Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

Shopper Insight – The balance between retail and research data, and what your instinct tells you

with 7 comments

The world of marketing is flooded with data, and with technological advances it is likely that more and more data will become available in the future. Loyalty cards, web traffic data, POS data together with retail audit, tracking and bespoke studies – how do marketers cope with this torrent? Many organizations have responded, in particular in the zone of shopper marketing, by employing armies of analysts, with analytics lying at the heart of all shopper marketing activity.

But it appears that many marketers have a different strategy for handling all of this data. They ignore it!

I’m reminded of one of my first experiences in China – spending many months collecting data about what exactly was causing one of our major brands sales to dip. It was my first assignment and I was proud of the rigor that we had put into the work – far more than the business had ever done before. The case was rock solid: a recent price increase had not been taken forward by the trade: margins were crushed and retailers had stopped buying. I was quite rightly proud. My boss saw it differently. “Nonsense, he said – it’s all down to counterfeits”. The fact that my data proved this not to be true would not sway him. His gut told him something else.

It appears that my ex-boss is not alone. A recent survey by CEB suggests that marketers use data in only 11% of their decisions – trusting intuition and judgment rather than tables and charts. The article goes on to challenge marketers who flip the other way – who become too obsessed with the data and either never make a decision, or keep changing their minds.

More data coming – everyday. The idea that it can be ignored is daft – but the other extreme is also dangerous. Finding the middle ground is apparently tricky – but here five key suggestions as to how to balance gut instinct and market data.

Too much data is still too much. Don’t buy or acquire data without an understanding of what you will do with it. Yes – looking at data creates insight – sometimes in an apparently random way. But buying or acquiring data in the hope that it will create a spark of something profound is a fair leap of faith. Rather buy data you will use for a specific purpose – then marvel at the extra wonders it reveals that you weren’t expecting. Double benefits!

Use the data you have before getting any more: On our projects I am, unfortunately no longer surprised that we can quote data back at our clients that they think is new – yet they gave it to us. In the rush to acquire new data, first review what is already in place.

Challenge the data with your gut: If it doesn’t feel right it might not be. Check the data is meaningful, that the sample doesn’t dictate the outcome. See if the data could support other answers. Don’t ignore the data, but don’t let it lead.

Challenge your gut with the data: Beliefs are powerful things, but even the smartest of us aren’t always right. Allow the possibility that your strongest belief could possibly be wrong. If it was, what would the data look like? And if your gut instinct was right all along, you’ll now have a data based proposition which will be much easier to sell to others.

Check the gut isn’t making you blind: It’s easy to allow our beliefs or gut feeling to influence how we look at data. We all love to be right, so when we receive a fresh data pack it is tempting to use it to support our views. But if we really believe in our views, as marketers we should have the courage to put them under scrutiny. Look for the opposite. Look to prove your gut feeling wrong. If you fail, then you have the wonderful knowledge that you were right all along

Blend gut, instinct, data and discipline. Experience is fabulous. It really is. Our experience is one of the biggest sources of insight – insight wires our brains to think differently. But to not check our instincts using data is dangerous. Sometimes necessary  for sure; and sometimes insight is actually a blinding flash of the obvious, but to add a discipline of testing our guts as we would any other hypothesis is a good discipline.

Do you have any personal examples of where your gut and experience has won over data, or the other way around: where data has been used to destroy the “existing wisdom” of experience and to create a better solution for the future? I’d love to hear examples of where a blend of gut, instinct, data and discipline has created a massive step-change in your business.


Written by Mike Anthony

September 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Posted in shopper insights

7 Responses

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  1. Really interesting article; as a Shopper Insight Manager, and a Category Insight Manager in my past, my job is to distil the data we get to make it meaningful and actionable. A lot of the time, we find that the data we get can be used to support what we feel makes sense anyway, or on other occasions “myth-bust”. For me, the most important part of using data and insight is the follow-through – too often I provide my internal customers with compelling charts for them to use, but never find out whether or not they were used and were useful. To me, finding out how successful the insights you provide have been should help shape the approach you take in the future – an internal ROI if you will. It also gives you a better understanding of your customers so that you can find this middle ground with their years of experience vs. your number crunching abilities!

    Caroline Davies

    September 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    • Dear Caroline,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I think your point about research ROI is an important one (and one slated for a future blog post too!). Too often we get caught in the next project without thinking about whether those carefully crafted slides ever did anything at all. After all it is knowing what actually happened that helps our experience “learn” and grow and as a result makes the gut input more valuable.

