Why We Should Treat Consumers Like Heroes

By: Jennifer Dilley, Director of Research

Have you ever realized something so simple, but so true, you couldn’t believe you hadn’t thought of it before? I recently had a moment like that while reading Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller.   

The book’s main idea is this: we all want to be the hero of our own lives. This simple but profound insight is inspiring me to look differently at my work as a consumer researcher, and I believe it will be useful to others, too. Why? Because now when I look around, I see brands telling stories. When the consumer is the hero in those stories, the brand grows sales and builds a loyal following. But, when the brand makes itself the hero, it falls flat.

First, let’s put this “hero” idea to the test. If you’re like me, you’ve never consciously thought about being the hero of your own life. But think about it for a moment. Remember sitting around the dinner table last night, telling your family how your day went? If you’re like me, you had a great idea; saw the solution first; were cut off in traffic. But you would never say, “I wasn’t paying attention and almost caused an accident.”  

It’s true, isn’t it? We all want to be the hero of our own lives. Now, for the part that many brands struggle with: If being the hero is a universal human desire, then your brand, product or service cannot be the hero. It needs to play a supporting role, which Miller describes as “the guide,” helping usher the consumer to solve a problem in their lives. But many brands portray themselves as the hero, and their products or services as “saving the day.”

Naturally, this got me thinking about brands I personally use that get this right. One example immediately comes to mind – Nordstrom. I am such a Nordstrom loyalist! There are numerous examples where they have allowed me to be the “hero” in my relationships. There was the time my sister called panicked because she needed a cocktail dress within 48 hours. I went to Nordstrom.com and ordered her three dresses that arrived the next day. There was the time my husband got a hole in his sportscoat (my favorite one) and swore it couldn’t be fixed. Nordstrom repaired the damage. And there was the time my mom was visiting after being ill, and my favorite Nordstrom’s make-up artist made her feel beautiful. Nordstrom made me the hero in all these stories. They allowed me to “save the day.”

This philosophy of making the consumer the hero is something any consumer researcher can reinforce. By its very nature, the work we do emphasizes the end user.  

As a result of reading this book I am challenging myself to do even more to make those I serve the hero. For me, this means:

Looking for new ways to make our own clients shine. They’re not the consumer, but they are our customers.  As experienced researchers, they can trust us to help solve their problems. Let’s be sure to make them the hero in our partnership.

Helping our clients stay focused on their consumers. Having worked on a brand team, I know we can fall in love with our own brands and be blinded by our affection. As consumer researchers, we owe it to our clients to gently reminding them of their brand’s role as guide if we see them moving down the path of making their brand, product or service the hero. 

As Miller’s book attests, the brands that make their consumers the hero are the most successful, and isn’t that the ultimate point? Consumers are not looking for another hero; they are already the hero of their own story. They need a guide to challenge them and give them a plan to an obtainable future. Let’s partner with our clients to guide their consumers on that journey.

SIVO Team Member Spotlight: Using Professional Skills for Positive Impact

By: Scarlett Ferguson, Research Strategist

I’ve conducted thousands of one-on-one interviews over my 25-year career as a researcher, but I recently found myself in several that were challenging in ways I don’t typically experience. I had volunteered to help an organization gather data about people experiencing homelessness across Minnesota. That day, I heard some incredibly difficult stories as people described their path to homelessness, struggles in their daily life, and barriers to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty. 

As researchers, we practice unconditional positive regard for those we interview, and that was probably never more important than with this group of people.

From left to right: My colleagues Jeff Walkowski, Tricia Davidson and me at our “Free Listening” session.

I was drawn to volunteer because I’d been involved with other organizations serving the disadvantaged over the years and was curious about the people I saw in need of those services. Volunteering for this effort was a natural way for me to continue to help the homeless population and learn more about their lives. The information gathered will be used by state and local governments to allocate funding for housing and social programs to serve the people I interacted with that day.

Building empathy

I’ve pursued other opportunities to use my qualitative research skills to serve others, including “Free Listening,” a movement developed by Urban Confessional and covered by media like NPR and Fast Company. 

Free Listening is built on the premise that many people have issues weighing on them but have no one to just listen. It promotes that when we listen solely for understanding, without intent to judge or persuade, we develop empathy for one another and improve communication.

