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Understanding your consumers is a key step to designing and marketing a successful offering. Luckily, digital technology is making understanding customer behaviour online easier. But how do we get better insights into offline customers?

Surveys and focus groups can give us sufficient data to create personas but they are not enough to truly understand consumer behaviour, pain points, and needs. The answer? User and consumer research.

Designed to help businesses see their customers from a different perspective, this type of research is the bread and butter of Mundy & Anson, a Bristol-based research studio dedicated to helping businesses get to know their customers and stay one step ahead of their competitors. Dawn Walter, social anthropologist and Managing Director of Mundy & Anson, lets us in on the secrets to understanding consumers behaviour and the ways consumer research benefits business strategy.

Quote Dawn Walter – Spindogs

Who is Mundy & Anson and how do you help businesses?

Mundy & Anson are a research studio based in Bristol. We help businesses get closer to their customers through qualitative research called ethnography. By making sense of people, we enable businesses to design, brand, and market products and services their customers genuinely need.

We’re a bit different from most consumer research companies. The user and consumer research we do is grounded in ethnography and social anthropology. Anthropologists seek to understand human social behaviour. As trained social anthropologists, we know that consumer social behaviour is largely invisible to untrained eyes, and as such it often gets overlooked, meaning businesses miss key opportunities to engage with their consumers. However, so much of our lives are dictated by social behaviours and practices without us even realising, which makes them really important.

We explore and uncover how your customers experience the world. Once we understand your customers’ world – the meanings people attribute to things, their beliefs and values, their ways of doing things – we can help you to use that knowledge to design a successful offering. When you understand why people do (or don’t do) certain things – rather than focusing on what they say they do – you can tailor your products and services, as well as your marketing campaigns, to support those behaviours.

Can you explain a bit more about Ethnography?

Ethnography is a qualitative research method that seeks to understand people’s behaviour. Not simply what they do, but why. The ‘why’ is key! In short, ethnography is about immersing yourself in a person’s environment and asking questions. We observe, shadow, and listen carefully without judgement or assumptions, then analyse the data we’ve collected to make sense of it.

Data analysis is an essential part of ethnography, as it helps us to understand why people do things. That’s my special sauce, that’s where my training as a social anthropologist comes in – otherwise, you just end up with a bunch of observations, which is great, but can only get you so far.

Ethnography is a specialised research method that people are trained to do, and we’re keen to teach people about it. It’s become a buzzword, with companies saying they do ethnographic research when, in fact, they know very little about it. This ends up undermining the method and putting people off using it when they don’t get the deep insights they expected, which is a real shame!

We offer companies ethnographic training for staff members, which includes a one-day introductory course and a hands-on three-day course during which you conduct a mini ethnographic project.

What percentage of businesses are looking at consumer behaviour offline?

Not enough, which makes me wonder how many businesses use consumer research to understand how wider issues influence the lives of their consumers. You can’t understand behaviour in isolation – there’s always a bigger picture.

Consider, for example, the rise of veganism in the last few years. What was once seen as a niche lifestyle choice is now taking society by storm as a response to climate change and a greater awareness of our impact on the planet. Businesses should be asking, what’s the wider context in which particular consumers are operating? How does that shape their behaviour? How can you respond in a way that keeps you relevant and ahead of competitors?

How do you establish trends in consumer behaviour?

Consumer research should be an ongoing effort instead of something you do now and then. Developing a more nuanced, long-term view of your consumers’ lives will enable you to spot changes in consumer behaviour (trends) before your competitors do. For those who consider ongoing consumer research outside of their budget, we offer co-research projects which build capability rather than dependency.

Is woke advertising still effective? Have we become desensitised to the way advertisers try to manipulate our buying behaviour?

I think woke advertising is still effective, but only if a company genuinely supports a particular cause or social issue. If they are doing it just to increase sales, consumers will soon catch on. You have to get it right – any missteps or hints of hypocrisy will cause a negative consumer response on social media, which can do real damage to your brand.

How essential is consumer research when planning campaigns?

The more you know about your consumers, the better. We analysed a marketing campaign by a leading supermarket and found that it didn’t really speak to consumers. There was a real disconnect between the supermarket’s magazine, which tapped into the issue of social anxiety, and the direct marketing campaign, which didn’t.

Not addressing the social anxiety was a missed opportunity, and brands can’t afford to miss opportunities, especially in the current retail environment. For me, quality consumer research should drive your overall business strategy, instead of just individual campaigns. We always advise a coherent approach to campaign planning.

What are your top tips for anyone doing consumer research?

1. Get out of your office I can’t stress enough how important it is to get out of the office and spend time with your customers in their environment. You can’t truly understand the world of your customers from behind your desk.

Ask to shadow them, observe their behaviours and make note of what you see. Keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Anthropologists ask lots of questions because we want to understand why people do things. If you’re not sure where to start, we can help.

2. Learn to look Get into the habit of observing with an open mind. Sit quietly somewhere, just watching and listening to people. This could be in a café, in the supermarket, or during your morning commute. Wherever you choose to do it, remember – it’s about really seeing, and not assuming.

Listening and observing with an open mind, as well as being able to analyse what you’ve discovered, are the key skills you need to truly understand your consumers. During the first run of our workshop, Learning to Look, which took place in a pub, a team uncovered numerous challenges, as well as opportunities to turn the pub around and increase turnover significantly. And all this after just 30 minutes of observation.

3. Do a co-research project with us Co-research projects enable us to work with our clients and teach them how to do the research themselves. We take teams through our process step-by-step, so that in the future they can be mostly independent. The only thing we do ourselves is the data analysis – after all, the magic of revealing invisible social behaviour is our ‘secret sauce’!

Our unique approach demonstrates the value of quality consumer research in practice, upskill your team and guides your business strategy. It also gets you closer to your customers – quite literally. We bring you along to field research in your customer’s living room, office, or wherever they happen to be.

For us, consumer research is about really understanding your customers, so you can offer products and services that meet their needs. Consumers don’t always articulate their needs, often learning to work around them. If you unearth these needs, you’ll be able to come up with solutions that your competitors may have missed.

Much of your work is helping businesses re-establish their position offline. How does that then translate online?

This ties back to using consumer research to guide your overall business strategy. The insights we gather should filter through the organisation, informing everything from product design and marketing to digital presence. Once you understand how your customers behave (distinguishing that from how they say they behave), you can use these insights to tailor your offering both offline and online.

Talking to people is great, but quality research looks beneath the surface for customer problems which need solving. This requires immersing yourself in your customers’ environment and looking for clues. Once you understand why people are behaving a certain way, you can come up with innovative offline and online solutions that your competitors have overlooked.

Understanding how your consumers behave online and offline can help you to connect the dots and provide a cohesive multichannel experience. After all, nothing helps a business thrive like giving people what they want!

This interview is taken from our latest edition of BARK, you can read the full magazine here.

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