Your customer is an onion: Peeling into consumer insights

“Who are these people?”

This question, popularized by comedian Jerry Seinfeld in his hit 1990s TV show, sums up the consumer-insights theme of the first of the Gabelli School’s marketing lecture series held on Monday, September 26, at Lincoln Center. Consumer insights is a growing field of study that explores markets from the viewpoint of real people. 

Guest speaker Ellen Zaleski, PhD, FCRH ’99, senior vice president of strategic insights at Empower Media, part of the DENTSU Aegis Network, has made a career out of learning what makes consumers tick.

“Like the onion analogy, you have to dig deeper and deeper,” Zaleski said. “Getting to know your consumers is the same as getting to know a new friend or colleague.”

Zaleski spoke about how her team at Empower segments people by behavior, attitude, shared values and other qualities, and how these characteristics lead to insights that can inform successful marketing and advertising programs.

She gave examples of client segmentation for her company’s client, Microsoft, and its new MS SurfacePro, a combined tablet and computer device.

Global surveys and database matches are among the tools used to identify a handful of client segments. Looking more deeply within each of those segments reveals not only basic demographics, but also “what is important to them, what inspires them, what they are passionate about… and why they care about you. While one segment is more concerned with looking cool, another wants to feel more connected,” she said.

Certainly, the changing media landscape has created abundant challenges for marketers and research, in the form of big data, is critical to wading through the clutter and capturing consumers’ attention in their digital space of choice.

“Today, the average person spends 12 hours a day consuming media, and our attention span has been reduced to 8 seconds,” Zaleski said. “That’s less than a goldfish.”

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