Monthly Musings with Marilyn: Understanding is in the Eye of the Consumer


Recently I stumbled upon a very interesting test in the New York Times called, “Reading the Mind in the Eyes”, where participants study 36 photographs of pairs of eyes and choose one of four adjectives that best describes the correct emotion being portrayed. The test measures a person’s ability to understand others’ emotional states. What does this have to do with Qualitative Research you might ask? Well… everything.

As qualitative researchers, it is our job to be completely in-tune with the moods and emotions of the consumers we interact with. It requires a special ability to pick up on those subtle, non-verbal cues that often carry the greatest meaning. In order to understand the “why” behind a consumers purchase decision, it requires a unique eye-to-eye experience that allows us to see up close and personal what happens at the moment of purchase.

Whether it’s a look of confusion, frustration, or a slight smile before the consumer reaches for a product, every look and movement matter. It’s within those key moments that we are able to reveal breakthrough insights that are often undetected by the average eye. While data may reveal powerful insights about purchase patterns and behavior, it requires a trained eye and a tangible, human connection to discover the unexpected.

~ Marilyn Weiss

President & Founding Partner


Cindy Blackstock Heads to IRONMAN!

cindyAs most of you know, our Managing Partner, Cindy Blackstock, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has been bravely fighting the battle against cancer with incredible character and strength. After a double mastectomy, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and cold caps, Cindy has continued to amaze us with her warrior-like attitude and inspiring courage.

Despite the physical setbacks of cancer, Cindy was determined to continue pursuing her passion of competing in triathlons. Less than 1 year after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Cindy will compete this Saturday, October 12th, in the most iconic triathlon event in the world at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Cindy will embark on a 140.6-mile journey that presents the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit to earn the title of IRONMAN.

Not only is Cindy an incredible endurance athlete and breast cancer survivor, she is a hero and an inspiration to us all. We encourage you to cheer for Cindy as she sets out on this inspiring journey in IRONMAN.

Click here to follow Cindy’s minute-by-minute progress during the race and also be sure sure to follow IRONMAN on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates!

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As serendipity would have it, the competition also happens to take place during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since her diagnosis, it has become Cindy’s personal mission to educate and encourage women to get screened for breast cancer. If cancer can happen to a top endurance athlete with no family history of breast cancer like Cindy, it can happen to anyone. So please get screened and share this message with your loved ones!

We were so inspired by Cindy’s mission to help women, that Sivo Insights now donates 3% of all profits to Breast Cancer Research & Screening.

Just as the IRONMAN Mantra proclaims, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE®”, Cindy is a living, breathing, testimony that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to! We couldn’t be more thrilled to support our IRONWOMAN Cindy and we hope you will join in celebrating this once in a lifetime moment!

How Authentic is Your Brand?


It seems every time you walk into a store today you are confronted with new products, new brands and new product extension lines. So how do consumers sift through all of the noise to select a product they believe in and connect with? It may be less complicated than you think. While many marketers over the last several decades have focused on brand positioning to “capture” the attention of their consumers, today’s consumers would rather be captivated by an honest and authentic brand.

According to a recent article by Fast Company, “We need to stop buying and selling ideas about brands that don’t have any substance behind them and start enabling people to discover why they should incorporate a company’s brand into their own.”

Today’s consumers easily recognize the difference between a brand trying to “sound” authentic, and a brand that is genuinely authentic and interested in connecting with its consumers on a deeper level.

“If a brand says, “we want to be seen as X,” the correct response from a marketer is ‘Are you actually X?’ or “Then go be X,” because no amount of positioning can swing the needle if you aren’t actually delivering the experience.”

The infamous BP oil spill in 2010 is a prime example. Many consumers felt that BP’s efforts to reconcile the disaster were insincere; some even went so far as to label it BP propaganda. So what caused this disconnect between BP’s messaging, and the poor response it received from its consumers? A lack of authenticity may have been a major factor.

Too often brands try to overcompensate by trying to appear in a certain manner, forcing their authenticity and transparency in front of their consumers with bold ad campaigns and messaging. When in reality, consumers would prefer to see what companies do about a problem, rather than be told what they are going to do about it. While positioning will always be a crucial element of the marketing process, it can easily become a tool for manipulating consumer’s emotions rather than inspiring them with an incredible product and an authentic message.

