A seat at the table

A peek inside our audience research practice

If you’ve made it to The Latest, then by now you likely know the Listen ethos pretty well. Our “special sauce” lies in our ability to identify brands that are paving the way for cultural shifts. We’ve always got our ears perked to what’s happening and what people are saying, hence our name.

But once we find a trend worth listening to, where do we go from there?

A seat at the table

This is where our audience research practice comes in. In addition to trend watching and cultural immersion, the practice is rooted in human-centered design (HCD), wherein we use ethnographic methods to both listen to and watch for the unmet needs of consumers. This process allows us to view a compelling cultural trend from the end consumer’s perspective, thus shifting our vantage point from inside-out (company-driven) to outside-in (consumer-driven).

This practice guided two of our recent studies, aiming to combine audience research insights with findings from quantitative market assessments in order to aid our diligence process.

Our first audience research study was focused on new mothers. As a team, we are excited about the 4th trimester space, and have seen many companies trying to reach new mothers. With all of the interest in this space both internally and externally, the goal of the study was to uncover distinct pain points and primary unmet needs of this audience group. Using personal networks up to several degrees of separation, we held remote in-depth interviews with women who had recently given birth.

Mapping out common themes across interviews allowed us to draw out important insights about unmet needs and priorities of new mothers. We ultimately found that the top needs of this group are more emotional than functional:

  • There are many isolating postpartum moments especially when breastfeeding and the baby is codependent. COVID-19 has amplified these moments.
  • Anxiety is a long term issue for new mothers and partners. Therapy is ideal before, during, and after but other things take priority.
  • There is tension between society’s expectations of sacrifice and the need to return to a sense of self.
  • Help and support is the most expressed need. This looks like having someone to turn to for trusted advice and having someone to be there for you in isolating moments.
A seat at the table

These key insights have helped our team as we consider companies that are focusing on the 4th trimester, and ensure brands are including their consumer in these conversations. Not only do we have a better understanding of key opportunity areas, but we also have a panel of new mothers that we can turn to for additional perspective.

After a successful study, we leaned further into the HCD ethos, this time aiming to diversify our sample group. The second study focused on the non-alcoholic beverage space, and what we call the “hybrid drinker,” those that enjoy both alcoholic and non-alcoholic alternatives. This has been a growing category for a number of years, but with a shift in behaviors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our team began to see this trend pop back up in a more mainstream context.

We partnered with Dscout, a remote user research tool to source participants and run our video interviews using stimuli like card sorts and brand previews. Our study aimed to understand attitudes towards the space, use cases, and to uncover additional audience segments. Dscout was crucial both in allowing us to reach beyond the potential bias within our inner circle and in streamlining and expediting the research process.

After synthesizing our observations, we came to the understanding that this audience group holds non-alcoholic beverages to similar brand standards as alcoholic beverages, but consumes them with different motivations such as social influence, life stage, and conscientiousness. These differentiations are depicted through the three core personas that we developed from the research:

  • SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS SUSHMA: Often finds herself in social or professional settings that call for drinking alcohol and likes to hide in plain sight.
  • MATURE MATTHEW: Growing up, having kids and other life changes have lowered his tolerance and amplified his hangovers. Most of his friends are in similar life stages so he’s looking for ways to cut back and take control of his health.
  • HOSTESS HEATHER: With a couple of friends who don’t drink due to religious or other reasons, ever the host, she stays stocked up on non-alc spirits and likes to get creative with her mocktails.

By further analyzing our qualitative data and drawing unmet needs from themes, we developed three core insights about the hybrid drinker audience group:

  • While flavor and form motivate use cases, in practice people feel empowered to incorporate NA (non-alcoholic drinks) into their routines in unique ways given reduced downsides
  • While people expect NA spirits to taste slightly different than their alcoholic counterparts, affinity towards wine and beer make people hold them to higher taste standards than mixed mocktails
  • Packaging and brand assets are crucial in first impressions. It should be evident that it is NA while resembling alcoholic beverages in form and presentation

The most significant learning from this study was the value of a diverse participant pool. Given that this is a complex category, learning from a wide range of people who are diverse in every sense of the term (socio-economic status, educational and ethnic background), allows us to more confidently draw out meaningful insights that we can apply to our diligence process in the future.

From these studies we have found significant value in collecting our own consumer insights even before assessing a specific company. The stories, personas, and insights will serve as gut checks as we conduct diligence in the future, and this consumer-driven process allows us to stay ahead of the game in understanding social shifts from a consumer perspective for categories that we are excited about.

A seat at the table

Research conducted and reported by:
Hannah Anokye
Fall 2020-Spring 2021 Listener

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