Working with peers in the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, I helped organize a morning training session for 20 volunteers to learn and practice Free Listening. The group then dispersed into the community to experience it firsthand. While standing in a farmer’s market with a “Free Listening” sign was unnerving at first, I was surprised at the number of people who approached me and my colleague with curiosity and appreciation for this effort. More surprising was that, when given the opportunity, strangers did share concerns on their mind ranging from frustrations with work or family to observations on society. 

I believe my volunteer work has positively impacted my personal and professional life. It’s a reminder that regardless of who you are or what situation you’re in, people just want to feel heard and understood. There’s incredible power in respecting someone’s humanity, in believing that each of us is trying to do the best we can, and in just listening.

Bringing Humanity to the Forefront for Brands

Written by: Ruthie Feinstein, Director of Insights & Strategy

As a consumer insights researcher, I can get so wrapped up in the rigor of my day-to-day work, I really value the chance to step back and remember why it matters in the first place — and why I love it so much. 

I experienced this recently at the annual Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) conference in Savannah, Georgia. While I didn’t get to see much of the beautiful city, I was compensated by the fact that I was surrounded by like-minded people: Experts in our field, all there not to compete, but to share ideas. Each dedicating their career to connecting with people and learning what’s important to them, and to turning those insights into meaningful intelligence for our clients. (I was pretty geeked out.)

At one of the breaks, I chatted with a colleague and we empathized (commiserated) around the idea that qualitative research sometimes still, after all of these years, gets an unfair rap – it can be perceived as “soft” or not as valuable as quantitative research. I get it. Quant is measurable…it’s concrete…it’s “what” people are doing. You can easily connect the research investment back to the value of the data. Qual is more intuitive…it’s personal…subjective, it’s the “why” behind the what…. it’s well, human. It’s directly related to the human beings that brands desperately try to better understand and convince to move toward them.  

Qual brings a humanity, an empathy and true understanding to the way people choose to interact with brands and how brands earn their loyalty. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this. Looking at our own relationships – if we acted solely on “hard data,” how rich and deep and special would those relationships be? The same is true for brands. Yes – qual is pretty valuable in my book.

Let me be clear: This isn’t a competition – there is great value behind both types of research. There is most definitely a place for it depending on exactly what brands need to learn. My point is, I have seen the real power behind qual and its ability to shift minds and hearts, to inspire and drive action, and there’s nothing soft about it.

In the spirit of this topic, there were two sessions at the QRCA conference which left a lasting impression about the work we do as insight researchers that I hope will inspire you as well.

The Role of Neuroscience and Qual Research

One session I attended by Dr. Carmen Simon, a leading cognitive neuroscientist, talked about the role neuroscience plays in helping brands be memorable. She shared that “every single move people make is driven by a memory – not by what we forget.” Think about that for a second – it’s simple, but powerful. Often what is memorable for us as humans is emotionally meaningful. It’s this emotion that can be a vehicle for connection between brands and people. Qual research plays a critical role in uncovering emotions surrounding perceptions and decision making by understanding people deeply and profoundly: what are their life experiences and what verbals and non-verbals do they share in the retelling of those life events? What truly motivates them and why? What values do they hold dear and how do those drive them, and across it all – why do all of these things matter? So, how as thoughtful, analytical human researchers do we get at these insights? One way is through the art and science of storytelling.

Storytelling is an Influential, Strategic Tool

I attended a brilliant session by a compelling storyteller strategist, Lisa Lipkin, and learned (or re-learned, rather) that we as humans are hardwired for stories. We’re an oral culture, and our brains are designed to tell our own stories and remember the stories of others. It’s a mechanism for survival, actually. But in our work, it goes beyond just using stories to bring brand-focused messages to life. 

We can get incredibly useful insights in our research when we prompt people to share their stories and life experiences versus asking them direct questions. We call this “projective techniques,” but it just means we’re allowing people to let their guard down and share more deeply about their motivations, attitudes, beliefs and values. And it works mainly because, unlike with direct questions, there are no expectations — in the telling of their stories, people naturally open up. And getting at these deeper core emotional drivers reveals how people function in their lives.

