From consumer intelligence to consumer centricity

We see many brands pivoting their offering to stay relevant in these times of crisis. Red Roof hotels is offering day rates for remote workers that have neither space nor patience to work at home. Restaurant chains such as Panera and Subway are selling fresh groceries next to their usual fare. And Toy brand Mattel unveiled a new line of Fisher-Price action figures featuring today’s heroes; delivery drivers, grocery store workers and healthcare professionals. What do all these brands have in common that they succeed in staying relevant? An outside-in perspective, or a strong focus on their consumers’ unique needs and wants.

Outside-in perspective to become resilient

It seems a no-brainer to start your business with a focus on your consumer, aiming to provide them with a relevant and appealing offering. But did you know that many business owners develop an ‘if I build it, they will buy it’ mindset after initial successes in the market? They believe that consumers primarily respond to the great products and services they push to the market.

This is what happened at Facebook in 2018; they decided to launch the Facebook Portal, a stand-alone device designed to improve people’s video conference experiences. With computer vision AI and an auto-zoom feature, the Portal followed people as they moved, to better frame the video shot. While the device did excel in terms of performance, many consumers displayed distrust towards a Facebook-connected camera in their homes; especially as the device release was just 8 months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal that embroiled Facebook. As technology news website Recode phrased it: “Facebook could improve video calls. The question is whether people will let it.” And the public’s answer so far has been a firm “no”.

Facebook clearly believed they understood what consumers needed; however they pushed out a product that did not elicit any enthusiasm among its users. In today’s extremely volatile times, it is no longer an option to operate with an ‘if I build it, they will buy it’ mindset, or to have a rather diffuse understanding of the consumer. Brands need to embrace an outside-in perspective. Keeping the finger on the pulse of their consumers to understand their changing needs and wants allows to respond with a relevant offering. Harvard professor Ranjay Gulati confirms this thinking; he even states that the advantages of outward-looking are most apparent during turbulent times. Being extremely focused on the consumer and their needs and wants makes organizations more resilient in dealing with disruptive times.

Structural collaboration to become ‘consumer-centric

However, building resilience by keeping the finger on the pulse does not mean solely installing consumer intelligence practices to track, monitor and store every interaction and transaction.

 “I am a broken record when it comes to saying, ‘We have to focus on the consumer.’… I don’t think the answers are just in the numbers. You have to get out and look.”- A.G. Lafley, former CEO at Procter & Gamble

Brands need to go beyond ‘measuring’, and should install an ongoing collaboration with their consumers to truly understand what they think, feel and do. Next, it’s about turning this continuous stream of data – the consumers’ feedback, input and ideas – into insights, and acting upon those. We call this approach ‘consumer-centric’: the consumer gets deeply anchored in the organization, and drives change throughout the business. To survive and even thrive in today’s fickle times, organizations need to move from ‘consumer intelligence’ to ‘consumer centricity’. An intrinsic understanding of the consumer should drive their decision making, rather than solely facts or consumer intelligence.

Heineken puts great effort into installing a consumer-centric mindset among all its stakeholders. Since 2016, they have been running a structural consumer Square called Brewhouse to keep an ongoing finger on the pulse; the organization recently also started to experiment with consumer-connect initiatives. Directly connecting the Heineken team with 50 consumers for 30-minute one-on-one interviews has resulted in an increased consumer understanding and empathy.

More than ever, brands need to stay close to their consumers and collaborate to jointly shape the future. While the pandemic is forcing us to close our doors, we have to open our minds to greater collaboration. It’s about integrating the voice of the consumer in everything brands do, through ongoing and structural collaboration.

Eager for more? Download our latest digital bookzine ‘Better Together: from consumer intelligence to consumer centricity’.

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Tom De Ruyck
Thoughtleader Future of Research
Managing Partner

Contact Tom