. But I definitely believe manufacturers are the primary responsible for all the pollution that we have on the earth, like water bottle companies, you know, we have like incredible amounts of plastic in the oceans and water bottles are used one time and then they’re thrown out and most of them don’t even get recycled. So I think manufacturers are most responsible for the environment and the damage that they do.

Jorge Sedano: I think we both have an equal amount, even though corporations create more damage and have more of an impact on the environment. I think individuals make just as big as an impact if we all come together and do the same things. So I think I would say both.

Jorge Sedano: A recent report from Edison research found that 36% of Hispanic adults now listen to podcasts at least monthly, which has a 44% increase from 2020, making Hispanic listeners the fastest adopters of podcasts overall. Camila, do you listen to podcasts?

Camila Swanson: I do regularly listen to podcasts. I listen to whatever Spotify will put in my daily drive for when I’m heading over to here from school, just because it changes my routine for my commutes rather than listening to my music, I can listen to a podcast.

Jorge Sedano: I think I do at least a couple of times a week. Usually, it’s some driving to work or whenever I have some free time where I need something that I don’t necessarily want it to be music, but I want to just hear people talk about a certain topic.

Haroldo Montero: Yeah, I listen to podcasts frequently. I would say every day for the most part, especially doing work. Now that we’re all working from home, it’s a nice way to have something in the background and listen to.

Jorge Sedano: And do you prefer to listen to podcasts in English or in Spanish? 

Haroldo Montero: I really don’t have a preference. I think I listened to either for what I want, like what I’m looking for. So for example, I listen to a few comedy podcasts and for example, one of them it’s in Spanish and I still laugh at it like a lot because I feel like the humor is a type of humor that I don’t get from a comedian here in the states. So like I listen to that one because it kind of like reminds me of Venezuela a little bit, but it’s also fun to listen to. But if, for example, if I’m looking at a particular topic I’m interested in like the U.S. stock market, I probably will listen to something in English.

Jorge Sedano: I think it’s a mix of both. I have certain things that I like to listen in English. Like for example, maybe news or current events that are happening in the U.S. and for Spanish, it’s more like comedy and more entertaining things, because I think it pertains more to my culture and what I like. And what’s your favorite type of podcast?

Camila Swanson: I think my favorite type of podcast is true-crime just because the people who record true crime podcasts tend to find really old case files that are maybe things I haven’t heard of or seen before. And I’ve always loved watching crime TV shows. So it intersects in that way.

Jorge Sedano: Definitely comedy and sports are my favorite types of podcasts.

Haroldo Montero: My favorite type of podcast is one that tells a story. So kind of keep me engaged and listened to like, whether it’s a personal story or somebody talking about something that they read and the reactions to it and comedy packets as well. Cause I mean, I like to laugh.

Camila Swanson: Is there anything about the portrayal of our cultures on TV or in movies that really annoy you or you feel is consistently inaccurate?

Nidia Swanson: I feel annoyed because they advertised the Latin country. Like a third world country instead of advertise us as a beautiful country with nice people. Spanish people, most of us, we are really welcoming people. So I think it’s annoying when they think about us like a third-world country.

Camila Swanson: A stereotype about Hispanics that I think is overplayed in the media would be when they show any foreign place and they put this yellowing filter over it to show that they’re an equivalent to a third world country, because I know I’ve seen pictures of the Dominican Republic from when my mom lived there or when our family goes on vacation and It’s the most beautiful, clear skies, clear waters, but in movies, they’ll portray it as some war-torn area. There’s no culture, there’s no vibrancy to it, which I don’t believe is true.

Jorge Sedano: Yeah. And I definitely agree with that as well. I think there’s that movie, Sicario where they transfer from the U.S. to Mexico. And you can tell just the difference in like the way they portray it and the filter that they use. Like she said, and yeah, I think there’s a lot of things in the movie scene where they may not get it like we would want them to get it. So maybe one day it will be a little more accurate.

Haroldo Montero: What sometimes tends to happen is that they try to like put us all into one group of people. I don’t think they do a good job at separating where they’re from. Let’s say there’s a Hispanic kid on the soccer team and everybody just kinda assumes they’re all from the same country. I feel like there could be a little bit more and like, say, “Hey, no, he’s actually from Venezuela. Oh, this guy’s actually from Columbia. He’s actually from Argentina.” Like sometimes I feel like there are just put us all into one bucket rather than like, explaining how we’re all different. Like, yes, we’re all coming from like the same continent, but it’s like putting, I guess Americans and Canadians in the same bucket, but no, you’d never see that you always see like the separation. “Oh, he’s Canadian.” “Oh, he’s American.” So I feel like for Hispanics, we tend to get put in the same bucket.

Camila Swanson: Thanks to all our friends who contributed to this week’s podcast.

Jorge Sedano: Thank you so much, Camila, for being such a great co-host!

Camila Swanson: And thank you, Jorge, for being such a great co-host. You’ll find a transcript on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com.

Jorge Sedano: If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple podcast, Spotify, Google podcast, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you get your daily fix of podcasts.

Camila Swanson: Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. We’ve been your hosts, Camila Swanson …

Jorge Sedano: … and Jorge Sedano. Until next week, adiós!

Categories
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Demographic segmentation is the foundation of traditional marketing – but does it still work? A consumer behavior psychologist and professor of marketing, Michael Solomon discusses his book, “The New Chameleons” highlighting fundamental shifts in terms of how we think about customers. Michael explains generational differences, targeting “markets of one”, and predicts which consumer behaviors accelerated by the COVID-19 lockdowns and economic changes will persist post-pandemic.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS is a conversation we first published in March of this year. Our guest is Michael Solomon, who discusses his book, The New Chameleons – especially relevant because Bigeye we’ll be publishing the results of our new national study later this month, examining how shopping behaviors have changed and what customers most want from brands today. Enjoy this encore episode with Michael Solomon.

