The modern role of research: when likeability isn’t enough
Marketing success is getting more difficult as each year passes. Markets are full of products and services which are fit for purpose. Thirty years ago the choice was to either buy a car that would be reliable, or one that would rust within five years. Nowadays, however, there aren’t many bad cars being sold, and nor do you find ‘bad’ tasting products in supermarket aisles.
Manufacturers have made all the obvious improvements in line with simple feedback on the relative ‘likeability’ of products and services. But as products are brought more in line with what consumers like, each one percent improvement thereafter becomes exponentially more difficult to achieve.
This is where research typically comes into play. But the industry is currently at a crossroads: brands continue to commission research, but in the knowledge that their research won’t actually be a good enough tool to provide data on which they can base their decision-making in such competitive markets.
How to move forward?
The reality is that marketers’ faith in standard market research techniques is weakening just as its need to help them find a winning edge is becoming more important. The fact is that research is being asked to reveal far more subtle cues and nuances, when in a society where everything on offer is actually pretty good and potentially likeable.
Just as Maslow’s hierarchy is taught to all marketers to appreciate the significance of higher level needs once worries about shelter and food have been overcome, research needs to be employed as a more sophisticated tool for understanding the relative fit of these new products and brands with the grander objectives of esteem and selfactualisation.
So where should marketers turn to get the consumer insights they need to develop brands further? Should they get close (physically and spiritually) to their customers using ethnography, co-creative or immersive methods? Continue with traditional research methods? Adopt the principles of behavioural economics that have been shown to underpin buying behaviours in developed markets? Or should they ditch traditional techniques completely and use direct, neuro- and bioscience methods?
The list is endless, and often overwhelming for marketers. As a result, a feeling of inertia has developed. Brand owners continue to stick to the type of research they’re used to out of habit and, I’m embarrassed to admit, many research agencies have in turn become very complacent, failing to move clients on to the many new tools available.
Inevitably, the outcome of this inertia will be an increasing frustration with research, which is already viewed by many as being the poor cousin ofthe marketing mix. At MMR Research Worldwide (MMR), we wholeheartedly agree that there is no point doing bad research. But that’s not the same as saying all research is bad.
Don’t lose sight of that one percent
It would take quite some time to deliver a detailed appraisal in this blog of all the alternatives to which I referred earlier. But suffice it to say that any technique that is worth pursuing passes a common sense test of delivering outputs which:
- Have a good chance of teasing out the deeper (and real) drivers of behaviour rather than superficial ones.
- Recognise that displacing existing behaviour requires a far higher threshold than just being liked (or bought) in a research context which (by definition) requires no commitment to be made.
- Are based on an appreciation that people’s rational appraisals of why they do or don’t too something might not be accurate.
Research can never be perfect. There are simply too many variables. But a technique which gets closer to meeting these three challenges will help. Even better than single technique research is an approach using a combination of observation and explicit questioning where one approach can corroborate, explain or challenge another.
Then we have other techniques which use more implicit techniques for teasing out of us things that we might otherwise disguise (consciously or subconsciously). Just as employers might choose to supplement standard interviews with psychometric techniques to get to know something about the real you, so researchers should use similar approaches to anticipate consumers’ future buying behaviours.
It’s in this way that research needs to continue to develop its approaches so that these incremental but all–important improvements can be measured accurately. And when such improvements can spring from such subtle changes, brand owners need every tool possible to help them choose the best way forward; meaning research is more important than ever.
David Howlett, strategic planning director, MMR Research Worldwide