When Focus Group Facilitation Hits Close to Home: Helping Kids with Anxiety and Their Families

By: Laurie Olson, Research Strategist

When my daughter was in elementary school, she began experiencing anxiety. It started small with a fear of tornadoes after watching the movie Twister, but grew to the point where any cloud in the sky would evoke terror. It was overwhelming and I often didn’t know how to help her.

Laurie Olson with her daughter at the time when she suffered from anxiety.

It’s been decades since I had that parenting experience, but it all came back to me recently as I volunteered to facilitate a focus group for parents of kids with social anxiety. A good friend of mine is in the process of launching a product to help kids with anxiety and their families, and she wanted input from parents on what would be most helpful.

The product, Connection ZooTM, puts kids in the role of zookeeper, caring for “animals” that represent various symptoms of anxiety and coping techniques for dealing with it. It encourages conversations that help kids safely articulate what they’re experiencing and improves their ability to navigate through their anxiety with the help of those around them. The goal is to get the whole family involved and provide a common language that helps everyone better understand the child’s anxiety.

As I facilitated the focus group for parents of kids with anxiety, I was struck by how much their experiences today resemble those I had years ago with my daughter. Many parents described being “at their wit’s end,” struggling to navigate a complex health care system where they sometimes receive conflicting information. They described often not knowing how to relate to their kids, or how to keep lines of communication open to ensure they’re up to speed on what their child is experiencing.

While all of that seems discouraging, I actually found the focus group incredibly uplifting and encouraging. The parents were supporting each other, sharing ideas, and taking solace in knowing they aren’t alone in their struggles. As a facilitator, I let some parts of the discussion go on longer than I normally would, because I could see how much it was helping these people. We were all in tears at some point in the session – myself included. While that isn’t something I’d typically experience when facilitating on behalf of my clients, my personal connection to this issue made it hard to hold back the tears at times.

It was a privilege to help my friend gather insights that will make her product even more valuable for those who need it so much. Connection ZooTM would have been a huge help to my daughter and me all those years ago, and I’m grateful to have played a small role in making it available to parents now. It should officially launch in the next several months, and I can’t wait to see the difference it makes in people’s lives.

Quality Insights Using Research Tech
SIVO’s 4 Tips to Get Started

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO & Ruthie Feinstein, VP of Insights and Engagement

We love this quote by business and consumer behavior genius Steve Jobs.  He had an innate belief that technology should exist to make our lives easier, keep up in a fast-paced world, and fuel our creativity. Yet, he understood the true power of the technology rested in the hands of its users.

The same is true for Research Tech / DIY Tools; the latest hot topic in the insights industry. Our experience has taught us that they work best when applied in the right situation, there is a genuine understanding for how they work and how they can best be optimized.  This takes the savviness of sophisticated researchers, because like any other technology, it needs to be in the right human hands to be most effective. 

Across brands and categories, sophisticated client-side researchers are being challenged to deliver insights faster, without sacrificing quality and some are turning to these tools to address this need. However, often times they face issues with ample time to learn the platforms, execute the research and/or fully take advantage of their analytical capabilities.  Others have yet to be made aware of or access to these tech tools and all they have to offer. With so many options, it can be overwhelming and they’re left thinking, “where do I even begin?” 

Four Research Tech Tips

As we continue to get smarter with next generation research, we have vetted many different research tech tools – through a researcher’s lens– relieving our clients of this time-consuming, but necessary task.  In doing so, we want to share these helpful tips to consider when evaluating which Research Tech / DIY Tools to use OR if you should be using them at all:

Objectives.  While these tools can be very effective, they are not the end-all-be-all solution to accomplishing every learning objective. “Live”, in-the-moment, in-context insights? A quick read on concept testing? Fast-on-shelf retail audits? Research tech can be an effective and fast solution.  Foundational in-depth learning, nuanced empathy-building or sophisticated quantitative work?  Other methods can better deliver on those needs.

It’s about understanding the role research tech can play based on what you need to learn– and right-size the rigor and expectations as they are not intended to be exact replicas of traditional methods.  Participants using research tech by themselves in-store is not the same as an in-person shop-along joined by an experienced moderator.

