Getting closer to consumers…it’s a phrase we as Consultants probably hear and/or use at least several times each week as well as a goal we constantly find ourselves striving to achieve.  As familiar as I am with the term and the thinking behind it, I have to admit that I’ve been considering it on a deeper level since attending The Market Research Technology Event (TMRTE) in Las Vegas earlier this month.  Here are a few key takeaways in particular that I’ve been weighing:

Consumer Connection Social Media

What it means to get closer to consumers has changed and will continue to change as technology continues to evolve.

Not too many years ago, getting closer to consumers required physical closeness through approaches like in-home interviews and in-person shopalongs.  While these methodologies are still highly valuable and, in some instances, the most appropriate ones to use, they are no longer our only options.  Today, approaches such as mobile ethnographies and mobile or online video journaling offer the unique balance of being with consumers and sharing in their experiences without intruding into their space or their day-to-day lives.  (For a deeper look into non-invasive consumer immersion tactics, explore some of IIM’s technology-based research offerings).

Just how close we can get to consumers has also changed.  

Consumers seem more willing now than in the past to let curious companies and consultants into their lives, and offer us more opportunity than ever before to learn from them first-hand.  Particularly within the Gen Y population, it’s not unusual for consumers to actually seek out opportunities to connect with the brands and companies that matter to them and that they consider trustworthy (as an example, just think about all the organizations you and your friends have “liked” on Facebook over the past couple of years!).  Furthermore, collaboration between brands/companies and consumers has increased as social media and other online sources have opened up not only ways for client teams to tap into consumer feedback, but also increased the opportunity for two-way communication with consumers.  Through this improved line of communication and more defined approaches such as crowdsourcing (leveraging community collaboration to develop ideas or complete tasks), we find ourselves able to learn with consumers rather than only learning from consumers.  While this is exciting for us as the learners, it’s also new and exciting for consumers, who now find themselves in the position of collaborating with their favorite brands.  With this new level of access, consumers can feel like part of the brand team, working to develop and improve the products they use regularly.

What we can accomplish through closeness with consumers has changed.

When the walls between companies and consumers start to come down – or, at a minimum, become more transparent — through such collaborative opportunities, the rewards are significant for all involved.  Shifting from simply asking consumers questions and getting responses to actually slipping into consumers’ lives and spending time with them, whether virtually or in-person, means that we get truer and more accurate learnings and insights.  Furthermore, consumer findings tend to be more well-rounded and extend beyond the immediate project objectives at hand.  Consumers, meanwhile, often get to know their trusted brands and the companies behind them on a deeper level, feel involved in the development or refinement of new ideas, and can gain a greater appreciation for just how much their feedback matters.

While getting closer to consumers isn’t a new goal for us in the industry, there are certainly new ways and greater degrees of achieving it — and higher rewards to be gained by doing so.