at the intersection of brands, media and culture

What’s wrong with market research, Part I

In advertising, agency, Brands, communications, Consumers, market research, marketing, strategy, UnMarketers on December 3, 2007 at 5:30 am

An old colleague of mine, Chris Perkins, now at Arnold, always liked to respond to clients who test positionings by saying, “Well, should we throw love in the mix too, just to see what people think?” And I think that this sums up much of what’s wrong with how folks seem to use qualitative research.

“If we go out and ask them (the market), they’ll tell us what to do,” seems to be the popular thinking. This, of course, discounts strategic thought or client intuition. It also assumes that the market knows what they want, can articulate it, and are comfortable telling other people the truth. I don’t know what I want for lunch today. In fact, I’m feeling kind of ambivalent about food in general. I know I like food, and I know I’m hungry, I just don’t know what I feel like eating today. I’d go through a similar decision-making process trying to decide what to eat for lunch as I would if someone asked me what type of relationship I wanted with a brand. “Well, give me some options… sure, a ham sandwich sounds good. I think I’ll get that.” The more bland the positioning/meal, the more likely I/the market will find it agreeable. Ham sandwiches sound good to people.

The rub is that there are a million and one delis that sell ham sandwiches. There are very few places that sell Jamaican Japanese fusion, and you know what? I could really get hooked on that. It’s different, it’s spicy, it’s healthy and it’s good.

Some of my recent research is playing more like Jamaican Japanese fusion. I’ve spent the last year traveling for a variety of clients to places like Twins Festivals, Burning Man and now I’m getting ready to leave on a trip to Ivory Coast. This type of research requires a bit more strategy on the backend and a healthy helping of intuition to turn findings into something usable. It can be scary, one can fail miserably. But when you do succeed, you do so by creating something amazing, interesting and differentiating. Something that comes from a deep-seated truth that is just off the cerebral radar and waiting to be brought to life.

I imagine my next trip will be something like this…

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