The Comfort Conundrum
In this case study, Stephanie Holland reveals how qual research re-envisioned what soothing means for mothers.
Babies are continuing to cry and to seek comfort. Parents, meanwhile, still need solutions for how to "hush that fuss". So, when the Global Soothing Category reached a state of stagnation, our client came to us with a perplexing problem.
There is no shortage of seemingly innovative products on shelf, hailing from a plethora of trusted brands, so why was mum no longer actively engaging with the category that promised her a solution to one of her greatest needs: how to soothe her baby?
To understand the unmet and unarticulated needs of mothers within this space and reframe the category for future growth (while capturing any short-term opportunities for innovation that could fulfil any unmet needs).
Becoming a mum has a profound impact on life. From the moment you find out you're pregnant, it becomes faster, more complicated, more pressured and it doesn't come with an instruction manual. And because your baby never stops growing or learning, neither does its mother.
We needed an approach that could go deeper than just how they are thinking and feeling in a given moment on a given day. Understanding her and her baby's needs at every stage in this journey was essential for any meaningful category framework.
We therefore chose a multi-stage ethnography-based study which allowed us to go broad then deep. We did this to challenge convention, to get under the skin of a mother and understand her needs at all key stages of her journey from pregnancy to the toddler years. All this in a multi-market, culturally diverse global context for a budget-savvy client.
Staged process to support end goals
Given the complexity of the brief and the need to challenge the status quo, we decided to break the research into a number of stages that allowed a progression of thought from broad conceptual insights and ending in specific, hands-on product evaluation with consumers. This staged process also ensured our emerging insights were pressure tested and evolved along the way with full client participation throughout, resulting in a compelling and accurate understanding of mum that was easily translated into a winning commercial strategy.
Expert interviews in the first phase provided our key tension that, since the beginning of time, the only thing a baby needs for comfort is a mother (not a product) and that, for any category vision to be successful, it must identify when her touch is not enough.
Digital ethnography using psychology then defined the scope of the project using mothers' experiences, without bias or preconceived ideas. We used two years of historic social media data in key markets and partnered with Symanto Psychology AI, which has pioneered technology based on psychological and psycholinguistic models.
As we moved through the project, mobile ethnography helped us identify when and how mum is comforting her baby, and of how she feels at these critical times. Using a leading mobile ethnography app we saw everything first-hand from her stress when baby was inconsolable in the car to her routines and 'go to' products that allowed her to get stuff done. We also connected with consumers at different points along their journey to see how this evolved as baby got older.
Finally, our shopper intercepts and focus groups, where both mothers and their babies participated and got hands-on with existing products in this space, allowed us to pressure-test our key learnings while exploring which existing solutions really do or do not resonate with mum.
Simple insights fuel category strategy
Despite the extensive scope and significant market challenges that existed at the start, this project resulted in simple, transformative insights that evolved and proved out at each stage of the research funnel. They also flowed seamlessly into an inspiring and meaningful category strategy and roadmap for the 3+ year time period.
This has resulted in a pivot in communication for the existing portfolio, a range of innovation that meets the genuine needs of mums and babies plus a breakthrough into new spaces.
Understanding genuine needs
Immersing ourselves in the lives of mothers, and genuinely understanding where her needs were not being met by existing products, delivered the necessary category breakthrough. In addition, enabling the client to see and hear directly from mum made the required pivots in communication and approach to the category easy to understand, believe in and ultimately be supported and delivered by the whole business.
Making a long-term impact
The project's impact has proved transformational to the client and supported three areas of reinvention in the business that will underpin thinking in this category into the future. The Global Head of Category shared:
"This piece of work has been transformational for our business. From a category that was dominated by soothers and uninspiring levels of growth, it is now on fire. We now know what mums' needs are in this space and how to communicate with her in the most relevant and compelling way. Undoubtably without the multi-dimensional qualitative approach we wouldn't have achieved the richness of understanding that we now have and that will continue to drive our thinking for years to come."
Strategy & Insight Consultant, SGS
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, July 2021
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2021