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Love is Served: Food Gets a Little Emotional.

“[Food] makes you think of happy times. It warms your heart.” – Active Explorer, anonymous

kzwp2iiyxma-toa-heftibaAfter years of studying the Active Explorer, one of the most loyal and dynamic psychographics in marketing today, we’ve learned one thing: they never cease to surprise. After tracking down every food trend, from meal delivery services to sous vide cooking, that affects this adventurous group, we finally sat down and asked them a few questions about how they think about eating.

And it comes down to honesty, authenticity, and family.

The most important value for food companies, from restaurants to retail, among Active Explorers is honesty (24%). A close second was family (21%). We were expecting more exploration values to pop, like originality (2%) or innovation (1%). Maybe even adventure (2%) or discovery (1%). But no. AE’s may be pushing the envelope on self-discovery, only not when they’re hungry. The biggest values after family were ethical (9%), respect (7%) and caring (7%).

“Comfort food to me is the meal you cook after you have completely ruined a meal you were going to try.” – Active Explorer, anonymous

xksrpuh0vzo-yvonne-lee-harijantoFood is comfort, and comfort means food. That’s what our User Group played back to us. They rely on it to warm them during spells of cold weather (29%) and ground them after stressful days at work (16%). But you don’t need to be sad to reach for the mac and cheese: comfort food is what AE’s reach for when they’re in a good mood (13%) or when they’re in the mood to celebrate (11%). In short, comfort food is “fresh, fills you up, and makes you feel loved,” in the words of one respondent.

Ultimately, this is what food means to Active Explorers. It’s an emotional connection to friends and family. It’s a place to feel safe and warm. It’s a place you leave every morning, touch base at lunch, and return to at dinner to share stories, build memories, and express love.

No matter whether they’ddzyotzunbk-eaters-collectivere cooking for themselves or going out to eat, food occupies a special place in the mind of the Active Explorer. It’s a beginning and an end to the day, fuel and sustenance, an expression of honesty and family. It’s where they start and where they inevitably return. It’s a place called home.

Active Explorer Restaurant Chains: A Top Ten List

Tried and true. With a dash of spice.

e6hjqab7uea-dan-goldThat’s what our Active Explorer User Group told us they preferred when they went out to eat. Not in so many words, mind you. In general, Active Explorers are the most likely to crave culinary adventures. They love learning to cook new things, explore new restaurants, and taste dishes they haven’t tried before.

But not always. When they responded to our survey, they revealed that their default setting was a little closer to home. When deciding to go out on the spur of the moment on a Saturday night, nearly half (44%) of Active Explorers choose a sit-down restaurant close to home.

But which five sit-down restaurants were the most likely to be chosen by Active Explorers? Drum roll please…

  • Olive Garden (11%)
  • Chili’s (10%)
  • Applebee’s (9%)
  • Outback Steakhouse (8%)
  • Cheesecake Factory (8%)

The fact that these were national chains wasn’t surprising; this was a national survey. What’s interesting is who was left off the list. No Denny’s, Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings, or TGI Fridays – names you’d expect to be competitive in this race.

When we dug a little deeper, we noticed something our winners had in common. Each of them has recently emphasized a value in their marketing that olivegarden575-calpromostrikes a chord with the Active Explorer. For example, Olive Garden has recently hit “fresh,” “healthy” and “gourmet” pretty hard. Same with Chili’s and Outback.

When it came to fast-food restaurants, we learned even more. Here are the top five finishers:

  • McDonald’s (10%)
  • Panera (9%)
  • Chick-fil-A (7%)
  • Taco Bell (7%)
  • Chipotle (7%)

Panera and Chipotle are perennial Active Explorer favorites, so it’s not surprising to see those place well. But we were curious to see what McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Chick-fil-A were doing right. A lot, as it turns out. All three have spent a great deal of marketing emphasizing their fresh, local, bold new menu items.

mcdonaldsbillboard2Even McDonald’s has made a big push in the Pacific Northwest, sourcing their fries from Washington farmers and putting up billboards that connected the McDonald’s brand to a sense of outdoor adventure.

