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

Beautifying our Community with My Great Colleagues

By: Judy Deis, Project Director, SIVO Insights

Earlier this summer, I had the distinct pleasure of volunteering alongside my SIVO Insights colleagues at the Lyndale Park Peace Garden in Minneapolis. What initially felt like a daunting task – weeding and mulching a large area of the property – quickly turned into a fun time with friends who connected personally and professionally while we worked. 

I had never visited the garden before, so I learned a lot about it during and after our visit. Many of the elements in the garden tie to Japanese culture and heritage, including stones from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that were found in the rubble of the 1945 atomic bomb blast. The garden is an official International Peace Site, and when I was there, I could feel the connection to other parts of the world – to Japan, and to the dozens of other International Peace Sites across the globe. 

Judy Deis, Project Manager, SIVO Insights
Judy Deis working in the Lyndale Park Peace Garden

Since I mainly work virtually, I don’t get to see my colleagues that often. That’s why I think it’s so important that we take time out of our busy schedules to do things like this together. Not only are we helping strengthen our community; we’re also strengthening our relationships with each other, which is good for our organization and for our clients.

Our work that day also helped me realize that any task can be made more fun with good company. Weeding doesn’t normally top my list of enjoyable chores, but when doing it alongside people I enjoy, it didn’t feel like work at all. It’s inspiring me to look for other ways I can make life’s to-do’s a little less burdensome by tackling them with others. 

SIVO Insights’ Service Day Group Shot

In just a couple of hours, we made a great impact on that large area of the garden and made it a lot more beautiful.  We took the opportunity to linger in that space for a while, enjoying the beautiful day, the results of our work, and watching members of the community enjoy the garden as well. I’m already looking forward to our next SIVO Service Day!

Agile Consumer Insights: Four Key Principles

By Julie Rose, Vice President, Client Experience

The Agile movement has gained traction across many functions, and Consumer Insights is no exception. There’s a push to move more quickly and easily through the consumer learning process. Many companies want to cut the innovation process in half – both time and budget. In fact, 90 percent of senior leaders say becoming agile is a high priority1.  We are seeing evidence of this desire with the growth of Research Technology – tools that tout the promise of better, faster, cheaper!

Agile, however, is more than a process and more than adopting a new tool or methodology. Agile is a mindset, encompassing all aspects of how work gets done – from the way coworkers collaborate to the way products are delivered1.

At SIVO Insights, we encourage adopting the following key principles of Agile:

  1. Learn & do, early and often
  2. Expect change & embrace the pivot
  3. Measure progress & seek the truth
  4. Empower decisions & take action

Learn & Do, Early and Often

The continuous learning loop or cycle is a very powerful tenet of being Agile. 

In the past, it was commonplace in market research to learn, learn, learn by following a predetermined process of steps and methods. At the end of the plan, you would launch your new product or national advertising campaign into the world, ready or not. 

Today, SIVO helps our clients embrace continuous learning cycles where we learn in bite-sized chunks, always answering key questions first. Then, we encourage getting early ideas into the real world, with prototypes, to get relevant feedback and test if people are willing to use their own money to buy or invest in the idea!

Expect Change & Embrace the Pivot

The learning process is full of both successes and failures. That actually hasn’t changed – it’s always been this way. Learning is a journey that will have some twists and turns. An Agile mindset will help you embrace change, accept failure, chart a new course or pivot, and celebrate success. It takes grit – both perseverance and resilience – to truly be Agile. At SIVO, we help identify critical assumptions for the learning journey upfront so objectives are prioritized and clear, helping to make it easier to manage through those twists & turns!   