Recruiting. Sources for building research tech panels and recruiting practices vary from social scraping to organic growth and word-of-mouth, with reach ranging from the hundreds to the millions. Regardless of practice, it is important to ask howparticipants are kept fresh and engaged to ensure you have robust results.  In terms of targeting, often times, these tools provide a great way to reach broad target segments.  However, if your goal is to reach a specific micro-target or consumers with very specific behaviors (i.e. exclusively eats organic green vegetables for the past 12 months) and you are unable to bring your own participants, make sure the platform can really deliver.

Usage.  While the urge may be to just dive in, there are a few key initial questions to ask. Is the platform easy and intuitive to use – for both the researcher and participant? Is there an app and/or desktop version (app option is crucial in particular to reach younger consumers)? Do you have the moderating experience needed to ask the right questions or follow the flow of consumer interactions while staying true to objectives? How long or involved is your study (longer can create participant fatigue)?

Reporting.  Will the platform enable you to get the results you need in the time you need them? Do you have time to synthesize the data? Are the deliverables offered (e.g. data tables vs. word clouds, vs video, etc.) going to help you influence your key stakeholders in telling the insights story? 

Research Tech in Action for Innovation

Research tech allows us to keep up with ever-changing behaviors and reaching people where they are.  And when the situation makes sense, we’ve seen it work very well for several of our clients. SIVO recently partnered with Wells Blue Bunny using a research tech tool to gain quick innovation insights.  It served as an agile solution to efficiently reach qualified consumers, in real-time, shopping the ice-cream category.

Contact SIVO to help you with wherever you are on the research tech tool spectrum.  We are your strategic partner to choose the right tool, execute it with excellence and support the important task of human syntheses needed to mine the data this tool provides. 

Because with the right research tech tool, insights professionals can do wonderful things with them. 

Innovating to Meet Client Needs: Introducing SIVO Flexible WorkForce TM

By: Marilyn Weiss, Co-Founder, Chief Innovation Officer

What do iconic brands and artists like Madonna, Chobani, Apple, Queen, Nike and Old Spice all have in common?

Innovation. And the guts to do it. All of these brands have proven this to be true time and time again. It’s (partly) why they are iconic. They have each reinvented themselves at times when their brand life stage or relevance in people’s lives would have otherwise expired.

While necessity may be the mother of invention, at SIVO Insights we believe the need for relevance is the mother of innovation.  

Sometimes being “innovative” means creating a brand-new idea for a product or service, sometimes it is about a new application or method, and sometimes it’s flipping an idea on its head and reinventing something through a creative lens or with a fresh perspective. 

In every case, innovation is about meeting or anticipating a need – a need that is of value to end users.

SIVO Insights continually innovates, both for the insights and brand work we do with our clients, as well as for our own business. 

The consumer insights industry and profession has changed dramatically over the last 5-10 years, and client needs have shifted right along with it. We see a growing trend taking place in consumer insights departments across organizations: department sizes and resources are shrinking but demands and goals are not. The work still needs to get done.

Rooted in this insight, we developed a concept, got feedback, iterated and created an innovative solution called SIVO Insights Flexible WorkForce™.

What is SIVO Insights Flexible WorkForce™?

Clients trust and value the insights and strategy work SIVO provides.  Now, by tapping into our exceptional pool of insights professionals, they can trust us as a resource for trusted insights talent as well – to fill in open positions, lead and manage projects or initiatives, to navigate research tech, and more. Customized as we do when designing each and every research plan, this offering flexes with the need: scope, long-term to short-term and range of experience levels from executional to strategic.

Having worked with Fortune 100 companies, start-ups and mega brands over the last 10 years, SIVO’s intimate understanding of consumer insights talent levels and skills make it a unique solution that general staffing agencies can’t provide.

We’re already providing talent to Target Corporation, Wells Blue Bunny and Foster Farms. I recently connected with Helen Kurtz, CMO for Foster Farms, and asked about her experience with SIVO Flexible WorkForce™.

Helen Kurtz
CMO, Foster Farms

What need did you have and why did you choose to address it in this way (vs. a full-time position or with traditional staffing)?

“When I joined Foster Farms, the company had never had Consumer Insights (CI) talent in house. They had always outsourced the testing and counted on Marketing to interpret and drive strategy from results. I knew from my past how critical having a CI role was and wanted to have talent that would immediately hit the ground running. I also wasn’t sure if the role would be full time or less, so I needed a flexible solution.”

Why was SIVO the right partner to fill this need?

