Asher Hunter, managing director at Metrix Consulting, and Megan Averella discuss ways to avoid conducting research in “marketing land”.
One of the most insistent gripes about market research is that it lacks authenticity. The environment is so fake, the white walls and bad lighting are stark and unwelcoming, and so forth. Basically, the criticism boils down to the idea that consumers cannot possibly give authentic answers in such artificial circumstances, however, this line of thinking is rarely applied to the stimulus itself, which is often the most artificial part of the entire process.
Positioning statements. Mood boards. Concepts. These are not exactly a natural part of daily life, but instead are false constructions of a world consumers do not occupy. All too often consumers provide feedback on internal marketing materials that were never intended for the general public. We very often show them stimulus made up of the building blocks of marketing and ask them to improve these behind-the-scenes marketing accoutrements.
We are, essentially, asking them to have an opinion on and a hand in creating something:
a) …they fundamentally aren’t that interested in, and
b) …they would never actually see in the real world.
At its best, this kind of research potentially allows consumers to mitigate their distaste for a brand’s marketing, but at worst, spends time and money getting consumer feedback on things that only exist in “marketing land”– focusing on constructions made by marketers for marketers that are irrelevant to anyone outside the profession. It seems many companies are content with tweaking in-progress internal documents that will serve as wall decor for the cubicles of the marketing department.
Get further upstream
Discover and listen before getting a reaction to stimulus. The goal should be to gain foundational learning as input into the development of strategy vs. feedback on strategy in-progress. Start by developing a deep contextual understanding of the people you’re trying to connect with and do this without prejudice of your brand or category.
If it isn’t something they will actual see in the “real-world”, why are we getting feedback on it? There is no doubt we’ll get feedback – we’re paying them for it – but we need to be more critical about what it actually means. Challenge yourself to create and present stimulus in a way that is reflective of how consumers will be actually be exposed to it in the real world. For example, if you’re getting feedback on a new product concept – visualize the pack and communicate the one or two points that you could realistically get cross in a launch ad. DON’T write a 300 word description of precisely how it meets all their needs.
Examine your ratios
How much of our focus is truly exploratory versus soliciting reactions? Time is finite, and so more stimulus means less exploration, by nature. This means less time in which respondents are able to share their unfiltered and unrestricted views, not crowded out by an at-hand task. There is always a temptation to “test everything” or just “throw these in at the end and test them as well”, but this comes as a cost and that cost is true insight.
Bring your brain
Once we have the right grounding, we need to apply our OWN brains to taking these insights and turning them into sound strategies, and eventually into end materials. If the insights are gathered in a more foundational way, they are more sound and solid – and thereby, there is no need to continually do more research for ever-more reactions, spending time and money on “check-ins” on at different stages of the development of internal documents.
We are not suggesting that stimulus serves no purpose or should be eliminated – it can be effective, but we believe it should be deployed with much more consideration than it is currently given. Exposing the standard handful of “marketing land” internal documents just doesn’t qualify as insightful, and often is used at the expense of the real insight that could be gained in more foundational research.