A favorite example of this was when I led an in-home ethnography discussion with moms to learn more about the joys and challenges of motherhood so the brand could create an authentic, relatable communications campaign. Yes, I could have simply asked direct questions about the joy and challenges of motherhood (and frankly the client would have felt much more comfortable with the discussion guide if I had!). But I knew that wouldn’t get us very far. 

Instead, I asked my client to trust me… and they did. In thoughtfully guiding the conversations, we got to know the participants as people. They shared stories about their own childhood, recent examples in their lives of proud moments and embarrassing ones, and, through an interactive exercise, chose objects that most represented what they treasure about parenthood and what they feel most challenged by. The stories and tears that followed were invaluable and created such a true connection, revealing a much deeper understanding of these women for the client and their ad agency. It was pretty remarkable, and something my clients and I still talk about to this day. 

Time after time in my own work, I’ve seen the power of bringing humanity to the forefront of how brands interact with their customers through memories and storytelling. When I bring an open mind and an open heart to my research, I’m consistently amazed by what people reveal and how it impacts my clients and their organizations. The timing of this conference was just right – enabling me to kick off 2019 motivated and inspired by the love and energy for the work that I do.

Over the River and Through the Woods: Letting Consumers Lead Us to Discovery

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.

Andy, an Iowa farmer, showing me the ropes in his brand-new combine.


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.

Our videographer Mark joining in on the fun – but from a better vantage point.


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.

Clinton, a rancher in Texas, taking me on a tour of his pecan grove.


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.

Transforming Insights Into Business Solutions

Written by:  Cindy Blackstock, Managing Partner

At the recent Corporate Researchers Conference I attended in Orlando, this one, simple and elegant idea resonated most with me:  An insight is meaningless if there is no action prompted by it.  This approach to consumer insights is a point of pride here at SIVO.  Yes, our core competency is to discover, distill and synthesize human insights, but we don’t stop there.  Our mission is to help guide our clients in how to best apply those insights to meet their business objectives.

We’ve developed a three-step process that drives us from insight to action.  First, we collect consumer input: the “What.”  Next, when we translate that data into meaningful insights; those ideas are the “So What.”  And the third, most critical piece is the action, or something we define as the “Now What.”

The “Now What” is highly energizing for everyone on the learning journey – both the SIVO team and the client team  – because it takes insights to the next level; it is tangible proof that the insights we uncover add intrinsic value to our clients.  They may solve a problem.  Or they uncover white space for growth.  Or perhaps they can make the team smarter, more empathetic, and more effective consumer-first marketers.

Here are three recent SIVO examples of the “Now What” that have impacted our clients’ businesses:

  1. Short-term business problem

SIVO partnered with a major grocery retailer to fix a rapid sales decline in key markets.  Quantitative data alone wasn’t helping the team better understand specific shopper pain points.  We overlaid qualitative, contextual inquiry methods to get at the insights behind shopper behaviors.

SIVO Now What:  Our team facilitated a post-fielding activation session guiding the clients to use the insights to pinpoint issues and create specific, realistic, tactical solutions, region by region.  Regional teams were energized, felt listened to and had practical solutions to implement immediately.

  1. Maintaining consumer and marketplace relevance

A national department store retailer tapped SIVO to discover and use insights to build out an entirely new department.  The retailer had a loyal audience whose needs weren’t being met for a particular clothing category.

SIVO Now What:  We partnered with client’s cross-functional teams, including Customer Insights, R+D, Purchasing, Marketing and Product Designers, to map out the consumer need states and identify must-haves to make the total consumer experience a unique and successful one.

  1. Global communication strategy

To augment U.S. learning for an international CPG company, we conducted foundational and shopper insights in key growth markets in Europe and Australia.

SIVO Now What:  We developed a shopper journey map for the client’s internal organization, so they could better empathize with the customer’s true experience.  Our map highlighted pain points and uncovered moments of opportunity to influence behavior. This work helped to align the international team around core insights to influence a global brand communications strategy.

I am so proud of these examples and the fantastic work our talented team does in this space.  Like any good business, we never stray from our roots and we always start with a deep understanding of the consumer.  When we identify the “So What” and use that to impact the “Now What,” our partnership with clients and the work we do together has a bigger purpose. We provide meaning and value to the relationships that customers have with our clients’ brands…our true north of insight leading to action.