Measure Progress & Seek the Truth

In the world of Agile, measuring progress is conducted on a regular basis, typically daily, especially if the initiative is time sensitive. The purpose is to share progress and align on immediate next steps. At SIVO, we facilitate client teams through these sessions with a recap of where we’ve been (hindsight) and an outline of where we are going (foresight.) The one critical element of these sessions that can’t be missed: Seeking the truth. Truth is either “pretty” or “pretty ugly” and no matter what it is, you and your team must seek it and accept it. I’m reminded of the famous quote by David Stevens, “A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. The truth is the truth even if nobody believes it.” In the context of Agile, the entire team must make a “truth serum pact” to ensure the project steers in the right direction.

Empower Decisions & Take Action

Finally, once the team is aligned on the truth, they must be empowered to make decisions and take action. If the team is not empowered, they will not be agile. SIVO ensures the voice of the consumer is always represented and partners with our clients to understand overall business challenges beyond the consumer. We often work with cross-functional teams including operations, finance, or development – providing a holistic view. This all-in approach enables our client partners to make decisions, take action, re-evaluate, and repeat the agile learning cycle – ensuring continued momentum forward.  

There’s no question that Consumer Insights departments are being asked to do more with less these days, and to move faster than ever in the process. Agile offers a way for these professionals to accomplish their goals by working smarter, not necessarily harder. 

Get in touch with us at to learn how your teams can be truly Agile!

1Forbes: Understanding Fake Agile 

When Focus Group Facilitation Hits Close to Home: Helping Kids with Anxiety and Their Families

By: Laurie Olson, Research Strategist

When my daughter was in elementary school, she began experiencing anxiety. It started small with a fear of tornadoes after watching the movie Twister, but grew to the point where any cloud in the sky would evoke terror. It was overwhelming and I often didn’t know how to help her.

Laurie Olson with her daughter at the time when she suffered from anxiety.

It’s been decades since I had that parenting experience, but it all came back to me recently as I volunteered to facilitate a focus group for parents of kids with social anxiety. A good friend of mine is in the process of launching a product to help kids with anxiety and their families, and she wanted input from parents on what would be most helpful.

The product, Connection ZooTM, puts kids in the role of zookeeper, caring for “animals” that represent various symptoms of anxiety and coping techniques for dealing with it. It encourages conversations that help kids safely articulate what they’re experiencing and improves their ability to navigate through their anxiety with the help of those around them. The goal is to get the whole family involved and provide a common language that helps everyone better understand the child’s anxiety.

As I facilitated the focus group for parents of kids with anxiety, I was struck by how much their experiences today resemble those I had years ago with my daughter. Many parents described being “at their wit’s end,” struggling to navigate a complex health care system where they sometimes receive conflicting information. They described often not knowing how to relate to their kids, or how to keep lines of communication open to ensure they’re up to speed on what their child is experiencing.

While all of that seems discouraging, I actually found the focus group incredibly uplifting and encouraging. The parents were supporting each other, sharing ideas, and taking solace in knowing they aren’t alone in their struggles. As a facilitator, I let some parts of the discussion go on longer than I normally would, because I could see how much it was helping these people. We were all in tears at some point in the session – myself included. While that isn’t something I’d typically experience when facilitating on behalf of my clients, my personal connection to this issue made it hard to hold back the tears at times.

It was a privilege to help my friend gather insights that will make her product even more valuable for those who need it so much. Connection ZooTM would have been a huge help to my daughter and me all those years ago, and I’m grateful to have played a small role in making it available to parents now. It should officially launch in the next several months, and I can’t wait to see the difference it makes in people’s lives.

Quality Insights Using Research Tech
SIVO’s 4 Tips to Get Started

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO & Ruthie Feinstein, VP of Insights and Engagement

We love this quote by business and consumer behavior genius Steve Jobs.  He had an innate belief that technology should exist to make our lives easier, keep up in a fast-paced world, and fuel our creativity. Yet, he understood the true power of the technology rested in the hands of its users.

The same is true for Research Tech / DIY Tools; the latest hot topic in the insights industry. Our experience has taught us that they work best when applied in the right situation, there is a genuine understanding for how they work and how they can best be optimized.  This takes the savviness of sophisticated researchers, because like any other technology, it needs to be in the right human hands to be most effective. 