What else did we learn? 1 in 4 Active Explorers said that spending time with family and friends is the best thing about going out to dinner. About the same number said the best thing about going out to eat is not having to make it themselves.

Active Explorers are, at their heart, explorers. But as we learned from our travel survey, they also like coming back to a place they feel comfortable. In the food industry, that’s where fast casual brands are making their biggest gains. There’s always a place for known quantities that are trusted brands, are convenient and reliable, but also consistently provide new flavors or refreshed menus.

Put all the Active Explorer learnings together: buzzwords, restaurants, food trends and lifestyle: what does it all mean? Let’s talk about that next week.

For Active Explorers, Food Buzzwords Don’t Equal Buzz.

shutterstock_126187640We were wrong.

Like we said in our first post about the Active Explorer Food Survey, we went into our latest study with some expectations about how they viewed the terms “natural,” “sustainable” and “gluten-free.” We thought we were confirming some things about the Active Explorer that we already knew. Some of that – well, most of it — turned out to be wrong.

But that’s a good thing. We’re happy to be wrong. Now we understand some things that get us a lot closer to right. This information may come in handy if you’re in the food industry, or even within shouting distance of it.

So, how do Active Explorers feel about the words “all-natural,” “sustainably grown, and “no trans fat?” Suspiciously, it turns out. Those terms seem to be table stakes on the grocery shelf. They’ll make Active Explorers more likely to buy those products than products that don’t have those terms – but surprisingly, they won’t pay more for those products. Let’s take a look.
chart

Of the terms we tested, only “organic” makes Active Explorers more likely to buy and pay more. Other terms, like “fair trade,” “farmer-owned” and “non-gmo” didn’t move the needle at all. That’s at odds with what we suspected they valued in a food provider.gf-2

And don’t get us started on “gluten free.” It was a net negative for our user group, making them less likely to buy and less willing to pay more.

What we’re learning is that Active Explorers aspire to a certain set of values, but that those values only come into play when there’s a clear, differentiated benefit for themselves and their family. “Organic” is the one value that drives purchase intent and price upward, which makes sense – it’s not just a label, but a certification, a badge that makes you feel more wholesome. That makes sense: more than half of AE’s (56%) say that food certifications are somewhat important or very important in their food purchases.

Everything else? Just words on a package.

But that’s in the grocery store. What happens when Active Explorers go out to eat?

That’s a funny story. We’ll save it for next week.

Active Explorers Go Out to Eat: Food for Thought.

shutterstock_222631798_editSome of the world’s most adventurous, experiential people?

When it comes to food, they often choose the tried and true.

That’s just one of the unexpected, surprising, and insightful results we learned from our Active Explorer User Group. Conducted in late September and early October of this year, our survey included 433 respondents who fall into the Active Explorer psychographic – one of the most loyal, educated, and growing consumer segments. These are people evenly distributed by age between the ages of 25 – 65+, 40% earn between $100K- $150K household income. Many have a 4-year degree, and one in four have a graduate degree.

We asked a wide range of questions about how these customers think and feel about the food they eat, in restaurants and at home.

Did you know…

  • Nearly 20% buy organic produce when available? (We thought that would be higher.)
  • That 75% workout most days, or at least a few days of the week? (We thought that might be lower.)
  • Nearly 40% dined out 3-5 times last month and nearly 20% dined out over 8 times last month? (We didn’t know what to think, but that’s good stuff.)

Here’s what really surprised us. We gave our people a pop quiz. What do you do when it’s Saturday, and you have nothing planned for dinner?

Our respondents told us that 59% of them planned to go to a restaurant for dinner rather than choosing to make something at home. We could see that. These people are seekers, adventurers, the ones who want to try that new place on the corner.blogicons_food-02_720

But of these respondents, 83% would choose a restaurant they’ve been to before, instead of trying something new. (That’s higher than we expected. By a lot.) That tells us a lot about how food connects with Active Explorers. Even though they’re a demographic most likely to try new experiences, when it comes to restaurants, their loyalty kicks in hard.

