Blogparade Mafo-Krise: Edward Appleton – Is Market Research Losing Touch?


Edward Appleton macht sich in seinem Blog Research & Reflect immer wieder Gedanken zu aktuellen Themen der Marktforschung und die Zukunft unserer Branche. Die mafolution freut sich über die Gedanken des Avery-Zweckform Marktforschers und natürlich darf diskutiert und die Frage „Is Market Research Losing Touch?“ beantwortet werden:

How often have you personally spent time with the people you are attempting to understand over the past 8 weeks – your customers, prospective customers?Seen where they shop, chatted to them, visited their homes, found out about their family, their jobs, their lives? Really got to a sense of what makes them tick, in other words?

It’s something I would say we are doing increasingly rarely as Market Research professionals – the wave of online data is not just overwhelming us, we’re getting used to making the quicker, cheaper shortcuts that the Web offers us: Social Media listening, Netnography, online panel research.

Are we missing out on stuff?

I sense yes, and a couple of experiences over the last seven days heightened this impression.

First, I personally carried out VOC interviews at a trade fair recently – retailers of all shapes and sizes. The ambition was to explore customer satisfaction, break it down into various components, understand areas of potential improvement. Face-to-face qualitative interviews.

By doing the interviews myself I gained an immense amount of insights that otherwise probably wouldn’t have surfaced – which of my interviewees had a better ability to give answers than others, some qualifying their remarks with a „but you need to talk to so-and-so in more detail about that, she’s responsible“, others really only opening up after about 15 minutes to tell you things that weren’t strictly your focus but extremely valuable nonethless. Meaningful peripherals, heightened contextual understanding. I’m really not sure if any of this would have struck me if I had just read an Analysis report.

Second (more of a reading experience) was an article in the January 2013 issue of Admap by Les Binet and Sarah Carter from Advertising Agency DDB in Londonon on how budgetary pressures combined with the whole array of online observational options are making visits into „the field“ increasingly rare amongst Agency staff. The result: people crafting messages such as Planners are in danger of being out of touch with their audiences‘ real lives.

The message for Research is clear: the increasing dependency on online feedback tools – and that includes mobile self-reported ethnography – combined with budgetary pressures mean that face-time with our audiences is dwindling, many insights into context, culture and emotion are potentially lost. A serious issue? I’d say yes – here’s my take:

1. Immersions are Invaluable and Irreplaceable

If you’re involved in an innovation process, there is nothing more valuable than an insight into people’s lives. You see for yourself the surroudings, the influences, the neighbourhood, taste in clothes, personal style….and then you can begin to properly sift through cultural influences, understand biases and influences at play, really begin to understand how your particular focus area or brand can play what sort of  role.

I am definitely a fan of Netnography, but only as a substitute for the real thing. Meaningful moments invariably happen offline.

2. There’s No Replacement for Seeing and Listening yourself.

We often are forced to rely on people’s own narratives about themselves – cost-pressures make detailled and longer-term ethnographies often unviable. As a Client, our insights are invariably filtered through the lens of a trusted Agency partner. However, we gain immensely by actually accompanying people on their journeys, observing, asking on the spot – we see things that are potentially taken for granted.

It’s the paradox of an insight – what for one person is perfectly obvious and uninteresting is potentially gold-dust for someone else.

3. Every Quantification should be Accompanied by Granular Qualitative Insights.

I would extend this challenge of contextual granularity into the realm of the quantitative – at the very least we need to read a random selection of open-ended questions, better build in a proper qual. component into a quant. study.

The added value of making the effort to interact personally with as many of our original audience as possible is huge – our insights become richer, gain more commercial value. We should probably make more effort in communicating this easily unnoticed value to a broad array of stakeholders, especially those controlling the budgets.

None of the above is rocket science in theory – putting it into practice is often a challenge, as often there simply isn’t time. I’d say: spending time at the micro-level, the personal and qualitative, immersive, contextual is extremely useful to any insights project – perhaps it should be mandatory.

We need to shut our computers down, get out and talk to more people. Find out what’s meaningful to them, and how our brands or categories fit in with their daily lives. What algorithm can replace that?

Curious, as ever, as to others‘ views.


Über den Autor

4 Kommentare

  1. Hallo Edward, schön zu lesen und sehr angenehmer Post, der der allgegenwärtigen Benefit-Rallye nach „schneller, günstiger und trozdem reichhaltig“ eine Verschnaufpause verordnet und den Wert der Originalerfahrung hervorhebt.

    Das alleine und der Hinweis auf das notwendige Qualitätsniveau wäre schon sehr angenehm. Wenn dann das ganze jedoch passiert OHNE den Status Quo zu verteidigen (den man kritisieren muss), umso besser und erfrischender.

    Für mich ein weiterer Hinweis darauf, dass das Thema „neue Qualität“ für die Marktforschung relevanter ist den je


  2. Thomas Perry am

    thanks for this contribution, Ed. You are very very right. I could add many examples from my own experience.

  3. Daniel Daimler am

    Great post as ever, Edward.

    Different topic, but I very much like the phrase „paradox of an insight“ – I’ve been recently thinking of this as well, but in a different context, concluding that even if – as a major consumer brand – you’d be able to fundamentally understand consumers from the bottoms of their hearts (and although working at BrainJuicer I’m tempted to seriously challenge the very eventual feasibility of this endeavour) – you are not necessarily in the position to explicitly address consumers with this understanding. You might be able to do this implicitly, most obviously via NPD, but when it comes to communications, you are per se detached from your audience.

    Eventually, this paradox of insight might equate to „Do good, but don’t talk about it“ – and my hypothesis is that the most promising NPD concepts will test better without an explicit insight articulation, because the benefit implicitly addresses something which you might not have even realised yet.

    The shortcoming of this reasoning, of course, is that you’d also not be able to communicate your breakthrough innovation, because by this you’d provide an explicit frame for something which works best implicitly.

    And here the paradox of insight turns into a more basic paradox of marketing.

    But I’m zoning out…

  4. Thanks to all for commenting.
    @christian – Market Research no doubt needs to become a more authentic and „real“ avenue for Brand Owners to understand their users, their lives, and the opportunity spaces out there. Obsessive focus on „methodology“ is counterproductive – business owners only care about the „what“. I wonder if our Industry is changing quickly enough, if we are all renewing and expanding our skill sets as fast as we need to – and I don’t mean by retraining to become a Data Scientist. I mean building on our strengths and enriching them, exploring the boundaries, having a respect for purism but not be limited by it.

    @Thomas – could you share an example? Curious.

    @Daniel – I’d say placing greater emphasis on the role of intuition and context is helpful in understanding unmet and unarticulated needs. Ethnography too – seeing, listening, beginning to understand. Translating those into something bigger begins well with small, iterative steps – „I understood this, did you mean something different“ – and by working closely with people with product development, visualisation and design skills. Co-creation may be a buzz word, but done properly it can be powerful.