There is Marketing Research and then there are the rest

Why bother with marketing research at all?

If you have already decided on the path to take, product to develop, its pricing and  its routes to market –  save your time and money and go right ahead, there is nothing marketing research can do for you.  Of course you might believe that you already know the right answers and marketing research will help add analytics backing to your case. If you are not looking to do anything different based the data you find, there is no incremental value from marketing research to you.

Why can’t I do it myself ?

Yes you can. You are very good at what you are doing and you took the right step of seeking information for your decision. But you are the decision maker, you are too close to the problem. Your biases will most likely push you to seek data that attests your notion rather than seek the right information let alone seek data that contradicts your notion.

I plan to talk to customers and validate my hypotheses, isn’t that enough?

What are your hypotheses? How many customers? How did you choose them? What do you plan to ask them?  If you are simply verifying whether there exists few customers who are vaguely interested in a product that you have then yes, that is enough. The information you get from a few customers you talk to cannot validate any hypotheses about product features, pricing or segmentation. The output from “getting out of the building” and talking to prospects/customers is not data but informed hypotheses about their preferences, characteristics, buying processes, and segmentation that need to be validated across the wider market.

Isn’t it sending out surveys research?

No it is not. While a survey is an essential component of marketing research, sending out a canned survey or the one you designed yourself is not. First, there is the key step of doing qualitative research – customer interviews, focus groups, following the customer (ethnographic studies) and yes “getting out of the building” – that helps you find the language of your customers, the extremes of their preferences,  and hypotheses about them. Then comes survey or surveys custom designed to seek specific and relevant information  using rigorous data collection and analyses processes to validate these hypotheses. Remember, marketing research starts with talking to your target market and not with a canned survey.

Why would I spend money on hiring a professional do it?

Yes, there is cost to acquiring the information the right way, but what is the value of information to your venture?

Positioning Your Product: What is Relevant to Your Customers?

Update 1/8/2012: Times reports a study that found frequent use of tanning beds affects brain activity.

Medical researchers, dermatologists and FDA have been worried about the dangers  of frequent tanning salon visits. FDA estimates that people who begin using indoor tanning before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 75%.

To these stakeholders, which one of the two side-effects of indoor tanning would be the worst case scenario and hence worth putting their de-marketing dollars behind?

  1. Getting skin cancer
  2. Getting wrinkles

It would appear it is skin cancer message.

Now consider the target customer segment – young women who are not satisfied with their appearance, want to look attractive and “hire tanning salons to improve their skin tone”. Which one of the above two outcome would connect with them?

In the research published in the recent issue of Archives of Dermatology, researchers found that,

They’re not worried about skin cancer, but they are worried about getting wrinkled and being unattractive

It is not a surprise that to the segment that hired the product to make them attractive, a message that the product does not really do the job well will connect better*. This might sound like hindsight bias but the study’s hypothesis included appearance focused messaging and the experiment verified the hypothesis.

Positioning is finding out what is relevant to your customers and what job they are hiring for and applying for it. This is something easy to overlook when we see products as a portfolio of features, results of our superior innovation and R&D and not as means to deliver benefits to our customers.

Even the biggest names in marketing (P&G)  have tripped up on this. In her book Soap Opera, WSJ reporter Alicia Swasey wrote about P&G’s  failure with their pain reliever Encaprin (Have you heard of it?), an innovative drug that was easy on the stomach.

P&G chose to highlight easy on the stomach message, but to its customers pain relief was more important than stomach comfort. P&G pulled the drug after poor performance.

It does not matter what message you think is important to your customers. The message has to be validated with your customers.

Do you know what is relevant to your customers?
Do you practice customer driven product development?

*Footnote: In the tanning salon case, there is availability bias among the young women. They see wrinkled skins around them more often and may assign higher likelihood and weight than they do to skin cancer.