OPINION8 October 2009

Three tips for a clear picture of your market: Zoom in, zoom out and focus


Reflecting on what he heard at this year’s AMA Marketing Research Conference, Jeffrey Henning, VP of Vovici, offers his tips for getting a clear snapshot of what’s happening in your market.

I left the American Marketing Association’s annual Marketing Research Conference in Palm Springs yesterday with three key takeaways (three, and not four or seven or two, because David Weinberger of Georgia-Pacific said we should always summarise research in threes). If you think of the role of marketing research as providing snapshots of markets to the business, my three things to remember are: zoom in, zoom out and focus.

Zoom in
Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer of Turner Broadcasting, discussed the disconnect between management and market researchers. Consumers are not conscious, rational beings, and what consumers tell us often reflects their best guesses or what they feel is socially acceptable. Bad research generates and perpetuates the myth of consumer self-awareness. Wakshlag emphasised: “When good researchers fail to challenge bad research, all researchers – including the good researchers – lose credibility. When we report what people say – while behavioural data tells us what people actually do – we lose.”

David Weinberger pointed out that modern society has robbed us of customer intimacy. We need to really make the effort to zoom in on their lives. He encourages researchers to look at ethnography, store shadowing, lifestyle shadowing, deep dives and immersion excursions to truly learn customer behaviour.

Zoom out
Another repeated theme was the need to zoom out to see the big picture. How big a picture? Well, how about a presentation looking at trends since 1886, when The Coca-Cola Company was founded? Tom LaForge, global director of human and cultural insights there, spoke about his research into trends. The good news is that cultures change slowly: lifestyles, values and beliefs, macro forces and worldviews change incrementally. Strategic planners need to develop understanding of these forces and worldviews so that they can account for them. Similarly Sheryl Connelly, with the global consumer trends team at Ford, looks at demographics, consumer trends and scenario planning and has identified 10 top trends for Ford to integrate into its scenario planning.

Barb Murphy, president of Strategic Spark, discussed the need to create a “dimensional perspective” that integrates extensive secondary research with primary research from end users, distribution channels, strategic partners, employees, competitors, industry analysts, media representations and government entities. Ravi Parmeswar, VP of global consumer and marketplace insights at Citigroup, says that you need to “develop your organisation’s peripheral vision and sensing”.

Chris Frank, vice president of b2b research in global marketplace insights for American Express, made a point that would be echoed by other speakers throughout the week: “Be clear on the essential question.” Boil down your research to the high order, indispensable question that each business unit needs to drive their business. Don’t move forward on a research plan until you understand this question. Michael Browning, president of Bluewater Learning, demonstrated how to use this essential question to shape your research presentations for the maximum impact by emphasising how your results relate to it.

This year’s conference demonstrated that the research industry has shown resilience and inventiveness during the ongoing economic crisis. As you to seek to apply the lessons of your peers, remember to zoom in, zoom out and focus.