Could Millennials Be Misunderstood? Working with This Creative and Innovative Generation

Written by:  Marilyn Weiss, Founding Partner

As seen through the lens of older generations, millennials get blamed for a lot. Who ruined the taxi industry?  Millennials. What ever happened to bar soap? Millennials. Brunch, vacation, cereal…millennials are killing it all.  But I’m finding this judgment is misplaced.  If we employ true empathy to see millennials through their eyes, we get a much fuller picture of their struggles, strengths and potential.

SIVO Hosted Roundtable


At SIVO, we regularly hold roundtable discussions to learn from and build empathy for groups who are different from us.  We’ve hosted several sessions like this with millennials, and the conversations were enlightening. Our intent was to rise above the generational stereotypes and get to a deeper understanding of this group that is often maligned.

I realized the beauty of this group is they are reinventing life to fit their needs—and changing products and business models for everyone else in the process.

As I heard the stories from these young people, I found that the stereotypes surrounding them seem to be more myth than reality:

MythMillennials are lazy.

Reality:  They are hard-working people who are doing their best.  Many have college degrees, but they also have crushing student debt, so they work where and when they can and not always in their chosen field. They want more flexibility and time to travel, so they are redefining what work looks like.  It’s not laziness – it’s being creative to invent the work/life balance they seek.  So, working with millennials could be easier with an understanding of their underlying reasons for seeking flexibility.

MythMillennials are ruining industries.

Reality:  They are questioning the status quo (Why does everyone need to drive their own car? Why do you need a diamond to get engaged?), and then finding better ways to do things – like ride sharing, meal kits, and flexible work schedules.  I think we should harness the questioning and creative nature of millennials to reinvent processes and products that are overdue for a refresh.

MythMillennials aren’t loyal.

Reality:  They are loyal to their craft, but not necessarily to one company or one industry.  They are willing to work hard when it matters, but they are not willing to simply be a cog in a wheel.  It’s more important than ever to better understand their motivations.  That way, companies and millennials can work in a mutually collaborative environment.

Myth: Millennials can be difficult to work with.

Reality:  They really do like collaboration, just as much as any other cohort.  They want to be treated with respect.  They like to feel fulfilled and valued.  They prefer to skip all those meetings and use effective technology instead.  They are aching to be heard, trusted and taught instead of being given tasks and orders.  Their eagerness for bigger responsibilities is refreshing.  We should give them the chance to shine.

Being heard and understood feels good


MythMillennials think they know everything.

Reality:  Well, they do know tons about technology—but they also crave mentorship and collaboration.  This group is often given a lot of responsibility early in their work lives because they frequently have the digital intelligence that their older colleagues may lack. Yet, despite their digital savvy, they still need and want the social and emotional guidance that comes from years of working experience.

Recognizing what makes millennials tick is important for our business at SIVO in a few ways.  We help guide our clients who crave more understanding around this group when targeting services and products to them.  We also get asked by companies to help them understand their multi-generational workforce through an employee insight lens.

I personally appreciate their growing list of contributions.  After all, isn’t liquid soap more convenient than bar soap? And do we always need to rent a car when we are out of town for a quick meeting, when a Lyft is so much easier?  These are positive changes and innovations, new business models, products and ways of shopping – all thanks to millennials.

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Mission Possible: With Global Savvy, SIVO Helps Launch “Meatless” Meat in Hong Kong

Written by:  Ralph Blessing and Jeri Quest, SIVO Research Strategists


Plant-based food is more than just a trend—it’s a dynamic, fast-growing category that has attracted the attention of food and meat manufacturing companies such as Tyson Foods, Memphis Meats and Cargill.*  Impossible Foods is a leading and innovative brand in the plant-based food space, producing “meatless meat” that is incredibly similar looking and tasting to meat for discerning consumers.

The company launched its “Impossible Burger” in the U.S in 2016. In preparation for a launch in Hong Kong restaurants this summer, Impossible Foods tapped SIVO as a partner.  We were thrilled to travel to China and partner with this trailblazing brand to help them find out if its product tasted authentic and comparable to meat.  Our SIVO expertise helped tease out diners’ real attitudes, needs and reasons for trying Impossible Foods meat to the mainstream alternative of cow meat.  We also managed the true test for a new brand launch:  were consumer’s likely to buy it again or even recommend it to friends?

