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The Power of Disruption: Uber's COVID-19 Story

Posted by Tara Lasker

Wed, Aug 05, 2020

Uber COVID19 Blog Opener Aug2020

I couldn’t have imagined that four years after I blogged about Uber’s evolving brand promise, we’d be debating the safety of a trip to the grocery store. The disruption wrought by COVID-19 has only accelerated that by advancing technology, socio-economic change, and evolving consumer needs. So how will Uber and other disruptive tech-driven brands face the challenge of how it best fits in consumers lives today? With so much in flux, we do know this: a deep understanding of consumer motivations is critical to successfully innovating amid disruption.

At CMB, we use our proprietary BrandFxSM framework to help brands uncover threats and opportunities brought about by disruption. We know that when brands help people fulfill people’s core needs by delivering on Functional, Social, Emotional, and Identity they drive trial, use, and advocacy—this is true whether or not their lives are upended by a pandemic!

For example, we know that a failure to help passengers feel safe and secure was a barrier for the ride sharing industry early on and was subsequently addressed after both Uber and Lyft took action (e.g., evolved rating system, license plate confirmation). Today’s safety concerns look a lot different than 4 years ago—the fear of a fellow passenger’s aerosols may be more top-of-mind than the fear of an ill-intentioned driver. Keeping a pulse on consumers evolving needs during this extraordinary time will help Uber deliver what consumers need to consider or continue ride sharing. Uber should ask themselves:

  • Are people using ride sharing differently now? (e.g., getting to work where public transportation feels unsafe)
  • What can Uber do to provide customers a sense of safety in these uncertain times?
  • How do safety concerns rank against other drivers like stability and anxiety right now?
  • What will it take for consumers to consider ride sharing again?
  • What emotions (e.g. anxiety) play a larger role in today’s consumer behaviors than more rational considerations of 4 years ago (e.g., convenience)?

Having the right tools in place to successfully deliver those benefits are also crucial. Contact-free tech such as autonomous vehicles have resurfaced as a major opportunity. As we’ve reported in our research, fear has been a majority barrier to adoption, but in a world where health anxiety is at an all-time high, we expect to see chasms crossed in record time (think about how much time you spent on Zoom before March)!

Additionally, pivoting areas of focus with acquisitions and partners is a winning strategy for innovative brands. Partnerships allow companies to tap into centers of excellence and provide faster routes to market and/or greater market share. Uber’s purchase of Postmates is a good example of how the brand is investing in partnerships that reflect changing needs. In another change since 2016, if you go to Uber.com, Uber Eats has a prominent space on the home page. Understanding the broader context of Uber’s core mission – setting the world in motion - we understand how this pivot allows Uber to leverage its core competencies with the desired benefits the marketplace seeks (a night of not cooking when date night means staying in).

Disruption and uncertainty aren’t going away but neither are the core drivers of consumer decision-making. Brands that don’t merely survive but thrive amid this disruption will be the ones that use a deep understanding of what truly drives people and combines it with agility and the will to innovate and develop meaningful partnerships.

Contact us to learn more about our cutting-edge research into consumer motivation.

CONTACT US


Tara LaskerTara Lasker is a Senior Research Director at CMB, and former frequent Uber customer who misses having engaging conversations with her Uber driver.

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

Topics: technology research, strategy consulting, technology solutions, consumer insights, marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty, growth and innovation, Market research, BrandFx, consumer psychology, technology, engagement strategy, COVID-19, consumer sentiment

Expanding Possibilities in Path to Purchase Research

Posted by Marty Murk

Thu, Jun 25, 2020

Marty Expand P2P Blog Opener (1)

With most of the country moving through stages of “reopening,” consumers’ path to purchase has been disrupted. New habits and behaviors are forming on the fly. It feels like now, and in the coming months, reassessing the “new path to purchase” will emerge as a priority for brands big and small.

