Written by: Katy Koestler, SIVO Research Strategist
Even though it can feel risky, sometimes you have to throw out a few pages of the rulebook to get the best results. Our client, a leading recreational vehicle manufacturer, was seeking to expand their side-by-side vehicle product market. So, we set out together to understand hunters, farmers and ranchers and how their lifestyles determined their off-road vehicle needs—in their territory, not ours.
Instead of holding steadfast to the objectives alone, we adapted our model. We absorbed and experienced the hunting, farming and ranching lifestyle on the ground, and this “shared experience” helped inform even more of what we needed to learn. If we had been too rigid about letting only the objectives guide us, we would have missed so much. We actually understood our questions more after the research, and this approach resulted in deeper, richer learning.
Hitting the Road: Meeting Our Consumers On Their Turf
Our discovery mission started last fall as we traveled to 15 states to meet with several hunters. We would fly to our destination and rent a huge truck, all pile in, and just drive. Traveling state-to-state, we took part in several road trip shenanigans, sometimes with two vehicles and Snapchat conversations bouncing between them. We stayed in “off the beaten path” lodging, ate in some unique and colorful restaurants, and visited many homes and hunting locations. When we arrived in one Missouri home, we had venison waiting for us on the table. At the meal’s conclusion, the hunter promptly pulled the head of the animal out of the freezer in order to introduce us to our dinner.
This past summer took us to Texas and three Midwestern states, visiting several farms and ranches, from small, mom-and-pop farms to large industrial agricultural operations. While there, we watched farmers’ and ranchers’ lives unfold, sometimes hauling hay, feeding livestock, fixing fences, and even pausing one interview to chase down a cow that had escaped. We got to see, feel and touch the farming lifestyle before even talking about the product.
One thing that stuck with us was the farming way of life. It’s not just a stressful, big job; it’s a family affair, a community, and a life led with a deep connection to animals and the land. Farmers are constantly adapting, changing and using new technology. They told us that side-by-sides (or UTVs) are handy and simple, but they could be improved to better meet their needs.
Experience = Empathy
After many states, treacherous weather, plans cancelled, and roads closed, we persevered. Though we had a basic plan, we also had to be flexible 100 percent of the time with both the logistics and respondents. I personally discovered that I had a lot more grit than I expected; these were challenging circumstances, but we were learning so much that we didn’t have time to let it get us down.
We trudged through the muck with our clients, literally and figuratively. We were not afraid to get dirty, and I think that’s one quality that makes SIVO unique. Taking our clients on this adventure was incredible, and part of why we were successful is because they were all in. They set assumptions aside, absorbed all the nuances of the experiences and used all of their senses to learn as much as they could about their customers.
It’s obvious that this was no ordinary insights project. What’s really cool is how the insights were so meaningful and transformative for our clients—it became part of their DNA. Nearly one year later, they recall riding with a hunter and nearly falling off the side of a mountain in a vehicle that was not suited for the terrain. That experience was terrifying—and enlightening. It gave them empathy, and the power to look their engineers in the eye and say, “This won’t work. I have been on that mountain. The vehicle needs to match the terrain.” In fact, one client told me this research experience was the “highlight of my career.” The time we spent together, allowing our customers to lead us in the exploration and share their experiences with us, was powerful and lasting.
Ruthie brings over 20 years of senior leadership experience in consumer insights, brand strategy and marketing communications to her work at SIVO Insights. She has deep empathy for client needs, high partnership standards, and an eye toward meeting business objectives. Ruthie is a seasoned moderator and strategist whose warm, approachable style makes consumers feel they are talking to a friend and results in deeper insights. Her strong relationships and strategic influence have shaped positioning, innovation, and growth strategies for blue-chip brands across food, technology, entertainment and retail.