“I immediately spoke with SIVO about my dilemma and opportunity, thinking that they would have some recommendations. They helped source a talented professional for my specific situation. I couldn’t be happier with the result; the person SIVO recommended and placed has been an amazing fit and made an immediate impact. Plus, with the power of SIVO resources behind her, she is able to work efficiently and effectively. Importantly, our company is headquartered in California and even from 2,000 miles away and a 2-hour time difference, I’ve found it to be seamless and just as effective (in most ways better) than an in-house situation.”

What tips or advice do you have for other client-side insight professionals with this need?

“Be really clear about your needs with SIVO. If you’re like us and will have someone working for you remotely, be planful about travel requirements, and make time for status updates about the arrangement, since that person won’t have access to ‘in the hall’ conversations.”

We are excited to do the same for you. To learn about how SIVO can support your insight talent needs, please contact us at Contact@SIVOInsights.com.

Emotional Loyalty: Two Brands That Have Earned Mine

Loyalty, as defined by our friends at Google, is “a strong feeling of support or allegiance,” but it’s so much more than that. Loyalty is a layered, nuanced, complex emotion. And as humans, there is nothing we covet more than a true feeling of loyalty. Consider how you feel when you experience genuine loyalty in your personal relationships: protected, valued, even cherished. But what causes that level of loyalty with someone? It likely results from shared feelings of trust, reliability, appreciation, and even empathy.

In the “Humanizing Loyalty” research SIVO conducted with ICF Next (formerly Olson 1to1) and Panoramix Global, we uncovered that the emotional drivers of genuine loyalty between brands and consumers are really no different than those we experience in our personal relationships. And for brands to succeed, they must realize they are in a relationship with their customers, where the goal is to be authentic and real – not perfect – just like personal relationships.

Our research showed that when people feel – and experience – core characteristics of loyalty like trust and appreciation, disloyalty actually feels wrong and is less likely to happen. Imagine your customers refusing to leave your brand because it would feel wrong. Wow – pretty powerful. 

I have two of these brand relationships in my own life: Lexus and Spots Gone Carpet Cleaning & Restoration, a local company where I live in Minneapolis. Wait – what? Yes, two completely different companies, two completely different categories, two completely different marketing budgets – both with very important behaviors in common in how they’ve earned my loyalty.

Brand purpose = me

First, both companies have a brand purpose rooted in serving me. They make me feel that they are in business FOR me, to remove the pain points in MY life.

At the base level, they both provide an outstanding product or service I can count on, but that’s just (should be) table stakes. More than that, their actions over time have proven that I can trust them to deliver on their promises – both big and small. They make me feel appreciated with every interaction – not just when I’m buying something. Do things always go right? No, but they’re transparent if they make a mistake and take accountability, and that goes a long way with me. Our relationship isn’t perfect; it’s real and honest.

Second, both companies work hard to demonstrate empathy and appreciation, which feels rare in today’s world. Not surprisingly, our research with ICF Next and Panoramix Global found that 79% of consumers want to feel appreciated, but only 64% say they get this from the brands they use most. So, how do my beloved brands pull this off?

Lexus treats me like a guest in their home

It started when I first purchased a Lexus car and was treated with a great deal of respect and honesty. As I looked around, I saw everyone was being treated this way: men, women, young, old. It continued years later when I needed to trade in my car earlier than expected for one that better suited my changing lifestyle and they created a plan that worked for both of us. Then there was a recent experience when I had an unexpected flat tire and they worked hard to squeeze me in because I desperately needed my car for a work trip the next day. Or it’s the countless times I bring my car in for routine service and they welcome me with a big smile, and honestly manage my expectations about how long it will take so I can plan my day accordingly.

On my last visit to the dealership, I noticed The Lexus Covenant and it states that they’ll treat each customer like a “guest in our home”.  I feel this loud and clear. (It doesn’t hurt that their waiting area is nicer than my own living room.)  Four Lexus cars into the relationship, it’s the sum of all of these interactions throughout the years that has sealed the deal for me. And with each interaction they always, always thank me for choosing to do business with them. Yes, it is a choice – and they honor that. 

The Lexus Covenant that caught my eye on my last visit.

