Research in context

For research and insights to have an impact, businesses need to take what customers want or need or think and turn them into commercial propositions by adding design and operational understanding. The aim is to find ways of satisfying the demand measured or uncovered by the research profitably. A balance needs to be struck between what the customer wants and the cost of delivery.

So what the business is capable of and how the business works have a clear impact on whether a research insight will be successful or not. The research and insight process need to work with your organisation and market realities. The business needs to know what to invest and what return it should expect.

The challenge of colour

By way of an example of the challenges, a domestic appliances company was trying to find ways of differentiating its products and hit on the idea of producing computers in colours other than the standard cream.

It was decided to commission some research to find out what the best colour would be. To ensure that the research covered a range of eventualities two questions were asked. What was the customer's favourite colour for a computer to be, and what was the customer's least favourite colour, so as to avoid putting off customers as much as attracting them.

The list of favourite colours was topped by blue and red and somewhere near the bottom was the standard cream along with grey and white. Which begged the question as to why everyone always produces computers in dull, boring colours.

But the list of least favourite colours for a computer was also topped by blue and red, with few people disliking the standard cream or grey or white.

It turned out that those that liked red as a colour for a computer, disliked blue and those that liked blue disliked red. So although some customers would be attracted to the new colours, it would actually turn off more people.

The obvious solution was to produce a range of colours. But to produce products in a range of colours would either require high levels of production downtime as one colour was cleaned out of the molds ready for the next colour or a separate production line for each set of coloured moldings. Not only that, but all the peripherals such as the mouse, keyboard and monitor would also have to be produced in unique colours. Each extra colour was effectively doubling the number of products that had to be carried making stocking and forecasting demand a nightmare. Suddenly from looking at demand for four products in one colour purchasing had to cope with looking at four products per colour with no interchangeability between parts, greatly increasing stocks.

If the benefits of producing a full-colour range could be justified they would have taken that step, but in the end commercial realities set in and the company realised only one colour could be produced economically. The question of what colour to produce thus had to be decided not on what the customer wanted, but on the basis of which colour was going to put off fewest people - back to boring cream again.

Thinking smart about research

Using research is thus not purely about finding out what the customer wants. What he or she asks for involves trade-offs and a balance to be struck between say top quality and lowest price. The aim of the research is to discover not just that the customer wants everything (actually they don't), but to understand what really drives preference and decision making.

In the same way, the business has constraints about what it can deliver, both due to cost and capabilities, but also due to the historic values, focus and relationships the business has. Designing a research project therefore needs to view the world both from the business point of view, and also from the customer's point of view.

For businesses designing their own research, a common issue is that the business takes an internal-based view of the market; it uses internal language, jargon and abbreviations and the issues it tends to focus on are those that affect production and design. We often find that customer's take a different view, use different words and descriptions, and see different issues often around service and comprehension.

For these reasons, having an external research designer or consultant come in and help validate and check the research design (even if you still carry it out yourself) can save time and effort, while not confusing customers. An external consultant will get to know both your business and objectives, but can translate these into research questions that will get the information you need from customers in the customers' own language.

For help and advice on carrying out market research contact