– Mark Evans, CMO, AIA Corporation
We held an extremely fun webinar this week about how marketing leaders today are leveraging the expertise that is found in research to connect — and stay connected — with the ever-changing customer demands.
Tricks of the Trade: How to Supercharge Your Brand With Research
- Jamil A. Simmons, Regional Survey Manager, U.S. Census Bureau
- Emily Palermo, Research Analyst, Drive Research
- Mark Evans, Chief Marketing Officer, AIA Corporation
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what we learned, a few last bits of advice from our panelists to keep in mind when starting new research project:
“First things first, when thinking about next steps make sure you have clearly identified the research objectives. Where you start in research (i.e. making that critical decision on methodology, like qualitative versus quantitative) is critical to receiving the data and insight needed to give your business a competitive edge.”
– Emily Palermo, Research Analyst at Drive Research
“Remember to be focused on the objective in your discovery undertaking, remain unbiased throughout the research process and leverage the results of your study.”
– Jamil A. Simmons, Regional Survey Manager, U.S. Census Bureau
The Problem: Why We Wanted to Host This Webinar
For businesses operating successfully today, you can bet they treat their brand as a business asset and not an afterthought. Those that are not are falling behind and watching their competition surpass them. While this idea — brand as a business asset — was popularized sometime in the 1980s — a company’s brand and the investment to keep it market relevant has been deprioritized.
Yet, in the State of Branding Report 2017 published by Amsterdam-based Bynder, found that while many companies big and small are prioritizing understanding consumer personas to gain more insight, these same consumers have rapidly changing demands.
Avoiding complacency and always fostering innovation can create one sharp competitive advantage, says Bynder. However, companies must not forget to invest in regular research to keep their finger on the pulse of their ideal customers, target audience, and the pain points their products and service offer.
And this is why we asked our panel to get together to unpack this conversation further so we can all learn more about how to stay ahead in rather noisy and crowded times across markets and industries.
The Challenge: Launching a Web Platform
As the head of marketing at Chicago-based advertising firm AIA Corporation, Evans had a heavy lift project handing to him directly from his CEO — to build and launch a new web platform.
“I’m not a data geek, myself,” says Evans. “I am an appreciator of, and user of, and vociferous consumer of data, but the challenges are, I have to build things for a living that end up driving sales. I have to engage people, and the role of marketing becomes many things to many people, depending on what day and what business conditions surround us.”
This project handed down from the CEO was initiated due outdated technology. There were many factors Evans had to factor in when first taking on this project from the marketing perspective such as audience segmentation, generational differences with technology — actively engaging with four generations of people is no small feat, but that’s the playground professional marketers thrive in. That, to Evans, was not necessarily the hardest part of the project.
“There’s a lot of opinions. It’s like an opinion-a-palooza tour, and various folks are trying to weigh-in on a variety of subjects,” said Evans. “The other thing I was challenged with, is that internal thinking was just dominating the conversation. Trying to be end consumer obsessed and realizing end consumers are in control, and people are having trouble breaking through to them, this digital web platform needed to do a variety of things.”
The platform’s three main objectives:
- It needed to speak about the distributor’s brand and it needed to communicate who they were, what they did, points of parity, and points of differentiation.
- It needed to maintain the ability to curate content that was meaningful to the target audience. This was especially important to the digital natives.
- It needed to have a fairly decent and robust e-commerce experience, but this wasn’t a classic e-commerce experience. There was a need for a human facilitation to support certain user journeys.
“One of the biggest challenges that I needed to deal with in approaching this sort of thing, was to make sure that throughout my entire process, from the very beginning to the very end, I was able to conduct research in a way where I recognized [data] bias was the enemy and bias was very present and I needed to think about ways to build survey instruments and research that I could see bias as the enemy,” said Evans. “But I’m a marketer.”
Data: Discover or Validate
“The first thing Mark and I talked about was discoveries,” said Simmons. “The discovery process can be a challenging process, because what I have to do as a researcher is push Mark to get the true mission that we are trying to accomplish or find out the true questions that we are trying to answer.”
Simmons recommends when taking on a similar research project, to always have someone on your team to push you and ask multiple questions about whatever research you’re doing. You want to continue to break down those layers to the bare minimum of what you are trying to understand.”
When breaking down those layers of potential bias remember:
- Trends, attitudes, and behaviors change over time
- What you learned last year about your question may not be true this year
- There may have been an event or an incident with the brand that changes people’s outlook or attitude about the brand during that year
Bias is Not Only About Customer Bias
“Mark as a CMO may want to know different things than someone who is the actual brand manager or someone that is actually in sales out pushing out their product, or even someone that’s in supply chain that you’re thinking about launching a new venture,” said Simmons. “You want to get multiple views internally, just as you do externally.”
Crap… This Is Not Getting Simple
“I’ve just realized, I’ve got to talk to more people. I’ve got to break down to more questions, and I’m still getting this pressure to launch the survey,” said Evans. “In talking to people, there are actually a certain type of research that is known as qualitative that then ends up going to something that is larger and more at scale, which is qualitative.”
Evans then turned over this course of his web platform project to a professional research analyst to apply best-in-class research methodologies to break apart and look deeper at all the unbiased data he collected.
The Golden Rule of Exploratory Research
“The main reason why it’s really important to conduct qualitative research before quantitative research is because qualitative exploratory research is designed to provide in-depth insight, “ says Palermo. “It changes the rigid one-way communication of quantitative research into a two-way open dialogue that allows researchers to probe respondents for specific answers and key drivers.”
“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own set of facts.”
If you can structure the way you’re going about your project and can show discipline, Evans suggests using the tenets of Design Thinking to help work through the problem. Then, using a data insights tool, gauge what’s going on, but remember to be thoughtful about it. Eliminate bias, conduct qualitative research before quantitative so the truth is more realized and present.
“The process and how you get there is available to everyone who just wants to take the time out to think through it,” said Evans. “With a little bit of access and a little bit of reading, you, too, can deliver some really powerful insights. It’s not a one-and-done ordeal. You should be taking these kinds of measurements constantly.”
Love what you’ve read here?
The panelists brought forward real-life tangible strategies you can begin to bake into your next project. From insider insight into how to gather massive amounts of data and analyzing it all to leveraging it and putting it to use, this session is worth the listen if you are about to take on your next project, thinking your brand needs a makeover, or you feel distant for your customers most pressing pain points.