Demystifying Your Market with Zero-Party Data

Underutilized data-collection methods can help businesses gather powerful consumer insight.

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From a brand’s perspective, understanding consumer preferences and behaviors is paramount. Market researchers hold the key to unlocking these mysteries through “zero-party” data, the most intimate, yet least understood and utilized, of four primary data categories. (The other three are first-party, second-party, and third-party.) Using powerful tools like focus groups and surveys to open a window into the minds of consumers, brands can gain the strategic advantage needed to tailor product offerings, refine marketing messages, and streamline sales processes.

Brands that can decode the wants, needs, and preferences of their target audience are poised for success. In this endeavor, focus groups and surveys can be invaluable for delving beyond mere demographics and uncovering the psychographic factors that drive consumer behavior. The methodologies provide a platform for consumers to articulate their thoughts, feelings, and preferences openly, paving the way for more precise decision-making.


In a recent survey of 1,229 cannabis consumers across eleven states, only 49 percent were shopping exclusively for themselves. This finding led to the concept “invisible customer”: a customer who is hidden from the demographic data collection at the point of sale (POS) because someone else makes the purchase. This is a crucial buying pattern for brands to note, especially those that heavily rely on POS data to make big decisions. Zero-party data uncovered by focus groups and surveys can reveal invisible customers and help marketers expand their efforts to reach a broader audience.

Focus groups bring consumers together in a controlled environment, allowing for real-time discussions that yield rich insights. A well-structured focus group taps into the collective wisdom of its participants, generating discussions that reveal hidden desires and unmet needs. This is especially important when developing products and promotions to win over canna-curious users who have limited or no experience with the plant. A 2021 study consisting of 5,000 participants in three northeastern states found 31–46 percent fell into this group, suggesting brands have an opportunity to create products and messaging that resonate with consumers who are just starting their journey, potentially influencing their buying behaviors for years to come.

Surveys, on the other hand, offer a quantitative approach to understanding consumer preferences. By collecting data from a large sample, brands can identify trends, patterns, and correlations that might be overlooked in smaller qualitative studies. Surveys also provide a cost-effective means of gathering data from a diverse range of consumers, allowing for a comprehensive analysis of market segments. Brands can fine-tune their marketing messaging based on survey responses, creating targeted campaigns that resonate with specific consumer groups.

In order to optimize findings, surveys may be paired with smaller, qualitative studies to unlock trends and patterns along with intricate insights. One takeaway for future research from the “invisible customer” study, for example, stems from the demographic makeup of those making decisions about which products to purchase. While 61 percent of men said they made the decision unilaterally, only 42 percent of women said the same. Drilling down into the context surrounding these decisions via qualitative research can teach brands how to connect with different consumer groups. Understanding the “why” behind the answers is invaluable.

A challenge brands often encounter is determining the appropriate methodology to extract the insights they seek. In controversial or stigmatized categories like cannabis, focus groups may not encompass the perspectives of the entire target audience, as people tend to be hesitant to discuss such subjects openly. Virtual in-depth interviews (IDIs) or phone IDIs, on the other hand, can yield more comprehensive responses, especially from participants who might otherwise remain reserved about their consumption.

Similarly, it’s common for brands to conduct product testing exclusively among their employees and friends. However, this approach also is likely to introduce bias into the results. An alternative is to obtain a large, random sample that can lead to more trustworthy results and better represent the targeted consumers. Brands across all product categories must understand the significance of the chosen methodology and how to determine the sample for data collection.

Armed with insights from market research, brands can make informed decisions that drive business growth. Product offerings can be tailored to address specific consumer preferences, leading to increased customer loyalty and brand recognition. Marketing strategies can be refined to align with consumer values and desires, enhancing engagement and conversion rates.

Moreover, the insights gleaned from these methodologies have a ripple effect across the entire value chain. Manufacturers can optimize production based on consumer preferences, distributors can align inventory with market trends, and retailers can create curated shopping experiences that cater to different consumer segments. It’s not uncommon for businesses to completely change the way they approach product optimization, promotion, and education for consumers after uncovering new, unanticipated insights throughout a series of studies.

Headshot - Square - Lara Lara Fordis, founder of Fordis Consulting, is a market-research expert and consultant specializing in consumer insights and data-driven decision-making. With more than twenty years of experience, Lara excels in designing and executing cost-effective solutions that enhance various aspects of business from product development to marketing and brand optimization.