Spots Gone treats me more like a dear friend than a customer

Spots Gone has earned my loyalty thanks to the kind problem-solvers who answer the phone when I call in a panic about my stained carpet. Because the owner of the company shows up to make sure the job is done correctly, and because he follows up a week later to see if I’m satisfied. It’s the consideration they show me when they let me know they’re running 10 minutes late and “hope that doesn’t mess up my day.” It’s their transparent pricing, a thorough explanation of the products they use and exactly what will be done, and the pro tips they give me so I don’t have to call them the next time my puppy has an accident (use white vinegar!). 

Google review for Spots Gone

Loyalty is about a mindset, not money

As long as it is financially viable, I will always buy a Lexus. And, I will never call another carpet-cleaning company as long as I live in the Twin Cities. How can an international luxury car company and a local, independently owned carpet cleaner both generate the same level of loyalty in me?

It’s about a mindset. You don’t need deep pockets to be consumer-centric or to act with trust, reliability or empathy.

That’s where we as human insights professionals come in. Companies win your heart when they humanize their approach to earning your loyalty.

We guide brands to focus on their customers as the North Star, realizing the power of their relationship and delivering insights to strengthen that connection. It’s about truly understanding what people value, finding and solving their pain points and delivering a customer experience where disloyalty feels wrong. That’s where the magic happens – the magic of that layered, nuanced, complex emotion we call loyalty.

Ten Years of Consumer Insights: Then, Now and Tomorrow!

By: Marilyn Weiss and Cindy Blackstock

When we launched SIVO Insights 10 years ago, consumer research looked very different from today. Smartphones were far from ubiquitous, with the first iPhone having launched just two years prior. And, social media was in its infancy – Instagram hadn’t even been created yet. All of that meant that back in 2009, brands largely relied on brick and mortar sales and traditional advertising to activate their consumers, with some online shopping thrown in for early adopters.

Since then, technology has permeated every aspect of our lives. SIVO Insights has worked hard to stay a step ahead, helping our clients navigate significant changes in how consumers interact with brands, and as a result, how consumer insights are gathered, analyzed and used. Here are some of the biggest shifts we’ve helped our clients navigate in the last 10 years:

Omnichannel is now the norm.
Consumers now expect brands to be available to them whenever, wherever – from researching an item on a mobile device, to picking it up on their way home from work, to having online products delivered to their doorstep (within a day or two!). Even brands that started online are recognizing the value of having a true omnichannel presence, with Amazon establishing physical locations via Whole Foods and Amazon Go stores. Meanwhile, Walmart and Target are investing $11 billion(1) and $7 billion(2) respectively to create better integration between their physical and online.

What does this mean for consumer research? Consumer insights are more complicated and nuanced than ever, because there are now so many touchpoints between a consumer and the brand, each with its own context. This also makes consumer insights more important than ever, because brands need to understand consumer needs, values and motivations before they can determine the best way to engage them across channels. If brands want to meet consumers where they’re at, they need a deep understanding of what consumers need in each channel.

Convenience is king.
Brands are blurring traditional lines in their quest to be hyper useful and convenient for time-strapped consumers, from Walgreens selling bananas alongside prescription refills, to Kohl’s sharing real estate with Planet Fitness to lure consumers to combine fitness with shopping. Forward-thinking brands in every industry are looking for ways to make themselves more convenient than ever.

What does this mean for research? The quest for convenience creates great opportunities to learn more about what consumers want and need, and for brands to partner in new ways to meet those needs. Ask questions that reveal deeper insights on the role convenience plays in people’s lives and how brands can improve convenience.

Millennials are pushing brands to deliver more, benefiting us all.
While millennials are often misunderstood, one thing is clear: they have upended stagnation in almost every industry, demanding more from the products and services they use. Whether it’s wanting to know that a brand is doing good in the world before they’ll buy from them, or boldly sharing their experiences with a company on social media, millennials bring increased expectations. Perhaps the most revolutionary disruption is how millennials have helped all of us separate the need to own something with the ability to experience it – from Airbnb in place of our own vacation home, to ride-sharing services like Lyft in place of our own car, to Spotify in place of our own music. This shift will only continue as Generation Z enters the workforce with its own expectations.

What does this mean for consumer research? Consumer insights are the key to help brands avoid becoming the next displaced company or industry. In the downfall of any segment, the signs are always there if you’re willing to listen to what customers have to say. As industries evolve more rapidly than ever to keep up with changing demands, stay focused on keeping the consumer – and their feedback – at the center.

