SIVO Insights Consumer Impact of COVID-19: Mindset, Financial Impact and Loyalty

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

Last month, SIVO Insights launched a national, quantitative study around attitudes, shopping behaviors and loyalty in response to COVID-19.  As a result, our clients’ curiosities were piqued and questions arose around future spending and messaging.  This study illustrates how people are still uncertain about the future, using this time to strengthen relationships and counting on brands to fulfill their basic needs and do the right thing.  Click here for the full report. – We would love to know your thoughts and what questions YOU have!

Work Life: Human Connection & Empathy Will Help Us Triumph Over Trauma

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP Insights & Engagement

Anyone else getting irritated by the ‘catchy’ and overused pandemic catchphrases?  The “new normal” is one I’d love to never hear again and p.s. – it’s not even accurate.  There is nothing normal going on here. Normal implies “regular” or “routine”, but our daily routines, rhythms and expectations have vanished.  We are living day by day, sometimes hour by hour and I’d do anything for a big ‘ol heaping cup of normal starting oh…yesterday.

I work hard to stay positive and hopeful personally and professionally, and I do have some really good days.  But there are days I am just exhausted. Exhausted in missing what we’ve lost, exhausted in the newness of it all, exhausted in trying to navigate the flood of news and stats and structureless days.  

And at times, I also feel sad and anxious.  Sad and anxious for the physical and mental health of my family.  Sad for my kids, worried about how this is affecting them short and long term, sad for what they’ve lost (even in the midst of what they’ve gained: cleaning toilets is good for the teen soul).  Sad and constantly scared for the health and needs of my elderly parents and generally living with this subtle, underlying wave of angst.  

I constantly question personally and professionally:  What will this look like on the other side? Will we ever get back to “normal”?  Will we be better for it?  

Thankfully, I just listened to this podcast Adapting to Our Changing World that nudged me to “yes”.  Yes, we will be okay, and yes, we will be better for it.

This podcast features Dr. Amelia Franck Meyer, a dear friend and colleague of SIVO Insights. Amelia is the CEO of Alia Innovations.  Alia’s mission is to drive transformative change for the people and systems entrusted with the welfare and care of children.  Amelia and her team have since applied their expertise to organizations for workforce wellbeing, leadership development and coaching.

I promise business leaders at all levels will feel inspired with practical advice to establish a sense of safety for yourselves and your teams. 

For those of us in the human insights profession, I also noticed an important parallel to the work we do: the power of human connections.

As qualitative researchers, it is our job to authentically connect with people to gain insight into their lives, gain texture around the choices they make, their values, what is truly important to them.  Through deep and layered conversations, acute observations, stories and experiences, we help clients see people as more “human” vs. data points. 

To do this successfully, we artfully establish trust and reliability, so people feel safe opening up.  We show vulnerability and a real respect for their points of view.  We are genuinely open-minded and curious about what they have to say. Most importantly, we feel and show empathy as they graciously invite us into their lives.

I now recognize these characteristics in the workplace, in ways like never before because of this universal pandemic.  Our guards are down and our vulnerability is up.  Two months ago, I NEVER would have showed up on a Zoom call without makeup, with my dog on my lap or pausing mid-thought to make sure the house isn’t burning down as my younger daughter makes her own lunch. I see make-shift offices in messy kitchens, cranky babies, laundry hanging in the distance and tons of personal artifacts.  Glimpses into people’s homes and their lives.  We are making the time for real conversations around how we are really doing, exposing a full range of emotions: the good, the bad and the vulnerable.

What was once considered ‘unprofessional’ is now considered profoundly human and real.  The connections we are making are deepened – and this is a very good thing.  

We are in this exhausting, worrisome, devastating trench together and we will crawl out of it together.  This pandemic is the great unifier and it is bringing more humanity to our work life.   

From this, we can choose to NOT go back to what was “normal”.  What if we internalize and embrace this increased level of empathy for who we are as individuals, parents, partners, children and friends and bring those nuanced aspects to work in addition to our skills and expertise?  What if we choose to redefine what is “normal”?  I believe this new level of humility, trust and respect can do wonders for productivity, loyalty, creativity and innovation and we can all be better for it on the other side.  

