Interviewer vs. Moderator in Qualitative Research – What’s the difference and does it matter? (Spoiler: It does)

If you’re a client seeking the insights that qualitative research can provide, you probably know that having a “good moderator” is essential for your project. But what exactly makes a moderator good? What should you expect from them, and what’s the role they’ll play in your research journey? More than semantics or industry jargon, a “good moderator” can significantly impact the success of your qualitative research endeavor.

In the world of qualitative research, there are two essential roles at play: the “interviewer” and the “moderator.” Their distinction may seem subtle, but it carries profound implications for the quality and depth of insights you’ll gain. The choice between these roles isn’t just a technicality; it’s a strategic decision that shapes the entire research process and, more importantly, the value you receive as a client.

An interviewer is a research professional responsible for conducting structured interviews with participants. They follow a predetermined script, asking predefined questions to gather specific information or opinions. Interviewers often aim to obtain clear and concise responses that directly address the research objectives.

In contrast, a moderator is a facilitator of group discussions or in-depth interviews in qualitative research settings. Their role is more dynamic and flexible compared to that of an interviewer. Moderators guide conversations, encourage participant interaction, and adapt to the flow of the discussion, allowing for exploration of unanticipated insights and perspectives.

Let’s dive deeper into why understanding this distinction matters. When you engage with a qualitative research team, you trust them to guide you through a complex process and deliver meaningful insights. You expect them to possess the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the intricacies of your project. However, the heart of the matter lies in whether they choose to wear the interviewer hat or the moderator hat for your specific needs.

So how do you know which one you need: interviewer or moderator? Here are a few guidelines to help you decide.

1. The Nature of Your Research Objectives

Your research objectives are the compass that guides the qualitative research journey. Sometimes, you need concrete answers to specific questions—answers that can be neatly summarized and acted upon. This is where an interviewer excels. They follow a structured script, ensuring that predefined questions are answered in a clear and concise manner. If your objectives involve A/B testing, concept validation, or other bounded inquiries, the interviewer’s approach may be the most effective.

On the other hand, if your research objectives are more exploratory, with a wide range of possible outcomes, a moderator may be your best choice. They are skilled in navigating uncharted territory, encouraging open-ended discussions, and uncovering insights that might not have been apparent at the outset. When you’re seeking to understand emerging trends, consumer behaviors, or the nuances of complex topics, the moderator’s approach shines.

2. The Complexity of Your Research Topic

Consider the complexity of your research topic. Some topics are straightforward, and your goal may be to gain quick insights or “color” around how people respond to a simple stimulus. In such cases, an interviewer’s structured approach can efficiently collect the data you need.

However, if your research topic is multifaceted, intricate, and requires a deep understanding of expert input or intricate reasoning, a moderator becomes invaluable. They can navigate these complexities, facilitating discussions that dig deep into the heart of the matter. Whether it’s understanding expert opinions, exploring nuanced perspectives, or unraveling intricate decision-making processes, the moderator’s expertise is geared for complex terrain.

3. The Depth of Understanding You Seek

Consider the depth of understanding you require from your qualitative research. Are you looking for practical, surface-level insights, or do you need a profound understanding of the “why” behind preferences and attitudes? If your research primarily involves making practical, immediate decisions with just a skimming interest in the “why,” an interviewer can efficiently gather the necessary data.

But if you’re after foundational insights, seeking to shape a comprehensive understanding of customer experiences and beliefs, a moderator becomes indispensable. They have the skills to engage participants in reflective, insightful discussions that delve deep into the “why” of preferences and attitudes.

Knowing the Difference Makes All the Difference

Understanding the difference between interviewers and moderators in qualitative research is about setting the stage for success, ensuring that your research objectives are met effectively, and maximizing the value you receive.

In the realm of qualitative research, recognizing the distinction between being an interviewer and being a moderator is essential. Both roles are valuable and serve different purposes. An experienced and skilled qualitative researcher understands when, why, and how to operate in one vein or the other, ensuring that the research objectives are met effectively.

Whether your research question is bounded or exploratory, straightforward or complex, practical or foundational, choosing the right approach and the appropriate guide can make all the difference in the quality and depth of insights gained. By acknowledging this subtle yet significant distinction, researchers can unlock the full potential of qualitative research, providing invaluable insights to drive decision-making and shape a better understanding of the world around us.

So, as a client, when you engage with a qualitative research team, remember that you’re not just hiring a “moderator” or an “interviewer.” You’re selecting a guide for your research journey, someone who will navigate the complexities of your project and uncover insights that drive your business forward. Understand what each role entails, consider the nature of your research objectives, the complexity of your topic, and the depth of understanding you seek. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to collaborate effectively and ensure that every interview counts towards achieving your goals.

In our next blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the role (or should we say “roles,” because indeed there are many) of the moderator. Our quest for clarity continues…

Unveiling the Multifaceted Moderator: Navigating Qualitative Research

In our previous blog post, we explored a different approach to thinking about the definition of “interviewer” versus ‘”moderator.” Now, let’s delve deeper into the role of the “moderator” and why they are indispensable, especially from a client’s perspective.

Moderators, as defined in our last blog, assume a broad role that goes beyond asking questions and eliciting responses as dictated by a script or guide.

Indeed, moderating requires a multifaceted skillset.

So when your research requires looking for in-depth insights — the why behind what — you need someone who knows when to ask questions that aren’t on the script, and how to dig deeper for answers buried beneath the obvious. In other words: a moderator. And not just any moderator. To be truly effective, moderators must be part business advisor, part market insights generator, part psychologist. You can add brand guru and circus ringmaster to that list, as well. Let’s take a closer look at these roles, and why each one is necessary to maximize the value of your research.

Business Advisor Who Gets Your Industry

In addition to understanding the art of asking questions, a moderator should understand the client’s industry, market dynamics, and business objectives. Ideally, your moderator will have first-hand, in-the-trenches industry experience they can call on. Need someone who can talk confidently about molecular biology with a focus group of physicians? Make sure your moderator speaks the language. Along with industry-specific knowledge, it helps to have a moderator with enough business acumen to translate research outcomes into actionable strategies.

Market Insights Generator Ready to Dig Deep

More than reading questions off a script, a skilled moderator uncovers rich market insights in the answers they elicit. To do this, they employ a multitude of techniques to stimulate discussion, encourage participants to share their perspectives, and excavate insight beyond surface-level responses. They help reveal unspoken thoughts, emotions, and motivations, providing a holistic understanding of the target audience that powers better business decisions.

Psychologist and Empathetic Listener

Understanding human behavior and motivations is a core aspect of moderating. Moderators need to create a comfortable and non-judgmental environment where participants feel encouraged to express their thoughts and emotions openly. That requires having active listening skills and empathy, as well as a toolkit of psychological techniques that enable them to connect with participants and delve into their underlying attitudes and beliefs.

Brand Guru in the Room

Moderators need to have a deep understanding of the client’s brand, its values, and its positioning in the market — as well as a familiarity with the importance of branding in general. This brand fluency enables them to steer discussions towards brand-related topics and explore participants’ perceptions, associations, and experiences with the brand. This additionally allows moderators to identify gaps, strengths, and opportunities to strengthen the brand’s positioning.

Circus Ringmaster and Focus-Group Tamer

You thought we were joking about this one? Have you ever seen a focus group? A moderator worth her title knows how to facilitate and manage the complex group dynamics that, when unguided, can quickly derail focus group discussions. Moderators ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute (including that shy person in the corner), manage the group’s time effectively, and steer the conversation towards the research objectives. They also navigate potential conflicts and dominant participants while creating an atmosphere conducive to open and respectful dialogue. All that’s missing is the top hat and bullhorn.

The Moderator You’ve Been Missing

If you’ve been less than thrilled with the outcomes and insights generated from your qualitative research studies, the missing piece may very well be the moderator — or lack thereof. A moderator who has the freedom, skills, and experience to assume multiple roles beyond question-asker and answer-taker will seek out, find, and extrapolate the truly valuable insight you need to make decisions and move forward.

Can we add quick-change artist to our list? A truly skilled qualitative researcher will know when and how to switch between being a moderator and an interviewer to achieve research objectives and help move your business forward. If you’d like to dive deeper into the role of a moderator versus an interviewer and which one best meets the needs of your research study, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We love answering questions as much as asking them.

And keep a look out for our next blog post, in which we scrutinize one of moderators’ most vexing tools: the discussion guide.

Reimagining Discussion Guides in Qualitative Research: A Path to Deeper Insights

In our previous blogs, we explored the roles of “interviewers” and “moderators” in qualitative research, shedding light on their subtle but profound distinctions. Building on that foundation, let’s delve into an intriguing aspect of qualitative research: discussion guides. Are they a blessing or a curse? Well, that’s a question we’ll navigate together.

Discussion guides are often seen as essential tools to steer interviews or focus group conversations. They aim to provide structure and ensure researchers cover all the necessary topics. In theory, they’re fantastic. In practice, they can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Here’s why.

Too often, discussion guides are treated as rigid scripts, akin to structured surveys, particularly in studies that require more of an “interviewer” approach, where predefined questions are asked to gather specific information or opinions. This rigidity can hinder the natural flow of conversation between moderators and participants, preventing us from capturing the nuanced responses that are the essence of qualitative research.

The Discussion Guide, Redefined

So, does this mean we should toss discussion guides out the window and rely on spontaneity? Not quite. Instead, let’s consider a subtle shift in how we perceive discussion guides. What if we viewed them as flexible tools that guide rather than dictate conversations? What if they were references that provided guardrails to prevent veering too far off course while allowing for organic discussions?

In more exploratory studies, discussion guides can take on a different form as “topic outlines,” something that conveys the fluid nature of the moderated conversation. This shift allows for a dynamic and adaptable approach, where the guide acts as a reference point rather than a strict script.

Imagine empowering moderators to utilize their active listening skills, intuition, and adaptability to create an environment where participants express themselves freely. This shift can enhance the authenticity and richness of qualitative research, keeping it true to its core purpose: to uncover meaningful insights.

Moreover, what if we shifted our focus from meticulously crafting discussion guides to truly understanding research objectives? Rather than obsessing over what we ask, let’s emphasize why we ask it. This shift could lead to a more personalized, adaptive, and fruitful approach to qualitative research, yielding:

1. Better Goal Alignment: A deep understanding of research objectives empowers moderators to adapt their questioning techniques, delve deeper into relevant areas, and have more targeted and insightful discussions.

2. Improved Participant Engagement: With a strong grasp of research objectives, moderators can connect better with participants, creating an environment conducive to open and honest dialogue.

3. Contextualized Analysis: Moderators who understand research objectives can effectively synthesize information, identify key patterns, themes, and insights that align with research goals, resulting in more valuable outcomes.

The question now becomes: how do we make this shift from focusing on the discussion guide to fully understanding research goals? It’s simpler than you might think, and it involves a three-step process:

1. Clearly Define Research Objectives: Start by establishing well-defined research objectives in collaboration with the client. This crucial first step ensures that both parties are aligned on the purpose and desired outcomes, providing added guidance for the moderator as they structure the research and facilitate more focused and meaningful discussions.

2. Create a Research Outline: Instead of providing a rigid, script-like, full-scale discussion guide, outline the main research components or themes to be covered during the discussions. This approach offers a loose structure that guides the moderator while allowing for flexibility, exploration, and unexpected insights as the conversation naturally evolves.

3. Pretest Interviews: Consider including three to four pretest interviews to give clients a better understanding of how the moderator will conduct the actual research. This can help manage expectations and create trust by demonstrating the moderator’s understanding of the research objectives, interviewing style, and ability to adapt on-the-fly.
By embracing this approach, you pave the way for more personalized, adaptive, and fruitful qualitative research, leading to a deeper understanding of the subject matter and more valuable outcomes.

Overcoming Trust Issues

There’s another reason clients can be reluctant to relinquish control of the discussions guide: trust issues. As experienced as a moderator may be in leading discussions, they don’t always have a deep understanding of the topic that’s being discussed — especially if that topic is highly technical, complex, or specialized. In these cases, clients may feel the need to dictate the tone and language of the discussion guide — down to the last word and punctuation mark.

This is completely understandable, especially in a new and untested relationship. By maintaining tight control over the discussion guide and using it more like a script, clients can compensate for a moderators’ lack of knowledge about the topic being discussed. But again, this can end up stifling the conversation and impeding quality insight.

Letting go of this control is an exercise in trust on the part of the client. Partnering with a moderator and research team that bring a high level of understanding, ideally gleaned from first-hand experience, of the topic can help clients feel more comfortable with releasing the reins. Pretesting interviews (step three above) can also be an effective tool in building that trust.

Let Moderators Moderate

Ultimately, as researchers we should strive for that balance between providing structure and allowing for natural conversation within the research process. By recognizing the discussion guide as a flexible tool rather than a strict must-follow script, we can leverage its benefits while preserving the value of organic qualitative research.

This approach gives moderators the ability to be more attentive and responsive to the dynamics of the discussion, enabling them to probe deeper into relevant areas and follow interesting tangents that emerge naturally during the conversation. In other words, to become better moderators. And that leads to better insights.

Thinkpiece Certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council

Thinkpiece, a business specializing in B2B qualitative market research, is proud to announce national certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Development Center – Midwest, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). WBENC Certification is the gold standard for women-owned business certification in the United States.

“I look around our industry, and while many amazing market researchers are women, I see few in the C-suite of MR companies. We need representation, affiliation, and solidarity. It’s my hope that our certification and success will inspire a wave of women researchers to start their own company if they have it in their hearts.

I’m excited for the future of Thinkpiece and know that this certification will open doors and connections to help us achieve our audacious goals.” – Bonnie Dibling, Founder and CEO

The WBENC standard of certification implemented by the Women’s Business Development Center – Midwest is a meticulous process, including an in-depth review of the business and a site inspection. The certification process is designed to confirm the business is at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by a woman or women, and that the business has appropriate structure and strategic business planning and implementation in place.

By including women-owned businesses among their suppliers, corporations and government agencies demonstrate their commitment to fostering diversity and the continued development of their supplier diversity programs, which in turn empowers women as leaders and brings about a more diverse, balanced, and sustainable economy.

WBENC Certification combined with professional development and engagement in the WBENC network provides unsurpassed opportunities year-round, both virtually and in-person, for women-owned businesses to grow and expand their business and innovation through events, programming and connections with major corporations and other WBEs.

To learn more about Thinkpiece, please visit


About Thinkpiece:

In the editorial world, a think piece refers to an in-depth analytical article with a forceful point of view – written to inspire and provoke thought and discussion that delves beneath the surface.

Thinkpiece builds on this concept and applies it with a focused lens to the world of B2B qualitative market research. More than simply serving up raw research for our clients to decipher, we reveal the deeper meaning hidden beneath the surface.

With moderators who came from the industries we serve, we bring an ‘insider” point of view that doesn’t shy away from complexity. And with analysts who are experts in human behavior and relationships, we add context that illuminates connection. We dive relentlessly into the research, exploring and interpreting it from every angle and multiple perspectives: as industry peers, research experts, and insatiable learners.

We take apart the research, examining each piece on its own without bias, then we put the pieces back together to reveal the whole picture that tells a cohesive story. Ultimately, we challenge our clients to think deeply and differently about their products, services, and audiences. We provoke new ideas and innovations. And we provide the insight to power better business decisions that better the world.


About WBENC:

Founded in 1997, WBENC is the nation’s leader in women’s business development and the leading third-party certifier of businesses owned and operated by women, with more than 18,000 certified Women’s Business Enterprises, 14 national Regional Partner Organizations, and more than 500 Corporate Members, most of which are Fortune 500. Thousands of corporations representing America’s most prestigious brands, as well as many states, cities, and other entities, look for and accept WBENC Certification. Through the Women Owned initiative, WBENC also is a leader in supporting consumer-oriented female entrepreneurs and those who do business with them by raising awareness for why, where and how to buy Women Owned. For more information, visit and



What is SWIFT? A Primer for Non-Finance Folk

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been met with sanctions from the West, including exclusion of select Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system. But the concept of SWIFT is unfamiliar to most, and many more know it only at the highest level. As the news in Ukraine continues to unfold, here’s what you need to know about SWIFT, and why it matters.

What is SWIFT?

SWIFT is the Belgian-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. In the simplest terms, it’s the telecommunication system financial institutions around the world use to communicate with one another. Each financial institution has a code that transmits along with the transactional information to create a fast, secure connection anywhere in the world. In short, it’s a big part of what makes moving money around the globe happen.

SWIFT is for any international financial transaction. Banks, brokerages, clearing houses, asset managers, corporate treasurers, and more all use SWIFT. SWIFT is not a financial institution itself – it is the communication mechanism on which the thousands of financial institutions relies.

What is the impact of removing Russian banks?

Without SWIFT, transactions are slower and more manual. The inability to use SWIFT means financial transactions become more expensive.

But the excluded Russian banks could also move to an alternative system. SWIFT is the dominant player, but not the only one. In fact, China has its own system, called Cross-Border International Payments System (CIPS), and will likely generate new business from Russia because of the actions to revoke access to SWIFT. This could bifurcate global banking as some nations will favor CIPS and some will favor SWIFT. How that resolves is anyone’s guess.

For now, it means everything will get a little more expensive.

What does this mean to US financial institutions?

From a risk management perspective, banks must consider financial risk but also reputational risk in how they not only act, but in how they message their actions to their customers. It’s imperative financial institutions monitor the pulse of their consumers and assess the reputational impact of their overall decisions on consumer perspective. Time to ask your customers what they think, how they feel, and what they expect from their financial institutions in this time of financial war.

Do you have more questions?

I’m happy to discuss! Feel free to reach out to me at

There are also great resources to read more about the topic:

Inflation, Trauma, and the Importance of Asking the Right Questions

“Trauma” can easily be used to describe nearly every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the tragic loss of life and lingering health issues to significant shifts in social discourse, political systems, and the global economy, the world is traumatized. And today, as both people and businesses navigated the ebb and flow of changing mandates and regulations, we’re all watching as inflation — a key aftereffect of trauma — grows.

This steady increase is concerning but is nothing new. The United States saw inflation in the late 1940s as the country transitioned out of wartime production from World War II. We felt it again in the 1970s (oil shocks) and more recently around 2008 (rising gas prices). Inflation is the economic result of national traumas, such as war, depressions, oil embargoes, and, as we’re all learning, pandemics. You could argue the current inflation is different. It’s global, its trigger is a microscopic threat, and there’s a significant lack of unity regarding how to navigate the turmoil. You could also argue that it’s not nearly as bad as those prior examples. However, these arguments are nothing more than speculation.

That’s not what you need. It’s not what customers want. And waiting for answers isn’t going to help. So, rather than playing a guessing game, it’s time to accept what we don’t know and start asking the questions that matter (hint: this involves turning to your customers).

Today’s Inflation is an Educated Guessing Game

Predictions from leading economists point to both continued inflation and dropping rates, with compelling arguments on both sides.

Inflation will last a while because…

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is slow and cannot mitigate inflationary forces.
  • Emotions are low. The “Misery Index” — currently at 10.8% — spiked for the first time since the oil embargo.
  • Housing prices are rising for renters and owners.

Or inflation may be transitory because…

  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is calculated in arrears, uses outdated measurement methods, and undercounts online expenditure.
  • The underlying reason for inflation — too much money chasing too few goods — will shrink as the global supply chain heals.
  • Technological advances are a deflationary force, and innovation in the tech sector has not slowed.

But here’s the thing: Every historical episode is nuanced. We don’t have a 1:1 comparison. Yes, it’s important to predict and plan, but knowing what your customers need and want from you now is more important.

Stop Waiting for Answers, Start Asking the Right Questions

Definitive answers are unlikely, if not impossible, so start focusing on definitive action. Start identifying what you need to understand about your customers and your place in their world. For this to be effective, you must think big and small and look beyond the numbers. Consumer (B2B and B2C) behaviors are a direct result of how we feel, and the messages and information we received affect those feelings. First, start by understanding your customers’ overall next steps and behaviors:

  • In a post-COVID environment, what consumer behaviors are going to be influenced by inflation?
  • How does that differ from pre-COVID inflationary consumer behavior?
  • What commonalities exist between post-COVID and pre-COVID inflationary consumer behavior?

Then focus on what you can do to help regardless of which inflation prediction comes true:

  • What messages reassure skittish consumers to keep them supporting your business?
  • In the face of uncertainty, what does your business offer that can help?
  • What more do they need from you given the changing landscape?

We think of this as the transition from “what if…” to “so what?”. In other words, it’s important to imagine and plan for both inflation scenarios, but then you need to stop asking “what if…” and start asking “so what are we going to do now?” The only way to answer that question is to listen to your customers.

Sure, some of the answers may change in a year or six months or even less. But predictions on the economy will change, too, and there’s not much you can do about that other than watch, wait, speculate, and worry. We prefer action, especially when all you have to do is ask.

Branding Over Bragging Rights: Toyota’s Rise to Number 1

Old News: Toyota, thanks to a stockpile of semiconductor chips, was able to stave off production delays better than other auto manufacturers. As chips became an increasingly hot commodity, most global automakers — including American dominant, General Motors (GM) — were forced to reduce production targets, but Toyota held on a bit longer. As result, they became the top-selling automaker in the United States, dethroning GM and becoming the first foreign manufacturer to ever claim the top spot.

New Story: Semiconductor chips are only part of the reason behind Toyota’s success. In fact, we’d argue that the chips may have a lot to do with how Toyota surged ahead, but not the why. The reason for their success has less to do with what they had in stock, how many vehicles they produced, or how their 2021 sales compared to 2020 and a lot more to do with the brand’s steadfast focus on and commitment to their customers.

The Flexible Philosophy That Led to Toyota’s Chip Stockpile

Toyota is famous for its Just-In-Time (JIT) approach to manufacturing. Yet, despite their tendency to run lean on inventory, bringing in only what they need for production rather than warehousing components, the company also believes in flexibility and change.

As Toyota notes, TPS [Toyota Production System] has evolved through many years of trial and error to improve efficiency based on the Just-in-Time concept developed by Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder (and second president) of Toyota Motor Corporation. In other words, they didn’t implement JIT and assume everything was fine. Toyota continued to watch the market, monitored supply chains, and make changes — as they do today — that made sense given not only their needs, but also the state of the industry. So, when they became aware of a potential supply risk following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, the company decided a stockpile of chips would provide security even if it wasn’t strictly JIT.

These chips were necessary for production and were a critical part of Toyota’s mission to continue delivering safe, reliable cars to their customers. And, though Toyota clearly knows the value of evolving their own strategies, this customer focus is one part of the organization that remains unchanged.

Committed to the Brand, Not the Bragging Rights

Analysts may disagree on exactly what led to Toyota’s success beyond the chips themselves, but we see one clear answer. A softer answer that has little to do with numbers, but everything to do with what ultimately matters most: customers.

In response to their new top sales position, Toyota said, “Being number one is never a focus or priority. The company’s focus has always been—and will continue to be—on being the best brand in terms of safety and quality in customers’ minds.” Jack Hollis, senior vice president, Automotive Operations Group, Toyota Motors North America, made a similar statement after the company announced 2021 year-end results: “Despite a second consecutive year of challenges, TMNA focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience.” In contrast, GM noted that they focused on profitability in 2021 and told Toyota, in a roundabout way, to not get too comfortable in the top spot.

Toyota’s statements have nothing to do with sales numbers or production targets. There’s no mention of computer chips or beating out the competition. Instead, Toyota clearly focuses on staying true to their brand by continuing to produce quality vehicles. After all, this focus is what helped Toyota stake a claim in the American auto market when they first began selling in the US in the late 1950s. America’s Big Three — Ford, GM, and Chrysler — were struggling, and the new Japanese brand delivered quality. Even then, the company was clear about their “customer first” approach.