Across brands and categories, sophisticated client-side researchers are being challenged to deliver insights faster, without sacrificing quality and some are turning to these tools to address this need. However, often times they face issues with ample time to learn the platforms, execute the research and/or fully take advantage of their analytical capabilities.  Others have yet to be made aware of or access to these tech tools and all they have to offer. With so many options, it can be overwhelming and they’re left thinking, “where do I even begin?” 

Four Research Tech Tips

As we continue to get smarter with next generation research, we have vetted many different research tech tools – through a researcher’s lens– relieving our clients of this time-consuming, but necessary task.  In doing so, we want to share these helpful tips to consider when evaluating which Research Tech / DIY Tools to use OR if you should be using them at all:

Objectives.  While these tools can be very effective, they are not the end-all-be-all solution to accomplishing every learning objective. “Live”, in-the-moment, in-context insights? A quick read on concept testing? Fast-on-shelf retail audits? Research tech can be an effective and fast solution.  Foundational in-depth learning, nuanced empathy-building or sophisticated quantitative work?  Other methods can better deliver on those needs.

It’s about understanding the role research tech can play based on what you need to learn– and right-size the rigor and expectations as they are not intended to be exact replicas of traditional methods.  Participants using research tech by themselves in-store is not the same as an in-person shop-along joined by an experienced moderator.

Recruiting. Sources for building research tech panels and recruiting practices vary from social scraping to organic growth and word-of-mouth, with reach ranging from the hundreds to the millions. Regardless of practice, it is important to ask howparticipants are kept fresh and engaged to ensure you have robust results.  In terms of targeting, often times, these tools provide a great way to reach broad target segments.  However, if your goal is to reach a specific micro-target or consumers with very specific behaviors (i.e. exclusively eats organic green vegetables for the past 12 months) and you are unable to bring your own participants, make sure the platform can really deliver.

Usage.  While the urge may be to just dive in, there are a few key initial questions to ask. Is the platform easy and intuitive to use – for both the researcher and participant? Is there an app and/or desktop version (app option is crucial in particular to reach younger consumers)? Do you have the moderating experience needed to ask the right questions or follow the flow of consumer interactions while staying true to objectives? How long or involved is your study (longer can create participant fatigue)?

Reporting.  Will the platform enable you to get the results you need in the time you need them? Do you have time to synthesize the data? Are the deliverables offered (e.g. data tables vs. word clouds, vs video, etc.) going to help you influence your key stakeholders in telling the insights story? 

Research Tech in Action for Innovation

Research tech allows us to keep up with ever-changing behaviors and reaching people where they are.  And when the situation makes sense, we’ve seen it work very well for several of our clients. SIVO recently partnered with Wells Blue Bunny using a research tech tool to gain quick innovation insights.  It served as an agile solution to efficiently reach qualified consumers, in real-time, shopping the ice-cream category.

Contact SIVO to help you with wherever you are on the research tech tool spectrum.  We are your strategic partner to choose the right tool, execute it with excellence and support the important task of human syntheses needed to mine the data this tool provides. 

Because with the right research tech tool, insights professionals can do wonderful things with them. 

Innovating to Meet Client Needs: Introducing SIVO Flexible WorkForce TM

By: Marilyn Weiss, Co-Founder, Chief Innovation Officer

What do iconic brands and artists like Madonna, Chobani, Apple, Queen, Nike and Old Spice all have in common?

Innovation. And the guts to do it. All of these brands have proven this to be true time and time again. It’s (partly) why they are iconic. They have each reinvented themselves at times when their brand life stage or relevance in people’s lives would have otherwise expired.

While necessity may be the mother of invention, at SIVO Insights we believe the need for relevance is the mother of innovation.  

Sometimes being “innovative” means creating a brand-new idea for a product or service, sometimes it is about a new application or method, and sometimes it’s flipping an idea on its head and reinventing something through a creative lens or with a fresh perspective. 

In every case, innovation is about meeting or anticipating a need – a need that is of value to end users.

SIVO Insights continually innovates, both for the insights and brand work we do with our clients, as well as for our own business. 

The consumer insights industry and profession has changed dramatically over the last 5-10 years, and client needs have shifted right along with it. We see a growing trend taking place in consumer insights departments across organizations: department sizes and resources are shrinking but demands and goals are not. The work still needs to get done.

Rooted in this insight, we developed a concept, got feedback, iterated and created an innovative solution called SIVO Insights Flexible WorkForce™.

What is SIVO Insights Flexible WorkForce™?

Clients trust and value the insights and strategy work SIVO provides.  Now, by tapping into our exceptional pool of insights professionals, they can trust us as a resource for trusted insights talent as well – to fill in open positions, lead and manage projects or initiatives, to navigate research tech, and more. Customized as we do when designing each and every research plan, this offering flexes with the need: scope, long-term to short-term and range of experience levels from executional to strategic.

Having worked with Fortune 100 companies, start-ups and mega brands over the last 10 years, SIVO’s intimate understanding of consumer insights talent levels and skills make it a unique solution that general staffing agencies can’t provide.

We’re already providing talent to Target Corporation, Wells Blue Bunny and Foster Farms. I recently connected with Helen Kurtz, CMO for Foster Farms, and asked about her experience with SIVO Flexible WorkForce™.

Helen Kurtz
CMO, Foster Farms

What need did you have and why did you choose to address it in this way (vs. a full-time position or with traditional staffing)?

“When I joined Foster Farms, the company had never had Consumer Insights (CI) talent in house. They had always outsourced the testing and counted on Marketing to interpret and drive strategy from results. I knew from my past how critical having a CI role was and wanted to have talent that would immediately hit the ground running. I also wasn’t sure if the role would be full time or less, so I needed a flexible solution.”

Why was SIVO the right partner to fill this need?

“I immediately spoke with SIVO about my dilemma and opportunity, thinking that they would have some recommendations. They helped source a talented professional for my specific situation. I couldn’t be happier with the result; the person SIVO recommended and placed has been an amazing fit and made an immediate impact. Plus, with the power of SIVO resources behind her, she is able to work efficiently and effectively. Importantly, our company is headquartered in California and even from 2,000 miles away and a 2-hour time difference, I’ve found it to be seamless and just as effective (in most ways better) than an in-house situation.”

What tips or advice do you have for other client-side insight professionals with this need?

“Be really clear about your needs with SIVO. If you’re like us and will have someone working for you remotely, be planful about travel requirements, and make time for status updates about the arrangement, since that person won’t have access to ‘in the hall’ conversations.”

We are excited to do the same for you. To learn about how SIVO can support your insight talent needs, please contact us at

Emotional Loyalty: Two Brands That Have Earned Mine

Loyalty, as defined by our friends at Google, is “a strong feeling of support or allegiance,” but it’s so much more than that. Loyalty is a layered, nuanced, complex emotion. And as humans, there is nothing we covet more than a true feeling of loyalty. Consider how you feel when you experience genuine loyalty in your personal relationships: protected, valued, even cherished. But what causes that level of loyalty with someone? It likely results from shared feelings of trust, reliability, appreciation, and even empathy.

In the “Humanizing Loyalty” research SIVO conducted with ICF Next (formerly Olson 1to1) and Panoramix Global, we uncovered that the emotional drivers of genuine loyalty between brands and consumers are really no different than those we experience in our personal relationships. And for brands to succeed, they must realize they are in a relationship with their customers, where the goal is to be authentic and real – not perfect – just like personal relationships.

Our research showed that when people feel – and experience – core characteristics of loyalty like trust and appreciation, disloyalty actually feels wrong and is less likely to happen. Imagine your customers refusing to leave your brand because it would feel wrong. Wow – pretty powerful. 

