Since childhood, Christine Mansour has been fascinated with uncovering why people do the things they do. High school psychology classes inspired her to major in the subject at Harvard, where she minored in economics, forming the basis for a career in behavioral economics, which is all about understanding consumer behaviors and preferences. Similarly, Kelly Schiabor Barrett harbored an innate ardor for problem-solving as well as figuring out why people make certain decisions. She worked in a neuroeconomics lab while earning dual degrees in biology and economics at Duke, before getting her PhD in molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley. The latter was the foundation for her knowledge of how peoples’ senses influence their choices.
The aforementioned duo’s shared interests and educational backgrounds led their paths to cross in 2015, when they pooled their efforts under the employ of Ballast Point Brewing. Barrett worked in the QA lab, decoding the molecular profiles of beer fermentations to learn how consumers perceive and respond to flavor molecules, and Mansour took that data back to the marketing department to devise business strategies accordingly. After impressive early results, the company tasked the duo with determining a method for gathering customer feedback for a beer in the research-and-development stage, which Ballast Point had marked for main production and national distribution.
This assignment birthed the Consumer Preference Program (CPP), which used lab data to collect consumer feedback at Ballast Point tasting rooms. CPP then became the centralized platform from which to disseminate thousands of consumer data points to a multi-departmental team hailing from the Marketing, Sales, Quality, Production and Retail departments, where they could shape their efforts to best reach and satisfy existing and future customers. CPP grew from there, being used for multiple beers and associated strategies. Along the way, Ballast Point appointed “gurus” from their retail arm to spearhead consumer engagement efforts nationwide, thus growing the program and raising the value of the data collected.
While refining CPP, Barrett and Mansour noticed that the data and insights they were collecting, as well as the trends they were identifying, closely matched those of market research agencies. Such businesses typically charge inordinate amounts of money that are far outside the price range of most brewing companies. Ditto wineries, distilleries, coffee companies, and other consumable-based businesses. They realized that, especially in the current crowded marketplace, such insights—learning exactly who liked or disliked certain beers and why for the purpose of consumer-targeting—have never been more valuable, yet more out of reach.
Though appreciative of the opportunities provided to them by Ballast Point, with a plethora of potential customers right in their backyard—and no shortage nationwide or beyond—they decided to stake out on their own and found Taste Endeavors, a mobile and customizable taste-testing platform geared to help companies understand their current and future customers in an engaging and cost-effective manner.
“Taste Endeavors captures the essence of craft, which is the sensory experience, and the goal of our experiential market-research company is to quantify this sensory experience in such a way that it helps inform smarter decision-making across our client companies,” explains Mansour. “No one else is systematically capturing this sensory data, and this database can be linked to other traditional data sources to tell a more powerful story. It’s also a great platform for educating consumers, while allowing them to be valued voices for the companies they are fans of.”
Taste Endeavor’s primary tools for insight reconnaissance are mobile (i.e., smartphone-based), interactive surveys focusing on succinct subjects such as individual beers and beer styles or, in the case of other types of businesses, wines, varietals, spirits, menu items, etc. Barrett and Mansour work directly with a company’s staff as they select a test subject beverage, then help them fine-tune custom taste test surveys with engaging questions that make the process of responding to the surveys easily understandable, fun, and as meaningful for both the respondent and the end user as possible. The mobile nature of the platform means customers can complete surveys while sipping said beer from anywhere, be it a brewery, brewpub, tasting room, or retail account.
Once a survey period ends, Barrett and Mansour analyze the data and, just as they did at Ballast Point, work together to develop actionable recommendations for a company’s R&D and marketing efforts.
Taste Endeavors also works with professional groups, guilds, and qualified personnel to capture sensory feedback from trained palates. This helps make the survey process helpful and educational for consumers from a palate-training perspective, creating added value. Additionally, Barrett and Mansour help their clients to develop marketing language that effectively speaks to the sensory-based aspects of the beers so that consumers know what they’re getting and why a certain beverage will appeal to them.
“Taste Endeavors is essentially the ‘craft’ equivalent of big market-research firms like Nielsen, IRI and Kantar. We are the accessible alternative to big agencies—we’re scrappy, efficient, and more economically feasible,” says Mansour. “Successful companies with a loyal fan base make their customers feel special and appreciated, and our platform is a key to unlocking this connection.”