Michael Solomon: There are a lot of very, very fundamental assumptions we make about the way we categorize people that no longer work in terms of how we think about customers and more importantly, how they think about us as marketers.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Several episodes in this season of the podcast have focused on industries we have seen significant growth during the pandemic due in part to changing patterns of consumer behavior. However, not all changes in behaviors are due to COVID-19, but rather a reflection of trends that have been accelerating for some time. Understanding consumer behavior is a through-line for IN CLEAR FOCUS, and today we’re going to discuss why and classifying groups of consumers using traditional segmentation and targeting methods is increasingly challenging. But the flip side is that insight derived from an outlier in research data could unlock the next big opportunity. Our guest this week is the author of the recently published book, The New Chameleons: How To Connect With Consumers Who Defy Categorization. Michael Solomon is a consumer behavior psychologist, a marketing professor, and an international speaker. Currently professor of marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Michael also advises global clients on marketing strategy and consumer centricity, working with brands, including Intel, BMW, eBay, McKinsey and Company, Ford, and Levi’s. Michael regularly contributes articles to Forbes magazine and has spoken to Fortune 500 companies, top advertising agencies and marketing associations, and government organizations worldwide. And if you’ve taken a marketing course anytime since the early 1990s, it’s quite likely that you’re already familiar with Michael’s work since he’s the author of the leading textbook on consumer behavior, now in its 13th edition. Today, Michael is joining us from his home office in Philadelphia. Michael, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael Solomon: Adrian, thanks so much for having me today.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, you’re a prolific author and writer contributing articles to journals and magazines. Your latest book is entitled The New Chameleons: How To Connect With Consumers Who Defy Categorization published by Kogan Page. What prompted you to write this book?

Michael Solomon: I often get asked to give speeches about trends in consumer behavior, as you mentioned earlier in your kind introduction. And as I put these together, what I started to see is that there are some huge disruptions going on in the consumer behavior marketplace. And I don’t think that that would be news to any of your listeners, but I began to realize that not only are there disruptions going on, but we’re even looking at fundamental changes in terms of how we think about customers and more importantly, how they think about us as marketers. And so as I started to dive into this, I realized that in fact, there are a lot of very, very fundamental assumptions we make about the way we categorize people that no longer work. And these assumptions really inform almost all marketing strategy, because this is what, and mea culpa, I teach this to my students, you know, some of the basic concepts that we teach, worked very well back in the middle of the last century, but they haven’t really been substantially updated today. And so I felt like it was time to maybe try to do that. And I figured I would write a book to talk about it. And so I did.

Adrian Tennant: So, Michael, why are today’s consumers like chameleons?

Michael Solomon: Well, as, you know, a chameleon is a reptile that changes color to adapt to its environment. And so it’s very malleable. It adapts to what’s going on around it. It also apparently adapts to its own moods. So it’s kind of like those old mood rings we used to have – remember those? That changes color according to your mood. And so I thought that was a very good metaphor because today we really are like an animal that changes its colors very, very frequently. By color, I refer to our identities, our social identities, how we think about ourselves, the aspects of ourselves that we want people to know about. And so sociologists have long talked about this notion of having multiple selves. You know, when you’re in a business environment, that’s one part. When you’re playing the role of devoted parent or child, that’s another. And on and on. And much of consumer behavior is oriented around that. In other words, in every one of these identities, we have certain goals that we want to reach. One of the main functions of a good advertisement is to show people how your product or service will get them closer to that goal. So the chameleon metaphor reminds us that, unlike the old days, you know, back in the forties, fifties, sixties, where we talked about these very large, relatively unchanging blocks of people who could be counted upon to behave in pretty similar ways. Today, you can just throw that out the window because consumers are much more proactive. They’re looking for new identities, they’re looking to experiment and as they do that, So to speak, they change their colors because they alter the constellation of products and services that they choose to express that identity.

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you identify and discuss seven fundamental oppositions or dichotomies that are either headed toward obsolescence or already obsolete. The first of these focuses on a long-established foundation of market research, as well as media planning and audience segmentation, namely consumer demographics. Michael, why are they obsolete? And in what way should we rethink how we define consumer groups?

Michael Solomon: Yeah. So market segmentation, especially demographic segmentation as you know, is the bedrock of modern marketing strategy. And, it was actually invented back in the early part of last century by the good folks at general motors. And they were actually responding to, I think, in some way to Henry Ford’s assertion, that his customers could have a car in any color they wanted, as long as it was black. And I love to tell that story because that was the impetus for them to start to think about divisions, you know, Chevrolet versus Cadillac and so on, and largely based on income segmentation, but it reflected a – really, for the time – pioneering realization that not everybody in the market is the same. We’re not all identical. So let’s identify these large, homogeneous groups where we can message a group, say men in their fifties or women in their twenties who live in urban areas, what have you. And that approach worked very well for a long time when we lived in a broadcast kind of environment. You know, at one point we had in the US three and then later four television stations that basically reached everybody. And anyone listening to this knows that that is totally outmoded. Today, we have thousands of stations and thousands of interest groups. We have basically a fragmentation in our culture, as people are picking and choosing much more proactively, you know, “I like this.” “I’m going to sample that”, and so on. And what that means is that sure, it’s great to start with demographics. For a long time, we’ve advocated, layering over that psychographic kinds of data, psychological differences and so on. But I think even that doesn’t capture the nuances that we often pick up today. And so I think in many cases, it makes more sense to talk about so-called, “markets of one”, where, especially in the online world, we are able to customize and personalize the messages and the products to some degree that every individual gets. That’s a very, very powerful tool. And not only that, you can get trapped by thinking that just because you’ve assigned someone to a demographic category, you understand them. And so for example, one of the dichotomies is the old one of male versus female. And so, if you do that and you say, “well, I’m going to pick the male or I’m going to pick the female market.” Well, by definition, you are already leaving half of the population off the table because you’re not going to consider them. And so there are many, many examples of that when we relax those old dichotomies, that’s where we see the real market opportunities are hidden.

Adrian Tennant: We typically employed generational groupings in research, focusing on differences between the youngest cohort, Gen Z, and older groups: Gen Y, Gen X, and of course, Boomers. Michael, is this generational approach to marketing still useful?

