Sara Green has worked in FMCG for 24 years, across sales, category, and insight. She has experienced firsthand the impact of solid consumer quality insight on product development and stakeholder engagement. She is currently the Global Head of Insight & Category Centre of Excellence for Bahlsen biscuits. Before joining Bahlsen, she was the Head of Insight & Innovation for a leading UK bakery brand, where she first discovered Zinklar.
What are the current challenges in market research?
Nowadays many companies experience challenges around:
- Confidence in findings
- Opportunity/ability to commercialize findings
- Managing competing internal perspectives
And, in many ways, we have too much information, too much data, and too much to analyze. For internal teams, trying to keep the finger on the pulse can be challenging. And often, you have studies that answer many questions but don’t always tell you what you need to know.
Is it increasingly difficult to find quality insights?
It can be challenging to get quality insights without waste. It is very tempting to expand the scope of a study, continually add layer upon layer of questioning, but it extends timelines, adds cost and you need to know where to draw the line.
You must be very specific when entering any insights program. What is your objective? Is it an explorative study or a consolation one? It is important to know your objective and carefully plan what you need to explore.
It is also important not to waste opportunities to build insight. Every time you speak to a consumer, ask them a question; it will expand your thinking. If you’re in the food industry, for example, and running a sensory test, think about what killer questions you might add at the screening stage, are there any questions that you could add to the end of the study? Being resourceful can save you time and investment. Another example; if the sales team is going to speak with a customer, it’s really useful to get their perspective on the market; what do they think? What do they want to know? If you are constantly curious you will always find inspiration, and that leads to answers.
How often do you need to obtain insights to make decisions?
Very often. Deadlines are becoming shorter because the industry is changing so quickly. Sometimes you don’t have the time to be as curious as you might like, and you have to balance the strategy of your business and the volume of quality insight. You need to be discerning. And that’s why having great systems and great agency partners, together with a high-quality internal insights team, can do wonderful things, because you have the experience, intuition, and knowledge of an industry or a product.
The critical thing is you have to be comfortable that the decisions you are taking for your business are the right ones, to ensure that investment is being made in the right areas.
In Insights, is recurrence or speed more important?
It depends on the brief. If you have a meeting on Friday and you need to present, speed is more important, but if you need to know how the perception of a brand is changing over time, you need to ask the question regularly.
“You have to be comfortable that the decisions you are taking
for your business are the right ones”
Prioritization is super important. How do you know where you need to focus?
A precise business, sales, and marketing strategy are essential because, without that framework, it is very easy for research to go off in many different directions and uncover a million interesting things. Sometimes without a clear perspective on how to use them.
The insights team must work closely alongside sales, marketing, manufacturing, etc., to understand all the elements of what is going on and what is possible, pull it all together and anticipate for future months and years.
How do you build a business case to show the need for market research to senior executives?
In every business, when you have ideas of what kind of initiatives may succeed, you can get a lot of information from a variety of sources: news headlines, consumer trends, feedback from retailers, market research reports… and build a picture about what is the right thing to do.
There are a few essential things you need:
- Confidence that the initiative you are proposing will work. That is why you need consumer feedback.
- Evidence that the initiative will succeed for your business, in order to give reassurance internally
- The ability to persuade and convince trade partners that you understand consumer’s thinking and motivations
How many teams are involved in that process?
The impact of consumer quality insight can be felt across many departments of an organization, and all teams should be involved to one extent or another:
- Senior leadership: they have the responsibility for the entire business. They are the ones who must decide where to prioritize investment to reach business objectives.
- Sales: they need to have confidence in any proposals
- Marketing: they need to know what will work for their brand in order to drive growth and market share
- Innovation: they need to know what will be the ‘next big thing to grow markets’, categories, and brands
- Category management: need to understand consumer and shopper behavior, then integrate the learnings with retailer strategies, in a way that benefits the whole category
- Finance: need to understand the current and future impact of commercial initiatives and be satisfied they can be delivered profitably
- Operations & Supply Chain – need to know the ‘direction of travel’ to ensure that they can plan for and invest in an appropriate infrastructure
Can you explain the process of collecting insights related to a new product launch?
You start by being curious, exploring a number of areas: consumer behavior, trends, what people are looking for, and what’s missing. Then you start to build the picture of where you could go. Ultimately, you can then begin to test concepts with consumers to see which ones work. It is important to consider:
- What can you physically produce as a business right now?
- What can you do in 3 years?
