Monday, October 17, 2011

To Research Or Not To Research?


P&G researchers study customers where the action truly is (courtesy of Science in the Box)

Marketing research is a huge cannon in any marketer's arsenal. Or is it?

The weapons of choice? Street surveys, focus group discussions, straw polls, online surveys, telephone interviews, and behavioural observations. Supplement these with secondary (desktop) research findings published by research houses and voila!, you'll have the makings of a great marketing strategy.

Consider this.  Apple, the much vaunted global brand founded by Steve Jobs (R.I.P.), doesn't conduct focus groups prior to launching its new products.  Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile, has also famously said that “if I gave people what they said they wanted, I would have made a faster horse”.

Often, the wellsprings of innovation, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking isn't found in consumer research. Asking people what they want may end up becoming a disappointing exercise of having "more-of-the-same" ideas being tossed about.

Should one then ignore one's customers completely and trust in the guts of one's CEO?

On the flip side, P&G, one of the most sophisticated consumer research oriented firm in the world, employs an effective way of tapping their customers to drive innovation.

The huge FMCG company conducts what is known as ethnographic research, whereby researchers actually live with their customers "to observe how they live their everyday lives and to identify customers’ needs first hand". They also adopt a whole range of consumer studies using both online and offline channels.

So what should we do then?

First, you need to have a clear understanding of what you need to find out. What do you know or not know about your customers and their behavioural patterns? Which bits of information are more critical to decision making than others?

Next, be aware that there is an entire barrage of marketing research methods and means out there. These can be as simple as asking a few questions to observing and tracking customer's visual pathways and actual responses in real-life buying situations. Adopt the 80/20 rule here and focus on the few techniques likely to yield the best outcomes.

Be mindful that most ordinary consumers aren't going to proffer cutting edge insights in an artificial environment. Instead of asking them how you should do your job, find out what makes them tick and draw inferences from them.

How do they typically spend their weekends, for example? What draws them towards a product lying on the shelf - its brand name, colour, physical location, price? Even better if you can spend a day with them like how P&G does.

Don't be so obsessed with the means that you forget about the ends. One can be lulled into a endless trap of analysis-paralysis, continuing to probe, enquire, ask, confirm and "double confirm" with benchmarks and research before taking action.

Remember that timeliness can is next to Godliness, especially in today's markets!

Finally, don't forget to use a whole lot of common sense (or maybe uncommon sense?) when interpreting one's results.  Data alone isn't meaningful until its digested, interpreted and translated into clear and actionable strategies.  Consider how the information is gleaned and think about the context of your own organisation and how it operates.

Are you a fan or foe of marketing research? 
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