Michael Solomon: Clearly, as a rule, young people are different from old people. But you can get hemmed in by this. I know that there are a lot of successful age-related marketing strategies out there, but you have to tread a little carefully because our cultural definitions of what it means to be a certain age are changing very rapidly. And so when we talk about older consumers, for example – and this is perhaps a separate topic, how, the advertising industry has largely overlooked people who are over 30 or 40, even though ironically, they have far more spending power than anybody else, or I should say we have – but there’s an example where we talk about cultural definitions of aging and what it means to be old. And today we all know that you know, if you’re in your forties, 50s, 60s, 70s, that means something very different than it did in our parents’ generation. And so we hear that “80 is the new 60”, “60 is the new 40”, et cetera. I don’t think that’s just a convenient way for older people to rationalize having another birthday. I think that there is a sea change in terms of what people will allow themselves to do. And so, again, these generational splits are useful to a point. They can become dysfunctional. So for example, back in my day, we had an expression, “Never trust anyone over 30.” And that was true until we all turned 30, you know, then it became a different story! But that implied that there was a big divide, for example, between let’s say children and their parents. And so the parents were almost kind of the enemy if you will. Today, that is definitely not the case and when you talk to a lot of younger consumers and I get this from my students all the time, they consider their parents often to be their best friends. They go shopping with their parents, more importantly for marketers. So there’s an example where that kind of, you know, “let’s put them in a category and assume that they have no contact with another age category or they don’t have any aspirations that they share with that category” that can be very dysfunctional.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Marissa Martin: I’m Marissa Martin on Bigeye’s operations team. Every week, Bigeye’s podcast IN CLEAR FOCUS explores how consumer behaviors are evolving as a result of COVID-19 – from the influence of Generation Z, with its interest in social and environmental issues, to the fast-growing Hispanic market and the opportunity it presents. Bigeye interprets signals from primary and secondary research, identifying the trends driving consumer spending today and those that will have the greatest impact tomorrow. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s research-backed, data-driven insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Adrian Tennant: Today’s shoppers are more informed, connected, and demanding than ever before. 

Michael Solomon: A lot of people who never would have thought to order groceries online have seen the light and I guess they’re going to continue to do that. 

Paige Garrett: When it comes to influencers’ recommendations and the way that you as a consumer feel connected to that influencer, it’s very similar to getting a recommendation from a family member or a friend.

Adrian Tennant: The widespread adoption of online shopping during the pandemic has heightened consumer expectations and challenged retailers to reimagine the customer experience, to entice people back to physical stores. 

Dana Cassell: It’s clear that customer habits have solidified. And to me, that means the digital conversion funnel needs to be working well from top to bottom and your organization needs to know what levers to pull to convert better step to step. 

Doug Stephens: E-commerce is growing exponentially faster on a percentage basis than physical retail. And so it’s quite likely that as early as 2033, we may find that 50 or more percent of our consumption is being performed online and or by subscription. 

Adrian Tennant: RETAIL DISRUPTED: What US Shoppers Want From Brands Today – a new report from Bigeye, coming soon.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Michael Solomon, consumer behavior expert and author of the book, The New Chameleons: How To Connect With Consumers Who Defy Categorization. A theme you explore in the book is the move away from a linear path to purchase. Michael, is the traditional marketing funnel dead? And if so, what’s replaced it?

Michael Solomon: It’s a very, very complicated ecosystem out there. For 50, 60, 70 years, we’ve thought about the decision-making process – and I mean this more generally, not just marketing – but how, in terms of how psychologists understand decision-making. We’ve looked at it in a linear fashion where there’s a fairly well-defined set of steps that decision-makers go through, starting with awareness of the problem, and then searching for a solution, searching in the environment, narrowing down the options, making a choice, and then evaluating the quality or the outcome of that choice. Furthermore, we usually think in terms of a solo decision-maker, who’s going through these steps largely alone. Well, neither of those things are happening today. In the first place, we’re not just getting information on demand when we need it. We’re being hit by a fire hose of information, that’s constantly coming at us. So today’s consumer is really “on” 24/7, whether or not they’re in active decision-making mode, they’re getting updates from their networks that are telling them, “Oh, you ought to check this out.” “I just bought this blush. It’s really terrific”, to “Take a look at this pair of basketball shoes”, what have you. And so it’s much more of a circular process where people are constantly scanning and getting updates from their network. I think of it as more of a hive mind. And, if any of your listeners are Star Trek fans, you may remember the borg: they were constantly assimilating other decision-makers and other types of people. And so that linear process really is not nearly as ubiquitous as it was. And furthermore, we’re clearly not solo decision-makers because so much of our efforts to evaluate products today are happening before the fact. So to me, one of the big ironies of the internet age is, you know, it’s supposed to make our lives so much simpler by sorting through all this information, giving us this information to begin with, but the reality is that we often are working harder to make even very simple decisions. And why is that? You know, Google refers to this as the ZMOT: the Zero Moment Of Truth. When are people finally committing to the purchase and what you find is that they tend to be committing much later in the process because they’re doing a lot of homework beforehand, you know. One of the trivia questions I love to give my students – I’ll share it with your audience – is we know that Google is the biggest search engine in the world. What’s the second biggest? And they’ll usually say something like Bing. Well, the answer is YouTube. And the reason for that I think is that in many cases, people are calling up videos of peers when they want to know, “I’m thinking about buying product X, what is your experience with it?” So we’re calling up YouTube videos, we’re reading reviews, we are querying our network on Facebook and other platforms until we finally get to the point where we’re taking a lot of their direction as we make a decision. And so ironically, by the time a customer enters a store and I mean, either offline or online, they often actually know what they’re going to buy already. They’re just there to see if they can get it at a good price. So for retailers, again, offline or online, who think that they’re going to make a sale because the customer walks in and they can do a sales pitch and steer them one way or the other, they may find that that’s actually a harder slog because the customer already has gone through so much of that process before. So it’s not like the old days where we have our five reliable steps of decision-making.

Adrian Tennant: Customers are often our best resources when it comes to new product development and of course research. But you feel that marketers need to look beyond the traditional twin pillars of quantitative and qualitative research if we want to gain fresh consumer insights, is that correct?