SIVO Quantitative Study on Customer Behavior Related to COVID-19

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

Our SIVO team rallied quickly to lead a national, quantitative study around attitudes, shopping behaviors and loyalty in response to COVID-19.  I am proud of our team’s fortitude in quickly turning around tangible value for our clients and the insight community at large.  This study illustrates how people are shifting behaviors in everyday life and which are likely to stick during this “new now”.  Click here for access to our full report SIVO Consumer Impact from COVID19 Study  featuring insights and intuition around what opportunities lie ahead for companies to better connect with customers in this critical time. – let us know your thoughts and what questions YOU have!

The Best of Us

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP Insights & Engagement

Our company retreat in January centered around infusing more joy into our work.  We were asked: What is one thing you would do more of on a personal level that brings you joy?  My answer: I would cook.  Cooking is my creative outlet, it elicits beautiful childhood memories, and most importantly, it is a tangible and real way that I express love for my family.  Problem was I had no time.  Not even on the weekends.  Who knew two months later, I’d have the opportunity due to a global pandemic.

I am one of the lucky ones who gets to work from home right now.  And with this privilege, I am cooking, and baking and it looks very different than how I’ve cooked in a long time. I am not stressing or feeling rushed.  I am cooking with my girls, passing on tips and tricks my mom taught me.  We are digging up familiar recipes and creating new ones, being creative with what we have in the house. We are having longer dinner conversations, and every night is family game or movie night – some sort of activity that ensures we are physically and emotionally ‘together’.  

During this chaos, we wake up every day to new revelations, some contradictions from hours/days/weeks before, and constant fear and anxiety. Stress on so many levels for everyone.  No one will come out of this untouched in some way.  Yet, I am seeing another powerful force at play.  A hopeful, inspirational one that is critical to our emotional health.  Myself and my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community, and the world around us are looking for ways to create and contribute joy and kindness

Inspiration right outside my front door.

In my family, we now have regular video chats with grandparents and extended family, telling jokes and playing games.  We bake and leave treats for friends on their doorsteps, and they ask if we need anything when they run to the grocery store. We brainstorm ways to bring more joy and act kindly. Some ideas:  

  • Give someone a compliment
  • Be a good friend to someone having a hard time
  • Donate food
  • Make a family TikTok
  • Be more patient with my little sister
  • Offer to walk our neighbor’s dog
  • Paint a picture for my best friend’s Grandpa who has Alzheimer’s

Human kindness unites us. Each one of us has the capability to make someone feel good, feel genuinely appreciated, feel like they matter.  In our current state, where so much is not in our control, this is.  When we make someone else feel good, we feel good ourselves. 

Kindness in business

I’m seeing it with businesses too, where kindness drives decision-making and innovation.  More than feel-good emails, forgiving late fees, waiving change fees, or extending return policies.  It is real, purposeful and memorable actions rooted in bringing joy and acting with kindness.  Some examples:

  • Leaders placing employees with family health issues on furlough status so they can maintain insurance benefits even when business is unstable
  • My company, SIVOInsights, offering emotional, intellectual, and professional support to our clients that has nothing to do with our core offering and everything to do with what they mean to us
  • Distilleries across the country converting their operations from making alcohol to making hand sanitizer – and giving it away for free, starting with healthcare workers as a priority
  • KFC partnering with the nonprofit “Blessings in a Backpack” to help provide weekend meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry, donating $400,000 to provide prepackaged meals
  • Starbucks paying all workers for 30 days regardless if they show up to work and catastrophe pay, mental health resources and childcare support to those who opt to keep coming in
  • DollarGeneral, Walgreens and other retailers dedicating early hours to seniors, a key at-risk group, to avoid busy shopping periods
  • TheCoca-ColaCompany immediately diverting millions in brand advertising to support COVID-19 relief efforts globally 

And the list goes on.  These actions tell the story of how these businesses operate and the human beings who lead them. These actions strengthen loyalty, making it almost unbreakable, because they are rooted in deep emotional needs.  People care and notice how they are treated in each of their relationships, including those with brands.  And people will always remember how those brands show up, especially in the worst of times.   