Influencing the Influencers

Our insights journey started with Impossible Foods’ organic, strategic approach for infiltrating a new market:  leverage and partner with popular, well-known chefs and restaurants that buy into the vision of plant-based meat.  Each chef’s own foodie following helped Impossible Foods get buzz, generate a cool factor and create new fans of the product.  We saw first-hand how the influence of social media buzz on blogs and Instagram was a particularly effective way to reach and engage urban Millennials in this market. Let’s just say we had no shortage of respondents who showed up for dinner wanting to check out the new Impossible Foods menu items.

Hong Kong Local Trying the Meatless Burger


The Hong Kong Foodscape

As we visited restaurants, observed dining behaviors and spoke directly with people, we were struck by the sophistication of the foodie culture in Hong Kong.  For example, we noticed that group dining is especially popular in Hong Kong.  Imagine tables of six young people, ordering two chili fries, one with meat and one with Impossible Foods meat, simply to compare the two out of pure curiosity.  We also noticed the city is filled with a diverse mix of locals, Europeans, other expats, Millennials, and boarding school students, all of whom were happy to share their thoughts and experiences with us.

Servers contribute to the brand experience


At the time of our research, Impossible Foods launched its product in three Hong Kong locales: at an upscale burger chain as well as two hip, chic restaurants run by a notable female chef. Each of the three restaurants tried Impossible Foods “meat” in different ways: a Thai burger, chili fries, bao and a pastry pocket.  

SIVO Uncovers the True Customer Experience

Our consumer insight challenge was unique due to the various ways the chefs used the product.  We had to decipher how diners liked the Impossible Foods ingredient since it was used in four different recipes.  Processing many variables also added to our mission—like the different flavors of the foods, the time of day and day of week, as well as the exciting melting pot of cultures in Hong Kong.

We were really motivated to gain insights in a fresh, new way, identifying how customers interacted and experienced the Impossible Foods menu items in the dining moment.  So, we ventured out into the hot, humid and rainy summer weather in Hong Kong, sometimes even getting lost in the tiny, winding streets of the old city.  We spent five days at selected local restaurants, observing and engaging with more than 200 diners.  To round out the learning, we spoke with servers and the chefs to hear their perspectives as well.

The authors enjoying Hong Kong


The Hong Kong experience was incredible for us in so many ways, but one of the most interesting aspects was witnessing the genuine excitement diners had for trying something new.  They snapped in-the-moment pictures, posted immediate reactions on social media about what they ate, debated with friends about the various flavors they tasted, and purposefully made it one big, fun social experience! We savored this unique opportunity as researchers—and as human beings—to take part in such a dynamic, global experience.





SIVO Team Member Spotlight: Jennifer Dilley, Research Director From Wine Novice to Enthusiast

Jennifer at the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Marathon


Jennifer Dilley’s interest in wine began in college.  She preferred Ernest and Julio Gallo boxed wine to the typical beer fare; and she also had an inkling that she wanted to know more about it.  Fast forward to her 30th birthday, when her sister surprised her with a sibling reunion trip to the Napa Valley in California.  Jennifer, her sister and brother all boarded a “wine train” that runs through Napa for a special monthly dinner; it featured a local chef and wine pairings.  That chef happened to be Thomas Keller, the legendary founder of The French Laundry in Yountville.  At the time, the Dilley table had no idea who he was (or how lucky they were to meet him!).

The wine that was paired with the Keller dinner hailed from Ceja vineyards, a nearby farm owned by two Mexican-American couples.  The Ceja owners loved the Dilley family and their story of the sibling’s meeting in Napa so much that they were invited back to the Ceja vineyard at the conclusion of the train ride.  Imagine vines, gorgeous fields, a picnic table under an open sky, homemade cactus salsa, and eight bottles of wine, and you can see why Jennifer’s first true introduction to wine was downright magical.  They blissfully lingered in the fields for hours!