Michael Solomon: Well, it is, I think. One thing we need to do is, and when we’re seeing this to a large extent, a resurgence of qualitative research, which as you probably know, had its heyday back in the 1950s, but is coming back with a vengeance today. And that’s because quantitative research definitely has hugely important value to us when we’re looking at insights, but it paints a very broad, but superficial picture. And so it tells us the what, but it doesn’t tell us the why. When we talk about our customers, this is one of those dichotomies that I discuss at length in the book: producers versus consumers. For many companies, it’s almost like they’re in a castle and there’s a moat and they want to keep the consumers out of the castle until they’re ready to let down the drawbridge, meaning that the product is now perfect, so to speak. But we know that actually, this can be a huge mistake. Software developers were the first to tell us this because they’re always asking the users of the code to help them debug it. And so companies like Microsoft have known this little secret for years, they save millions of dollars a year in their insights budget because they recruit programmers for free, who are more than happy to tell them where they screwed up. And by continually revising and making those corrections, they come up with a better product, they save money, and they involve those customers as co-creators in the process. So it’s not enough just to ask customers whether or not they like what you’re selling. It can be very valuable to bring them in prior to that and say, “This is what we’re thinking about doing, what would you do here?” Rather than presenting them with a fait accompli and just asking them on a seven-point survey, whether they’re likely to buy it or not. So we really need to be, methodology agnostic. One thing I’ve seen over the years and perhaps you’ve seen this as well as that when people are well-trained in a methodology, they want to use it for everything. So they become what I call a hammer in search of a nail. And the reality is that depending on the particular context, on the needs that you have for your insights program, there may be other tools out there perhaps in addition to, or even instead of what you’re normally using. And so it’s often good to at least, for example, triangulate – all things equal, if you can get three readings, then if you get two data points that are wildly discrepant, you don’t know which is probably more accurate, but at least if you get three and two of them are together, it’s more likely that you’ve identified the correct direction.

Adrian Tennant: You also identify a move toward renting or leasing in preference to owning. Metro dwellers will be familiar with models like Zipcar, but what other categories do you see reflecting this change in consumer behavior?

Michael Solomon: You know, it’s been fascinating as the so-called “sharing economy” has exploded, you know, dampened a little bit with COVID, but I suspect it will come roaring back. It’s amazing to see what people aren’t exchanging with one another. And it’s hard to find things. I’ve seen that first of all, younger people in particular are not as interested in rites of passage, like owning a car. And so you see that the rate of 16- or 18-year-olds getting driver’s licenses in the US is going way, way down. Homeownership, obviously there are financial reasons for this, but a lot of people are preferring to rent rather than own. But even when we get into everyday products, when we talk about companies like Rent the Runway, for example, or a Bag Borrow, or Steal,  they have introduced a new model where many younger people are not even owning stuff in their closet. They’re just leasing it.  But it goes beyond that, you know? So for example, there are many sites where let’s say that you need a drill, when you think about a lot of the products that we buy, it’s very economically inefficient. So let’s say you buy a power drill. I don’t know why I’m using that example because my wife doesn’t allow me near power tools! But let’s say you’re buying a drill and let’s just say it costs a hundred dollars. The average homeowner is going to actually use that drill for what? One hour over the life of that drill? And you’re paying a hundred dollars for it. And that’s true for many of the things that we own. We only use them sporadically. And so you see all these peer-to-peer websites popping up where in fact, you can lease a power drill for $8. You use it for an hour. You give it back. You’ve just saved $92. And so there’s really almost no limit to what you can rent out. And of course, people are renting out their homes, obviously with Airbnb, et cetera.  But even the everyday stuff. My daughter is in her early thirties, she tells me that she probably owns about a third of the clothing she wears to work – the rest of it is rented.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, which consumer behaviors that were accelerated during the pandemic, do you expect will be part of our new normal when COVID-19, hopefully, is less of a concern.

Michael Solomon: Well, the first and most obvious one is continued gravitation to online buying. That’s a no-brainer, I think. What happens in situations like this is that people who are normally frozen and we know that consumers tend to be really set in their ways – it can make you crazy if you’re a new brand, trying to break in just to get people to alter their routines. When something really major happens like this pandemic, that creates opportunities for lesser-known solutions to get a shot. And so for example, a lot of people who never would have thought to order groceries online have seen the light. My guess is they’re going to continue to do that. So that’s an easy one. Another one I think is automation. If I go into a bricks-and-mortar store and either I’m checking out with contactless checkout or in some cases being waited on by a robot which is starting to happen. Everything from Home Depot is experimenting with them on the sales floor. A big bank in Japan was one of the pioneers. They have a robot who waits on customers. His name is Pepper, for some reason. And people were kind of squeamish about that but now I guess they figured out that computers don’t get the same kind of virus that we do and so it’s a lot safer. And so I think retail automation is another example of something that will continue when we get into the new normal.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. You obviously remain very connected with current and emerging marketing practices. During your research for The New Chameleons, were there any data points you came across that really surprised you or led to an insight that helped a client solve a strategic challenge?

Michael Solomon: That’s a great question. I think one of the biggest, aha moments for me was a few years ago. My business partner and I were working for a very large multinational industrial company. We got to know the head of R and D and he had a budget of about $100 million a year to spend on research – how about that? And what we learned was: how much was he spending on consumer research? And the answer was zero. Out of that $100 million, you know, it was all about building the better mousetrap, so to speak. And he was open enough to put us onto a task force. There were about 30 engineers and chemists on the task force. And the two of us who were both psychologists and what we saw is that – and I think their approach is very, very similar to a lot of other companies – they had what they called a “molecule forward” approach, which meant that they would task their R and D people to come up with a brand new, literally a brand new molecule. And then they would try to push it through the channel and figure out what might be the applications and who might buy this thing. And what we persuaded them to do was to take a step back and actually implement what we call a “market back” approach, which is really Marketing 101.  What I tell my students all the time is that we start at the end and work backwards. We don’t just invent something and then see who wants it, we start by identifying an unmet need. And then we see if our capabilities align with that. I just took that for granted, you know, studying consumers for years and years. And what I discovered was that the engineers and scientists who made these products, for example, had never sat in on a focus group. And when they actually watched end consumers talk about these particular products that they made, it absolutely blew them away. That was the best thing they’d ever seen. They thought it was terrific because no one had ever put them in a position of thinking about the situation from the point of view of the end-user rather than, you know, some industrial capability in the channel. So, that led them to some strategic changes that resulted in creating some new applications for their chemicals that had never occurred to them before, because the engineers hadn’t thought of them but end consumers did. It really opened me up to understanding this gap between producers and consumers that we often have. And yet again, those consumers are the lifeblood of what we all do. If we don’t have them, if we don’t meet their needs, I don’t care what a great molecule you make, you’re out of business. And I wish more companies would adopt that philosophy.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about you, your books, articles, and speaking opportunities, where can they find you?

