Posts Tagged ‘insights’


Sterling Buzz…

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Check out this new series from Design Observer, Insights Per Minute, with Debbie weighing in with her thoughts on Sleep.


>>Click here to listen!


Sterling Buzz…

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
Check out the Buzz from Innovation this week, as DeeDee Gordon shares her insights on how to innovate for the future.
How do we innovate for the future? It is a driving question for many businesses, but many of them are looking into too short-term of a future.  DeeDee Gordon provided a case study with insights into how to innovate not just for tomorrow, but for the decades to come.

Check out the buzz for Sterling Innovation this week, as DeeDee Gordon shares her insights on how to innovate for the future.


How do we innovate for the future? It is a driving question for many businesses, but many of them are looking into too short-term of a future.  DeeDee Gordon provided a case study with insights into how to innovate not just for tomorrow, but for the decades to come.

For the answers, click to read more.


Google + Sterling

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
“Sterling is proud to have participated in two new pilot studies with consumers, conducted entirely through the G+ social media platform!
Together with Google, we spoke to two distinct groups: First Time Dads and New Smartphone Users. Using the myriad techniques offered by the G+ platform, we asked these two groups to share about their needs and motivations for relevant purchases and pull critical insights for marketers.
Find out more about the First Time Dad’s Study here.
Find out more about the New Smartphone Users here.
And stay tuned for more!”


Sterling is proud to have participated in two new pilot studies with consumers, conducted entirely through the Google+ social media platform!

Together with Google, we spoke to two distinct groups: New Dads and New Smartphone Users. Using the myriad techniques offered by the Google+ platform, we asked these two groups to share about their needs and motivations for relevant purchases and pull critical insights for marketers.

Find out more about the New Dads Study here.

Find out more about the New Smartphone Users here.

And stay tuned for more!


DeeDee Gordon on Co-Creation in Design

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

On June 24th, DeeDee spoke at the 2012 Dieline Package Design Conference about a topic near and dear to our hearts—co-creation with consumers.

What is co-creation?

We define co-creation as the process in which consumers and experts collaborate in a meaningful way with brands and product developers. At Sterling, we believe that co-creation is about establishing an open transmission of ideas, and an honest exchange between a brand, our team, category and topic experts, and consumers. The result? Big, actionable ideas that resonate with consumers and address specific needs and motivations.

Why is co-creation so important in design?

While we believe co-creation is appropriate for any branding challenge that involves a human being as the end user, we’ve seen a growing need for co-creation specifically in package and structure design. This is due to the evolution of today’s consumers to become increasingly conscious of design, and as demanding about the presentation of a product as they are about the product itself.


Today’s consumers are inundated with beautiful design across all categories. They have come to expect nothing but the best when it comes to design.

The package is very often the first touchpoint of a brand with which a consumer interacts. To this end, it’s incredibly important that structure and package design speaks to consumers, piques their interest, and encourages trial and usage. Co-creation helps us to ensure that it does.

Co-creating with the-Collaboratory:

In almost all of our work with clients, we engage the-Collaboratory, our proprietary database of brand enthusiasts from around the world, to gather insights and to work with us to develop new products, services, and designs. We seed hypotheses into the-Collaboratory and then we receive feedback, builds, and even blue-sky ideas in response.


Sterling’s co-creation process involves a number of unique inputs and an open feedback loop with consumers and experts.

Keeping this feedback loop open with consumers is incredibly important and a task that we put a great deal of time and energy into. To this end, DeeDee rounded out her presentation at the Dieline Conference with some design assertions that we’ve heard first-hand from members of the-Collaboratory. What entices consumers? Gets them excited to try a new product? Keeps them coming back for more?  Here are some thoughts, straight from the mouths of members of the-Collaboratory:

Refined Simplicity

“Excess is out. I want understated, clean designs that let the product shine.“

Some examples:


Unico Musk perfume designed by Lavernia and Cienfuegos; Voda Vodka designed by Mass Design; Sifteo Cubes designed by New Deal Design

Global Influence

“I see inspiration from around the globe in everything I do. Packaging should be no different.”

Some examples:


Taiwan Centennial Blessing Tea designed by Bonho Inc.; Brickhouse Soaps designed by The Soap and Paper Factory; Ojon Hair Oil designed by designpackaging


“Hand-crafted packaging and structure is a key indicator of a high quality product…and I’m not one to settle.”

Some examples:


Bar Gelato by Naia, designed by Mette Hornung Rankin of Bureau of Betterment; Wahl’sche Schnapsbirne by Stahlemuhle

Tactile Curiosity

“There’s something about haptic packaging. If it makes me want to touch it, I’ll likely also want to buy it.”