Path to purchase/consumer journey research is about exploring what moves people towards the business outcome: a purchase. The framework is relatively similar across industries, categories, and products, and typically includes a heavy focus on the actions a consumer takes towards their final purchase. The words may differ however the research typically covers:

  • Trigger: A need or want emerges moving you to a more active state in the category
  • Discovery: Initial stages of research and learning performed
  • Evaluation: Options narrowed and evaluated in more depth
  • Purchase: A decision is made, and a product is purchased

At CMB, this approach is one of the subtle differences between thinking about path to purchase versus consumer journey research. The journey being broader, more inclusive and including pre-category engagement and later stage customer experiences. Prior to COVID-19, CMB ran self-funded consumer journey research on the gaming industry.  We designed the study to be broad and inclusive of “consumer journey” stages AND in a few other ways worthy of consideration in future consumer journey research.

We went BROAD, expanding categories beyond what would typically be included.  And we think you should too. Think industry not category. In gaming, a typical approach would look at a tightly defined category within the gaming industry, the “Games” category, for instance, might define the category into gaming genres (e.g., Role-Playing-Games, First-Person-Shooters, Sporting Games). While this category approach generally yields fantastic insights - one thing that has always stuck with me is how VERY FEW differences often exist between narrowly defined categories (e.g., RPGs paths aren’t all that different form FSP paths).

Cast a wide net—in our case covering Games, Consoles, Peripherals, Cloud Gaming, AR/VR Devices, and Gaming PC/Hardware—and the differences will JUMP off the page. Take the duration of the journey for instance, the time from Trigger to Purchase:

Gaming CJ Timeline Micrographic (2)

With broad context, it becomes obvious how quickly decisions are made in the Games category (Fast, System-1 Thinking). With an easy implication on the priority of the Evaluation and Purchase moments of the path, we discover that AR/VR Devices is a much harder, slower path (Slow, System-2 Thinking) requiring heavy touches in the Research moments of the path (e.g., Discovery, Consideration). Marketing tactics need to follow suit.

As an Insights professional, the context helps with interpretation. It also sets the research up to serve broader business objectives, rather than driving an action for a solo category. In a past life, I worked in athletic industry and led some similar work on athletic footwear. After a while, we thought it would have served the business well to think more broadly and capture athletic apparel, equipment, and accessories in the same initiative.

We were INCLUSIVE, expanding to include incomplete paths. We looked at products “considered but the purchase was not completed.” Doing so allowed us to model touchpoints that drive purchases. It also allowed insights to include the idea of friction and barriers hindering the path forward. For instance, in the AR/VR category, the consumer journey creates a lot of friction with consumers. Forgive the corny gaming analogy here, but the AR/VR category is making consumers slog through an “Oregon Trail” journey, and they’re dying of exhaustion (or dysentery, or measles or fever).

CJ Friction Micrographic

Expanding in these areas doesn’t have to mean a lack of “depth” either. It may mean you need more sample/participants to support the analysis, however the right questionnaire design can still grab the granular details needed to support key business decisions. In this study, there’s a clear consumer need for those interested in AR/VR to experience the product(s) more easily. In Cloud Gaming, consumers are asking for more trustworthy reviews that are less self-serving. By comparing these two categories, key business decision makers are provided context to their data, which helps in better defining where the needs are, and what you can learn from.

P2P Gaming Challenges Categories Micrographic

So, if you’re exploring path to purchase / consumer journey work, it’s worth a pause to ask yourself, “should I expand my world?” This experience shows that there may be more categories of the business that could be included that would lead to easier interpretation and would set the research up to serve the broader business. It also open opportunities to gain more clear actionable insights by including both completed and incomplete paths. These two ideas are great additions to traditional path to purchase work.

Please reach out if you’re interested in learning more about path to purchase/consumer journey work or seeing more of the great work with did in the gaming industry.


Marty MurkMarty Murk, Account Director, is an avid runner, and our resident path to purchase guru.

Follow CMB on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates. Also, read "Fast-Moving, Slow-Thinking: How Friction, Challenges, and Barriers Derail Customer Journeys" to understand the consumer psychology behind decision-making.

Don't forget to immerse yourself in our latest gaming research: A Gamer's Journey | The Virtual Reality Edition. And stayed tuned for more of our findings--VR and beyond.

Explore A Gamer's Journey
Sample provided by Dynata

Topics: strategy consulting, methodology, path to purchase, consumer insights, marketing strategy, Market research, Gaming, consumer journey

Osmosis: What Happens BEFORE "The Path to Purchase?"

