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Research Success Begins with an Open and Curious Mind

One researcher's story of challenging traditional research methods to bring greater success to her marketing team and career path.

I want to tell you how one awkward conversation reinforced my belief in the power of market research. Early in my career, I worked as a marketing manager. Naturally, I thought my job was to determine marketing tactics that would appeal to our target audience. Simple. However, I quickly learned that if I wanted to succeed at my job, I also needed to use compelling data to convince our company to abandon its outdated advertising methods.

I suspected that our current marketing approach was not effectively reaching our target audience. But, that was how our company had always advertised. It was familiar, comfortable, traditional. And, despite my suggestion that we diversify our marketing plan, one particular executive was vehemently opposed to changing it.

I was still curious about our target market. So, I did some research.

My purpose wasn’t to prove that his traditional advertising approach was “wrong,” but there was enough uncertainty in my mind for me to ask the business question: “How should we be allocating our advertising budget in this market today?”

A classic application of the marketing research process followed my question and led me to a place where I could say, with confidence, that we should change our advertising mix. I came to that conversation prepared, ready to review the research, and give recommendations. We talked about the new advertising options I had looked into, and, in the end, we agreed to diversify our marketing plan.

Months later, we measured the conversion and return on investment over time to help confirm if the decisions we made were paying off.

The short answer? They did. In big ways.

That’s how I learned that curiosity and an open mind can push through our perceived limitations as researchers. Today, however, the argument of tradition vs. innovation is still a very real issue in our industry. And I think it’s time we acknowledge that everyone’s experience is incredibly valuable, but it can also bias us in unexpected and even subconscious ways – especially as the years go by.

Too often, important decisions are based on a person’s opinion, ‘gut’ feeling, or aversion to new ideas. When I worked as a marketing manager, alternative advertising vehicles were available, and it was my job to understand the best mix based on present available options.

I was fortunate that the executive in my story respected when people challenged him. Thank goodness he was willing to keep an open mind when confronted with logic and data.

So, here is my question for market researchers: Are you?

Let’s take that one step further – can you consistently advocate it when you are pressured with the hundred things you need to get done this week? Following the ‘status quo’ is a really tempting path in our world of deadlines, meetings, and constant distractions demanding our attention. I remind myself all the time that I must advocate allowing the data to tell the story, and I’ve been extremely grateful to have other researchers join me in this vigilant pursuit that I strongly feel elevates quality in our industry.

Could this be why we see such resistance to change in business and market research? Things like updating tracking research to be more mobile friendly, or the way we still see data deliverables – at the end of a project – in tables formatted in Word, and even resistance to sampling in ways we may not fully understand at first (such as programmatic sample). I know that I have had hundreds of conversations about what the data says about these topics, and I hope most of you reading this give it a nod as you consider your own experiences.

Looping this all back to early in my career – I recall a sign that was on the wall in my office that read: “Why is there always time to do it twice, but never time to do it right the first time?”

That’s amazing advice. Coupled with the reminder to keep an open and curious mind, it has done fantastic things for my career. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

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