Of the 41% of Active Explorers who said they’d break out the pots and pans on a Saturday night, 85% plan the meal before they go to the store and 81% make a grocery or shopping list for it. This suggests opportunities to reach them while they are deciding at home and in planning mode — even at the last minute. They have good reasons to cook at home: cooking/preparing food at home helps AEs have control over what they are eating (20%) and it helps them save money (20%). They also believe that it has higher quality ingredients (16%).

As you’d expect from a demographic that likes to learn, Active Explorers report that their interest in cooking exceeds their skill level. 31% rated themselves a 5 for skill, while 38% rated themselves a 5 for interest.

What can we infer from these results? That when it comes to food, decisions are made well before the time to make them. That the opportunity to influence comes far before the moment of purchase. And maybe restaurants need to balance the thrill of something new with the comfort of the familiar.

blogicons_food-03_720But we’re just getting started. In our next post, we’ll explore the emotional and rational triggers that inspire Active Explorers to choose what they eat – and it’s more interesting than we thought.

Stay tuned. See you next week.

Something to Whet Your Appetite.

It might be the change in the weather, but these days, we’re thinking a lot about food at Williams Helde. But we’ve also been doing something about it. We asked over 400 participants in ourshutterstock_285854987 Active Explorer User Group some questions about food – what they eat and why they eat, what motivates them and comforts them – and the results are starting to come in.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing a series of posts about these results that caught us by surprise. We went in with some hypotheses and came out with a whole lot of insights we’re excited to share. Things like: What foods do AEs eat on the spur of the moment, and how do they think?

What kinds of “food words” inspire AEs to spend more on what they eat?

What names are top-of-mind in this segment for fast, casual food?

What’s the most surprising thing we learned about this loyal, affluent psychographic?

So if you’re at all interested in who your best potential customers are when they eat, keep an eye open for our next few posts. We promise there’s a lot of food for thought.

If you missed our last blog series about Active Explorer Travel, click here to catch up.

If you have questions about how this applies to your business specifically, contact us. We’re always hungry for fresh opportunities.

The Window of Opportunity

Traveling Active Explorers and your brand

shutterstock_425107057As we’ve learned from our Active Explorer User Group, opportunities for brands to communicate with travelers are plentiful, but without understanding the motivations and expectations of Active Explorers, these efforts might miss the mark.

As marketers, we’re often in pursuit of the key takeaway, the high-level message that can be the catalyst for fresh approaches to our communications. Here are our essential takeaways:

Active Explorers relax on vacation by being active.

Relaxation and active adventure are a natural combination for Active Explorers. Our user group results revealed that the top three motivations for travel were relaxing/recharging, exploring new places and experiencing different activities. Nearly a third of Active Explorers said discovering new places was their top reason for a vacation, while another third said it’s getting away from day-to-day routines.

There’s not one preferred type of vacation, just like there’s not one type of consumer. Active Explorers are defined by their appetites for adventure, their loyalty to brands that help them reach their destinations and their thirst for authentic travel experiences. But like any demographic, they’re a diverse bunch. AEs can be constant thrill-seekers, but they also love the creature comforts of a cruise or a hotel room. Over half of user group respondents said that staying in the same place for more than a week is the best way to relax, with 41% saying that 5-7 days is an ideal vacation trip length.

So meet them in the middle, tell a story about your brand that’s relatable and compelling. Marriott got it right with their Travel Brilliantly campaign, juxtaposing the ease and comfort of their hotels with the unlimited possibilities of travel they make possible. It’s a not-so-subtle nod to Active Explorers, but it also casts the net wide, inspiring a broad audience to activate not only their travel, but their adventure, through Marriott.

Timing is everything.

Make no mistake, Active Explorers have a clear picture of their ideal vacation, whatever it may be. In fact, they typically plan that ideal trip a few months in advance. And over a third plan their trip more between three and six months ahead. With booking windows this wide open, travel brands need to remain relevant throughout the consumer purchasing journey, constantly in the sights of Active Explorers in the thick of planning.

