Tips for Getting Down in the Dirt With Grassroots Research

We are living through a time of unprecedented change in marketing, with brand and insight teams being tasked with delivering smarter and deeper consumer insights faster—all while managing a tight budget and limited face-to-face access to consumers. Moving quickly to establish meaningful connections with consumers is imperative. At COHO, we’ve teamed up with our market research partners at Sprout Insight to share our top tips for uncovering insights using resourceful consumer research methods this year. To be clear, we’re not suggesting you abandon tried-and-true methods like shop-alongs and in-depth interviews (IDIs)—those should still be important research tools in your arsenal. But, why not proactively augment those formal market research processes with less conventional, grassroots approaches in 2020? While they may not work for every project, these strategies are creative ways to help make your research budget go further. Here are our top five nitty-gritty, grassroots favorites that can help you get closer to your consumer and uncover insights that will inform your brand strategy, marketing communications, and innovation efforts.

1. Do the Groundwork

underestimate the power of immersive desktop research. It is a great starting point, and there are many free, category- and demographic-specific online consumer research resources that you can tap into. Our team often engages in an exercise we call a “brainblitz”—a fast-moving technique that pulls from multiple resources in pop culture, academic research and social media. The brainblitz protects our work from groupthink because team members immerse themselves separately in a topic to uncover their own understanding and insights first, and then share them with the greater team.  We recently did a brainblitz for a project that began with the very broad insight that many consumers said they used a product because “It’s fun!” But, what does fun really mean? Using our brainblitz process, we quickly collected multiple perspectives on “fun.” One team member discovered a game-changing socio-cultural framework on “fun” that set the stage for what became a very successful adult beverage project.

2. Focus on What’s Inside Your Garden

We often find that marketers are sitting on mounds of consumer research that just need a fresh set of eyes to dig in, uncover new insights, and connect the dots to brand strategy. We once worked with a household cleaning brand that over a few years had amassed a treasure trove of discounted reports. They lacked the time to review them in-depth. We took them on, reviewed them from our outsider perspective and market expertise, and identified overlooked insights that informed the development of innovation platforms for an upcoming ideation session.

3. Work in Rich Soil

the world’s largest focus group—where no one is putting on a “face” to please a research moderator. Across all channels, people are talking. So, shouldn’t you be listening? Many brands still aren’t tapping into this valuable, unfiltered resource. Sure, there are subscription tools out there that can help you monitor sentiment, but much can be learned by simply searching keywords or handles on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other channels. For example, to learn about consumption occasions for a heritage beverage brand, we turned to Instagram to see what consumers were posting. This quickly revealed recurring patterns about how the brand’s product was uniquely consumed in rugged, outdoor situations versus its competitors.

4. Explore Natural Habitats

observational research can be a great way to discover what consumers actually do versus what they say they do. To get the most out of an observational research trip, scout out places where you know your consumer target is likely to hang out. Be creative—this is your opportunity to get up close and personal. If you’re looking to learn more about the different types of bait consumers use for fishing, you could visit local parks that are known for fishing to identify potential pain points. This approach can inform the design of more in-depth, mobile ethnographic activities where consumers can show and tell you the whys that are driving their choices and experiences.

5. Cultivate Your Roots

where you would like to vet early hypotheses, seek reactions to an initial idea, or speak with hard-to-reach consumers, consider talking to friends, family and personal, social network connections—forgoing traditional research methods that can be time-consuming and yield “over-practiced” consumers. Instead, create a custom panel to better understand and get closer to the elusive consumer. The goal is to find the most thoughtful and articulate consumers who are just right for your project, and the beauty of it is that it can all be done online. The power to grow your research arsenal is really at your fingertips. Understanding and implementing these grassroots consumer research tactics removes the barriers of cost and accessibility, and can bring you closer to your consumers in new and exciting ways. We believe they are some of the most fertile ground for brands to sprout fresh, qualitative insights with impact in 2020 and beyond.

To find out more, please reach out to Ellen Craven at or Lisa Mills at