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How Staying Ahead of Consumer Preferences Gets You to the Top

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Disney World in Orlando, Florida attracts the most visitors of any theme park worldwide every year, with 2018 attendance reaching 20.8 million visitors. Given ticket prices of well over $100 per person and the amount spent on food and lodging, it’s easy to see how Disney Parks racked up $4.34B in revenue.

So why do visitors spend so much on a Disney Parks vacation? Arguably the biggest reason is the experience that visitors have inside a Disney theme park.
When making purchasing decisions, consumers today are more discerning than ever.

Previously, consumers primarily made purchase decisions based on product and price. But now consumers also demand exceptional experiences and they are willing to pay for it. That’s why the time is now for experience  management. The challenge, though, is that consumer preferences change rapidly. During the pandemic this became crystal clear as more consumers turned to digital channels to meet even basic needs (like toilet paper). This massive migration to digital channels catapulted consumer expectations
for speed, convenience, and personalization. And what people buy has changed substantially.

In fact, 63% of consumers no longer buy the same types of brands they used to. And many of these changes are sticky: 80% of people who used more digital channels during the crisis say they will continue doing so in the future (I know that I’m not giving up online grocery shopping any time soon).

Understanding when preferences change and knowing how to react to that is critical. Let me tell you about a brand that was tracking changing consumer preferences and used those insights to quickly pivot their strategy and increase their brand’s sales by 300%.

In the early days of the pandemic Volkswagen’s showrooms were closed and overnight the company lost access to its only route to market. However, Volkswagen was able to tap into rich insights from their own brand and customer experience program. They learned that consumers were now open to buying a car online — and in just 14 days they had launched an online
platform, increasing the brand’s sales by 300%.

And to be clear, what Volkswagen did was not just as simple as adding a question to a survey, “Hey, are you open to buying a car online?” They were already gathering insights in real-time about what was important to customers when buying a car. So when Volkswagen learned that customers were open to buying online, they knew how to create the right online experience. The
access to always-on insights give them the ability to move quickly with a product that delivered.

The key to staying ahead and closing experience gaps is rooted in market research insights. As market researchers, we need to know what consumers want almost before they do – and I say this because consumers don’t always know what they want, partly because they don’t know what’s possible. So, to give consumers what they want, we need to uncover changing consumer
preferences.

To do that, market researchers need tools that offer two important things: first, flexibility, and second, proactivity. By flexibility, I mean the ability to perform a variety of research methods simply - qualitative, quantitative, your customers, non-customers, etc. And by proactivity I mean the ability to surface and act on insights in a timely manner.

Let’s take a closer look at flexibility. Before joining Qualtrics, I was the Assistant Director for the Best Hospitals rankings published by U.S. News & World Report. Each year after the rankings were released, we would get calls from hospitals asking why their hospital had dropped in the ranking. They would explain how their metrics were the same as last year, so they didn’t
understand how they could drop five or ten spots in the ranking. I would have to explain that although they might have stayed the same, their competitors got better. Competitors’ mortality scores went down, their reputation improved, or they got additional certifications and technology.

To stay ahead, you need to know not just how your brand is doing, but how your competitors are doing. You need to know when science and technology is changing - and how consumers' preferences are changing with it. And I can tell you that when a hospital waited until the rankings were released to really understand how they were performing, it was too late. The next year, they would often drop even further in the rankings.

Being flexible and proactive is critical, because the cost of being wrong or slow has never been higher. In fact, recent research from Forbes shows that it is four times more expensive to bring a product to market now than five years ago and 95% of new products fail by the time they hit the market.

So in conclusion, as market researchers and insights professionals, you have to be both flexible and proactive in identifying changing consumer preferences and linking those back to how your organization creates and manages customer experiences.

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