Some examples:


Coop’s Hot Fudge designed by Marc Cooper; Seedbom by Kabloom, handmade in the UK; Ten over Six Unisex Perfumes designed by Henrik Vibskov

Sustainability and Substance

“These days, I want a package that’s more than just green. It needs to stand for something.”

Some examples:


Boxed Water designed by Kevin Hockin and Benjamin Gott; Guactruck Mobile Eatery packaging is designed by Michealle Lee (owner of the truck) and encourages consumers to bring their packaging back in order to receive a free meal; The Replenish cleaner bottle reduces materials usage by 90%, designed by Jason Foster

Display-Worthy Design Objects

“I try to surround myself with beautiful design objects. Why should packaging and structure be any different?”

Some examples:


Evian by Jean Paul Gaultier; 21 Drops designed by Purpose-Built; Lov Organic tea

Mobile Life

“Everything in my life is mobile. I expect packaging to follow suit. I want streamlined, portable options.”

Some examples:


Help Remedies designed by; GoGo Squeez Applesauce designed by Menage a Trios; Loffle Mich designed by Createam

What does this mean for brands?

In today’s environment, brands must do more to surprise and delight consumers. At Sterling, we believe that co-creation is one important way to do this.

As brand practitioners, we must not only listen to consumers, but also engage them in the creation process. We believe that the best packaging of the future, won’t just be designed for the consumer, it will be designed with the consumer.

DeeDee Gordon, President of Innovation at Sterling

Check back in for Full coverage of the concurrent, HOW Design Live Conference from the expert lens of Debbie Millman-Coming Soon!


The Difference Between Research for Strategy and Research for Research

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

At Sterling Brands, all of our strategists are moderators, and so all of our moderators are strategists. We see this as a core point-of-difference and an essential approach for building strong, highly differentiated and actionable brands strategies.


1. Moderators moderate a discussion; strategists pursue a strategy

In research, we are looking for insights that allow us to make an intuitive leap to a really great and differentiated strategy.  This is different than traditional research that looks for answers to a bunch of questions. It’s the difference between finishing the guide and delving deep into the strategic questions.

Only a strategist will use the guide as, well a guide, and let the discussion direct the exploratory.  Strategists understand the business and marketing situation, the company or brand strengths and weaknesses, competitive advantage and landscape, and use it to direct and inspire the discussion.

2. We really get that consumers are not strategists

It is impossible, and not particularly wise, to expect consumers to tell you what to do when it comes to developing your brand strategy.  They can’t really look forward. They can’t really think different. What they say and what they do are often two different things. And consumers simply don’t think in terms of “strategy,” they think in terms of products on the shelf, ads on TV, headlines in magazines.

Our job is to gain insight on what’s really happening in their lives and how they think about the category, and apply it to the strategic discussion; it’s about understanding the consumer and marketplace momentum and then attaching strategy to it. It’s judo (going with it), not karate (going against it). Judo lets us use consumers as consumers. And it works really well since that is what they are very good at.  Karate assumes they can do our job of being a strategist. But we’ve found time and time again, they can’t.

3. Challenging weakly-held beliefs

It’s a tough marketplace these days. With so much clutter, the odds of getting noticed are low.  Your competition is trying as hard as you are to find the “big aha” that will help them break-through, and they are likely doing the same research you are. So it’s important that strategy is driven only by strongly-held beliefs, not lip service or top-of-mind points-of-view.

Any decent moderator in any kind of research will try to get to the “why”. But it’s just not enough to ask a consumer “why”.  It’s our role to challenge consumers – what they say may or may not be a strongly-held belief. This is the only way we’ll get real insights rather than just good answers.

Since “research” is essentially an unnatural act and forced environment for people, what they say or claim may simply not be that true. And even if it’s totally true in the conference room, shop-a-long or home environment, it may not be true in real life.

It is our responsibility to be rigorous, understand how robust their points-of-views, needs, attitudes are.  This takes a disciplined and firm, yet personable approach. If your “gut” says a consumer is handing you a lot of BS, call him/her on it.  It something the consumer after 90 minutes seems to contradict something they said earlier, call him/her on it.  Not in a way that is angry or defensive, but in a way that is curious and clever. To weed out the weakly-held beliefs and get to the strong ones that will help you break-through.

4. Ideas over words

Creating a strategy requires fully understanding the hypotheses that underlie it.  To “validate” a strategy, we strive to deconstruct it into its constituent parts, and test the strength of each one.  We do not believe validating “words”.  We do not want consumers to get caught up in (either positively or negatively) language they will never see (because there is a big difference between communications and strategy).

