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Build Customer Intuition and Empathy to Expand Your Brand

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Feb 18, 2020

Customize, personalize, localize, humanize – these are the elements of a customer-centric program that is designed to expand brand reach, and to cement relationships with existing users. A deep commitment to customer-centricity at every level of the organization is the key to customer engagement and brand expansion.

Your goal should be to go beyond mere understanding of your customer, and to instead build your company’s empathy for and intuition about your customer. When marketers and senior executives have built their intuition of their customers, product development, and messaging are more successful. We need only look at the Peloton disaster to be reminded that failed intuition for your customer can lead to public embarrassment, or shaming. Conversely, think of the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial years ago (9!). Still relevant today. They totally get their family consumer.

Pelaton Commercial

Volkswagen Darth Vader Commercial

How do you build empathy, and ultimately intuition about your customers? In Qualitative research we apply new methods, and tell vivid stories:

  • Leverage technology that meets consumers where they are. For example, Gen Z are digital natives, so we advise methods that utilize apps and employ mobile-first for capturing their in-the-moment reactions
  • Agile techniques embed your customer in every stage of development, allowing for continuous refinement of your concept or prototype
  • By building compelling narratives, critical insights will resonate throughout your organization, and become everyone’s stories about your customer
  • Cement those stories by socializing them throughout your organization in vivid, creative ways such as live panels or immersion spaces

Without discarding traditional qualitative methods, we’re constantly seeking, and trying new tools. One incredibly effective example of this is the use of agile pop-up communities. We’ve worked with groups of consumers over 6, 8 and 12 weeks to react to, brainstorm and iterate on ideas, bringing them from good to great, and from brand-centric to customer-centric. Through this approach, we’ve seen tremendous success using pop-ups for loyalty ideation, understanding insurance decision making, choosing a senior community for your loved one, communicating with Gen Z about financial topics, and more.

If you’re wondering how to make this happen, join the club! This is an exciting time in qualitative research to challenge ourselves, experiment, and innovate. Try social media to recruit participants. Social media can engender strong connections quickly, and shorten the time needed for finding great participants. For UX/CX testing, consider eye tracking. We’re using this method to share and talk to consumers about their own behavior. Using another agile method, especially for concept development, we have evolved traditional focus groups into iterative focus groups. Rather than rinse and repeat across multiple groups and cities, we begin with initial concepts, and optimize them with target customers over an intensive 2 days.

We’re also extending these iterative and agile methods to socialization workshops that spread the word in lively, engaging ways, and activation sessions that bring diverse teams together in a creative space to collaborate on tangible ways of implementing action steps.

Brand relevance and expansion don’t come easily. The good news is that we’re living in a time with an abundance of creative ways to connect, to engage and build empathy and intuition, thereby achieving meaningful relationships with your target customers.

What are ways that you’ve been able to build empathy and customer intuition to expand your brand? Have you tried any of the methods above? Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment below!


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun leads CMB’s Qualitative + Innovation practices.

Favorite vacation: Cambodia / Favorite class: Philosophy / Free time: Triathlete and Volunteers for the homeless of Boston

Follow CMB on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: qualitative research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx

Social Detox, Financial Retox

Posted by Lori Vellucci

Wed, Feb 12, 2020

Sure, we all love the feels we get staying connected to family and friends, but if you want to feel really good in 2020, log off social media and invest with a financial services firm!

Hold the skepticism and allow me to give a little background. As part of our self-funded Consumer Pulse program, we asked over 20,000 people to evaluate 80 financial services, tech, and media brands on the four key psychological benefits that help people fulfill core motivations: Emotional, Identity, Social, and Functional. Each benefit plays an important role in driving brand consideration, trial, loyalty, and advocacy. Using our proprietary BrandFxSM solution, we can give our clients a complete picture of their brand’s performance versus competitors, the interrelationships between the benefits, and the best path to capturing their target audiences. 

So back to those financial services brands. Of course, we expected to see differences between brands within each industry. I was intrigued by an insight that emerged when comparing across industries. Many social media platforms performed far worse on maximizing positive and minimizing negative emotional benefits than financial services brands who, let’s face it, have traditionally been content to focus on functional benefits (e.g. low fees). But investors, competition, and the market are changing, and more, financial service brands are realizing the complex consumer psychology behind brand engagement. Take a look at the powerful consumer-centric messaging from Prudential. It’s important to note that benefits have varying levels of relative importance within different industries, but emotions indeed matter to financial brand customers. They matter a lot!

Importance of Emotional Benefits Financial Services Blog Feb 2020

The truth is, the financial services industry, and investment firms in particular, have done quite a bit in recent years to personalize offerings and humanize their brands through advertising and target-specific messaging, whether they are primarily DIY focused or advisor reliant.  At the same time, social media has been plagued by bad PR and concerns over the negative impact on users.

