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Data-informed Strategies

Creative Ambitions vs. Commercial Realities: How Product Creation and Consumer Insights Teams Can Work Better Together

Team MakerSights

October 19, 2022

Cross-functional stakeholders have gathered for another exciting milestone meeting. The product creation team can’t wait to show everyone the exciting “grellow” colorway they plucked off this season’s runway. But the consumer insights team is also in attendance and has come prepared with sales performance data that shows the majority of the brand’s revenue last year came from neutrals.

Swatches are tossed about, voices grow louder, and arguments ensue as both teams come face-to-face with some of their biggest professional fears:

Product creators: What if we’re forced to forego our creative license?

Consumer insights: What if the data we provide fails to make a commercial impact?

Fortunately, one team’s success doesn’t have to come at the other’s expense. In fact, it’s proven that brands perform better when these two groups work together.

Data + Creativity: A Love Story

Dearfoams introduced the world’s first foam-cushioned, washable slipper in 1948 and since then has sold over a billion pairs of shoes and slippers worldwide. To maximize team efficiencies and deliver consistently on-trend assortments, Dearfoams decided to incorporate more consumer data into its product creation process. 

This allows the brand to narrow down silhouettes, prints, patterns, and more before investing creative resources in producing samples. It has also led the team to make several pivotal yet highly impactful product decisions, such as developing water-resistant slippers for men. 

“It’s taken a lot of the guesswork or opinions out of the mix,” shares Angela Kenney, Dearfoams’ Chief Merchandising Officer. “Today, 54% of consumers expect slippers to be worn outside. That’s a huge shift. So we completely pivoted really quickly. Upwards of 85% of our product assortment now has visual queues that show the consumer can wear it outside.”

Since harnessing the power of data plus creativity, Dearfoams has also instituted the product creation mantra “Fewer, Better.” Data showed the brand that the majority of its sales were coming from the same handful of styles. The brand now focuses all its creative energy on developing seasonal fashion-forward colors and patterns for these best-sellers, versus creating entirely new styles. 

3 Ways Product Creation and Consumer Insights Teams Can Work Better Together

Brands like Dearfoams empower their product creation and consumer insights teams to work better together by following these three key tips:

#1: Remember You Want the Same Thing

It’s easy to assume that design- and data-driven professionals are at odds with each other. One group is passionate about aesthetics while the other stares at spreadsheets most days. But while their job descriptions couldn’t be more opposite, the truth is that these teams ultimately want the same thing: for consumers to love, buy, and use the products their brands produce. 

While data about industry trends and past sales performance can certainly help inform the product development process, the most efficient and reliable source for determining what consumers love is consumers themselves. Eliciting consumer feedback on specific styles and product attributes unites product creators and consumer insights pros by guiding them to pool their talents in service of a common goal: consumer satisfaction.

Of course, understanding what your consumers want requires knowing who your consumers are. That’s why the very first step of getting product creators and consumer insights folks on the same page is clearly defining your brand’s current and aspirational consumer segments — who they are today, not last season or year. When building out these profiles, include as much of the following data as possible: 

  • Demographic data: Population-based and socioeconomic information like gender, zip code, education, age, income, race, and marital status.
  • Psychographic data: Details about a person’s activities, interests, and preferences, such as their favorite brands, any sports they play, if they like to travel, whether they’re a cat lover or a dog lover, etc.
  • Behavioral data Information that’s associated with a consumer’s purchase habits, like whether they tend to shop online, via a social app, or in-store, or how much they spend on average.

#2: Check in with Consumers Early and Often

“If you’re designing a product assortment, your biggest frustration is knowing probably 30% of it won’t get to the market,” says former Adidas General Manager of Outdoor & Golf and current MakerSights advisor, Tim Janaway. “The consumer doesn’t actually get to buy it, wear it, or have any sort of say in the matter. And that’s because there are too many cooks throughout the whole process making decisions primarily without ever consulting a single target consumer.”

Consumer insights teams can partner with product creators to help alleviate this tension and ensure their creative juices wind up being worth the squeeze. This involves conducting consumer tests at each stage of the value chain, starting early in the product strategy and concept phases. Here are a few milestones where it makes sense to use consumer feedback to streamline assortment development and drive stakeholder consensus:

  • Concept: Pulse-check high-level trends to ensure resonance with consumers, use competitive styles to inform product direction in key growth categories, and double down on the right details early on (e.g. color families, hem lengths, etc.).
  • Evaluate Newness: Zero in on top-performing colorways, patterns, graphics, and more during sketch review for further exploration, refining design details across styles and ensuring all newness fits line gaps and drives incremental value.
  • Go-to-Market: Identify key region- and channel-specific preferences up front to minimize last-minute requests, maximize product commerciality across target markets, and increase confidence with key retail partners.

#3: Identify High-Impact Creative Risks

Teams are often instructed to cut the long tail based on last year’s highest-grossing styles or the product attributes believed to have mass appeal. Not only is this disappointing and uninspiring for product creators, but reaching niche target audiences, expanding into new categories, and future-proofing your brand requires taking a few risks. And consumer insights pros can help product creators pinpoint which risks are most likely to pay off. 

The best way to rationalize each SKU in an assortment is to use consumer sentiment data and a popular statistical analysis method used in media planning known as Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency – or TURF – that has been adapted for retail products. This considers each product’s Reach within the context of the entire assortment, making it easy to identify a product’s potential to attract new customers and add incremental value to the overall line. The assortment should then be filtered by consumer profiles and/or segments across regions to spot any regional favorites. The goal is to achieve maximum line efficiency or to attract as many consumers to the assortment with as few SKUs as possible.

This data-driven approach helps brands craft an ideal mix of products that satisfies varying consumer preferences while avoiding over-assortment, cannibalization, and diminishing returns. It optimizes the assortment for global appeal while pinpointing a narrow selection of differences that make the biggest impact. These differences are usually the bold energy pieces that extend Reach to niche or new consumer segments. 

For Example: A popular, well-known footwear brand was determining which products to drop and adopt from its upcoming line. When viewing the global assortment, one pair of particularly daring fashion-forward shoes was ranked dead last among consumers. However, rather than simply cutting the long tail, the brand first sorted the potential assortment by market. It was then that they discovered that a pair of bold, colorful sneakers that were up for elimination because they were the third lowest performer when looking at the aggregated data across all consumers, were the most popular pair in China!

Creative Ambitions + Commercial Realities

For decades, product creation teams have made decisions based on creative instincts and opinions. Now, consumer insights teams are making it possible for brands to develop assortments that are both creative and informed by consumer data. And rather than indulging in concerns about creative freedom or the impact of data, these two teams are most successful when they put aside their differences and work together. The best products are created with a healthy balance of art and science.

The first step is to understand who your consumer is. Second, you need to put their wants and needs first. Third, ask their opinion at each stage of product development to help guide every decision from concept through sell-in. Last, but not least, use consumer sentiment data to take more calculated creative risks that pay off.

MakerSights’ Voice of Consumer platform helps customer-obsessed brands like Dearfoams succeed in all three of these areas. Want to see what it can do for you? We’d love to show you!

Team MakerSights

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