Some years later, Jennifer and her sister hadn’t been back to Napa for quite a while, so they decided to meet there again, but this time with a new purpose:  conquering the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half-Marathon. Though neither are avid runners, wine was their motivation and the sisters decided to run a half-marathon on the vacation.  “When there is wine tasting at mile 10—why go anywhere else?” said Jennifer.

Jennifer liked it so much that she kept going back year after year.  This summer would have been her sixth half marathon and her third time running in this event.  Alas, a foot injury foiled the plan, so instead she watched the start of the race and got to enjoy the paella and wine as an enthusiastic spectator.  Like one of her favorite race signs read, “Run it fast, take it slow—either way you’ll get merlot!”

Jennifer and husband, Erik


When Jennifer met her husband Erik, he was already a wine enthusiast.  “He remembers regions, labels and vineyards much more than I do,” said Jennifer.  “We have a wine cellar, and it’s something we really enjoy together.”  Napa Valley cabernets are their favorites.

The couple makes time for their wine hobby in the Twin Cities, too. At Lela, a restaurant at the Sheraton hotel in Bloomington, they often try the monthly wine dinner featuring a five-course pairing and they enjoy taking Twin Cities Wine Education classes at North Loop Wine & Spirits.  A more leisurely weekend outing for them is to Schram Vineyards in Waconia—it’s a bucolic lakeside setting with bocce courts and food trucks.

Jennifer is also planning on visiting future wine destinations in Washington, Oregon, France and Italy.  “Vineyards have such a lovely ambience—the people just want you to enjoy the wine. So how can you not have a good time?” said Jennifer.


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Passport to Curiosity: Big Questions from the Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research 


Written by:  Jennifer Hinton, Research Strategist, SIVO Insights

“Curiosity is the attribute that unites qualitative researchers the world over. Curiosity is what gets us out of bed in the morning and carries us through those long working hours. But we need to invest in it, to continually fuel it, in order to keep our edge.”- QRCA Conference Program

“Mantente curioso:”  What are qualitative researchers most curious about?

It’s spring in Valencia, Spain, at the 2018 Worldwide Conference on Qualitative Research.  With a little help from my Google Translate app, I learn what “Stay Curious” sounds like in Spanish, before the keynote begins. Café con leche in hand, surrounded by my fellow researchers from around the world, I’m ready to get serious about being curious.

I arrived in Valencia several days before the conference to explore the city, and my inner curiosity meter was already on high.  With the insights from guidebooks, I was ready to experience all the things the locals love, and learn for myself what made them so special, even if they scared me a little bit.  Starting dinner at 9 p.m.?   Anchovies in orange vermouth?  O.K., I’m intrigued.  Which leads me to the first of three “big questions” from the conference…

Big Question #1:  How Do We Deliver More “Experience” To Our Clients?

One pervasive theme in the presentations:  Although insights are important, helping clients emotionally connect to these insights is critical.

“Insights are Dead: Long Live Insights!” shouted one presentation title and noted that while most insights are clearly articulated in deliverables, only 50% are implemented, in part due to this lack of emotional connection to the consumer experience. *  One presenter referenced Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy as a way to drive home the point that we need to help insights come alive by helping clients “feel them.”  Some ideas discussed on how to do this:

— Allotting 10% of budget for experience-related activities.

— Virtual reality as the next iteration of video highlights for consumer immersion experiences.

— Creative events and activities targeting spaces where products are used (Ex: A Heineken case study showed clients went clubbing with millennials to experience their beverage choices).

SIVO does this in a few ways:  Our video storytelling highlights consumers’ voices to keep insights alive in a dynamic way.  And ‘be the consumer’ and client immersion exercises get clients away from their desks and into the shoes of their consumers for an exercise in true empathy.

The author with storytelling expert and speaker Oana Popa Rengle


Big Question #2:  How Can Other Professions Inform Insight Gathering Best Practices and Methodologies? 

Whether it was method acting, storytelling, or even uni-cycling, researchers explored what can be learned from professionals in other fields to elevate our qualitative game.

One presenter interviewed six individuals who practice “the art of interlocution” including an NPR journalist, newspaper reporter, philosopher, anthropologist, litigator, and psychotherapist.  She found good qualitative work involves three key roles: observer, storyteller and advocate, and suggested that we be mindful to give attention to each role in our methodology and deliverables.