Whether it’s launching a new product or dealing with a PR disaster, companies that make an honest, authentic effort to understand their consumers on a deeper level will be equipped with the insights they need to connect with and retain their consumers trust and support in the future.

Is it time to reevaluate the authenticity of your brand?


Monthly Musings with Marilyn: Power Lies in Context

content is power

Today’s consumers are constantly evaluating and selecting products within an ever-changing context. Experiences ranging from c-stores to club channels, grocery and retail, to online purchases, are inextricably interwoven to the context and mindset of consumer decisions. What does this mean for marketers? Based on the particular context of the consumer, it can radically effect their perceptions of your product, packaging, messaging and price. This is where marketers have a very powerful opportunity to dig deeper and uncover the unique implications of product perception based on the context of the consumer. Qualitative research can provide the answers.

As a qualitative researcher, I really like to think of myself as more of a “humanologist”. It’s my job to get up close and personal with consumers, and get “under the hood” of human behavior. Understanding how the delicate nuances of context translates into which products consumers select for purchase never gets tiring or old. Our human motivations, drives, and persuasions are essentially timeless, and yet ever-changing based on context. For example, a person looking at a product in the context of a crowded, noisy shopping mall may have a completely different perspective about the same product while looking at it in a catalog. Or, a consumer within the context of a movie theater may be willing to spend substantially more money on a box of candy than they would at a c-store store. It’s understanding how to specifically market to your consumer within each unique environment that makes context so powerful.

The effect of context, is an intensely important variable that plays a crucial role in the “not black/not white” nature of humans that continues to intrigue us at Sivo Insights. That’s why we are so passionate about sifting our way through the gray areas to provide our clients with a clear, crisp understanding of their consumer’s contextual behavior. Understanding the effects of context will provide the precise insights you need for anticipating your consumers needs in each unique environment. Is it time to take a deeper look “under the hood” of your consumers?

~ Marilyn Weiss

President & Founding Partner


Unveiling the Mystery of Millennials


They are one of the most tech savvy generations of our day, glued to their smart phones and addicted to the latest and greatest new technology. But they can also be one of the most difficult generations to understand and market to… Millennials. Understanding this complex and elusive generation can pose a real challenge for today’s marketers. So how can companies peel back the layers of these enigmatic consumers and develop a true understanding of this crucial under-30 market? Perhaps it’s time to listen.

In a recent article by Entrepreneur Magazine, Michele Serro, a former associate partner at IDEO, a leading design and innovation consulting firm, and founder of New York City-based Doorsteps, an online tool for prospective homeowners that targets young buyers, shares her perspective on understanding this mysterious market.

“What you’ve heard from the millennial consumer from the start should be what you repeat back to them,” says Serro. “For example, if your customers are most concerned about convenience or reliability, then emphasize those qualities in your marketing. You’re not telling them a story about what they should want or need, you are simply showing that they’ve been heard.”

In order to repeat what’s been heard, you must first begin with sincere listening. As it turns out, this uber-connected; cyber generation simply desires for their voice to be heard and experience a personal, human connection. Qualitative research can provide the ideal setting and human experience that millennials long for. Here are a few examples.

Methods for Unveiling Millennial Consumer Behavior

1. In-Store Intercepts: One excellent method for revealing a genuine glimpse of millennial behavior is right at the source in the in-store setting. It is the ideal place to get at the core of what matters to your consumer. Moderators are experts at observing and thoughtfully engaging consumers at the moment of product selection to reveal truths about what motivates purchase.

2. Ethnographic Studies: Another excellent way to provide a human connection with millennial consumers is ethnographic studies. This method provides a holistic view of consumers in the context of their daily lives—where they live, work, play and shop. It allows researchers to observe how millennial consumers actually use and experience products and services in their own environment, to determine patterns of usage, current level of satisfaction, unmet wants and needs, and suggestions for improvement.

Understanding Millennials takes far more than guesswork. It takes creativity, patience and the humility to listen and observe. If you take the time to understand your millennial consumers on a deeper level, you will lift the veil of mystery and discover valuable insights that lead to real business opportunities.