So, as we work hard to protect the physical health of ourselves and each other, could this also be a terrific opportunity?  

What if these actions, rooted in joy and kindness, were simply our ‘modus operandi’, our usual way of doing business and building brands, not just when in crisis mode?  How inspiring and completely transformative could that be?  Think about the authentic loyalty that would really earn.

What if we looked at this as an opportunity to level-set, reprioritize and change habits and behaviors for the better, both personally and professionally?  An opportunity to slow down, strengthen connections and actively demonstrate to people that they matter to us – our families, our friends and in business, our employees, clients and customers.  To show that we really see you, we really value you as human beings.  To show up and bring the best of us

Smart advice

SIVO Strategy: Plant-Based Food Alternatives: Motivations, Barriers and More – Part 2

By: Marilyn Weiss, Chief Innovation Officer

Part 1 shared learning around generational nuances within the plant-based food category.  In case you missed it, check it out here.

In Part 2, we share motivations, barriers and the critical role of taste.

Motivations & Barriers

Motivations & barriers to plant-based eating are influenced by generation as well as consumer segment across the health-taste continuum. Since growth of goods and services tend to ignite when the interest becomes mainstream, we focused this analysis among the mainstream segment versus a specific wellness segment.  WHY?  Because for plant-based to continue the growth-momentum, the products in this segment will need to appeal to mainstream consumers beyond vegans & vegetarians.

Mainstream Motivations appear to be:

  • About options:  not rejecting traditional protein sources
  • Looking for healthy choices that taste good, are easily accessible, and work within their busy lifestyles
  • Dipping a toe into a healthier lifestyle or Plant-based eating because:
    • Plant-based is perceived as healthier than animal-based options
    • Feel ‘better’ about what they are eating and its ‘better for the environment’

Mainstream Barriers appear to be:

  • New Behavior: “I’m too set in my eating habits to make the change.”
  • Ingredient Labels: People are asking more questions about the product’s formulation and ingredients.  Labels are under scrutiny.
  • Taste:  expect it to ‘taste like cardboard.’  Taste is the foundation for a Plant-based experience.


When it comes to food, taste is paramount – it is the foundation. No surprise there.

However, whether driven by animal welfare or personal health reasons, there is a threshold on taste for plant-based foods. For some, taste is a barrier because the expectation is just too low.  Yet, many have been delighted that the taste has exceeded their expectations. While it doesn’t need to taste exactly like the analog product (i.e., Almond Milk to Dairy Milk), it does need to taste good enough to warrant re-purchase and a place in dietary routines. 

Taste expectations will differ across consumer segments. For example, a Vegan consumer is more accepting that a plant-based meat alternative doesn’t taste exactly like meat because a Vegan is a non-meat eater. For a Flexitarian or someone simply cutting back on meat consumption, there is a desire for the plant-based alternative to come very close to the “real deal!”

At SIVO Insights, we guide brands to focus on their customers, realizing the power of that relationship and delivering insights to strengthen that connection. It’s about truly understanding what people value, finding their gain points as well as solving their pain points and delivering a stellar consumer or customer experience. We work across many industries and verticals bringing the “voice of the consumer” to bear in business decisions. 

Connect with us at to learn more, collaboratively share ideas and create a custom research plan for your needs!

SIVO Strategy: Plant Based Food Alternative Growth Drivers – Part 1

By: Marilyn Weiss, Chief Innovation Officer

Plant-based food alternatives are all the rage – surpassing trend-status and becoming a mainstream staple in people’s diets.  We wanted to know WHY.

We’ve had the privilege of leading primary research for start-ups and large Fortune 500 companies entering the Plant-based segment from Dairy to Meat Alternatives to Quick-Serve Restaurants (QSR) and Beauty.

Given the popularity of this category and our own innate curiosity, we conducted research using social media monitoring to better understand the WHAT, WHO, and WHY behind consumers of plant-based foods.   

