Category: Unearthing Insights

Practical tips for unearthing insights

Defining your target market with precision

Do you find that when you’re asked to identify your target market, you respond with something like ‘millennials’ or ‘people living in this area’ or ‘young families’? That’s specific, right?

But yet when you place your ad – which everyone agrees is fabulous – in the media outlet that your target market is exposed to, the results are less than outstanding. Or when you create that product that is perfect for your target market, there’s such little uptake, even though you know your market is aware of your perfect product.

Maybe you’re only attracting the early adopters … or maybe you haven’t defined your market with sufficient precision.

AE’s approach to target market definition consists of 5 levels of precision. Let’s use the example of targeting millennials.

Level 1: Demographics (male millennials, i.e. persons born between 1980 and 1996)
Level 2: Interests (male millennial sports fans)
Level 3: Lifestyle (male millennial sports fans that watch sports while hanging out at bars with their friends a few times a month)
Level 4: Attitudes (male millennial sports fans that watch sports while hanging out at bars with their friends a few times a month and believe that winning is more important than how you play the game)
Level 5: Values (male millennial sports fans that watch sports while hanging out at bars with their friends a few times a month and believe that winning is more important than how you play the game and highly value their traditions)

The best products, market campaigns and corporate strategies require Level 5 targeting.

How would you get their attention if you defined your target market using only Level 1 criteria versus if your target market was defined up to Level 5? Would you still be considering the same media outlets, the same imagery and the same products?

For more information on how you can use this approach in your business, contact us at 246.253.4442 or .



A few thoughts about focus groups

It seems to me that marketers love focus groups. In almost every discussion I’ve had on solving a market research problem, marketers have suggested the possibility of focus groups. Maybe they’re attractive because they are relatively inexpensive compared to other research methods, can be organised quickly and are deceptively easy to conduct. And you can’t discount the obvious benefit of being able to interact directly with your desired audience.

But a word of caution: focus groups are not the ideal solution in every instance where you need to learn more about your market. Inherent in the use of focus groups are some risks that, if not accounted for, can lead to incorrect conclusions and costly decisions.

This brief post summarises what we’ve found to be the main drawbacks of focus groups.

Group think

People’s ideas and opinions tend to converge when discussed in a group. You’ve probably observed this yourself in meetings. Prior to a meeting, you may have a fairly strong opinion on the issue to be discussed. During the meeting, a strong personality dominates the conversation and either you do not get an opportunity to add your two cents, you start to change your mind and lean more towards the other person’s opinion or you find it easier to only add your opinions that are in alignment with the majority rather than start an argument by disagreeing. In any case, the moderator leaves the session believing that the strong personality’s position was a consensus across the group. In a perfect world, however, the moderator would have had the benefit of your point of view because odds are there are other people in the market that think like you do.

People lie to themselves, so they will lie to you too

This one is hard for most people to fully appreciate in business settings, but often we do not do what we say we will do. That’s why I do not suggest that people use focus groups to gauge intent to purchase. Let’s face it, we all have good intentions that aren’t realised; we don’t think of them as lies. But in this type of research setting, especially if you’re trying to gauge likely purchase, asking people what they plan to do is often not helpful. Yes, there are ways to minimise this, but when compounded by group think, it’s a tall order.

You only get answers to the questions you ask

To be fair, this is a risk in almost all types of research. But in focus groups there is a real danger because you often get such interesting and potentially useful feedback that you may not realise that you didn’t get a good answer to the most important question. Conversations may get derailed, defused or entirely omitted as you run out of time. Consider the example of a focus group to discuss a new product the company plans to offer. Odds are, the discussion would zoom into product features, price points, potential applications, and so forth. But the most important questions really should be: would anyone actually buy this product and, if so, why? That alone could take up the entire hour/hour and a half of a focus group. This leads to a secondary point, which is that too often focus groups attempt to cover too many topics in one session, which does not give the moderator time to really dig deeply into any one issue.

The results are not statistically representative

Too often people confuse the fact that focus groups provide insight into the needs, thoughts and feelings of a target market with the need for insights that are representative of that market. Let’s clear that up. For any sample – the focus groups participants in our case – to be representative of the underlying population, it has to be matched on all attributes that are expected to be influential on research outcomes. This requires detailed understanding of the underlying population that goes beyond basic demographics. You may also need to know their likes/dislikes, geographical location, level of education, family responsibilities, etc. Then you have to ensure that the proportions of various segments of that underlying population are reflected in the same proportions within your sample. But focus groups tend to have no more than twelve people, which may mean one person per segment. One person’s opinion cannot represent their entire segment. There are some workarounds, like multiple focus groups with different segments, very precise selection criteria, etc. But a word of caution: even if you consider the smallest representative sample size, which is around 300 persons, odds are you’re not talking to anywhere near that many people in your focus groups. Don’t confuse informative with representative. They each have their place.