Monthly Musings with Marilyn: Opposites Attract – Big Data & Qualitative Research


We’ve all heard the age-old saying that “opposites attract,” but what does that have to do with Qualitative Research and Big Data? As a professional qualitative researcher this means more to me than you might imagine. Not only do I understand and appreciate the unique relationship between big data and qualitative research, I also happen to be married to one of those “Big Data” guys. Ironic? I don’t think so. It turns out it’s a pretty perfect combination.

Not only do opposites attract, they complement one another. Just like a relationship, each person brings a different set of ideas and skills to the table that often complement what the other person may lack. The same concept applies to big data and qualitative research. Neither method is necessarily lacking on it’s own, but when used together they are able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to create one clear, robust picture.

Today, companies like Best Buy choose to rely on both methods of research to gain a more informed, 360° vantage point of their consumer’s behavior. For example, if a company notices a spike or drop in one of its product lines, big data may be able to provide the numbers, but qualitative research can uniquely investigate the details and tell you “why.” If you don’t know the “why” behind your consumer’s choices, you have an unclear compass to help you navigate the future. Essentially qualitative research helps tell the rest of the story that big data can’t.

Have you ever heard the term “analysis paralysis”? When overwhelmed by mountains of data it can feel impossible to decide where to start or what to focus your attention on. This is where big data needs its better half, qualitative research. Qualitative researchers help you hone in on what’s important in your data, and prioritize what the data is telling you. Don’t become paralyzed by your data, instead make your data work for you by using qualitative research to bring it to life.

Just like all good relationships, “two heads are better than one.” It takes two unique perspectives to gain a greater understanding of a problem and all of its facets for a complete 360° vantage point. So rather than going it alone, let both methods do what they do best and reap the rewards of coming together to unveil key insights and distinct business action steps for a successful future.

~ Marilyn Weiss

President & Founding Partner

The Human Side of Research

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What comes to mind when you think of Big Data? According to many modern day marketers and researchers, Big Data is where the future of research is headed. And while intricate formulas and advanced algothrims may serve a valuable purpose in the research process, can Big Data ever really replace the human element of research?

According to a recent article in Forbes, there are still some things that Big Data will never do, “Computers, after all, are not people, much less consumers. While they can help us execute our plans, they cannot form our intent. Ironically, as marketing becomes more automated, true competitive advantage is even more inextricably tied to the human spirit.”

Is it possible for Big Data to discover valuable insights from large quantities of data and formulate helpful solutions? Absolutely. However, while Big Data may be able to answer the “what,” of your research, it can’t reveal the “why.” Without the unique human ability to keenly observe the subtle nuances of consumer behavior, quantitative research reaches its limits. We are forced to face the reality that understanding consumers on a deeper level goes far beyond mathematical calculations. It takes real human-to-human interaction to unveil those breakthrough insights that heighten brand awareness and accelerate product innovation.

If companies seek a true understanding of their consumers, utilizing both qualitative and quantitative methods creates a far more complete picture. When implemented correctly, both methods work together and help inform one another, providing a multi-dimensional view of your consumer’s true identity. As a result, marketers and researchers could then equip themselves with the knowledge and tools they need to maximize their strengths for a true competitive advantage.

Is it time you put the human element back into research? You have nothing to lose but groundbreaking insights.

Gordon Weiss Research Becomes Sivo Insights!


What’s behind a name? In this case, the meaning behind the name Sivo Insights, is nothing short of pure serendipity. After four years of incredible growth, the name Gordon Weiss Research no longer seemed to suit the rapidly expanding organization that Marilyn Gordon Weiss had built from the ground up. With business rapidly expanding, new employees, clients and new projects, Marilyn and business partner Cindy Blackstock, wanted a name that spoke to their size and philosophy as researchers. It was time for a change.

While Marilyn was on a trip to Croatia last summer, she heard the word Sivo for the very first time. Sivo is a Croatian word meaning “not black and not white.”

“We don’t really have a word in the English language to reflect that,” said Marilyn. “And Cindy’s family immigrated to the United States from Croatia – so there was an obvious connection there.”

Something about the word Sivo struck Marilyn like a chord. Her last name Weiss meant “white” in German, and Cindy’s last name was Blackstock. Black and White, Ying and Yang. Sivo was the perfect name to symbolize the unique partnership between Marilyn and Cindy, and the incredible team they had developed over the last several years.

