The Black Lives Matter movements that erupted following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have sparked a massive cultural shift in the American consciousness and sparked a global conversation about equality. For the first time, many corporations are lending their voices to denouncing racial injustice and pledging to be more culturally sensitive and inclusive in business. But the outpouring of support has come with notable backlash. Consumers have blasted many brands for “performative woke washing” and not backing up their claims with action.
Standing in line at the grocery store last week to get some essentials, the existential crisis we have all been going through the last several weeks since COVID-19 hit the U.S.A. hit me hard. As a business owner, the economic reality playing out in front of us is bleak and we are all doing what we can to service existing clients. But standing in line, knowing that my brand preferences are out the window when it comes to groceries, I realized that it is out the window for all consumers.
Millennials are so yesterday. That’s the growing sentiment among brands as they make the shift away from the once-coveted Millennial consumer to now court the new generation in town, Gen Z, or the “iGeneration.” The oldest Gen Zers are now entering adulthood and look very different than their Millennial counterparts. They are the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever. Additionally, they are on their way to becoming the best-educated generation, according to a Pew Research Center report.
At ThinkNow we have the privilege of working with large organizations in both the public and private sectors. We’ve found that contracting in the private and public sectors varies considerably, and for good reason. In the private sector, contracting is fairly straight-forward since decision-makers don’t need to justify their purchases beyond their organizations. When dealing with public funds, however, the process often requires multiple steps and oversight. This works well when specifications are known and need to be exact, like when purchasing a new military aircraft engine or hiring medical personnel to staff a hospital. But what if the requirement is data? The Government Buys Public Opinion Research The U.S. population has and continues to change. Rapid growth is occurring among the largest population segments, Hispanic and Asian Americans, as well as those who identify as multi-racial. While the federal government has a significant amount of data on the perceptions and behaviors of the historical population, the data fails to address the unique thoughts and habits of today’s constituents. This gap often necessitates that the government seek research and survey data much like companies in the private sector seek data before a product launch. For example, ThinkNow was instrumental in assisting the U.S. Army in gaining insights into how Hispanic and African American populations view career opportunities available in the uniformed services. We further assisted the Army in understanding the efficacy of the government’s advertising and marketing program. ThinkNow has also helped the Small Business Administration during rebranding initiatives, the State of California’s Healthcare Exchange, and multiple state-run lottery programs. Understanding the Federal Buying Process Let’s look at a typical scenario where the federal government determines the need to seek outside assistance to fulfill the
At ThinkNow we have the privilege of being able to work in both the public and private sectors, often on similar types of projects, and have noticed key differences in how they operate. Government agencies tend to be more procedural, with a clear chain of command, while private companies tend to lean into a more collaborative approach. Those differences are often necessary to the efficient operation of the organization or department but not always. The challenge for both is to break out of old mindsets and habits that hinder effectiveness.
“As long as there have been campfires, humans have gathered around them and conveyed their view of the world through the use of stories.” Geoffrey Berwind nailed it. Storytelling has long since been hailed by content marketers as one of the most effective ways to capture the time and attention of prospects. Stories are powerful connectors. When told or written masterfully, they ignite the imagination and spark curiosity. But why are we talking about storytelling here in the context of market research? It’s simple. As it turns out, the way traditional market research has been reported for the last 50 years has been all wrong. That’s a bold statement, but sadly true. You’ve been there, trapped in a dim boardroom, eyes glazing over, walking through a presentation deck 100+ slides deep chock full of charts and graphs. The facts are reported, but you have to wonder just how much understanding clients walk away with.
In a perfect world, we would have the best information available at our fingertips when making decisions. But, that’s often not the case. While information is more accessible now than at any other time in history, it’s not always the right information. Missing or bad information could mean big mistakes when developing or measuring marketing campaigns. So, to mitigate the risk of missing the mark, many companies explore custom market research. But, accurate, actionable custom research requires knowledge, experience, and dedicated personnel to complete.
Brand strategists are tasked with knowing when to include market research in the scope of agency work for clients and with pushing back on the inevitable biases that arise in the agency when collecting and analyzing that data. Cognitive biases, the collection of faulty ways of thinking hardwired into the human brain, permeate almost every aspect of our lives. From anchoring to zero-risk, humans live and work with various types of cognitive biases that can impair judgment and stall progress, both personally and professionally.
In this new age of social media, traditional market research has taken a beating. Influencers like serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (Gary Vee) extol the importance of getting out and talking to their customers personally while countless memes of Steve Jobs’ quip against market research “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them,” are shared endlessly online. To some extent, they have a point. Gary Vee’s “back to basics” approach of getting out in the real world and speaking to consumers makes sense. Technology has made it so easy to hide behind our screens that, just like the Wizard of Oz, we tell our customers what we want without giving them a chance to get to know the person behind the curtain. Nor can we get to know them.
Steve Jobs was a genius. He could envision and bring to market revolutionary products that set the standards in their industries. He was also known for relying on his intuition over market research. Due to the success of Apple, many people subscribe to this logic and opt-out of conducting market research. But there was only one Steve Jobs. The marketplace is littered with failed products and services that seemed like a good idea to their creators and were rushed to market only to find that no one asked for or needed them. Complicating matters further is an unprecedented demographic shift towards multiculturalism that is changing the composition of the U.S. consumer market. In business, intuition can be useful, but it needs to be optimized by market research, especially when attempting to tap into diverse markets. If you’re not advising your clients to conduct market research, you are doing them a disservice as they don’t have the facts to make informed decisions about their marketing strategy.