How Many Researchers Does It Take To Convince A Light Bulb To Change Itself?
Dr. Stephen Needel
It’s always seemed to me that marketing is a pretty straightforward proposition. You figure out what you can sell to people and then you sell it to them. Of course it’s a little more complicated than that, but then, you don’t have to do this alone. Today’s marketer has a manufacturing team that specializes in how to make stuff. If you have a good team, they figure out how to make stuff better and cheaper than the other marketer’s team. The marketer has a sales team who’s good at convincing people who sell lots of stuff why they should sell your stuff. The marketer may have an advertising team who’s good at telling buyers why they want to buy your stuff and not the other guy’s stuff. And you probably have a finance team that’s there to make sure you make money selling the stuff you sell. So with all these teams an essential part of the marketer’s world, why does the research team feel left out? The answer is simple – we’re not using the same playbook as the other teams.
Intellectually, we researchers understand that the marketer’s goal is to sell more stuff. We get that the sales team wants to sell more stuff, that most of the time the advertising folk want their output to lead to greater sales, manufacturing would love to add another line or another shift, and the finance guys would be happy with more revenue too. Our problem is, we often don’t focus our efforts on what marketers can do to sell more stuff.
And our bigger problem may be that we think we do.
Back in 2006, I gave a talk about the dangers of shifting to a “consumer insights” approach to marketing research. My argument was that the need to come up with insights takes us away from doing good research that would actually help our companies/clients sell more stuff. Alex Batchelor gave a great talk at IIeX Atlanta this past summer in which he pointed out this same fallacy – research is not about insights. He took it a step further and pushed for behavior change (or as he would write, behaviour change) as the goal of research. This would be a radical shift for our industry, perhaps as radical as when we were silly enough to adopt the consumer insights mantle. But this may be what we need to get back on the team and in the game.
What do we do differently if we’re focused on behavior change?
- We stop worrying about tracking studies for one. That doesn’t mean we stop doing them, we just don’t devote a lot of time to them. Tracking studies become your early warning system, identifying trending problems. These can be automated and should be automated, giving you alerts based on a good set of rules. When you’ve got a problem, you worry about it. When you don’t have a problem, go off and do something more productive.
- We stop worrying about how much people like our stuff. We figured out whether they liked it when we introduced it. Our sales data tells us if they like it more, less, or the same – if we’re selling less, they like it less. That’s when we should start paying attention – when our sales begin to decline.
- If we want to see if we can make our stuff better, great, if that leads to more sales. But when we make our stuff better and nobody cares, give it up and move on to something else. It’s the same for line extensions – how many fragrances or flavors do we need? Actually, that’s a good question, and it would take approximately one study to answer it. After that, move on to doing something for your brand that’s not cannibalistic.
- We stop worrying about the path-to-purchase. Indeed, please, in the name of God, can we stop talking about the path-to-purchase? I’ve lost track of how many different path-to-purchase models there are and the one thing I know for sure is that almost all of them are wrong. There are no quantified path-to-purchase models that have been validated and we’re unlikely to see one for some time to come. That doesn’t mean someone (read “academics”) shouldn’t be trying to build one. It just means that we corporate researchers and we research suppliers are not likely to build one soon.
What do we do instead? Easy – we get smarter.
- We learn what leads people to choose the products that they choose. We understand why our products are what they want and, more importantly, why they aren’t what they want. Then we fix our product, create a new product, or just accept that our product is what it is and move on. We don’t need to keep on doing this repeatedly because why our product works isn’t likely to change much over time.
- We learn how to measure the variables that drive our brand’s sales and stop worrying about 50-item surveys and descriptor check lists and purchase intent questions and whether it gets the blood in the brain flowing. Is our brand subject to social media influences? Do the experiment and if the answer is no, move on. Is it price sensitive? If so, figure out by how much and optimize.
- We learn what happens when a shopper comes to our shelf. Are they just grabbing their usual product by habit (in which case we may need a disruptive package to break that cycle)? Are they comparing products (in which case, we worry about where we are on the shelf in order to force more favorable comparisons)? Are they price or value shoppers (in which case, we play with our value proposition)?
Most importantly, we recognize that the marketer has got to change consumer and shopper behavior in order for our team to win. We focus our research skills on figuring out what will produce a change in behavior and go do that. And we automate the rest. It’s like the old joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb really has to want to get changed. Marketers need to get the light bulb to want to change and researchers need to help them figure out how to do that.