Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Realism and shoe leather in research

There's no shortage of companies eager to conduct research to fuel your PR recommendations for clients. Good data is helpful, sure. But I recommend a different approach:

Listen to your customers. Face to face. And not at a noisy, overstimulated trade show.

Author and market researcher Paco Underhill's firm makes a practice of doing retail research by having a staff member track a consumer's behavior, in detail, as he or she navigates through the store. Me, I'd be highly suspicious of anyone stalking me with a clipboard. 

However, the research I'm talking about does not involve clipboards or stalking. Here's how one experience went:

On a brief trip to the west coast, I had time to spare. I wandered into a small camera shop that catered to serious photographers. I asked "how's business," and then added that I worked for Kodak -- at the time, a powerhouse brand in photography. 

Unknown to me, the shop owner had serious issues -- not worth detailing here -- but the biggest was that no one at my employer's office had acknowledged his concerns. I listened, made mental notes, and promised I'd inform people higher up the food chain of his issues. Which I did.

You won't get an earful like that from a market researcher. But you also won't build a relationship by relying on online surveys and statistics as your sole source of insight. 

The best research? It involves an expenditure of shoe leather, and listening to customers. Those interpersonal exchanges will stick with you. And as you develop PR strategies, those experiences will influence your creative process. You'll remember that mildly annoyed retailer, and keep his concerns in mind.

That's research you can't buy.