Michael Solomon: Well, they’re welcome to go to my website, which is MichaelSolomon.com. Or drop me an email, that’s very easy, Michael@MichaelSolomon.com. And of course, they can find my book, The New Chameleons: How To Connect With Consumers Who Defy Categorization, or other books at Amazon, or wherever you buy books. So I appreciate it, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael Solomon: My pleasure, it’s been fun.

Adrian Tennant: You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Consumer Insights Direct-To-Consumer DTC Marketing Influencer Marketing Podcast

Bigeye’s forthcoming national study reveals that among those who follow infuencers, 9-in-10 purchase a product after seeing it used or recommended by an influencer. Paige Garrett, Assistant Vice President at RVD Communications in New York, explains how influencer marketing is reshaping retail and why it redefines the shopper’s path to purchase. Paige also shares which tactics yield the most positive ROI and predicts where influencer marketing is headed in the coming years. 

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

​​Paige Garrett: The fluff content is gone. Influencers are really doubling down on brands that give back or initiatives that, you know, they align with personally. They’re saying no to deals with brands that they don’t admire who aren’t doing well by society.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Alongside the growth of social media over the past decade, influencer marketing has gained popularity with audiences and brands. Direct-to-consumer brands were among the first to use influencers to drive sales, particularly among new customers. A survey conducted by Inmar and Social Media Today recently found that four in every five respondents had made a purchase based on an influencer’s recommendation. And that over two-thirds of them had spent $150 or more. Influencers have loyal followings across several social platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and most recently TikTok, creating new opportunities for brands to appear in paid and earned campaigns that leverage influencers’ connections with their followers. Today’s guest is an expert in influencer marketing. Paige Garrett is the assistant vice president of marketing at RVD communications, based in New York City. She has over seven years of marketing experience across various industries, including fashion, fitness, hospitality, and lifestyle. Having worked at companies like Shopbop, an Amazon subsidiary, Obé Fitness, and more. In her spare time, Paige is a fitness trainer and integrative health coach. To discuss all things influencer marketing, Paige is joining us today from Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. Paige, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Paige Garrett: Thank you so much. I’m so thrilled to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell us about RVD and the kinds of clients you serve?

Paige Garrett: Yes, absolutely. So RVD is a progressive PR, social media, and brand-building agency. We’re based in New York City and work across the hospitality and lifestyle industry. So we’re working primarily with bars and restaurants in the New York area, but also across the country, as well as some bigger national lifestyle brands. We also have a really strong women’s health vertical, so working with a lot of leaders in that space as well. And in terms of our, you know, core capabilities, I would say editorial PR is actually our bread and butter. So that’s where, as an agency, we got our start, that said, we understand, of course, that PR and sort of no marketing channel happens in a vacuum, so over the past few years, we’ve expanded our capabilities and services to include other marketing verticals as well. So social media management, email marketing, and then, of course, influencer marketing, which we’re here to chat about today.

Adrian Tennant: Paige, you’re the assistant vice president of marketing at RVD. What does your role entail?

Paige Garrett: I oversee our influencer marketing division, which is actually our fastest-growing division, which is really exciting. I also help oversee email marketing, I worked very closely with the social media management team and our publicists of course because for a lot of our clients, we’re working on the same projects, just on different channels. And I also help oversee new business with our founder, Rachel Van Dolson. So putting together proposals and strategies for potential clients based on their needs or what they’re looking for, which is also a lot of fun.

Adrian Tennant: RVD has clients in the lifestyle, health, and hospitality industries. Are these verticals especially well-suited to influencer marketing?

Paige Garrett: Yes, absolutely. So I would say, really any industry at this stage, is fitting for influencer marketing, but where we sit across lifestyle, health, and hospitality, there’s so much opportunity because there are so many influencers who are leaning into, more of just that like snapshot into their everyday life. So I think that those industries and categories, in particular, touch every one of us at some stage in our day. So it’s a lot of fun putting together strategies and, you know, specific campaigns for our clients within those industries, but, definitely a lot of room across any industry for influencer marketing.

Adrian Tennant: Is that true of business-to-business brands, as well as business-to-consumer brands?

Paige Garrett: I do think that there are still a lot of opportunities because from a B2B perspective, the people who you’re still operating with, a lot of them are also still on Instagram or on Facebook, or, you know, are using those channels to find potential partnerships. So I think, obviously from a consumer perspective, there’s a lot more opportunity in terms of just driving direct purchase and conversion  and bigger brand awareness campaigns as well. But I do think B2B, when you think about who is the consumer on social at this point, it’s really everybody.

Adrian Tennant: Are there any categories at all that you found don’t tend to be as good a fit for influencer marketing?

Paige Garrett: At this point in time, really every industry can win from some form of influencer marketing. That said, it’s obviously more challenging for certain industries than others. So you know, there’s a lot of red tape or regulations for certain industries. For instance, the liquor industry, even with our women’s health clients or supplements, there is a lot that you can and can’t do when it comes to having influencers endorse your brands or products. So, as long as you’re really reading the fine print and staying up to date with those regulations, and they do vary from platform to platform, I think that there is a way to go about influencer marketing. It really just comes down to finding the right strategy, finding the right partners, really getting clear upfront on the goals of your program and what you’re looking for. And then obviously matching that back to what you are, and aren’t allowed to do from an endorsement perspective.

Adrian Tennant: Could you explain the differences between paid and earned influencer management?

