Market/Consumer Research: It’s Not Rocket Science—or Is It?

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What exactly is rocket science anyway?

Rocket science, according to the uber-on-point Wikipedia (insert slight sarcasm and skepticism here), is based on the following: theoretical physics, such as fluid dynamics for aerodynamics or the equations of motion for flight dynamics.

That’s some pretty heady stuff, if you ask me. Rocket science is dictated by established principles, with a strong emphasis on gravity, lift, and drag. You can’t get much more concrete than rocket science; not much wiggle room when you’re talking about things falling from the sky.

But, rocket science is also largely based on empirical data, which makes new discoveries by using the senses to make observations through experiments.

So, you see, market and consumer research IS rocket science after all!

The quantitative part of market/consumer research is the analytical side, featuring the stats and numbers.

But the empirical side of market/consumer research is largely about experimentation and observation.

Take, for example, a project I have in front of me right now.

Entrepreneur A comes to me with Product Concept B. The entrepreneurial world is quite different than corporate America. The entrepreneur often doesn’t have a team or a budget that allows for multiple views into the same quandary to determine the who, what, whys, and whereas.

In partnering with Advocate Market Research Bureau, the entrepreneur will benefit from my outside perspective. I, as a market and consumer researcher, will experiment with various methodologies to gain insight beyond the traditional focus groups or panel studies.

The key here is experimentation. I’ll answer my clients’ questions by matching the most appropriate, timely and cost effective methodologies possible. For example:

  • How do I gather from my client’s potential target the necessary information to move the product along?
    • Do I implement multiple city studies conducting 3 or more focus groups in each location in order to understand what is needed and potential product redesigns?
    • Do I launch a nationwide quantitative study to capture a ‘measurable’ read and really hone in on their target market?
    • Do I host casual gatherings in a park; is this a product that talks to the environment or use of free time, children or dog walking?
    • Do I gather people in an art museum and talk about the importance of culture in our schools or how people choose to fund various non-profits?
    • Do I entertain small groups around cocktails and appetizers and discuss their favorite designers and handbags?
    • Do I streamline the quantitative portion of the study to still capture a representative and statistically significant sample but limit the completes which while it won’t allow me multiple cuts of the data for analysis will certainly give me a true view of the intended target?

Observation is key to market and consumer research especially when we’re talking about qualitative research. After I’ve experimented with the methodologies and chosen the setting for my observations, I must note what happens. Some of the things I’m looking for include:

  • How do people interact with the product; is it intuitive, is it an obvious solution to something in their lives, is it confusing, is it too much function and not enough form or too much form and no function?
  • How do people respond to questions; are they combative, are they guarded, are they open, are they forthcoming?
  • What makes a consumer tick? What pulls at their heartstrings?
  • What does the consumer focus on and what do they dismiss?

So, yes, I do believe that market and consumer research is, indeed, rocket science.

Both are based upon the hard sciences with their established principles, statistical analysis, and concrete facts.

But they are also empirically based on experimentation and observation.

While I would be hard pressed to call myself a rocket scientist—even though it is now obvious I have more in common with them than I originally thought—I am thankful to be a market and consumer researcher.

I use both hard facts and soft science to give my clients a better understanding of the marketplace, and a confirmation (or redirection) of a concept or product.

But it’s in offering clients an accurate assessment of the end consumer’s motivation that really sets us market and consumer researchers worlds apart from the rocket scientists.

Guest Blog: It’s All About Passion!

