The ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of Consumer Connects

Microsoft is continuously working on innovations that help people to focus, as research has shown it takes 23 minutes to return to peak focus after we experience a distraction. Yet, for a long time this was merely one of the many statistics used but not well understood in the company.

So, what has changed? As part of their drive toward customer obsession, Microsoft installed Consumer Connect programs. And their impact is profound. Lee Dicks Clark, Principal Program Manager Lead at Microsoft says: “Now whenever I think about the value of those 23 minutes a person loses when they’re distracted, it’s not just a statistic. It’s about this human being, and others like her, whose time is priceless.”

In this blogpost, we interview our Consumer Connect expert and Managing Partner Tom De Ruyck on the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Consumer Connect programs.

The WHAT of consumer connection

Q: A first question, Tom, what is ‘Consumer Connect’ all about?

“Well, we noticed that many leadership and marketing teams increasingly start to realize that they are not their consumer and that they don’t get enough out of their own ‘bubble’. This lack of consumer empathy can really keep them from realizing their full potential. So, a lot of companies are looking for an easy and efficient way to connect with consumers. This is where Consumer Connect programs come in; a company’s key members, such as the marketing team, spend time directly with consumers or customers, in an online and/or offline setting. The whole idea behind these encounters is that company stakeholders engage directly and frequently with their target audience.”


The HOW of consumer connection

Q: How can brands make such a Consumer Connect program a success? What do they need to do?

“I can share three tips to make such programs successful. The first one focuses on the flow of your consumer connect. All too often it’s limited to a video call with the consumer. We believe you need to add a pre- and a post-phase to that. Professionals need to be comfortable in connecting with consumers and need to be trained before they connect. And it’s also about connecting the right consumer with the right company stakeholder. So, we pay a lot of attention to ‘match making’, selecting and connecting relevant profiles. After the video call, it’s vital to share the learnings with relevant stakeholders in the business, and archive the observations (which could be used in workshops, insight writing…).

My second tip is ‘make it a habit’. Building consumer empathy is like going to the gym: if you only go once, you will not see much impact. But do it regularly, and you will see the full potential and impact of it. The same goes for your empathy muscles. Of course, you can organize consumer connects on a more ad hoc basis, but I’m a strong believer in the power of structural connects, making them a company-wide habit.

And my third tip is ‘do something offline from time to time’. Online connects with consumers are very efficient, and this approach allows to organize them more regularly. Yet, to install a true connection and immersive experience, it’s relevant to create an offline experience now and then. Think for example about discovering hotspots in a big city with your consumers, cooking with them… In fact, for me there are three levels to create consumer empathy. It starts rather ‘passively’, by including video material in presentations and workshops, where company stakeholders can see how consumers behave in their own context, explaining things in their own words. A second more active level is a consumer connect via a video call. And the third level is truly immersive, offline experiences.”


The WHY of consumer connection

Q: Why is it important for professionals to connect with consumers more regularly and directly?

“Most marketers and company professionals live in a bubble. Despite what they sometimes think, they are not that much like the consumers they serve. In fact, an Australian study has shown marketers are living in their own ((sub)urban) bubble, literally out of touch with everyday consumers. According to the survey, 41% of Sydney agency people live in the city or inner city, compared to just 4% of the general public. As a result, they often have very different lifestyles. Of course, if you think that your own life is representative for the many consumers you serve, you will make mistakes. Another reason is that by having a broader understanding of your consumers’ lives , it will become easier for you to write and activate consumer insights.”

Q: Can you tell us something more on the impact of Consumer Connect programs? What do you think is the impact on businesses?

“Training your empathy muscles has a direct short-term and long-terms impact. In the short term, it motivates people as they can directly see who they are working for, who their consumer is. It humanizes the consumer, more than via anonymous quotes and stats in presentations and workshops. And it helps marketers to internalize consumer stories, empathize and act upon them. Simply think about consumer insights – if you meet someone that experiences the friction described by the insight in daily life, you are more motivated to work on this, as you ‘know’ the person, you understand the friction better and you build empathy.

In the long term, it provides company stakeholders with a broader consumer context, which allows them to craft better consumer insights and activate them across the organization. Through the connects, professionals are constantly reminded of this ‘I’m not my consumer’. Over time, the connects also fuel their ‘gut feeling – people become confident to take small decisions without setting up a research project. This saves resources and allows to move forward more rapidly.”

In summary, Tom explains how Consumer Connect programs are vital to train company stakeholders’ empathy muscles, making them realize that often they are not that much like the consumers they serve. Important steps are making it a company-wide habit, installing a pre- and post-phase in your program, and include offline experiences from time to time. Consumer Connects have a positive impact on the business. In the short term, they motivate professionals and make the consumer more human. In the long term, this leads to crafting better insights and even sharpens their gut feeling, allowing to skip research for small questions.

Curious for more on Consumer Connect? Check here our blog on the dynamic Consumer Connect matchmaking tool.

Eager to learn more on our Consumer Connect programs? Discover how we can build powerful consumer connections for your brand!

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Tom De Ruyck
Thoughtleader Future of Research
Managing Partner

Contact Tom