The bias of compensation and other intangible benefits

There are individuals who simply enjoy participating in research activities and care nothing about the topic you’re investigating. They’re opinionated and revel in opportunities where they can share their points of view. Some people in larger countries even make a living from participating in paid research activities. I remember one participant in one of our focus groups casually debating with me about how much he should be paid, even though he was amongst those that contributed the least and we had to keep pushing him for feedback. Clearly, he wasn’t there because of any deep interest in the topic. It’s like gauging the mood of the population simply from listening to a call-in programme. Not everyone who has a strong opinion will call in, and the loudest people do not always speak for the majority. On the flip side, if you don’t compensate people for taking the time out of their busy schedule to attend your focus group, will anyone come?


In short, focus groups remain one of our favourite research tools, but they’re not ideal for every situation. Interested in learning more about how to organise your own focus groups, email us at

Do you map your customers?

A map of customers on a real-world map, created from data, reveals things as they are and takes some of the guess work out of reaching customers. Industries from healthcare to retail to finance to utilities are using location information about their customers and assets to drive superior customer experience, improve process efficiency and lower risk level. Advancements and innovations in geo-spatial technology are driving a new wave of interest in location solutions. Not only does geo-spatial analysis allow companies to use location data to derive unprecedented levels of understanding of customer’s habits and behavior, they also provide the platforms to deliver beneficial information, direction and other support directly to customers.

The ability to visualize your customer base using geography opens up a level of knowledge and understanding not available through any other method. Some of the most important insights that marketing, development and delivery professionals are trying to capture from the value of location data are:

  • Where are your customers located in relation to your stores, warehouses and other points of contact? Or, alternatively, where should your distribution centres be located to ensure proximity to your ideal customers?
  • Which areas have a greater level of penetration?
  • Are your lapsed customers coming from certain areas?
  • Which areas have a similar profile to your current base (or your best customers)?
  • What’s the fastest, cheapest or safest route to take to deliver your goods to end-users?
  • How are your assets – such as poles, meters, towers and stores – distributed across a geographical area? Is this distribution optimal given your intended target market?
  • Is store performance linked to geographical location?

Managers in a wide variety of fields are coming to understand the competitive advantages that come with the savvy use of location data, and a few examples are noted below.

Identify Opportunities with Radius Maps

Radius maps, also known as buffer maps, are useful when you need to understand your data in relation to its proximity to other features. They are often used as coverage maps to see where you may have gaps or overlap of coverage of your shops, services, and operations. For instance, you may need to be able to visualize how many customers you have within a 10-mile radius of your office locations, or how many customers you could serve in a particular region if you build a new outlet.

Save Time and Costs with Route Maps

Geo-spatial software can take your chosen stops and optimize a route to reach them all. With options for a round trip, different start and end points and all the intermediate points, you can plan your route in minutes. By optimizing your route, you make sure your sales team’s time is spent in the most efficient manner, saving time and money.




Manage Your Sales Territories

Enhance your maps by combining it with additional visualization tools, such as charts. Charts can give viewers an immediate summary of the data on the map. Geo-spatial software can produce various types of charts which can be added to a map, including bar, line, pie, area, and scatter charts.

Competitive advantage analysis

By overlaying certain location information, such as population density, the road network and store location, organizations can analyze and understand their competitive advantages and disadvantages in the market. Geo-spatial software, together with the appropriate data, can help managers visualize the relationship between the location of your competitors, customers (current and potential) and sales.







For more information on how customer maps can provide valuable marketing and strategy insights, contact us at

Sources: Antilles Economics and

Want to improve your customer’s experience? First you have to understand it.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience can be thought of as all of the ways that customers engage with your company and brand throughout the entire lifecycle of their time as your customer. Through this lens, it includes everything from customer care to advertising, packaging and public relations to product and service features to reliability and ease of use. It is therefore a broader concept than solely what a customer experiences when they enter your store, as it involves both direct and indirect contact with your company, as well as emotional and subjective responses to it.

Many companies focus on the direct contact a person has with their company, during the purchase transaction, when using the product or service, or during any after-sales service interactions. Indirect contact is often overlooked, but could potentially be just as, or sometimes even more, important. Indirect contact typically takes the form of unintentional contact with your company’s products, services, brands or personnel; for example, word of mouth recommendations or criticisms, news reports, advertising, impressions of brand representatives outside of the store, and the list goes on.