We collaborated with our strategic partner, Metametrix, a cultural context analysis tool ( to gain a 360 view of key growth drivers.  Human anthropologists by nature, we also talked one-on-one with plant-based consumers to ensure their voice was represented accurately and distinctively.

As a result, we uncovered three main drivers for plant-based food choice: 

  1. Animal Welfare
  2. Environment & Sustainability
  3. Health Benefits

These opportunity areas appear to be driven differentially by generations or life stage, as noted in the below diagram:

Nuances by Generations

Gen Z is significantly less likely than older generations to believe meat is a central part of an American identify / culture – for example, “Friendsgiving” doesn’t mean turkey is at the center of the plate. This generation is more aware than the general population that animal agriculture damages the environment.  They value animal welfare & environmental sustainability more than previous generations and are willing to spend more on sustainable food.

Millennials or Gen Y are the top consumers of Plant-based meat alternatives. This generation has adopted Plant-based meat alternatives as a way to indulge sensibly while addressing their long-term health goals and animal treatment concerns.  Millennials recognize the environmental impact their food choices have on society and the environment. They embrace shopping (and eating) with a conscience.  Millennials with children are more likely to consume Plant-based meats than millennials without children at home.

Gen Xers are also a core consumer group of Plant-based meat alternatives, and because many in this group are parents of Gen Z’s, they are raising their Gen Z children on Plant-based food and beverages. This generation may be getting educated by their children in the environmental & sustainable aspects of the Plant-based movement or they experience a personal health crisis or a health-benefit associated with eating Plant-based foods.

Boomers appear to be decelerating consumption of Plant-based meat alternatives but are the top consumers of Plant-based dairy alternatives. This generation is more likely to come to the Plant-based segment through a dietary or health need.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we examine and dive deeper into motivations and barriers and the critical role of taste in plant-based foods. 

Connect with us at to learn more, collaboratively share ideas and create a custom research plan for your needs in this space!

Inspiring the Next Gen of Insight Leaders

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

The author, Cindy Blackstock, and Ruthie Feinstein, both of SIVO Insights

I, along with a few lucky colleagues of mine, recently had the opportunity to be guest lecturers at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and the University of Wisconsin’s Business School’s A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Analytics and Insights.  

In both instances, we were impressed with the curiosity, drive and passion these students showed for the careers we all love. 

Looking back on these opportunities, we realized a few benefits as well:

Keeps it fresh.  Inserting guest lecturers into the curriculum helps to keep the content fresh and interactive.  We could tell the students were engaged, taking notes, straightening up in the chairs, leaning forward, asking questions and listening with authentic interest and curiosity.  Afterall, the pressure was off – we weren’t there to test their knowledge, only to inspire it.  Our presence provided a different and unique perspective that helped to amplify their learning in a practical way, and their excitement for it showed.  

Connects the dots.   Guest lecturing helps to connect the dots between classroom content and real-world application.  We provided A LOT of anecdotal case studies to bridge the gap between theory and reality.  Doing so, made it less of a ‘lecture’ and more of a ‘step into my professional life for the next hour’ so I can show you what to expect. Personally, we found it really fun to relive all of these experiences again and seeing how it made the students come alive was the best part.

Connecting the dots in the classroom as Ruthie Feinstein (in the black & white stripe top) leads the discussion

Models the behavior.  By guest lecturing, we were able to model the behavior that we hope to see in the next generation of insight professionals.  Giving them a sense of the required skill sets (hard and soft), modeling the art and science of writing discussion guides to draw out what people want to say but often can’t articulate and the all-important aspect of storytelling.  Hearing from experts in the field helped to give these learners a practical sense of what it takes to be successful in an insights career. 

Our love stems from our collective years of experience, while we know they have a whole world of brands, people, opportunities, challenges, and skills yet to be explored and refined.  Their enthusiasm was real and pure and made us proud of the small part we played in helping to influence and shape this next generation of insights leaders.  

If you are interested in having SIVO Insights professionals come share their expertise with your next generation of insights professionals OR have a need to train newly appointed insights associates at your company, please email us at  We’d love to work with you to craft the content you need!

