Five Ways To Get Closer To Your Most Valuable Fans (Consumers)

As seen on

Look at Them With New Eyes and You’ll Find the New Business Opportunities

“I wish we were able to get closer to our consumers and therefore anticipate their most important needs better” is a recurring wish of corporate business leaders responsible for growth results.

The most successful innovation strategies are geared towards keeping your consumers at the heart of your business by continually deepening your understanding of your most valuable segments. To do that, leaders like you are constantly relearning and reframing the way you look at your consumers by finding ways to give themselves “new eyes.”


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Corporations in every industry that don’t yet have a world-class consumer-centricity “superpower” — and even ones that do — are constantly trying to stay ahead of rapidly changing markets, shifting channel preferences and dynamic consumer needs. (Keep your eye on the 2014 Forrester Customer Experience Index to see how you and others are doing in your industry.)

Here are five examples of ways to get closer to your most valuable consumers’ needs by approaching some traditional consumer understanding tools in special ways, as well as utilizing some nontraditional ones. The underlying objective is to generate clear and actionable (not anecdotal) data around consumer insights previously perceived to be relevant but “intangible” or “vague” parts of the consumer experience.

1) EXTERNAL FANS — Look beyond ROI to reveal new solutions that matter more than wins and losses.

2) NEURO-INSIGHT — Look into the consumers’ subconscious. Pick their brains — literally.

3) ATTITUDINAL AND BEHAVIORAL CONSUMER SEGMENTATION — Look for population clusters that are “win-win” target segments.

4) CONSUMER INSIGHTS AND TENSIONS — Focus on the formula to help you look with 20/20 vision at unmet needs and opportunities.

5) INTERNAL FANS — Look deeper into your organization’s social currency for innovation-readiness levers.


1) EXTERNAL FANS — Look beyond ROI to reveal new solutions that matter more than wins and losses.

ESPN knows sports, because ESPN understands sports fans. The worldwide leader in sports, ESPN Inc. (80 percent owned by The Walt Disney Company) is an entertainment business empire built on consumer intimacy. The challenge of understanding exactly what your fans want is vital to both the short term and long term — especially given rising prices and increasing competition from the explosion of other easily accessible substitute options (in almost every category of business).

Sports and entertainment is a “high interest and positive emotion” category where traditional consumer research tools have been used for years to help gather tracking data on consumer preferences. The ESPN Magazine published its 2014 The Franchise Issue on newsstands this month where it tapped into the intangibles of fan loyalty across the major professional sports leagues in the USA and Canada (i.e., MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).

ESPN Maddock Douglas

However, incremental value, meaning and business implications can be easily overlooked unless you are analyzing the data with new eyes. We’ve all heard of ROI, but a select few sports properties are looking at consumer data through the lens of a progressive diagnostic tool called ROC — “Return on Commitment.” ROC uses traditional quantitative research approaches to judge the overall health of the team from the perspective of its most valuable fans. It is derived from understanding the relationship between the investment fans make while following their teams (e.g., time, money, emotion) and the benefits (tangible and intangible) received from that investment. It is a pricevalue equation of the most instructive kind.

This new quantified frame can be used to a) actionably (not anecdotally) measure and understand why fans go to a sporting event instead of having dinner out or seeing the latest movie, b) provide a barometer for how the on-field and off-field influencers (e.g., economy, politics, personalities, local media) affect fans’ perceptions and c) inform innovation strategies that consistently win consumer loyalty in and out of the stadium even when the team doesn’t win on the field.

2) NEURO-INSIGHT — Look into the consumers’ subconscious. Pick their brains — literally.

Consumer research can also be done using neuroscience and brain-imaging technology to see how the brain responds to stimulus, which helps get to unique insights from both a rational and emotional level. The reality is that people feel things they aren’t even aware of (let alone able to express verbally) — and these emotions impact perceptions and purchase decisions — so understanding what consumers subconsciously feel can help anticipate their actions in the real world.

This is especially helpful in complex categories where language, brand preference and unarticulated desires can get in the way of connecting with new consumer targets. For example, in a “low interest and negative emotion” category like insurance, we found it to be particularly helpful to see into the mind of the consumer in a way we had not been able to before.

We used neuroscience techniques to reveal clues on topics as slippery as understanding the Gen Y consumer’s perceived “relevance” of new, not so new, and downright old insurance language and product ideas. This neural treasure hunt revealed crystal clear nuances that drive relevance (or lack thereof) based on consumers’ emotional intensity, level of engagement and memory encoding.

3) ATTITUDINAL AND BEHAVIORAL CONSUMER SEGMENTATION — Look for population clusters that are “win-win” target segments.

