Parenting my truly amazing teenaged son provides loads of fun and curiosity … not to mention a fair bit of reflection for myself as his guardian. I’m faced with fears of ‘Will he ever change?’ balanced against ‘Wow, look how far he’s come!’
I guess the teen years are schizophrenic times for parents and kids alike. But before becoming a parent, I was a market researcher … a questioner …and an observer.
I’ve determined that in the business of market research, there are three things we have in common with 14-year-old boys.
What matters is what’s happening NOW!
Market research, riding tandem with its sister Marketing, tends to look into the rear-view mirror. Considering and measuring what has happened or is currently happening, is our profession. Proving it and measuring it.
Truly, it is only possible to see and describe what has happened and the course that has been traveled.
However, as market researchers we would be wise to check the forward view as well! I’d always thought that my ability to funnel and connect a confluence of information into simple conclusions made me a good researcher. In a recent performance review, I learned that asking open-ended questions, with an effort to explore options and needs, is in fact an area I should work on; to be willing to explore variations and divergence; to seek to understand rather than conclude.
Market researchers need to have a plan for accommodating the changing marketplace and adjusting to new realities.
If my limited experience holds true across the spectrum of teen behavior (and there will most certainly be exceptions!), 14-year-old boys tend to not think too far ahead … at all. Not a care in the world!
Three weeks away from the end of semester, with the tempting fragrances of summer in the air, his grades took a dip.
‘Don’t worry,’ he told me. ‘I’ve got it under control.’
In the moment, that might be true! But making plans to adjust for a different future requires thinking beyond what’s happening now.
In her fascinating talk at TEDGlobal 2012, neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, notes that as an adolescent, the pubescent adult has difficulty considering ideas from other people’s perspectives or weighing out various potential outcomes.
As much as a parent can plead with their teenage son to think of how other people feel or how to make behavioral adjustments with this in mind, there is a limited ability for them to do so. (This, quite handily, serves to drive younger sisters crazy!)
While I’m confident that all the brain synapses will be successfully pruned into thought-patterns that will make for a kind and ‘thoughtful’ adult eventually, I am aware that as a market researcher, I too need to seek to know and to learn … and not rely on conclusion-making that takes into account only the ‘now’.
An insatiable appetite
He comes through the door at 4:34pm … hungry. And it doesn’t matter where he’s been. If it’s somewhere food was served (a basketball game, a friend’s house, the school cafeteria, etc.), he might pause to holler up the stairs ‘Mom, what’s there to eat?’
If no culinary treat had been recently provided, he charges straight into the kitchen - without bothering to waste energy on the question – and starts plowing through the cupboards. To his credit, he is not terribly picky either. Dinner might nearly be on the table, but the hungry beast simply must be fed.
In the same way, market research professionals sit in the sweet spot between client insight - hungry to understand daunting business issues - and vendors offering to serve up many portions of answers.
The vortex can be intoxicating. The ‘beast’ is insatiable and once it’s fed, there is an instant appetite for more.
As market research professionals, we need to not jump into the easy ‘meals’, but give thought to well-designed and well-managed projects that are balanced and truly satisfy the needs at hand.
What series of specific issues should be addressed? What line of questions/tools should be used to ensure results tease out deeper insights?
Research projects deserve the time it takes to articulate objectives clearly up-front. I’ve witnessed conversations between client teams where research results fail to address key questions.
In an effort to satisfy everyone’s appetite, the advertising tracker did not address the most basic needs to understand impact of marketing communications! Don’t let the organization’s voracious appetite for results, or our own inclinations to indulge many issues into one overloaded questionnaire, cloud the most basic needs for well-designed insight generation!
Looking for answers
If you subscribe to Voltaire’s idea that one should ‘judge a man by his questions rather than his answers’, it would be partly right to see my 14-year-old son as one with unscathed brilliance.
However, some the questions would disqualify him altogether: 'Why do I have to…' and 'What would happen if I…'. For the most part, I find his adolescent and innocent way of seeing the world still really refreshing. He imagines a world with governments who do what they say and people who, for the most part, can be trusted. He asks questions expecting that they will have answers, real answers.
Still, I hear myself starting sentences with, 'Well, it all depends on…' It must be our adult experiences that sub-consciously inform us to ‘couch’ answers with context every time.
I appreciate that he still expects answers. Let it be said that, as market researchers, we never stop asking really good questions and pursue finding well-intended answers.
Let us be judged favorably for the insightful questions we can help our clients pose.