As such, the experience a customer has with your brand starts before you are even aware that they are a potential customer.

Most companies only track customer satisfaction, which implies that they are gauging their success at wowing customers only at the time of purchase or when they have a problem to be resolved. But, what if you were never given the opportunity to wow them because they had a negative experience with your brand before one of your sales representatives even knew they existed? How disappointed would you feel if your sales team delivered exceptional service, but the product arrived defective or late because your outsourced transportation provider dropped the ball? Or, what if through some hiccup in the administrative process the customer decided not to do business with you after all?

Understanding customer experience

Understanding your organisation’s customer experience first requires an understanding of how customers interact with your organisation before they become a customer, during all direct transactions and interactions with your organization, right up to the end when they are no longer a customer. This is known as the customer journey. During this journey, customers will interact with your organisation both directly and indirectly through various touchpoints, such as customer service, product and service delivery, websites, advertising, after-sales service, and so on. And these touchpoints exist within an ecosystem or network of your organisation’s customers, employees, suppliers, vendors and overall operating environment. The quality of your organisation’s customer experience, therefore, often involves more than just your organisation.

Measuring Customer Experience

The key to enabling positive and memorable customer experiences that turn customers into brand ambassadors lies in understanding the journeys that they take, the touchpoints that provide direct contact and the overall ecosystem within which they are engaging with your company. You cannot manage customer experience if you cannot measure it. Through a range of techniques – such as surveys, focus groups, ethnographic and other observational studies (‘shop alongs’), customer diaries, product co-design activities and internal analytics – we suggest measuring three broad areas:

  1. how well your company met your customers’ needs;
  2. how easy it was to do business with your organisation; and,
  3. how enjoyable it was when doing business with your organization.

When identifying the metrics that will form your customer experience monitoring system, think about the entire customer journey, your various touchpoints and the overall ecosystem. Successful management hinges on a comprehensive view of the entire customer experience and determining which levers to pull to foster as positive and as memorable an experience with your company as possible.

Want to learn more about improving customer experience in your organisation? Contact us here.

Inviting Customers Into the Product Design Process

Customers buy in the modern world where expectations have changed, where patience is short, where exceptional service and delivery are expected, and where they expect things to be either value for money, incredibly simple or very fun. Satisfying the customers’ needs and expectations should be the driving force behind any product creation. Customers like being engaged, listened to and taken seriously. They like to provide feedback and solutions to help products become more user friendly. So why not take advantage of customers’ willingness to share ideas and experiences?

The process of design involving two or more people sharing ideas, is known as co-design. Customer co-design enlists the services, knowledge and ideas of current and future customers to design, develop and maintain a product, process, system and/or experience. Co-designing with customers is mutually beneficial. Customers will feel valued and understood. You will be able to design solutions that really work well for them, resulting in faster acceptance of new offerings and greater customer loyalty. By working side by side with customers, the people in your organization gain valuable insights into customers’ needs. By acting on those insights, your team gains faster adoption of new products, services, or processes. Customer service, an integral part of most organizations, is the first place to look for customer requirements and for customer co-design opportunities.

It is suggested that you proactively engage with customers and develop a customer co-design atmosphere. Here are a few opportunities to achieve that.

  • Form a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), where you recruit your most insightful customers to help identify and assess their and other customers’ unfulfilled requirements;
  • Incorporate the Voice of the Customer (VOC) into your organization’s culture. This entails encouraging customers to talk among themselves in focus groups, forums, social media etc. and observing how they offer solutions to each other’s problems;
  • Design the processes that impact customers to be more efficient and effective by understanding how customers perceive the processes and incorporating their suggestions for improvement;
  • Take advantage of the business network that supports your customers’ other needs. Your organization cannot provide everything that your customers need. Partner and collaborate with other organizations and your customers to provide all-round satisfying products and services.

The future of business competition and prosperity is based on the successful processes of co-design and co-creation, where customers play an integral part. The key to designing a successful product is to use customer co-design early and often. Give your employees, at all levels, the authority to interact with customers to obtain firsthand knowledge of what they would like from your products and how they would use it. The intelligence that you will gather from customer interactions will be priceless.

Forecasting – Art and Science

Why forecast?

