How Making Consumer Insights a Cornerstone of your Strategy Makes You a Better Marketer

By Scott Kepnach | May 11, 2020

Scott Kepnach has been working in mobile growth since 2006, starting at Universal Music Group then moving on to top gaming companies Glu and Zynga. Scott’s experience includes managing teams of up to 20+, and working at early-stage start-ups including SwiftKey (acquired by Microsoft) and Drivemode (acquired by Honda). After 14 years working in mobile growth, Scott is currently leading marketing and partnerships at Latin America’s largest on-demand delivery platform, Rappi.

Learn more from his Mobile Hero profile.
Read Scott’s blog in Spanish.

In a world where we are increasingly more aware of the bubble in which we live, sometimes, at an alarming rate due to current events, the ability to empathize and better understand your customers can dramatically impact the success of your business, products, and specifically, your marketing strategy. It is your responsibility as a marketer to institutionalize the understanding of consumer insights into your organization’s primary focus.

It’s no secret that performance marketers live and die by the sword of data to justify their marketing decisions. What I am presenting here is not an argument against the data-driven approach but rather quite the opposite. Data has been the fail-safe measurement of all decision-making and rightfully so. However, time after time, we as marketers wholly rely on data to understand user behavior when user behavior includes a bit more nuance and inferred decisions about the useful products in people’s lives.

Humans certainly have quantifiable behavioral patterns and that is immensely helpful when marketing to them. However, as we all know, there are many layers to the onion when it comes to human beings, which makes us complicated and certainly unable to be defined by data alone. What I’ve learned from spending over a decade in performance-based marketing is that this is an outrageously skewed approach to user acquisition when the method is solely data-driven.

Marketing at its essence is psychological and driven by an emotional reaction to a product. Facebook has perfected harnessing this emotional reaction by learning about the things that create an emotional attachment and algorithmically shows us content to tap into our base-level emotional triggers to buy products. In the background, this is dictated by CAC targets and LTV arbitrage that our data tells us will make our business profitable. Programmatic advertising just makes it all easier for us, doesn’t it?

No. Truly understanding your customers is what separates the best marketers from the SQL machine/mega-human-performance marketers (you know who you are!).

A Giant Hole

What I haven’t witnessed with too much frequency in this industry is the profound lack of fundamental and ubiquitous dedication to truly knowing the people to which we are marketing. I have been in senior leadership at public companies and there have been roles dedicated to better understanding human motivation in new product and development demand planning. How big are those teams dedicated to this vastly important endeavor you ask? Two people, sometimes one and a half headcount. These are the people who regularly sit with users through a variety of methods: focus groups, surveys, max/diff analysis, and power programs and empowers some users to become brand ambassadors.

At start-ups, these functions don’t exist outside of “customer support”, a reactive business unit where the sole function is to serve the users (people!) who have problems or issues with the product.

What’s missing from most startups is a proactive method that emphasizes empathy and understanding of why people use your product. This requires a fundamental shift in how we as marketers approach our craft. Many of us use our products to understand the experience of it from our perspective, but certainly, that can be problematic when we’re all drinking from the same kombucha tap in San Francisco, Berlin, or New York City.

As marketers, to truly know to whom we are marketing to, it should be part of our process, and it doesn’t come from a CAC or LTV over ROAS yield report. Seek the intellectual curiosity to truly know the motivation and why people respond to it. We as marketers should be representative of that emotional response and translate it to the broader organization. Sing the good gospel of consumer motivation and why they enjoy what we build will only help your user acquisition and marketing campaigns.

4 Tips for Prioritizing Consumer Insights

  1. Talk to the people that use your product through one-on-one conversations, focus groups, surveys, and other methods.

    When I worked for an early-stage company that built a driving utility app, I would message users directly and ask to speak with them about their experience with the app. What I discovered was a consistent affinity with brands and products that were commonly popular in middle and rural America as well as the tendency to be driving older model vehicles.

    We had previously produced a beautiful 30-second TV-esque video spot that we advertised on the standard mobile video acquisition channels, but it quickly saturated and had under-performing CTR’s and CVR’s. I then posited that these types of users in rural areas might respond better to low-quality, UGC-style video ads as opposed to an Apple commercial, so I decided to shoot my own videos on my iPhone, in my car, and in different distracted driving scenarios while driving around Palo Alto, CA and then edited them myself into 5, 10, and 30-second spots. These new ads created a 5x improvement in acquisition costs and became our evergreen creative that hardly ever saturated, even when running them against different audiences tied to different affinities. These ads better resonated with our users because they came off as more authentic and resulted in a stunning turnaround and efficacy in our acquisition campaigns over time.