At SIVO, we:

— Utilize System 1 thinking to hone our observation of consumer behavior at the First Moment of Truth.

— Draw out the inner storyteller in our respondents with customized pre-work activities.

— Create reports that champion the consumer’s experience by elevating insights with first person personas told in THEIR language.

Big Question #3:  When and Where Do We Need (More) Technology?

“How the Future of A.I. Makes Moderators More Important” was well-received, earning a best presentation award for its complexity and message.  Artificial Intelligence is surely changing the value of different types of work associated with our research.

I won’t attempt to summarize it here, but spoiler alert, in the future, moderators will still be analyzing data and reporting it, while artificial intelligence will be another tool in our tech tool box.

Visit SIVO Village, In the Country of Curiosity

We often refer to ourselves as the “SIVO Village,” a term I loved the first time I heard it. After attending the conference, I realized our Village is based in the “country” of curiosity – we all eat, sleep, love, and breathe it! I came away from the conference inspired both by the ideas shared, and by the knowledge that I work with colleagues who ask big questions of ourselves for our clients. Just like that guidebook that came alive for me in Spain, I plan to bring consumer insights alive in the most compelling ways I can, and help our clients stay curious.

* Schillewaert & Pallini, “What Do Clients Think About MR Impact?”, Greenbook, 2014





Customer Experience (CX) in Context

Written by: Cindy Blackstock, Managing Partner

Customer experience—say it and everyone’s ears perk up.  It’s the hot topic in our industry.  While attending the recent CX Next conference in Boston with the SIVO team, we saw how CX is influencing and intersecting with consumer insights.


The X Factor

Despite being a shiny and buzzworthy idea, it seems as though there is not yet a singular, agreed-upon, industry-wide definition for the term customer experience – affectionately referred to as CX.  We spoke with presenters and attendees at the conference and asked, “Tell us what customer experience is about.”  We never got the same answer.  It became apparent that everyone is exploring what that “X” factor means for categories, brand and products.

Here at SIVO, we have our own perspective:

Customer experience is the customer’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings about their interactions related to an organization or brand.

In truth, we have been working to reveal the customer experience all along.  For us, it’s not an intimidating or nebulous concept, because we are qualitative experts who can uncover these customer perceptions.  We get to the “why” behind the customer experience data and translate it into actionable ideas that businesses can use. Our work goes hand in hand with the emerging discipline of CX.

Data + Stories = A Winning Formula

At the conference, we learned that for typical customer experience research, the information is primarily quantitative.  Quantitative research is essential for validation, since data, surveys and results play a role in helping to measure change over time.  But the process can’t stop there, since survey data is not a comprehensive measure of the consumer’s voice.

I believe clients need a better blend of data and stories—companies need to have the human component, the truly “experiential” piece to bring the data to life.  And to make a business impact, organizations need that qualitative, intimate understanding to find out what is behind the data.  I think the quantitative helps identify whatto fix, and qualitative helps identify howto fix it.

The Brand Voyage

Customers are also on a journey with a brand.  And it’s the whole trip, not the individual stops on the route that predict success.  For example, the customer service may be acceptable, but the whole brand experience is negative for the user.  So a brand might get a high rating in a survey about customer service, but that one interaction will not reveal the whole story. Brands need to talk to customers and ask, “How are you doing?” instead of, “How are we (the company) doing?” These questions reveal the crucial and impactful, human element of CX.

The brand journey is also structured differently for customers.  Most organizations are vertical, while experience for customers is horizontal.  SIVO stiches together a map, an outline of the horizontal journey of the customer experience.  From there, we decide where to go deeper:

  • Start with customer voices
  • Create a customer journey map
  • Identify the touch points
  • Dive deep into processes, tools and people

With key consumer insights to illuminate the quantitative data, customer experience can be a true relationship.  Customers can interact with the brand across each and every touchpoint, instead of a one-time “event.”

Making CX Count

When customers have many stops along the total journey with a brand, there are many opportunities to engage and enhance the relationship.  And SIVO believes in leveraging those touchpoints to make a real impact:

  • Exceed expectations where they count
  • Make a positive impact at critical moments and earn loyalty
  • Make the customer experience have real meaning

Carry these thoughts in your “suitcase” as you embark your own journey.




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