Blog Feb 2020 Emotional Benefits Financial Services Industry Comparison

In addition to feeling good, consumers want to enhance their self-image, pride, and self-esteem through the brands they choose. Financial services firms perform better in delivering benefits related to overall identity - personal identity, tribal appeal, relatability--where social media brands perform relatively poorly. Lastly, financial services brands significantly outperform social media on delivering important functional benefits: goals, expectations, time, and money.    

If you want to build your brand, keep your customers loyal, and achieve greatness within your industry, you can’t rely on potentially outdated measures like NPS (what is that score really telling you anyway?). Instead, measure the elements that truly drive the behaviors that matter.  And in 2020, stop watching cat videos and log onto your investment firm’s website.  Check your investments, try some tools, make a few trades and then bask in those positive emotions, feelings of belonging, and sense of accomplishment. It’s going to be a good year.


Lori VellucciLori Vellucci, VP, Financial Services Practice Leader.

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Topics: financial services research, emotional measurement, BrandFx

We Had Our Beignets and Learned Something Too

Posted by Jen Golden

Fri, Jan 31, 2020

Key Takeaways from The Media Insights & Engagement Conference

The Media Insights & Engagement conference was held this week in New Orleans, and we heard some consistent themes that are impacting the media industry. Here are a few of the highlights: 

Storytelling is essential in delivering emotional resonance, and helping consumers identify with a brand, content or campaign:

  • There were many talks on the power of storytelling. The need for authenticity was loud and clear. Consumers desire something that resonates with them, even at the detriment of production quality.
  • In ESPN’s presentation—Harnessing the Power of Storytelling in Sportsrelatability was the number one driver of engagement with sports content. Audiences need to care about what they are watching, and strong character development can help the content be more relatable. The other top drivers including being substantive (where the audience learns something new), emotionally provocative, humorous, and conversational.
  • Building on the importance of humor, Disney Channel’s Lisa Dracolakis and our own Erica Carranza presented “LOL 101” about the importance of humor in kids’ content. Humor is the number one predictor of kids liking a show, and the more “types” of humor (like visual, verbal, gross, mean, awkward, ironic, inside jokes, etc.) you can layer into content the funnier, and more engaging the content will be.
  • Evoking nostalgia is also important for content, as Warner Bros. spoke about in their presentation on “The Paradox of Choice.” With all the choices consumers have for streaming content today, the more choices they have, the more likely they are to choose something very familiar to them. With today’s socio-political climate, consumers also want something comfortable that can allow them to escape from their reality. Nostalgia plays a role in this, as movie and TV studios continue to revive and reboot hits from the past to keep their fan base interested and engaged (like Star Wars or The Hills).
  • As A&E Networks spoke about in “The Great Divide” as the country becomes more divided, Tribe Identity is on the rise as consumer look to relate with others like them. Prudential and Urban One’s “Legacy Lives on campaign is a good example of influencing the Tribe Image of a brand in a positive way with their key demographic: African American millennial women.

Disruption is forcing the media industry to always be thinking 10+ steps ahead:

  • The media industry is changing at a rapid pace, with more content, streaming services and platforms than ever to choose from. Disruption in the space is the new norm, and media companies need to be constantly innovating to keep up with their consumers.
  • Gen Z is also watching and consuming content in different ways than ever before. Hub Entertainment Research spoke about how watching gaming is becoming the new “watching TV” for many of them; whether that is watching others play games, watching tutorials or watching live e-sports competitions. It is also how many Gen Z’ers communicate with each other – directly within gaming platforms. It provides them with social connection, as face to face interaction is no longer the predominant form of “hanging out with friends.”
  • A Futurist from Paramount Pictures spoke about the next frontier of AR/VR in gaming. It’s only a matter of time before the “screen” becomes one of us, as AR/VR technology continues to improve at a rapid pace and Tech giants continue to invest billions of dollars in the space to not be left behind. He encourages established companies to “think like a start-up” as the same old way of doing something won’t last forever. They need to anticipate what’s next.
  • As audiences shift towards greater video consumption and screen time, survey research needs to shift too, meeting these younger consumers where they are most comfortable. Many presentations included user generated content, with selfie-type responses directly from respondents. These not only provided rich insights but helped bring the voice of the consumer directly into the boardroom.

And while there were many discussions at the conference around a clear divide in the US today, Suzanne Persechino who gave the aforementioned A&E Networks presentation said it best: when all else fails, it’s moments like this in media that can unite everyone together…

laughing baby yoda


Jennifer GoldanJennifer Golden, Project Director.

