The what, how and why of Consumer Connects

Consumer Connect expert Tom De Ruyck explains why marketers need to create a habit of connecting with the people behind the numbers.

A person smiling and waving on a laptop call
A person smiling and waving on a laptop call

Sarah Van Oerle

06 March 2023

4 min read

Microsoft is continuously working on innovations that help people to focus, as research has shown it takes 23 minutes to return to peak focus after we experience a distraction. For a long time, this was just one of the many statistics used but not well understood in the company.

So, what has changed? As part of their drive toward customer obsession, Microsoft installed Consumer Connect programs. And their impact is profound. Lee Dicks Clark, Principal Program Manager Lead at Microsoft says: “Now whenever I think about the value of those 23 minutes a person loses when they’re distracted, it’s not just a statistic. It’s about this human being, and others like her, whose time is priceless.”

We interviewed Consumer Connect expert and Managing Partner Tom De Ruyck on the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Consumer Connect programs.


Tom De Ruyck


You are not your Consumer

Q: A first question, Tom, what is ‘Consumer Connect’ all about?

“Well, more and more do leadership and marketing teams realize that they are not their consumer and that they need to get out of their ‘bubble’. So, a lot of companies are looking for an easy and efficient way to connect with consumers. This is where Consumer Connect programs come in; where company employees spend time directly with consumers or customers, in an online and/or offline setting. The whole idea behind these encounters is that company stakeholders engage directly and frequently with their target audience.”


Crafting experiential habits

Q: How can brands make such a Consumer Connect program a success? What do they need to do?

“I can share three tips to make such programs successful. The first one focuses on the flow of your consumer connect. All too often it’s limited to a video call with the consumer. We believe you need to add a pre- and a post-phase to that. Professionals need to be comfortable in connecting with consumers and need to be trained before they connect. And it’s also about connecting the right consumer with the right company stakeholder. So, we pay a lot of attention to ‘match making’, selecting and connecting relevant profiles. After the video call, it’s vital to share the learnings with relevant stakeholders in the business and archive the observations which could be used later.

My second tip is ‘make it a habit’. Building consumer empathy is like going to the gym: if you only go once, you will not see much impact. But do it regularly, and you will see the full potential and impact of it. The same goes for your empathy muscles. Of course, you can organize consumer connects on a more ad hoc basis, but I’m a strong believer in the power of structural connects, making them a company-wide habit.

And my third tip is ‘do something offline from time to time’. Online connects with consumers are very efficient, and this approach allows to organize them more regularly. Yet, to install a true connection and immersive experience, it’s relevant to create an offline experience now and then. Think for example about discovering hotspots in a big city with your consumers, cooking with them… having a truly immersive experience.


Don’t trust your assumptions

Q: Why is it important for professionals to connect with consumers more regularly and directly?

“Despite what marketers sometimes think, they are not that much like the consumers they serve. In fact, an Australian study has shown marketers are living in their own ((sub)urban) bubble, literally out of touch with everyday consumers. According to the survey, 41% of Sydney agency people live in the city or inner city, compared to just 4% of the public. As a result, they often have very different lifestyles. And it’s when you think that your own life is representative for the many consumers you serve, that you will make mistakes.”

Q: Can you tell us something more on the impact of Consumer Connect programs?

“Training your empathy muscles has a direct short-term and long-terms impact. In the short term, it motivates people as they can directly see who their consumer is. It humanizes the consumer, more than via anonymous quotes and stats in presentations and workshops. And it helps marketers to internalize consumer stories, empathize and act upon them.

In the long term, it provides company stakeholders with a broader consumer context, which allows them to craft better consumer insights and activate them across the organization. Over time, the connects also fuel their ‘consumer understanding – allowing people to become confident to take small decisions without setting up a research project.”


Time to burst the bubble

Consumer Connect programs help fuel consumer-centric thinking, where internal stakeholders get to know the people behind the numbers. Because just like Microsoft’s Lee Dick Clark said, “it’s not just a statistic, it’s about the human being”.

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