Paige Garrett: Yes, absolutely. So at RVD, we run three different types of influencer marketing programs. So the first you mentioned is earned influencer marketing and what that means it’s basically a fancy way of saying, trade influencer marketing. So trading a free product or experience or service to an influencer in exchange for set content. And that’s probably the type of campaign that we’re all most familiar with, in the sense that we’re driving trials with our influencers and getting their real-time feedback via content. So with those engagements, obviously there’s no agreement in place, there’s no flat fee compensation. So while we do our very best to confirm via email, we don’t have control over what that final piece of content might look like. So, it’s really making sure that, within those campaigns that you either have established relationships with those influencers, you’ve worked with them before and I think that’s where an agency comes into play in the sense that when we’re working with influencers on behalf of our clients in an earned capacity, we have that trust established. They trust us in the brands that we’re working with. We trust them that they’ll follow through with the content that they’re promising in exchange for that again, complimentary product or experience. And it’s a great way to also establish relationships early on with influencers and also just learn a lot because it’s not, from a budget perspective, you’re not spending a ton of money. You’re really just trading again, that experience or free product for content. But then from there, there’s bigger paid campaigns. So that’s when, in addition to those complimentary services or products, you are also giving an influencer a flat fee payment for their content creation. So this is where you might be working with a bigger macro influencer who requires compensation, or you have a very specific campaign brief that you want to make sure that you get exactly the type of content that you’re looking for. So with the bigger paid campaigns, there’s an agreement in place. You have more control over exactly when that content is going to go live. A lot of times we’ll include reviews within our agreements or that we’re getting to see the content before it goes live and providing our influencers with a round of content edits. So there’s just a little bit more control, compared to the earned engagement. That said, I don’t think smaller brands need to have these bigger paid budgets so early on as mentioned, I think an earned or trade relationship is a great way to learn and then carry those learnings into a bigger paid engagement. But we also do a lot of affiliate influencer marketing as well, which is more of an ambassador program, which also works nicely because you’re incentivizing influencers just based on the number of conversions they drive. So that typically looks like a set commission of sales that they drive, whether that’s tracked through a discount code or a unique link. So those are the three main campaigns that we run for our clients at RVD.

Adrian Tennant: How does RVD categorize influencers by the size of their following?

Paige Garrett: So this is a great question and I think the answer evolves every week, in the world of influencer marketing. But for now, we typically equate a nano influencer to anybody who has zero to 10,000 followers. So those are smaller influencers, but they usually have hyper-engaged communities. So in those earned engagements or the trade engagements, that’s where we’ll be working mostly with nano influencers. Micro influencers we typically categorize as having 10K to 100K followers. There’s a new branch of influencer, which is the mid-level, which is a hundred to 500K. Macro influencers would be 500K to a million followers. And then there would be the mega macros, which have over a million followers snd those are typically more of the celebrity status of influencers. So we, of course, are very mindful of these different tiers. And as mentioned a paid campaign versus an earned campaign will kind of stipulate who we’re working with from a tier perspective. but we do also keep a very close eye on engagement rate. No matter if we’re working with a nano influencer or a macro influencer, because at the end of the day, you want to make sure that your content is being seen. So there are a lot of platforms that can equate engagement rate for you but the way you would basically go about finding that engagement rate is likes and comments divided by the total number of followers. So again, making sure that in addition to a lot of followers, all of those followers are hyper-engaged with that specific influencer’s content.

Adrian Tennant: For those listening, who haven’t yet worked with influencers, what are some of the issues marketers need to consider when planning a sponsored campaign for the very first time?

Paige Garrett: A lot of the clients we’re working with are brands that are just launching or who have never done influencer marketing before. So what we like to lead with is lead time. So it does take a little bit of time to nail down your strategy, align on the goals of the program. Is it brand awareness? Are you looking just for content to repurpose across your owned channels? Are you looking, of course, to drive sales, sort of like, what are the main goals of this initial campaign that you’re putting together? And then from there, really working backwards to find the right partners. I think really making sure that you’re doing your due diligence and researching to find the right type of influencer. For instance, we would never recommend a cheese brand to an influencer who is obviously dairy-free. So while it takes a little bit of time to do that manual research, of course, there are resources and platforms that help, it is really important to take that extra time to do so. And then from there, it’s also vetting those partners. Obviously, in the world that we live in, everything on social and everything online, it lives there indefinitely, so make sure that you’re doing a deep dive before reaching out to a potential partner to make sure that they’re fully brand aligned with your brand or your client’s brand. I think influencer marketing works very similarly to public relations or PR in the sense that you still need to proactively pitch your brand or your product or service to the influencer and get them to be interested. So, you know, just like how journalists are inundated with pitches every day, so are influencers. So what can you do to really insert your brand or product or service into that influencer’s day-to-day life? How can you personalize your outreach and make them see the value of what it is you’re offering to them? So really taking the time to craft that messaging, in the right way. And then from there, it can take a little bit of time to get that interest. So again, I think the overarching theme of my replies is time and research. Typically, once we have that initial interest, we’ll provide a creative brief, but also leaving ample room for that creator to use their creative expertise, because that’s why, you know, you’re approaching them in the first place. So, just making sure you have all those various aspects buttoned up before you even begin your outreach so that once the interest is there, once you start the process of collaborating with an influencer, you know exactly what you’re looking for and the value that they can provide to you and your brand.

Adrian Tennant: Thinking specifically about direct-to-consumer brands or retailers selling online, what types of influencer marketing campaigns does RVD typically run?

Paige Garrett: A lot of the clients that we’re working with are either new brands that are just launching or brands that are smaller and may have never done influencer marketing before. So for a DTC client, specifically, we typically start with more of an earned or trade engagement. So providing that product, just getting the product into as many influencers’ hands as we possibly can. Of course, again, doing our due diligence to make sure that they’re the right type of partners, the right influencers, who would genuinely as consumers value from that client’s product or service. So, within that sort of initial earned or trade campaign, it’s a great way for us to learn a lot, candidly. So before our clients have to put, you know, larger budgets behind campaigns, we can use more of this earned engagement to find out what type of influencers are really resonating with the brand or product? What type of content is working really well? What content might not be working as well? Who do we love, who loves us? Just really establishing relationships and learning in this initial earned phase so that when it does come time to do a bigger paid initiative or campaign, or even just build a brand ambassador program, we have all of those learnings in place. The beauty of DTC, as well as that obviously via stories, or even just via link in bio, if you’re working with a smaller nano influencer, you can link directly to your client’s website or the specific products that the influencer is recommending. So from a conversion perspective, it’s really helpful specifically for those DTC clients.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Lane Martin: I’m Lane Martin, graphic designer on Bigeye’s, creative team. Every week IN CLEAR FOCUS examines trending topics through the lens of consumer behavior. At Bigeye, for every engagement, we commit to really understanding our client’s target customers, using research to learn about their attitudes and motivations. As a graphic designer, I use these insights to guide my approach to crafting visually engaging solutions and inspiring effective campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the right people, at the right place, at the right time.

