Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A little knowledge is a little knowledge

Another thing I’ve been finding lately with companies and brands which have been winging it (by which I mean no research at all--no usability, no site analytics, no segmentation, no focus groups, nichts, nothing, except, of course, definitive conversations with the cousins!) is that the introduction of research into the strategic process can freak them right out, raising all these questions they haven’t bothered to consider before.

Weirdly, or maybe not, it’s not the big questions that bother them like, “Who are our customers?” That’s something you don’t need to worry about so long as they keep coming. Rather, they get nervous about the details. For a year or two or five or ten they’ve been sailing along on a good idea and/or deal-making prowess and/or a strong business model, but when they start to imagine a particular set of customers, with a particular set of desires and frustrations, every decision--even every research decision--can start to seem overwhelmingly complicated.

Do consumers lie? Is that question clear? Should we speak to everyone? Or just our core target? Isn’t the sample too small in a focus group?

To which I try to respond diplomatically that 32 opinions is a lot more than 0.

You can’t blame them. It’s hard to accept something you’ve been avoiding or resisting for a long time. They now have to question all their dismissive remarks about analysis paralysis and worry about paralyzing themselves once they start to get feedback on what they are dong.

The hardest thing to communicate is that a little knowledge is exactly that: a little knowledge, to be interpreted in the context of experience, judgment and the next round of data. For this and other reasons, I’ve always been a bigger fan of multiple, incremental little studies than one big one. Other reasons: You don’t blow your client’s whole research budget on one study, multiple sources tend to build confidence, and most importantly of all, it helps everyone see that research doesn’t just answer questions, it leads to new questions. And it's these second-tier questions which are often the source of real business building insight.

No comments: