Keep Your Finger On The Pulse

By MICHAEL GRABER & JOCELYN ATKINSON

Would you believe us if we told you that traditional market research is an antiquated practice that is heading toward obsolescence? Even the online survey, the modern successor of the traditional door-to-door and phone surveys doesn’t really cut it in today’s complex world.

The world we live in today is the amorphous Big Data state, which beckons us to look deeper and analyze multiple sources of information. This analysis transcends research to arrive at insights about the market and all of the participants in the value chain. These insights are qualified but not always quantified in the traditional sense. The quantification comes later, once the insight is used to build a strategy.

It is a new day, and if you are looking to drive growth and uncover innovation, you must learn to synthesize information differently. They don’t teach this in business school and it is just beginning to surface at market research industry conferences. Consider utilizing a professionally diverse team to study both the macro and micro factors at work in an industry. We use social anthropologists and economists to collect and analyze a multitude of disparate data sets. The qualitative side of the house uses ethnography, the practice of immersion in a market to record cultural norms, behavior, motivations and other psychological triggers that affect the business model. Simultaneously, the quantitative team analyzes the effect of macro factors on the participants in the value chain and forecasts how the environment might change in the future.

Using this approach, teams can develop personas and journey maps to better understand their customer base and hone all aspects of the business. The software industry has long used crude personas to guide its development of functionality and user interface. As well, the more sophisticated ad agencies create audience archetypes to ensure imagery and messages resonate with the target.

Both B2B and B2C businesses should use these tools too. Interview and observe your customers about what drives them, what frustrates them and what delights them. Asking good questions to get good answers is super important, but careful listening, watching body language and reading in-between the lines is typically where quantitative machines fail and humans excel. Record what your subjects think, feel, say, do and be on the lookout for tensions and inconsistencies. When possible, go into their environment to examine behavior in relation to what was said. There are always tensions and inconsistencies in what people tell you- this is where traditional quantitative market research falls down. Human cognitive bias dictates that we will inherently lie. Record these things and then look for recurring patterns.

Once the personas are complete, create a journey map – a record of each customer type’s experience and touch points with your company and its products/services. Think of this as a process flow with a human thought and emotions overlay. This will show you which of your efforts are effective and which group of customers is most receptive to them.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.