Marketing Minute: How to approach marketing research – May 2022

By Paul Friederichsen

For floorcovering manufacturers and retailers, category research is certainly helpful for gaining valuable strategic insights versus your competition. In fact, you should congratulate yourself right now because, unlike some of your colleagues, you care about knowing the numbers that are vital to your brand’s success.

Even so, as a floorcovering marketer, stats don’t tell you everything you need to know about what you’re doing well or not doing well in marketing your brand. If the purpose of every business is to “make a customer,” as Peter Drucker once observed, then how’s that going for you? Keeping and making new customers is the “people” part of marketing’s Four P’s and is critical to brand growth. Research-with the timely collection, review and analysis of your marketing data efforts-should, over time, provide a strategic road map for that purpose.

Companies large and small in the flooring business often rely solely on sales data and marketshare as the key indicators of what they are doing right or wrong in marketing. The proof, management would argue, is in the pudding. The reality is that the marketplace, just like the universe, is in constant flux. So, in essence, you’re navigating an obstacle course while looking only in the rearview mirror. And there are fallacies to this approach. For instance, your improved performance in marketshare could be more influenced by how your competitor got it wrong than where you got it right. And if your sales performance is a disappointment, you may believe the only answer is to increase your marketing budget. Not necessarily.

Profitability is always the raison d’être of marketing research. In fact, the quest for the holy grail in marketing statistics goes back to John Wannamaker’s famous quip, “Half my advertising spend is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” For 200 years, marketers have been trying to figure that one out. First, there were circulation numbers for newspapers (back when there were newspapers). Nielsen gave us actual paper diaries to measure viewership that translated into ratings and audience share that determined advertising cost and value. All of these were historical data collection methods. When the Internet was born in the early 1980s, more data was available to sort through to try to gauge performance.

However, over 40 years later, every marketer, from flooring mom-and-pops to corporate giants, is inundated with data thanks to digital technology. Whether it’s from leading industry and business news publications or your own media tracking and platform reporting, we all stand in the midst of a marketer’s paradox: We all have more information and data points at our disposal than in all of marketing history, and yet many of us feel too time-strapped to fully benefit from them. And unless you have the proper training, it’s problematic. Pam Danziger, a researcher and author of several marketing books, lamented, “People really don’t know how to interpret ‘the numbers.’ It’s too easy to get lost in the trees (i.e., the details) and miss the forest (i.e., the big picture).”

We can all agree that without some amount of inquisitive research and respect for performance indicators-be they about media-spend selections, circulation size or click-through rates, to name a few-we are flying blind. Qualitative research (focus groups and interviews) and quantitative research (surveys and polls) are also valuable decision-making tools that shape marketing direction. The trick is how you, as the marketer, approach research to get the most out of it. Here are a few tips to help you in that regard.

• Check your biases at the door. This is a cardinal sin that we are all prone to commit. As Danziger advised, “There’s the ever-present danger posed by cognitive biases, like the confirmation bias that cancels out anything that doesn’t conform to one’s own belief or the anchoring bias where we are most influenced by the first piece of news we hear.” I’ve seen this happen with clients while observing from behind a two-way focus group mirror. Remember, just because a member of a focus group says something you agree with does not necessarily make it so on a macro-level.

• Maintain personal awareness of your marketplace. I once requested that my media partner pull a Kantar report on a set of flooring companies to assess their actual advertising spending levels. Had I not been personally familiar with the level of advertising frequency I had witnessed myself, I wouldn’t have known that this particular report was inaccurate. There is no substitute for knowledge in and of the field, and always view data with a critical eye.

• Be disciplined in your review of research. Make quality time in your schedule to review your Google Analytics report, your social media dashboards and other reporting that’s available to you. If you’re responsible for the marketing strategy or the budget, you owe it to yourself and your brand to be familiar with them yourself. If you’re responsible for reporting the findings up the ladder or to a client, do so monthly.

• Understand the terminology. For example, what you think “bounce rate” means may or may not be correct. By glossing over terms like these without a full understanding, you may miss the nuance of the information you’re paying for. And don’t assume someone else reviewing the data understands it either.

• Look for cause and effect. The marketing statistics you are reviewing certainly weren’t created in a vacuum. There are always factors that come into play that you may or may not have control over. Replicate the good ones by learning from the circumstances that contributed. For example, if a webinar spiked traffic on your site or blog, make a note, and congratulate the team.

• Think outside the traditional demographic box. To create more customers, we have all been trained to clearly define the demographics (the statistical data of a group of people) and the psychographics (their attitudes and aspirations) of the ideal customer for our brand. In his article “5 Concepts for Actual Segmentation,” Steve Wunker explains in Branding Strategy Insider that purchase behavior is not “guaranteed” because people fit within a demographic group or conform to some archetypical persona. In the flooring world, it’s better to segment by following the customer journey to accomplish a project. Wunker observed, “Ultimately, people buy a Land Rover instead of a comparably priced Tahoe because of what they seek to achieve (both functionally and emotionally), not because they belong to a certain demographic.”

• Look for what doesn’t make sense. Derrick Daye of The Blake Project, a leading brand consultancy, reminds that in researching a marketing problem, “Don’t veer toward what you understand. What you need to do is set a course for what truly isn’t making sense.” Just as WWII Allied bombers weren’t made less vulnerable to attack by putting extra armor where the bullet holes were, the extra armor was placed where the bullet holes weren’t.

• Look for the reasons you get passed by. Nearly all marketing statistics are gathered from customers or prospects who have purchased or engaged the brand already. But what about those who have done neither? Consider this advice from Danziger, “Businesses are focused on ‘big data’ (data derived from their internal systems about their customers). Analysis of that data is valuable but tells nothing about potential customers that walk by your store or fail to engage. Companies that forsake collecting insights from potential customers do so in peril.”

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