  2. Go into the field to recruit brand ambassadors and give them a feedback loop into the marketing and product teams.

    For an on-demand food delivery company I worked for in South America, I noticed through friends, colleagues, and users in different countries that even Spanish was hyper-localized to certain dialects and slang. So, we implemented a system for deploying and QA’ing creative in certain countries utilizing natives to that country. For example, one tag-line that was ubiquitous in our messaging all over LATAM was tweaked slightly for each country so that it spoke not only to the way people in Mexico interpreted it, but also to how Colombians generally would interpret it differently, and then also how the melting-pot Spanish that Argentines speak would. This led to a greater emphasis across all teams to hyper-localize messaging in Spanish on a country-by-country level and increased our CVR across a number of different acquisition channels.

    To underscore this point, I came across a quote that sums up this approach fairly well: many of our readers who live in the tech hub of the world may be familiar with the Golden State Warriors’ own, and one of the only Mexican- American basketball players in the NBA, Juan Toscano, who once said, “All my life I’ve understood Spanish, but I didn’t start speaking it until I moved to Mexico.” The nuance, in this case, was in the micro-differences in language, and thus proved to be a key differentiator between a click, and a scroll.

  3. As a marketer, help lead and apply consumer insights throughout your organization. Foster a culture and workflow that allows marketers to communicate these insights to the product, creative, analytics, engineering teams, and other business units to help them understand the profile of the users who they are building products for, and that this information is not just for the marketers who message to them.

    A personally surprising experience for me came when working for a top gaming company with 1,500 employees, with a dedicated consumer insights team whose primary role was to manage the various activities mentioned above. But for a 1,500-person company with 10+ games in the market at any given time, do you know how many people led consumer insights to more fully understand our millions of users and help translate that to the entire company? At most two people, and often for a period of time, it was 1-1.5 of a headcount. If that company can’t dedicate enough resources to focus on the pivotal exercise of operationalizing consumer insights to the entire company, it then falls on us as marketers to help augment their efforts by regularly educating our partner business units to better understand user behavior beyond data. We can do this through creating a reporting process that is widely distributed, to participating in “Lunch and Learns” with your fellow colleagues in different departments, to a number of other methods to make the consumer’s perspective more top of mind to the rest of the company.

  4. Do your part to shift a common culture “groupthink” problem that founders and product decision-makers develop, where in many instances the leaders have a great idea for a product that gains traction, but sometimes for a whole host of reasons rather than what the originator intended. Due to this, there’s a risk of developing a culture of groupthink, where a great product is built on the assumption that it is needed, gains traction, and then there are endemic proactive processes of going out to understand why that product was successful in the first place, or what those users and others might want from it in the future. To combat this means to encourage all members of your organization and teams to be intellectually curious because as we’ve seen in recent history, Silicon Valley and other tech hubs can exist in a bubble that can be disconnected from the people who actually use their products.

Finally, the intellectual curiosity that we tried to foster when I worked at a keyboard app developer who made an app to make typing more efficient through data and machine-learning technology. The CMO and I worked closely on our marketing and demand planning strategy, and when we decided to build a Japanese version of the keyboard due to the opportunity in the Japanese market, we spent a significant amount of time in Japan with partners, investors, business leaders, and our consumers to help us understand the nuances of localizing in their language. What we learned from our experiences in the country was that there are multiple styles that Japanese people used to type and expressing themselves. We spent a lot of time listening and observing in order to demand plan and prioritize which keyboard style to work on first and dedicate resources to The Hiragana vs Katakana vs Kanji methods of keyboard input in Japanese.

By spending time with people on the ground in Japan who use our keyboard for different reasons, and by spending time riding the JR Line for hours on end, we would observe what people on the train were using to type, partially to help us determine which strategy to prioritize, and one of the many experiences that have pushed me to focus on implementing consumer insights as a precursor to the development of my marketing strategy for years to come.

Full disclosure: to the people who rode the JR line in Tokyo with us in those months, I don’t speak Japanese so I had no idea what you were typing while I was quietly observing you, but I did learn a great deal about the preferred style of keyboard you were using and brought those learnings back to my product team in London to advise them on how to prioritize our product development pipeline based on the insights I gained while looking over your shoulder. Arigato. Dōmo Arigatōgozaimasu!