The world of work has changed… for good.
When SIVO Insights was founded in 2009, we wanted the flexibility for our work and lives to be interwoven. W e gave talented, experienced professionals an outlet to do great work while achieving balance, and we focused on recognizing the whole person who came to work, celebrating not only professional, but personal, milestones together. While these ideas are mainstream today, many companies still struggle with employee satisfaction and retention. That’s why we launched LINX Workforce Innovations in 2018, to apply our expertise in consumer insights to help companies better understand – and retain – their employees .

What does this mean for employee research? Many companies mistakenly think a fun work atmosphere or flexible schedules equal satisfied employees, yet only 1/3 of employees are engaged at work(3). And, the way most companies have historically measured employee engagement, via an annual survey, hasn’t revealed the real reasons employees stay or leave. LINX guides companies to uncover their employees’ true motivations and needs in much the same way brands do with their consumers.

As we continue to celebrate SIVO’s 10th anniversary, our teams look forward to the next decade of helping our clients gain deeper insights , understanding and empathy for their consumers and employees. Considering how much change we’ve observed in the past decade, we’re excited to imagine what the next 10 years might look like – and we know it will be a fascinating journey to get there.

1 Business Insider

2 Star Tribune

3 Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report

Why We Should Treat Consumers Like Heroes

By: Jennifer Dilley, Director of Research

Have you ever realized something so simple, but so true, you couldn’t believe you hadn’t thought of it before? I recently had a moment like that while reading Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller.   

The book’s main idea is this: we all want to be the hero of our own lives. This simple but profound insight is inspiring me to look differently at my work as a consumer researcher, and I believe it will be useful to others, too. Why? Because now when I look around, I see brands telling stories. When the consumer is the hero in those stories, the brand grows sales and builds a loyal following. But, when the brand makes itself the hero, it falls flat.

First, let’s put this “hero” idea to the test. If you’re like me, you’ve never consciously thought about being the hero of your own life. But think about it for a moment. Remember sitting around the dinner table last night, telling your family how your day went? If you’re like me, you had a great idea; saw the solution first; were cut off in traffic. But you would never say, “I wasn’t paying attention and almost caused an accident.”  

It’s true, isn’t it? We all want to be the hero of our own lives. Now, for the part that many brands struggle with: If being the hero is a universal human desire, then your brand, product or service cannot be the hero. It needs to play a supporting role, which Miller describes as “the guide,” helping usher the consumer to solve a problem in their lives. But many brands portray themselves as the hero, and their products or services as “saving the day.”

Naturally, this got me thinking about brands I personally use that get this right. One example immediately comes to mind – Nordstrom. I am such a Nordstrom loyalist! There are numerous examples where they have allowed me to be the “hero” in my relationships. There was the time my sister called panicked because she needed a cocktail dress within 48 hours. I went to Nordstrom.com and ordered her three dresses that arrived the next day. There was the time my husband got a hole in his sportscoat (my favorite one) and swore it couldn’t be fixed. Nordstrom repaired the damage. And there was the time my mom was visiting after being ill, and my favorite Nordstrom’s make-up artist made her feel beautiful. Nordstrom made me the hero in all these stories. They allowed me to “save the day.”

This philosophy of making the consumer the hero is something any consumer researcher can reinforce. By its very nature, the work we do emphasizes the end user.  

As a result of reading this book I am challenging myself to do even more to make those I serve the hero. For me, this means:

Looking for new ways to make our own clients shine. They’re not the consumer, but they are our customers.  As experienced researchers, they can trust us to help solve their problems. Let’s be sure to make them the hero in our partnership.

Helping our clients stay focused on their consumers. Having worked on a brand team, I know we can fall in love with our own brands and be blinded by our affection. As consumer researchers, we owe it to our clients to gently reminding them of their brand’s role as guide if we see them moving down the path of making their brand, product or service the hero. 

As Miller’s book attests, the brands that make their consumers the hero are the most successful, and isn’t that the ultimate point? Consumers are not looking for another hero; they are already the hero of their own story. They need a guide to challenge them and give them a plan to an obtainable future. Let’s partner with our clients to guide their consumers on that journey.

SIVO Team Member Spotlight: Using Professional Skills for Positive Impact

By: Scarlett Ferguson, Research Strategist

I’ve conducted thousands of one-on-one interviews over my 25-year career as a researcher, but I recently found myself in several that were challenging in ways I don’t typically experience. I had volunteered to help an organization gather data about people experiencing homelessness across Minnesota. That day, I heard some incredibly difficult stories as people described their path to homelessness, struggles in their daily life, and barriers to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty. 

