Tag Archives: Marketing Research

Ethnography-Based Marketing Research

On-Site Research is bestYour Best Bet For Effective Insights

If you ask most marketers if they actively conduct research, you will get a lot of head nods.  The questions is are they confusing activity with accomplishment?  Sure they “checked the box” and did some obligatory legwork before they spent valuable company resources on their initiative.  They likely chose surveys or perhaps made the extra effort (and expense) to conduct a focus group.  Better than nothing, but often not much better.  However, did they conduct the best possible research they could to enhance the chances of success?  The answer is “probably not” if they did not engage in some form of ethnography-based research.

At its core, ethnography is the study of human behavior. It helps you see not just what your customers do when they interact with your product or service, but why they act that way. It aims to answer the question, “How do people interact with my product or service?” and “How do they incorporate it into their lives?”.  Ultimately, “How can I make it better for them?”

What makes ethnography-based better than other types of marketing research?  First, it approaches your customers or clients on their own turf and on their own terms. Conversely, when you call in a group of customers for a focus group, they know they are in your environment – not theirs. Even worse, they often end up giving you answers that are not genuine.  Subconsciously they try to please you and anticipate the answer you want to hear.  Their best intentions actually corrupt the research altogether.

Ethnography-based research requires the researcher to observe participants actually using the product.  It is not just them looking back on how they use it.  In this approach, you meet with people on their terms, in their space. This gives you a much more authentic view of the in-setting usage characteristics.

Ethnography is often more in-depth and usually more expensive than other types of market research.  But you get what you pay for.  When done properly, it results in products and services that are much more tailored to the real needs of customers. You can see what they need—what they lack—and create the solution accordingly.

Here is an excellent article for you to learn more on ethnography-based research.

Normalizing Data

When analyzing data, it is important to do some housekeeping on the raw data before you perform your analysis.  Normalizing data is the process of removing “outliers” and other oddities in the data.  These rogue pieces of data  can corrupt your analysis.  This can lead to inaccurate metrics and ultimately poor decisions.Normalizing Data - Removing Outliers

 Normalizing data is essential to proper metric analysis.

So what is involved in normalizing data?  Let’s assume our business is a locally owned candy/ice cream store.  You want to calculate your average gross margin, average dollar purchases per customer, and top selling items.   Follow these easy steps and your analysis will be far more accurate and useful.

  1. Segment your data.   If our candy store business has both individual customers as well as other businesses such as restaurants, realtors, etc.  It is best to separate the data for each segment.  That will allow analysis for both types of customers rather than a blend.  Blended data is generally bad because it is not typical of the individual groups.  The smaller the segments the better.
  2. Identify outliers.  Once you have properly identified your segments, it is much easier to identify the outliers.  Let’s assume in the candy store example the average individual purchase is $6 to $40.  A non-business customer places a one-time order for $250 for a birthday party.  This one time order will skew the average individual orders to a higher than normal level.  Moving this order out of the individual data will increase the accuracy of it.
  3. Adjust for seasonality.   If you have certain seasons that have a strong influence on your metrics, they must be accounted for.  In the candy business, you probably have some high seasons like pre-Christmas, Valentines day, etc.  Business probably drops significantly in January due to New Year’s resolutions.  Over time you can identify the impact of this seasonality, and adjust for it.  For example, you may determine that every January, sales are down 20% on average versus the 4th quarter.  When January rolls around and your sales are flat over the 4th quarter, in reality you had a great month.
  4. Look for other oddities.  Sometimes you are not aware of what qualifies as an oddity until you see it.  In other words, spend some time just perusing your data with no specific intent.  Just explore!  You may be surprised with what you may notice.  The side benefit of this exercise is you will become more familiar with the data.  This means you will will be more likely to notice unusual pieces of data in the future.



