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Insights Into Industry Gatekeepers

Insights into Industry Gatekeepers

Anne Brown

Senior Qualitative Strategist, Lead Cannabis Consultant

Elevated Insights

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 719-590-9999



As experts in consumer insights, our go-to approach is to survey consumers – the goal being to understand their mindset/behaviors so we can persuade them to purchase our client’s product or service.  But it’s not always that simple.

Getting to know the Gatekeepers:  

We’ve learned over time that the purchase decision is often layered, with certain ‘gatekeepers’ – players other than the end user – strongly influencing purchase decisions. This is true in many categories.

  1. Liquor
  2. In an earlier edition of this blog, my colleague Cailee Osterman, Director of Qualitative Operations at Elevated Insights, discussed techniques for gaining insights in alcohol beverages.  Cailee touched on the role of the bartender in providing an expert’s perspective on their patrons, as well as the value of soliciting their professional feedback on new product offerings.

    We know that bartenders can make or break a product introduction.

Bartenders may influence which bottle lands in the middle of the back bar, and they often decide whether that bottle gets mixed in a new specialty cocktail that becomes the talk of the town.  In the case of Tuaca, once a sleeper Italian liqueur, bartenders in three dispersed and diss imilar US markets (Wichita, Baltimore and Denver) were organically drawn to the sweet and spicy citrus-vanilla brandy as a post-shift shot.  They started sharing it with customers they knew were interested in something under-the-radar, and soon Tuaca was growing in popularity, share-of-shots and of course revenues.  A brand essentially built by bartenders.

2. Cannabis

  1. Elevated Insights is proudly based in Colorado, one of the first U.S. states to legalize both medical and adult-use retail marijuana sales. Naturally, we’re fascinated by the developing consumer market. In fact, our team is in the process of codifying best practices for consumer testing of cannabis products, as public use of products containing the psychoactive ingredient THC are restricted.In exploring the category, it soon became apparent that budtenders are the gatekeepers in cannabis, even more so than bartenders in liquor.  This is because new buyers in the legal market have never actually ‘shopped’ the category – in the traditional sense of discerning among competitive products.  How do they choose? Joe Hodas, COO of General Cannabis, tells us that his experience in the industry and within dispensaries suggests that about 80% (that’s right, eighty percent) of retail cannabis purchase decisions can be directly attributed to a budtender’s recommendation.

    “80% of retail cannabis purchase decisions can be directly attributed to a budtender’s recommendation.”

    3. Children’s breakfast food

  1. Gatekeepers aren’t always older and wiser; sometimes they’re little people with big opinions. I recently led a research project to guide development of a new children’s breakfast food. We spent a week in suburban Connecticut, observing families wake up, prepare and eat breakfast, and otherwise get ready for the school day.  We quickly learned that while moms do the grocery shopping, kids have veto power. 
  2. In the case of this breakfast food, moms loved the blend of substantial ingredients from across three nutritious food groups, but kids rejected the mouth-feel of the mixture – suggesting product reformulation was essential.  (Back to the  test kitchen we go!)  In essence, elementary school-aged kids are the gatekeepers of the breakfast food purchase decision, so the product – as well as packaging and brand communications – must please both moms and kids.

4. OTC meds

Let’s switch gears completely and talk about – if you’ll excuse me – over-the-counter laxatives. OTC meds are purchased directly by the patient, without a doctor’s prescription.  But the shelf is crowded with confusing options and the stakes are high (constipation is a physically and psychologically uncomfortable – even painful – condition).  So how does one decide?

Online focus groups among OTC laxative users, as well as video one-on-one interviews among HCPs (health care professionals), helped us understand the importance of a doctor’s recommendation in helping first-time sufferers navigate this category.  We came to understand that nearly all of these doctors recommended the same first-line treatment, an OTC laxative they learned about from mentors during residency, and have trusted ever since.  In this case, the gatekeepers for OTC laxatives are General Practitioners – interestingly, even more so than Gastroenterologists, who see more serious cases requiring bigger guns than OTC.

An interesting nuance of note:  We’ve explored the doctor-patient dynamic across many categories, and hear lots of patients (especially younger, relatively  healthier ones) say they take their doctor’s recommendations for both OTC and Rx meds with a grain of salt.  This is because they assume that doctors’ endorsements are influenced by their relationships with Big Pharma.  Recently, a focus group nodded along in agreement as one respondent noted, ‘I see those pharmaceutical reps walking into the office with their trays of Starbucks … ’  So don’t underestimate the patient as final decision maker, even if their HCP has input along the way.

Gaining insights from Gatekeepers

How to learn from the gatekeepers?  At Elevated Insights, we typically begin our research with the end user, exploring all steps of the decision-making process in-depth via online diaries, focus groups, ethnographies and/or shop-alongs (whether virtual or live).  Understanding and mapping the journey helps us identify any gatekeepers along the way.

Our next step is to understand the gatekeeper’s point of view. Interviews and groups are a trusted methodology for understanding the lay of the land, ideally augmented by in-the-moment techniques including diaries, field intercepts and observations (there’s nothing better than witnessing the end-user/gatekeeper dynamic directly).

One highly effective approach we developed for a premium cosmetics client: a set of custom, mobile-friendly activities for the sales team to complete during their shifts, between customer contacts.

Getting Started

  • Who’s behind the purchase decision in your category?
  • Is it only the end user, or is it more complicated than that?
  • Is there a gatekeeper who defines the considered set, or perhaps exercises veto power?

I’m keen to help you think this through, and craft a custom methodology to gain insights from all relevant influencers.

Give me a call, and we’ll get right to work!

Anne Brown

Senior Qualitative Strategist
Email: [email protected]
Phone (719) 590-9999

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