Remember the old quote “Seek and ye shall find”, the age old advice that dates back to the Book of Proverbs (estimated to have been written sometime around 700 BC according to the Interwebs)? It’s a sage lesson that still holds true to this day…. Especially when it comes to marketing your business.
So, if the idea of seeking information in order to gain a better understanding as a first step is that well-established, why do so many business leaders (even really smart and successful ones) still struggle with the idea of marketing research? And an even bigger question; why do so few companies use this tactic to decipher how to REALLY drive ROI? As someone that has been in the marketing space for more than 20 years, I have a number of theories and one theme remains the same – most thoughts around marketing research are myths - myths that are working to hurt vs. help a number of brands.
Let’s dissect the truth from reality so that you can learn how to use a variety of research approaches to better connect with your customers and stop wasting money on ideas that won’t work.
For many, the stereotype is the reality. That research is painstakingly conducted by PhDs, usually with white laboratory coats, usually with pocket protectors crammed into said laboratory coats, usually in a state-of-the-art compound that may or may not be underground and require a retinal scanner and latex-gloved full-body cavity search for admittance. Media portrayals of research don’t help and are usually not based in reality.
The truth: Research is broad and there are many permutations/varieties. Are there some tools and techniques that are highly advanced and require specialized expertise? Yes, but there are others that are more accessible and can be done without an MIT rocket science pedigree.
Examples: Broaden your view of research. If it sounds like something that will take a long time and require a full process laid out in a PowerPoint diagram to end all PowerPoint diagrams, it probably will never get off the to-do list. So, it really depends on how you define research. I remember one executive whose products were sold at convenience stores. He liked to just park in the morning at different convenience stores and watch the customers doing their thing. Who was buying his stuff? What else were they buying with it? What kind of vehicles did they drive? Who was with them? How old were they? Did they have kids?
He learned a lot, yet he never wore a lab coat and never carried a clipboard. Is that research or is that just a seasoned guy who took the time because he cared? Doesn’t matter. Point is what he observed helped influence his business decisions, especially since he himself was not the customer—a fundamental point missed by so many well-intentioned brand leaders who rather myopically assume everyone has their same tastes and preferences.
The truth: Same as #1. Are some types of research expensive? Yes. So are some types of cars. Just because you can’t afford the Maserati doesn’t mean you give up owning a car altogether, does it? There are some types of research that are free or relatively low cost. Granted, the term “relatively” varies based on the business – what is relative to a brand manager at Coors differs from what is relative to a brand leader at Shiner (shameless plug – I love Shiner). Plus, many brands/businesses have research as a standing annual budget item – an ongoing business expense much like book-keeping. Or coffee in the break room. Or computers. If you set something aside for continuous education/training of your staff (whether from your own training department or through conferences, industry events, etc.), then, by all means, set some funds aside for continuous education into your customer.
Examples: Adding a few questions to an omnibus study (a tool where several brands share the cost of a survey) is fairly affordable. Other ideas can include; putting together a survey distributed to your customer email database, conducting a roundtable with some of your sales reps/frontline staff who hear customer comments—good and bad—all the time, or digging into your social media followers to learn more about them. When budgets are tight, there are a variety of ways to increase your knowledge without vastly decreasing your marketing budget.
The Truth: The reality is that businesses, and customers, change often! Similar to when you need help lifting a heavy object, an outside perspective on what your company needs in order to drive marketing ROI and sales should be considered as a resource, not a luxury that isn’t needed. Research is not some accusation that you or your team members don’t know what they’re doing; It’s actually a way of helicoptering above the day-to-day and remembering that you inherently view things through a different lens because of the very fact that you live and breathe your company’s brand every day. Your target customer does not.
Examples: We worked with a good-sized bricks-and-mortar retail brand that had some new program ideas to increase customer convenience and loyalty. Over the course of a fairly straightforward qualitative study, consumers pointed out a number of flaws in the working concepts for the program and provided some extra feedback about the brand overall. Not to exaggerate, but a relatively low investment in research helped that company avoid a new product offering that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars… and been a complete disaster.
The Truth: Marketing research success is all about managing expectations and being able to execute on the findings. Will every single Facebook ad or public relations campaign result in an exponential revenue increase? No. But that doesn’t mean you swear off that tactic for time eternal. Try different things. Learn. Adjust. Keep after it!
Examples: I remember presenting once to an organization that had hired us for a study. We concluded the presentation with a list of 13 implications and courses of action. After the presentation was done, one of the board members asked what they should do next. I wasn’t sure if they blacked out during the last 10 minutes or what. The bottom line is that if you are going to invest in marketing research of any kind, you have to go into it with an open mind and a willingness to absorb the advice of what consumers are saying about your brand. If you are not clear on what the next steps are, work with your internal team, and your marketing research consultant to put a plan into place. And make a commitment to act on it.
The reality is that marketing a business is hard. We get that! But, if you can use a research and insights program—large or small-scale - you’ll be better positioned to avoid bad business decisions that can lead to a loss of resources and profits.
Steve Bast is the president of Nucleus Marketing Lab and heads up all in-depth research projects for Rainmaker Integrated. With more than 20 years of marketing experience, Steve has led marketing and research campaigns for a number of notable companies including; Cold Stone Creamery, the Arizona Humane Society, Xanterra Travel Collection, Mark-Taylor, Honeywell, DMB, Bashas, The Little Gym & Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. Steve enjoys reading interesting biographies, classic rock cover bands, coaching youth sports, noshing on the occasional box of Milk Duds and trying to learn piano.