Posted by Marty Murk

Wed, May 20, 2020

Osmosis Blog Opener (1)

When I go hiking, when does my “hike” really start? Is it when my shoes hit the dirt path? When I pull out of my driveway? When I park at the trail head? Or...if we go really “deep” maybe it was when I was six, learning to play baseball, and ultimately built an affinity for exercise.

It can be similarly hard to understand when a buyer’s path to purchase truly begins. In a research-heavy category, like TVs for instance, it’s obvious that you need to measure, dig into, and understand the experiences along a consumer’s journey (the Trigger, Discovery, Evaluation, and Purchase phases)

What about a category like fashion?  In some categories... there are a LOT of ideas taking shape prior to that “foot hitting the dirt path.” In fashion, people absorb what’s on/off trend (colors, styles, shapes) well before they start looking for a new pair of pants. At CMB, this approach is one of the subtle differences between thinking about this as a path to purchase versus a consumer journey. The journey being broader and including pre-category engagement and later stage customer experiences.

Customer Journey Approach

At CMB, we think of this early stage as “Osmosis” (the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.). In the context of consumer journey, it’s the part of a person’s journey, that includes the way they engage with a category prior to a conscious need emerging

Recently, CMB self-funded an online study on the consumer journey exploring the gaming industry.  There’s no silver bullet in measuring the idea of Osmosis, however it’s very easy to miss, ignore or skip during the design phase of consumer journey work.  For this reason, we were extra careful about embedding measurement indicators about the consumer’s background and experience in the category. This study lent itself nicely, given the breadth of gaming categories covered. A few categories that intuitively would rely heavily on Osmosis in the decision process, and few that would rely heavily on the Discovery and Evaluation process.

Below is an example of drivers of the final decision, comparing six gaming categories. You see Peripherals, AR/VR, PC/Hardware relying on traditional Evaluation criteria:  reviews, promotions, etc. However, categories like Games and Consoles, are putting a lot of weight on pieces that have been gathered prior to actively being in the market: trust, and love for instance.

Four Factors Influencing Final Decision

Prior to starting path to purchase or consumer journey work, thinking through internal hypotheses and the notion of Osmosis is critical. Without it, insights risk over-emphasizing parts of the consumer journey, and missing other parts all together. Here are two tips to consider:

  1. When you think about qual, while you are connecting with the consumer—through one-on-one quality time, shopping along, or reliving a purchase—spend some healthy time digging into their background in the category (e.g., the affinity for exercise, the introduction to health and fitness). This knowledge can be invaluable to understanding the consumer broader journey. 
  2. Design any quant to probe on their history in the category, experience with product/competitors, etc. At CMB, we dig into psychological motivations by understanding  the Emotional, Social, Identity, and Functional Benefits to the consumer as well as perceptions of a brand.

In short: be conscious of what happens BEFORE you THINK “the Path” begins.


Marty MurkMarty Murk, Account Director, is an avid runner, and our resident path to purchase guru.

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

Don't forget to immerse yourself in our latest gaming research: A Gamer's Journey | The Virtual Reality Edition. And stayed tuned for more of our findings--VR and beyond.

Explore A Gamer's Journey

Sample provided by Dynata

Topics: strategy consulting, methodology, path to purchase, consumer insights, marketing strategy, Consumer Pulse, customer journey, engagement strategy, Gaming, consumer journey, osmosis

Leaning In & Leading Up

Posted by Amy Modini

Wed, May 06, 2020

So much has changed during this COVID-19 environment – the way we work, stay in touch with family and friends, educate our children, shop, and the list goes on. We’re in the midst of a major health crisis which is impacting all aspects of our economy. Times of uncertainty are difficult for consumers, so having strong leaders to navigate rocky waters is pivotal in putting people at ease.