As researchers, we practice unconditional positive regard for those we interview, and that was probably never more important than with this group of people.

From left to right: My colleagues Jeff Walkowski, Tricia Davidson and me at our “Free Listening” session.

I was drawn to volunteer because I’d been involved with other organizations serving the disadvantaged over the years and was curious about the people I saw in need of those services. Volunteering for this effort was a natural way for me to continue to help the homeless population and learn more about their lives. The information gathered will be used by state and local governments to allocate funding for housing and social programs to serve the people I interacted with that day.

Building empathy

I’ve pursued other opportunities to use my qualitative research skills to serve others, including “Free Listening,” a movement developed by Urban Confessional and covered by media like NPR and Fast Company. 

Free Listening is built on the premise that many people have issues weighing on them but have no one to just listen. It promotes that when we listen solely for understanding, without intent to judge or persuade, we develop empathy for one another and improve communication.

Working with peers in the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, I helped organize a morning training session for 20 volunteers to learn and practice Free Listening. The group then dispersed into the community to experience it firsthand. While standing in a farmer’s market with a “Free Listening” sign was unnerving at first, I was surprised at the number of people who approached me and my colleague with curiosity and appreciation for this effort. More surprising was that, when given the opportunity, strangers did share concerns on their mind ranging from frustrations with work or family to observations on society. 

I believe my volunteer work has positively impacted my personal and professional life. It’s a reminder that regardless of who you are or what situation you’re in, people just want to feel heard and understood. There’s incredible power in respecting someone’s humanity, in believing that each of us is trying to do the best we can, and in just listening.

Bringing Humanity to the Forefront for Brands

Written by: Ruthie Feinstein, Director of Insights & Strategy

As a consumer insights researcher, I can get so wrapped up in the rigor of my day-to-day work, I really value the chance to step back and remember why it matters in the first place — and why I love it so much. 

I experienced this recently at the annual Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) conference in Savannah, Georgia. While I didn’t get to see much of the beautiful city, I was compensated by the fact that I was surrounded by like-minded people: Experts in our field, all there not to compete, but to share ideas. Each dedicating their career to connecting with people and learning what’s important to them, and to turning those insights into meaningful intelligence for our clients. (I was pretty geeked out.)

At one of the breaks, I chatted with a colleague and we empathized (commiserated) around the idea that qualitative research sometimes still, after all of these years, gets an unfair rap – it can be perceived as “soft” or not as valuable as quantitative research. I get it. Quant is measurable…it’s concrete…it’s “what” people are doing. You can easily connect the research investment back to the value of the data. Qual is more intuitive…it’s personal…subjective, it’s the “why” behind the what…. it’s well, human. It’s directly related to the human beings that brands desperately try to better understand and convince to move toward them.  

Qual brings a humanity, an empathy and true understanding to the way people choose to interact with brands and how brands earn their loyalty. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this. Looking at our own relationships – if we acted solely on “hard data,” how rich and deep and special would those relationships be? The same is true for brands. Yes – qual is pretty valuable in my book.

Let me be clear: This isn’t a competition – there is great value behind both types of research. There is most definitely a place for it depending on exactly what brands need to learn. My point is, I have seen the real power behind qual and its ability to shift minds and hearts, to inspire and drive action, and there’s nothing soft about it.

In the spirit of this topic, there were two sessions at the QRCA conference which left a lasting impression about the work we do as insight researchers that I hope will inspire you as well.

The Role of Neuroscience and Qual Research

One session I attended by Dr. Carmen Simon, a leading cognitive neuroscientist, talked about the role neuroscience plays in helping brands be memorable. She shared that “every single move people make is driven by a memory – not by what we forget.” Think about that for a second – it’s simple, but powerful. Often what is memorable for us as humans is emotionally meaningful. It’s this emotion that can be a vehicle for connection between brands and people. Qual research plays a critical role in uncovering emotions surrounding perceptions and decision making by understanding people deeply and profoundly: what are their life experiences and what verbals and non-verbals do they share in the retelling of those life events? What truly motivates them and why? What values do they hold dear and how do those drive them, and across it all – why do all of these things matter? So, how as thoughtful, analytical human researchers do we get at these insights? One way is through the art and science of storytelling.

