November 01, 2004
Happens every day -- companies spend loads of money, time, and effort on market research campaigns only to ignore results. We asked Michael Perman, Senior Director Cultural Insights for Levi Strauss & Co, how his team explains research results so compellingly that divisions throughout Levi pay attention. It's all about internal marketing:
by Contributing Editor Jennifer Nastu
"A deep understanding of consumer cultural insight is at the heart of everything we do," says Michael Perman, Senior Director Cultural Insights, Levi Strauss & Co.
"Designers, merchandisers, and marketers use the insights as the start of the process of developing products and bringing them to market."
Perman's team uses both quantitative and qualitative research on a broad spectrum, but when it comes to gathering consumer insight, he focuses on in-depth ethnographic research provided by partners who specialize in getting deep into the "nooks and crannies of consumer life in America and around the world." For example, his team spends time in consumers' homes and in their closets. They shop with consumers, looking for the reality of a consumer's life and identifying themes that will enable designers and merchandisers to better understand and anticipate consumer needs.
"Over time, as you develop a relationship with consumers, they reveal more intimate thoughts about what's going on in their lives," Perman says. "As you observe them, they'll give you insights that will inspire growth ideas."
But in order for the company to make the most of the research, the information has to be shared in useful ways. Here are four lessons Perman has learned about disseminating information internally.
-> Lesson #1. Tell a story
For the research to have the most impact, Perman's team focuses on finding, capturing, telling, and repeating stories -- and each story has all the elements of a good tale. "They're descriptive, they're specific, they take you to a time and a place, they have emotional impact," he explains.
He calls it 'institutionalized folklore.' "There's a story I've told dozens of times," he explains. "There was a pivotal event in the positioning of one of our brands, a very personal story of a specific consumer, and an experience and revelation we had with her."
He told the story often enough that it gets repeated within the company, and it has become, "kind of the basis of a brand strategy of a particular brand. You tell this story and it becomes part of what we do."
-> Lesson #2. Format is as important as content
How well employees understand the content of a message depends on the way it is presented. "We place high priority on the way the message is conveyed from a graphic and visual standpoint," Perman says.
Perman puts together multi-sensory presentations that illustrate the findings of research. For example, "we might recreate a teenager's bedroom and show what a teenage girl might have on her dresser."
This is sometimes done through photographs, but more often it's accomplished in a gallery style, with an actual dresser set up and left on display "long enough for people to understand it." He also tells of a loyal consumer who owned 80 pairs of Levi's jeans. A member of Perman’s insights team brought the consumer and all his jeans in for a presentation. "It was like recreating his bedroom, seeing what his different jeans look like and how he uses them," he explains.
He brings consumers into the company perhaps six times a year.
-> Lesson #3. Respect different learning styles
Perman acknowledges that not everyone responds the same way to the presentations. Those who enjoy them tend to have a learning style that is more experiential. "They want a richer tapestry that describes a consumer's perspective. They respond better to audio, visual, photographs, film, sound, anthropological artifacts," he says.
Others don't understand that type of learning. "After awhile, [we learned] that some people didn't understand what we were doing, why they were there."
For those types of learners, who tend to be slightly more pragmatic, Perman's team gives presentations that combine fact-based analysis while still including the "richness of the story."
At the far end of the scale, for people who "like data points on paper and want a clear pathway from fact to conclusion," Perman's team offers case studies.
Pragmatic types tend to be more technically or financially oriented -- the business side rather than the designers.
-> Lesson #4. Involve the team from the beginning
"Don't create your presentation in a vacuum and just show up one day and download people about what you learned," Perman says. "Upload insights along the way instead of downloading data."
Perman has learned that the people who will use the information at the end of a research project need to be involved from the beginning. They should help pinpoint desired outcomes; then, as the project evolves, Perman's team provides them with insights that allow them to internalize the findings along the way.
That way, "when you provide the report, they have the ability to absorb it and bring the insights to the next level."
While that means several meetings -- kick-off, project expectation, project launch, interim reports, and course correct, pre-presentation, actual presentation, and post-recap -- it's worth it to keep everyone involved.
However, every project is not treated as an equal, and the number of people involved in each project varies. "There are different levels of importance and different degrees of involvement," he says. "People are busy so we're very telegraphic and selective about the process."