OPINION26 June 2017

Are you ‘swiping left’ when it comes to consumer personas?

North America Opinion

Is research running the risk of being too superficial? Zach Simmons argues there needs to be agile empathy on both sides.

Swipe left and right_crop

As a happily married man, I have only encountered the infamous hook up app, Tinder, in the popular culture media. So I was just as puzzled as maybe you are when I first heard the term ‘swiping left’.

‘Swiping left’ is the rather harsh dismissal of a potential date, based on something as superficial as their profile picture. We react to ‘swiping left’ with dismay and even some sadness. It means you are potentially missing out on getting to know someone who could be great; the person behind that profile picture could be interesting, witty and fun to spend time with. But you’d only have the opportunity to get to know that person by having an in-depth conversation with them. By ‘swiping left’, you are saying no to that opportunity.

The folklore of course is that the main objective of using Tinder in the first place is, shall we say, superficial anyway. It’s not exactly the preferred way to find a long-term relationship. But the effect is real.

Brands run the real risk of ‘swiping left’ with consumers, because the tools that we have traditionally used are often as shallow as a profile picture! We glance across our personas and segmentations, quant and big data analytics, and we make snap judgements. What’s more? We then create products and communications campaigns around insights about consumers we don’t really know or understand.

The real danger for brands, of course, is that consumers can sense when you are treating them superficially, not making the effort to know them. The last thing that a brand wants is a one-time ‘hook up’ rather than a long lasting connection with a repeat buyer.

The very real consequence is that consumers will ‘swipe left’ when it comes to your brand. Many of our customers are grappling with the challenge of connecting and engaging with consumers at a real and authentic level. As a result, we’re finding that more and more of them are looking to create consumer empathy programmes within their organisations. They are investing in tools that enable brand stewards to make better business decisions, based on a deep understanding of what matters to consumers and what makes their lives richer and happier.

But it is difficult. Quant data, even when collected at scale through big data initiatives, will yield superficial insights at best. They lack the rich nuances of cultural context and observational detail of how people describe their lives, thoughts, and behaviours. Traditional qual is too expensive, too slow, and even more deadly difficult if your consumer segments are global and your mission critical decisions need to be made rapidly.

This concept of ‘agile empathy’ is only achievable through meaningful conversations with individuals and with groups, in real-time, conducted cost effectively and at scale. Video, combined with robust reporting tools, is the powerful medium needed for enabling those conversations. This is especially true when the brand stewards and the consumers they target are spread apart, geographically.

The ideal platform allows brand managers and their insights partners to participate fully in the conversations, store them, share them, parse them, and fast forward to the ‘good bits’, to develop an actionable understanding of their target consumer audiences. These conversations need to be ongoing, iterative and available to the entire organisation.

Leveraging the power of this ‘agile empathy’ enables all stakeholders in the enterprise to build and execute winning strategies. Agile empathy is the opposite of ‘swipe left’. It’s deep understanding, as opposed to superficial judgement. It’s the pathway to a bond between brand and consumer, to be celebrated for many anniversaries of repeat business from happy, loyal customers.

Zach Simmons is the founder of Discuss.io