What’s more, 69% of AEs plan their next trip right after their current one. Here, the window of opportunity narrows, but it’s still important that brands reach consumers while they’re still coming off their travel high. It might be as simple as a free gift when they arrive home or an email blast with an exclusive offer and a survey.

The statistics can only get you so far.

The numbers tell us a lot about how Active Explorers interact with travel, from planning to purchase and execution. But they don’t explicitly tell brands and marketers how to leverage consumer behaviors. That’s where research, brand-building and targeted communications come in.

Data is great. Insights are better. Saying something that resonates with the Active Explorer will go miles toward inspiring them to hear more of what you have to say. Don’t over-invest in a campaign that hasn’t been tested thoroughly — try multiple approaches. Always push the envelope, don’t be afraid to say something surprising. And never miss a window of opportunity to make communications timely, nimble and impactful.

Follow those rules, and you’ll find your brand’s window of opportunity larger than ever before.

Adventures in Familiarity

When Traveling, Active Explorers Won’t Risk Comfort

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Look at a dozen of your friends’ Instagram feeds and you’ll see a series of spontaneous moments taken from some of the world’s most exotic locations. Here’s what you won’t see: the planning, consideration and research that went into it.

It turns out that those moments of seemingly spontaneous adventure are often meticulously planned. That’s one of the many insights from our latest survey into the Active Explorer, one of the fastest-growing segments in the travel industry. We were surprised to discover that this highly experiential group always kept an eye on the safe and familiar.

Basecamp: Trusted Hotel Chains

Surprisingly, nearly a third of Active Explorers prefer hotel chains for their accommodations.  In addition, nearly half believed that staying in one place is the best way to relax. Names like Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Kimpton offer more than shelter – they offer a taste of the familiar. It seems that no matter where you go, you need a place to call home – the more familiar, the better.

Come Aboard, We’re Expecting You

Despite the value they place in traveling with freedom and independence, about half of Active Explorers express interest in cruises — even if they’ve never taken one. On the surface, a cruise seems very un-Active – playing shuffleboard on the Lido deck clashes with the extreme lifestyles we see on their social feeds. While it seems counterintuitive, it makes sense when you realize they’re craving a familiar base. Recent campaigns from Norwegian Cruise Lines emphasize the point that a cruise ship can serve as a mobile basecamp for exotic destinations.

Risk vs. Reward

Although there are extremes at both ends, traveling Active Explorers are in a constant game of balance. Some love to ping-pong from one spontaneous adventure after another, while others have their itinerary, reservations and all, planned to the half-hour. But most of them are seeking that balance of spontaneity and reassurance that keeps our senses awakened and our spirit nourished.

So What?

It’s not a surprise that Active Explorers are looking for comfort to sustain their sense of adventure on the road. What’s interesting is how they’re doing it. There’s an opportunity for well-known, “safe” brands to provide familiarity and reassurance even when their customers are exploring their wild side.

Active Explorers and Travel: UnScripted Adventure

shutterstock_354764354The results from Williams Helde’s latest Active Explorer User Group revealed that for Active Explorers, travel is a basic need right up there with food, water and shelter. We also discovered that travel is often inspired by books, music, movies and more.

But once consumers get the travel bug, what happens next? What’s going through their minds as they explore their options? What is their ultimate objective? And as marketers, how can we leverage their desires and push the right buttons through targeted communications?

The results from our user group point to a few key insights regarding purchase considerations for Active Explorers.

85% of Active Explorer respondents search for new experiences when they travel

User group respondents strongly agreed or agreed that when traveling, they prefer new activities they can’t do at home. Active Explorers are, by nature, always in pursuit of the “new,” whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime view or unique regional meal. In place of the sanitized bus tour or curated restaurant checklist, Active Explorers would rather go on a winding back-road trip to a country winery they saw in a film once, or learn how to make pasta from a legendary local chef.

