Does Market Research Still Matter?

In our fast paced digital business climate, immediacy is critical and carefully constructed market research focused on customer wants and needs and large brand tracking studies have been replaced with newer, cheaper and sexier techniques.  While there is a great deal to gain by using digital data and web listening or by engaging in on-line community based conversations, marketers may be throwing out the baby with the bath water.  I am concerned that in the effort to be timely and current, insufficient focus may be given to using the appropriate methodology or to taking the time necessary to gather the right intelligence to make informed decisions.

In the digital era, it has become easier to develop and promote new products/services and to establish a brand or create a buzz.  Barriers to entry for many businesses are low and the increased sophistication of marketing has enabled better targeting.  Yet, clearly there are many cases of businesses failing.  And, while the costs of entry might be relatively low, the cost of failure may still be very high.   Businesses may not be taking sufficient time to understand what clients really need or feel and how this changes over time.  They also may not be putting in the appropriate metrics to measure success.  Thus, when things go wrong they may not have the insights they need to understand what happened or to develop a strategy to ensure future success.  Too many simply move on and pursue the next shinny new object without learning a thing.

In the quest to reduce marketing expenditures, some businesses have forgotten that not everything can be obtained cheaply and that there is often a difference between stated and unstated needs and values.  Could they be missing something critical?  Web analytics provide valuable data, but they do not always provide insights about what drives behavior.   The digital world is full of data and on-line behavior tracking.  But, what creates and sustains brand loyalty and why clients act like they do are often more difficult to discern.

I am not suggesting that research return to the days when insights were only from one-way mirrors or phone based surveys.  I do, however, recommend that a more balanced approach be taken and the right tools employed to gain knowledge.  The optimal combination would be multiple types of data that could enable one to understand the full complexity of market forces and customer requirements.  Most businesses would love to be able to predict customer behavior so that they might act to prevent defection.  Having the means to do this often requires intelligence that cannot simply be gained quickly and through only one channel.

The on-line world certainly allows a level of customer intimacy that did not exist before and it has provided a vast array of data.  But, one should not lose sight of the limitations of the information that is often readily available.    There are costs to failing.  Longitudinal surveys and focus groups, may actually turn out be good investments!

The Wild Wild West of Social Media

I recently completed a course on Web Analytics. And, although I have been working in the social media field for a while, after spending the time to really understand the full range of tools that are available, I was struck by just how much information can simply be gleamed directly from the web about buyer behavior, one’s own company and one’s competitors. As a marketer and market researcher, I am thrilled by all that I can learn on-line and the diversity of things I can monitor or listen to. But, I have to admit that sometimes it does give me pause.

I remember how much time and effort it took to get data using traditional market research methods. Perhaps one of the good things about that world were that the people we surveyed knew they were being questioned and their answers used for research. Similarly, the people that came to our focus groups knew they were being watched behind the mirror. While this may have been a negative in that we sometimes witnessed contrived behaviors or heard socially desirable response, we erred on the side of informed consent. The world of social media is much different. We observe behavior in a more natural setting. It is almost like we are sitting in someone’s living room just listening in. In the era of reality TV, this does not seem strange. But, the folks in reality TV, for the most part, understand that there are cameras pointed at them. Does the social media using public understand the power of web analytics…I suspect not.

The ability to track behavior and monitor the online conversation is probably greater than most people realize. We gladly accept free Gmail accounts from Google. Do we realize that by doing so we allow them to search through what we are writing? Similarly, we gladly accept free accounts on Facebook and in turn allow ourselves to be searched, advertised to and content analyzed. While we do need passwords to enter our accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn, do we actually expect them to be private.. or do we simply not think about it?

In the direct marketing world, opt in and opt out rules have prevented some of the abuses created by spamming and other practices. I wonder what type of guidelines or laws we will see going forward pertaining to the gathering and use of social media data? Privacy is already a big issue online as the reaction to a recent move by Facebook attested to. I suspect this area will continue to evolve. It will probably take only one malicious high profile action to create a very public call to action. In the era of viral messaging, it does seem that no bad deed stays hidden for too long.

What I hope to do going forward is to use this blog is enlighten folks not only about wide array of marketing and research tools that are out there, but also about the rules or best practices that are evolving over time to bring some structure to the often chaotic social media world. It is not quite the Wild Wild West, but then again, I am not sure all the accoutrements of civilization have arrived either. Please watch this space and let me know what types of things you see on the horizon. I am listening!!