The posts here represent the opinions of CMB employees and guests—not necessarily the company as a whole. 

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Focusing in a World Full of Distractions

Posted by Judy Melanson

Fri, Nov 21, 2014

cmb, focus, communicationOur company’s Internet was down for a few hours earlier this week. While the IT team scrambled to identify and fix the problem, the project staff’s reaction to the news caused many of them (us!) to look like a deer caught in headlights: stunned. But because we, by nature, are problem solvers, the staff quickly sprang into action. The “work-arounds” were identified and shared, and people dispersed. Some, in the quest for free Wi-Fi, temporarily moved into Starbucks or the train station for a few hours. Others took the time to engage with colleagues in-person (!) to brainstorm, strategize, or simply catch up. It wasn’t long before the IT team got the company back online, but the service interruption has caused me to reflect on our work and purpose.Years ago, in my M.B.A. capstone strategy course at Babson College, I competed in a strategy game with other teams in the class. The teams had to use the information available to make decisions and set the strategy for our pretend companies. We had to answer questions like: what markets should we conquer? What should the features and pricing structures be for our products? What investments should we make in research, advertising, and operations?

My team chose a simple strategy: world domination. We decided we could outmaneuver our competitors with a first-to-market strategy. We flew out of the gate, introduced our first generation product in multiple markets, and, over the course of several weeks. . . we failed in a dramatic fashion. The lesson I learned from the course is one I carry with me to this day: focus. The teams that performed best studied the market and adapted their products and pricing structures to reflect market needs. Only then did they proceed with a plan and a goal to execute their plan as well as they could. 

I’m celebrating my 22nd anniversary at Chadwick Martin Bailey this week, and one of the things that I love about what we do is helping our clients make decisions—particularly decisions that are complex and have some level of risk associated with them. The information we provide enables clients to focus on high potential opportunities across a range of areas: market segments, operational improvements, new products, digital marketing, high-value customers, and more. We help our clients determine which alternatives have potential (for growth, for profit, for brand extension) and provide insight into how they can tackle those high potential alternatives. Resources—like time and money—are limited everywhere. Deciding what to do and what to ignore is essential for business success, team focus, execution, and sanity.

The Internet interruption this week forced me to focus on what I had to do without distractions. It also, strangely enough, empowered me to choose how to spend my day instead of feeling like my job is to constantly respond to communications. At this very moment, I can be reached instantly via four phones, three social networks, two email addresses, and one online chat system. . . that’s ten communication channels. At this stage in my career, communication with clients, prospects, and team members is essential to my success, which is why I monitor and quickly respond to all ten communication channels.  But this week’s Internet interruption has caused me to challenge my use of these channels and to consider how I can be more effective and focused in a world of constant interruption. 

Anyone want to guess what my 2015 New Year’s Resolution will be? 

Judy is VP of CMB's Travel and Entertainment practice and loves collaborating with her clients. She's the mom of two college students and the wife of an oyster farmer. Follow Judy on Twitter at @Judy_LC.

WEBINAR: The New Hotel Path to Purchase: The Mobile, Social, and Online Journey – Listen to Judy in action as she talks about this study we did as part of CMB’s Consumer Pulse program. We asked 2,000 leisure travelers to share their journey from awareness to booking. This webinar will give you insight into the role of mobile, apps, customer reviews, and social media. 

Watch Now!


Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, strategy consulting, business decisions, consumer insights, market strategy and segmentation

The Origins of Marketing Research

Posted by Matt Skobe

Thu, Nov 13, 2014

cmb, marketing researchHave you ever considered the origins of marketing research? Recently I’ve been pondering this. Some professions, such as construction, have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, meeting the basic human need of shelter. The (relatively) recent rise of the computer programmer marks its starting point in the early 1980s with the advent of the personal computer. But what about market research?I did some digging in order to answer my question, which led me to a book entitled A New Brand of Business: Charles Coolidge Parlin, Curtis Publishing Company, and the Origins of Market Research by Douglas Ward. This book focuses on Charles Coolidge Parlin (1872-1942), who is recognized today as the “Father of Marketing Research.” Parlin worked for Curtis Publishing Company, which was one of the most successful and influential American publishing companies of the early 20th century.

