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5 Key Takeaways from NEMRA's Fall Conference

Posted by Alyse Dunn and Hilary O'Haire on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

brand identity, storytellingSince we recently attended the New England Market Research Association’s (NEMRA) Fall Conference, “Advancing Market Research: Challenging the Norm,” we wanted to share our five key takeaways:1. Don’t forget the importance of non-conscious decision-making. 70% of the decisions we make are non-conscious, meaning our brains automatically activate associations outside of our awareness and control. This is often described as "System 1" thinking (coined by Daniel Kahneman), which are our fast, emotional, and more instinctive thoughts. Non-conscious decision-making is often used. . .

  • When making low-involvement or low risk decisions 
  • In quick evaluations
  • In impulse purchases
  • To efficiently include or exclude brands from our consideration set

We need to be looking for opportunities to use methodology inclusive of the non-conscious. It is particularly important to understand its impact on brand evaluations, given that. . .

2. Brands are non-conscious creators of reality. We must strive to understand a brand’s stereotype. There are many similarities between the construction of stereotypes and how we use or think of brands. Both stereotype and brand associations are largely mental representations that are socially communicated through media and culture and encountered passively over time. They are automatically activated by ‘System 1’ thinking and mediated by conscious thoughts or endorsed beliefs. In order to understand a consumer experience, we must aim to understand the brand’s stereotype. We choose to engage with brands in the same ways we choose to engage with anything else. We gravitate towards people, places, and brands that relate to some aspect of ourselves, and this association is most often done unconsciously. For example, we both do not painstakingly think about which brand of detergent to use—we always reach for All. Even at a more granular level, All has about 10 types of detergent options—Fresh Rain, Oxi Booster, Regular, Baby, and so forthand if we seriously took the time to narrow down brands and options rather than using a heuristic to help make the decision, we’d never have clean clothes again. 

3. The power of brand identity. The relationship between brand identity and the way we interact with brand stereotypes can have powerful consequences on behavior, mainly because, as Charles Swann said during his talk, “the ability for a brand to impact our identity is the biggest factor in a brand’s social presence.” We use brands to define who we are and who we want to be perceived as. For example, just think about the clothing you wear and the car you own. Many of the choices we make are influenced by how we interact with the brands around us—the brands that drive their own identity and stereotypes for better or for worse. This all comes down to one key theme—social identity—and the ability for a brand to help drive who we are. The age old saying “consumers own the brand” is truer now than it has ever been. Additionally, there is now a collaborative relationship between the brand and consumer—consumers define what a brand should be and brands become the stereotype that later defines consumers’ identity.

4. Storytelling. Brands are a large part of consumer identity, and, as such, there has always been a deep need to bring insights—research and otherwise—to life and to develop a face of the consumer. At this conference, a researcher from a national company pointed out that because consumers are dynamic, the need for powerful storytelling in research and branding is pivotal for understanding how these consumers behave and move through the purchase funnel. What drives these consumers? What makes the most loyal customers so loyal? Why do we lose customers? Deep insights into consumer behavior can be derived from both quantitative and qualitative research—it’s a matter of presenting the story in a way that humanizes consumers and personifies who a brand is trying to reach. 

5. So what? Throughout the NEMRA conference, there was a plethora of information on non-conscious decision making, brand identity, and socialization of research. The theme that ended every presentation was “So what?” That’s the infamous line we’ve all heard 100 times from various professors, colleagues, and our own minds. So what? It all came down to making any research we do actionable so that brands can adapt to a changing consumer environment. As researchers, we need to think about the behaviors and experiences consumers have and allow those insights to inform the questions we ask and the hypotheses we develop. Doing this will not only lead to more effective branding, advertising, and marketing but to happy consumers as well.

Alyse is a Senior Associate Researcher on the FIH/RTE practice. She is fascinated by Behavioral Economics, Psychology, and what makes people tick.

Hilary is a Project Manager at CMB. Her New Year’s resolutions include how to activate “System 1” thinking about hitting the gym in 2015.     

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Topics: storytelling, conference recap, brand health and positioning