- What can you do in the next ten years?
From these answers, you can then test in more detail.
How are you using quality insights to plan for large macro factors impacting the daily life of the consumer such as increasing inflation rates?
It’s tough to anticipate the duration of any macro changes within a market. You can think of what happened at a similar time. Related to the increase in the cost of living, you can think about consumer behavior in 2008. But we are in a different world, and various driving factors exist. For example, in 2008, we were not living with a pandemic.
We can make assumptions about what can happen, but we don’t know. Also, there are limitations on how businesses can respond to the changes. It isn’t easy. Sometimes the insights you gather will be related to things that you know you can’t change. There is little point in finding out what will happen next week if you know you can’t change anything. It’s important to plan ahead wherever possible.
“With Zinklar I discovered a way to enhance
our insight capability and improve it”
In these situations, how can a platform like Zinklar help?
Within the Zinklar platform one can create questionnaires easily and get the answers in a few hours, this is so useful. It’s also easy to design a study that goes across multiple markets within a short time frame. Zinklar can benefit insight teams by removing wastage from the process.
Examples where an insights platform can be really useful
People who have managed market research projects will know how much thought, time, and effort goes into the study design. They will also know that it cannot be all things to all people.
I’ve often sat in a debrief where someone says, “Did you ask the consumer XYZ?” Often these questions arise after the initial study has unveiled a real nugget of insight. Invariably the answer to this question suddenly becomes the essential missing piece of the jigsaw on which your project relies.
Then there are the times you need a few nuggets of consumer insight quickly, certainly not enough for a full brief, but you need the information soon. Maybe you’ve developed two flavors, salt caramel, and toffee chocolate, for example, and you need to know which one would be preferred and by whom.
Another example is when you’ve attended an internal meeting, and now you need to know the answers to some critical questions before internal stakeholders can align on a particular course of action.
Why did you decide to use the Zinklar insights platform?
The benefit of using the platform was obvious from the outside, and the Zinklar Account Manager understood what I needed right from the outset. Often, it’s difficult to establish how some services or agencies can add value. This was not the case with the Zinklar platform. With Zinklar, I discovered a way to enhance our insight capability and improve it.
What are the benefits of using the Zinklar platform?
The most valuable benefit of Zinklar is the ability to respond quickly to retailer requests. If a retailer asks a question relating to the category or the market, it’s possible to run a study the next day and be in a position to deliver a full debrief within a week to ten days. This means we can prioritize and take action incredibly quickly.
It is also helpful for scoping out the right product, targeting the right consumer, and helping us to understand where we have to delve into a particular area.
We don’t get hours and hours to discuss opportunities with partners because everybody is short of time. We have to make sure that when we have 45 minutes to an hour with the stakeholders, we have to highlight the important elements of why the initiative we want to launch is the right one. Zinklar has been absolutely fantastic in helping to build robust selling stories, giving us confidence in that we are doing the right thing.
Even alongside more traditional studies, Zinklar adds value. You can go back to ask things you didn’t ask before and fill those gaps in your knowledge. Particularly useful when you don’t have the time or the resources to conduct another study.
How easy is it to use the Zinklar platform?
Super easy. Despite not coming from an agency background, I found the platform incredibly intuitive and easy to use. The expertise of the Zinklar team genuinely adds a lot of value. It’s just an absolute pleasure to work with them.
What I like most about Zinklar is that you can get results in any sample you like, in any market you like. Other options I have tried have not been as flexible. Zinklar allows you to launch projects more efficiently, easily, and with less investment. The efficiency of Zinklar’s platform is absolutely fantastic.
It’s quite a big commitment to change the way that you do things, especially when you don’t have the time to make mistakes or re-do things. So I really enjoy working with Zinklar because it has slotted in alongside existing working practices and filled in a lot of gaps, without being disruptive. My observation is that it has genuinely made things easier for the teams that use it.
What features are more useful for you?
The screen out questions because they allow you to invest just in the opinions you need to know. Avoiding wasting time and resources.
What recommendation would you give to someone in the industry who is not using a platform like Zinklar?
The most significant benefit of working with Zinklar is that it genuinely does what it is designed to do. The system is well-designed and intuitive to use and I have always had expert support on hand when needed.
I tell everybody I work with in my industry to at least go and explore the Zinklar platform. It’s not designed to replace existing insight capability, but more to sit alongside it and enhance overall outputs. I would encourage anybody to discover what Zinklar can offer and then consider how it can add value to their business.
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