Adrian Tennant: How do you identify?

Voices: Female, male, gender fluid, cis-gender, genderqueer, non-binary, trans-feminine.

Adrian Tennant: Society is constantly changing and evolving. To understand how Americans feel about gender identity and expression, Bigeye undertook a national study involving over 2,000 adult consumers. Over half of those aged 18 to 39 believe that traditional binary labels of male and female are outdated and instead see gender as a spectrum. Our exclusive report, GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY, reveals how beliefs across different generations influences the purchase of toys, clothes, and consumer packaged goods. To download the full report, go to Bigeye.agency/gender.

Voices: Nonconforming, transgender, two-spirit, trans-masculine, gender fluid.

Adrian Tennant: GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Paige Garrett, Assistant Vice President of Marketing at RVD communications. Paige, how do you calculate the return on investment for clients from an influencer marketing campaign?

Paige Garrett: I love this question. Of course, measuring success is extremely important and, you know, for our earned, our trade relationships, where we don’t have an agreement in place, we still typically like to use UTM links. So, essentially it’s first establishing, what is the goal of this program or campaign that we’re running? Is it capturing content? Is it driving sales? Which is usually the goal. Is it just driving bigger brand awareness for a specific initiative or partnerships? Sort of aligning on what the goal is upfront so that we can measure against that. But what we can use UTM links for is essentially, once our influencers are including that swipe up or the link in bio, we get to see what’s happening once a consumer leaves the world of Instagram or leaves the world of that influencer, and enters the world of our client or brand. So while again, these aren’t paid, we do have a lot of success with asking our influencer partners to use their UTM links, because the way we position it to them is that we, as a brand, want to create a longstanding relationship with you. And what this unique link will allow us to see is everything that you’re driving for us as a brand. And I think influencers are really active and receptive to that, which is wonderful because they also want to do right and do well by the brand. So basically what a UTM link does is codes all of that information into our clients’ Google analytics backend, so that we can see, obviously, who’s purchasing, if anybody’s purchasing or if they’re not purchasing, you know, when that customer is leaving the site, how long are they on the site for? It kind of helps from a UX perspective as well, especially for our brands that might have just launched. That’s typically how we will measure success in an earned capacity. From a paid capacity, there’s a lot more we can ask our partners for because we’re paying them and have that agreement in place. So we’ll always ask for their Instagram metrics. So there’s a lot that’s public in terms of likes and comments, but we also like to look at things like sends and saves. So, from an engagement perspective, how else are potential customers engaging with the content? I think saves is a great way to see that there’s obviously some sort of intent to come back to that content or learn more about it, read more about it, or purchase. The same goes with sends, in the sense that somebody is clearly sending that to a friend or to somebody else who they want to see that content. We also ask our paid partners: did anybody DM you about this brand? We look at the sentiment of their comments. So overall, just making sure that we’re capturing the full picture in the sense of what did this partnership drive from a website or conversion perspective, but also just from a bigger brand awareness and sentiment perspective as well.

Adrian Tennant: Paige, thinking about the types of clients you work with at RVD and obviously without giving away any trade secrets, what are some of the tactics or types of content that you find work consistently well?

Paige Garrett: Yeah. So we have a fun phrase that we like to say at RVD, which has gone are the days of fluff content. I think that, when influencer marketing first started a few years ago, especially on Instagram, there was a lot of posing with specific products or very curated content. And I think that while there are a lot of content creators who do create beautiful content that is very editorial and stylized, I do think that more real, authentic content is what is performing really well. And it makes sense because at the end of the day, a follower or a community that an influencer has, they’re looking to that influencer just for day to day inspiration. And they have that established relationship with that influencer. They know what their typical day is like because the influencer shares it every day. So when an influencer is promoting something that is so far from what they typically would share, or that clearly goes against something that a follower already knows about them, I think it’s really obvious to the consumer and it’s very unlikely that they’ll take action when it comes to that content. So for instance, we have an influencer who we work with quite frequently, who we had a paid engagement with recently. And her content was already pre-shot, we’ve, you know, approved the content. We were ready to go. And she actually, unfortunately, got COVID and it was during this time that she really used her channel to open up about her mental health, about the way that it was affecting her, obviously, physically, but mentally as well. It was such a beautiful thing to see in such a real and honest depiction of who she is as an influencer and the way that she wants to try to help others who are likely going through similar situations. And the content we had prerecorded just felt so wrong in that instance, because of this phase that she was coming out of personally. So instead, we decided to collaborate on, you saw value in the product previously. How do you see value in the products now that you’re coming out of such a difficult two weeks, a difficult time where you obviously spoke to your mental health, and how this has all affected you? And we kind of worked with her as a creator to reshoot the content in a way that felt really real and honest with where she was in her life. And I think that is a great example of the type of content that is resonating most, because it’s very authentic in a way that, followers and consumers are picking up on now more than ever.

Adrian Tennant: E-marketer estimates that influencer marketing sponsorships totaled around $10 billion in 2020. Given its popularity, are you seeing clients using influencer marketing in addition to ad campaigns or does that $10 billion reflect a shift in spending away from traditional and digital advertising and toward influencer marketing?