Storytelling is an Influential, Strategic Tool

I attended a brilliant session by a compelling storyteller strategist, Lisa Lipkin, and learned (or re-learned, rather) that we as humans are hardwired for stories. We’re an oral culture, and our brains are designed to tell our own stories and remember the stories of others. It’s a mechanism for survival, actually. But in our work, it goes beyond just using stories to bring brand-focused messages to life. 

We can get incredibly useful insights in our research when we prompt people to share their stories and life experiences versus asking them direct questions. We call this “projective techniques,” but it just means we’re allowing people to let their guard down and share more deeply about their motivations, attitudes, beliefs and values. And it works mainly because, unlike with direct questions, there are no expectations — in the telling of their stories, people naturally open up. And getting at these deeper core emotional drivers reveals how people function in their lives.

A favorite example of this was when I led an in-home ethnography discussion with moms to learn more about the joys and challenges of motherhood so the brand could create an authentic, relatable communications campaign. Yes, I could have simply asked direct questions about the joy and challenges of motherhood (and frankly the client would have felt much more comfortable with the discussion guide if I had!). But I knew that wouldn’t get us very far. 

Instead, I asked my client to trust me… and they did. In thoughtfully guiding the conversations, we got to know the participants as people. They shared stories about their own childhood, recent examples in their lives of proud moments and embarrassing ones, and, through an interactive exercise, chose objects that most represented what they treasure about parenthood and what they feel most challenged by. The stories and tears that followed were invaluable and created such a true connection, revealing a much deeper understanding of these women for the client and their ad agency. It was pretty remarkable, and something my clients and I still talk about to this day. 

Time after time in my own work, I’ve seen the power of bringing humanity to the forefront of how brands interact with their customers through memories and storytelling. When I bring an open mind and an open heart to my research, I’m consistently amazed by what people reveal and how it impacts my clients and their organizations. The timing of this conference was just right – enabling me to kick off 2019 motivated and inspired by the love and energy for the work that I do.

Over the River and Through the Woods: Letting Consumers Lead Us to Discovery

Written by: Katy Koestler, SIVO Research Strategist

Even though it can feel risky, sometimes you have to throw out a few pages of the rulebook to get the best results. Our client, a leading recreational vehicle manufacturer, was seeking to expand their side-by-side vehicle product market. So, we set out together to understand hunters, farmers and ranchers and how their lifestyles determined their off-road vehicle needs—in their territory, not ours.

Instead of holding steadfast to the objectives alone, we adapted our model. We absorbed and experienced the hunting, farming and ranching lifestyle on the ground, and this “shared experience” helped inform even more of what we needed to learn. If we had been too rigid about letting only the objectives guide us, we would have missed so much. We actually understood our questions more after the research, and this approach resulted in deeper, richer learning.

Andy, an Iowa farmer, showing me the ropes in his brand-new combine.


Hitting the Road: Meeting Our Consumers On Their Turf

Our discovery mission started last fall as we traveled to 15 states to meet with several hunters. We would fly to our destination and rent a huge truck, all pile in, and just drive. Traveling state-to-state, we took part in several road trip shenanigans, sometimes with two vehicles and Snapchat conversations bouncing between them. We stayed in “off the beaten path” lodging, ate in some unique and colorful restaurants, and visited many homes and hunting locations. When we arrived in one Missouri home, we had venison waiting for us on the table. At the meal’s conclusion, the hunter promptly pulled the head of the animal out of the freezer in order to introduce us to our dinner.

This past summer took us to Texas and three Midwestern states, visiting several farms and ranches, from small, mom-and-pop farms to large industrial agricultural operations. While there, we watched farmers’ and ranchers’ lives unfold, sometimes hauling hay, feeding livestock, fixing fences, and even pausing one interview to chase down a cow that had escaped. We got to see, feel and touch the farming lifestyle before even talking about the product.

One thing that stuck with us was the farming way of life. It’s not just a stressful, big job; it’s a family affair, a community, and a life led with a deep connection to animals and the land. Farmers are constantly adapting, changing and using new technology. They told us that side-by-sides (or UTVs) are handy and simple, but they could be improved to better meet their needs.

