Meeting Customers Where They Are: A More Authentic Approach to Consumer Research


You may have noticed our team posting photos of a bright and shiny Airstream trailer the past few months. You’re probably wondering, what the hell are they up to now?

Well, we didn’t go camping (yet). We are trying out a new way to gather what we call “market intelligence” – speaking to people about what they really think about a certain topic or product, how they actually feel about it, and exactly how they interact with it.

When our clients enlist us to find out more about something we naturally dive into research, consuming everything we can find on the internet. But the real fun begins when we start having conversations. We find the people we need to talk to and learn more through chatting with them.

In doing this we’ve come to learn that you cannot underestimate the environment in which these conversations are held. Creating a warm, open space where someone feels safe results in a much higher quality conversation versus a location that makes the interviewee feel rushed, cold, tired, annoyed, judged, or unsafe. The concept is really quite simple: people are more likely to share their true thoughts and feelings when they trust the person they are speaking with, and a good way to build trust quickly to make them feel comfortable.

We typically consider every detail when choosing the right environment to meet someone. Restaurant or park? Coffee or drinks? Inside or outside? Booth or high top? Lively background noise or quiet? So, when a client recently hired us to gather insights from consumers in several rural markets at their point of purchase (mostly gas stations), we were certainly challenged in crafting a welcoming and unique interview environment that was easily transportable from market to market.

The perfect storm of events led us to a 1972 30-foot Airstream trailer begging for a makeover. It was perfect because the exterior was enticing (who doesn’t love an Airstream?!) and the retro-fitted interior was a comfortable and casual, resembling a living room. It was a private space to host conversations and since it was on wheels, we could haul it around with us across the country.

The results were a pleasant surprise; consumers loved it. We were able to reach a demographic that would never opt-in to a traditional focus group or fill out a feedback survey. Consumers shared incredibly personal views and opinions because they felt like there were in a safe, inviting, and unintimidating place.

We’ve since been incorporating this ‘meet them where they are’ methodology into another project, where we are researching the lives of family caregivers (often daughters/working moms) looking after aging relatives. By parking the Airstream outside of company offices and partnering with employers to get the word out, the number of caregivers we’ve been able to reach and the information we’ve gathered in our little trailer has been overwhelming.

This trial-and-error approach doesn’t come without a few hiccups. Here are few key things we’ve learned along the way:

  • Build relationships (especially for recruiting). Whether we’re incentivizing store clerks or sending quick videos about the interviews to employers to share with employees ahead of time, asking others to help get the word out has been very helpful.

  • Smile. Our job is to make sure participants feel welcome as soon as they walk into the trailer. The more comfortable they are the more insights they will share, so it’s important to stay upbeat and energized throughout the entire interview. If we’re not feeling it, they won’t be either and the quality of the interview will suffer.

  • Keep it quick. Interviews should be short.  We try to keep ours to 15 minutes and not a second longer so that interviewees can get back to their daily routine.

  • Read body language.  Sometimes we get more out of subtle body language that we do from the conversation itself. A wince at a certain word or a grimace at another can express more than a five-minute monologue.

  • Hospitality. Offer hot coffee, cold beverages, and snacks. Interviewees rarely take it, but something about the idea of grabbing a drink from the fridge, pouring a cup of coffee, or snagging a muffin from the local bakery puts people at ease before the conversation begins.


Want to learn more about what your current or potential consumers are thinking/feeling/doing? Why not meet them where they are? Get in touch to learn more about our approach (and tour the Airstream!).