Is research overrated?
As I posit this question, I can hear the marketing community, most of my colleagues let out a collective gasp. Most agencies present this linear path to clients: research, interpretation, strategy and execution. Some do it very well. Some call it their secret sauce. I think cracking the code on research is only half the battle.
Here’s why: research generally tells you what your customers have done, how your product/service has been perceived. It outlines, in black and white, the statistics, ratios and patterns that have made you successful. Helpful, critical information to be sure, BUT, if research was all that we needed, we could build a computer to create marketing strategy.
Everyone can do a SWOT analysis (maybe some better than others). Everyone has access to at least some data or understands ways to find it.
Here are two bigger questions:
- How do you know what you customers will do in the future?
- How will your client’s product/service behave, or be received, in a new environment or, simply, as they grow and add new components?
The answers are far less predictable than you think. In this media saturated, hyper-competitive world your customer has new options every single day.
To help answer the tough questions, and predict the future with greater accuracy, I think you need a two-pronged approach:
The first, as advocated by Beats CMO Omar Johnson, is to engage with your influencers. These are powerful brand evangelists who have the authority and respect to steer the buying habits of your customer. Influencers might have celebrity status, be an artist or even garner a following by having a highly respected online voice, like a blogger. Your brand influencers are believable, trustworthy, and give honest, surprising feedback about your brand. As you incorporate this feedback, your brand becomes more valuable, more important to your influencers and the customers they represent. It’s virtually impossible for research alone to replicate this real-time adjustment and process. Building up a culture dependent on feedback from influencers can be the difference between being good and great.
The second prong is somewhat related to the first: gather appropriate insights about your brand. And don’t stop. These insights are the real-time street-level intel about why your customers are buying you today. Right now. They can be both surprising, sometimes even upsetting, but they are real and represent brand capital. Many times, the feedback you get from your influencers is insightful. Sometimes you need to just go, observe, do the legwork. Either way, this information, combined with good interpretation of the numbers becomes the most powerful way to grow your brand.