As organizations consider how to navigate their present and future, we are seeing strong leaders emerge. There is an opportunity for those in insights roles to become invaluable to their organizations as decisions are being made on how to act and think strategically for consumers. Here are 5 ways to lean in and lead up for your organization during COVID-19:

  • Continue to understand the changing environment through your greatest asset: research. Brands that will come out on top are not putting research on hold. As an insights professional, be firm on your suggestions on how, when, and why to conduct research.
  • Be nimble and think ahead. Brands are measuring concerns, needs, wants, and gaps in this current environment, but at some point, they’ll shift that view to look at attitudinal and behavioral changes to navigate how these changes impact how they interact with customers. In fact, how well brands identify,  understand, and satisfy consumers’ emotional, identity, social, and functional needs during this time may determine consumers’ loyalty after the pandemic.
  • Measure consumer sentiment. It’s critical now given the deep emotional and psychological impact of this crisis. While many companies are doing research during this time, CMB has embarked on a sentiment study to track how consumer sentiment is shifting over time.
  • Invest in your customers. As consumers go through difficult times, we see many brands openly supporting customers with refunds on auto insurance, for example.  These brands are also looking at how the customer experience will change in the future and what they may need to do to accommodate those needs.
  • Be innovative in the “new world”. As brands look at the fundamental behavioral shifts that are happening now, they are anticipating what that may look like for a brand in the future. While brands are trying to stay relevant now, the forward-looking brands are considering how they will need to understand and react to behavior shifts with new products, services, or offerings to serve these needs. With so many changes and unknowns, why not take the risks that could have the highest impact and resonance? This is a great time to experiment and think outside the box.

Understanding consumers’ changing attitudes, needs, and behaviors is important during these times. Those brands with strong insights leaders will emerge from this health crisis into a ‘new world’ that is rich with guidance from its customers on how to best serve them.


Amy ModiniAmy Modini, VP Practice Leader, brings insightful leadership and dedicated expertise marrying qualitative and quantitative research to an array of industries including healthcare, insurance, and financial services.

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: strategy consulting, customer experience and loyalty, growth and innovation, Market research, consumer sentiment

Greatest Generation to Toilet Paper Generation?

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Wed, Apr 29, 2020

Some habits will stick with us post-pandemic

My Papap—my grandfather on my mom’s side—was a child of the Great Depression. He had just turned 13 in 1929. He was an extroverted, happy-go-lucky guy—always smiling. But, to his dying day, he saved everything. Even if it was broken. When he changed the oil in his car, he’d even save the old oil. He also remained price sensitive. When my parents bought something, his first question was always: “What’d that cost ya?”

TP Generation Grandpa and Erica Photo

He wasn’t alone. The Great Depression permanently altered habits and values for most of those who lived through it.

Likewise, we’re sure to undergo significant changes as a result of what we’re living through today. Already new norms are taking hold—most as a matter of current necessity. Which consumer behaviors will revert to their original state, and which will stick around even when the pandemic is behind us? It’s a critical question for brands seeking to weather this storm and position themselves to thrive in the “new normal.”

One way to approach this question is through the lens of the Fogg Behavior Model. Originally developed in the tech and innovation space, it’s applicable to a broad range of behaviors.

In Fogg’s model, behavior is a factor of motivation and ability: When motivation is high, people will perform a behavior even when ability is low—i.e., even when it’s difficult. The strength of the motivation needed to drive the behavior goes down as ability (i.e., ease of performing the behavior) goes up. So, when ability to perform a behavior is very high (i.e., when it’s very easy to do), people will do it without much motivation.

It’s a simple framework, whereas people are a complicated network of motives, emotions, values, thoughts and beliefs. And yet it can be powerful in its simplicity. Let’s take, for example, the ongoing run on toilet paper. At CMB, we look at four key motivations: emotional, identity, social and functional:

  • FUNCTIONAL: I hear other things work—like coffee filters—but I’m pretty sure TP works better
  • SOCIAL: TP is a hot topic of conversation, and clearly other people are stocking-up
  • IDENTITY: I’m a good mom, and good moms should never run out of TP
  • EMOTIONAL: Quite frankly, I’m afraid of running out—and highly activated negative emotions, like fear and panic, are particularly motivating (per a blog I wrote just before the virus hit the fan)

Taken together, my current motivation to buy TP is VERY HIGH. But my current ability to buy TP is VERY LOW. It’s sold out online, visiting stores is a risk, and it’s usually out of stock anyway. This situation—common to many of us right now—drives hoarding:

TP Generation Hoarding Chart

It’s little surprise that “where to buy toilet paper” is a top Google search, tips on which stores got new shipments fill-up Facebook threads, images featuring TP stockpiles are trending on Instagram, and the TP subscription service Who Gives a Crap had so many enrollees that they have a waitlist. (Their homepage says: “We’re completely wiped out!”)

