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Towards a Holistic View in Market Research – Contextual Insights

The need for this contextual insight may seem intuitive. But it's often missing in our efforts to help clients. The consumer is a much broader entity than we are able to address in a single survey, series of focus groups, or any of the other tools that are being developed.


Editor’s Note: About six years ago, when my old firm Rockhopper Research was beginning to experience real success I had the good luck to win some business from Genworth Financial, and my principle client there was Gregg Archibald. Gregg had been around the research industry for many years at that point, with leading roles with clients such as AT&T, Marriott, and  Genworth. I guess we did a good job and we started to win a lot of business from Genworth and so I found myself chatting with Gregg often. In one of those cool gifts that comes to us in the course of our business lives, we struck up a friendship that carried over outside of our work relationship. Over the years Gregg has been a client, a colleague, a sounding board and most importantly a great friend.

I’ve been harassing him for years to start blogging and (I think to shut me up)  he finally acquiesced. Today’s post is the first of what I hope will be many from Gregg Archibald. I respect his experience, wit, and insight immensely and I think you will as well.

By Gregg Archibald

At this point, I believe it is well accepted that we, as an industry, are in a state of change.  More is expected of both research suppliers and research departments.  We have all heard the need to do things better, faster, and cheaper.  ‘Better’ is the focus  here. According to a number of clients, ‘better’ is defined as more impact.

Marketing problems can be categorized as the strategic and the tactical.  To borrow an overused map analogy, the strategic is about defining our destination and the tactical about the next turn.  Tactical problems often lend themselves very well to the tools and materials that we use today – which are either data trends (e.g., satisfaction), point in time data (e.g., surveys, focus groups, some behavioral data) – and are finite in context of the consumer interaction with that product, company, or industry.  This is a necessary part of marketing research and one we do pretty well.

Strategic problems, on the other hand, need a lot more context than we as an industry often provide.  When attempting to define the destination, marketers typically approach this in the same finite context of product, company, and/or industry – rather than the more holistic world in which consumers live.  To be truly strategic, we need to view the consumer’s world more broadly.

Let’s take life insurance as an example, which has a problem with declining sales.  The emphasis of this product has been protecting the family in case the primary wage earner dies.  There have been hundreds upon thousands of communication, product development, and satisfaction studies in this industry, with limited success.  Much of the reason that these efforts are met with limited success is because the context has been limited to the ‘product, company, industry’ lens – rather than a consumer lens.  There are consumer realities outside the industry that effect life insurance sales – the rise of the two income household (which lessens the financial severity of the death of a wage earner), the delay or absence of children in the household, stagnant wages for most consumers, the rising cost of college, etc – and are all part of the competition for the dollar that once could have purchased life insurance.  These realities must be understood and integrated in order ‘draw the map’.

The need for this contextual insight may seem intuitive – but it is often missing in our efforts to help clients.  The consumer is a much broader entity than we are able to address in a single survey, series of focus groups, or any of the other tools that are being developed.  It is the integration of these tools, and many other tools that we have available to us, which is the key to developing contextual insight.  It is not easy.  It takes a broad world view, meta-analysis, consumer knowledge, industry knowledge, risk, and a compelling framework.

When it is done well, the outcome is better communications, better targeting, better positioning, better strategy, and more impact.

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