How Unusual, Stand-Out Insights Offer Clues Into Audience Preferences

Sometimes the best way to market is not even on a brand's radar

Sometimes the insights you aren't prioritizing are the ones that offer the most value. Getty Images
Headshot of Melinda Han Williams

As brands compete for consumer dollars, they’re constantly looking for growth strategies that can help them win a larger share of the market. For many brands, the best growth opportunities may actually fall outside of their core market, with new use cases for their product or an audience sitting in the brand manager’s blind spot.

Consider aspirin. Bayer has spent years marketing a secondary benefit for the pain reliever: When taken in low doses on a daily basis, it can reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke for people who have already had one. This secondary use opened up rare growth in the market and is now a common reason for purchasing aspirin, even if the science is inconclusive.

More recently, Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Pedialyte, expanded its audience and adjusted its messaging to embrace the fact that adults frequently consume the product as a hangover cure. Half of the brand’s sales now go to households without children.

Both maneuvers illustrate a practice that all data-driven marketers can adopt by taking a close look at the aberrations that appear in insights to make sure you’re not missing growth opportunities. Not every brand will discover a new market worth billions of dollars, but chances are high that a significant number of brands can tap into undiscovered audiences or off-label uses, provided they simply pay attention to the signals.

Chances are high that a significant number of brands can tap into undiscovered audiences or off-label uses, provided they simply pay attention to the signals.

First, brands have to be willing to be surprised, which means using the right kind of insights to understand their customers. Traditional marketing research relies heavily on surveys and declared behavior, which are prone to small, biased samples and are more likely to confirm existing expectations. First-party customer data is a great asset that is growing in popularity, but it only gives insights on a small slice of the consumer population.

To avoid missing high-value audiences, brands need insights derived from observed consumer behavior, not reported. This provides a full view of all the people who interact with the brand, as determined by web browsing behavior, app usage and location visitation. This full view into what drives consumer motivation helps identify potential audiences that can be tapped for lucrative growth.

From there, two questions can help separate worthwhile insights from the noise.

Is the signal strong enough?

One signal that shows up frequently in market research is an interest in sports. Nearly every audience contains consumers who are either sports fans or participants. For common interests like this, it’s important for a brand to consider the overall signal strength. A strong signal would include an unusually high number of brand customers who are interested in sports, visit sports content frequently online or show a strong interest in a particular sport. Any strong signals correlating brand affinity and activity are worth investigating.

Other less common interests warrant further investigation almost immediately. Consider Pedialyte as a post-party cure. An affinity for partying appears in audience insights less frequently than sports and should appear rarely for a brand primarily aimed at parents of young children. A strong signal here is definitely worth a closer look.

Do these insights tell a story that makes sense?

The next step for any brand is to hypothesize why they are seeing these insights and then test that theory to see if the story behind the hypothesis is true. Every media activation should double as an experiment to determine if the stories that emerge from the insights are true.

Parents and heavy drinkers don’t naturally overlap, but there is a plausible story because hydration is important to both sick children and hungover adults. If a media test bears it out, it’s worth investing more.

For a common signal, like sports, brands need to find if their products are connecting with fans or participants in a specific sport, like CrossFit, cycling or hiking. By running a small test, buying media and targeting it toward this audience, the brand can see if this segment has traction. Based on the results, the brand can then develop that story further based on the results they see (and, indeed, Pedialyte also markets itself for post-exercise hydration).

It’s easy to dismiss surprising insights as noise, but marketers who fail to keep an open mind can leave millions of dollars on the table. Brand marketers will miss these opportunities if they rely on what they already know, but by using observed behavior for data-driven insights, brands can measure signal strength and plausibility before they begin experimenting with media and messaging. The goal is to continue gathering insights and learning so that the brand always has an updated view of their best target customers and the messages that resonate with those audiences.

Melinda Han Williams is the chief data scientist at Dstillery.
Publish date: January 14, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT