Recently, Loyalty360 sat down with Katrina Noelle, President of KNow Research, to discuss opportunities in the customer loyalty space, how to generate insights from research, and the company’s methodology, among other things. KNow Research is a full-service, qualitative insights consultancy that enables marketers and brands to understand customer motivations through custom research design.
Tell us about the genesis of KNow Research. What opportunity did you see in the market?
I opened the doors of my consultancy in 2003 with the goal of consistently delivering quality insights. The business has grown over time into a female-forward, boots on the ground team of senior-level investigators who share my passion in delivering valuable insights to our client partners. There are two trends in the market research industry now that have helped us re-focus our energy around a shared go: there is a move towards consolidation of mid-sized firms and another move towards more research being done in-house, client-side. Our goal is to provide brands a boutique-sized, attentive consultative experience with experts. There is much brands can do on their own and many great large research firms, but our place in the market is a more personalized approach that keeps the voice of the customer in focus and generates insights that live within the organizations we serve long past the final deliverable.
What about this type of research is most interesting to you?
I have personally always enjoyed the privilege of giving people a feedback loop with brands that impact their lives. The other side of that coin is giving brands a chance to hear directly from their customers. Our role is truly opening the doors of communication between brands and their audiences so that they listen to and learn from each other.
Does this type of research identify insights not uncovered in other types of research?
Qualitative research is used primarily to answer the “whys” and gain depth of understanding about that target population. It’s how companies can uncover the reasons behind beliefs about motivations for behaviors, needs, and preferences.  Customers are often emotionally tied to specific brands because of the way they make them feel or the trust they’ve developed with those brands. Asking qualitative questions that draw out deeper consideration and emotion helps brands discover what they can do to continue, increase, promote, or even repair their relationships with new and existing customers. Asking open-ended, probing, and laddering questions can confirm hypothesizes, spark new ideas, or inspire a whole new approach, product, or innovation.
Who are your typical clients? How do you see marketers using or applying this type of research for their effort?
Our clients tend to be either insights, marketing, or product leads within organizations. These days everyone is overwhelmed with the number of data sources available to them. Often, clients come to us with something they have uncovered that they find hard to explain by observational, tracked or quantitative data alone. We help them to uncover the reasons behind the numbers. Customers’ table stakes, pain points, barriers, and surprise-and-delight moments that influence their satisfaction, etc. This helps the product and marketing teams develop features, products, messages, and campaigns that are more closely aligned with their audience’s needs so that their customers are being better understood and therefore better served by the brand.  
You joined us at the Loyalty Expo this year and ran a Pop-Up Insights booth exploring the topic of customer loyalty. Please share your approach. Is this typical of the type of research you do?
It was a great event. Thank you again for having us. Our Pop-Up Booth methodology was developed to help us find fresh, authentic participants by putting our boots on the ground and finding them ourselves. Over the past couple of years this has grown into a methodology of its own, what we call Qualitative Intercept Interviews (QIIs). These are qualitative conversations had in situ. The interviews last anywhere from five to 20 minutes depending on the client’s goals and the amount of the incentive. They take place anywhere we can get permission to be (e.g. clients’ stores, pop-up store fronts, malls, farmer’s markets, festivals, etc.) They cover a range of topics and usually include some close-ended and some open-ended questions, all discussed with participants by a qualitative moderator. Participants enjoy the chance to participate in a research study immediately, not having to book an appointment or go to another location or be taken through endless screening questions. They are often surprised it is so easy, and they are proud that they have given their feedback to a brand on a product or idea that plays a role in their lives.
What did you uncover from your loyalty research? Did you have any ah-ha moments?
The first thing we uncovered is that the question we were asking—“What brand are you loyal to and why?”—was more difficult than we had anticipated. We thought asking the loyalty community what made them loyal when they were off the clock would be an easy one. However, many people took a long time to think of a brand they were actively loyal to (instead of ones they were loyal by default or inertia). A sneak peak of some of our findings, to be released in whitepaper format next month, is that the feeling loyalty is built up over time, by brands that touch our lives in unique ways and have distinct moments of connecting with us. Participants were less likely to choose brands that wove into their daily lives seamlessly (e.g., banks, credit cards, insurance, household products, grocery stores) and more likely to choose those who gave them wow moments or acted in a way to make them proud to be a customer (e.g., their car dealer, their favorite coffee chain, an online retailer). We also had the segment who chose brands that have become so ubiquitous in our lives that they felt they couldn’t help but be loyal to them (e.g., a certain online retailer and a certain technology provider). More to come on this topic.
Our audience is typically customer-focused marketers. How would you see them using KNow Research for enhancing their customer research and insight efforts?
We learned a lot from your audience during our time at the Expo, especially what an opportunity there is for customer research and insights to work more closely together inside of organizations.  Your members are typically sitting on a treasure trove of potential insights and access to customers. We heard about apps and databases and communities containing customers who are loyal to brands and our minds went immediately to the possibilities these sources of participants offer. We strongly encourage the loyalty community to reach out to the insights and marketing departments within their organizations and work together to maximize those potential sources of feedback. These customers can all be invited to participate in qualitative research such as focus groups, individual interviews, ethnographies, shop-along interviews, diary studies, community forums, and co-creation sessions with the brand. These qualitative tools can be used to understand, improve, and create better ways to serve your current and future customers. We encourage brands to do parts of this through their own tools with a DIY approach, but in key moments along the way, there is definitely a need to lean on an expert third party, which is what we can offer at KNow Research.
Are you seeing trends that our audience should consider?
We are seeing a trend towards loyalty being fostered and maximized by the retail outlet or seller of products and services. Brands are still vitally important, but selling platforms are now coming in all shapes and sizes (e.g., Amazon, Google Flights, Sephora, Ulta, Next Door, Nerd Wallet, Instagram feeds, influencer YouTube channels, etc.) and are now the first place many consumers turn to to purchase products. This doesn’t make individual branding any less important, since products and services still need to stand out on these virtual shelves and deliver on their promises, but it should influence the way brands are thinking about loyalty. What ways can you offer and deliver an experience that makes customers loyal to your brand no matter where they hear about it and purchase it? What can you do to earn their trust over time and be rewarded with their ongoing loyalty in a crowded marketplace? We heard many inventive ways of answering questions like those at the Expo so it looks like your community is already considering and acting on this trend.

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