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Move Beyond ‘Legacy Systems’ to Understand Brand (Dis)loyalty

Move Beyond 'Legacy Systems' to Understand Brand (Dis)loyalty

Rebecca Brooks

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Market research is riddled with brand narcissism — break free of outdated, navel-gazing methodology to garner genuine consumer behavior insights

In the software industry, we hear a lot about “legacy systems,” often in reference to outdated platforms and processes that have been grandfathered in and can’t really handle modern software needs. The concept of legacy systems exists in the consumer marketplace as well, and the way brands interact with their audiences. By extension, the way the market research industry functions is part of an outdated algorithm.

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As an industry, market research has spent the better part of the past few decades exploring brand loyalty—often from a narcissistic viewpoint. Surveys have been filled with questions asking about awareness, familiarity and consideration. But these are navel-gazing, narcissistic questions. “Have you heard of me?” “How much do you know about me?” “Do you like me?” 

While tweaks have been made along the way to at least try to keep up with changing consumer behavior, smart researchers know that the way consumers are interacting with brands is increasingly complex, and depends on a whole host of contextual circumstances. Consumer insights need to evolve as well, but we find ourselves in a straightjacket consisting of a legacy system based on loyalty research.

Breaking Free From Outdated Methodology

If the past year has done nothing else, it has shaken our “norms” to the core. Traditional ways of doing things have come into question—from the way schools are structured to the way we shop and from the way we work (both as employees and leaders) to what we prioritize in our daily lives. Things are speeding up, digitalization is touching every aspect of life and uncertainty has become the status quo. Market research is already responding to these transformations, catapulting its evolution to better meet the insights needs of today.

Things are speeding up, digitalization is touching every aspect of life and uncertainty has become the status quo. Market research is already responding to these transformations, catapulting its evolution to better meet the insights needs of today.

However, like all transitions, this one has been nothing if not messy. It lacks the tried-and-true framework of the past, on which we could fall back for guidance and comfort when it came to our consumer insights efforts. And the truth is, there is no new framework to which we can turn. If we examine the shopper journey alone, it has transitioned from a linear path to purchase, to one that is anything but linear, to one that can’t be seen as any kind of path at all. In fact, even the word “journey” itself no longer feels applicable. Individuals are making decisions from places that are intensely unique—with unpredictable influences and a vast number of contextual circumstances at play. One of the least of these influences hinges on brand loyalty, something which multiple studies have shown is very low on the list (if on the list at all) of the decision-making process.

Market research must adapt. Extracting better insights means moving away from the kind of “brand narcissism” that leads to surveys full of questions about the brand that are disconnected from customers and their experiences. There are a few tangible things researchers and marketers can do to better understand their audience’s motivations.

  • Consider real-world behavior: People don’t exist in a vacuum. Each person’s contextual circumstances must be considered, and this sensibility must be brought to light in the way we conduct research. Bring the individual’s experiences to the forefront and focus on them, and their unique situations, rather than the brand itself.
  • Combine methodologies: We’ve found that multimodal research is absolutely invaluable in gaining holistic understanding. This can mean, for example, combining in-depth consumer interviews with quantitative surveys, and then layering on behavioral techniques such as agile neuroscience. Putting all these pieces together can give a three-dimensional view that goes far beyond legacy brand loyalty surveys.
  • Look at the big picture to find connections: There are hundreds if not thousands of data streams out there, especially as digitalization continues to rise. Use them to your advantage and bring together consumer context, needs, and brand connection to capitalize on opportunities where you have a chance to connect with your customer.
  • Align your offerings with your findings: The right data and insights can help you find those moments when you can meet a consumer’s ever-changing set of needs and priorities. This is the sweet spot for which we are striving with new approaches and methodologies in consumer insights.

Traditional research models focused on brand perception and loyalty metrics are too restrictive to explore the essential “why” driving consumer behavior. Evolving your market research and consumer insights strategies to encompass the true decision-making process will help optimize your offerings to fit the mindset of today’s customer. 

Rebecca Brooks is the founder and CEO of Alter Agents, a full-service market research company redefining research in the age of the promiscuous shopper.