research team
The winning creative team from the ArtSlam 2010 event by Realize Bradenton (is your team invisible?)

Starting with this post, I am going to share a weekly series of ‘3 top tips’ for maximising the value of each of the different technical teams within a Customer Insight department; starting with the research team.

This content is intended to complement our previous focus on holistic customer insight.

None of what I’m about to share is rocket science and is probably only a reminder of what you knew already. However, these updates will comprise lessons learnt, normally from getting it wrong first, and so are practical advice “from the trenches”. Given recent content has focussed on data or analytics, I will start with some advice for leaders to maximise the value of their in-house research team.

Tip 1: Overcome the “just buyers” misconception:

Over the years I have been surprised how many marketing leaders and other directors doubt the value added by ‘in house’ research teams. Of all the technical teams within a customer insight function, it is research teams whom I have seen most often recommended for outsourcing or “just get the agencies to pick up their work”. This is concerning and unsettling for in-house researchers who are left feeling under valued. However, I think it is also partly something that research teams bring upon themselves by being too invisible or letting agencies take the starring roles.

Whilst leading research teams, I have encouraged them to take more opportunities to increase their visibility with directors and senior meetings and especially to change the way that debriefing is run. In many companies, I hear of agencies coming in and presenting on their branded slides the entirety of results from a research project. This needed to be changed and I established a new standard of debriefing on internally branded material and all de-briefs being both introduced by the in-house team and at the end summarised by them, in terms of lessons learnt and next steps. This small change helped more senior leaders see the reality, that it was their in-house team who were guiding research to be relevant and focussed on key issues as well as then ensuring intelligent interpretation. I would recommend such an approach to all in-house research leaders.

Tip 2: Applying Behavioural Economics:

It has been counterproductive, in my view, that a lot of the agencies now branded as specialists in “behavioural economics” tend to explain their approach by rubbishing traditional research methods; citing the unreliability of ‘self reporting’. Given that over many years I have seen the benefit of converging both consumer’s perceptions (from research) and behaviour (from data analysis), to create stronger insights for product design or communications, I am sceptical of such a knee-jerk reaction. Ironically, I find that it is actually researchers who most readily understand Behavioural Economics and apply this to both research design & interpretation. It can be more helpful to recall that Consumer Research methods and Behavioural Economics are both offspring of the study of Psychology, and can compliment each other in practice.

Behavioural Economics brings helpful cautions and challenges, to both research design and interpretation of self report. Primary research can remind the analyst of the perceived reality for the consumer, even if their behaviour indicates biases at play in their decision-making. My experience tells me that the biggest benefits come from using research findings, interpreted by considering biases that could be at work, to develop clearer hypotheses for quantitative testing. That testing should then be undertaken through experimental design and statistical data analysis. So, research teams are often the best place in the business to lead efforts to apply BE in practice.

Tip 3: Producing desirable objects to fuel demand:

Many years ago, when speaking at a conference in Amsterdam, I was very struck by a presentation by the customer insight leader of a FMCG business. In explaining how he had revitalised engagement in their customer insights, across a massive multi-national leadership team, he spoke about the trick of creating ‘desirable objects’ and then deliberately limiting supply to build demand. Now I know this sounds more like the manipulative tricks that games console manufacturers have used to frustrate parents before Christmas, but I’ve found it really can help create an internal buzz and attention that is missing when you always use the same and widely available media. The dutch presenter had produced beautifully bound books with gorgeous illustrations to communicate a rich understanding of their consumer segmentation.

However, the same benefits of desire and interest can be achieved with more cheaply produced objects, just by ensuring they are visually engaging and different to the normal communication media. I have successfully used this approach to communicate a segmentation, plus topics like summaries of ‘everything we know’ on a product/channel or new important topics for the business (like behavioural economics). Media have varied from life-size cut-outs of segment personas, to mini-books, cards on a key ring or short films. The common trick with whatever media, is to initially limit supply, to only the most senior leaders and select engaged leaders at the next level. Invariably, desire to also have a visually appealing object or something their peers have already (and is being talked about) will drive requests for more copies. These can be produced slowly, as in the meantime it will open doors for presentations/workshops/chats with those previously not as engaged, to help drive action.

I hope those 3 tips help. They are by no means exhaustive, but do reflect some lessons learnt in practice. If you have some from your experience, in leading a research team in today’s businesses, please do share.

Next week I’ll share 3 tips for getting the best out of your Database Marketing team.