What’s your “thing”?

“What’s your ‘thing’?” I get asked that question quite a bit. The market research industry is full of innovative tools and techniques and people want to know what ours is. 

It’s easy to get infatuated with shiny, new research methods. Improvements in data collection, no matter how small, are important. But, I think the market research community has taken it too far. 

The tool is not the “thing.” 

How you analyze the data is far more important than how you collect the data. 

Let me illustrate the point. The insight behind the famous “Got Milk?” campaign is largely attributed to a clever research technique – a milk deprivation study. The agency strategists had people go without milk for a week to see what happened. The big insight was that milk is not really a stand alone product but a compliment to people’s favorite foods. No milk meant having less of their favorite foods.

No doubt, the deprivation study helped unearth a great insight.

However, there could have been a lot of other findings resulting from this technique. The agency may have also learned that…

  • milk is often replaced by fruit juice, 
  • moms miss milk more than others, 
  • most milk consumption happens before 10am
  • milk is missed equally regardless of the brand
  • whole milk drinkers miss milk more than skim milk drinkers
  • etc. 

The data collected through this approach could have pointed the agency in seemingly a dozen different directions.

What matters more than how you choose to collect data is the ability to expertly analyze the data. It comes down to knowing how to answer two key questions:

  1. What’s important?
  2. What does it mean?

I’m all for better ways to conduct research. And our team at PARAGRAPH experiments with new techniques all the time. But our “thing” isn’t a unique or proprietary tool. It’s our ability to interpret what we’re learning and communicate clear implications and recommendations to clients. 

That skill is a lot harder to pitch than a piece of advanced natural language processing software, a brainwave measuring device to gauge response to an ad, the use of AI to sort and tag qualitative data, or using smartphones to geo-track the shopper journey.  

Just as the tool isn’t the “thing,” the data isn’t “the answer.”

The best “thing” you can offer clients is superior analysis techniques and sound recommendations rather than flashy, new data collection methods.