July 27, 2017

3 perspectives on how to use research and what they teach us

By Paul Laughlin

how to use researchTo complement the research industry perspectives we have shared so far this month, I’m going to share 3 perspectives (on how to use research) from outside the insight community.

After sharing so much material to digest, in that Behavioural Economics guide, this post will be shorter.

I’ve taken the approach of browsing recent news stories, for commentary on use of consumer research. Beyond the stories commentating on recent research findings, 3 news items struck me.

What they had in common was an outsiders’ perspective of how to use research. Each of these perspectives usefully highlights the misconceptions or challenges that insight leaders can face when seeking to secure investment for the research they see as needed.

So, let’s hear from a marketing professor, a packaging engineer & some science academics… (and no, they didn’t all just “walk into a bar…“)

Slowing down Marketing as they see the value of research

Our first outsider view is an interview with Professor Mark Ritson published in Marketing Week. As a marketing expert, Mark teaches the Marketing Week “Mini MBA“.

In this interview it’s encouraging to hear marketers learning the value of using qualitative and quantitative consumer research, rather than just rushing headlong into new propositions or campaigns. There’s also a useful reminder of Prof. Alan Andreason’s “backward market research” method for designing and selecting research tools needed.

It was good to hear research positioned as a springboard to help companies be more market-orientated (that’s a welcome addition to just being seen in the CX mindset). This news item was also an important reminder that each generation of marketers needs to be educated in the complementary roles of qualitative & quantitative research methods. With so much focus on digital, social & mobile marketing in recent years, it’s easy to assume these basics are understood.

Mini MBA in Marketing with Mark Ritson

The Marketing Week Mini MBA in Marketing is a CPD accredited, MBA level course. Covering the same content and theories as the marketing core class taught on MBA programmes at the top business schools, but in just 12 lessons, it will give you the tools you need to do your job better.

Avoiding mistakes in Product Testing research

Next let’s hear from a packaging engineer at Coca Cola. In this interview with Gregory Bentley, he explains his concerns about consumer testing of an idea for a new spiral Fanta bottle design. I’ve never read the Food Manufacture blog before, but this was an interesting example of misconceptions & common pitfalls in using research.

Although headlined as a concern about research, or consumer testing, this interview actually reveals two important lessons for use of research in product testing:

  1. Ensure all the right stakeholders from the business are involved in design of research & interpretation (not left to those too removed from the idea);
  2. Ensure what is tested with consumers is as close as possible to the finished product experience (even the sophistication of eye-tracking will not make up for 2D prototype).

Interestingly, presumably in the interest of balance, this article ends with interviewing James Harmer, insight director at Touch Packing Innovation. It is good to hear his positive example of the benefit of ethnographic research, in getting to the root of consumer needs & desires (beyond ‘group think’ assumptions by a business).

Caution over consumer insight tests

Most brands would agree that some sort of consumer research is necessary when exploring structural packaging choices, but the jury is out on how much importance to attach to different insights and how to balance them against other design criteria.

Scientists spot a lack of communication

Finally, let’s hear from the science professors at Indiana University. Prof Neil Morgan, and his four co-authors, have identified a big disconnect between managers at firms and their customer. In this Science Daily news item, we learn that this misalignment is in terms of understanding what drives customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Through comparative surveys, they found that managers at over a 1,000 firms and 70,000 customers had very different understandings of satisfaction, despite expensive customer satisfaction tracking programmes. Not surprisingly, the key issue is communication. Whether NPS, CES or CSat are used, the key test is ensuring leaders in your business get a clear feel for what matters to customers and clarity on where action is needed (whatever the internal myths).

They also found biases & urban myths mitigate against the lessons of complaints analysis being learnt. Complaints data does need to be combined with other analytics & research sources and systemic issues identified. Too often they are viewed as the minority of customers, rather than a golden opportunity to learn about previously unidentified issues.

Managers often fail to use or understand their own data on customer satisfaction

Despite the millions companies spend to gather information about customer satisfaction, senior managers often fail to understand those customers’ expectations. Neil A. Morgan, professor and PetSmart Distinguished Chair of Marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and four co-authors of a recent journal article present a huge disconnect between managers and customers in terms of understanding what drives customer satisfaction and loyalty.

How to use research: Listen and act

I hope those 3 quick news items have been interesting and useful.

From my perspective they are another reminder of both the critical need for effective customer insight leaders and the importance of communication skills in those roles.

What’s your take on the news? How do you listen to other leaders in your organisation and take action to address any misconceptions of research?