Building Executive Empathy: Three Takeaways from My Experience

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP, Insights and Engagement

Executive empathy is a hot topic in the workplace right now.  The more genuinely empathetic a leader is, the better their teams and businesses are for it: operationally, emotionally and financially.  So much so, that there are formal training programs around developing, shaping and strengthening the ‘empathy muscle.’  

Recently, I had the great fortune of leading an Executive Empathy initiative and it was a highlight of my career.  Guiding consumer conversations is what I do all the time, but this time was different.  This time was for the C-Suite of one of our beloved national retail clients.  I led real and honest conversations into how the retailer delivers a positive customer experience, and where they miss the boat; what they love about the retailer and what they wish the retailer really understood they needed.  Sounds risky for some Executives…unless they are fully onboard and ready to hear and accept the truth. 

Here are a few things that stuck with me and contributed to the success of the project:

  1. Be authentic.  Although potentially risky, we needed to build in topics and exercises that would flush out consumer truths.  That is my No. 1 job.  Nothing would have been a bigger waste of time than safeguarding these leaders and only delivering ‘good news.’  There was plenty of good news to hear, but there were also moments of harsh reality; some things they knew, some surprising.  In debrief sessions, it was the surprising news that lit the biggest fire and they were most excited about learning.  And hearing it in-person vs. a PowerPoint presentation made all the difference in the world.
  2. Be agile. Importantly, behind the scenes, we also built in enough space throughout the day to be agile and pivot as needed based on what the Executive team was learning. Doing this was key so they felt they were getting the most out of the experience and had a voice in shaping it. As the conversations evolved, the day did too.  We flexed with them.  We could do this confidently because we were so well prepared (see next point).
  3. Be prepared.  Obviously, it was important that recruiting, the flow of the day, timelines and budget went off without a hitch.  Weekly check-in’s and tight collaboration with the Consumer Insights client team ensured the Executives were appropriately prepped, understood what they could expect (and not expect), knew necessary logistics, and roles were clearly defined.  Know your audience: just ‘enough’ information so they felt informed but not overwhelmed.

Unexpectedly, I also walked away feeling inspired. This Executive team showed up to the day excited, engaged and ready to go.  No phone distractions, no multi-tasking, no ‘other meetings’ they had to attend.  They were taking detailed notes, talking to each other about what they were learning, respectfully challenging one another, ideating in the moment, asking to go even deeper on certain issues they needed to hear more about.  

They were truly living out one of the company’s core values of customer-centricity. We all know it is too easy for Executives to lose touch with the people that make or break the brand; too many demands on their time, too much financial pressure.  

It is inspiring to witness, first-hand, when leaders believe and act that their customers are at the center of what they do and be in the company of Executives who ‘walk the talk.’  This leading by example reminds us that everyone is responsible for the customer experience, not just those in the insights department.  

Beauty Insights, In-Context

By Therese Peterson, Vice President, Operations

At SIVO, we believe in meeting consumers where they are as it brings out authentic behaviors and emotions. So, when we had the opportunity to speak to Beauty Loyalists, this was a perfect example of doing just that.  One of our clients was looking to explore and build empathy about how people (women, and yes, men too!) define beauty, what it means to them, who influences their perceptions and how they achieve it. Since the subject of beauty is subjective, we thought that the best way to hear unbiased and candid thoughts was in their homes and also in key moments where they look to find it.   

Research Tech with a Human Touch: The Beauty Journey

We began with a 5-day Mobile Beauty Journal where people shared special moments of beauty, attitudes toward beauty and their personal beauty regimens. Through customized activities, we observed firsthand these enthusiast’s videos, texts, and e-collages of prepping for work, social outings and weekend routines. Across generations and ethnicities, people candidly revealed and defined what beauty meant to them. Our client witnessed first-hand, “the real deal,” and nuances between the generations but also became excited with the possibilities that came to life.

Out of the Conference Room, Into the Salons

While the mobile journal gave us a solid understanding and baseline profile of each enthusiast, our experienced team went even further. Rather than gathering these same loyalists at a traditional field facility, we hosted small group conversations at their local beauty salon and favorite beauty retailers.  The familiar and casual setting of their salon as well as being with other like-minded beauty loyalists elicited meaningful insights and created an environment of openness, empowerment — and fun! 

