Forensic Planning: Consumer-sourcing Insights Based on Actions, Not Assertions

Picture 1For years, advertising research relied on what people said to determine insights.  Unfortunately, people lie.  Not maliciously, but when you pay people to participate in focus groups, they often say things that do not jibe with their actual behavior.  Still, ‘consumer conversations’ have stayed evergreen in advertising circles, as time and again, agencies return to the two-way mirrors of focus group rooms, hoping to glean insights into behavior and motivation through this long and costly interview process.

It’s not entirely awful (I mean, we all love the free M&M’s in the back room), but today, it’s far from the best means of extracting insights from consumers.  After all, it would be far better to draw our insights based on what people actually do.

Which means it’s time for the rise of forensic planning and consumer-sourcing.  ‘Forensic’ means to use science and technology to establish facts, usually in the court of law but for our purposes, in the court of public opinion–brands being opinions after all.  With the vast data engine that is the web readily accessible from everyone’s desktop, there’s little point in travelling to anonymous corporate office parks to pan for insights.  A clever planner can surf through Flickr and see how consumers decorate their houses, what they choose to emphasize with their kids, and where they most like to spend time with families and friends.  She can comb through Twitter feeds, explore Facebook posts, and scour the blogs.  She can read shared recipes, skim reviews on Amazon and tally click counts on YouTube.  The wealth of information freely shared by consumers is staggering–and this is why rethinking ‘crowd sourcing’ as ‘consumer-sourcing’ makes sense.  Best of all, planners that access consumer-sourcing review actions, not assertions.  They can assess things consumers actually do as opposed to what they claim to do.

Shaping consumer-sourcing coherent insights however, takes a bit more work and far more curiosity and creativity.  Then again, those traits have long been table stakes for truly talented planners.  For those who still rely on tradition, insights gleaned from forensic planning can be validated in those windowless focus group rooms.

But we should really talk about online polling…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79