Tag Archives: consumer research

In honor of Michael Phelps: A new way to think about counting calories

Today, let’s talk about a different way to think about calorie intake or “share of stomach.”

In one of our first posts, we addressed the problem of obesity in this country, trying to add a dose of sanity to counter the notion that the food industry is solely to blame for it. We pointed out that the decisions people make about diet and exercise, along with genetics, also factor into the equation. But basically, it’s calories in, calories out.

If you’ve been following the Olympics this week, you might have heard that 14-time gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day to keep his engine going.

Phelps also swam about five miles a day during the Olympics. If that sounds like a lot of exercise, that’s because it is. To put it another way, conventional wisdom is that swimming five miles is like running 20 miles. Imagine running 140 miles in a week.

Unlike Phelps, most of us need far fewer than 12,000 calories to keep our motors running. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization say the average American consumes about 4,000 calories a day.

That’s still a fair amount of calories to count. And the reasons for consuming those calories are numerous and diverse:

  • To satisfy hunger
  • To experience flavors and textures
  • To soothe emotional wounds
  • To celebrate achievement

We talk a lot in our business about share of stomach. Usually, we’re talking about our share versus our competitors. We ought to be trying to learn what types of emotions and activities are responsible for what percentage of our target consumers’ caloric intake.

Make sure you’re taking a detailed account of WHY your customers are buying and consuming your brands.

At every point possible in the buying process, take advantage or opportunities to ask questions. Put questions on coupons. Offer discounts for answering questions. Put surveys on cash register receipts.

This next part will seem a little foreign to some people. Rather than asking about satsifaction with the product, ask your consumer about themselves. Ask them why they made the purchase when and where they did. People would much rather talk about themselves than you.

It’s a natural thing to ask, and the answers will tell you the language, tone of voice and venues in which to best communicate to your targets when they’re making their food choice.

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Experience is always the best teacher

No matter your age, one of the best ways to learn is to play. Recently we took this to heart and took it upon ourselves to understand our customers’ lives. One of our clients sells beef to supermarkets and restaurants, and we wanted to experience the challenges of creating fresh beef cuts that will appeal to consumers.

So we bought 20 pounds of shoulder clod and strip loin, popped in an instructional DVD from Canada’s Beef Information Centre and went to town.

First, we learned that the guys with knives on the video make it look a lot easier than it really is. It took a roomful of our heads and several rewinds of the segments before we were able to roughly imitate our customers’ craft.

Once you’ve experienced your customers’ challenges and victories, you will begin to have empathy for them. Once you experience empathy, you’re better able to speak their language and reach them with your message.

I’ve heard that really savvy investors like Warren Buffett experience the products and services of companies before taking major equity positions in them. Remember Victor Kiam? He liked his Remington shaver so much, he bought the company. Shouldn’t we be just as passionate about understanding our customers?

All I know is, we had a great time, we developed understanding and empathy, and we learned something about our customers together as a team.

Plus, how often do you get to eat your teaching tools? The strip steaks and chuck steaks we cut ourselves were quite satisfying.

I guess it’s just part of a day in the life of a place where understanding the target audience is priority one for everyone, from the business manager to the brand manager to the copywriter and the proofreader. The challenge is maintaining that focus. But having a little fun is one way to do just that.