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June 26, 2020


8 min read

The Importance of Just Because Research

Research in most organizations may be considered a cost or labelled as a non-working expenditure, yet the incredible value of listening and understanding your customer is unparalleled.

To secure research funds, a marketer needs to create an argument to justify the cost, as this money will shift from working marketing funds such as communication, promotions, instore marketing…or funds that can more readily generate an ROI. The result is that a lot of us tend to avoid research for that reason, especially in Canada. You may have no choice but to take research from other global counterparts and apply it as best you can in your domestic market.

When we do have resources, we may take the safe route and turn to structured surveys and questionnaires. To justify research, we tend to ask very specific questions, to track history, solve yesterday’s problems and we may feel like we are doing a deep dive when we are quite frankly drilling a hole a mile deep and an inch wide for our brands, products or our business.

It is hard to see the big picture when you’re working with that kind of data. It is frustrating when the data answers today’s question and does not help inform of the future. Or worse, generates more questions and decision making becomes paralyzed.

So, what can we do instead? It can be hard to push back against budget numbers, but that’s where we need to be rethinking our approach to research on the organizational level. How powerful would research be if it was designed to be open, simply exploring and looking in diverse places and seeing what patterns emerge.

Imagine if Research Powered Curiosity

Research is intended to inform but my ask is to consider research as a valuable tool that can be leveraged to drive and inspire curiosity. To tease new thinking and future need states that are beginning to form. Think about the power of seeing the future goal posts and have time to build a bridge to get there with a brand that may exist but not yet have permission today to be where the market might be tomorrow. Think about the power in creating the future vs. responding to what others have done.

And think about the joy instilled into your marketing team when they have the freedom to be curious and explore to get a better understanding of their future customers and their needs. I call it Open Discovery.

Open ended creative research is perhaps considered riskier but the payoff to understand the world, future needs or trends that are coming is incredibly insightful!

We need to know about the world around us, and we need to keep tabs on how it’s changing. But in stating this, I mean beyond asking a Gen Z if they have heard about our products, how they found out about them, how they perceive the brand.

Many of us simply stop there—short of getting to the why of things. Why do they perceive our brand that way? Why do they make these connections? Why would they choose our brand over another or—conversely, why not?

From there, we can springboard to other questions that can illuminate the big picture. Gen Z might hear about our brand because a beauty blogger adopted it to do something, we didn’t even know it could do. Our customers repurpose our products all the time. Listening to them, asking them why, gives us so much more to work with than “I heard about you on Twitter.”

Imagine if Research Helped Your Brand Be More Human 

The other thing we should take away from this is the depth of the insights in what customers are buying from you through Openly Discovering who they are and what needs you satisfy and do really, really well vs. all other similar competitors.

Sure, we can say we want to know what kind of marketing slogans they respond to or if they use Instagram or Twitter more. But what if we understood them? As people?

Because that’s the crux of any good brand: it connects with its customers on a human level. It is hard to do that if you never connect with the people buying your products as people. We tend to see datasets, traffic points, hits, and likes. How many marketing people simply read data and never physically get to see and hear their customers? Imagine if you could meet your customer and feel goosebumps at the difference your product makes in their lives? How would that change what you do in your day?

Your loyal customers are more valuable to you than the leads you want to develop. They have your roadmap. They are a testament to the formula for creating a lasting relationship.

So, don’t you want to know about them? Go beyond why they wanted to buy your brand and their “pain points” about buying it. What was their journey to loyalty? Who are they? What topics and causes are important to them, what do they value. An open-ended conversation is going to reveal more.

You will begin to see patterns, but Open Discovery will reshape your entire way to think about your brand and the opportunities looking forward.

Imagine Inventing Your Future

I could give many personal examples of this Open Discovery approach that I have leveraged throughout my career. My first adventure into this Just Because space is the one that had the most emotional impact given how hard it was to sell through Management.

This brand was always following and spending to hold but never getting ahead. The brand’s essence was in the realm of being the thought leader in the category, but the product line, claims and direction were simply me-to.

I was always considered a Maverick, pushing limits, so it made sense to my peers that our team sold in Just Because Research. We sent out a qualitative researcher who spoke to opinion leaders in 11 different cities, across 5 countries in 7 days. The work was incredible. We were able to map the pattern of trends globally, understood what was coming in terms of need states, understood new language, issues that were concerning that were not even on our radar. We realized that our category we were competing in was $billions vs. $millions and that helped us see the world through our customer’s eyes vs. how we defined it.

Open Discovery supercharged our organization’s creativity and ambition. We were able to move away from “more of the same” and create this pipeline of interesting ideas, inspiring ourselves and others too. We planned innovative products and claims for the next three years and we began to shift and build attributes in the current brand to readily meet what was coming.

I think the greatest benefit that came from this process was the gift of freedom. The entire team was boxed in and had become crippled with research for research sake resulting in energy, creativity and brain power being sapped from the business. R&D was rejuvenated. The packaging team had permission to get outside normal suppliers and literally wowed us. The Sales Team had energy to hang on, hold listings and space because they felt this surge of excitement and belief flowing back through the business. And the organization shifted (slightly) in allowing our customers to lead us towards tomorrow.

Imagine What “Just Because” Could Do for You

It may seem difficult to justify doing research “just because.” You might feel like you need to have a point, a hypothesis that you’re trying to prove. You might want answers to specific questions.

Sending researchers and strategists into the world with an open plan invites new thinking, new ideas. Engaging in that conversation can show you where you’re going or illuminate the path forward. It may show you what your customers have in common—or what makes them different depending on who they are and where they live.

You can understand their ambitions, the dreams they have, not for themselves but for the world. And you can ask yourself how your brand fits into that picture. What changes you can make to be part of this brave new world your customers are envisioning? Maybe you can even take steps to help them realize that world.

At first glance, “just because” research looks frivolous. It might seem aimless, and that may make it seem like a huge cost or a lot of work. But the payoff is so much more—depth and insight that our usual approaches to research don’t always yield for us, even when we do put the resources into doing it.

So, think beyond “doing research." Be curious and be ready to have those open-ended conversations. The rewards are yours to reap when you rethink how you approach research and rediscover the joy in doing it.

And remember, open-ended conversations often start with the why!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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