“Anytime you are dealing with humans it is rarely black and white,” said Marilyn. “What we specialize in is navigating those gray areas that are a little harder to decipher, but often carry the most valuable insights. The name Sivo Insights captured the essence of the work we do helping clients understand and connect with their consumers on a human level. We knew it was a perfect fit.”

Shortly after the rebranding process had begun, Marilyn and Cindy were confronted with some life-changing news. Cindy, was diagnosed with breast cancer just days after a routine mammogram. The entire team was shocked by the startling revelation, but determined to persevere against all odds.

“The experience has changed us for the better,” said Cindy. “It has given us a perspective that we didn’t have before and has proven to have many gifts along the way of insight, caring for others, and grace.”

The team at Sivo Insights has decided that they will give 3% of net profits to charities that support breast cancer research and families dealing with breast cancer.

“The launch of Sivo Insights signifies so much more to us than business growth,” said Marilyn. “We have grown not just as a company, but as a group of women who are able to unite and overcome the impossible. There couldn’t be a more perfect time to celebrate our rebranding as our business and personal lives parallel a hopeful and inspiring future.”


Monthly Musings with Marilyn: Sincere Solutions in a Green World

If you take a look around you’ll notice a lot of people are going “green” these days, and not just with their environmentally friendly smart cars and recycling, but with their eating habits too. Today’s consumers are more aware than ever about the food they put in their bodies and are eagerly seeking more natural, health-conscious options for their nutrition. And now they don’t have to shop at Whole Foods or the local Co-Op to get it. Take a walk through any mainstream grocery store and you’ll notice the words Organic, Anti-biotic Free, Locally Raised and All-Natural scattered on items throughout aisles. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “Organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 3 of 4 conventional grocery stores. Organic sales account for over 3 percent of total U.S. food sales, according to recent industry statistics.” These are not numbers to be ignored.

With increasingly stricter food guidelines in schools coupled with a growing public awareness of the rise of obesity and diabetes, many CPG companies are being forced to reevaluate some of their products and marketing strategies in order to adapt. So how do established CPG companies go about adjusting to this ever-growing natural health movement in our country? Perhaps it’s time to stop looking at this movement as a problem or a nuisance, but to embrace it as an opportunity for growth.

What if CPG companies decided to take a sincere look at the situation by spending the time and effort it takes to deeply understand their consumer’s changing eating habits?

By making a conscious effort to be a part of the solution, companies would then open the door to discover the answers to their problems. In-depth qualitative research can provide the breakthrough insights that companies need in order to adapt their products to meet the needs of their consumers. It can provide a fresh perspective on your products and brand to help you confidently shape your marketing strategy for the future. I believe John F. Kennedy said it best when he stated, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Whether it’s a natural-food movement or any of the unforeseen trends in the future, change is inevitable. You can choose to stay in the present and hope your products will survive the waves of change that are certainly coming, or you can choose to be proactive and equip yourself with the knowledge and insights to successfully navigate the future. It takes a conscious effort to address the problems and obstacles of today and it takes integrity and courage to be a sincere part of the solution. Which path will you take?

~ Marilyn Weiss

President & Founding Partner

Marketing to Millennials: A Consumer Courtship

Smart phones, iPads, Online Dating Sites, Texting & Social Media. These devices and platforms only begin to scratch the surface of the growing technology available to today’s Millennial consumers. With a constant stream of never ending information available at their fingertips, how does one go about marketing to one of the most over-marketed to generations? It turns out Millennials just want to be courted.

In a recent article by The New York Times, Millennial’s share their frustration about navigating their way through the murky waters of dating in a world enveloped by technology. Relationship experts suggest that all of this technology has hindered the process. Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings). Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of “asynchronous communication,” as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.

If Millennials are hungry for a more traditional courtship in dating, perhaps companies should consider marketing to their Millennial consumers in a similar way. Instead of throwing a dart into the middle of the Millennial landscape and hoping that it sticks, what if companies put the time and effort into understanding their consumers on a personal level, court them if you will. In the article, a young tech entrepreneur Cheryl Yeoh summed it up quite nicely, “If he really wants you, he has to put in some effort.”

The relationship you have with your consumers should be no different. Just like a traditional courtship, understanding your consumer on a deeper level requires effort, strategic planning and investment. Will you do what it takes to understand your Millennial consumers? If you do, breakthrough insights and endless possibilities await.



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

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