Monday, 20 January 2014

What's your research method?

Understanding your customer is fundamental to any successful brand. Marketing research seems to be the key ingredient for many winning stories. Therefore, the big challenge for marketers is to figure out the right method for the question at hand.

Now, more than ever, the tool-box for market research is huge. For instance, online surveys are now used as a knee-jerk answer to just about anything. I argue, however, not every research question might be answered through only a digital platform. And, of course, none of those web data-collectors can fully substitute direct one-on-one engagement.

In completing my final Master of Marketing consulting project, I have constantly doubted myself on research design. With my client and their customers being based online, I deliberated over whether or not it might be meaningful to jump into a face-to-face journey. In my Master of Marketing classes I have learnt about how crucial it is to understand customers on a personal level. The recent Walhub case also emphasised this topic for me.

The American firm Upwell created Walhub - a new electrical switch cover that has space for your keys and mail. Upwell first wanted to thoroughly test whether this concept was marketable prior to entering into large-scale production. But instead of going the trendy digital research way, Upwell marketers approached their customers in a real-life shop environment. As Upwell recently unveiled, their marketers were uniformed as regular IKEA staff who occupied some space at a local IKEA with Walhub samples boxed in an IKEA manner.

Personally, I think the Walhub research approach was simply awesome.  They wanted to observe how their potential customers would respond to the new product in a real retail situation - would people even have the desire to purchase this item? Marketers then recorded those activities and articulated a marketing stunt out of it. 

Looks simple and pretty clever, doesn’t it? Just in one move Upwell nailed brand awareness and gathered very personal customer feedback. I do love this market research method undertaken by Upwell, even though some controversy is involved. The results of this survey seem unclear about whether people were interested in buying the exact product, or whether the outcome was influenced by IKEA’s retail environment. But as an example of a creative research approach, this Upwell case is a brilliant one.

Whilst research tool-kits are doing a great job for particular business cases, the art of the market researcher, therefore, is to go beyond narrow and comfortable research methods, and to design marketing research that will really get to the bottom of things.        

Elena Sveshnikova: Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School.

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