The most disruptive insurgent brands win through insights in qualitative research. They are determined to understand their primary target customer better than the competition. They see the unseen.

For your brand to have a truly differentiated value proposition, you must first understand the buyer — and it does require the restraint of focusing on one singular primary target customer.

Part two of this six part series by creative strategist Tyler Leahy focuses on the qualitative research actions your brand should take to uncover consumer insights and leverage them into a value proposition unique to your brand.

This is part two of a six-part series. Part one can be found here

Your customer, inside and out

So, you already decided you want to turn your industry on its head after reading my previous article. Before we radically change the consumer world as we know it, let’s start small.

Insurgent brands are determined to understand their primary target customer. Inside and out. Better than the competition.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but it takes a tremendous amount of restraint. Your product or service is not for everyone. Even if it could be for everyone, you need to focus on a primary target audience in order to brand and market effectively. And to focus, you need to do your homework.

Why: Your whole value proposition depends on understanding the buyer. Through qualitative research, figuring this out early on was the key to Halo Top’s meteoric ascension

We don’t think of ice cream as inextricably linked to marathons, CrossFit, and powerlifting. But Halo Top learned that for fitness-obsessed twenty-somethings, there was a gap in the market, first through a hunch, then through qualitative research. Typical “diet ice cream” options weren’t appealing, but these fit shoppers could only live with the guilt of buying a decadent pint of Ben & Jerry’s or other premium ice cream once a month at most, or maybe even once a quarter. 


It became Halo Top’s business intent to offer an ice cream that fit twenty-somethings could buy every single trip to the grocery store, without the guilt.

Every component of the Halo Top buyer’s journey is designed to create brand loyalty within its target audience. The low calorie count prominent displayed as the largest text on the packaging. The premium look of the gold halo ring around the cover. The Instagrammable messages on the inside of the foil lid.

A strong value proposition for retailers was developed. Marketing effectively on a very slim budget became possible. And Halo Top skyrocketed.

Fully immerse yourself in your industry’s consumer culture

What does that mean for you? Study up on the emotional drivers of your target customer. Here’s how.

Challenge your team (including yourself) to become superfans of your industry, as consumers, not as representatives of your brand. It’s not a task reserved for the marketing manager or the VP of sales. It’s a company-wide headset.

Here’s what you do:

Dive in. Attend industry events and meet-ups. Talk to individuals who are clearly “superfans.” Join social media groups. Scour forums. Read reviews and watch homemade YouTube videos about your brand and about the category in general. Get your hands on all of the qualitative research you can, all so you can confidently answer these questions:

  • Who is our potential superfan? Why? What’s their profile? 
  • How does this product or service fit into their life, and into the ecosystem of other brands they are superfans of? 
  • What informs their first-time buying decision? What informs their long-term brand loyalty? 
  • What unmet needs are they talking about with each other, and what platforms do they use for communicating? Are they using any “hacks” to get past their unmet needs? 

Audit brand experiences in your category. You know who your competitors are. Review their product packaging and collateral. On social media, in advertising, and elsewhere, look for differences in tone and emotion. Compare value propositions. Look for thoughtful loyalty initiatives and value-adds, and discern what they’re trying to accomplish. 

  • How do buyers interact with your brand’s product packaging or collateral materials? How about your competitors? 
  • What makes the buying decision easier for them? 
  • How our competitors bringing their people and culture into the brand experience? 
  • On social, what are customers saying about your competitors? And you? 
  • Is this anything experiential that has staying power post-purchase, reinforcing your competitors’ brands? 
Think about your “brand experience” as a continuous cycle. From the time a prospective buyer discovers you, to the time they (hopefully) make a purchase, to follow-through, how are they experiencing your brand? How is it adding value? How are they co-creators in the journey? What makes them come back? What makes them tell a friend? 

Here’s what you don’t do:

  • Try to sell while out in the field learning. This process is for learning about your primary target consumer, and doing so can compromise the integrity of the data you collect.

  • Become Dr. Frankenstein. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to notice things your competitors are doing really well and be tempted…but resist. Insurgent brands don’t chase the competition. They forge their own path.

  • Launch a new product or service without doing this thinking. 

The takeaway

If you want to disrupt your market, it’s not good enough to make assumptions about your target audience. Qualitative research is where many of the “whys” are often hidden — those emotional x-factors you can build into your brand (more on that later).