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Your Assumptions are Wrong; Three Ways Market Research is Changing…Again

Posted by Bridget Brinkofski on Apr 21, 2016

Change is the only absolute. After all, clichés are clichés for a reason. The marketing research industry itself is always moving, innovating, adapting. We’re reaching audiences in new ways and accessing new data sources to provide insights. There has never been a more exciting (or scary) time to be in the MR field. But what about the base assumptions we have about consumers? What data is important or the best way for advertising to be effective? We live in a changing world, and our assumptions need to change too.

I recently attended the ARF (The Advertising Research Foundation) ReThink Conference, and one of the most dynamic themes of their sessions was “Challenging Conventional Assumptions.” This was an opportunity for new thoughts on the changing consumer landscape and how both advertising and our data collection must change to meet these challenges. My three major takeaways were:


  1. Millennial Family Decision Making is a Game Changer. Shoppers are progressing through life stages. Millennials are now getting married, having kids and making decisions not just for themselves, but for their families. They make up the largest current consumer group, and their family structure differs from previous generations in that it looks more like a web than a hierarchy. Larger percentages call their child their best friend and smaller percentages call themselves the primary decision maker than in previous generations. As the decision making process has moved from autocracy to democracy, the place where decisions are made have moved from the head to the heart. Emotion has long been the foundation of effective advertising, but the emotive causes of these purchasing behaviors are not what we think. For example, The Family Room has found that positioning your child to succeed is very important to the Millennial parent (no surprise). But, with the changing vision of success in the Information Age, this is not focused on school success but on emotional intuitiveness, imagination and crafting life skills. Finding the emotional drivers behind the decision making processes of these new democracies is crucial to brand positioning, and the future is now.
  2. Humor in B2B ads? Yes please! B2B advertising has received a bad rap because the default position is to appeal to the consumer’s head not their heart or funny bone. Research presented by Gyro and Research Now has shown that B2B buyers make emotional decisions as frequently as general consumers, but they will justify these decisions based on intellect. B2B suppliers are more adverse to humor since they’re concerned that this would appear unprofessional to decision makers. However, as millennials are moving into decision making positions in the workforce, humor should be reevaluated as a powerful method of persuasion. Humor appeals more to females and ages 25-34 in B2B audiences. As these groups specifically become the target consumers then B2B advertising needs to adjust their approach to touch their hearts and their minds… maybe through a belly laugh?
  3. The Future is Small Data Martin Lindstrom presented on his new book “Small Data” on how big data can identify clear trends but can miss the correlation. His behavioral observations (often uncovered in a person’s home) of small data can uncover creative insights which would have otherwise been missed. This is a way to uncover the humanity missing in Big Data. It is through the small clues and detailed conversations that he can uncover what consumers like, hate, need and want.

For example, in the early 2000’s LEGO was seeing revenues decrease, and the industry was sure this toy company was a thing of the past. This new generation of instant gratification would not be interested in building blocks which required time when they had gaming consoles; however, these insights were wrong. In conversation and observation of an 11-year-old LEGO aficionado, Lindstrom saw how his prized possession was a beat up pair of sneakers which were worn in exactly the right way to commemorate the time and skill required to learn complex skateboarding tricks. The choices LEGO had made towards larger blocks and easier builds were wrong. They began making even more complex instructions and models and tinier blocks and now LEGO is the world’s largest toy maker. For more details, see Lindstrom’s write up on LEGO for LinkedIn.

Brands come to Lindstrom because they know there’s something they’re missing, and they just can’t uncover what it is. He does not make these discoveries through large databases, but through investigation and the insights of small data.

It was refreshing to have a series of information sessions at the ARF focused specifically on challenging our assumptions when planning research and offering insights. We tend to identify the future of the industry and overcorrect to the exclusion of other approaches. The most impactful takeaway is that we should keep an open mind and not adhere to our standard practices to the exclusion of understanding what consumers actually think. After all, figuring that out is our job.

Topics: Data Driven Marketing, Market Research, emerging talent

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