Expert Consumer Research from Covance Food Solutions

Quit Using Quant As A Crutch

Businessman Throwing Crutches Away

By Matt Warta

Qualitative methods have long taken a back seat to quantitative methods in the world of research.  Given GutCheck is primarily a qualitative platform focused on the areas of concept and copy testing, this imbalance has always niggled at me.  So when I read a recent article from WARC on how Jeanine Bassett, VP of Global Insights at General Mills, is espousing the use of consumer intimacy to drive sales, I was riveted.

Most of the article is related to a compelling speech I have heard Jeanine give before.  It is entitled is “Is There Safety in Numbers?”

Within this speech, Jeanine tells the story of moving to Switzerland as part of a joint venture between General Mills and Nestle in 2004. It was a meeting of two industry giants. It was also an eye opener as it related to consumer insights methodology.

Jeanine’s history at General Mills had been focused on the US business, where they had a relative abundance of research capabilities at their disposal. But when she joined this joint venture (JV) team she discovered the JV didn’t have all the research tools she’d come to rely on in the U.S.

Given the JV was living in what Jeanine referred to as a “Data Desert”, they had to be much more pragmatic in their approach to research. Instead of running a 1,000 complete quant study, they had to go into the field and intercept consumers, observe customers in their environment, and have a much more intimate understanding of their behaviors. It was very personal compared with the standard research approach favored by her U.S. counterparts – research that was objective and rich in quant methodologies, but in her words often compensatory at the end of the day.

She had an important observation based on her comparison of General Mills’ approach in the U.S. versus that of the JV’s. Instead of focusing on the methodology when things did not go as expected as they did in the U.S., the JV team focused much more on their own decision-making processes and how they could improve them…so very agile. She believes that in a world rich with data, and resources, we are less prone to challenge how we make decisions and more apt to throw the methodology under the proverbial bus. Conversely, by becoming more intimate with consumers and focusing more on the decision making process, she feels the insights process can be more efficacious.

In true research fashion, Jeanine used some interesting data to support her point. She looked at small (<$2B) and large (>$2B) companies over the last 4 decades to prove that constrained resources can lead to better decision making. Her research showed that smaller companies are 10x more productive from an innovation standpoint than their larger peers. Her point being that in a more constrained environment, you are forced to get intimate with the consumer versus having an abstracted view based on mounds of data. Armed with consumer intimacy and a challenge process around decision-making, innovation ensues.

With this knowledge, Jeanine has instituted some new approaches based on what she’d learned from her JV colleagues. General Mills’ consumer insights team now brings their own lunches, in brown paper sacks, just like the kids their products are being marketed to. They shop for groceries using their typical consumers’ budget, which oftentimes requires removing items that they cannot afford from their cart. In the process, their spending on more “compensatory” approaches has dropped.

What Jeanine learned in Switzerland, and what I’ve come to learn is that continuous consumer touch points lead to more intimacy and better outcomes when it comes to new products and marketing campaigns. It’s what GutCheck brings to our customers everyday. They like getting close to the attitudes and responses of their consumers. It’s not about an overworked methodology – it’s about pragmatic research that gets you close to your consumers.

Quant can become a crutch. Follow Jeanine’s advice: Go talk to somebody.

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One response to “Quit Using Quant As A Crutch

  1. I am not sure what the main point is here. Quant should provide higher quality information when you are doing it right. We should start by measuring General Mills’ analytics maturity. Smaller companies have advantages in decision making.

    RE: Her research showed that smaller companies are 10x more productive from an innovation standpoint than their larger peers.
    RESP: Quant is helpful for innovation when you are doing it right. My interpretation is that Jeanine learned how to better leverage quant.

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