Proper Survey Construction

Begin With Your Plan To Use The ResultsSurvey Construction Checklist

It is convenient and tempting to begin your survey construction by choosing an online service like Survey Monkey or Zoomering as your first step in the process.  This gives you the satisfaction of feeling that you have gotten the project started.   You think all you have to do is “fill in the blanks” and click send.  Proper survey construction is like most things – success is based on proper planning.  To take a page from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:  Begin with the end in mind.   Habit #2 to be exact.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to formulate questions before you have your overall plan in place.  Your planning can begin by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What am I hoping to learn by conducting this survey?
  • Is this survey necessary, or can I obtain the information from other sources (sales results, stored customer information, etc)?
  • Have I determined alternative courses of action based on the results I obtain?

Here are some other tips for proper survey construction:

  1. Let the respondent know why you are seeking to obtain this information.  A good approach is to tell them you are seeking to improve your product, service, customer service, etc.  This increases the chances of getting engagement from the recipient.
  2. Keep the survey short – long surveys will likely not be filled out or the validity of the answers will tail off at the end.  The respondent will tend to rush their answers at the end, just to get done.  
  3. Start with an “easy” question – ideally one that is easy to answer.  This can be a yes/no question.  While basically a “throw away”, his will get the respondent engaged early.  This increases the chances they will complete the survey.
  4. Except for the “easy question” avoid Y/N questions.  Multiple choice questions are generally very effective.
  5. Strive for only one or maybe two “open-ended” questions.  These are questions like “Tell us about your experience with our Customer Service Team”.  These are best saved for the end of the survey.  If you place them up-front, they can scare away the respondent.
  6. Avoid leading questions.  Don’t ask things like “We have recently made dramatic improvements to our customer service team.  Have you noticed an improvement with our customer service experience?  A better questions would be:  “Please rate our customer service experience (1-5)”.

Good survey construction is part art and part science.  If done well you can acquire very useful actionable information.  You will have to dedicate the proper amount of time to do it right.  Note – it is not a 15 minute experience! Please also consider surveying as an ongoing marketing function.  You dont want to make judgements based on a “one and done” survey.  Repeated surveys to different groups will provide you with useful trending.  This is more beneficial than a mere “snapshot” of sentiment.

As always, remember the “genius” formula, modified for this use case.   Survey, measure, refine the initiative, re-survey.


Raw Data Versus Actionable Information

Actionable Information is GOLD, Mined from Raw Data

Actionable Information is GOLD

There is a tremendous difference between raw data and actionable information. Data is a collection of metrics, in raw form or just poorly organized. Actionable information starts with the same raw metrics, but presents it in a form that is easily utilized by decision makers. Actionable information is GOLD. Data is the gold mine. Your business will be more successful if you have someone on staff who can provide you with concise, “executive-worthy” information. Information that will give you insight into the key business drivers. Without it, you have to sift through the voluminous data on your own. You end up being an analyst instead of growing your business.

Obtaining actionable information starts with asking the right questions. Of course these questions vary based on your role and the nature of your business. The key is to get started asking the questions.  Here are a few that may prompt you to think of others that relate specifically to your marketing situation:

  • Who are my top customers over the last six months?  How have their purchases changed over the past year, or two years?  
  • Are there certain “gateway” products or services, that tend to move customers from medium-sized to large?
  • How has my product mix shifted?  Is it different among the large customers than the overall mix?
  • Is my business growing faster than the market in general?
  • What are my most profitable products?  Least profitable?
  • Do any products have a higher return rate than standard?  
  • Additional thought provoking questions can be found in Tom Morkes blog:

When you start asking these kinds of questions, you will find that the answers will prompt you to ask even more questions.  Congratulations!  You are then on your way to actionable information!  Each time you ask and answer questions, you are gaining insight to the nuts and bolts of your business.

Be aware that it is critical to have someone on staff who can mine the data and help you answers these questions.  In my view it is one of the most important roles in any business.  This “information guru” has to be more business oriented than data oriented.  Ideally it is someone who has a good understanding of your products, and enough customer interaction to identify needs and trends.

Marketing Tactics: Like Riding a Bicycle

Do you remember the first time you were able to ride a bicycle?  It is an early defining moment in our lives, it signifies commitment, independence, and achievement.   More importantly it is a major triumph over frustration and failure.  All jammed into a few precious, exhilarating moments when you feel the rush of success.  It is a major achievement in our young lives.