      I do have a question – how often does your research support your theories, and how often does it “myth-bust”? I have a hunch that myth busting is rare, or at least rarely discovered – but it is myth busting that makes research and insight so exciting!

      I’d love to hear more from you, and thanks again for commenting.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      September 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm

  2. Hi Mike

    Great article as always,

    Like to give my part of share here.

    We are doing our first consumer insight through questionnaire a month back and beginning to analyze the feedback. Some did support our initial gut feeling, and some is still questionable. We are selling considerably premium products with higher price than any other competitor in the market. Around 36% of the respondent consider our price to high, despite that around 75% of them are still willing to buy our products due to quality. Some 31% think that our promotion weren’t interesting at all while we are doing numerous promotion every month. Today we are making pricing policy and promotion activity purely by gut feeling so I do think we need to challenge this approach in order to capture our true segment market as well as filling the gaps between what our consumer see and what we like them to see. After all, what consumer see is the reality.



    September 26, 2012 at 9:10 am

    • Hi Mario,

      And thanks, as always for reading and especially for contributing!

      Really good to hear your examples – its great when our gut feeling is challenged but it does create dilemma. One observation I would make (and forgive me if I have missed something, as I only have your post to go on) – understand the difference between what people say, what their attitude is, and what their behavior is –

      – You say that consumers consider the price too high (attitude) but still consider to buy (attitude again). Which is most important to you?
      – You say that people don’t think your promotions are interesting – the question that comes to my mind is whether this matters or not. This is attitude. More important to me is whether the promotion affects their purchase behavior.
      – How people feel about your pricing and promotions are important, but what they actually do is in my mind far more important than how they feel (or how they say they behave). Pricing and promotions are as much shopper activities as they are consumer (if not more so) – I’d really like to understand how shoppers would behave if you reduced your promotions, or changed your price. There are lots of research techniques which can very quickly help you understand what specifically would happen under different price and promotion scenarios – if you want more information, feel free to send me an email to mike@engageconsultants.com.

      And lastly, for what it is worth – this is what my experience tells me (my gut!) Most companies promote too much. Most companies could charge more for their brands. So I’d seriously look at testing doing less promotions via research.

      Good luck and thanks again for sharing.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      September 26, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      • Hi Mike

        Thanks for your reply and insight also. Allow me – if i may – write it down here to answer your question (just in case someone else reading it and having the more or less situation);
        – First, yes we are more concern on their action rather than what they think they are feeling. However we are also looking how much this view may influence their purchase behavior.
        – The way i see, the promotion we’ve done in our store has resulted minimum to none in changing the shopper behavior. And i must agree with you that constant promotion every month brings no good both to the shopper also for the company.

        Thanks for the reminder about the shopper’s attitude and action, it “ticks” my mind and makes me eager to plan a couple of promotion activity now 🙂

        I’ll email you right away about the research techniques you mentioned earlier.



        September 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

  3. Good article, Mike!

    I have an example – although it’s not in the retail realm. A client had asked us to do a concept test on a new engineering service – that the engineers had developed (because they thought it was cool). The CEO had a “gut feel” that it might not be accepted well by their market, so he had us test it. He didn’t tell us first what his “gut” was (a smart guy). When e got our data in, we were a bit nervous since most clients expect a positive outcome. This was far from positive. When we presented the findings, the CEO jumped up and yelled – which scared all of us. But, he said “I knew it – those guys were on the wrong track. We helped them save millions of dollars in wasteful marketing to try to sell something that no one wanted. A great expereince for all!

    Mary Jo Martin

    September 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    • Hi Mary Jo,

      Thanks for a really brilliant example. I particularly love that the CEO kept his gut feel to himself – puts the pressure on the agency but removes the temptation to “play to the audience”.
      I also know what you mean about that nasty feeling when you have to deliver ‘bad news’. A negative result isn’t bad at all – its just a result – and it can be just as valuable as in this case. But it always feels nicer to deliver “good news”. I think that this is part of the danger of allowing gut to get in the way of data. Our desire to please may, if we’re not careful, lead us to give audience friendly findings. Glad you resisted and got the result!

      Great story – thanks so much for reading and sharing.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      September 27, 2012 at 8:01 am

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