So Fogg’s model helps explain what’s going on with toilet paper, but how can it help us predict what will happen post-COVID-19 for the many industries facing disruption? After all, ability is currently low for most “normal” consumer behaviors (e.g., they are very difficult, or seem very risky).  

  • If we want to know which behaviors will revert to their “old” state, we should be looking at where motivation to revert is high once ability resumes.
    • For example: What do we miss most? What’s most painful or difficult right now? What’s not working well? What can’t we wait to do #WhenAllThisIsOver?
    • For me, this includes eating out, proper hair care, home renovations, vacations that involve leaving our yard, and grocery shopping in-store. (The online grocery shopping experience has failed me on multiple levels!)
  • If we want to know when these behaviors will revert—and help them along—we need to know what drives perceived ability.
    • Until a vaccine is broadly available, what will it take for people to feel comfortable doing things like shopping, traveling, or eating out? For example: What news or breakthroughs regarding the virus? What social norms? What business policies, practices, innovations, reassurances or communications?
    • Truth be told, I’d be willing to pay more for a less crowded Disney experience. (Shorter lines for rides! Easier restaurant reservations!) But I’d have to feel 100% confident in their safeguards. Nobody wants a family vacation to end in tragedy.
  • And if we want to know what new behaviors will stick around after the pandemic, we should be looking at where motivation to revert to old behaviors is low and/or ability to enact new behaviors is high.
    • For example: What do we find ourselves appreciating? What’s working well? What new brands, products or services have we discovered? What’s becoming an easy way to accomplish goals—i.e., what new habits are taking hold?
    • In my own #QuarantineLife, I’ve learned to whip-up a good lentil soup so fast I can do it while simultaneously chatting on Zoom and helping my kids “distance learn.” It will certainly be something I continue post-pandemic.

In fact, the current situation has actually led many consumers to feel better about their lives. My colleague Lori Vellucci and Insights & Innovation Leader Mack Turner had a great conversation about this phenomenon in a recent webinar.

But what will happen to consumer behaviors for which motivation appears much higher than usual due to the pandemic? For example: When panic has ebbed and TP is less scarce, will we still be driven to stock-up?

I predict the answer is yes, and that someday my grandkids will wonder what's up with crazy Nana Erica and her closet full of toilet paper. That’s because the negative emotions surrounding this ordeal will have a long-term impact on consumer motivations. Ever hear the saying, “Mistakes are how we learn”? Strong negative emotions are an effective teacher, and memories born in traumatic circumstances are easily recalled. Wishing we'd invested in a bidet is such a bizarre turn of events, I'm not likely to forget it. I’ll want to be prepared for next time, whether that’s the next peak in this pandemic, or an unforeseen pandemic down the road.

My evolved motivation—from stocking-up on TP specifically, to being prepared in a more general way—will also present an opportunity for brands to position products and services against my new “prepper”-driven needs.

TP Generation Habit Chart

Amid these sea changes in consumer behavior, businesses are under pressure to make smart decisions now in order to survive and thrive in the next normal. Viewing consumers through the lens of motivation and ability provides guidance in terms of what will help inform those key decisions.

Start by understanding emerging trends. Many industries are already seeing some form of disruption (e.g., travel, tourism, retail, restaurants, entertainment, education, and more). Other industries are sure to follow.

  1. Which “old” behaviors will revert, and which of your consumer segments will be first in line (i.e., which have the strongest motivation to revert once ability resumes)?
  2. How can you help your consumers feel safe and comfortable (i.e., what combination of business practices, policies, reassurances, communications, etc., will effectively boost ability)?
  3. What new habits are replacing “old ways” (i.e., what new solutions are enabling consumers to easily satisfy pre-existing motivations), and what will that mean for the future of the business?
  4. How are emotions in this trying time resulting in new consumer motivations, creating opportunities to meet evolving needs with new products, services, capabilities or marketing strategies?

Knowing is half the battle (as GI Joe used to say), and—given that we all benefit from a strong economy—the more businesses can successfully weather this storm, the better off we’ll all be.

Thank you & stay safe! We at CMB wish everyone well during this trying time.


Erica Carranza

Erica 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.

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: strategy consulting, BrandFx, consumer psychology, COVID-19