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Stergios Bititsios, Cambridge Design Partnership’s leading expert in Consumer and Technical Insights in FMCG, explains the importance of translating research observations into insights and transforming those into realistic business opportunities.

Observational research: isn’t it wonderful? You get to meet new people, hear their stories, chat about their habits, and most importantly, watch how they interact with new products and services. You learn so much about their way of life. Is this enough information for your R&D team though?

Most manufacturers and brands aim to build robust strategic business cases and construct evidence-based propositions, with the end goal of launching winning products and services. Ultimately, you’re looking for new opportunities to compete harder in the global marketplace. Having your research partner compile and submit a thick report containing only field observations is like having the ball thrown back into your court. This ‘half-baked’ offering shouldn’t be what diligent consultancies deliver, yet this is what most market research agencies still do. 

For me, there is always a burning question at the end of each observation and interview series: So what?

Consumers do not always verbalise what they think, but they certainly act on how they feel. I vividly remember during in-home observations for a project that examined the future of condiments, hearing the majority of consumers saying: “yes this jar is great, it’s so easy and quick to reclose, it only takes half a turn and the lid is securely in place” - only what I saw was slightly different. After turning the lid once and whilst reporting their experience, I observed that they non-consciously repeated the action of turning the lid. That was the insight, right there, it momentarily flashed before me but I would have missed it if I hadn’t kept my eyes open and only relied on what I was hearing. I detected underlying concerns around preservation of freshness and quality – two of the most important preference drivers in the food sector. It became clear that the current packaging system didn’t offer enough reassurance. There was an opportunity for that particular brand to strengthen loyalty and differentiate from competitors by revising their packaging system (amongst other things).

So, the ability to question what you hear in a manner that allows you to unearth underlying motivations and latent emotional aspirations is a crucial component in identifying strong links between business objectives and consumer needs. You always need to take what consumers say or show you with a pinch of salt. Taking every comment and feedback at face value may lead to highly-misleading conclusions. Moreover, in many instances what consumers say has hardly any commercial ground that your organisation can benefit from. Interrogating what is seen and heard to derive meaning and real business opportunities is therefore fundamental. It also requires years of experience interacting with consumers, coupled with deep knowledge of production, technology and commercial enablers.

Going back to my earlier example, one consumer suggested that we make a lid that beeps to indicate it’s closed properly. You see, consumers envisage an ideal world with no constraints and I might have included the ‘beeping lid’ idea in my recommendations if I didn’t have a technical background and strong inside knowledge of my client’s business. Thankfully, those two qualities saved me the embarrassment of making unrealistic recommendations.    

Cambridge Design Partnership has the expertise, gained across a wide range of products, sectors and territories, to blend consumer sciences with design and technology throughout the innovation process. This ensures pragmatism and creativity work together in harmony. Our research professionals are trained designers and our designers and engineers understand the world of insights. Collaborating together and making insightful connections is where the magic happens.

Always remember: observations and insights are a means to an end – not the end. In fact, they’re just the start of the innovation process.

To find out more, please contact Stergios Bititsios at hello@cambridge-design.co.uk.

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