A crystal-clear picture

Editor's note: Rajit Chakravarty is global insight and analytics manager at BP. He is based in Chicago. Lisa Gudding is executive vice president in the Minneapolis office of research firm GfK.

If deployed well, a segmentation study can have far-reaching effects, informing the actions of employees at every level of an organization – from the CEO to the call-center operator. But without clear, thoughtful plans for activation, segmentation studies often languish on the shelves and hard-drives of the very people who should be bringing them to life.

To achieve a better result, organizations must make a conscious effort to rise above research-speak and provide tools to pry open the PowerPoint prison that traps too many segmentation studies. Presentations are all well and good but they should to be just one element of a much broader approach to bringing a segmentation study’s insights to the people and processes that need them most.

Storytelling can be a key to this process of unlocking the potential of a segmentation study. Through stories, data points take on real-world meaning, can speak to a variety of audiences and indicate clear paths to action. Segmentations lend themselves nicely to this approach, because each segment tells the story of a particular type of consumer and how he or she fits into the broader narrative of a product’s role in the marketplace.

When BP set out to create a new global segmentation of its fuel and convenience store (C-store) consumers, the idea of using far-reaching methods to socialize and activate the results was baked into the project from the beginning. The consumer insights team was determined that the study’s conclusions would be incorporated into the company’s decision-making processes, particularly in marketing.

In the end, the goal was not simply to “conduct research”; it was to move the business forward and to empower marketers to make smarter decisions – small or large, short-term or long, across many countries.

Bridge the gap

When it joined the BP project, research company GfK introduced the idea of storytelling as a means to bridge the gap from data to decisions – especially visual storytelling, which can be absorbed more readily across cultures and functions and delivers simple-but-powerful cues that recur across the materials to guide company actions. Data visualization offers a wealth of options for bringing together audiences and information, from iconography to infographics to custom-designed dashboards tailored to specific user groups. All of these options were used in this project.

As in any effective segmentation, the process began with identifying the internal stakeholders who will need to bring the study to life. Here we are discerning the stories of the activators – not just who these employees are but also their specific data needs and their comfort levels with different types of visual and textual information.

Through interviews with 14 key stakeholders, as well as input from the consumer insights team, we identified the essential owner groups and their preferences (Table 1).

The consumer research itself consisted of both quantitative and qualitative elements – 16 mini-focus groups in seven countries and over 17,000 individual interviews in 15 countries. Through a maximum-difference scaling (max-diff) exercise, the quant respondents ranked more than 100 statements related to fuel and convenience stores according to their level of agreement with each statement.

The output was a set of 12 segments (roughly three to five existing within each country), distinguished by their attitudes toward cars, fuel and C-store shopping; the groups included Car Aficionados, Convenience Shoppers and Category Apathists. For each segment, the team laid out the elements of a rich story – such as how attitudes and behaviors have changed since 2006, the long-range economic value of each segment to BP and recommended action strategies for pursuing each segment.

The activation of insights

At this point, many would have viewed the project as complete – segments were identified and named, the deck finalized and presented. But the data itself became the raw material for the second, equally important phase of the project: the activation of insights.

To provide the study a life of its own, the BP/GfK team set to work giving it a powerful visual identity, branding the segmentation study and its elements. Among other things, this was intended to: create buzz for the study; make all related communications quickly recognizable; build anticipation for and interest in the results; simplify complex market research concepts; and develop a broader audience – outside of marketing – for the findings.

Through branding and promotion, the finished study would have its own story – a clear identity that expresses its reason for being, an arc of suspense, a (hopefully) growing readership, a number of touchpoints and editions for different readers and a longevity beyond the first “telling.”

The first step toward elevating the findings was to give them a name – something more than “The Segmentation Study,” which sounds pre-made for the scrap heap. The goal was a sense of freshness and transformation, of renewed focus and excitement.

It happens that this segmentation was updating one conducted six years earlier and called Crystal – a name that had gained traction within BP. To capitalize on this association, the team decided to call the new edition simply Crystal NextGen and set to work developing all-new iconic images for the complete study and for each segment.

After consulting with GfK’s data visualization team and considering many different iterations of the logo, we decided on one that represented the evolution of a cut crystal – from a simple stone to something much more sophisticated. The juxtaposition of the two logos created an animated “evolution” effect.

For the segments, the team opted for simple, highly accessible symbols that feature universal objects – cars, trees, alarm clocks – and distinctive colors. These captured the key features of each group’s behavior and its story within the study.

Series of deliverables

Using this imagery system, the team created a series of deliverables tailored to key stakeholder groups and telling the story of the insights in different ways:

  • Full research report – 100 pages long, including results for each country. Intended for those who need to understand every aspect of the study.
  • Video – an eight-minute demonstration intended to validate the study data, featuring a person from each segment speaking on-camera.

Each of the five stakeholder groups received flash drives with a full set of deliverables. In addition, to help keep Crystal NextGen top-of-mind, BP developed an online portal allowing key stakeholders worldwide access to deliverables and other information about the study. Every deliverable element (see Figures 1 and 2) of the final project incorporated the visual language and tone established for the Crystal NextGen brand – making the study a kind of currency within BP as a whole.

To create momentum and enthusiasm for turning the segmentation results into everyday decisions, the team created a series of events related to the launch of Crystal NextGen. A widely distributed teaser introduced the new study and its objectives; and, soon after the findings from the study were in hand, small groups of stakeholders were convened to meet in workshop settings to discuss the resulting new information and design business actions to pollinate the information across the organization.

Feedback has been strong

The first generation of Crystal had a very happy ending, helping BP’s Invigorate gasoline exceed its incremental volume target by 15 percent in the U.S. and deliver a 63 percent increase in its “product value” ratings. And so far, the feedback on this new, highly visual edition – Crystal NextGen – has been strong among stakeholders.

By making an early commitment to activating the study’s results and creating a rich visual palette that could tie together diverse deliverables, the BP consumer insights team made the story of Crystal NextGen compelling and unmistakable. Each stakeholder group gained access to the key insights it needed, in forms tailored to its preferences and tasks. The results were clear paths to action and better marketing decisions – a success story, if there ever was one!