Forecasting, in its most basic form, is the practice of making predictions about future values of a variable, outcome and/or decision. The question is whether forecasting is necessary, and why. The answer to the first is a resounding yes, mainly due to the need for businesses to plan ahead and anticipate various events. For instance, firms use forecasts of independent variables (such as sales) to help guide decisions about dependent variables (such as the required level of inventory) or to estimate the impact of events that may be out of their control (e.g. a new competitor, a change in tax rates or the impact of a hurricane). Forecasting thus facilitates the formulation of rational and consistent strategies that help firms achieve their objectives. Indeed, if the future can be predicted, it can be controlled and leveraged by the business to provide an advantage over competitors. Given the importance of forecasting to businesses, good forecasts are therefore a necessity.

What is a ‘good’ forecast?

A logical question at this point would be how do we determine whether a forecast was ‘good’? Generally, the public judges a forecast solely on its accuracy: a good forecast is assumed to be one that is equal (or very close) to what actually happened (or the realised value). But forecasting should never be confused with prophecy. The chances of forecasting the exact value of a random variable is almost zero. Rather, good forecasts:

  • incorporate all available information and are as accurate as possible given this information;
  • are unbiased, neither consistently higher nor consistently lower than realised values; and,
  • are timely, i.e. they are developed early enough to inform adequate planning and allow sufficient time to adjust.

How do we attain “good” forecasts, science or art? 

‘Good’ forecasts usually emerge from striking a balance between art and science. The scientific aspect of forecasting usually refers to the quantitative methods used; this approach often gets the most attention. In fact, in the early stages of my career, I held a common, but misguided view that good forecasts came from statistical methods and powerful computers. I theorised what I considered to be a brilliant forecasting approach. I would collect a host of data; inspect the data; build a few models; compare the forecasting performance of these models; and, choose the best performing one. However, as time progressed, one thing became abundantly clear: business forecasting should not use such a simplistic approach! Naïve quantitative methods help us to identify existing relationships and/or established patterns; however, they almost exclusively assume that the future is like the past.

On the flip side is forecasting using judgment, what many people refer to as their gut instinct. Humans possess unique knowledge and insight that provide a great deal of value in business decisions. However, like quantitative methods, relying on the judgment alone can be detrimental. Judgments forecasts are subjective, vary due to psychological factors, and can be clouded by personal or political agendas.

The ideal approach

The ideal solution would be to utilize an approach that merges the science (i.e. quantitative methods) with the art (i.e. the forecaster’s insight and knowledge of the market). This approach is known as scenario analysis and has been used by forecasters since the Second World War. It was arguably best applied in the business world by Shell Oil Company, which used this approach to consider the rise and fall of oil prices and effectively plan for its business consequences. Scenario analysis provides a consistent approach to incorporating this human insight into forecasting and also allows the researcher to produce an image of the future under various potential outcomes.

Scenario analysis starts from the premise that the future is unlikely to be like the past: human choice and other unexpected events need to be factored into the equation. The aim of scenario analysis is to map the so-called possibility space (i.e. identify potential alternative outcomes) and evaluate the impact that these outcomes could likely have on the business. Rather than simply forecasting sales using a naïve method, one considers sales under different market conditions, e.g. marketing campaigns of varying degrees of success, new entrants into the market, industrial strikes, mergers, etc. Scenario analysis therefore allows the business analyst to mix the science with the art to derive competitive advantages for the enterprise.

More often than not, forecasts are put together using either quantitative methods or judgement alone. At AE, our forecasting methods integrate the two, merging art with science. Our approach is conceptually very simple. We use historical data to generate statistical forecasts as well as a map of the possibility space taking into account human insight and judgment. It is important, however, that forecasts are internally consistent, are based on logical storylines, are plausible and are associated with certain sign posts that can be used by managers to identify when this scenario is likely to occur. We have only touched the surface of the concept of forecasting in this post, but we hope that you have gained a better understanding of the state of the art when it comes to business forecasting.

AE Research Methods

From time to time, we are asked for details about the research methods we use when uncovering insights. This is a tough question since we use so many, and the method ultimately used in a project depends on the data and the topic being investigated.

Generally, we use both primary and secondary data collection methods, and a wide range of statistical analysis techniques. For example, we have used surveys and statistical analysis to collect information on and analyse the impact of a change in legislation on the demand for medicines (click here to read about it); and we have used secondary information and linear regression to forecast premiums and claims in the insurance industry (click here to read more). In both cases, we adapted our approach to suit the question we were investigating.

To learn more about other methods we use, click here to read our 2015 Research Methods summary. The methods outlined in this document are not by any means the full list of our tools. If you would like more information, click here to send us your query.

Employing Metrics in HR Management

Human resources are considered vital to organisational strategy and a leading determinant of business success. However, finding organisations that measure and directly link their human resource investments to strategic goals is challenging. To overcome this challenge, talent management executives must speak the same language as other executives: numbers.

