Does your understanding of consumers stretch beyond the big city bubble?

Marketers and brands owe it to themselves to step outside the cities to develop a broader understanding of the Australian population, says Loren Watling.

loren watlingThe mindset, attitude and (probably) behaviour of most regional Australians is quite different compared to those in the capital cities we spent most of our time in – and this has a tremendous impact on marketing and advertising.

I recently read how those in our industry are being ushered out of their ‘inner city bubble of wine and food festivals to see the real world’ – but this applies just as much to the actual research that guides these marketing and advertising decisions. And because of this, the responsibility falls to us – the researchers.

We should be considering more deeply the most appropriate methodologies to speak with a true cross section of Australians and make sure our insights are grounded in genuine consumer truths – not just a small sub-set of those available to attend focus groups in a CBD viewing facility at 6pm on a weeknight.

 

Metro versus regional audiences

As a researcher, I had this ‘epiphany’ moment during a weekend out of the Sydney bubble in southern regional New South Wales. It struck me that the city-slicker-filled, Coles-on-every-corner, hustle and bustle of Sydney city is anything but the norm, or majority for that matter.

Far from being exclusive to Australia, I’ve seen a pattern during my time as a qual researcher in both London and Sydney: capital and major cities simply do not represent the thinking of the majority of the country.

Given that our clients, and the products and services they offer, are not isolated to our biggest cities and the nearest reaching suburbs, we need to pay a lot more attention to addressing this issue. How can we expect to deliver accurate research to form these marketing and advertising decisions, if we ignore the insights from a third of Australia’s population who live outside our default, go-to cities?

Qualitative researchers almost definitely don’t spend enough time visiting more regional or rural places. But before we start running focus groups out in ‘the bush’, perhaps we need to have a more definitive view on the inherent discrepancies between metro and regional consumers, and put into motion ways we can ensure a real and inclusive consumer voice is heard.

I’ve been fortunate that my work has allowed me to get out of Sydney quite frequently, especially when there’s been a specific desire for more regional insights. We’ve found that the needs, wants and desires of regional Australians in places like Bathurst are very different to those of the Eastern suburbs and the Northern Shore. And I’m confident this trend is replicated in other Australian states.

 

New methodologies

Traditionally, hearing the voice of ‘the regional Australian’ might have involved a few hours on the highway – or even a plane journey – maybe followed by an overnight stay or two, before the long journey home. It took time, cost money, and as such it was rarely something we were given the chance to do.

But we live in 2017 – and as market researchers, we’ve got some magic up our sleeves in the form of online methodologies that are helping us to hear from those afar.

  • Live online focus groups take us out of the viewing facility and into cyberspace – where our group of respondents can consist of an office worker in a meeting room in Sydney, a mum at home in Bathurst and a student on campus in Newcastle,
  • online communities give us the chance to create an ongoing dialogue with people, building on our learning and understanding of each other and giving us a much deeper and richer picture over time, and
  • mobile research tools are getting better and better; there’s a host of brilliant mobile platforms and tech out there, and researchers are adding these new toys to their ever expanding toolkits.

 

Even social media is an incredibly fruitful research tool when used in the right way – a lot can be learned from asking a respondent (wherever they may be based) if they wouldn’t mind opening up their Instagram page to us. From here we can see the products, brands, experiences and people that matter most to them, and as Dr. Nick Gadsby drew our attention to earlier this year, “consumer language is shifting from words to images, and so we [the research industry] need to become more visually literate”.

I’m a firm believer that, where possible, researchers get the greatest insights from direct observation, and technology is slowly bringing us closer to being able to do this with people, no matter where they are.

And who knows what sort of tech is ahead of us – virtual reality focus groups and concept stores might become common practice sooner than we think. But until this time I think we owe it to ourselves, our clients, and the Australians who use their products and services to step outside of our city bubbles and hear from the other third of the country.

 

Loren Watling is a research consultant at The Leading Edge Australia

 

Further reading

 

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