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All of a sudden it hit me. The 80/20 rule flipped on its ear! What I’m referring to is that something like 80% of resources in the market research function goes towards “quantifying the expected”. Falling into that category would be metrics like market share tracking, surveys that have predetermined lists of questions/attributes like trackers, concept tests, and traditional approaches to copy testing. However, the ARF just completed executive interviewing with 20 marketing research leaders from many of the largest advertisers and media companies. One question we asked was for them to share the best, even legendary stories that prove market research makes a difference in their company…the story they would tell a new executive joining. For these unforgettable stories of research impact, 80% of the stories were about finding a big insight…an aha moment…that led to innovation or taking a stand on a big issue. In other words, 80% of market research’s best success stories were enabled by searching for the UNEXPECTED!
So 80% of spending goes towards quantifying the expected but 80% of aha-s come from listening for the UNEXPECTED. Perhaps there is some rebalancing of the spending that is needed, as Kim Dedeker from Procter has suggested.
So let’s talk about the UNEXPECTED. Listening and observing people in their natural habitats (in home, in store, digital social media) allow us to discover the unexpected. It allows us to become a fast-learning organization which is the imperative that Charlene Li talks about. Hearing the unexpected and respecting that it might come from anyone and anywhere is also the basis of innovation according to 3M, which they will share at the ARF annual conference on Wednesday. This is research on people’s terms, what they want to talk about, in their words, and how they behave.
Research executives have shared some great stories via the ARF:
• The great insight that led to making Levi’s jeans in Walmart a huge success
• Finding an emotional connection for what many think is a very functional product category
• Learning that people don’t know what the hell is meant by some insider jargon used daily at a financial services company that had been regularly used in surveys
• Observing shoppers navigate a store and seeing what catches their eye
• Taking a multi-pronged approach to understand video viewing and taking a stand on the future of TV advertising
Listening and observing also reveals people’s individual, unforgettable stories. These stories lead to a way of presenting research results and aha-s that galvanizes a management team around a single message; an insight that is unforgettable.
Now, let me be clear that insights from listening and deep exploratory work should be quantified to size the business opportunity and prove the premise. However, it all starts with an UNEXPECTED insight, that becomes an idea, and then takes shape as an initiative that gets refined, sized, etc.
Collecting valid data are necessary; however to get that “seat at the table” Market Research needs to bring the human to life in the boardroom and that requires a commitment to hearing the unexpected.

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2 Responses to “The New 80/20 Rule of Marketing Research”

  1. Rebalancing we need, indeed! And the timing could not be better. We’d amidst the great “age of the unexpected” (from today’s engaged and empowered consumers), so if there’s anytime to recalibrate or rebalance, it’s now.

    And lest the old guard start to huffing and puffing, none of this needs to replace time-tested methods; rather, we need to think of all of this as a “vitamin boost” or (dare I say) “stimulus” to make the current methods better. Better methods for harvesting and internalizing the “unexpected” inevitably make traditional formats of consumer understanding far better (and arguably more accurate). I’m a big fan of tapping into unprompted feedback (from any source, from message board to Twitter) because it helps frame the relevant universe for deeper, even “formal” consumer understanding. My biggest frustration in running focus groups is the high likelihood of missing obvious questions. Once I co-led three days of Hispanic/Latino focus groups in Miami, and didn’t even figure out the RIGHT question until day three.

    Can unprompted listening help us get it right on the first day? You bet? Are we more likely to hit the “big aha” if we start probing the relevant questions and issues from the get-go? Absolutely.

  2. Joel,

    You really hit the nail on the head with this AHA! So, why is it so difficult to get consumer products companies to commit to true exploratory research? For every advocate, I encounter 4 naysayers. Once the research is conducted (and sometimes even during the process) everyone wants in but somehow no one wants to be a participating sponsor. Why is this?

    Marketers and researchers too often go into research seeking confirmation of their own hypothesis. The openness to exploration and looking for what no one else sees is an art in itself!

    Thank you for sharing your insights!

    Cindy Diamond, IGNiTE