Try this quick completely non-scientific exercise next time you are at a party:
Walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation.
When they ask you what you do for a living say ‘market research.’
Now watch their eyes glaze over or alternatively cast around desperately for an exit leaving you bereft and alone. Sad face.
All is not lost, this is just phase 1.
Now you have been left high and dry, walk up to another stranger and repeat the exercise but this time, instead of saying market research say ‘I study human behaviour’.
See their little eyes light up, and then recount sadly their own unfulfilled career paths involving spending all day at a desk or on excel, hear them ask you questions, engage in what is generally described as ‘conversational dialogue’.
But what the hell is this all about? The differences between these words are semantics surely?
The job is the same, yet one description renders people bored witless whilst the other sparks curiosity and intrigue.
Well maybe they aren’t the same job. Maybe people are right to be suspicious.
Typically when referring to what one does for a living, if you are unfamiliar with the industry, then people often assume I stand on street corners with a clip-board waiting to pounce alongside the charity muggers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This has got me thinking about the association of research, with brands. The history of our profession is not covered in glory. With innovation failure rates widely acknowledged to be upwards of 90%, and food & drink category decline being reported across bread, wine, beer, spirits, coffee, tea, confectionery and crisps. Marketing is not winning. There are pockets of resistance but these are outliers. Research is a tool of marketers. Either the tool is wrong or it is being used badly.
Either way, I don’t think we can all stand around as researchers and congratulate ourselves.
This is where the distinction between research and human behaviour can help us.
Studying how people respond to brands (from NPD, to packs, ads, product development, core brand renovation etc), is very good at telling you how people behave right now, in relation to things that they can physically see or touch and use.
In my experience, it is very bad at asking people to imagine how they might behave differently. It is caught in testing of the execution not the idea. It is stuck in logic and dullness and unimaginative techniques. It tells you to avoid the scary, it cautions against the remarkable. It shies away from new in favour of the status quo.
This is why most innovation isn’t really innovation. It adds a flavor variant here or there. It appropriates massively from everyone else in the category. There is little genuine new news in the supermarket.
Now consider human behavior. If I remove the context of ‘selling things’ by removing the brand imperative and what you get is the study of how and why people behave as they do.
You get people like Daniel Kahnemann, Dan Ariely, Barry Schwartz and even Colin Camerer using game theory. You get new innovation such as that developed by Rana El Kaliouby with her facial recognition technology.
It results in gaming changing technology, innovation that is radical, with improvements that happen in months not years.
None of this is about directly selling a specific brand. All of it starts with how people behave. All of it is utterly fascinating. All of it will make you friends in a room full of strangers at a party, hell it might even get you a date.