Animated Insights: Customer vs. Consumer Research

Sophie Grieve-Williams

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Lucy Bridges

    All those in customer-facing industries know the terms ‘customer’ and ‘consumer’. In certain circles those terms are used almost interchangeably, but are they really the same?

    Consumer research is a well-known practice that brands used to make sure they gain vital insights on those who consume their products and services. Through this consumer research, brands are able to fully understand the audience they are catering to, and retain their custom by building the perfect products and services that those consumers need.

    Customer communities are a common tool to use in consumer research, but only if those consumers are also the customers – and the variance here can mean the difference between success and failure for that brand.

    Differences, Challenges and Benefits

    So, let’s go over this definition again: Consumers consume the product, Customers buy the product. They can be the same person, which is why these terms can be and are sometimes used interchangeably, but this isn’t always the case. Customers can buy a product for someone else to consume. Consumers can consume a product bought for them by someone else who becomes the customer.

    The difference this makes is drastic, because brands can’t gather data on how the product or service works from the customer if they are not also the consumer, and they can’t ask the consumer about the customer journey if they weren’t the customer.

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    There are different challenges specific to customer research and consumer research that can pose all sorts of problems if not taken into account.

    Customer research focussed on the customer experience only; takes into account the cumulative impact of every interaction the customer and brand share, and has the capability to facilitate a co-creative approach to any upgrades and innovations to the customer experience. Consumer research focussed primarily on the consumers’ experience, but can see how both consumer and customer experiences tie in together if the research sample is populated with respondents who are both customer and consumer in one.

    Conducting research on customers vs consumers has specific challenges, some that cross over but a few that are applicable only to either customers or consumers. For example, a challenge that affects both customer and consumer research is respondent engagement – for there will always be those respondents who don’t really care to provide detail on anything asked even when they agree to take part in the research.

    One challenge of customer research that doesn’t impact consumer research is the tasks centred on the customer journey, figuring out pain points and devising strategies to mitigate them. And then a task that applies to consumer research over customer research is the product development tasks – making sure to get consumers who actually use those products to help design the next iteration with better features will be better than just asking the customers who paid for the product.

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    There are different challenges specific to customer research and consumer research that can pose all sorts of problems if not taken into account.

    But when consumer and customer research is conducted well, there are some great benefits to be reaped from innovating and evolving current business strategies for better impact, to spotting new trends, patterns and unidentified needs. So how is consumer and customer research conducted effectively? There are a few best practices to take note of:

    • Designing recruitment and customising segmentation to ensure insight teams are communicating with only relevant respondents (i.e., making sure to get the customers needed rather than consumers, or vice versa)
    • Tailoring the engagement tactics used on the sample to boost participant engagement both inside and outside of scheduled research tasks
    • Designing the research specifically towards the target audience for maximum engagement – while employing specific tactics can help boost engagement, designing the research can provide a better base for insight experts to springboard off.
    • Encouraging stakeholder engagement for better relevance – only they know the relevant business contexts needed to ensure the research is relevant and will generate the best insights for the current problems impacting the organisation.

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