Hindsight is a wonderful thing - so goes the old saying. In marketing it’s the last thing we need, but too often it’s what our market research gives us.
That’s really not the fault of market researchers. As we’ll discuss below, the best of them are future-focussed and they are constantly innovating. It’s more the fault of the people who buy research - for acting habitually and for not pausing to think before they commission a project.
There is a role for market research in understanding present reality, but it really isn’t the be all and end all. How often have we read customer surveys put together by the marketing or sales manager? Very often. And too often they have been put together in a rush, with little or no budget and polling the kind of questions you might use if you were selecting an ape to be part of a space programme.
The results of such surveys are sometimes used (defensively) in organisations to protect the idle or (offensively) to put the finger on another department. I’ve rarely seen one used to further proper debate about the future. So, on the whole it’s no wonder that customer surveys are universally loathed.
Of course market research can give you a benchmark, but that is only useful if you are planning to do something about it. If you are, it requires the questions you ask in the survey to probe and inform possible areas of future activity. One of the most useful areas for benchmarking is in helping to decide how you, as a CEO, are going to improve the culture within your company. You may be interested in automation, greater branch coverage, re-training your customer facing staff or in making your branding clearer and more appealing. If so, the best kind of benchmark research should also aim to give you something more helpful than hindsight. Foresight.
You see, customers and potential customers are not bogged down by your present reality. They touch your brand, then go on to touch a dozen more before bedtime. They alight on your petals like a butterfly. If things are bad, they may not even notice. If things are good, they may take them for granted. Too many of us fixate on direct cause and effect when it comes to consumer behaviour. That’s not how consumers think … or feel.
So, what can a good research company do to improve your marketing foresight? Rosie Hawkins, global head of brand communication at TNS ([email protected]) tells us plenty. “Brand equity scores reveal how consumers feel about a brand. The only glitch up to now is the process has taken too long. So you need to look at predictive brand equity scores.”
When Rosie talks about predictive brand equity, she means assessing the future relevance and appeal of a brand to its chosen public. To do this, modern research companies are harnessing the immediacy and power of the Internet.
‘We scrape Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks and combine that with searches on Google, Yahoo! and Bing and content from relevant blogs. For example hair care blogs for hair care products. We crunch the data to provide an easy-to-understand brand equity score and get rich and early insights to explain what is happening.’
Researchers are finding that they have to use an extra level of interpretation when they delve into social media. The use of language there is very different. Those of you without teenage children may not know that the word ‘sick’ is not bad. And imagine the challenge of filtering out bias in blog commentaries. which is necessary, because everyone who has a following has to have an angle.
Using the Internet for research is cheap without producing the redundant information I often find when people proudly tell me "we saved money and did the satisfaction survey in-house." It takes some hard thinking to come up with the right questions, so that is where the effort needs to be invested. But all the companies I advise (who have taken their first steps into social media) use the medium as much for research as for building brand affinity. This also means that we can task their community managers (people employed to write social media content) to think harder. I’d rather have someone creating an enquiry about the future of medical cover for school kids than filling up my screen with entreaties to "Have a blessed Friday" or posting clichéd pictures of sunbeams gleaned from the Internet’s more evangelical content.
Rosie Hawkins is bullish about predictive brand equity studies. “They usher in a new era in which marketers spend their time looking at prospective opportunities and pre-empting risks, not looking over their shoulders at past events they are powerless to influence.’
Amen to that.
Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. www.thebrandinside.com
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