The Blogfather delves deep and dissects all that makes up that first crucial stage in any marketing approach: Research.
Research. Marketing’s long-lost, outcast cousin. Truth is, there’s not enough research going on in marketing. Why is that?
There’s a few factors. The rise in short-termism is one. Research is often perceived as something that takes time. A recent survey by the IPA and ISBA revealed that three-quarters of marketers prioritise short-term tactics over long-term strategy. That’s a trend at odds with two of the industry’s finest minds and research practitioners, Binet and Field, and their recent piece, ‘Media in Focus: Marketing effectiveness in the digital era’.
The squeeze on budgets is no doubt another factor; it’s just not seen as mission critical, especially with the lure of perceived low hanging fruit of short-term activations. Also, there is a general perception that research often simply ends up telling you things that you already knew, so what’s the point?
If you have invested in research and ended up asking yourself that, then it is not the discipline of research that is the problem, it was your approach to it.
Yet before we even begin talking research, you need to empty your mind of everything. Probably easier for some than others. Mentally shake out your neuro limbs of all their assumptions and pre-conceptions.
Our starting point is humility. This may not go hand-in-hand with your typical C-Suite type, but you need to assume you know nothing, as invariably, this is probably true.
The first thing we are going to soak back into the old grey matter is this from Mark Ritson:
“The first rule of marketing is that you are not the market. All your thoughts, feelings and immediate responses to things like advertising, price and packaging are not just incorrect – they are dangerous.”
Yet before we even begin talking research, you need to empty your mind of everything. Probably easier for some than others.
You need to become market-orientated; that is to separate your own biases, thoughts and views from those of who the real consumer is.
Once that is done, where to now? Start with secondary research. ‘Secondary, first? You craaaazy!’ you may be thinking, but hear me out.
You can find secondary research in data that already exists, be it via good old Google, social media, articles already published etc. It is a good starting point as it can be accessed immediately, it’s free (pretty much), there is no risk in having a dabble, and it is great for the initial scoping process.
Yet of course, this can only get you so far. Secondary research rarely provides the exact data and sample that’s appropriate to your market and aims, and it may even be unreliable. So you need to generate primary data from your own research, and it is here that getting the right mix is vital.
To get straight to the punch, the best marketing primary research mix is invariably made up of a balance of qualitative and quantitative research. To only focus on one will likely result in off-kilter research.
Both have their champions, and critics. As ex- Apple and Pepsi CEO John Sculley said; “no great marketing decisions have ever been made on qualitative data”.
For sure, Qual on its own can be a bit vague, with no hard numbers, but starting here helps you to understand the market. Do Quant on its own, and you may end up measuring the wrong thing, but as part of an effective mix that builds on Qual, it allows you to effectively measure the market.
Arguably one of the best pieces to read on marketing research is an article first published back in 1985.
It is by Alan R. Andreasen, and explains his ‘backward’ market research approach that turns the traditional approach on its head. That traditional approach can be best summed up by borrowing Andreasen’s own perfect paraphrasing of a typical boss: “Here are some things I don’t know. When the results come in I’ll know more. And when I know more, then I can figure out what to do”. This can lead to off-target research and results.
Alternatively, Andreasen proposes a procedure that stresses close collaboration between researcher and corporate decision makers from the beginning, rather than the top brass’s first view of the research being the huge final report at the end of the project. The crucial starting point is to work out how you will use the eventual data and what is the ultimate purpose of the research.
The ‘backward’ approach is probably the best way to avoid arriving at those, ‘I already know this’, conclusions.
For example; you want to research customer loyalty. A customer research agency may come back with a huge load of behavioural insight data and analysis into how much and how frequently the market is using your competitors etc. A perfect map of the current market.
But you probably know that already. What you would have liked is some attitudinal research on consumer intent, what their future loyalty may look like, so you can position yourself accordingly and start eating into competitor market share. If only you had sat down together and thrashed out a plan to begin with, eh? The undertaking of research needs to be a true collaboration with the researcher.
What happens when you don’t do this? Well, if you are like Pepsi, you probably sit about in a room on your own, spend five mins on social media to see what people seem to care about, impose your own delusions of brand purpose onto the market, and end up with that horrific Kendall Jenner ad campaign. People just want to buy a bottle of pop a few times a year, Pepsi. That’s it.
So be warned.
One of the rare agencies (so rare they actually call themselves ‘the un-agency’) to believe not only in the power of collaboration, but also in the importance of research, are Gasp’s kindred spirits over at Rouser. The CEO of Rouser, JP Hanson, was also a recent guest on our Call to Action podcast. You can have your ear bent (in a good way) below:
“Marketing is often the weak link in the business chain, when it should be the thing that links everything together”. JP Hanson
Their manifesto is well worth a peruse, as they are of a like mind to us, also believing* in 3 key steps to marketing: 1) Research/Diagnosis 2) Strategy 3) Tactics.
In that order. Always.
*In fact, we believe in research so much at Gasp that we invested heavily in becoming a partner of YouGov; the most quoted customer survey source in the UK, with over 6 million people participating in their panels. If you fancy a chat on how we can use that to create audience profiles, then give us a bell or drop us an email.
A doff of the digital cap: This blog was born out of the teachings of Professor Mark Ritson, whose Mini MBA has been studied and consumed eagerly by several Gaspers.
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