Listening to people – the best thing since sliced bread.

28063818935_DTbmCibx_lAnyone starting out in business or working in anything that involves selling something (be it a product or a service) should know the words market research.

The thing is talking to people has been given a bit of a bad rep of late. If you pay someone to do it for you it can often be expensive and lack real understanding not just of what people say but why they say it. There is a feeling that you might end up with a watered down version, turning a great idea into a merely adequate one.

Although I run a research agency now, it might surprise many of you to hear that I wholeheartedly agree. Research can ruin a good idea at 20 paces if it is not handled well. The thing is it can also be great, it can promote growth within your business by understanding a few things about the people that are ultimately going to govern whether you succeed or fail – those that buy your product or service.

So instead, consider this – research is just stimulus to help us make better marketing and business decisions.

I don’t pretend to know what everyone looks for but I know what I find works. I also know why all of us in the marketing world (be it marketers, brand owners, planners or creative) need this stimulus to help us do better, more effective, more creatively challenging work:

1. Real life
Weirdly most communications communities in this country group themselves in the 6mile square radius that is central London. Normal people are an anathema to all that live in this bubble. Research needs to remind us what normal people are like. Oddly not everyone shops in Waitrose or Dalesford Organic.

2. Loyalty is nonsense
When you work on or for a brand you get terribly excited about it. Baked beans are the center of your universe, they are awesome in every way and everything you do is as important and interesting as the search for renewable energy.

It is not. Research should remind everyone that people in real life don’t give a monkeys. Your brand or product features for a nanosecond in their life every few weeks and could equally be any another brand. Research has a mightily important role to remind us that no-one is loyal. If you drink coke, you also drink Pepsi. This is the way of the world, we must accept this and work within these confines.

3. Context & ways to sell more stuff
Working on a campaign or brand you become totally immersed in a category and how it works, who the competition is etc, what is/is not possible from your production lines. Research has a job to do to understand how other things affect the people that buy the brand.

It is other stuff that people love or hate that tells you more about what they think and how you can influence them. This is the thing that gives your business or brand a competitive edge and future focus.

It also helps you reflect on your own capabilities. Suddenly the thing you have always just accepted becomes a new possibility, the off-cuts become the solution to a need you didn’t know existed.

When it comes to a new idea or product, I often hear brand owners obsessing over the innovation in quite functional ways. They are concerned with the technical innovation not the emotional innovation. For most ordinary people, particularly in the world of food and drink, which is where I do most of my business, the technicalities are irrelevant. They want to know how it is going to make their life easier, healthier or tastier and they don’t want to know why, they want to know how it will make them feel.

Sliced bread was invented in the US in 1912 but didn’t make it to a mainstream audience until 1925 – proving that no matter how good or revolutionary the innovation, unless you tell a good story it is going nowhere.

So next time you think that listening to people might ruin your great idea, think a little harder. Do it in a way that makes sense to you, be prepared to listen and walk away if you disagree – use your research as stimulus. It cannot make your decisions for you but it can help you make better, more informed, more competitive decisions.

Tash Walker – Is owner and Planning Director of The Mix, a qualitative research agency with a difference working with brands both big and small. We believe in insight with imagination.

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