Most importantly, our client was there, with us, in the moment and attained authentic empathy about the power and wonder and mystery of beauty. It revived them and generated a deep and real level of empathy they said wouldn’t have even possible in a stodgy conference room. So, when possible, go to your consumers where they are…it’s where authenticity lives.

A Lean Approach to Consumer Insights

By: Jennifer Dilley, Vice President, Research and Business Development

“Put your best foot forward.”  Anyone ever tell you that?  Yet the book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries contradicts this mantra.  It sparks the question – how good is good enough? 

Jennifer Dilley, Vice President, Research & Business Development

Thinking back on my career, I have been rewarded for showing my ‘best.’  Success came from a systemic approach of analyze, plan and execute.  We learned and learned some more, and when we had sufficient data and confidence, then we acted.  I think this is best described as “Learn. Learn. Learn. Do.”  And this methodical process still has a place in some business decisions.

But what level of learning is necessary when innovating and there are no established data points to reference? 

According to Ries, innovation requires a new form of management and expectations.  Success requires we learn fast, adjust and learn again.  It is an ever-evolving proposition to sell our product and stay ahead of the competition.  I think this is best described as “Learn-do learn-do learn-do.”  

A learn-do cycle focuses on prioritized learning, creating only the minimum needed to test a hypothesis. What you test shouldn’t be perfect.  Learning comes from doing. “Good enough” gives the opportunity to quickly learn and adapt. 

For those of us who have always been evaluated on our ‘best’ – good enough can make us vulnerable.  And while this made me a little uncomfortable, I challenged myself to adjust and have since experienced success faster with learning sprints.

So, what is the definition of success?  I can’t say it better than Mark Cook’s quote in Ries’ book.  

“Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”  

Mark Cook

That’s easy to say, but how to truly do it?  You can’t overtly ask the customer what they want as few truly know — or if they do, how to vocalize it.  It’s the famous Henry Ford adage, “If I had asked people what they wanted; they would have said a faster horse.”

So, taking some points from Ries’ book, stretching myself to become comfortable being uncomfortable, and partnering with others to find their ‘good enough’ — let me share 5-Steps we have found successful when innovating. 

1.Talk with your consumers!

If you do not know your consumers, then you don’t know what they want – what is important to them.  The greatest failure can be thinking you are your consumer. Get outside the office and go talk to your consumers.

2. Prioritize your learning

It is human nature to want to ask ALL the questions we have.  Sprints work best with clear, prioritized objectives for each phase.  We recommend having a rough idea of what you need to learn at each sprint and be open to pivoting.

3. Plan for sprints

Don’t overlook the need for planning with agile learning.  Preparation is important for consecutive, quick bursts of learning. Agility comes in what you ask and adjusting objectives for the next sprint.

4. Can you make a sale?

Even if you don’t have a product to sell, is the consumer wanting to buy?  This is the best indication of your product’s potential success.  As you engage with your consumers, remember to ask for the sale. 

5.  Judge progress differently

Judging success in a Learn Learn Learn Do world is easy. Did we deliver what was projected?  With sprints, progress is measured by what you learn.  What worked / didn’t? What new questions need to be asked?  Are you closer to creating the ‘right’ product to meet your consumers’ wants?

Let’s bring these 5-steps to life with an example familiar to many of us.  At Tesla these steps to success have expanded beyond single product innovation to an organizational mindset. 

“Tesla …iterates and rolls out improvements as they come. It takes in feedback regularly, as if it thrives on new ideas, solving problems, continuous improvement and iteration … Use of agile principles …have helped Tesla to perfect its vehicles and bring innovations to market that would have taken more traditional automotive companies years if not decades to get into the hands of customers.”*

“Good enough” has been a positive change for me. Can you embrace a lean startup mentality at your organization or with your team?  I’d love to find out!


*Field, Kyle.  2018, Sept 1. “Tesla Has Applied Agile Software Development to Automotive Manufacturing” CleanTechnica


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