7 Ways to Rekindle The Passion of Market Research

drying pants against a cloudy sky

Brand research and strategy company iSPY’s Tania Farrelly on how to keep market research from being a passion killer.

Tania Farrelly
Posted by Tania Farrelly

If your research is starting to resemble Granny’s undies, feeling rather comfortable to slip on,  a little dated and has a canny knack of being able to cover many arses in an instant then it’s time to re-evaluate just how and why you use market research.

I work in a great place located somewhere at the intersection of human motivations and creating ideas. And while it might be called research – for me it’s more about the ‘search’ than the ‘re’. It is about a constant search for understanding of why people want things, what they aspire to and what’s going to make their lives a bit better or  just a little less crap.

In the creative economy, it’s more about the search than the re. It’s the type understanding described above that is the fodder for the brain to make new neural connections to spark ideas to solve consumer problems and in turn solve business problems. And given we’re living in the creative economy that’s 10x more valuable then ‘testing’ something thats ‘same, same but different’.

Chances are that ‘same, same but different’ will actually do really well in ‘testing’ because people in the research group will use their current category frame of reference to evaluate the idea and give their advice (whether asked for or not) to ‘improve’ it.

These improvements often become the very things that shave the interesting edges off something bringing it back into line with the known, the norm, the comfortable and dare I say it something that resembles another pair of bog-catchers. Literally.

Buzz kill.

The reality is ‘testing’ ideas qualitatively or quantitatively is tricky business. Tricky because as neuroscientists know, many people either don’t actually know what they are feeling, can’t tell you why  – or cant put it into words. Realistically only about a quarter of the population easily exhibits the traits of self awareness that allow them to manage feats of emotional eloquence.  (Probably why Cadbury’s most famous ‘Gorilla’ TVC flunked Link Testing: Everyone smiled, loved it , emotionally bonded but marked it down on measures given on an all too rational scale.)

So what should we do about this?Working with clients like Nike, Tourism Victoria and a beer brand or two over the years gave me a great insight into how to put a flame to Granny’s undies once and for all.

These clients never pre-tested anything and yet somehow managed to create some of the most memorable creative campaigns, products and experiential ideas in the last decade.

Here’s seven ways to slip out of those wide-sides and into something more inspirational….

1. Focus on Discovering Vs Covering.

It means market research is used to understand, step into our consumer shoes and remove the ‘marketing-eze’ from our conversations. This gives us an empathy and insight into what really motivates people, what makes them laugh, whats entertaining – the things they love, the things they hate and brings meaning to their lives. When we know this – we are able to create for them.

So how do we do it?

2. Bricolage

That’s a fancy way of saying we use different ways of finding out about the whole person. We don’t just rely on what they say – we need to know what they do and how they behave  and what’s behind their thoughts and actions.  It means that the search process should include things like observing people out shopping, choosing or interacting; it should look into what they like to check out online, what they create and like in social media. It’s also important to be able to give them things to reflect on independently and provide feedback to you in a natural and potentially creative way.

This is the role of projective exercises and social media is a wonderful looking glass: Post pics on Instagram, contribute to a blog or create a pinboard on Pinterest is a wonderful way of getting insight into emotions, aspirations and motivations.

3. Like to watch

Observing people out and about is a great teacher. Watching people watch ads, TV shows and flip between Instagram, Text and Tinder is an amazing learning curve. The whole ‘screen-stacking’ phenomenon is something worth looking out for.

4. Get Down and dirty

This type of search is about getting out of your comfort zone and slipping into theirs. There’s been many a time I’ve sat in young mens’ garages, in footy club change-rooms, in gyms with young women – just to get a feel for the reality of their lives. And there is nothing better.

When you’re back in the boardroom – you’re not trying to remember yet another ‘focus group’ you’re remembering Jonno, Robbo, Shorty and Blackers and the 25 times they checked their phone while chatting about beer. It’s a reality check for sure.

This insight is priceless.

5.  Do it often

As a marketer, researcher, communicator, whatever it is you do…. get out there as often as you can. Ask people questions that lead to discovery…  what was the highlight of your day today? What would you have swapped out? Swapped in?  Ask for recommendations, interesting & funny people to follow on Instagram or Twitter. Anything to start the search process.

Discovering the real person within your target audience will help you stop thinking category norm and start thinking about entertainment value, making life better and solving problems.  It will make your decision- making more intuitive and quick too.

6. Collect and share artifacts

To remind yourself of what you’ve learnt, collect artifacts even digital ones, photos, memes, you-tube , videos, games, brands, events and experiences that allow you to remember and importantly, allow you to share with the rest of your marketing team, your boss, your agency, your staff.


7.  It takes time: But what time is used in exploration you’ll get back, with interest, in good ideas.

I can hear some of you sigh or groan or both.

Yes, this process takes time, patience and a bit of money. I know all three are in short supply these days. But believe me, there’s a lot more spent and wasted on testing ‘same, same but different ‘ ideas, (launching, repositioning, and then relaunching )…than there is in learning, understanding and discovery. I’m sure you’re feeling me here.

And remind me….. just how many times has Nike had to reposition itself since 1972?

Let’s slip into something more uncomfortable. Getting out beyond your office and the focus group room can be very uncomfortable. But discovering and sharing discoveries will help you feel more comfortable when your insights go beyond words on paper (which no-one reads anyway) and are inseminated it into others (team members, staff, agency people) who can help you create ideas.

And we all know insemination isn’t always possible when you’re sporting a massive pair of passion killers.

Time to slip into something uncomfortable and enjoy what pops up next…. Great ideas of course.

Tania Farrelly is a Social Researcher and Brand Strategist at iSPY.