Here’s how one respondent described the perfect travel experience:

“Taking art classes – learning from new artists. Trying new food – experiencing the difference. Visiting museums – understanding old cultures. Speaking with new people – learning about living in different places. Snorkeling, sightseeing, eating; because there’s always something new to discover.”

For Active Explorers, “new” doesn’t have to involve exercise

We asked our Active Explorer User Group what they like to do most, even when they’re not traveling. While more physical activities such as hiking, swimming, biking and going to the gym were high on the list, respondents most frequently responded that they enjoy trying new restaurants.

The findings also suggest that intellectually enriching activities such as theater, cooking classes and live music also rate very highly. More than anything, Active Explorers love to be immersed in everything they do, at home or in their travels, experiencing the world first-hand and never letting opportunities pass by.

The art of the new

We know that travel is the art of the new. Brands that help Active Explorers plan, activate and enjoy their travel, and all of the new experience it offers, are fast becoming industry tastemakers. Airbnb tapped into this trend with their recent Live like a Local campaign. It was a compelling appeal to Active Explorers, urging travelers to live in their destinations, rather than simply touring them. To experience a new city as if it were home, and in the process, discover the truly new, exciting facets of a place. Active Explorers, as many brands have noticed, are demanding anything but the typical from their travel.

So what does it all mean? Basically, that marketers have to train themselves to look into every single touchpoint of their brand, from customer service to mobile experiences to word-of-mouth, to identify moments of the new and unexpected. It could be as simple as a tongue-in-cheek mobile alert, or a surprise discount at the register as a spontaneous loyalty reward. But those moments will be far more impactful than a native advertisement or a video.

The Active Explorer User Group and your brand

We’d love the chance to put this group of loyal, engaged Active Explorer consumers to work for your brand. If you would like to learn more about how the user group findings can help your brand, email us SLF@williams-helde.com or call us at (206) 285-1940.

 

Stories that inspire: where we get the travel bug

shutterstock_99218126As we discovered in our last post, for Active Explorers, travel is a need right up there with food, clothing and shelter. Everyone wants to take vacations to get away, whether from the stress of work or the dreary weather of home, but what inspires Active Explorers to travel? What’s that moment of motivation – when the light bulb goes on in their heads and they start making their plans? More importantly, is there an insight here for marketers?

In our recent travel study, conducted with a 258-member Active Explorer User Group, there were a few key findings concerning the travel consumer’s purchasing journey. The first was inspiration. Active Explorer travelers are motivated to travel based on specific inspirations, influencers from books to music, and more. Here’s a glimpse of the sparks that ignite an Active Explorer’s interest. These aren’t just apt observations, they’re actionable ways to communicate with potential travelers and Active Explorers.

For Active Explorers, travel is often inspired by movies, books and music.

Of the participants surveyed, 61% agree or strongly agree that movies, books and music influence their desire to travel. For Active Explorers, travel is often geared toward exploring new places and cultures, or recharging and getting away from the day-to-day grind. But even so, movies, books and music are significant sources of inspiration. Here are some verbatims from respondents:

  • “Reading books sparks my imagination for travel. Movies and TV shows also play a role. I like to be interested in the places I choose to go to.”
  • “Pictures and offers, new things I haven’t seen. . .and things I’ve seen in movies”
  • “Seeing locations in movies or reading about them in books. Also, seeing where friends travel.”

It’s a simple truth that we’ve all likely experienced: movies often show viewers a vivid picture of amazing destinations and unforgettable sights. So it’s no surprise that films are often mentioned as sources of inspiration for travel among our respondents. One user group member credited the James Bond movies specifically. James Bond: travel agent.

But Active Explorers are being inspired to travel on the small screen, too. Consider the Netflix original series Bloodline, which has increased tourism traffic and interest in the Florida Keys, especially at the Moorings Resort in Islamorada. Or the tourism industry that continues to thrive in the wake of off-the-air series like Sex in the City or Downton Abbey. The essence of a place, beautifully crafted by television, not only stokes the imagination, it’s the catalyst that impels travelers to seek first-hand experience. So join in, capture the essence of these places, and make it your business to get people there.

