Tom Webster, writing and speaking

If I Were A Carpenter: Marketing, Research, and the DIY Culture

Added on by Tom Webster.

Ramshackle on Rainey Street Market Researchers are really taking it on the chin lately. Just today, I read two posts--one claiming that surveying customers in social media was bad advice, and the other that "pathetic 'market researchers'" endorsed an idiotic automobile industry messaging strategy--that could have gotten my dander up. But they didn't.

I'm not really going to argue with either of these. Certainly in the latter example (from Ad Contrarian), yeah--there was probably (at best) a little post-campaign revisionist history going on, if not something more sinister. Here is what is demonstrably true: the market research industry is in sore need of some innovation. Here is what is also true (and a casual glance at the agenda for any MR conference over the past two years will tell you): we know that, and we're moving. There are enough smoke signs in the form of articles like Bob Hoffman's to convince even the most die-hard industry apologists that there's a fire somewhere.

Here is what hasn't changed: the voice of the consumer is a vital input to your business. Here's what has: the ways in which those voices can be heard. And just as consumers' outlets for feedback have multiplied, so too have the tools to monitor, measure and analyze that feedback.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling flippant, I'll ask proponents of DIY market research if they would get an appendectomy through "Surgery Monkey." A tool is a tool, however, and DIY market research tools can be immensely valuable. The hard reality is, in the words of my friend Jay Baer, it's the wizard, not the wand.

Of course, market research isn't surgery--but it's a lot like home improvement. The home improvement industry boom led to a lot of DIY and weekend carpentry projects. Many of them are pretty good. Others are average. Still more look a little like the house above. Imagine driving by that house --or any of these fine examples of handiwork-and commenting that carpentry was dead, or broken. That's obviously not the case, is it? Carpentry is just fine. The tools are probably just fine. The carpenter, however, had some issues.

So, when the author of the Ragan piece I linked to above states that he got crappy answers when he asked his customers if they would pay "x" for his content, should you pile on "carpentry?" Or belittle the carpenter? The answer, again, lies within the model established by the home improvement industry--neither is correct. Stores like Lowe's and Home Depot obviously aren't going to denigrate carpentry, and they wouldn't be in business long if they took their "weekend carpentry warrior" client base to task for poor work.

In this case, I think the best response for the professional market researcher is to commiserate and offer advice. You know, pricing research is really, really tricky. In fact, it's one of the most difficult things to research well, and there are lots of econometric models and tools like conjoint analysis that researchers use to try and crack that nut. Often, the question "how much would you be willing to pay for that" is not asked because we care about or use the answer, it's asked to establish a mental framework to ask better questions with more elaborate techniques. It's the start, not the end. To make a home improvement analogy, pricing research is a lot like electrical or plumbing repairs. You could do it yourself. Most people ask for help. And market researchers can either offer that help, or they can insist that only a professional should do the job.

I think the right answer is probably the former, with a healthy caveat about the difficulty of the job and the value we could provide as "contractors." Do I think that pricing research should be left to professionals? Yeah--but that isn't going to stop weekend research warriors from trying it anyway. So I can at least offer a constructive consultation, or some useful content. Again, to quote my very wise compadre Jay Baer, teaching you the recipe doesn't make you a chef [/metaphormixing].

But the other thing at play here is just how much the Market Research business could use some PR. Do stories like the one Ad Contrarian cited happen? Sure. Was the market research agency in charge of the strategy? I HIGHLY doubt it. If you are going to blame market research when a poor marketing decision is made, should we not also praise it when marketing goes right? And just as we extol those leaders whose "golden gut" and vision seemingly obviate the need for market research, should we not also vilify the leaders who ignored market research--and shouldn't have?

As I've written about here before, there are thousands of research-informed decisions that happen every day, shepherded by diligent and careful marketers, that have positive results. We don't hear about these, because they make boring stories.

The more ways we can find to tell those stories, the more value we will create as partners, and not adversaries, to DIY researchers. Or, we can keep letting ads like the one below define what we do. The tools are in our hands.