Now is the time to learn from consumers | The Garage Group

Now is the time to learn from consumers

While some BigCo leaders are currently “paused” on consumer learning (as we don’t know how long this uncertainty will last), others are looking for new paths forward and new ways to solve their existing and rapidly emerging challenges. There are many new constraints and guardrails, but there is also a significant opportunity for innovation as it relates to how to learn from consumers in an iterative, more entrepreneurial way. 

As we’ve been on our own entrepreneurial learning journey to uncover shifts in consumer behavior and identify opportunity areas for innovation, we have more conviction than ever that now is the time to be learning from consumers. Capturing moment-in-time learnings and insights could lead to new and differentiated opportunities for strategy pivots and innovation in the future, ensuring teams are meeting consumers where they are already heading.

What is easier in this new digital reality? What are the watch-outs regardless? We don’t have all of the answers, but this is our algorithm on how to continue learning from consumers: 

When the challenge is defining the opportunity by uncovering consumer pain points, behaviors, and Jobs to be Done:


Consumer habits and practices are different, and therefore observing people’s behavior in context is more challenging in this current reality. Consumer behavior looks different than ever before. Even asking people to look in their cabinets, refrigerators, and freezers might be misleading – they likely stocked up differently than they have historically and it doesn’t necessarily represent their “normal” behavior. While conducting ethnographic research we typically ask consumers to leave their homes and take us along on shopping trips, show us what they are buying for their families or even show us how they eat at work. Consumers aren’t doing any of this in the same way they would have a couple of weeks ago.

As many teams are pivoting from in-person method, like focus groups and in-home ethnographic research, our toolbox is already digitally equipped as it relates to Defining Consumer Problems and Identifying New & Differentiated Opportunities (Digital Ethnography, Social Media Ethnography, etc).

Path Forward: 

Just because constraints have forced consumers into new behaviors and mindsets doesn’t mean these behaviors and mindsets will revert when the constraints have been lifted. The world is changing quickly and consumer opinions and beliefs are changing along with it. Consumers are more adaptable to their environments and changing landscapes than ever before. Capturing these moment-in-time learnings and insights can lead to new and differentiated opportunities for innovation in the future, ensuring teams are meeting consumers where they are already heading. Here are a few ways to do that:

Digital Ethnography (Online Community with Daily Activities): Sheds light on shifting consumer behaviors as it relates to in-store and online shopping and begins to peel back the onion on whether these new habits and practices remain intact as the world continues to change and evolve. 

We recently conducted a Digital Ethnography to start to uncover shifts in consumer behavior and identify opportunity areas for businesses. In doing so, we’ve found that consumers are also increasingly reflective in their behaviors and key drivers and what they hope to keep post-pandemic than ever before. Through our research, we’ve already uncovered so many new Pain Points that will likely be here to stay, making it essential for businesses to evolve with consumers, both in the short and long term. We shared our findings during a recent webinar and started to unpack the potential long-term impact of our current reality. Download and check out the full report and webinar recording >>>

Digital Ethnography (Digital, In-Home Research): Illuminates how consumers’ general living, eating, working habits have shifted within the context of their own homes. With the ability to follow consumers around their home (with live client teams in the background), teams are able to gain valuable insights into how consumers are living, eating, entertaining, and utilizing their homes (including specific areas like kitchens, laundry rooms, entertaining areas, makeshift home offices etc.).

Social Media Ethnography: Smart Search process utilizes publicly available sources, where consumers aren’t under the guise of recruitment, to capture unhindered feedback, mindsets, and insights directly from real consumers. What are consumers’ unhinged opinions and beliefs on the changing landscape they are being presented with? How are they reacting emotionally to these changes and how is that affecting their spending behaviors? And how can brands react and adapt quickly?

When the challenge is to get feedback on and test the validity of an idea or concept: 


It can be a challenge to get behavior-based learning from consumers, and teams often rely heavily on claimed behavior vs. actual behavior. On-premise learning with consumers (i.e. in-person prototype testing) is a costly and time-consuming option for behavior-based learning, so it’s often not advantageous for teams to test early ideas in this way. Testing early ideas doesn’t have to end with the inability to do in-person prototype testing, though. There are a number of digital sources available for experimenting on early assumptions about ideas while still meeting the objective of behavior-based learning (i.e. do vs. say behavior or transactional learning).

While teams look for new ways to understand consumer resonance, preference, and purchase intent in a behavior-based way, nontraditional digital research methods can help uncover those insights. 

Path Forward: Opinions and beliefs are ingrained regardless of this moment in time. People still have preferences, they just might not be able to act on them right at this moment. Leveraging lean, iterative experimentation methods has become an even more valid way to learn. If anything, online consumption has increased. Here are a few ways to do that:

Assumption Based Development: Leverage a series of lean experiments to test the riskiest assumptions about your idea. With the constantly changing state of the world, business environments, and categories (think VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), it’s more important than ever to operate with a “smarter, not harder” mentality. By testing assumptions early on in the idea development process, teams are able to avoid spending too much time and too much money developing an idea that, ultimately, won’t be accepted by the consumer market (or a consumer market that’s large enough to support it from a business perspective). Here are a few types of experiments that are viable in today’s world: 

Lean Concept Development: Teams test concepts with consumers via online video interviews over the course of 2-3 days, collecting key input about overall appeal, uniqueness, and believability of the total proposition and the component parts, and how well the concept delivers on the Job to be Done. And, this lets teams iteratively optimize ideas along the way. This process is dynamic, highly iterative, and involves optimizations between interviews. Within days, teams emerge with consumer-vetted concepts, enabling them to move quickly onto the next stage of their process


What needs to be true to keep learning from your consumers? Entrepreneurial tools and methods are tailor-made for the especially VUCA world we live in.


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