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Use the Same Data, Get the Same Answers? It’s Time to Ask New Questions

March 05, 2021


Use the Same Data, Get the Same Answers? It’s Time to Ask New Questions

I’ve often noticed a few names that continue to crop up in the customer research space that everyone begins to use. These are the latest, sexiest models. Like everything else, there are sort of “trends” in research firms. You have your tried-and-true giants—the firms everyone knows and trusts. And then you get the “hotshots,” the start-ups, who burst onto the scene and shake things up with a new way of doing things.

And for a little bit, we all get excited about this new way of doing things or seeing things. So, we all jump on board with the new sexy methodology, hoping to get new answers and new insights. Maybe for the first little bit, we do get some new ideas for us. But, when everyone jumps on board, we often find that we’re right back at square one.

We’re all doing the same thing! So, that got me thinking. What can we do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to our brands? How can we make sure we’re not getting the exact same answers as everyone else?

Customer Research Isn’t Math Class

First things first—we don’t want to come up with the “same answers” as everyone else. That’s great when you’re in math class, because there’s usually one answer to the problem. If you’re coming up with something different from the rest of the class, you’re doing something wrong.

Customer research couldn’t be more different if it tried, as there should not be one answer! That’s because we’re all solving similar, but somewhat different equations. Our brands have different problems but, in some ways, the same problems in front of them. How do we sell more? How do we get the grey to buy? What do we need to say/do/launch so more will buy? How can we get them to trust us more? How do we win at breakfast, lunch or dinner? See what I mean? So if we’re all coming up with the same answers, we actually have a bit of a problem. We NEED to be getting something a little bit different!

That’s part of the problem when we all jump ship to team up with the latest sexy research firm on the block. Often, they’re selling us a new sexy technique and we are asking similar kinds of questions to similar kinds of respondents. It cannot be surprising that …. of course we come up with the same types of answers.

That’s math class there: we’re all using the same inputs, solving the equation for the same sum.

In research terms, what this means is we all end up asking the same questions.

Looking for a Different Sum

We might think that if we’re all getting the same data, then of course we’re all getting the same answers. After all, trends in data show one thing, right?

Not always! What we see in data, what we get out of it, often depends on the questions we’re asking. And that’s often the problem. We’re all asking the same questions of the data we do have. When we do the computations, then yes, we get the same answers.

What if we asked different questions? Often, we see something else emerge from the data. Data—the raw numbers—don’t mean much until we interpret them. Analysis might point us one way or another, but there isn’t always “one right answer” like there is in math class.

That’s because we’re dealing with people—our customers. And people are complex! And emotional! And making decisions subconsciously in an area of the brain that is not verbal. So, the data might show us something like an upward trend in people buying our new snack lineup or a skincare product. And we might say, “Ah, well, okay, people are buying this stuff because of the pandemic” or something like that because we do not yet know “why” they are buying – authentically!

If we ask a different question, we might get a different answer. Yes, the pandemic is a major factor, but maybe the answer is also that people had to switch to online shopping and discovered our brand there. Maybe they were looking for an alternative anyway. Or they switched brands because they’re bored with what they have, or because they decided to take their health and wellbeing seriously. Or maybe to ask them directly, they are unable to answer the question because their motivation is rooted in their subconscious and direct questions will not enable authentic answers to be revealed. 

So, if we change the question, we can get different insights—even if we’re talking to the same audience. 

What If We Ask Different Questions and Get Different Data?

You might not think that would be the case but look at political pollsters. They can ask the same questions and get different answers based on the week or even their sample. (Most famously, the Literary Digest called the 1936 US election dead wrong because of who they asked.)

So, let’s go back. Instead of buying a dataset from a research firm, what if we talked to our own best customers? What if we had an open-ended dialogue that allowed them to share their entire journey and their path to loyalty? 

Our loyal customers! I cannot tell you how many boardroom tables I have sat at with teams saying we don’t care why our loyal customers buy, we want all the other people who are not buying to tell us what we need to do so they will buy? Think about that!

Without understanding why our loyal and vested customers choose our brand above all other competitive brands, we do not know what our brands do really, really well. Instead, we ask people who are loyal to other brands why they don’t buy and 9/10 times their answer is features and benefits that exist in the competitive brand they are loyal too. See the issue? We work to add more similar features and our brand begins to look like the competition until the loyal customer, our most valued customer feels so disrespected that they begin to shift their preference to other brands and away from us. 

Be that Maverick! Get outside of the box and take a risk and get away from what “everyone else” is doing. It is incredible and eye opening and raw what you can learn. And it is your brand, and your valued customer and your competitive advantage. 

Think about it. Everyone else is working with the same research firm, buying the same report—which answers the same questions, looks at the same audience. Now you come along with your data, which answers different questions—the questions that actually matter to you. And you’re getting answers from the people who actually matter to you: your own customers.

You’re going to have very different insights, a very different way of looking at things. And that’s going to set you apart from other brands in your industry. It’s going to let you develop a strategy that speaks to your brand, your customers.

What Questions Should We Ask?

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for the more general reports, there are many tools that provide a different lens on a business, but we have to remember they’re just that: general. You can get “the lay of the land,” general feelings of a larger population with this data.

But if you only have a small budget, you need to dig deeper, to draw out new insights. And to do that, you want to talk to the people who are already buying from you or inclined to buy from you. They are not making decisions in isolation. They are assessing the competition EVERY SINGLE DAY AND STILL CHOOSING YOU? Don’t you think it would be a great idea to know why? What’s driving them, what makes them see things in that particular way?

These more open-ended conversations with our customers. And they can reveal so much more than answers to staid questions like “have you heard of this brand?” and “would you buy this brand?”

Those quant questions are starting points. When we use them as jumping-off points to then take a deeper dive, to generate responses from our own customers, we’re going to come up with a better understanding of our own audience—and our own brands.

So, the long and short of this is that, to a degree, we should all be undertaking our own research. And we need to find those questions that actually matter to our brands. Yes, it’s nice to hear that people feel they’re going to spend more in your category or they’re aware of your brand. But let’s dig down under those surface-level answers, get to the bottom of the well. Why are they spending more in your category? Why do they see this change on the horizon, and are they happy about it? What would make them happier, if the change isn’t a good thing for them?

So often, when we do research or let other people do research for us, we miss these key questions. As we start to think outside the box and ask new questions, remember that we always want to start with the why!


Here to inspire and create conversation!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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