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When I was roughly twelve years old and still thought girls were gross, my uncle told me that marketing and dating were identical: it’s all about how you position yourself. In more than ten years of market research, however, I’ve worked directly for and behalf of many brands that wanted to take their consumer relationship well past dating, to something akin to marriage: the blissful, never-ending happiness consumers feel when they are provided with the best possible product or service.

Unrequited love is more realistic. Virtually all brands hope to marry their key consumers and keep them from other suitors. After working on enough surveys to gather more than one million consumer responses, I’ve never met a consumer who said, “This is the one for me – I’ll never look for anything else.”

So what’s a brand to do? Simple: accept that a strong, hopefully everlasting engagement is as far as things will go, and engage in a continual courtship to keep each customer’s affections. By thinking of their customer relationship in terms of dating, researchers can use the following tips to maximize the relationship their brand has with consumers:

  • Make a great first impression: Realize that many times your packaging is the equivalent of a first impression. Consumers make lots of at-shelf decisions in a few seconds, much like people decide if they have feelings for someone pretty quickly. If a brand allows its customers to provide very specific feedback in a structured package testing environment and ask for ways in which it could improve, those customers are likely to have a vested interest in seeing the outcome of their opinions.

  • Make ‘calling’ a science: If you have a Community Panel, make sure you ‘call’ the right amount and of times. Calling too much will turn a person off, and not calling enough will make them look for someone else, or worse yet, question what you’ve been up to. Make sure you take full stock of your panel health on a regular basis to ensure your relationships are as strong as they can be.

  • Keep it fresh: We’ve seen the health of panels suffer when they continue to ask about the same topics, to the same groups of people. Much like a relationship, people want to talk about what’s new and different in their lives, so keep the topics fresh. Even if you can’t directly use the research results at the moment, ask around the company and see if there are even tiny ideas percolating that you can turn into a research exercise. A new topic will keep respondents focused. This also holds true for the types of exercises you undertake. Mix up the look of questions, and the types of exercises (qualitative and quantitative) even if you’re asking about similar topics. By putting people through a different exercise, they’re more likely to respond positively.

  • Let them know what’s on your mind: Remember that this relationship is a two-way street. Use your panel as an opportunity to showcase your company’s innovation. Allow customers to provide feedback, help you develop ideas and create products themselves. This way, they’re likely to feel more respected, and therefore return that respect.

In many respects the researcher/respondent relationship parallels dating. Maybe you’ll never be exclusive – but if you really listen to your customers, you can still have a loving and loyal long-term relationship.

Interested in learning more? Catch up on our blog series, For the Love of Engagement: 4 Ways to Romance Your Respondents, where we share best practices for participant engagement.

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