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By Gina Butler, Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Gigi’s Cupcakes

Im passionate about baking and that allowed me to found Gigis Cupcakes. My entire family loved to cook and bake, so I grew up around it. My Aunt Bennie owned a bakery and catering business and I would spend summers with her. I’d help her bake, cater events, and read her cake decorating books. I loved to bake and had a passion for it at an early age, but my dream was to be a country singer. In 1994, I packed up and moved to Nashville with less than $500 in my pocket. I decided to pursue a country music career instead of going to college. During the day, I operated my small cleaning business and at night, I would sing at the bars and honky tonks near music row. In my early thirties, I realized that my music career was unlikely to take off so I decided to focus entirely on my cleaning business. A few years went by and then my brother called me while I was cleaning a home and told me that he had waited in line at a cupcake bakery in New York for hours. He said, “Your cupcakes are better than these. You should open up a bakery.” I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and decided to go for it. I opened my first cupcake shop in February 2008 with only $33 left in my bank account. Now, seven years later and against the odds, Gigi’s Cupcakes has grown to be the largest cupcake franchise company in the nation. We just opened our first international location in early 2015 in South Korea and hope to continue to expand in other countries. summer4-600x660I think back fondly on those summer afternoons with Aunt Bennie, who is now part of the Gigi’s team, working on product development in the kitchen with me. We have over 300 recipes at Gigi’s Cupcakes and many of them have a rich personal family history originating from my grandmother, great aunts, my mother and other relatives, many of whom are bakers.

Im passionate about my company and how we do business, so when the opportunity to be on Undercover Boss came along, it was an easy YES! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I just couldn’t turn it down. We were one of the few small companies that they have ever highlighted. I had to do it and I’m so glad I did.

People often ask me what I was most surprised by during my experience. Two things that surprised me most were: 1) I was surprised by how many passionate and wonderful people work for us. It’s not just a job to them, they truly care about the business and the brand. 2) I was also surprised that we were consistently inconsistent. We didn’t have the exact same procedures from one store to the next. I knew we needed to address that immediately. The experience greatly benefited us! We learned a lot during my journey and we haven’t been the same since. Filming Undercover Boss was a gift that I will always be grateful for.

Market Research: Your Road Map to Business Success

 

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I’m guessing you’d never dream of taking a cross-country road trip without first deciding upon a destination. Once you determine your destination you would then check online for directions and chart your general course, right? You’d also make plans to periodically consult the map app on your phone as you traveled, and you would determine the best places to stop along the way for gas, meals and places to stay. What does this have to do with market research you ask? Well, everything.

Failing to utilize market research for your business is like taking off on a road trip with no idea where you’re going, how you’ll get there, or where you’ll need to stop along the way to re-adjust. Good market and consumer research offers valuable insights and guidance for successful growth, regardless of a business’ age or stage. Let’s take a look.

  • Young Business/New Ideas

If your business endeavor is in its infancy, it’s important that you figure out its actual viability.

Using research at this stage helps you explore and uncover important aspects of establishing a new business or idea. It can help you anticipate the future so that you can set goals and chart a course for growth.

For the earliest of ideas, qualitative research (such as focus groups) will best assess the market for its reception to your idea. If your concept is a little more fleshed out, then quantitative research (such as online or phone surveys) would work well, too. Quantitative research can help identify your most receptive target audience by gauging market interest and potential. You’ll also assess the scalability of your idea when you determine if it’s highly niched or has a more broad appeal.

If you have a new idea, business, or concept — validate it with research.

  • Adolescent Business/Ready to Launch Product

Launching a new product or product line? Are you testing a new concept, or re-branding your business? Then you need to know how your brand is both perceived and received in the current marketplace.

Using research at this stage can build upon what you’ve learned in the first phase of research and help you strengthen your brand image. Qualitative research will allow you to test your marketing in front of a “live” audience. This provides valuable feedback for making final tweaks to the product, solidifying brand direction, and confirming the best marketing path.

If you’re ready to launch a new product or concept, or simply rebrand — confirm it with research.

  • Grown-up Business/Established Brand

If your business is a household name with a catalog of favorite products, don’t get too comfortable. How are you keeping up with evolving marketplace trends? How do you create and keep loyal clients?

Using research at this stage helps you monitor customer perception and satisfaction, marketplace changes, and purchasing behaviors.

Qualitative research allows you to hear the emotion behind your brand and look for line extensions. It also gives you the opportunity to talk to both satisfied and unsatisfied customers to discover insights that will heighten brand awareness and accelerate product innovation. Quantitative research can also be used to keep a close eye on your business and watch trends in the marketplace.

