As marketers or researchers, our job is to discover consumer truths. We accomplish this through qualitative or quantitative primary research, understanding market trends, and good ol’ first hand observation. But sometimes along the way, the truth can get shifted, altered, polished—or in some other way—filtered, which can ultimately lead to faulty decision making or sub-par execution in market.
Here are some common “filters” to watch out for and a few quick tips to help:
- The Curse of Knowledge: If you’ve been working on a brand or in an industry for a long time, you can start to feel like you know it all and there’s nothing new under the sun. To cope with vast amounts information, the brain naturally develops short cuts and heuristics that inform how the world is organized. A simple example of this in marketing is a Target Consumer description—we can’t possibly know every single person who fits within the definition, so we compile and summarize data to create a story for a single composite individual, who is the Target Consumer. The problem is that if we observe something that doesn’t fit with what we know, or what we think we know, we tend to unconsciously overlook it or even consciously discount it (in psychological terms, to prevent “cognitive dissonance”). The problem is that sometimes the pieces that don’t fit can actually lead to the biggest insights.
- Quick Tips: Get perspective from colleagues outside your immediate brand or category on a research report—see what stands out to them. Invite newer team members, interns or even business partners who usually don’t attend consumer research to attend and contribute. Use a moderator with limited experience with your company or industry.
- Drawing Conclusions Too Early: We’ve all been there—it’s the end of the 2rd consumer interview out of six planned or you’ve reviewed only half of the countless pages of the latest survey data. You’re starting to see some patterns and our biologically lazy brains want to stop working so hard, so you just make the flying leap to a key learning point and start to switch your thinking into “action mode”--what to fix or adjust or a new feature to add, etc. The problem is that you’re so busy drawing conclusions, coming up with recommendations or literally revising the research stimuli in real time that you miss critical learning and only get a fraction of the value of the research.
- Quick Tips: When attending qualitative research, write your notes in actual consumer language and capture real-time observations as much as possible. This not only forces you to stay mentally present, but gives you great input for analysis & synthesis later. Take time to process what you’ve learned before drawing conclusions. If possible, give a bit of time between the conclusion of qualitative research and the team debrief session, or, read over all the data from a quantitative study to let your brain start finding all the patterns before jumping to the executive summary.
- In-Going Personal Biases or Hypotheses: Developing hypotheses before consumer research is a good thing, right? Well, it depends on whether you’re approaching the research with an “inquiry” or an “advocacy” mindset. With an inquiry mindset, you have questions and hypotheses and you are seeking the answers, to either prove or disprove your hypotheses. If you have an “advocacy” mindset, you are only seeking to prove your existing assumptions and are looking & listening for data points that support your argument. There’s a time and place for advocacy-based approaches in business, but to uncover deep, rich consumer insights, an inquiry mindset will get you to the complete truth so you have the salient information needed for decision making.
- Quick Tips: Before a consumer research project of any kind, spend some time as team sharing and capturing assumptions and hypotheses. Acknowledging those up front can make you conscious of any potential biases and capturing assumptions as a group can help hold everyone accountable after the fact. Once you have the conclusions, go back to that list and do a check. If everything you learned lines up perfectly, you either really didn’t need to do the research in the first place or you all deserve a big raise—or, consider whether some existing biases or assumptions may have colored your interpretations.
So, the next time you participate in qualitative research or analyze consumer survey results, make sure you use #nofilter to get the most authentic and insightful view of your consumers or customers.