The pivotal moment for creating formalized marketing research was when Curtis Publishing made a principle-driven choice to ban medical, cosmetic, financial, and cigarette advertisements—and thus their accompanying revenue—from its magazines. To make up for this lost revenue, the company adopted a smarter business approach that focused only on the company’s existing clients, which would allow Curtis Publishing to become experts in its clients’ businesses. This novel idea went as follows: if Curtis Publishing could better serve its clients, those clients could in turn benefit Curtis Publishing with increased advertising revenue. In order to do this, the company sought to learn as much as possible about each client’s profit margins, territories, possibilities for expansion, and competition. In short, Curtis Publishing needed a clear view of each client’s marketplace.

With this impetus, Curtis Publishing created the Division of Commercial Research (1911) right here in Boston in what was formally known as Pemberton Square and is now known as Government Center. This was the first marketing research organization in the United States. The company had the notion to move forward on logical and statistical rule rather than intuition, and it strived to gauge public sentiment, evaluate changes in consumer tastes, and turn consumer wants into corporate profits. This newly founded “market research” would eventually become "the rudder on the ship of modern corporate capitalism.”

Parlin’s studies at Curtis Publishing led him to remarkable conclusions that were not readily apparent otherwise. For instance, Parlin calculated the strong influence that women had over family automobile purchases and foresaw that the automobile industry needed to reduce the number of models offered. Insights such as these eventually led to increased—and smarter—advertising as companies attempted to stay ahead of the curve.          

Interestingly, marketing research has the same purpose today as it did back then—it provides a way to improve marketing and business decision making. Parlin’s studies were typically hundreds of pages long with hand drawn charts, maps, and graphs bound in black or red leather with gold embossed lettering, and while we might do things a little differently now, we still need to create an informative narrative backed with charts and graphs aimed at getting to the heart of business decision making. Ever increasing amounts of information are available today, but distilling the most interesting and the most useful facts remains the ultimate challenge. I think Charles Parlin would agree, don’t you?

Matt Skobe is a Senior Data Manager at CMB. His passions include spending time with his wife and kids and mountain biking (day and night).

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Topics: business decisions, consumer insights, advertising

All Aboard: Why Planning a Cruise is like Planning for Market Research

Posted by Cara Lousararian

Tue, Feb 25, 2014

map with push pins squareIn a few weeks I’ll be taking a cruise to the Caribbean—a cruise that I have spent 9 months planning. Needless to say, I’ve been a little preoccupied making sure everything is in place to ensure a flawless vacation. And as I sorted through all of these details, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between vacation planning and how we at CMB prepare for a smooth, successful research project. You might be thinking “this is a woman who really needs a vacation.” But hear me out.

The first step of vacation planning is to put together a list of possible locations for a trip and select an appropriate timeframe. Planning a successful research study works on the same principles, every project starts with taking the time to define and understand the main decisions that need to be made from the research—we use tools like our Business Decision Worksheet—which directly ties the questionnaire, analysis and reporting to the business decisions, letting us identify and gain consensus on the most pressing decisions, and ensuring the results are actionable.

We also know how critical it is to develop (and stick to) a schedule that aligns with our clients’ needs. One of the first things that we at CMB do at the beginning of each project is put together a schedule outlining each key milestone of the process, all the way up to delivery of the final results. Putting together a detailed schedule helps us align resources and ensure we stay on track to meet our client deadlines. Knowing how much our clients rely on our research makes the scheduling a crucial part of the process and an important key to our success in executing projects.

Once the schedule is set, the project kicks off and the exploratory phase begins. I personally did lots of exploratory research before selecting my specific cruise line, ship, and date. Through this exploratory research, I was able to drill down and identify what aspects were most important in making my decision. Exploratory phases are also crucial for determining what will be most important to measure in the questionnaire and which areas are “nice to haves,” but not necessary to be included for the project.

Exploratory research also helps generate new ideas that may not have been previously considered. Similar to the many resources available for cruise planning (cruise line website, message boards, etc.), exploratory research for a project can span several platforms, including a review of secondary research, conducting in-depth interviews or focus groups, or hosting online discussion boards.

Sometimes the exploratory phase of a project gets less attention/recognition than is deserved because it doesn’t come across as being as “glamorous” as the analysis and insights that will come from the quantitative research. However, all market researchers know that the level of planning can make or break a project. CMB’s focus on planning allows us to try and anticipate what potential issues may come up down the road so that we can troubleshoot effectively and properly set expectations with our clients. Of course just like you can’t predict a rogue wave, there are times when the unexpected happens. When this happens we know we need to remain flexible enough to make course corrections and steer us back to the business decisions that our clients are trying to make.

I know we can only take the analogy so far; when all is said and done, often the only tangible evidence of having been on a vacation are the pictures. While the deliverables we produce for our clients are polished and shiny, they’re hardly the end “goal” of the research. Successful research is useful and used, and that starts well before a questionnaire is designed.

Cara is a Research Manager at CMB. She enjoys spending time with her husband Brett, her dog Nala, and planning her next vacation.

Topics: business decisions, travel and hospitality research, research design

What they Didn’t Teach you in Marketing Research Class: Sig Testing

Posted by Amy Maret

Mon, Feb 03, 2014

Market Research education CMB

As a recent graduate, and entrant into the world of professional market research, I have some words of wisdom for college seniors looking for a career in the industry. You may think your professors prepared you for the “real world” of market research, but there are some things you didn’t learn in your Marketing Research class. So what’s the major difference between research at the undergrad level and the work of a market researcher? In the real world, context matters, and there are real consequences to our research. One example of this is how we approach testing for statistical significance.Starting in my freshman year of college, I was taught to abide by a concept that I came to think of as the “Golden Rule of Research.” According to this rule, if you can’t be 95% or 90% confident that a difference is statistically significant, you should consider it essentially meaningless.

Entering the world of Market Research, I quickly found that this rule doesn’t always hold when the research is meant to help users make real business decisions. Although significance testing can be a helpful tool in interpreting results, ignoring a substantial difference simply because it does not cross the thin line into statistical significance can be a real mistake.

Our Chief Methodologist, Richard Schreuer, gives this example of why this “Golden Rule” doesn’t always make sense in the real world:

Imagine a manager gets the results of a concept test in which a new ad outperforms the old by a score of 54% to 47%; sig testing shows our manager can be 84% confident the new ad will do better than the old ad. The problem in the market research industry is that we typically assess significance at the 95% or 90% level, if the difference between scores doesn’t pass this strict threshold, then it is often assumed no difference exists.

However, in this case, we can be very sure that the new ad is not worse than the old (there’s only a 1% chance that the new ad’s score is below the old). So, the manager has an 84% chance of improving her advertising and a 1% chance of hurting it if she changes to the new creative—pretty good odds. The worst scenario is that the new creative will perform the same as the old. So, in this case, there is real upside in going with the new creative and little downside (save the production expense). But if the manager relied on industry-standard significance testing, she would likely have dismissed the creative immediately.

At CMB, it doesn’t take long to get the sense that there is something much bigger going on here than just number crunching. Creating useable, meaningful research and telling a cohesive story require more than just an understanding of the numbers themselves; it takes creativity and a solid grasp on our clients’ businesses and their needs. As much as I love working with the data, the most satisfying part of my job is seeing how our research and recommendations support real decisions that our clients make every day, and that’s not something I ever could have learned in school.

Amy is a recent graduate from Boston College, where she realized that she had a much greater interest in statistics than the average student. She is 95% confident that this is a meaningful difference.


Feb20webinar14Join CMB' Amy Modini on February 20th, at 12:30 pm ET, to learn how we use discrete choice to better position your brand in a complex changing market. Register here.


Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, advanced analytics, methodology, business decisions

The Segmentation Research Crisis

Posted by Rich Schreuer

Mon, Mar 25, 2013

A lot of time and money is wasted on segmentation studies. Here’s why, and what to do about it.

Segmentation Secrets CMBLast November I partnered with a banking client for a conference presentation on a segmentation study we conducted to help guide his organization towards greater customer-centricity. The study provided market insight to help transition from a product-based to a customer-centric organization by identifying need, attitude, and behavior-based segments.  The results helped them develop value propositions customized for each segment, which addressed products, messaging and customer experiences. 

The study was a great success. It’s used by our client in many ways, and was “actionable” in every sense of the word.  But rather than dwelling on our very great success, it got me thinking about why segmentation studies are often not acted upon.  In my 25 years of market research experience, I have found that segmentation studies are often found “interesting” but not “actionable.”  And it’s often not a function of the quality of research.  Poorly executed studies are never actionable.  But even well executed studies may not be actionable.  (And, by the way, when a client finds a study “interesting,” for me, that’s code for “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you failed.”)

Back to the conference presentation…at the start of our talk I asked the audience how many had worked on  well-executed segmentation studies (either as a supplier or a client) that were ultimately deemed “not useful.”  I knew the situation was bad, but I was shocked when about four-fifths of the audience raised their hand. So, here are a number of things we at CMB have learned over years about how to make segmentation actionable.  Note they don’t have anything to do with the mechanics of execution.

  1. It’s the process, stupid (apologies to James Carville)
    While any good market research firm can write a decent questionnaire, structure a sound sample, and use state-of-the art analysis techniques, it’s the process that usually determines the project’s fate.  Simply soliciting client input, executing the study and presenting results is not enough.  The study will be a success if the process involves making information-users partners by capturing their definition of success, upcoming decisions and hypotheses, and then including these partners in selection the final segmentation solution.

  2. Articulate and agree on business decisions
    Our experience shows that while, many research consumers are good at listing information needs, few actually identify the decisions they intend to make with this information.  Most seem to believe that if they have enough information they will find insights to help make as yet undetermined decisions.  This problem is especially acute in segmentation studies, because different types of decisions (product development vs. messaging vs. targeting) require different type questions and measurement techniques.

  3. Many options, but no silver bullet
    Over many years and many studies I have never had an engagement where one segmentation solution worked equally well for all decisions.  For example, solutions that are stronger for targeting will typically be weaker for messaging.   At CMB, our process involves examining and rejecting up to 50 solutions, and then presenting four or five really good ones to our client. This is where management art blends with science.  By understanding competing decisions at the start, we make rational tradeoffs to select the best solution.

  4. Real work begins when the study ends
    A segmentation study is typically treated as a discrete project with a beginning and end date.  If the final presentation is well-received the supplier and client may have celebratory drinks or dinner, if not the supplier quietly slinks off to the airport.  But the reality is that no matter how positive the initial reaction, segmentation studies can die on the vine if planning for implementation doesn’t occur before the final presentation.  In successful segmentation engagements, the final presentation is not “the end,” but rather “the end of the beginning.”  Segmentation often requires managers to think differently about the market, and this can’t occur without a process to support and reinforce this way of thinking.  We typically use a set of cross-functional workshops in which participants work with the information and participate in exercises to develop plans with input and support from the group

If you can internalize and act on these principles you’ll never have to slink back to airport after a final presentation. 

Rich is Senior VP and Chief Methodologist at CMB, he also knows the secrets of raising chickens, and the lost art of ski ballet.

You didn’t think we’d give away all our secrets did you? Join us this Wednesday the 27th at noon to learn more secrets to successful segmentation.

Topics: business decisions, research design, webinar, market strategy and segmentation

Data Overload: Finding the Moment of Truth

Posted by Christine Gimber

Thu, Dec 08, 2011

Drinking from the Fire HoseLast week CMB hosted Chris Frank and Paul Magnone, authors of Drinking from the Fire Hose, at our Boston office and invited our local clients to join us. Chris, Vice President at American Express responsible for advertising, brand, and business-to-business research, and is a long-time CMB client. Paul added the internal client perspective to the discussion, having been a consumer of research at IBM for 21 years and now heading business development and alliances at Openet. As the book’s title implies, the conversation centered on how to sort through the massive amount of data we, as researchers, are confronted with to get to that moment of truth.

As it turns out, it is not about the information, but about asking the right questions. The book outlines seven “essential questions” that will keep you focused on only the information that you need. The first question is “What is the one vital piece of information needed to move forward?” That may sound obvious, but during the discussion we heard from many of our clients that identifying and focusing on what really matters isn’t easy. The challenge is to re-focus clients on the business decisions being made. As we heard from Chris, Paul, and our clients, this requires a major effort.

Focusing not only on why you need the information but what you are going to do with it is also key. One of my favorite stories of the evening was about an internal client who was faced with the question “If the results of this research dictate it, will you close the business unit?” He retorted that if research came up with that result, then they were talking to the wrong people. With no intention of closing the business unit, it was clear he was asking for answers to questions that were not actionable.

It was interesting to hear the authors talk about what we at CMB call a “business decision focus.” At CMB we spend a great deal of time helping our clients (and their internal clients) stay focused on the decisions that they are making with the story the data tells. It was exciting to hear how that simple focus can change the paradigm.  It was a great event, and if you attended we hope you enjoyed it. If you were unable to attend, stay tuned, we’ll be posting more highlights and video of the event. And of course we recommend reading the book.

Posted by Christine Gimber. Christine is an Account Executive with the Financial Services and Healthcare teams, and loves great questions, essential or otherwise. When she is not at CMB, you can find her running or biking, which also helps keep her in shape as she tries to keep up with her three small kids.

Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, business decisions

Reflections on the 2011 Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit

Posted by Jeff McKenna

Thu, Oct 13, 2011

TCELTwitterLast week, the Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit occurred in Glendale Arizona. The Institute for International Research (IIR) hosted the event, and it featured three full days of presentations about measuring customer feedback, operationalizing it, and optimizing programs to maintain business success.  I was fortunate to chair the Action Planning track, so I enjoyed unique one-on-one discussions with the presenters in my track as I prepared to introduce and lead discussion for each of the presentations. 

One of the biggest topics at the conference was social media.  Whether it was the Social Media CRM symposium, which led off with a presentation on “Linking Social Media to Consumer Behavior” by Becky Carroll from Petra Consulting Group, the keynote speech by Jeanne Bliss from CustomerBliss, or the several presentations showing how companies have applied information captured through social media to make decisions, folks are still trying to wrap their arms around it.

My take on it: Most companies are dipping their toes in the “deep pool” of social media, and the continued interest reflects a need to assess their experience relative to other companies.  In the end, market research vendors and clients are looking to establish the process for integrating this new data and communications channel…

Two presentations from Maritz Research stood out in this regard.  Randy Brandt presented findings from recently completed research comparing Consumer Generated Media (CGM) guest ratings for a luxury hotel chain via TripAdvisor to guest ratings with ratings from a traditional direct brand solicitation for that same chain.  The results identified strong differences in data between the two channels.  It’s not a surprise, as the sample of guests providing their input via CGM is a small subset of guests (even smaller than the 15-20% who might typically respond to a brand solicitation) with a different set of motivations for sharing their opinions.  This unique apples-to-apple comparison truly demonstrates the challenges we face – as researchers - when we are asked to bring together two very different evaluation samples.

apples to applesThis fed nicely into the presentation by David Ensing (also from Maritz), who spoke about integrating data from multiple Voice of the Customer sources, including social media.  As David noted, research managers are now dealing with lots of information and trying to make sense of it all; and with research budgets constrained, researchers are looking at (relatively inexpensive) social media information and trying to figure out if it is useful and if so, how it is useful.  We are seeing a shift from solely one-off/ad hoc research studies to a combination of ad hoc with continuous listening, and this may strike researchers as a threat to their role.  However, it shouldn’t be that way.

David summed up his presentation with a clear opportunity for market researchers to take the lead: “We believe that the future of marketing research is not just in collecting customer feedback through surveys, but also in integrating multiple sources of company-controlled information both with each other and with new information streams, such as consumer-generated media.”

Personally, I believe the market researchers who have been successful at applying research outcomes to business decisions will find this skill to be vital in maintaining leadership and effectivenes in this new landscape.  Market researchers really need to think of themselves as people who inform internal clients who strive to make decisions to improve their business.

I find the current mass of data at everyone’s disposal can be daunting and confusing, in large part because the technologies that pull and deliver the data do a great job at just that – pulling and delivering.  Heck, most companies in the data delivery business would consider shock, awe, and confusion from massive data to be a “good thing."  To a point that's true, but they fail to translate and inform. 

This is where market researchers need to take a lead role.  As the stewards of applying research outcomes to business decisions, the skills that allow them to translate and inform will be vital in maintaining a lead role in this new landscape.  Market researchers really need to think of themselves as people who organize and give structure to all data – and then deliver information in a precise manner that informs internal clients who need the information to make business decisions. 

Posted by Jeff McKenna. Jeff is a senior consultant at CMB and a lover of the mid-west, beer, and customer satisfaction data.

You'll also find CMB'ers at The Market Research Event (TMRE). Are you planning on going to TMRE? CMB is an event sponsor and presenter at the conference. Feel free to use the code: TMRE11CMB when you register for a discounted price. We hope to see you there. Learn more about the conference here.

Did you attend the Total Customer Experience Leaders Summit? What did you think?

Topics: business decisions, conference recap, customer experience and loyalty

Drinking From the Fire Hose: Get it While it's Hot

Posted by Brant Cruz

Tue, Aug 30, 2011

DFTF resized 600Nearly a year ago, my friend and long-time client Chris Frank (formerly of Microsoft, now Vice President, Global Marketplace Insights at American Express) told me he’d been approached to write a book.  Several good-natured digs and a decent steak later, I learned that Chris was serious. By the end of the meal I had been sworn to secrecy. Over the course of the last 10 months I’ve gotten a sneak peek at the title (Drinking from the Fire Hose) and its contents (based on a proof copy Chris sent me last month).  Now the book, a clarion call for smart effective data use—not just more data, is officially available for sale. The time is right for me to tell the world about it.

I promise later this week I will write something with a lot more personality. But I want to take a serious tack today for two reasons:
  • I wanted to see if I could do it.

  • I consider Drinking From the Fire Hose a “must read” for anyone who either uses data to make decisions, or who provides data, insight, and recommendations for decision makers to use in their decision making. 

“Fire Hose” asks researchers and decision makers to step back and siphon the jet stream of data most of us have at our fingertips, and to be parsimonious about which insights we bring to the decision makers we support to help them act confidently.  One of my favorite sections was the description of the Customer Impact Assessment (CIA).  I’ve seen versions of this standard used at most great companies with outstanding market research/consumer insights teams.  Jeff Resnick (formerly of eBay, now at Zynga) always asks the question “Okay, so who wins here and how do we make sure they know it?  Who loses here, and how do we help them win somewhere else.” It’s a great reminder of questions we should always be asking ourselves as researchers whenever we frame up recommendations. 

