On a scale of 1 to 10, how stupid are you?
Somewhere in the universe is a middle-aged, slightly overweight woman hunched over a computer, hair in a tight bun, wearing a blue floral print pantsuit, writing surveys, talking about data points and margins, all in the guise of conducting research. Yawn.
Or worse yet, you are behind the glass, eating M&Ms and drinking your fourth Diet Coke, listening the the most inane conversation imaginable, trying to keep from nodding off out of sheer and utter boredom. When the painful 90 minutes have concluded, all you can think is “well, that was a huge waste”. Welcome to a focus group – aka, the death of all things creative.
Having been in the branding world for 18 years now, we run into the same challenges over and over when it comes to managing a successful project. One of the biggest challenges we face as brand strategists is that clients and creatives don’t believe in research for one of two reasons: either they have experienced bad research in the past, or they don’t know what to do with the information once they have it. Part of what makes a good brand strategist is the ability to conduct research and make it valuable – human, understandable and most importantly, actionable.
On rare and very lucky occasions, clients will say this out loud and right to your face that they don’t believe in research. However, what tends to be the usual and unfortunate situation (and a source of ongoing contention) is that most clients will not admit this, but instead will hem and haw over the budget, the methodology, your background, the timeline, the recruit, or anything else they can use to pick apart the project in order to avoid the real issue – they truly don’t believe in research due to a lack of understanding on how it can work.
On the other hand, creatives will fight you tooth and nail to avoid doing research because if you say “research” to a creative, they hear “creative testing” and all that means to them is the death of creativity. Not wanting to do any research puts brand strategists is the role of the ugly step sister, abused and misunderstood. It is seen as the last step to validate and confirm opinions, soothe egos or kill campaigns. We’ve all been there and it isn’t pretty. But, research can be (god forbid), helpful, even inspiring and actually interesting when it is done well. It should yield insights that help hone communications, identify tools for selling the work to the client, and articulate ways for the brand to develop effective connections with the audience. Research is the first step to creating the brand vision and voice. After all, brands live in the hearts and minds of consumers, and you have nothing if you don’t know how to speak their language.
But, I digress. Let’s get back to the root of this problem. When it comes to not wanting to do research, it is most likely because somewhere in their minds, people have conjured up a notion that research is some blue-haired lady at the library, using the Dewey Decimal system to look up a book written in 1967 by Professor So-and-So. Or, worse yet, there is a prevailing belief that research is the net result of one of those annoying phone surveys where you are called just as you are sitting down to dinner with the family and are asked to rate the likelihood of buying whitening toothpaste over tartar control paste in your next purchase. In that moment, who cares what kind of toothpaste you use – all you care about is your chicken getting cold, your screaming kids and your barking dog. All you really want to do is get off the phone. And that’s not research. That’s dinner at every middle- American household.
All of this can all be boiled down to two points when dealing with both clients and creative. Those who, A) don’t believe in research, or, B) have never experienced good research.
So, how do you overcome this battle? It’s not necessarily a simple solution, but it is a straight-forward one: Education. Clients need to understand that research methodologies have changed drastically. Research today is an art, performed by (hopefully) talented people who know what methodologies to use, how to effectively dig in with consumers, how to interpret the insights, and how to make this information actionable. Creatives need to know that the brand strategist is here to fight for them, to help infuse inspiration into the process, and support the work – not kill it. Good research helps bring clarity to the table and should leave everyone with a deep understanding of who the target is, what the playing field is, who the brand is today and who it can be in the future, and what it will take to get there.
It is really a simple equation: the right research + a good brand strategist = successful project! We just need to overcome the stereotypes that “traditional” research has created. There is a better way, a way that is less concerned with quantifying, and more concerned with understanding. After all, is that not the foundation for all things great?