By Tom Dougherty
The Importance of Meaningful and Usable Research
At Stealing Share we always conduct research before building a brand and marketing strategy for our clients, who have hired us to grow their market share. Sometimes, the conversation as to why we insist on research goes something like this:
Our Client: “We just finished an intensive (and expensive) usage and attitudinal study and conducted focus groups in four locations. So… we don’t need to do research. We already have it.”
Our Strategist: ”Never confuse purpose with process. We are not in the habit of wasting your time and money. The research we conduct is so different from what you have already commissioned that it is as if we are suggesting that you form an expedition to climb Mt Everest and you were to reply: “No need to do that, we went for a nice brisk walk this morning.”
The process might be the same but the ultimate purpose, goal, and resulting accomplishment are so different that they should never be grouped together. If the goal of your organization is to grow your market share and to take your competition’s loyal customers and transform them into your own loyalists, you then need more than simply reliable information. You NEED actionable knowledge — not reams of data and answers to questions to which you and your competitors already know intimately.
Successful marketing in today’s world is a sublime mixture of old school marketing understanding (still taught at universities throughout the world) and anthropology. To win, it is not enough to know how the market uses your product (and services) and why. This information is not knowledge — it is simply facts taken out of context and the context from which it was wrenched is the life and belief systems that guide the decisions of your most coveted customer base.
Typical Research Leads to Typical Results
The research we often find collecting dust in our client’s larder is rarely actionable. It usually measures awareness (both unaided and aided), and asks the respondents to parrot back to us the “reasons” that they chose their preferred brand. It sounds great on the surface but there is a fundamental flaw in this approach to research. It assumes that the customer KNOWS why they chose the brand they use.
Plainly speaking — they usually have no idea why they have a preference and will make up rational reasons to explain emotional attractions. The very nature of a research questionnaire pre-conditions the respondent to answer rational queries with rational answers. If you value this sort of “knowledge”, save yourself the cash and simply make your product better. But, does the best product usually win? Could Pepsi take Coke’s market dominance by making their soft drink better? What would happen if Pepsi suddenly decided to remove corn syrup from its soft drinks and replace it with cane sugar? Would all the Coke aficionados suddenly switch to Pepsi? Hardly. The best outcome Pepsi could hope for would be a slight bump in sales, a huge swell in PR and a category reaction from Coke simply following suite and embracing cane sugar too.
Don’t Conduct Research Before Speaking With Us
The kind of market intelligence that changes the game and alters market leadership is difficult to get. The work that goes into the creation of the study takes as long to create, as the study requires fielding it. What is of crucial importance is not the answers that you gain but the validity of the questions you ask. In business, we all know that the profit and loss is determined at the time the contracts are signed. It is difficult, if not impossible, to increase your profits after the fact. Projectable Research is very much like that. If the questions you ask are not correct and telling, no manner of cross tabulation will bring any benefit. What do you really need to learn from your research? We have a few suggestions:
- What emotional underpinning drives your category?
- What triggers cause loyal customers to switch brands?
- In evaluating their lives, what precepts (beliefs) motivate the choices that your prospects/customers make?
- What has the highest emotional intensity in the category?
- What does the prospect/traveler aspire to become?
Gaining value from these questions will never come from asking them outright. The fact is that when asked as open-ended questions you will get back “pat” rational answers that provide no insight into the switching triggers or belief systems. Ask a mutual fund customer why they chose the fund in which they invested and they will say “returns.” Ask them what might make them switch and they will say “better returns.” If this were the truth in the category, then the most profitable and largest mutual funds would be those with highest returns. Ask a bank customer why they chose the bank they use and they will tell you “fees, friendly service and location.” Ask them what would lead them to switch and they will say “fees, friendly service and location.” Ask a beer drinker why he chooses the brand of beer they drink and they will say, “I like the taste.” Ask them what might make them switch and they will tell you “great taste and price.”
Make Your Projectable Research Work
Before Resultant Research, (the Stealing Share research arm), ever goes into the field, we model the market and hypothesize the answers to these and many more questions that lead to preference and margins. Then we ask a series of questions that measure the level of agreement with hypothetical statements and then we measure the level of importance. What you end up with is a research study that is projectable in its strategic findings. You will know why the category REALLY prefers the market leader and what your brand can mean that prompts the category to change loyalties. If this is the sort of information you seek, give us a call and we will start you down the narrow and unforgiving road to market dominance. However, if all you seek is awareness levels and pat answers, we can recommend many legitimate and respected companies to help you continue down the research superhighway.