Active Explorers are inspired to travel by, well, traveling. The more they travel, the more they want to find more corners of the world to explore. In fact, 64% of Active Explorer user group respondents agree or strongly agree that they begin planning their next trip right after taking a trip.

One Active Explorer respondent expressed it this way: “Going on vacation makes me want to go somewhere new the next time.” It’s not simply that Active Explorers are avid travelers, they’re in insatiable pursuit of the new, from destinations and cultures to sights and tastes.

All of this means that marketers can no longer rely on simple benefit messages to create an emotional connection between their product and their best customers. The most successful brands are creating experiences – through storytelling, music and video – that engage and inspire their customers to see their brand as a call to adventure.

Look at the way Jeep uses storytelling and music to convince their customers to find their own inspiration. Watch how Corona tells their customers to “find your beach,” using nothing but sea, sun and the ambient sound of waves.  They’re creating personal entertainment experiences that evoke our yearn to travel and associate themselves with wanderlust.

Stories. Images. Music. These are your tools. Now, inspire your customers to move.

Your travel brand and the Active Explorer User Group

Looking to get a better understanding of how communicating with Active Explorers can help achieve your revenue goals this year? The complete user group findings are available to select marketers at no cost, so give us a call. Let’s get started.

For additional information, please contact us at SLF@williams-helde.com or call (206) 285-1940.

 

Gotta Get Away: Capitalize on an Emerging Travel Need

shutterstock_247816624Before we begin, let’s go over the essential human needs: Food. Shelter. Security. Travel.

Wait. Travel?

That’s right. Over the last several years, travel has gone from being a luxury to a basic human need. At least that’s what was revealed in an April 2016 travel study conducted by Williams Helde. Think of it: a well-educated, fitness loving, healthy-minded and affluent segment with a penchant for discovery and novelty considers travel an authentic need.

For Active Explorers, travel is not optional. Here’s why we know it to be true.

Active Explorers are traveling more than ever. We expected that most had taken two trips in the past year. We were surprised to learn that 49% of Active Explorers took 3-4 trips in the past 12 months. Another 29% had taken 5 or more trips in the past year. That’s a dramatic increase from years past.

They’ve caught the YOLO bug. They consistently expressed their need to see new places and cultures.  “My own need to explore and see new places,” said one respondent, “eating new kinds of food, comes from the knowledge that I might not get the opportunity to do this when I get a desk job and I am stuck paying bills until the day that I die.”

They rank travel among their highest priorities. Consistently, this psychographic prioritizes new experiences over the tried and true. As one person remarked, “I like sampling new foods, visiting new places, relaxing… I want to step out of my life on vacation and try new things.”

So what can all this mean for your brand? Knowing this, travel brands have an opportunity to tap into deeper emotional territory with their messaging, forging a stronger bond that can increase sales.

Travel isn’t a destination. It’s a state of mind. Even as they get off the plane, Active Explorers are constantly in search of the next great adventure. If your brand can help enable that dream, whether that means helping save, plan, pack, or inspire, you have a place on the travel spectrum.

Travel is the celebration of what’s possible. Many Active Explorers use a vacation to try out new versions of themselves: kayaker, salsa dancer, wine enthusiast. It’s not so much about where they go as it is who they can become. If your brand can help maintain Active Explorers live the lives they’ve imagined, through fitness, food, fashion, durable goods, and more, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.

Travel is the art of the new. What part does your brand play in bringing something new to these consumers? Recognizing the explorer aspect of Active Explorers means you may have an opportunity to emphasize “new” in your marketing communications and your brand’s role in the consumer travel experience.

Watch this space. Over time, we’re going to reveal study insights across the travel experience. As we share what we’ve learned, we will include potential implications and thought-starters that can increase sales.

In the meantime, if you have questions about how our study might apply to your brand’s business challenges, give us a call at (206) 285-1940 or email us at SLF@williams-helde.com.

Start from the beginning – Check out the first blog post in our travel series: Insights from your best customers.