Experience = Empathy

After many states, treacherous weather, plans cancelled, and roads closed, we persevered. Though we had a basic plan, we also had to be flexible 100 percent of the time with both the logistics and respondents. I personally discovered that I had a lot more grit than I expected; these were challenging circumstances, but we were learning so much that we didn’t have time to let it get us down.

Our videographer Mark joining in on the fun – but from a better vantage point.


We trudged through the muck with our clients, literally and figuratively. We were not afraid to get dirty, and I think that’s one quality that makes SIVO unique. Taking our clients on this adventure was incredible, and part of why we were successful is because they were all in. They set assumptions aside, absorbed all the nuances of the experiences and used all of their senses to learn as much as they could about their customers.

Clinton, a rancher in Texas, taking me on a tour of his pecan grove.


It’s obvious that this was no ordinary insights project. What’s really cool is how the insights were so meaningful and transformative for our clients—it became part of their DNA. Nearly one year later, they recall riding with a hunter and nearly falling off the side of a mountain in a vehicle that was not suited for the terrain. That experience was terrifying—and enlightening. It gave them empathy, and the power to look their engineers in the eye and say, “This won’t work. I have been on that mountain. The vehicle needs to match the terrain.” In fact, one client told me this research experience was the “highlight of my career.” The time we spent together, allowing our customers to lead us in the exploration and share their experiences with us, was powerful and lasting.

Transforming Insights Into Business Solutions

Written by:  Cindy Blackstock, Managing Partner

At the recent Corporate Researchers Conference I attended in Orlando, this one, simple and elegant idea resonated most with me:  An insight is meaningless if there is no action prompted by it.  This approach to consumer insights is a point of pride here at SIVO.  Yes, our core competency is to discover, distill and synthesize human insights, but we don’t stop there.  Our mission is to help guide our clients in how to best apply those insights to meet their business objectives.

We’ve developed a three-step process that drives us from insight to action.  First, we collect consumer input: the “What.”  Next, when we translate that data into meaningful insights; those ideas are the “So What.”  And the third, most critical piece is the action, or something we define as the “Now What.”

The “Now What” is highly energizing for everyone on the learning journey – both the SIVO team and the client team  – because it takes insights to the next level; it is tangible proof that the insights we uncover add intrinsic value to our clients.  They may solve a problem.  Or they uncover white space for growth.  Or perhaps they can make the team smarter, more empathetic, and more effective consumer-first marketers.

Here are three recent SIVO examples of the “Now What” that have impacted our clients’ businesses:

  1. Short-term business problem

SIVO partnered with a major grocery retailer to fix a rapid sales decline in key markets.  Quantitative data alone wasn’t helping the team better understand specific shopper pain points.  We overlaid qualitative, contextual inquiry methods to get at the insights behind shopper behaviors.

SIVO Now What:  Our team facilitated a post-fielding activation session guiding the clients to use the insights to pinpoint issues and create specific, realistic, tactical solutions, region by region.  Regional teams were energized, felt listened to and had practical solutions to implement immediately.

  1. Maintaining consumer and marketplace relevance

A national department store retailer tapped SIVO to discover and use insights to build out an entirely new department.  The retailer had a loyal audience whose needs weren’t being met for a particular clothing category.

SIVO Now What:  We partnered with client’s cross-functional teams, including Customer Insights, R+D, Purchasing, Marketing and Product Designers, to map out the consumer need states and identify must-haves to make the total consumer experience a unique and successful one.

  1. Global communication strategy

To augment U.S. learning for an international CPG company, we conducted foundational and shopper insights in key growth markets in Europe and Australia.

SIVO Now What:  We developed a shopper journey map for the client’s internal organization, so they could better empathize with the customer’s true experience.  Our map highlighted pain points and uncovered moments of opportunity to influence behavior. This work helped to align the international team around core insights to influence a global brand communications strategy.

I am so proud of these examples and the fantastic work our talented team does in this space.  Like any good business, we never stray from our roots and we always start with a deep understanding of the consumer.  When we identify the “So What” and use that to impact the “Now What,” our partnership with clients and the work we do together has a bigger purpose. We provide meaning and value to the relationships that customers have with our clients’ brands…our true north of insight leading to action.



At SIVO Insights, we are passionate about what we do and eager to put our collective skills to work for you.

To get the right solutions for your research needs, give us a call or send us an email. Or, just fill out the form on your right and we’ll get back to you shortly.

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Plymouth, MN 55447
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