Paige Garrett: Yeah. I would say that the two definitely go hand in hand. I think it was about two years ago that it took 8 touchpoints to convert a customer. So I could only imagine it’s more like 12 now. Whereas as a society we are very distracted, we’re doing too much at once. It takes a lot to get somebody to finally decide to purchase something or to go to a restaurant or whatever that action is. So I do think that there is a reason to have both traditional and digital advertising in addition to influencer marketing. So I would say that, you know, bigger brands, they have that bigger advertising budget, but they’re also setting up a separate budget for influencer marketing. That said, I also think that for smaller brands or newer brands who don’t have as big of budgets, I think that the value of influencer marketing, especially early on in a business is so important. And I do think that a lot of our clients and a lot of the clients that we’re working with, do tend to allocate their dollars there first, because I think working with influencers, it’s almost like you have a group of beta testers to collect feedback from. Using our UTM links, we can see, is there anything broken in terms of our UX website flow that we should consider before you’re putting larger dollars behind advertising? And I do think also with influencer marketing, there’s a lot of content you can capture that you can then leverage for your owned or paid channels eventually. So, I do think again, the two work hand in hand, there’s a reason to be doing both, but as a smaller brand, while you’re just starting out using an influencer marketing campaign and more of that trade or earned capacity to start, is a great way to find your core audience demo, find what’s working from a content perspective. Use your influencers like beta testers, just like use that influencer campaign to collect a lot of data and information that you can then carry over when you’re ready to do more of a traditional or digital advertising run.

Adrian Tennant: Well, we can’t talk about social media and not discuss TikTok, the breakout network of the pandemic. Paige, what kinds of brands do you see performing best in this channel?

Paige Garrett: We love to talk about TikTok. It’s definitely a labor and time-intensive platform in the sense that if you’re going to be on TikTok, you really need to double down, and to be on TikTok. So what we typically recommend for our clients is making sure that you’re really ready and that you have enough content to fill in that channel. So, it’s obviously very video-heavy. There’s a lot of cutting and it’s also what we like to say as well as whereas with Instagram, there’s a lot of curation. It’s a very editorialized vision of your brand or product or service, and the same goes for influencers. I think that there are a lot of influencers who still take a lot of pride, artistically in their Instagram feeds and the type of content they’re producing on Instagram. Whereas with TikTok, it’s kind of like what Snapchat was like when it first came out, only it lives forever. It doesn’t go away after 24 hours, but it is a little bit quicker, a little bit more real, authentic, kind of like a BTS or behind the scenes look at, a real, authentic version of that influencer or of your brand. So, I do think that, you know, when it comes to influencer marketing on TikTok, we typically recommend not going too heavy until you have a presence as a brand on TikTok. That said, I do think it’s also a great way to test via influencers, what type of content is resonating on TikTok. almost using your influencers like a beta test to see what they’re producing on behalf of your brand on TikTok. So that, that can kind of get your creative wheels turning from your owned content perspective. Also leveraging that influencer’s TikTok content on your TikTok eventually. But when it comes to, let’s say, an influencer campaign that we’re running on TikTok for a brand that doesn’t have a TikTok presence just yet, we’ll also make sure that our influencer partners are repurposing that content via Instagram Reel so that they’re able to tag our brand of course, and drive direct conversion that way as well.

Adrian Tennant: For any brand that’s considering engaging with an influencer marketing agency or a communications firm to manage a campaign, what are some good questions to evaluate whether that firm will be a good fit?

Paige Garrett: I think that it’s getting very clear upfront regarding what you’re looking for with that influencer campaign. So, obviously, I think every brand is interested in sales, but depending on where you are in your business, do you just need content? You know, maybe you don’t have a budget for a big photoshoot or, you’re just a founder and you don’t have access to a full team. Is there a campaign you’re looking to mount just so that you can capture content for your own channels? Are you looking to drive sales? Are you looking for, you know, bigger paid campaigns? Just making sure that your goals align with the agency and the agency services and capabilities. I also think definitely asking about previous projects that they’ve done, case studies, making sure again, that the types of brands that agency may have worked with fits with what you’re looking for, what your brand vision may be, that they’re brands that you know and respect and admire in the space. And I also think it’s just making sure that you’re also set up to have a successful influencer program. So for instance, if you’re looking for a bigger brand ambassador program, do you have some sort of DTC component, do you feel equipped and ready to have enough product to seed out to influencers? If you’re doing a trade or earned program if you want a bigger paid campaign, do you have healthy budgets, making sure that, you’re aligned on all of those key components, in addition to, the goals of your campaign, so that that agency can give their strategic recommendation on what is or isn’t doable.

Adrian Tennant: Paige, looking at the next two to three years, how do you see the influencer marketing landscape evolving?

Paige Garrett: The fluff content is gone. I think that when an influencer is choosing to share content, whether it be sponsored or not, I think that influencers are really looking to add value and to open up bigger conversations, and use their platforms for the greater good. Whereas, you know, I do think there was a lot of curated interest in stylized content previously. So I’m excited to continue to see this where influencers are really doubling down on brands that give back or initiatives that they align with personally, they’re saying no to deals with brands that they don’t admire who aren’t doing well by society. Really just leaning into authentic, real content that feels good to them as a consumer, but also that they know that their community will resonate with. So I, for instance, would always rather an influencer say no, and we have had some, some no’s, because if it’s a dietary restriction or, a personal decision that they want to lean into a different industry, I would always rather hear, “No”, that “this is not brand-aligned”, then an influencer produce content that they don’t feel good about and that they don’t think their community will resonate with. So continuing to move in that direction, I definitely think video will continue to be huge. And I do think that video allows for that more authentic and real connection. Whereas, you can’t just hide behind a stylized photo. A movement towards the real is really what I think we’re all experiencing and especially after such a challenging few years, with everything going on, I do think that influencers want to leverage their platforms to do more than just share brands or content, to share resources. You know, I think that educational content will continue to be huge and just moving towards using social media for the greater good, rather than perpetuating unrealistic norms of a perfect lifestyle, which we all now know does not exist.

Adrian Tennant: So Paige, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about influencer marketing with RVD, where can they find resources?

Paige Garrett: Yeah, so you can visit our website at www.rachelvandolson.com. You can email us at info@rachelvandolson.com or find us on Instagram: @RVDCommunications.

Adrian Tennant: And if people would like to know more about your coaching services for fitness and integrative health, where can they find you?

Paige Garrett: They can find me at www.PaigeGarrett.com or on Instagram @PaigeAConnelly.

Adrian Tennant: Paige, thank you very much for being our guest this week on, IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Paige Garrett: Thank you so much for having me. It was such a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Paige Garrett, Assistant Vice President of Marketing at RVD Communications. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.