What is real Marketing Research today? One example…

According to a long-winded definition from www.businessdictionary.com, Marketing Research is…

“Scientific discovery methods applied to marketing decision making. It generally comprises of:

(1) Market research: identification of a specific market and measurement of its size and other characteristics.

(2) Product research: identification of a need or want and the characteristic of the good or service that will satisfy it.

(3) Consumer research: identification of the preferences, motivations, and buying behavior of the targeted customer. Information for marketing research is collected from direct observation of the consumers (such as in retail stores), mail surveys, telephone or face-to-face interviews, and from published sources (such as demographic data).

The main objective is to find a real need and fulfill it in a most cost effective and timely manner.

Also called market research.”

So it’s scientific…what does that mean?

And the main objective is to find a real need and fulfill it…OK.

In the last few weeks we’ve had the privilege of watching the real impact of Marketing Research in its purest form…getting off your duff and talking to people.

Through the Starting Lean course offered by the Norman Newman Centre, part of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University, the Canadian Business Model Competition sponsored by Deloitte, and events such as Startup Weekend Halifax and East Coast Startup Week, we’ve seen quite a few established and budding entrepreneurs talk about the value of engaging potential customers, investors, industry leaders and ordinary people in the process of vetting their ideas.

The exciting part is listening to them talk about their failures…especially those that did not stop them, but caused them to react, reconsider and pivot from their original idea to solve a pain point they discovered during the listening process.

Too often we’ve encountered successful companies who, in the face of customer objections, just continue to push on up the hill, only to find when they arrive…it’s the wrong hill.

So what’s missing from the definition above…nothing really, except we forget that part of scientific discovery is that we often find our hypothesis is wrong, so we need to reset our assumptions and repeat the process until we have a verifiable hypothesis.

Oh yes, and we should try and fulfill real needs.  It’s a lot easier than pushing the rope uphill!

Here’s to all those involved in the discovery process…engage, listen and learn!


Where will all tomorrow leaders come from?

To read the popular press, you’d think the future of our young people is pretty bleak…layoffs, part-time jobs, off-shore competition.  Horrible!

But there’s another aspect that doesn’t make the front pages:

Last night I had the privilege of attending the final presentations for a course at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Management called Starting Lean.  Peter Moreira of Entravestor.com has described it better than I can, so please read his article.

Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach took a group of diverse students, including engineers, programmers, business students, arts students, PhDs…and in less than 3 months had them go through the entire process from idea to, in some case, commercialization, along the way doing real-world evaluation with true potential customers and stakeholders (ahem…market research was instrumental).

Not everyone ended up traveling the road on which they started, there were a number of significant pivots along the way, revamping, re-tooling, and generally navigating the messy process many entrepreneurs go through along the way.  But that all part of the learning, a big part of the learning!

In addition to some amazing product/service/ventures, these real-world entrepreneurs blossomed right before their colleagues’ eyes.  Students who were petrified to stand in front of 2 people on September 6th, presented in front of an almost packed auditorium in the Faculty’s Rowe Building.  And they presented professional pitches, complete with live displays, skateboarders and amazing video.

All I can say is, if these are the people who are going to be funding my public healthcare system in the years to come through their tax dollars…I’m going to do everything I can to keep them here and have them develop their dreams in Nova Scotia.  Even if this particular dream doesn’t make it through the brutal process that is real life business development, their next one, or the one after that will be a success.

There’s no quitting when you’ve been schooled by Doctors Kilfoil and Leach!

Are You A Believer?

As qualitative researchers, we’re in the business of making observations. We don’t just observe the research subjects or respondents, though. We also like to observe the observers. In business-to-business research, we’ve noticed a peculiar problem that can creep into the process. Because of B2B’s nature, clients often know their customers directly. So it can be very difficult for them to not personalize the responses they hear during a focus group or customer advisory meeting. The more affinity they feel with the customer, “Bob”, the more likely they’ll accept what he is saying as gospel, even if what Bob says doesn’t reflect what the majority of the group is feeding back. Being a believer can mean you close your eyes to other truths that are being presented to you.

This can happen in consumer projects, too, of course. We see it when “Susan” is a particularly good communicator. And it doesn’t hurt if Susan’s view of the question at hand aligns with the view of the client (or their Agency partners).

Knowing this, it’s worthwhile taking a step back from the responses and opinions shared during this process. First, a trained moderator or facilitator can inject some sober second thought into the findings while developing recommendations. Secondly, as a client, if you find yourself saying, “but Bob said” or “we heard Susan tell us”, consciously take a step back. Think hard about whether any other respondents offered a conflicting opinion. Then consider what the implications are, of those differences.

We’re all for believing what customers are saying – as long as you’re sure you’re hearing all of the messages those customers are sending.

Believing in better research results,

Megann and Steve

Oh, The Stories We Could Tell!

We love that more and more of you are coming to understand the value of storytelling. It is such a great way to get information about your product into the hearts and minds of your customers. Some of the best ads of all time are story-centred ones. Stories break down barriers, and help establish an emotional connection, and help us access shared values. But stories aren’t just good for selling – they’re also powerful tools when you are trying to understand customers and their relationships with products and services.

  • Why do your customers love your product?
  • What are the underlying fears or misconceptions that are keeping prospects from moving forward?
  • How did your client communicate their positive experience so well that it gained you another customer?

