Consequences for small businesses of Martin Baillie’s radical views on the future of market research

In a recent article Martin Baillie suggested that we need to move from ad hoc research to responsive insight.  What does this mean?  He believes that ‘The problem is that in a connected world, marketing should mean always-on collaboration with audiences, working with consumer reactions and making ourselves more and more relevant to them.

However, he says, few clients are structured to deal with continuous, iterative, responsive communication and few agencies have structured themselves to deliver this either (because the clients aren’t structured that way yet).’

The way forward

He believes that the way forward is to:

  • Support ‘Responsive doing’.  So in a connected world, we should be listening, testing, learning and changing in real time collaboration with our communities.  Light lots of fires as we will never know what will take-off and what won’t.
  • Respect our own hunches. Faster horses would never have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. Serendipity is more useful than tight processes when it comes to making new ideas from new connections.
  • Do it in small ways, and amplify what works, and let’s do it in small groups.

This suggests to me that we should not be using conventional research (or, at least, not exclusively).  Instead we should focus on listening, thinking, suggesting, responding – using many small initiatives.  It may be that ad hoc research can be used to obtain more directed or detailed information to explore particular issues in more depth.

The joy of being small

Small organisations should find this easier than larger ones, because they tend to be less formal, more organic, responsive and flexible.  In addition, small businesses’ inability to obtain and analyse formal information on customers and markets has meant that they have always had to make use of hunches.

There are a number of practical out takes from Martin’s views.  The first is that businesses need to equip themselves to have continuous communication with members of relevant audiences.  This requires two things: firstly, a mechanism, such as a Facebook page or a more focused online market research community.  The second requirement is stuff to attract and engage participants.  This could be some combination of information, offers, opportunities to interact with other customers, a points collection scheme leading to rewards, plus other things that I haven’t thought of or come across yet!

Of course, this is exactly the same challenge as for social media marketing in general.  So arguably the key for success in both is to identify before you start that you can sustain sufficient interesting content to attract and retain people.  This task will be made both easier and more successful the more that participants can be induced to communicate and debate with each other, not just one to one with the hosting business.  Ideas about how this could be approached include:

  •  Giving participants advance notice of market, industry or regulatory developments that could impact upon them.
  • Prompt debates around emerging trends within the industry – such as how they can use social marketing in their markets!
  • Ask about irritations and frustrations that they have in your market.
  • Run competitions, or set challenges, for participants to share ‘war stories’, funny incidents, etc.
  • Use the Buyer Utility Map (I’ll blog about this soon) to come up with ideas for new services or product features and then ask participants what they think about these.

The main issue that small businesses will face is finding the time and focus to make it happen.  As most lack either resources or specialist departments, what makes sense is to integrate publicity, promotional and research activities.  And, of course, this also makes sense from the perspective of providing customers with an engaging experience.

Comments are closed.