Taking research inclusion from 'Right thing to do' to 'Right thing to win'

Ariel Madway

As an industry, we know it’s time to move from speaking about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, to actually implementing representative research capabilities. But, as a whole, we may not know how to get there.

And with demographics and expectations around customer experience having changed in the last 15 years, you need to be sure your research practices are keeping up. 

At this year’s Quirk’s event in New York, insights leaders from Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo and Reckitt took the stage to share their organizations’ journeys towards inclusive research and provide practical tips on what steps your insights teams can take to create change, wherever you are in your journey.

Read on for a breakdown of why representative research is so important and three actions to take to implement accurate representation within your organization. 

Why does representative research matter?

To start, let’s cover why representative research is so important. 

Research should reflect the world we actually live in, and the world we live in doesn’t mirror a typical general population sample. Unfortunately, the voices of marginalized consumer groups often fall through the cracks of traditional research.

As somebody who never really felt I fit into survey boxes, and for my daughter who is more difficult to define than I, representation matters. My daughter should see herself in the brands, the business, the services available to her.

—Taylor Anderson, Global Director of Insights Capabilities, Colgate Palmolive

On top of getting the real take on what your actual consumers want or need, research inclusion also helps to solve two marketing challenges as old as time:

  1. How to build empathy for consumers who don’t look or behave like your brand teams and their social networks

  2. How to take strong insight and turn it into a brand action? 

In short, more accurate consumer insights equals more accurate brand decisions. 

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s dive into the steps you can take to get to truly representative research.

1. Go beyond performative measures

In many cases, brands think they’re being inclusive by trying to appeal to a demographic based on qualitative analysis of subgroups. For example, holding a focus group to get the answers needed. But this doesn’t give the full picture. While this type of analysis does involve actual consumers, the focus is on a few things verus a larger scope. And although well intentioned, this can often come across as performative and disingenuous, and lead to “rainbow washing.”

When thinking about being inclusive, brands need to do the opposite of rainbow washing. They need to find out: What do these shoppers actually want?

—Mike Wojcikiewicz, PepsiCo

That’s where quantitative research comes in. 

Quantitative data allows brands to get closer to more specific subgroups within their consumer base and create work that actually does appeal to them, working with large scale data to get a bigger scope. So instead of ticking the box that research has been done, quantitative data will help you get to the real answers and what your consumers are truly looking for. 

The intersection between DEI and insights work is about being incredible intentional about study design, who we work with, and how we extract and apply the insights to drive growth for our brands and business.

—Taylor Anderson, Global Director of Insights Capabilities, Colgate-Palmolive

There’s also a level of intentionality needed in how representative research initiatives are referred to internally. 

For all three brands, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo and Reckitt, one way their teams keeping representative research top of mind is by giving it a clear name and definition.

Taylor explains, “If you don’t name it, people can forget about it, lose focus or let it fall to the bottom of the priority list.”

👫 Action one summary: Make sure you’re moving beyond performative measures when it comes to researching specific consumer subgroups to get a clear understanding of their mindset. And to help keep research inclusion top of mind, give it an official name within your organization so it doesn't fade into the background.

2. Invest in the resources

The journey from wanting to adopt representative research methods to actually getting there is not an easy one.

There’s a huge complexity to integrating sources that are beyond the typical toolbox.

—Mike Wojcikiewicz, Director of Global Insights, PepsiCo

No surprise, it takes resources to oversample, which is one reason why a general population sample ignores so many different types of people. It just costs more! 

While general population without quotas feels more efficient, having a cheaper cost per respondent, it isn’t more effective. With quotas, you can dive deeper into the information at hand by looking at the more fringe respondents and gathering insight from these underrepresented groups.

There are golden insight nuggets in paying attention to segments traditionally underrepresented and undercounted.

—Mike Wojcikiewicz, Director of Global Insights, PepsiCo

And as we look to a new normal, we also have to look to new norms. Industry action standards are based on beating norms, but there’s a lack of comparability to historical concepts and test results. As we move forward, we have to recognize that our existing research models are limited to looking backward to a time when there weren't representative samples for common research. 

According to Reckitt’s Alison Howitt, one way to overcome this is “creating norms that we can build out over time and in the future have more actionable recommendations.” 

👫 Action two summary: You need to invest in oversampling and respondents to get the insight you need from underrepresented groups. And as you gather data from this research, make sure you build upon it to create more accurate norms for the future.

3. Start local

To make research inclusive on a global scale, local awareness plays a key role. 

Before you try to go global, your surveys need to be fielded locally and brands should leverage local teams on the ground to learn what the relevant DEI buckets and underrepresented groups are.

Global DEI is not about checking translations; it’s about checking assumptions.

—Alison Howitt, Director of Insights & Analytics, Reckitt

Not only are the groups that are underrepresented different in different parts of the world, but there’s also more tactical nuances that need to be addressed, like:

  • Are there any laws restricting the types of questions that can be asked? What about restrictions to how questions are worded? Familiarity with what’s appropriate will be crucial.   

  • Is there proper access to the technology needed to take surveys? This is not always consistent across the board.

  • Do you have access to local eyes to ensure it’s relevant and tailored to local perspective? A playbook that works well in one market might not work well in another.

In addition to having feet on the ground market-by-market, it’s also beneficial to build teams from different backgrounds who will be able to see nuances that others may miss. 

👫 Action three summary: Don’t underestimate the power of local insight. Make sure you know what restrictions you’re working with across the board to make sure you’re asking the right questions and getting the right data.

Don’t assume.  Period.  Don’t assume what’s different or the same or what you’ll learn.

—Alison Howitt, Director of Insights & Analytics, Reckitt

Final thoughts

There’s no question that representative research matters, but that doesn’t mean there’s a clear path to getting there. 

We hope what these three heavy-hitting brands had to share will help you to implement more inclusive research within your own organization, or at least get you started on the right path.  

For more on research inclusion, listen to our podcast episode with Paula Tripp, Head of Foundational and Menu Insights at McDonald’s, to learn how they’re making research more diverse and inclusive.