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Topics: storytelling, emotional measurement, conference recap, Identity, Social Benefits, humor, Gen Z, nostalgia, AR/VR

It’s Not Just About Baby Yoda

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Tue, Jan 14, 2020

Emotion, Identity & the Benefits of Disney+

Welcome to 2020! If you’re like me, you did at least three things over the holiday—visited family, ate too much, and read about the “decade in review.” Most articles looking back at the 2010’s mentioned the massive evolution in how we consume entertainment and the onset of the streaming wars. Disney+ and Apple TV+ have launched; HBO Max and Peacock are on the way. Analysts predict there will be too many subscription services to survive. Which will be among the last ones standing?

Netflix famously focuses on the customer, not the competition. But, if they’re going to learn to live with a major competitor, I suggest they focus on Disney+. Primarily because of how well Disney’s bastion of brands delivers emotional and identity benefits, and how important those benefits are to driving engagement—even compared to the functional benefits (like convenience) that helped Netflix upend the industry.

What are these different kinds of benefits? I’m so glad you asked! Here’s a bit of background…

At CMB, we identified four psychological benefits that drive brand engagement:

  • EMOTIONAL BENEFITS (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced frustration)
  • IDENTITY BENEFITS (e.g., strong self-esteem; pride; a positive self-image)
  • SOCIAL BENEFITS (e.g., conversation; social connection; a sense of belonging)
  • FUNCTIONAL BENEFITS (e.g., ability to accomplish tasks or goals; saving time or money)

Each plays a role in BrandFx, our approach to helping clients attract and retain their target audiences.

As a psychologist, I love our framework because it captures what drives people in all things—not just in how they spend their time and money. Each type of benefit fulfills a core human motivation. People strive to maximize good feelings and minimize bad ones (emotional benefits), enhance their self-image and self-esteem (identity benefits), connect and build relationships (social benefits), and efficiently achieve their goals (functional benefits).

In a recent study with over 20,000 consumers, we found that these benefits are important for brands across diverse industries. But the relative importance of each benefit does differ by industry, sub-industry, and even by brand. In the media space:  

  • For umbrella brands (e.g., Disney, Universal, Warner Bros.), emotional and identity benefits dominate importance, followed by social. So, to drive engagement, these brands must inspire positive feelings, bolster positive self-perceptions, and facilitate social bonds.
  • For franchises and IPs (e.g., The Simpsons, Harry Potter, Stranger Things), the same three benefits are key. Emotional and social are most important, followed by identity.
  • For streaming brands (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), functional benefits are pretty important—so streaming brands should make things easy and affordable. But emotional and identity benefits still dominate.
StreamingWars_ImpDrivingBrandEng

And, while streaming brands score well on functional benefits, they lag Disney on emotion and identity. Among the many media brands we tested:

  • Disney brand Pixar wins on delivering emotional benefits to fans (by a large margin!)
  • …and Disney itself wins on identity.

Disney’s strength on identity benefits is linked to the strength of its brands, franchises and IPs—like Marvel, which also scores well with fans on identity. And, when people think of Disney, its IPs are top-of-mind. In analyzing over 10,000 responses to a free association question, we found that streaming brands call to mind generalities (e.g., “movies,” “shows,” “videos”), while the brands that line the top of the Disney+ homepage call to mind specifics—either specific characters, movies, shows or franchises (e.g., Mickey Mouse, Frozen, Iron Man, MCU, Yoda), or specific content elements (e.g., action, animation, space, superheroes, princesses).

StreamingWars_InitialReactions

This pattern holds even among streaming customers (e.g., Netflix or Hulu subscribers)—i.e., generalities are top-of-mind, not specifics. Arguably that’s good if the goal is to entertain the masses, but it limits the ability to enhance subscribers’ identities. For example, we found that pride in being a media brand’s fan is highly correlated with liking characters from its content.

I may be an outlier—and an ideal scenario—for a streaming brand like Netflix. When I think of Netflix, the first things that come to mind are Peaky Blinders, The Crown and Stranger Things. These are shows I’m proud to watch (identity benefit!), and all three are Netflix originals. Maybe I’m a sign of things to come. But there are yet more reasons to bet on staying power for Disney+, including:

  • Disney’s vast machinery devoted to helping fans experience emotional, identity and social benefits outside the platform. It handily beat other brands we tested on the many ways in which fans interact with its content (e.g., via consumer products, theatrical releases, theme parks and more).
  • Its strength with kids and families. Our study focused on adults, but it’s safe to assume Disney brands would perform well with kids. And today’s Descendants fans are tomorrow’s subscribers.

JediLikeMyFatherUnless-CroppedOn a related note, nostalgia is an emotional benefit that pulls double-duty for media IPs. Kids who are fans grow-up to be parents who bring their own kids into the fold. (This image captures my household dynamic pretty well...)

Then there are the strong social benefits that come with family co-viewing and bonding over shared interests.

Yes, Disney+ will have to succeed in delivering the functional benefits expected in the streaming space—like convenience and value for the money. So pricing Disney+ competitively was a smart move.

