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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Hindsight, insight and foresight
Article Type: Practitioner perspective From: Young Consumers, Volume 13, Issue 1
About the author
Bryan UrbickFrequent author and lecturer around the world on the subject of kids, families, women, Prime Timers (people aged 55+), product development, innovation and the NPD process. Bryan sits on the Editorial Advisory Board of Young Consumers (Emerald Group Publishing Limited) and is a member of the international Literati Network.
He is one of the founding directors of the Consumer Knowledge Centre and serves as the CEO and Chairman. Prior to setting up the business, Bryan worked in the food industry for over ten years, and prior to that in the banking/financial services industry – both in marketing and product development. He has been working with all ages and segments of consumers, but is particularly known for his years of work with children and mothers, having conducted research in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America. Bryan’s style of research is unique. He is one of only a handful of researchers who successfully works with large groups of children through to hand picked smaller teams to uncover insights. Over the years Bryan has crafted some of his own methodologies and research tools and often re-written the rule book to understand what motivates and engages consumers of all ages.
For the last 15 years, he has been working to develop consumer research methodologies that innovate the research process and improve product success. Bryan was part of the team that won the ARF David Ogilvy Gold Award 2007 for creative research resulting in a successful advertising campaign. Bryan is also the 2004 winner of the prestigious Prosper Riley-Smith Award (from the international Association of Qualitative Research) for unique and innovative research with young children in the US on brand characters.
As well as numerous articles in trade journals and magazines, Bryan wrote the book, About Kids: Foods and Beverages published by Leatherhead Press and is the Managing Editor of Kids Food Trends, a ten-issue annually newsletter. In 2008/2009, two textbooks were published in which Bryan has contributed chapters: An Integrated Approach to Product Development (published by Taylor & Francis) and Developing Children’s Food Products (Woodhead Publishing). As an interesting aside, under the pen name of B. Conley O’Ryan, wrote the successful and critically acclaimed children’s musical The Magic of Me which enjoyed a national tour to primary schools in the UK, and the play I Love You More produced in a London Fringe theatre, and is currently at work on writing non-fiction articles and a new children’s book as well as a new play for the theatre.
If you did not already know, the good news is that hindsight is 20/20.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing; by definition it is wisdom after the event. Everyone would love to have bucket loads of the ethereal stuff but it never seems to materialise at the right time. We often think; “If I knew then what I know now, how differently things might have been”. Hindsight is as near as you can get to being perfect – it does not get any better. So, if you need to have this wisdom, this hindsight after the event before is it has actually happened, how do you go about achieving that?
In many businesses, little time is given to reflecting on the past, except perhaps to reflect on mistakes that were made (and too often, not even that). Rightly, most people involved with brand, product or category management will prefer to spend their resources contemplating and planning for the future, be it for the short-term or long-term. After all, what value has yesterday’s intelligence on tomorrow when the world is changing so rapidly? Sir Winston Churchill’s prophetic words: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see” could not be more relevant to every business. Where we have come from, the intelligence we have gathered along the way, will play a pivotal role on where and how we get to in the future.
This is particularly true for brands and products targeted to the younger consumer. There seems to be an accepted belief that “children are different nowadays”, thus creating the intention to continually look ahead, and avoid backward glances.
As a specialist market research company retained to develop research projects involving children, tweens, teens and their parents, we see enormous potential in hindsight – obtaining intelligence from past research data. We call it “research reviews”, in a sense qualitative data mining, and we use cognitive processes to create three principal values: hindsight, insight and foresight.
When we undertake research projects for clients, the marketing and research people we are involved with will generally take a linear view of the insights gathered. The reason for this is that research is often commissioned on a project-by-project basis and for all the right reasons, the projects tend to focus their attention on few rather than multiple objectives. In essence, there is nothing wrong with this approach other than the fact that an awful lot of meaningful information may be left behind, even though the brand teams will do their utmost to squeeze the last drop of insight out of the research project.
Data mining is a process that generally involves the analysis of large quantities of data in order to extract previously undetected intelligence or interesting patterns of behaviour. Qualitative data mining, what we call a “research review”, is very similar. This reanalysis of past market research data is not simply a matter of recycling old information. The objective is to leverage existing learnings in a wider, more holistic context. It is not merely a case of going back over individual research projects one by one, but literally superimposing all the insights from these projects and seeing where common threads start to appear. Taken on their own, these insights might have little to no impact, yet when seen in a cross-brand/cross-category context, they repeat and compound, and can indicate that something more fundamental may be occurring.
Excellent research should have a long shelf-life. It should not simply be utilized, then archived away only to gather dust after the initial life blood has been sucked from the data.