I have two of these brand relationships in my own life: Lexus and Spots Gone Carpet Cleaning & Restoration, a local company where I live in Minneapolis. Wait – what? Yes, two completely different companies, two completely different categories, two completely different marketing budgets – both with very important behaviors in common in how they’ve earned my loyalty.

Brand purpose = me

First, both companies have a brand purpose rooted in serving me. They make me feel that they are in business FOR me, to remove the pain points in MY life.

At the base level, they both provide an outstanding product or service I can count on, but that’s just (should be) table stakes. More than that, their actions over time have proven that I can trust them to deliver on their promises – both big and small. They make me feel appreciated with every interaction – not just when I’m buying something. Do things always go right? No, but they’re transparent if they make a mistake and take accountability, and that goes a long way with me. Our relationship isn’t perfect; it’s real and honest.

Second, both companies work hard to demonstrate empathy and appreciation, which feels rare in today’s world. Not surprisingly, our research with ICF Next and Panoramix Global found that 79% of consumers want to feel appreciated, but only 64% say they get this from the brands they use most. So, how do my beloved brands pull this off?

Lexus treats me like a guest in their home

It started when I first purchased a Lexus car and was treated with a great deal of respect and honesty. As I looked around, I saw everyone was being treated this way: men, women, young, old. It continued years later when I needed to trade in my car earlier than expected for one that better suited my changing lifestyle and they created a plan that worked for both of us. Then there was a recent experience when I had an unexpected flat tire and they worked hard to squeeze me in because I desperately needed my car for a work trip the next day. Or it’s the countless times I bring my car in for routine service and they welcome me with a big smile, and honestly manage my expectations about how long it will take so I can plan my day accordingly.

On my last visit to the dealership, I noticed The Lexus Covenant and it states that they’ll treat each customer like a “guest in our home”.  I feel this loud and clear. (It doesn’t hurt that their waiting area is nicer than my own living room.)  Four Lexus cars into the relationship, it’s the sum of all of these interactions throughout the years that has sealed the deal for me. And with each interaction they always, always thank me for choosing to do business with them. Yes, it is a choice – and they honor that. 

The Lexus Covenant that caught my eye on my last visit.

Spots Gone treats me more like a dear friend than a customer

Spots Gone has earned my loyalty thanks to the kind problem-solvers who answer the phone when I call in a panic about my stained carpet. Because the owner of the company shows up to make sure the job is done correctly, and because he follows up a week later to see if I’m satisfied. It’s the consideration they show me when they let me know they’re running 10 minutes late and “hope that doesn’t mess up my day.” It’s their transparent pricing, a thorough explanation of the products they use and exactly what will be done, and the pro tips they give me so I don’t have to call them the next time my puppy has an accident (use white vinegar!). 

Google review for Spots Gone

Loyalty is about a mindset, not money

As long as it is financially viable, I will always buy a Lexus. And, I will never call another carpet-cleaning company as long as I live in the Twin Cities. How can an international luxury car company and a local, independently owned carpet cleaner both generate the same level of loyalty in me?

It’s about a mindset. You don’t need deep pockets to be consumer-centric or to act with trust, reliability or empathy.

That’s where we as human insights professionals come in. Companies win your heart when they humanize their approach to earning your loyalty.

We guide brands to focus on their customers as the North Star, realizing the power of their relationship and delivering insights to strengthen that connection. It’s about truly understanding what people value, finding and solving their pain points and delivering a customer experience where disloyalty feels wrong. That’s where the magic happens – the magic of that layered, nuanced, complex emotion we call loyalty.


At SIVO Insights, we are passionate about what we do and eager to put our collective skills to work for you.

To get the right solutions for your research needs, give us a call or send us an email. Or, just fill out the form on your right and we’ll get back to you shortly.

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