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By Katherine Ephlin, Chief Operating Officer, Gongos, Inc.

In today’s world, empowering individuals to bring their voice to research is more important than ever. While the emphasis on the “get” of data is leading us to examine actual behavior, data doesn’t have a voice – it simply can’t articulate why it exists.  As market researchers, we sit in the enviable position to uncover the why.  Understanding what compels humans to act as they do is critical for organizations as they strive to shape future behaviors and grow their business.

But as we know, research typically begins with an unanswered question. It is primarily intended to uncover what is unknown to fulfill on a stated need.  The problem with this thinking is that it largely leads to transactional behavior, and consequently transactional output and performance. Under this guise, assumptions are made as to why the research was initially commissioned, what the expected outcome is, and how it will affect or impact an issue mostly singular in nature.

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As insights professionals, we have the opportunity—and more than ever, the imperative—to answer to a broader organizational audience. We need to think well beyond our arsenal of concept tests and MaxDiff exercises to address challenges that data alone cannot answer. When we do this, we can move beyond filling gaps of knowledge and affirming hypotheses, to mitigating risk and driving growth.

Two Ways to Break the Cycle

There are two dimensions at play in breaking the ask/answer cycle.  Part I refers to the interactions that occur within the walls of our clients, while Part II delves into how we operate outside their walls—or, how we interface with consumers.

Both are essential in the two-way ‘bridge’ that we create to help our clients build the capacity and competency to make better consumer-minded decisions. Let’s first take a look at what should be happening within your organization.

Within Your Walls: Thinking Beyond the RFP

There is a common trap that researchers tend to fall into; and that is to ask every possible question related to the requirements and methods necessary to fulfill on the request. However, jumping to the ‘how’ too quickly circumvents critical thinking that can lead to answers that are shortsighted, or impractical to take action against.

Beyond sharing what you currently know about the ‘ask’, consider these ways to think outside the RFP to help shape the focus, the approach, and the value of output:

1. Ladder up the thinking to the business challenge at hand. Understand the overarching business issue, and prioritize how sub-learnings will fold into it. As we know, there are multiple factors that can catalyze the need for an organization to delve deeper into an issue. Yet there is often one desired outcome. Knowing this, it is our job to reframe the research ‘ask’ as: “I wish I knew, so I could.”  On a small scale, this might sound like “I wish I knew which CRM initiatives are resonating with customers so I can prioritize our efforts.” Or on a larger scale, “I wish I knew the reciprocal expectations around loyalty, so that I could gain a customer for life.”  When you start with the big picture in mind, possibilities open up about designing a plan where sub-learnings all lead back to the desired state.

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2. Take into account the environmental context. While it’s one thing to understand the challenge, it’s another to acknowledge that no challenge exists in a vacuum.  Economic fluctuations, surging trends, competitive newbies, and government regulations, to name a few, all have a direct or indirect and/or short or long-term impact on the business challenge. Understanding how these factors play out today, and can change over time, becomes an inevitable piece of the solution. To ensure that all parties are aligned, iterative conversation between researcher, direct client and end-client user is necessary. Each brings perspective and experience from their areas of influence to ensure the approach—and outcome—take into account both today’s realities and tomorrow’s eventualities.

3. Consider the possibilities about reactions and corresponding actions. Thinking steps ahead is how great companies not only acquire knowledge, but gain wisdom. The adage ‘the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know’ applies here. Developing hypotheses about how consumers will respond, and more importantly how we adjust, ensures a proactive and disciplined approach to learning. It is just as valuable for an organization to acknowledge early on what options can and should be pursued, and which are simply not possible. Those that are impossible to implement should likely not make it in the research query. In the end, this leads to tangible courses of action that are realistic, aligned with the business challenge, and worth their investment.

Click here for Part II of Breaking the Ask/Answer Cycle where we focus on meeting consumers where they are…outside of corporate walls.

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