In research reviews, the patterns that a competent researcher is looking for are quite different from those that might be discovered from analysing the data from a single research project. As good qualitative researchers are those who are born with a curious and very inquisitive nature, these reviews are conducted by people driven by identifying patterns within patterns, and trends and insights that may not appear obvious to others. They can be a bit like artists specializing in analytical cubism, a technique where the artist dissects and reconstructs the subject material in a way that depicts its essence rather than its physical appearance. Trying to establish a clear differentiation in areas of black and white can be tedious and time-consuming, but to “qualies” it is simply a challenge – nothing oppressive or burdensome about it.
Since developing this approach, we often undertake review projects in which we analyse data going back five years. There is probably little reason not to extend beyond this point but we have yet to do so. We do not use intelligence software to analyse the data because there are often subtle differences in meaning and expression that can only be detected manually. Unlike quantitative data, qualitative data sets have many more assumptions regarding drivers of attitudes and values. We will generally group ideas and concepts into “themes” so that the data can be thoroughly explored and cross-referenced to ensure nothing is missed. Since we are reviewing a much larger data set than we would with a specific product or category research project, there is always a wide range of different connections that occur.
In one case study in which we were involved – one that clearly demonstrates the benefits of qualitative research reviews – a multinational client requested that we review past research dating back three years, of projects crossing a wide range of brands. The client was interested to see if the existing research was able to produce new insights that may not have been identified when the original projects were undertaken. It was also intended to see if compounding cross-category and cross-consumer insights would highlight something new that the brand teams could exploit.
By overlaying the findings of numerous research reports, we not only looked at the data relating to specific products but we also analysed the data from research relating to a broad cross-section of product and category issues. This client produces, among many other things, meal and snack foods. In one of the earlier projects we undertook which related to a specific category, it was not surprising to find that mothers would focus on healthy food solutions for their children when purchasing these products. Some time later, we undertook another research project for a different food category and found a seemingly random insight about mothers’ desire to “treat” their kids.
When all the material in our data mining project was overlaid, we saw this same “treat” insight emerge in subsequent projects across a number of food categories, yet the importance of this at the time of conducting the research was not that relevant because it was only mentioned in a fairly casual manner and there were other more important issues on which to concentrate.
However, as we dug deeper and deeper, yet another insight emerged. Mothers felt “obligated” to give their children food they liked, irrespective of whether that food was healthy or not. Interestingly, this obligation was mentioned, almost in passing, in a wide number of the projects. This behaviour was heightened when they wanted to provide a special treat for their children. Although somewhat contradictory, when overlaid with the data from other projects, interesting patterns started to emerge.
Once all the pieces of the data jig-saw were in place, the concept of a healthy treat that would meet the kids’ need for enjoyment and moms’ sense of obligation to treat suddenly set the neuronal functions into a spin. The brand and category managers involved got very excited by this prospect which, in turn, drove a very different innovation process and new brand-building ideas.
What we find truly beneficial in this qualitative data mining is identifying what “disruptions” are needed to occur to alter the rules of the categories. As described above, mothers would focus on healthy foods in one category, but in another, they felt obligated to give children food treats they liked, irrespective of the health value. Yet these two categories are closely linked (yet often in different places in the supermarket!).
Accurately defining drivers of change is another of the advantages of the research review process. By overlaying data from several projects and literally superimposing all the insights in a cross-brand/cross-category context, these drivers start to take a much more understandable shape. As we have found, the drivers in one category may initiate a significantly influential effect on other categories – and these types of insights may not clearly materialise during a single research project.
Furthermore, the drivers of change over the preceding years may well indicate the shape of events that will occur in future years This is a very important issue for all brand and category managers to grasp and fully comprehend.
Taking research reviews a step further, when you couple hindsight with the creation of a multi-dimensional strategic framework, you can begin to separate the black and white spaces (areas of practical application) from the theoretical “grey space” areas. This multi-dimensional framework helps establish some suppositions as to the best ways of tackling these black, white and grey space areas, focusing on the areas which may have the greatest potential. From the resulting strategic overview, a series of potential directions can be drafted for future exploration and maybe the subject of further research in their own right.
In conclusion, undertaking a qualitative data mining exercise in which past market research projects are reviewed is very cost-effective and provides marketing teams an opportunity to uncover relevant truths that can be further exploited. If the review process is performed correctly by also incorporating the drafting of a multi-dimensional strategic framework, the methodology should then provide the internal confidences needed to explore new themes; something that will ultimately lead to new brand extensions and positioning strategies – maybe even new brand ideas. We are not suggesting, though, that qualitative data mining should not take precedence over the traditional focus group projects. Rather it should be seen as an adjunct to conventional research.
However, especially when budgets are tight, data mining may well achieve the intelligence necessary to keep the organisation moving forward. Using qualitative research reviews to harness hindsight, and lead to insight and foresight: a powerful way to squeeze even more value from the research archives.