3 posts categorized "Individuals"


The Innovation Trap


I have written the "Innovation trap" as an article for the October issue of the  Research World .  I received a number of  emails from people (agency and client side) who read it and who are also tired by the frentic (and usually pointless) search for new research methodologies.  "However", asks one of the emails, "where is the money in pure "consumer understanding?"  Great question. I am thinking about it, discussing it with people around me.  What do you think?  

Meanwhile, here is the article:

Researchers need to focus on understanding people instead of constantly inventing ‘new’ methodologies.

 I have spent the last ten years on the client side, where innovation and growth go hand-in-hand. Unilever or any other manufacturer innovates in order to grow its brand’s share, turnover and profit. The research industry has learned from its clients and has adopted this model: it measures its growth in value terms and  attributes a large portion of its growth to innovation of market research techniques.

 If innovation is at the heart of the research business, we should all frantically search for new ways of doing research. It is a seductive proposition for any creative researcher. However, I believe that the search for research innovations is a dangerous trap into which most of us have fallen.

 Market research is about understanding people and why they do what they do. Unfortunately, typical innovations in research obscure this understanding because they generate growth through developing research tools that can be sold quickly and in great volume. Again, it is exactly what the manufacturer does when selling its innovations.

 For instance, we might develop a new toothbrush designed for brushing the tongue. We know that the consumer might not have a genuine need for tongue brushing but we are smart enough to create the need. Rather than selling a product we are selling a myth.

 The great myth

What is the myth that market research sells to its consumers – the research buyers? The key myth is that of certainty and control over a world that is completely chaotic and unpredictable. Fear of the chaos out there has forced us – on the client side – into a make-believe world of benchmarks, persuasion scores and scales designed to measure emotions (the latest hype). We have subjected consumers to our reality of tongue-brushing while we are ourselves subjected to the reality of the major research agencies.

 A few years ago, the market research function on the client side tried to break free from the prison of benchmarks and scales. It re-branded itself and market researchers became insight managers. We promised to gather insight, transmit knowledge and educate our clients. If we had succeeded in this transformation, there would be less market research and more educated clients acting on gut feelings. The growth of the research industry would have halted as a result.

 Instead, the industry is thriving and its growth signifies our failure on the client side to listen to our intuition, take risks and come up with truly disruptive product innovation that would genuinely surprise and delight consumers.

 True research is about understanding people. And genuine understanding of people comes from years of learning, experience and true intuition. It comes down to talented individuals who are semioticians, ethnographers, and great qualitative researchers. These are the people whose insights add tremendous value to the business and who are able to energise and guide clients.

 I have a lot of respect for people who have established small agencies to fight the big players. The problem is that they soon adopt the structures of the large agencies and start their own frantic search for fast-moving research products. This seems to be the only way for a research agency to grow in size: they create the need for a new, high-tech, silver-methodology that will deliver pre-packaged ideas for innovations to clients' desktops.

 It used to be hard to challenge the agency system as agencies owned the necessary technical tools. Then came the internet revolution and today the tools that researchers need are either already out there or are being developed – not by research agencies but by the likes of Google, Facebook or Twitter.

 Because of this, there is no need for new innovative research methodologies. The true job to be done consists of unlearning, of throwing the obsolete research tool sets away. Instead of building new methodologies, we should build networks of creative people who can work together and truly help us to understand the world’s people and cultures.


Marketing the Human Resources or Human Resourcing the Marketing?

For the past couple of months I have been looking for a job so I encountered several HR agencies and HR people in Prague. This was not the first time and I am still surprised how this works respectively does not work.

OK now my ideal take on recruiting is that a) I have / create over the time a list of clients and b) I have / create over the time a list of “workers”. I network both with a) and b) and go figure what happens... in the future a) may become b) and vice-versa. You slowly grow both group and you have a lasting quality relationships with both. That means not only good steady income, BUT also building YOUR goodwill.

Of course recruiting is one thing, but you also need a recruiter. The recruiter in my opinion needs some trades not only skills because recruiting is a craft as much as a mission (much like being a teacher). He / She should have at least an understanding of psychology, sociology and have empathy to say the least. That is more than experience or what I call a craft - craft and experience can be obtained, learned.

My close friend who is involved in recruiting as a top manager on the client side for about 8 years told me that he feels the recruiters’ qualification is that they “breath and have a pulse”. I think it might be little bit harsh, but lets say recruiting does not work very well in comparison with the ideal and / or theoretical side. The worst part is that even when the bad recruiting agencies go out of business etc. it will take a very long time to repair and recuperate the entire market and business field AND it will take enormous amounts of money dropped in brand building and goodwill building.

Now the question I ask myself: isn’t Marketing in Czech Republic and probably the entire Eastern European context in the very same situation? Isn’t marketing analogically to HR and recruiting an unprofessional field filled with unprofessional workers? Have we really moved from MARKETER = SOCIAL STATEMENT to MARKETER = JOB / MISSION?


Charlie vs. Dead White Men

Charlie has been born out of web 2.0, in 2007. Ten years before Charlie, in 1997, Richard Barbrook says "that the rapid spread of personal computing and now the Net are the technological expressions of the desire of many people to escape from the petty controls of the shopfloor and the office". He continues: “Despite the insecurity of short-term contracts, they want to recover the independence of craft labour which was lost during the process of industrialisation. Because of rapid technological innovation, skilled workers within the hypermedia and computing industries are precisely those best able to assert this desire for autonomy”.

Ten years later Web 2.0 seemed to be the yellow brick road leading off from the path of the boredom of the shopfloor and the office. And not just for those working within the hypermedia and computing industries but for the many researchers, account people, planners working in agencies named after Dead White Men. These men may have originally had strong visions, but these visions aren't necessarily shared by people working in agencies today.

Let’s take the market research industry as an example. Many creative and entrepreneurial researchers began leaving big research agencies before Web 2.0.  After leaving they tried to establish smaller versions of big agencies, using the same hierarchies and structures but with fewer people. Eventually, they started to send their junior people to clients for presentations while sitting back and supervising and perhaps retiring all together. Structures and people – whether in the field department or the coding department – were needed to get jobs done.

Then along came Web 2.0 and the word is spreading that the emperor really is “naked:” the market research industry might not be much of an industry any more. Who needs a field department when there are global online research panels or even Facebook? Who needs the latest breakthrough research concept testing methodology when you can work with creative people, not on a concept test, but on developing a real product or service?

We (the clients) need creative people (complete with faces, talent and knowladge) not market research agencies. We are already following the good people, to their own agencies and we will continue to follow them even if they move from one big agency named after a dead guy to another agency named after two dead guys. This is the push. The pull is the desire for autonomy, the need to be free and fulfill one's own vision  – and the need for genuine collaboration with other people.

It is less lonely out there than it used to be. Web 2.0 connects the creative researchers online and builds connections that can be then taken off-line, whether to a café or a workshop. As it turns out, collaboration and friendship can replace structures and hierarchies.