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Research in context

The objective of market research and insight management to help an organisation create and tune products and services for customers. What the customer wants and needs has to be balanced against the feasibility and capabilities of the business, and the costs of delivering what the customer wants.

Consequently, research and insight processes constantly need to work with people in the organisation, and market realities, not just to identify what is wanted, but also to discover ways in which the organisation can come together to deliver that potential profitably. Keeping the context in mind and always asking how the business can use the results, helps sharpen the insights from the research.

Researchers and insight specialists need to understand more than just research techniques or tools. Identifying the right questions to answer means understanding the business and the implications of the research.

A segmentation will need to be turned into a business plan with resources behind it to develop propositions for different groups identified. Those propositions will need to be communicated with the right target customers. Measurement will be needed to match sales back to target groups in order to track performance. These are factors that can be built into the research from the start if identified early on.

Customer satisfaction research needs to be embedded within the appraisal systems for customer service, or product delivery staff to ensure the research does not end up 'in a black hole' as one key customer told us. If the customer gives their time to help the business, the business needs to do something with what they find out.

That means researchers need to understand the organisation in sufficient depth that they can see the downstream issues from the research, and so can think beyond the survey. They also need to be able to communicate the results of the research to get action. Skills like storytelling through the data, or educating via simulations and models so the business can internalise the findings and make something happen.

In designing research, consider 'what-if' scenarios before the research is conducted. What would the business do if...?


Thinking beyond the results - the colour example

Thinking beyond research results As an example of the need to think broadly, an electronics company that was trying to find ways of differentiating its products and hit on the idea of producing a music player in a range of colours.

They decided to commission some research to find out what the best colour would be. They asked two questions: What was the customer's most preferred colour for the music player? And what was the customer's least preferred colour?

The list of preferred colours was topped by blue and red and somewhere near the bottom was the standard cream along with black, grey and white. However, the list of least preferred colours was also topped by blue and red, with few people disliking the standard cream, black, grey or white.

A deeper analysis showed that those who liked red, disliked blue, and those that liked blue disliked red. So although some customers would be attracted to the new colours, the most preferred colours were also potential negatives.

An obvious solution would be to produce a range of colours. However, mass production of this type of product in multiple shades or tones would be more demanding that just producing it in one colour. Separate mouldings would be needed to keep production clean. With multiple colours, stock holdings have to be larger, and it becomes difficult to use promotions to sell an overstocked colour, while holding prices on more popular colours.

If the benefits of producing a full-colour range could have been justified they would have taken that step, but in the end commercial realities set in and the company realised only one colour could be produced economically. The question of what colour to produce thus had to be decided not just on what the customer wanted, but on the basis of which colour was going to put off fewest people - understanding the least disliked colours, rather than the top-level preference.


Thinking smart about research

Using research is thus not purely about finding out what the customer wants. What he or she asks for involves trade-offs and a balance to be struck between say top quality and lowest price. The aim of the research is to discover not just that the customer wants everything (actually they don't), but to understand what really drives preference and decision making.

In the same way, the business has constraints about what it can deliver, both due to cost and capabilities, but also due to the historic values, focus and relationships the business has. Designing a research project therefore needs to view the world both from the business point of view, and also from the customer's point of view. Understanding the business is a core part of getting the right research.


For help and advice on carrying out quality market research for complex business challenges contact

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