Think about the events that led to that triumphant, albeit fear-filled moment.  What preparation was involved?  How many tries did it take before you had “success”.  Since I recently experienced this with my kids, I have a working knowledge of what the typical experience is:

  • Practice on a tricycle, which of course is very difficult to roll over, making it an ideal first step.Kid riding a bike
  • Advance to a two-wheeler (with training wheels) which is more challenging.  This to gain some moderate exposure to maintaining balance.
  • Taking the training wheels off, and relying on someone else (a parent) to run alongside with you to keep you going.
  • Going solo – 100% on your own.  No training wheels, unassisted.
  • And then you FALL!

That is our focus today – the FALL.  What happened to you as a kid when you fell that first time.  Barring some serious injury, you likely ended up with a scraped knee, maybe a slightly bruised ego, and perhaps a few tears.  BUT YOU SURVIVED and you got back up on the bike and tried again.  Your probably went a little further, and then probably failed again.  Maybe this time you were better at falling, and avoided the scraped knee.  Eventually, through a series of attempts and inevitable failures, you succeeded.  Good thing you did not quit, or worse yet let your fear prevent you from trying in the first place.

If only we could apply this “wisdom of a child” to our marketing efforts; we would be so much better off.  In other words, plan on the scraped knee, since is part of the process.  Marketers are sometimes paralyzed by an extreme fear of failure, and they find comfort in long drawn out research and planning, which can be the handcuffs that prevent them from grabbing the opportunity.  Don’t try to devote a ton of energy and resources trying to deliver the “perfect” campaign, product launch, or promotion.  Don’t let “perfect” stand in the path of “good”.  Refining good repeatedly can get you to great.  Great is not the first part of the process.  You must fail – that is really how you learn how to do things.  You can’t formulate the perfect plan by having fantastic up-front work and preparation.  It simply does not work that way.  Do you remember reading a lot of books as a kid on how to ride a bike?

Be advised I am not advocating spending a bunch of time and money on every random idea.  I am suggesting you try a lot of new things (on a small-scale at first).  I can assure you if you try a lot of things on a trial basis, you will have many failures but also some very pleasant surprises.  Nike built a fantastic campaign around this concept – JUST DO IT!  A scraped knee does not hurt that long anyway.

PS – If I waited to develop the perfect blog post – I would still be editing post Number 1.  But that is not what this is about.  Perfect is not my goal – sharing ideas is.  By that measure I have already had a few “mini-successes”

Make it All Great

I recommend you read Jim Collins’ classic business book “Good to Great”.  Great read – and applies to all aspect of business, Marketing of course included as well.

While you should still read the whole book, one of the central themes is that to become a great business, you have to do every little thing great.  The collective result is that it all adds up to being a great entity.

This point obviously holds true with your Marketing – you can’t do some of it “great” and then let other parts go.  You have to be “consistently great”.  The old cliche is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link – that is the point exactly.

Can’t just be great in some areas – it must transcend all aspects of your business.  All customer touches, communications, packaging, staff apparel and messaging (another future post), every single element.

If you can dot every I and cross every T – VOILA – you will have FABULOUS marketing.


Marketing Is Simple, Just Not Easy

Spending over 25 years doing marketing of various sorts, I have come to realize some simple truths.  First of all many folks try to paint the profession of marketing as some sort of elusive pursuit that can only be accomplished by a select few who have been blessed with the genius required to unlock these mysteries and create an effective marketing campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of examples of “bad marketing” out there in this world of ours.  However a lot of it originates from these so called “experts”.  My point here today is to explain to you that you dont have to be a “genius” to create and implement an effective marketing plan.  It involves two key steps.

  • Find out what the customer wants.
  • Find a way to get them what they want

There it is – the secret recipe for marketing genius!  Simple – yes.  Easy – NO!!!!  people often get wrapped up in trying to figure out what number 2 is, that they forget the important first step.

More on these key steps in our next post.  Stay tuned!