We talk through ideas.  It’s not – do they like this word or this statement or paragraph? It’s – do they like the idea behind a set of words, or even a conceptual idea?  Is the idea relevant and meaningful? Does it feel different?  We then translate the ideas into a set of actionable words for the use of the marketing organization.

In the world of research, there’s a lot of debate about leading respondents.  Again, that’s the difference between words and ideas. As a strategist, if there’s a great idea dangling out there, throw it out there.  Who cares if it didn’t come up naturally?  If it’s a great idea (or not), talking about it is the only way you’ll learn something. Let’s push this further. Let’s say the team is convinced there is a killer idea out there, but it’s too new or too different for consumers to embrace right away.  So, consumers always say “no” to the idea. We say, push it a little. Help respondents understand it, show how it aligns with their life, encourage them to think “forward” and “different.”  No report will say “consumers LOVED this idea” but your strategy will be much more robust based on the learning.

5. The importance of research within the organization

While we don’t allow consumers to “validate language”, we do recognize that a final strategy does live on paper, in a set of words. And in order for them to embrace and activate a strategy, the words do matter.  So we suggest checking-in with the internal team to understand; do they “get it”? Does it inspire them? Does it tell them what to do, and what not to do? Is it focused enough, clear enough? Are they excited to own it?  The best idea won’t work unless it can be well articulated to the people who have to do something with it.

This is especially important when the strategy will be activated by people other than the marketing team. Say, you are creating a new payment product that will be sold in the bank’s retail environment. If the people in the branches don’t understand and embrace the idea, then they won’t want or be able to sell it.

6. For the love of insight

The best insights come from a strategist who thinks research and positioning are fun. And because it’s fun, the strategist is fully present and aware, engaged and curious.

Only if you are fully present can you hear what people are saying. It’s not enough to just listen. You listen to words, agreements, answers. You hear insights, contradictions, patterns, confusion, enthusiasm. If you are aware, you can gain a more holistic understanding of what’s happening in the research environment:

  • What is body language telling you?
  • What are the intonations in how respondents talk that might give you a more authentic response?
  • How does the energy in your research space indicate consumer attitude?

Research is about human-to-human interaction, not a facilitator and a bunch of people being facilitated. The more engaged you are with them and what they are saying, the more they will open up. The more curious you are, the better you will explore and probe the subject.   Ask her kids’ names at introductions, and use those names when you ask about being a mom or whether this new website is relevant to her family.  Ask him where he wants to go on vacation someday, and bring it up when you talk about dreams and aspirations. Laugh when someone says something funny, be awed when someone says something (they think) is amazing.  Be engaged with them, and they’ll engage with you. Demonstrate that you love what you are doing, and they’ll love it too.

The best people who do research are curious. About people, situations, ideas, thoughts, attitudes, products, categories. Even the most banal categories can be interesting if you really care about gaining rich and juicy insights.  It’s about recapturing your innocence, not being afraid to ask why and how and explain this to me.  It’s about assuming you know nothing, and desperately wanting to learn and understand.

Curiosity might’ve killed the cat, but it saved the strategy.

Sara Schor, EVP, Strategy


Home Improvement Brands Can Bust Through with Forward Facing Trends

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Let’s start with the good news. As a result of the economic downturn, we’re now working with consumers who are ready to work – on their homes that is. While massive remodeling projects are pretty much out the window, consumers are more engaged in smaller, more affordable, do it yourself projects. It’s no longer about sprucing up the façade to aid in a home’s resale value. Homeowners have changed their focus toward important fixes that will protect their investment and save them money, long term. (more…)


Welcome: DeeDee Gordon as Sterling’s New President of Innovation!

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

D.GordonRecognized internationally as a leading consumer insight and trends expert for more than 15 years, DeeDee Gordon has joined Sterling Brands as President of Innovation. (more…)


Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Click to Download

I am delighted to introduce Outlook 2010 – our point of view on what will be important to marketers over the coming 12 months:

• this is not your classic trend report but more a perspective, a “snapshot” in time

• it is based on what we have heard directly from consumers and from experts overlaid by our own thinking

• the perspective covers business, brands, culture and consumers

• some of the themes will be new to you, some of them will be more familiar

• the thrust of this report is driven by two major forces of change:
– a reaction to the recession
– technological advances

• love them or hate them, these two factors dominate our outlook for 2010.

Please enjoy and use the following link for download:

Simon Williams


Heads Up- Cultural Pulse is on the Ball

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

This Friday, as one of our trusty strategists (thanks Doug!) was heading out on an early flight to focus groups, he happened to catch a live segment being done by the Today Show on the rapidly successful service called Groupon.

Back in September, Sterling Brands released our annual Cultural Pulse, highlighting the hottest cultural trends for the upcoming year and (more…)