I’ve read some of Fire Hoses' predecessors in this “making sense of a data-driven world” genre. "Fire Hose" goes beyond the field, providing an important contrast to books like Ian Ayers' “Super Crunchers” and Stephen Baker’s “The Numerati,” books whose fascination with the amount of data obscure the importance of analysis in real world application.  While these books do fabulous jobs of describing the possible, Frank and Magnone do an equally great job prescribing what is practical.  If Ayers’ and Baker’s approach is the excitable young resident eager to make the most exotic diagnoses; Fire Hoses’ is your trusted primary care doctor who gets your diagnosis right because he understands the science of what ails you, and because he’s treated the ailment before.

Note:  I am very tempted to insert a whole slew of equally bad analogies here, but will wait until my next post.

But, who is this book for?  My guess is that most of the concepts in "Fire Hose" will feel familiar to all of us.  But that few or none of us practice all of the concepts as thoroughly and habitually as we should.  For me personally, I learned a number of new tricks.  But at least equally important, I was reminded of some key “rules” that are very familiar, but that I don’t follow as religiously as I should.  The book has left me energized and re-committed to nailing some of the fundamentals that can separate very good research from great research.  I hope you all feel the same when you read it.

Now, for those of you who prefer a more whimsical Brant, I provide the following “sneak peak” of my next Drinking from the Fire Hose blog post…

“I didn’t realize he had such kind eyes.”  That was my wife’s initial reaction when I plopped this month’s issue of the Market Research Association’s “Alert” magazine in front of my wife.  And you know what, I think she’s right.  I never expected to see a nearly life-sized photo of Chris Frank’s mug quite so close up.  But truth be told, I must admit he’s pretty photogenic.

Posted by Brant Cruz. Brant is a VP and resident segmentation guru at CMB.

Topics: big data, business decisions, consumer insights

John's Corner: Distinguishing Between Goals and Needs

Posted by Kristen Garvey

Wed, Jul 27, 2011

Introducing “John’s Corner” M  CMB Photos and Stock Photography Web photos johnscorner color transp resized 600

Many times the people we think of as “Thought Leaders” seem unapproachable or intimidating, especially when they’re the Chairman of the company. Here at CMB we’re lucky to have Dr. John Martin, Chairman of CMB, Co-founder of South Street Strategy, innovator, professor, mentor, and a very approachable (and often shoeless) guy.

This month we’re kicking off “John’s Corner,” a series of articles sharing John’s 30+ years of experience in research and strategy, with a conversation with Kristen, CMB’s VP of Marketing and John about the challenges researchers face in defining goals and needs.

Distinguishing Between Goals and Needs

Kristen: Often in research we try to identify and most importantly prioritize what actually motivates people to make certain decisions. Why do some choose one product or service over another? John, tell us what you see as the biggest challenge researchers face in helping companies distinguish between goals and needs?

John: I think it starts with the language we use; the language used in market research is surprisingly messy.  For example we use terms like “needs” and “wants.”  However, “needs” are often used broadly to represent several types of motivational dimensions.  Then we have related terms such as “demand,” “preferences,” “value,” and ”value drivers,” “decision criteria,” evaluation criteria,” “goals,” and “requirements.”  We need to be more precise because this lack of precision leads to poor measurement and consequently mistakes when interpreting research findings to make precise recommendations.

Kristen: Interesting, this is what I love about our conversations. I can see this is a “hot button” for you. So I can see where there might be confusion and a danger of using some of these terms interchangeably. What can we as researchers do about it?

John: Well I think we all need to commit to “greater preciseness” and be more deliberate in our choice of language when talking about goals and motivators. This starts by distinguishing between what people aim to achieve (goals) and what will enable those goals to be achieved (needs). This requires agreement on a definition for goals which I consider to be extremely important.

Kristen: I’d like to talk a little more about the nature of business goals. Now that we have agreement around goals being the primary motivator, what’s next?