Re-categorizing consumers in a way that identifies people who not only need your help the most, but also have attitudes and behaviors that suggest they crave the kind of help you can provide, will not only give you a new perspective, it will give you a new language that changes the strategy conversations you can have with your most economically valuable consumer targets.

For example, “consumer centricity” in health care is not a new concept, but many institutions still treat all patients with a particular diagnosis similarly in hopes of getting them to manage their condition in a certain way. Although “god-like” doctors and other healthcare professionals often know the most effective treatment plan to recommend for a particular condition, they (and their health insurance counterparts) don’t predictably know why certain people do respond to the expert’s advice and why others don’t. Nearly twothirds of patients acknowledge that there is a gap between what they “should” do versus what they “actually” do, suggesting an opportunity to alleviate some of the emotional, intellectual, logistical and coverage barriers that can interfere with progress towards positive health outcomes.

Patient Empowerment

Maddock Douglas, Ringleader Ventures and a few of the industry Goliaths are applying attitudinal consumer segmentation research techniques to solve for the “mysterious” intangibles of individualized care by developing a clear understanding of many patients resistance and the motivations that drive them to not follow “doctor’s orders.” Our data shows that there are four distinctly different, actionable consumer segments. Because each segment thinks and acts differently from one another, a patient empowerment solution designed to improve health outcomes should definitely not be one-size-fits-all. For each segment, there are unique opportunities related to education, communication, incentives, tools, apps and other resources that can help patients engage more confidently and effectively with the healthcare system in order to bring about better health outcomes more quickly and efficiently.

4) CONSUMER INSIGHTS AND TENSIONS — Focus on the formula to help you look with 20/20 vision at unmet needs and opportunities.

Traditional research approaches can be used to learn all kinds of things about the consumer. But going far beyond a standard observation and digging in to find the motivations and pain points will make all the difference to your innovation success.

“What is an insight?” An insight is a statement that is derived from a mosaic of consumer data points that brings out a tension or an opportunity in the marketplace in a way that allows for new ideas to develop easily and is on target for a specific, tangible business opportunity. It looks like this:


The meatiest piece is the “tension” — the expression that comes after “but.” The bigger the “but,” the more opportunity there is in the market for the company that is best suited to solve that tension.

An example of an insight around life insurance might be:
STATEMENT OF FACT:    “I’d like to have more life insurance coverage
REASON:                               because my family’s well-being is important to me,
TENSION:                             but I am afraid I will be oversold.”

There are always 100s of different tensions that are true for consumers within a given industry. You need to invest in solving the ones that are most relevant and urgent for your most valuable consumer segments. Part of the reason it is helpful to structure all of your company’s insight statements in this formulaic way is so that you can quantitatively test and measure the different components of each statement. This way you are confident that you are focusing on the biggest area of tension, which leads you to the biggest opportunity for innovation.

5) INTERNAL FANS — Look deeper into your organization’s social currency for innovationreadiness levers.

In our experience and ongoing research, the No. 1 most mentioned challenge for innovation leaders is internal “cultural resistance.” Despite believing that the power has to kill or enable successful innovation (“culture eats innovation strategy for lunch”), few companies get beyond the leadership team’s personal beliefs or the corporate baseline satisfaction surveys. How can traditional quantitative employee survey mechanisms get to the tangible, actionable levers that drive the nature of a complex and adaptive culture of innovation?

Taking stock of a company’s innovation readiness and performance on six Culture of Innovation pillars is an essential step of any significant innovation effort, because the culture within an organization ultimately impacts the consumer experience both directly and indirectly. A culture where innovation thrives is much more likely to generate products and services that consumers love, as well as service and support touch points that are positive and meaningful.

By surveying the organization’s entire employee base, we gain a clear understanding of the cultural drivers currently in place and innovation readiness by geography, level and department and by each leader responsible for driving competency. Global HR/Talent Management executives facing their No.1 challenge of “leadership development” can’t possibly be expected to do their job very effectively without an intimate, actionable level of understanding of their employee community’s relationship to the six Culture of Innovation pillars (i.e., customer focus, creativity, leadership, risk-taking, infrastructure, engagement).

culture of innovation pillars

With this information in hand, we are able to understand a company’s unique cultural profile and identify a specific set of interventions designed to positively impact the cultural elements that drive and support innovation. The impact of these interventions can be measured periodically with quantitative tracking studies so that culture of innovation efforts can evolve and pivot over time.


Today, the most important and most powerful stakeholder within every industry (whether entertainment, financial services, insurance, healthcare or consumer packaged goods) is — or is soon to be — the consumer. By quantifying the intangibles of what your most valuable consumers care about and looking at them with new eyes wide open, you can find the motivation, the power and the increased certainty that you and your company need in order to take definitive action toward better results.

Speaker Kits: videos and brochures