In this brief article, Anna Kay Seaton offers a brief glimpse into the current state of metrics usage in talent management. Ms. Seaton is the Lead Consultant, Coach and Trainer at People Engagement and Research Solutions, and has worked in talent management for seventeen years. She advises that to establish a commitment to utlising HR metrics within your organisation, HR professionals and other executives should establish priority areas for competitive advantage and align talent management strategies accordingly. HR metrics should then be designed to effectively track progress towards the organisation’s objectives.

Click here to read Employing Metrics in HR Management.

When To Use Telephone Surveys

Today I received a phone call from a research agency inviting me to participate in a customer satisfaction survey for a financial institution. Since I’ve been on the other end of those calls, I tend to be very cooperative; after all, they usually only take a couple of minutes. After the telephone survey was completed, I went back to work developing an online survey for one of our clients. I started wondering if companies actively chose to use telephone surveys or if it was the default option because it was the most popular method in Barbados. Just in case it was the latter, I decided to write this short post outlining the circumstances under which we advise clients to use telephone surveys. Just for clarity, when we speak of telephone surveys, we are not including polls via SMS or participants accessing an online survey using their smartphone. We are speaking only of surveys completed using phone calls.

Telephone surveys are best used under the following circumstances:

  • Your target market is available by telephone and willing to talk to you during the hours that you intend to conduct the survey;
  • Your questionnaire is very short and does not have any visuals; and,
  • You have a reasonable length of time and the budget to conduct the survey.

Your target market is available by telephone and willing to talk to you during the hours that you intend to conduct the survey

Let’s face it; most people are not home during normal working hours. They’re at work; so unless you intend to call them at work, you will probably struggle to meet your response rate. The obvious workaround would be to call after they reach home. But who has time to talk to you when they’re making dinner, overseeing their kids’ homework or trying to de-stress from a long day at work? And that’s assuming that they actually go straight home after work. These days it is very common for people go to the gym or run errands after work. Or, maybe your research team is not in a position to work outside of regular working hours, what happens then?

The other challenge comes when you do reach people during typical working hours: figuring out if the results you get actually reflect the views of your target market. In Barbados, most of the people that are home during regular working hours are either retired, unemployed, don’t work or are on vacation/sick leave. Only a very small percentage is likely to be in the last category. Those in the first three categories will probably exhibit certain characteristics that do not represent the majority. As a simple example, there are studies that show that the older we get, the less likely we are to be willing to change. So, if you ask these people if they are considering moving their business to a competitor, they will probably say no, even if they are not satisfied with your product or service. This could lead to the assumption when you get the survey report that your customers are more loyal than they really are. We could also consider the example of asking an unemployed person about the likelihood of them purchasing a particular good in the near future, or asking someone that does not work about traffic congestion in the morning. Odds are the results you get would not necessarily reflect the true opinions of your target market.

Your questionnaire is very short and does not have any visuals

I always advise that clients limit the number of questions in a survey and try to make them as easy to complete as possible, regardless of survey method. When conducting telephone interviews, this becomes even more critical. Whichever distribution method you choose, you are asking respondents to take a few minutes out of their busy schedule to complete your survey. But for some reason, over the telephone, people appear to be even busier, and it becomes even more critical that you respect their time. If they start to get impatient with the length of the survey they will start to mentally tune out and not give each question the attention it deserves, with obvious implications for the quality of the insights you gather.

Telephone surveys also tend to limit the researcher to questions that require the respondent to only listen. We therefore lose the ability to test their responses to visuals, sounds, scents or the way something feels. This probably works fine for your basic customer satisfaction or brand loyalty survey, but is obviously very limiting if your survey is designed to support product development, a marketing campaign or the development of a brand.

You have a reasonable length of time and the necessary budget to conduct the survey

This point is related to survey administration. When conducting surveys via telephone, it can take a long time to reach your target number of respondents. This is mainly because many of your calls will go unanswered. We always suggest when doing telephone surveys to expect it to take double to triple the amount of time it would have if you actually reached respondents on the first try. Or, if you really have a long research timeline, you could ask them to expect your call at a certain time on a certain day so they make themselves available.

Finally, telephone surveys are fairly expensive since you have to budget for the telecommunication costs as well as the time lost making unanswered calls. Though research firms will charge you a flat rate, rather than a fee per call, they have to budget for these elements, and they risk losing money if it takes longer than they expected to meet the required response rate.


The ease of conduct is probably the main reason why telephone surveys are one of the most popular methods in Barbados. When designing your next telephone survey, bear in mind these few suggestions to ensure that your research exercise uncovers the most revealing insights possible.