John: Accepting goals as the primary motivator positions companies as providing what people “need” in order to achieve their goals.   This allows companies to take a more objective look at criteria used to gauge value or how much a proposed solution or offer will enable them to achieve their goals. So, since goals are the primary motivator we can expect a company's core brand promise or vision to reflect the goals of their target market members in order to provide the basis for engagement.

Kristen: When you say “How much an offer will enable ‘them’ to achieve their goals.” Do you mean the customer? Sounds like this approach is very customer-centric and requires companies to have an intimate understanding of customers' needs.

John: Yes that’s just it. See, the benefit of this approach will be felt by all when a company enables customers to meet their goals while enabling them to be successful (goal alignment).  A focus on goals encourages companies to adopt a proactive and forward looking perspective as they establish what best they can do to help people achieve their goals. 

Kristen: Going back a bit to what you said about engagement, you've just published an article in Quirks outlining the special challenges for measuring loyalty in low engagement industries like insurance. How can insurance carriers with little end consumer contact identify customer goals and position themselves to address customer needs?

John: The customers' goal is peace of mind—to sleep well at night, knowing they and their family have coverage. But historically the industry has set up barriers to engagement, by adding complex language, limiting access to information, and expecting blind trust from the customer. Changes in the marketplace mean companies are removing barriers—engaging in social media, dealing directly with customers, letting them access information on the web etc. Enabling engagement and recognizing they have to meet customer needs through understanding their goals is only going to increase.

So what do you think?  Are goals on top of the motivational pile?  If goals are on the top, how does understanding goals help us identify and meet consumer needs?

John MartinCan you foster customer loyalty in a low-engagement industry like insurance?

Creating customer loyalty is a challenge for every company and has never been more important. Over the last few years, a plethora of loyalty programs have emerged to build cross-selling, retention and up-selling across a variety of industries. Customer cards, frequent-shopper programs and reward programs all work toward achieving these business outcomes. However, one industry that has had a greater challenge with creating customer loyalty is insurance, specifically personal protection. Read the whole article here. 


Topics: business decisions, John's Corner

I Cringe When I Hear "Actionable Insights"

Posted by Kristen Garvey

Thu, May 19, 2011

actionable insightsAs someone in market research, it might surprise you to know that I really don't like the phrase “actionable insights.”  I see it everywhere. Market researchers promise it; clients strongly desire it; everyone talks about it, but what does it really mean?  What’s the definition?  The real issue is making sure the research translates into simple, business decision-focused deliverables so it can be both acted upon and evangelized throughout the organization.

Here are three ways to get there.

  1. Start with the end in mind- The keys to any successful research project are focus and planning around how the research will be used and what decisions need to made.   This is why our business decision worksheet is at the heart of all of our projects here at CMB. Market research should be linked to business decisions during preliminary planning and key stakeholders need to be involved.  Involving stakeholders throughout the research lifecycle gives them an opportunity to voice their own questions about the research before the study goes to field and makes them more likely to evangelize the results when it is time to act.

  2. Communicating is key- Making sure your insights tell a visually compelling story is so important. Even when timelines are tight and deadlines are looming, the results need to be easy to understand and visually appealing, as both are key to making sure they will be effectively communicated throughout the organization. Too often, busy corporate decision-makers don’t have the time to dive into the market research.  They want answers.  It’s our job as researchers to provide perspective and translate the research into simple, business decision-focused deliverables that look great and are easy to understand.

  3. Continued collaboration and evangelization- In the spirit of teamwork and partnership, the process should continue beyond the delivery of reports and research.  Our own Brant Cruz calls this the “evangelization” stage.  And if you have accomplished #1 and #2 evangelizing the research becomes much easier and more organic.

So it’s not “actionable insights” that market researchers and clients are looking for.  It’s answers. Answers and action come from a collaborative process that collects and focuses relevant insights around business decisions that need to be made.  It is then and only then that research becomes actionable. 

Posted by Kristen Garvey. Kristen is CMB's VP of Marketing, a mom of two and she's really looking forward to the sun coming back to Boston.

Topics: business decisions