But, again, success in media isn’t about functional benefits. Not even for streaming brands. It’s about content that engages; that evokes strong feelings; that resonates, inspires and empowers; that sparks conversations and connects us with larger communities… In a way, the word “entertainment” trivializes the intense emotional, identity and social benefits we get from the content we love. (Why else would so many people be arguing online about Star Wars? They can’t all be Russian bots!)

I’m a sample of one, but my experience fits these findings. I got Disney+ the day it launched. They made the sign-up process easy. So far, so good with the functional benefits. But what really impressed me were the rows of recognizable, quality content I saw when I first logged in. I literally gasped. And I mean literally literally. Not literally in the way Millennials mean literally (i.e., not literally).

Compare that with my experience on other platforms. I tab through rows of shows and movies I’ve heard nothing about, rejecting lots of options before finding something of interest.

This suggests one more way in which Disney+ enters with an advantage: Its well-known franchises create a high ratio of familiar (vs. unfamiliar) content. This matters because…

  • People like the familiar! The comfort of the familiar feels good—it’s an emotional benefit in and of itself. The tendency to prefer things just because we know them even has a name in psychology: the “mere exposure effect.”
  • The glut of peak TV has created “too much choice” for viewers which, paradoxically, generates negative emotions. In this context, the reputable content on Disney+ makes it feel like a cultivated selection. Like Trader Joe’s vs. a grocery store.

To be clear, I’m not counting other subscription services out by any stretch. But they’ll want to carefully evaluate potential strategies for attracting and retaining customers in light of this shift in the competitive landscape (i.e., the giant mouse in the room). For example, by identifying:

  • Which of their original series inspire the strongest emotional and identity benefits for the broadest populations of viewers
  • Ways to market these series—both on and off their platforms—to harness the emotional perks of familiarity
  • Opportunities to help fans of these series express themselves and connect with each other (e.g., via licensed products), which boosts emotional, identity and social benefits

Meanwhile, Disney+ will need to keep delivering fresh content without saturating fans’ appetites. (Our analysis found that boredom is a death knell for media IPs.) But any brand that can showcase so much celebrated content is in a great position to survive—and even thrive—in the streaming wars.


Erica CarranzaErica is CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Follow Chadwick Martin Bailey on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: digital media and entertainment research, BrandFx

2020: Sharpening Our Vision

Posted by Jim Garrity

Thu, Jan 02, 2020

CMB's 2019 Year in Review

2019 YIR

At CMB, we’re in the business of looking ahead—understanding consumer behavior and helping leading brands translate those insights into impact. As we enter a new year and a new decade, it’s only natural to reflect on the past, and to evaluate how we can use that knowledge to deliver more value to our client partners.

We’re proud to say that we had another strong year. We’ve successfully executed hundreds of engagements with some of world’s leading brands, representing industries from Tech & Telecom and Financial Services to Digital Media & Entertainment. We spread our insights to thousands at major conferences like TMRE and CRC, covering topics from the future of autonomous vehicles, and understanding financial wellness, to the art and science of getting a laugh.

This success was fueled by significant, tactical and strategic updates at CMB. We welcomed new digs at our new location, onboarded 30 new super-smart, talented individuals to our team, and promoted dozens of others, who have each made valuable contributions and impact on the quality of service we provide to our clients. We’re also thrilled that our work and culture has been recognized by organizations like GreenBook as a 2019 Market Leader, and by MarketResearchCareers’ 2019 Best Employees list.

Beyond the data, we continue to raise the bar for information security—maintaining our ISO 27001 certification and implementing leading edge security training for our team. As we embark on our 2020 journey, we’re committed to sharpening our vision, and building on our success.

2019 + 2020 = Foresight

The world is speeding up for consumers, brands, and the strategic insights partners who serve them. Those who merely react, will fall short in delivering value. At CMB, we believe success lies in harnessing both human and AI-enabled intelligence to create collaborative insights that deliver richer, truer stories that lead to business impact.

Data + Advanced Analytics = Insights

AI and automation are changing every industry. We’re leveraging several of these tools already to deliver the consultative value-add our clients seek – and we’re continuously evaluating others, so we’ll be adding many more in the months and years ahead. AI and automation present us with incredible opportunities to accelerate the path from data to insights. And we are excited about the near-term possibilities.

Data + Advanced Analytics + Storytelling + Expertise = Consultative Value-Add

We’ll continue to define the future of insights by investing in the visual and narrative storytelling capabilities, and talent that transform data into engagement, action, and enlightenment.  In a world of continual disruption and change, our commitment is not to maintain the status quo—it is to deliver the greatest value and keep the needs of our clients omnipresent.

In closing, I am excited about what we’ve already accomplished - but am even more excited about what we will achieve together going forward.


Jim GarrityJim Garrity, CEO of CMB, has over three decades of strategic, client-centered, market strategy leadership.

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Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey