Everything Is Marketing Research (Including This Article)
There is this misperception that creatives have about marketing research. That it’s only the boring stuff – attitudinal scaling and Winsorized samples, perceptual mapping and spreadsheets.
Oh, the spreadsheets. It’s true, data folk do love their spreadsheets. I once had a data scientist write a blog post in Excel (this one).
Look, I am a creative myself. And none of the data mumbo jumbo comes naturally to me. So I could just shut down and try to ignore marketing research.
But I don’t.
Instead, I take a broader view of market and marketing research. I don’t let those folks with the PhDs and the spreadsheets and the ANOVA calculations monopolize the understanding of the customer.
Data Is Data, but Peoples Is Peoples
Yes, it’s true. Data and data methodologies are crucial to getting accurate information about the customer. But what then?
Data is just information. Information on its own doesn’t really do you any good, not without meaning. And meaning comes from human understanding. It’s like this scene from “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”
It’s not about buildings or cities, just like it’s not about metrics and analytics and data in isolation. It’s about people. In this way, data and research doesn’t undercut your creativity. It enhances it.
For example, in an interview with Wharton’s Peter Fader and Sarah Toms about customer-centric mobile marketing, they explained to me how research and data were used at Electronic Arts. At first, the team felt threatened by the data because they considered themselves a creative company. But Chief Analytics Officer Zach Anderson helped them come up with the perfect metaphor to understand how they could be research-oriented and creative at the same time – cooking competition shows. Chefs are given a fixed set of ingredients, just like data from the research. But what the chefs do with it, well, that’s the art.
So if you’re a marketing creative or marketing manager, don’t let the marketing researchers have all the insights. To do that, you have to step up your understanding of human behavior. For me, most of that happens outside the workplace.
We’re Not Just Marketers, We’re Readers …
In one college job, we had one of those old-fashioned time clocks with punch cards. And I loved it in a way, because when you clocked out you were done. It was a physical manifestation of the separation of work and life.
For the modern marketing job, that separation simply does not exist. And I’m not suggesting you should be constantly checking your email or burning the midnight oil on marketing campaigns and project plans after hours. I actually think that’s counterproductive.
But do this: Once you have the luxury of stepping away from the laptop, live your life fully. And live it with curiosity.
Personally, I’m a voracious reader in my downtime, reading every magazine and newspaper I can get my hands on. While I enjoy reading as an activity in and of itself, it is also a great way to get deeper human understanding and spark creative ideas. For example, I wrote this article about transparent marketing after reading about North Korean propaganda. (Hopefully the article you’re reading right now will spark a few insights into human nature or creative ideas for you.)
For me, it’s reading. For you, it might be another hobby. Going to museums. Birdwatching. Pottery. Golf. Surfing. Soap carving. Competitive dog grooming.
Whatever leisure activities bring you joy likely also give you insights into human behavior, and give your brain a chance to light up with new creative potential.
… and People …
In our daily lives, people often tell us about purchases and other decisions they’ve made. At a dinner party. In an airplane. At the “water cooler” at work.
Ask questions. People tend to like talking about themselves, and they like when others are interested in them. This is a great chance to learn about human behavior. Listen for their biases. Try to understand their motivations. See how they explain emotional decisions in a logical way.
I hope this doesn’t sound overly clinical or haughty. I’m well aware I have all of these human peculiarities and flaws as well. But it is far easier to observe them externally than uncover them internally.
I once worked with a chap who was somewhat particular and prickly, but was quiet fond of a specific custom suit maker and clothier. Upon probing a little deeper, I found out it was because of the system the clothier used to understand and serve each customer. That understanding later informed marketing content I created for a CRM company.
Because it all comes back to human understanding.
… and Customers.
You can study the customer experience. But it’s not quite the same as living and feeling the customer experience while you make your own purchase decisions.
And don’t assume purchase decisions in another industry aren’t applicable to your job.
We’ve created 1,620 marketing case studies over the past two decades. Marketers get information and inspiration to improve their own marketing from these case studies. But some of our readers are just too literal. If the case study isn’t in their specific industry, they don’t think it can help them.
You can learn from any industry. Even if you are in B2B marketing, you can still learn from your B2C shopping experiences. Because, back to it – peoples is peoples. Human nature is human nature.
Here’s how I got some B2B ideas from a B2C shopping experience. My wife and I are currently shopping for a new mattress. I was just going to buy an Avocado Green mattress online. It had a one-year risk-free in-home trial and a 25-year warranty. What’s to lose?
But my wife pushed back. She couldn’t imagine buying a mattress she hadn’t at least tried out in a store. This led us to The Casper Hybrid and let me experience the Casper Sleep Shop, the Apple Store of sleep. The way Casper tries to replicate the at-home sleep experience got me thinking of our own Quick Win Intensives, and how we can better help marketers get in the customer’s shoes by stepping out of the four walls of their office.
It also got me thinking of B2B software. For mattress companies that didn’t have a store here in Jacksonville where I could try out their mattress, I would get a response like, “We offer free shipping and a full 100-night trial. If at any point you don’t love it we’ll come pick it up and give you a full refund. This way you really get to try it out and see if the mattress helps your sleep after months rather than super quick in the store.”
Don’t get me wrong, these are smart anxiety reducers in that statement. But here’s what hit home to me as the customer – these companies are assuming I want to buy their mattress. It’s a little premature when I haven’t made that decision yet. Yet they set up a dynamic that is so unlike the customer shopping experience. Until customers are farther along in the funnel, few customers are thinking “Should I buy Product A?” Rather, their thought pattern is more like “Should I buy Product A or Product B or Product C?”
These mattress brands that don’t have a physical store presence really need a unique value proposition so customers understand why they should try Mattress Company A’s 100-day at-home trial instead of every other mattress company’s at-home trial.
The same is true for B2B software. When I’ve gone A-shopping for B2B software – OK, it’s a little different than walking into a Casper Sleep Shop, maybe I should phrase it as 'when I’ve gone a-vendor-selecting' for B2B software – I’m surprised by how many software companies are so focused on their software. Their software only has a month-to-month contract, what’s to lose? Their success team can ensure a smooth transition. Etc. Etc.
That might sound like an odd complaint when you see it in writing. What else would they focus on? Well, me. My company. The customer.
Here’s a great example I recently heard from Raj Dosanjh and included in an article about discovering what customers want. He talked about his time working at major banks, and one software vendor that really stuck out in his memory:
“Instead of the pitch showcasing just what the software does, it focused on the bank’s upcoming pain points and how competitors are dealing with it,” Raj said. “This differed from other vendors who spend a lot more time just showing us the software, not practical examples of use against the bank’s upcoming regulatory risk areas.”
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.