When writing a story, readers need certain information to form a picture of the characters, the location the story is set in, the relationships formed between characters, and the situations they get into. However, this information only shares a part of the story; there is a process writers use called world-building, which helps establish all of the previously marked ‘unnecessary’ details that help solidify the world, give all interactions and actions a relevant and relatable context, and cements the story as not only plausible, but realistic.
World-building, when done right, allows writers to write with a full understanding of the world they’re creating, and communicate it in a way to immerses their readers fully in the story without plot-holes and jarring inconsistencies that stop that all-important suspension of disbelief.
Building up an accurate picture of the worlds in which consumers live in contextualises actionable insights, enriching them and cementing their worth in the decision-making process. But how can we get the data we need?
This process is used by all writers to some extent, more famously than others. Tolkien for one, was forced to write down the tiniest details of The Hobbit, when his son pointed out the petty inconsistencies in his Father’s storytelling night after night, pointing out the importance behind such detail. But not only that, Tolkien created whole languages, cultures, religious systems, and topography, each detail noted in the various novels that take place in this fantasy world, each enriching and contextualising the other in an intricate sustainable network of stories.
Right now, you might be asking: how is this relevant to researchers or New York? Well, this world-building process can be evolved and used by insight professionals everywhere to build up an accurate picture of the worlds in which your participants live and make decisions in. It provides that crucial context to why they do what they do, explores their influences, their desires, and their needs, in the most minute way possible, and thus allows us to enrich our insights further.
Brands Through the Looking Glass
All consumers may live in the same world, but they each have their own subjective view of it, their own beliefs, their own routines and priorities. These aspects and many more make up the little bubble that we all live in, our own little world that changes and evolves, and influences our behaviours drastically. These contexts also influence how we view prominent brands, products, and services, and that is why these insights matter.
One broad example of a contextual insight that impacts a large population of westernised consumers is that, we have grown up to recognise the sentiment that a higher price typically indicates a higher quality, when really this isn’t true most of the time; most businesses recognise this sentiment, and raise their prices to appear higher quality than they are, because this perception has been ingrained through capitalist influences, and so skews how westernised consumers perceive brands who charge a higher price for their wares.
These contextual influences, whether based in nature or nurture, form a lens unique to each individual person in this world that tint how they see everything. This lens is coloured through:
- Political beliefs
- Social conditioning
- Economic prospects/achievements
- Geographic influences
- A myriad of personal experiences
And so much more that it’s impossible to account for all the experiences we go through when growing up, but these overarching themes account for a lot.
With the amount of data and insights we generate on a daily basis as an industry, most of the important and truly actionable insights get lost in the noise, or aren’t noticed for the stand out insights they ought to be. Using world-building questions to guide research efforts allows us to understand and enrich insights such as those, and enables both insight professionals and stakeholders to truly understand consumer behaviour outside of the consumer-context.
So how do we break through this barrier between brand and consumer, to understand how consumers perceive your brand?
With each individual having their own unique lens, it’s impossible to know the details, but taking the overarching themes common in each answer and matching it to the background data is a good start. With the many technologies, methodologies, and tools available for researchers now, we can get all sorts of data from behavioural to passive (geolocation, biometric, etc.), and with the extended use of social media, we have direct access to their history of interactions, data on who their family and friends (indicating the biggest influences in their lives), data on everything they publish online.
World-building research techniques help insight professional to harvest these influences, and gain key contextual insight into the lives of each consumer; but the most effective way of world-building we’ve found, is to simply ask consumers directly.
Insight as Art on Location — Understanding Consumer Contexts
In our Insight as Art campaign, we’ve revolutionised insight reporting by translating insights into art; but contextual insights are key to this process. We asked New Yorkers what they think about living in New York City, and to no-one’s surprise, they love it. But if we’re to collect the best contextual insights, we need to dig a little deeper: why do they like it? What do they think is so special about New York?
Among the answers that were provided, the concept of ‘community’ was highlighted as one major theme, and the range of entertainment was another. It was revealed that New York is like Disneyland to adults, filled to the brim with theatres, shops, people living their lives and trying to keep up with everyone else; everything in the world can be found in New York, so much so that they could happily exist as an ecosystem unto themselves. But New Yorkers admit that their city is expensive, and some only survive rather than truly live. To find out more about the New York research, take a look at this blog.
What do people think of where they live? What specifically is so special? What makes them happy? Why do insight professionals need this information? This data serves a very important purpose in insight activation.
Through this research, we were able to get a dramatic insight into what it takes to live in New York, what life is like, what opportunities and challenges New Yorkers faces on a daily basis. All of the necessary contextual information to build up copious background insights that are able to inform any data New Yorkers give after the fact. Data such as this can easily be generated, but not enough importance is placed on this concept, so it has fallen by the wayside until now.
Ethical Insight Generation
These insights are essential, but it raises a lot of ethical questions. Consumers who don’t want to be invaded won’t want their personal life to be analysed to such an extent, and so we must figure out a compromise. How much insight can we take and use, with consumers’ consent and without it being an invasion of privacy?
Once we establish this boundary, generating these insights and building up the colourful world that makes up these consumers’ lives can start to take place; linking contextual influences to consumer behaviours can help us understand how consumers see the world, brands, industries, and so much more, adding that extra context and further enriching insight.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.