In a way, this feels a bit like Avis’s “We try harder.” campaign. Rather than clambering for market share or pushing for the top spot, Avis knew what they did best — focus on customers and the customer experience — and stayed the course. They leaned into it. Toyota has never positioned itself as the underdog, but they’ve stayed true to their brand. They focused on quality rather than profits. After decades of growth, strategic moves to support manufacturing, and gratitude to their customers, Toyota has accomplished something impressive: They became number one without even considering their rank.

To go from clicks to customers, move your focus from products to people

Clicks don’t mean someone has connected with your product or brand. All they mean is that you’ve managed to grab someone’s attention — with humor, intrigue, wow factor, etc. — to make them act. This, in itself, is a feat.

Grabbing attention has always been central to the marketing and advertising mission. If you can grab the customer’s attention, you can tell them more about what you have to offer and, ideally, generate a sale. Today, however, there’s more vying for our attention than ever before and this becomes truer by the day, meaning brands face an increasingly steep uphill battle. This also means grabbing attention isn’t enough.

But it never was.

Brands with the strongest loyalty understand that the most powerful advertising stems from establishing an emotional connection with consumers. Not simply appealing to an emotion with something like humor, but actually understanding the consumer and the values that get them out of bed in the morning. When advertisers and brands make this shift, moving away from products and toward people, clicks becomes customers and, better yet, these customers become loyal advocates of the brand. Successful brands like Peloton are already doing this, and you can take the same approach.

Peloton’s continued human focus

When Peloton, who sells both products and services in the way of exercise equipment (beginning with a stationary bike) and classes that can be taken at home, first launched, the brand focused heavily on their products to establish brand recognition and carve a space in the industry. However, more recently they’ve transitioned to a more human centric approach. Rather than focusing on functionality, Peloton’s turning their attention to those who will be putting their products and services to use. Or, more specifically, how this use interacts with their life.

The “Better Is In Us” campaign is one of their earlier examples, focusing on the various challenges we overcome in pursuit of something better in ourselves, but Peloton continues evolving this message. The 2020 “Meet Our Members” campaign focused on real Peloton customers and how Peloton products — and ultimately a commitment to exercising with the brand — fit in their daily life. This year’s “It’s You. That Makes us” expands the message by focusing on the community and connection between customers made possible by a shared interest: exercise with Peloton.

If making this transition sounds like a big ask, that’s because it is, but the payoff is even bigger. Understanding the values that resonate loudest with your customers helps you connect more deeply and is possible if you move beyond features and benefits to understand how your brand essence intersects with the personal values you’re trying to reach.

Connecting Benefits to Personal Values

From features, you find benefits. From these benefits, you find values. When you work to understand the root of those values, you can understand the central emotional connection a consumer has with a product.

Unlike a cost benefit value analysis, this connection has nothing to do with actual monetary value. Rather, it’s an emotional-benefit value understanding.  It’s what connects the product’s features and benefits to the consumer’s values and beliefs. Let’s take a general look at how this could play out with a soda product.

Flavor is the unique feature and the refreshment/quenched thirst that comes with drinking it is the benefit. When refreshed, consumers can go about their day and be more productive. This, in turn, lets them live life to the fullest, however that looks to them. That very last stage is where consumers connect. It’s what drives them, often subconsciously or unintentionally, to make a buying decision.

Values-Based Message Development

When an advertiser understands the values and beliefs that create this connection, they can move the consumer from simply understanding the product’s features and benefits to connecting these benefits with their own values and beliefs. Suddenly, consumers imagine how the product affects what they value. This applies to any consumer-facing industry. A particular value may manifest differently from person to person but speaking to that value itself allows every individual to connect in their own way.

When you identify these values, these intrinsic needs, you can speak about your product by focusing on how that product addresses those values. As a result, you help consumers connect and build stronger relationships with your customers.

It’s important to note that this isn’t about how you can attach your brand to potential customers. It’s the opposite. You must understand what your customers value, so they can understand the benefit of attaching themselves to your brand. That’s a nuanced difference, but it’s crucial. When you reach consumers in this way, you generate real interest, new sales, and customers who become proud ambassadors for your brand because your products or services connect with their values.