If you have an established brand—refine it with research.

So who needs research? You do! Research is the road map you need to arrive at your desired destination—a thriving business—successfully.

Guest Blog: Culture Trumps Strategy

unnamed By Sarah Schleicher Princehorn, Business Performance Advisor, Insperity

In my role, I sit down with at least 10-12 business executives every month to learn about their business. I’ve always been fascinated by the entrepreneurial mind—a person who typically risks just about everything to pour their heart and soul into an idea, with the hope that it will take off – but no certainty.

I’ve had this position for three years, but recently the way I listen to executives has undergone a dramatic shift. In January, I went through a personal crisis and instead of penalizing me for letting my personal life affect my professional persona; my company chose to INVEST in me.

I was given the month of January off to focus on my family and myself. While every company has to honor the regulations of FMLA, what Insperity did for me is unheard of.

I explained my situation to our Community Involvement team via an electronic application. I explained that over the course of the previous six months, I’d had two surgeries and been hit hard with a bout of postpartum depression. I felt like I was falling apart.

Within 24 hours, I’d been put in touch with a third-party non-profit organization, scanned over copies of all our bills for not only the month of January, but also for February, and checks were en route to my home via FedEx. My husband and I were both stunned. We were both shocked and humbled that my employer would take care of me in such a manner.

When I returned to work mid-February, I came back with a changed attitude. Obviously my work performance had been affected by my post-partum depression, but the change was much deeper than that. I was altered fundamentally, in how I interacted with the executives and in every conversation I had with them about their people.

I am now a firm believer that Culture Trumps Strategy every day of the week. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your company is all about. I can speak from personal experience that creating a culture of support and value for your employees is well worth the investment.

As an executive, it is your role to strategize and develop a plan of action that will achieve your revenue goals, growth plans, etc. for the future. There is only one way to act on those goals- through your people. Hence it’s vital to implement a solid people strategy. Personally, although I considered myself a highly engaged employee before my leave of absence, I discovered that I had uncovered an entire new level of effort. This is known as discretionary effort- management didn’t need to ask me to put in extra effort; it came naturally and willingly. The investment Insperity made in me had not only a professional impact, but also at home; having witnessed my experience, my husband is now Insperity’s biggest fan.

Not Just Another Vendor

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In today’s world, market research is more than just a one-stop shop. It’s not enough to collate information through a couple of quantifiable data points, and then send a client out into the chaotic world of consumerism.

For me, building relationships with my clients – not just acting as another vendor – is the most fulfilling part of my work as a market researcher. Before taking on any new project, I like to gather as much information as possible, understanding the perspectives and objectives of my clients in order to make their projects more actionable. Working with businesses to gather and analyze market research is more than just another service. It is a necessary partnership.

All too often, outside vendors receive a negative reputation as ad hoc suppliers, serving a particular purpose that does not require further interpretation. Not only does this invalidate the larger purpose of market research, it detracts from true fulfillment that comes through a career built on building relationships. I love to stay in touch with my clients, hearing of their successes, and helping them overcome any roadblocks they have encountered.

The challenge as a market research vendor is remaining a partner to clients while maintaining autonomy and an objective opinion that gives credence to your value as a vendor. To offer biased and parroted rhetoric on an issue pertaining to a client’s needs and desires would completely discount the role of hiring an outside perspective. It’s a balancing act, but knowing the industry, understanding the client’s culture, and being ready at a moment’s notice is what makes my work exciting.

As someone who thrives on building relationships with my clients and overseeing the duration of their projects – from the brainstorming beginnings to the palpable successes and the challenges in between, it is imperative to me to truly get to know each client on a deeper level. I focus on digging into my clients’ objectives, in order to turn a vague idea into a successful and actionable plan. There is nothing more gratifying than watching my clients succeed because they chose to work with someone who is in it for the long haul – not just another vendor.

Aon: Does the Customer Know Best?

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By John Byers, Vice President, Aon Risk Solutions

Insurance is not the new black. It’s not trendy, sexy or attractive. Insurance is viewed by some as a commodity. So, why does it matter if you buy it from one person or another – even one company or another? How do you differentiate a product that no one necessarily likes to talk about but certainly doesn’t want to be without when they need it? For Aon, it starts with understanding the difference between agents and consultants as we recognize that our clients come to us for the added value, not just the insurance programs, we deliver.

We know the old saying about the customer, and we know they always want to be right. But, we have all experienced walking away unsure of a product or service, asking ourselves that nagging question, “Did I make the right decision?” With more competition and more complex information than ever before, is it more important to be right or to be sure? Today, customers want to be sure that they made the right decision. In our world, the world of risk management and consulting, that’s what matters most to the people we serve.

WE SPEAK RISK

Each one of our relationships begins by talking about our client’s tolerance for risk. One Aon client recently pulled me aside and said, “Aon is a company that doesn’t talk like other companies. They spoke to me about risk first and educated me about the gaps that I had.  They provided scenarios that made me think differently about my business and then gave me options to help protect myself and my company, outlining the cost and benefit to the business every step of the way.”

Aon clients have a single point of contact to facilitate, coordinate and deploy all resources promptly and efficiently. We provide direct access to our myriad on staff resources designed to fit the needs of the client’s risk tolerance. While everyone else may have “a guy they know,” Aon has resources on staff with a global network of skilled professionals at their fingertips, nonetheless. Our model is so uniquely different than what our customers are familiar with. After a discussion, our clients leave the conversation educated and therefore confident that they made an informed decision to empower results for their company’s bottom line.

EMPATHY: A SHARED VALUE

Any conversation around customer service can be summed up with a simple idea – empathy. Our approach to clients is grounded in empathy.  Without question, part of managing risk includes managing conflict.  Managing conflicts involves being empathetic to the challenges an organization might face.

This perspective begins with the internal Aon culture. Aon welcomes and offers support and kindness to its colleagues for the betterment of its clients. Show me a company that functions with an internal culture of kindness, generosity, respect and empathy, and I’ll show you one of their customers who shares the same values.

THE REVOLUTION

What keeps Aon’s clients coming back again and again is the fact that we have built trust. Some trust may come from a distinct brand, positive Wall Street reports or a referral from a friend, but I know I have created trust when I hear a client say, “My former agent never did this for me.” Trust is manufactured and maintained within the customer’s personal experience built by complete transparency, education, understanding, helping the customer realize the questions they need to ask and delivering quickly. Aon’s motto is to be in the weeds, go beyond the front lines and be willing to get your hands dirty. It’s in these moments that we get to create the ultimate trust with our customers.

Insurance broking is experiencing a revolution, and it’s called risk consulting.  Risk Consulting is delivering sound solutions within an extremely complex and ever-changing environment. This is done in such a way that clients can choose to understand as much or as little as they desire, have a deep appreciation for as little or as much risk as they want as well as develop a complete and unique trust that they are being coached to making an informed decision. At Aon, our clients worry about many things when growing a business, but risk and insurance isn’t one of them.

TITLE NINE: A VERY PERSONAL BRAND

Title Nine

By Christina Dunn, copywriter, product educator and brand voice at Title Nine

Here at Title Nine, we believe in keeping it personal. Since the company’s beginnings, we don’t just serve the customer, we ARE the customer: founder Missy Park was a collegiate athlete in the 1980s who competed in men’s uniforms and shoes because there was a void in the market for women’s performance fitness apparel. She started Title Nine in 1989 to fill it.

Since Missy’s garage was the first office and warehouse, it should be no surprise that her drawl remains every caller’s first greeting. Stepping inside our East Bay home office, anyone might construe that “business as usual” is undoubtedly different, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. A full gym is in the center of the office, and quotes from “difficult women” cover the walls.

The difference in our customer experience goes far beyond the friendly voice on the phone when placing an order, our in-store customer events, or our 360 day return guarantee. Being the first women-focused sports and fitness retailer of its kind, every item at Title Nine, whether it’s from one of the brands we carry or our own product line, has been carefully chosen for and by women, by real users. Our sweat literally goes into testing hundreds of sports bras so we can offer what will truly work for our workouts.

Having started my own career here at Title Nine in the Customer Service call center — sometimes known as the heart of the company — I can vouch first hand that our approach to customer interaction permeates everything we do, perhaps is most readily apparent in how we ‘speak’ to our customer. The importance of “keeping it real” is something I personally feel very strongly about, whether we are discussing product or the brand. Even now, my approach often begins with my customer service roots: What would the customer want to know about this item? Where will she use this? How will it benefit her as she heads into her next urban, trail or life adventure?

We believe in abiding by “What Would I Want?” as our customer service philosophy. Each call center rep is educated on every new product with every catalog launch and is a product expert on their own, using their own personal experiences and those of their teammates to help better advise our customers. There is never a script: every interaction begins with assessing that particular customer’s needs, wants and desired end use. How many other retailers have all current gear on-hand and will e-mail pictures of items together to show whether or not they match? How many converse with their customers in the same manner as a friend sharing coffee or tea?

For good (and for bad), relating personally is our brand. That means, like a relationship, we won’t always get it right or agree.  But we aren’t afraid of a little controversy because if our customer isn’t saying anything, we’ve probably put her to sleep — and there are simply too many incredible adventures waiting out there for that.

Keep it Personal

It’s bound to happen sooner or later. Your customers are going to have a negative or frustrating experience with your product or services. It’s simply an unavoidable fact. The question isn’t if it will happen, but how are you going to deal with it when it happens? And, what strategies are you going to put in place to ensure you don’t lose those customers for life?

I recently had a very frustrating customer experience of my own with a certain well-known airline. Aggravated by my situation, I reached out to the airline to vocalize my dissatisfaction, and was surprised when they immediately responded by throwing a couple of flight vouchers my way. While a few free plane tickets in an ever-inflating economy did sound nice, it didn’t get to the root of my problem. I didn’t feel heard, I didn’t feel appreciated, and no action was taken to prevent the issue from reoccurring in the future.

In the words of Steve Jobs, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Do you view these situations as an opportunity to learn and improve? Or like many companies, are you guilty of handing out automated responses for the sake of saving time? While Baby Boomers might be completely satisfied with a few free vouchers, a Millennial customer may want something entirely different. The trick is in knowing who your customers are and how to cater to their individual preferences and needs. Sound impossible? It may not be as complicated as you might think.

So what’s the first step to discovering what your customers really want? Ask them. Go directly to the source and find out what they want and what you can do to be authentic and accommodating on their terms. Find out what your Baby Boomer customers value and appreciate. Take the time to understand how to best communicate with your Millennial customers, and so on and so forth. But, by all means never assume that all members within a cohort are created equal. Knowing what one individual wants doesn’t necessarily translate into understanding all. However, by arming yourself with a deeper knowledge of your various cohorts, you will be equipped to meet your customer’s unique needs and retain valuable relationships in the future.

As silly as it might sound, it’s easy to forget that customers are humans. Having a bad experience with a product or service can ruin their day, put them in a bad mood and significantly affect how they view your brand. That’s why it’s so critical to never lose that personal touch no matter how large your company might be. Just like my recent experience with a major airline, I was seeking a personal response to my personal situation, not an automated answer from an impersonal company. Having their ear meant so much and knowing that my words were heard, and changes were made to ensure no one else ever had to go through what I did, meant that much more.

So where do you go from here? Be authentic, keep it personal, and seek to see a complaint through to resolution. It’s really as simple as that. There’s no way to prevent negative experiences from happening, but with a little effort and a willingness to listen, you have the opportunity to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates that last a lifetime. Which do you choose?

Guest Post: The Mother Standard® of Care at Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

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By: Christine Hill, Guest Experience Officer, Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center

Every day I hear stories from both patients and stakeholders (our term for employees) about how they feel the presence of the Mother Standard of Care® at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).

The Mother Standard is exactly what it sounds like: Stakeholders treat patients, caregivers and each other as if they were members of their own family.

Would it be OK if our dad had to wait days or even weeks to get a lab or scan result back from the doctor? Would it be OK if our sister had cancer and no one told her everything about her medical condition in terms that she could understand? Would it be OK if our brother did not know every treatment option available for his disease? Would it be OK if our mother did not feel compassionate care from every one of her care providers, including culinary, housekeeping, travel and the clinical team? No, it would not be OK, so why would we provide anything less for each guest who walks through our doors?

“People may not remember what you said or did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” This is a paraphrase of Maya Angelou and something I think about every day. At CTCA, we have an uncanny ability to read our patients and caregivers. We know when they need a smile, a hug or an escort to their next appointment. We know when they need a diversion from the cancer they are fighting and provide complementary outings to the zoo, an entertainment show, the local movie theater or a fun restaurant. We know when to talk to them, and we know when to just sit quietly and hold their hand. We know when to share a funny story and we know when to provide them with more information about their cancer.

I am always amazed when I hear that our patients feel the difference at CTCA. And I hear it over and over again, so I know it is not a fluke. Patients tell me, “I feel so hopeful here” and “I feel so safe here.” Music to my ears! Those are the two statements that I want to hear more than anything else and, thanks to my fellow stakeholders, I hear them often.

I am also amazed that more healthcare organizations do not do the easiest thing in the world to improve their service: Ask and listen to your customers! We do that all the time and in many different ways, with no retribution to anyone. It is the only way any service can improve. It is the only way any service can go from good to great. Ask your customers what they want or need, and listen to what they say. Once you are good at listening, you can take the next step and anticipate. You will get better at knowing what they want before they even know it.

Beyond The Buzz

Marketing-Buzzwords

Disruption, gamification, synergy, showrooming, pivot. It seems as though hot new buzzwords surface and saturate our vocabulary and twitter accounts every time we turn around. But beyond the buzz, what are these words and phrases really all about? Let’s take a deeper look.

From the assembly line to the boardroom, buzzwords have been circulating the workplace for generations. Throughout the years, academics, marketers and consultants have invented countless buzzwords to accommodate the changing times and given entirely new meaning to old words. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, British psychologist Raymond Cattell repurposed the popular buzzword word synergy, which was originally a Protestant term for cooperation between the human will and divine grace. Today it’s one of the most memorable and frequently used buzzwords in the business world.

Unlike regular everyday speech, buzzwords present a sort of love-hate scenario. It’s important to know what they are and how to use them intelligibly in your industry, but overusing them can create a sense of insincerity or pretending. We have to think about buzzwords like a dash of salt – just a little bit can take a dish from good to great, but when you use too much it can ruin the entire meal. As a general rule of thumb – use your buzzwords wisely and remember that a little dash can go a long way.

As a sociologist, the use and deeper meaning of buzzwords in today’s corporate culture continually fascinate me. While many may view corporate jargon and buzzwords as meaningless, trivial speech, it actually reveals a great deal about individuals and how they view their work and profession. Buzzwords can help workers feel more emotionally connected to their “tribe”, and can also provide a sense of ownership and pride. In a world where our lives have become so inextricably connected to the internet, buzzwords can also help marketers and individuals shape their personal brand. By identifying and utilizing strategic buzzwords through the use of hashtags and social media, we now have the ability to self-identify and align ourselves with other thought leaders and experts in our industry. But before you go on a hashtag craze, first determine which buzzwords matter most and why you want to use them in the first place. Just like any fad or trend, when overused they risk the danger of becoming trite and losing their true meaning.

Beyond all the buzzwords and noise, sometimes it’s simply a matter of going back to the basics. According to marketing expert Tom Fishburne, “Sometimes the most powerful way to talk about a new product or business is Plain English. The more innovative your product actually is, the less you’ll need to use buzzwords to justify it.”

Whether you’re launching a product, re-branding or building a new business, be real, be unique and let your true voice do the talking. Buzzwords will come and go but quality, authenticity, and character will stand the test of time.