Storytelling is a tremendous research tool for understanding emotion. Metaphor allows respondents (prospects, customers, or colleagues) to reveal key details that might be uncomfortable to say out loud. Sometimes they don’t even make cause-and-effect connections themselves, until they’re invited to tell us a story. It helps us take a deep dive into the “why”. Stories can also be used to figure out sequencing (what do we tell you first, so you’ll be convinced?) and semantics (how do we tell the story, exactly, to make it most impactful?)

So the next time you’re asking customers to share their opinions or ideas, ask them to tell you a story. We’re sure you’ll be glad you did.

Looking for the happily ever after,

Megann and Steve

Your Customers Deserve a License to Play

Even when companies insist that they want to know what their customers really think, believe, want, or need, there is often an innate desire to control the conversation. To argue. To defend. To explain. This can get in the way of true, open expression by the respondent (your customer). Combine this with the wish to ensure every question gets answered, every assumption explored, and any possibility accounted for, and soon you have…a survey. We’ve even seen focus groups, designed for open, creative exploration of feelings and ideas, turn into something more like interrogations – with numbered questions, insistent probes, long lists of information to be rated and ranked, and scales for nearly everything. The problem for the customer is that all of that seems like too much work. To be realistic, your customer simply doesn’t work that hard at deciding whether to investigate, like, or purchase your product. So how can you make your research process more like discovering, exploring, or shopping?

One way is to let your customer play. Serious games (games with a purpose) like Innovation Games™ make it possible for customers to have fun, and still answer important questions. Questions like:

  • How should our product evolve over time to give you the newest features you want or need?
  • Are there older features that aren’t important to you anymore, or that you never really used in the first place?
  • What sort of relationships would you like to see between our brand and the brands of others?
  • How do you want to interact with our company?
  • Do you feel like we really understand you?
  • What other products do you want to use in combination with our product?
  • Can you show us why the features of your ideal solution are important to you?
  • If we can’t give you everything you need right away, what should we give you first?
  • Do you use our product in ways we didn’t expect?
  • Is there something we’re doing that makes it difficult to use our product or service, instead of easy?

The reason games work is that they’re not work! They make the process of finding the answers to big (and small) questions more fun and engaging – for your customer, but also for you. Humans are naturally programmed to lean toward fun over work, so building entertainment into your research process is a proven method to getting excellent results.

Game on!

Megann and Steve

Distilling the Meaning for Better Research

This week, we’re in the midst of planning for our annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner. But Last week we attended a full-house meeting of the OPMA, where Hélène Moore gave a high-energy talk on new perspectives in brand strategizing. Professor Moore also pointed out that the days of the 200-slide research deck are over. How can you avoid having your Research partner show up with one of those yawn-inducing behemoths? Since we have research and St. Patrick’s Day on our mind, we thought a triple-distilled Irish Whiskey might yield some clues…

Choose the Recipe Carefully

Every great Irish whiskey starts off with a closely guarded recipe. Like this, your team can begin with clear, well-formulated set of research objectives. Invest in a great presentation at the outset – by making sure everyone who will be contributing to the process and receiving the results buys in to the objectives, right at the start. Beer and whiskey can’t come out of the same cask at the same time, no matter how hard you try.

Don’t Pollute the Batch with Excess “Fixings”

“Add-on-itis” can happen when there’s a legacy questionnaire (think tracking study) that has been around for so long, no one remembers why some of the questions were asked in the first place. Yet, fearful of missing something important, no one wants to pull the plug on outdated lines of exploration. After you’ve taken time to select a recipe, beware of someone sneaking extra fixings into the mash. Be a ruthless editor – cut everything that doesn’t contribute to the objectives of the research, and if someone wants to keep something that doesn’t fit, ask them to justify how it does.

Distillation Takes Time

There’s plenty of information out there to be had in the public domain. We’re so used to simply plugging in search terms and coming up with quick answers, that it’s easy to forget that just because the results are in, doesn’t mean the answer is ready. But if the information you need is precise enough that you need to ask the source directly, don’t settle for data. Look for meaning. A great research partner will sort through those 200 slides and distill the meaning. Jameson’s, that great Irish Whiskey, is triple-distilled for a reason – because taking time yields a better result.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day,

Megann and Steve

Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Clear Customer Feedback

Have you ever acted on customer feedback, delivering exactly what they wanted, only to have them reject your new offering? We’ve frequently heard this scenario touted as the rationale for not doing market research. Or, expressed as a headline: “Why Focus Groups Don’t Work”. Or better yet, “Customers Don’t Know What They Want.”

In our observation, the problem is usually more complex than that. When we’re called in by clients to look at why their strategy isn’t working, even if they believed they were delivering exactly what the customer requested, miscommunication is frequently at the heart of the problem. It’s not that the client didn’t ask customers what they wanted. It’s also not that the customer couldn’t or didn’t express their needs. They did. But we find that what the customers said is not always what the client heard. (We can see you asking yourself, “What?! Where are they going with this?”)

Between the sending and receiving of information, encoding occurs. Semantics, semiotics, and filters impact the messages in both directions. This can result in a distorted signal. Successful companies employ a process of repetitive feedback specifically to remove this distortion. Each time the customer speaks, these organizations repeat back, “This is what I heard you ask for”, in their own words. Then they take time to listen, and adjust accordingly. We like to think of this continuous feedback process as a brand’s own sort of noise-cancelling headphones. It lets them confirm, correct, and ultimately deliver what the customer wants, based on a clear, undistorted signal.

We’re listening,

Megann and Steve