- Quantitative research about consumers’ buying habits, brands they like and purchase, their lifestyles, where they get their beauty information, what media influences them and what kind of marketing language resonates with them facilitates a brand’s ability to effectively reach its target consumers.
- Qualitative research that shows what consumers think about when using a product, how it compares to other similar products, what colors or styles they feel are hot right now, and how they react to marketing and branding campaigns also are incredibly important to build an accurate and deep understanding of a brand’s target consumers.
When Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson was published in the late 1990s, the book was considered groundbreaking for its simple, yet powerful message. It is a parable in which four beings (two mice and two tiny humans) live in a maze and are suddenly faced with change: someone moved their cheese—cheese that they had built their lives and belief systems around, cheese that they relied upon to survive. The crux of the story is that we need to be alert to changes in the cheese and be prepared to find new sources of cheese when ours runs out.
In the beauty industry, our cheese is the consumer—specifically, the beauty purchase decision-maker. But do we really know her? Do we know if her motivators and desires are changing? How can we anticipate a change in her buying behavior? Especially if she’s loyal to us now, shows no sign of leaving us and we’re at the top of our game.
These questions bring to mind the tale of a beauty brand that had everything going for it. They were a leading cosmetics brand that everyone knew. There was mad love for the brand from its consumers. The brand offered dependable and traditional products, and consumers continued to reward the brand with market leadership. The brand was the king of the hill, and all was well.
But one day, the brand discovered its market share was dropping. There appeared to be a hot new brand charging up the hill luring its core customers away and encroaching on its bottom line. While the brand was still the market leader, they found themselves in a new and precarious situation. They quickly needed to know exactly why their consumers were leaving and what they could do about it—and before it was too late.
The Power of Knowing
To understand what was driving customers away, the brand embarked on both quantitative and qualitative consumer research.
On the quantitative side, the brand managers wanted to digest data about its consumers—her buying habits, the other brands she purchases, the lifestyle she leads, where she gets her beauty information, which media influences her most, what marketing language resonates with her, etc.
The brand also conducted focus groups to observe consumers applying the product, feeling its texture, testing how it worked with her other beauty products, and talking about it with others. They saw what colors and styles the participants gravitated toward and which ones were left untouched. The focus groups also provided immediate feedback when viewing the brand’s marketing messages on storyboards for future commercials, for color schemes on potential new logos and on proposed packaging changes.
The results of both quantitative and qualitative studies were astonishing. As it turned out, there was quite a lot the brand didn’t know about its consumer.
Change Is Good
The brand learned its place in its consumers’ hearts was one of routine. When a consumer bought one of the brand’s products, she did so out of habit. The product worked well enough for her, and if she was in a store and couldn’t find anything else that was interesting enough to entice her, she’d buy it. But there was simply no sense of excitement about the brand.
The brand also learned its largest group of consumers was now more than 50 years old, which was a far cry from the 20–40 year-old demographic it had thought it captured. The brand owners and managers learned those 20–40 year-olds now claim allegiance to a new and exciting brand, and that they buy the competitor’s products twice as often as women more than 50.
The brand also learned its messages didn’t resonate with younger women, but more importantly, it learned which words, phrases, images, and packaging materials and constructions did resonate with this age group in order to successfully change the way the brand spoke to them. The brand learned how their target consumers like to receive beauty information, where they shop, what they’re willing to pay for a product they deem essential, and what’s going to motivate them to continue to buy the product.
The brand knew it had a lot of work ahead of it to make the necessary changes, but the payoff would be great. So it set about what needed to be done.
For beauty brands looking to remain relevant and important to consumers against a flood of constant innovation and newness, the desires, wants and needs of target consumers must be continually evaluated while also scanning the horizon for the next new direction.
Understanding the target consumer truly and deeply is critical to long-term brand viability because attitudes and motivators change with time. While there’s no single way for a beauty brand to deal with change, pretending change won’t happen or going about business without understanding the consumer always leads to the same result: the cheese runs out.
Denise Herich is co-founder and managing partner at The Benchmarking Company, a bi-coastal consumer research firm borne from Alisa Marie Beyer’s The Beauty Company. The Benchmarking Company provides marketing and strategy professionals in the beauty and personal care industries with forward-thinking, need-to-know information about its customers and prospects through consumer research studies and beauty product testing.