Monday, August 24, 2009

Lean, Clean and Green: An Excuse (I study) for Maid Service

I’m writing this post in part because it might give some of you a reason to hire a maid service (you’re welcome!) but mostly because it tells a story involving a successful case study and phenomenon that brand and digital planners run into on a frequent basis.

Sometimes, clients come to marketing firms asking for straightforward service offerings, such as developing a profile for their target audience. These projects can be approached in a number of creative ways beyond simple demographics (think psychographics, social objects and more). However, the methodology can be seemingly ill-matched when the client is asked about the outcome they hope to achieve. I believe that it is our responsibility as communications strategists to partner with (rather than provide a service to) our clients. And sometimes, this means asking critical questions about expected outcomes or offering alternative suggestions, insights or strategies we believe can move our client forward in the right direction. In this post, I share a story (or case study) of a residential housekeeping services provider who came asking for an audience profile, but in the end, was awarded with a strategy that earned media placements reaching over 100,000 consumers in online and offline environments.

Like many other services, hiring a maid service may be difficult to justify, and by some are seen as a luxury. While the consumers who use them may share some basic “target audience” profile characteristics, they are actually anything but the same. Some are pet owners, others are single, some want it to be clean and others prefer it be organized. Our first task as the market research team was to dig up some consumer insights to help the client understand more about “who” consumers were (aka “Can you give us a target audience profile?”) So, we worked toward this goal while also gleaning the primary drivers for attrition and retention, and identifying gaps in the product service offering. We learned in what ways elements like predictability and consistency could foster or inhibit consumer preference in the category. But, the key factors consumers stated for having a housekeeping service were…well… rather mundane (i.e. time savings, sense of well being, etc.) Additional influencers such as health issues were thought to be interesting, but since they were mentioned by only a small proportion of consumers, they did not officially “warrant” inclusion in the overarching audience profile.

In this case, the insight that led to the start of a very successful PR and online communications campaign was this: Consumers often had a difficult time seeing the value in this type of luxury service. New consumers couldn’t justify it, and current customers often felt guilty about it, or had a hard time articulating something the beyond rational benefits, aesthetic benefits, or their own personal experience. Rather than focusing solely on the target audience profile to develop the strategy, we realized that in order to appeal to prospects while retaining current consumers, we needed to help consumers see the value of having such a service. Not only did we need them to recognize the value, but we needed to do it in a way that would hit home among both audiences. This might have been easier with a life insurance company. Fortunately, our client had an armory of interesting information about the types of carcinogens, pollutants, and bacteria that could be found within the home. As it turned out, these irritants were often contained within the very solutions consumers were using to clean their homes. Many of the chemicals were introducing allergens and other pollutants into the home, in essence amplifying the problems that motivated consumers to “keep a clean house” in the first place. Our client was among the few to offer a series of "green" cleaning products.

Realizing this insight, which was not necessarily a consumer insight or audience profile trait, was the key to helping consumers see the value in hiring and retaining this housekeeping service provider. Additionally, there were certain life stage events (such as having a baby, pet or moving) that were natural lead-ins for the messaging. It was this initial insight that led to the launch of a consumer-centric web site, which focused educating consumers about how to maintain a less polluted, “greener” environment inside their homes. A nationwide PR campaign was launched in tandem with the site and together these efforts generated 170.3 million media impressions and an increase in their consumer base, in spite of an uncertain economy.

The moral of the story is that clients (as well as consumers) sometimes need guidance in order to see the value of an approach. If you are a brand planner or strategist tasked with developing an audience profile, you may consider asking yourself if you are providing your client with the best possible foundation for a successful communications strategy, or if there are additional ways you can approach the project. Chances are that in doing so, you will uncover something even bigger that can serve to foster a mutually beneficial, long term partnership between you and your client.

About the author: Renee provides consumer insights, strategic communications, brand/digital planning and market research to international marketing organizations, online/interactive firms, PR agencies and direct clients. Having nearly a decade of qualitative research experience in traditional, ethnographic, psychosocial, non-traditional qualitative research realms, Renee has moderated hundreds of focus groups and in-depth interviews. She has led these and other studies including ethnographies for high profile clients such as Merck, Pfizer, Best Buy, Mannington, Toyota and TheraGenics. Today, she continues to provide insights to clients within a variety of industries including: Consumer Products and Services, Healthcare, OTC Pharmaceuticals, Education, Non-profit, Financial Services, Food/Beverage and PR/New Media campaigns. For more information, please find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or contact her via email.

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