Or so the old quip goes. And it’s true. Without the right market research, you can’t position, segment, develop products, or efficiently go to market. Done poorly, research can be a waste of time and money. Done well, research can provide the foundation for achieving marketing glory.
Based on market research, T-Mobile just announced a low-price plan for people 55 and older that includes unlimited talk, text, AND data. T-Mobile is under-indexing in this segment, which generally uses much less data than other groups. This is a huge growth opportunity for a carrier looking to move up from third place. Since folks in this segment aren’t particularly big users of data, the downside to T-Mo is minimal.
Another example: One of the most successful campaigns in recent memory was guided by quality research. Old Spice was losing ground in the men’s body wash segment. Research revealed more than half of men’s body wash purchases were made by women, so Old Spice devised a message targeted at the ladies. The result was a brilliantly crafted and executed campaign which far exceeded expectations.
Thank you, research!
Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned in my career about successful research
1. Begin with the end in mind
Ask yourself: “What do I want to accomplish through the research? What decisions do I want to inform based on the findings?” Research for the sake of research is a waste. That’s not to say some unexpected nuggets don’t come out of research efforts, but you must know beforehand what the problem is that you wish the research to solve. Do you want to know why you’re losing share? Or perhaps you want to increase your understanding of the market – you should, by the way.
In other words, what specific decisions (such as product design, developing or refining positioning, creating a media strategy, etc.) are relying on the results? If you can’t answer with specifics, you shouldn’t be conducting research. In the case of Old Spice, understanding purchase behavior and the new target audience (women) allowed them to develop a successful campaign.
2. Leave it to the professionals
Seriously. Even if you think you understand esoterica like the Markov Decision Process. You may think you’re saving money. You’re not. I’ve seen this first-hand time and again. Refining the goal, crafting the approach based on past experience, and interpreting the results are best left to the pros. Otherwise, at best you risk not obtaining representative or statistically significant results; at worst, you’re getting misleading or incomplete data which can end poorly for you.
"Research isn’t cheap, but doing it wrong is expensive. Think of it as an investment."
3. Qualitative is as important as quantitative
With all the hubbub about big data and how it’s come to save us all, hearing from a representative, unbiased, and relevant group of people can confirm your findings, open up a new line of inquiry, or uncover new opportunities that can’t be teased out of mere numbers.
4. In focus groups, the moderator is key
Speaking of qualitative, let’s talk focus groups. There are two key success factors: 1) ensuring you have the right group of people to obtain the specific information you’re seeking, and 2) picking a competent moderator. Insist on interviewing the moderator beforehand. Get a sense of their approach. Take the time to ensure they have a very good understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, the industry or marketplace, and the people you want to reach. In general, a great moderator should serve several functions:
Keeping the discussion on track. People wander off topic. Sometimes this might be a good thing, exploring unanticipated avenues. Sometimes it’s just Chatty Charlie. A good moderator can sense the room and proceed accordingly.
Ensuring bias doesn’t set in. Group dynamics dictates that one person is going to try to dominate the discussion and sway people to his or her way of thinking. That’s not why you’re eating Chinese food at eight p.m. in a darkened room. A good moderator will ensure that everyone contributes and feels comfortable voicing their opinions.
Understanding when to deviate from the guide. Pursuing a certain comment or reaction might lead to those unanticipated insights discussed earlier. This requires a moderator who can deviate from the guidebook and probe areas that may be important but weren’t part of the plan. Some moderators will excuse themselves from the focus group to briefly consult with you about new areas of exploration.
5. Correlation is not causation
You’ve done the research. Parsed the results. Now what?
You should filter what you’ve discovered through deep prior experience. If you can, conduct mini market tests to validate any approaches or strategy changes resulting from the research. Don’t just blindly trust the data. Did you know that deaths by drowning are directly correlated to the release of films starring Nicholas Cage? Based on this data, I beg you to please avoid the water when one of his movies premiers. You can find more hilarious examples of correlation unconnected with causation with a simple internet search.
On the other hand, if you’re conducting CYA research (shame on you), then you ignore the results at your own peril. Quick story: I once had a client who spent lots of money pursuing a product strategy which deviated from industry trends (so far, so good – a flanking strategy can be a good thing.) After a year of product development and just weeks from the campaign launch, they decided to hold some focus groups with customers. The reaction from the target market was universally negative. The client proceeded anyway. The product failed.
There you have it – what I’ve learned from reviewing countless first cuts, spreadsheets, verbatims, etc. Conducting salient research is crucial to success. Conducting incomplete or ill-conceived research can lead to disaster. A final example: Research showed people preferred the New Coke taste over the original and over Pepsi. Research failed to ask the same group how they’d feel if classic Coke went away. You know the rest.
I’d like to hear your tips on successful market research in the comments section.