We spoke with quite a few researchers at The Market Research Event about our expertise and experience in research among High Value Audiences. We’d be happy to discuss this further with any of you – please respond to this newsletter, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’d like to set up a time to discuss your ideas.
On a hard jungle journey, nothing is so important as having a team you can trust.
– Tahir Shah, House of the Tiger King
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It was great meeting or seeing many of you in Boca Raton last month at The Market Research Event. Though Florida is known more for its Gators, snakes, and swamps, one of the breakout sessions there, as well as an occurrence that transpired as we discussed the results of a recent research engagement with our client, prompted us to pen this latest edition of our newsletter, “A HiPPO Ate My Research Project… and Other Tales from the Research Jungle.” Enjoy!
Julie Brown President
Mark Palmerino Executive Vice President
A HiPPO Ate My Research Project… and Other Tales from the Research Jungle
It’s mid-November, and thank goodness all the political ads are finally over for now. They were reminding me of the old political saw, “I don’t approve of political jokes. I’ve seen too many of them get elected.”
I’m grateful, though, for the “silly season,” as many call it, because it made me think of the machinations of office politics, and how much they can affect, and be affected by, our research initiatives. Both in the political world and in an office environment, competition for resources that are perceived as scarce can lead to some dodgy behavior. It’s so important for research team members to navigate these kinds of internal politics with care.
It’s a jungle out there! Inspired by this atmosphere and the behavior we’ve seen it engender, here are a few of our favorite cautionary stories from our own “jungle book”:
A HiPPO Ate My Research Project
Ever seen a HiPPO? I’m not talking about the large, mostly herbivorous mammal found in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m talking about the kind of HiPPO found in the corner office. These are leaders who are “so self assured, they need neither others’ ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs… Relying on their experience and smarts, they are quick to shoot down contradictory positions.”This kind of HiPPO is “Highest paid person’s opinion,” or “Highest paid person in the organization,” and it, he or she can wreak havoc on a research study.
We experienced a glaring example of this recently. One of our clients asked us to help on a concept test among B2B decision-makers to understand whether a market exists for a new product offering. We were prepared to present our findings at a team meeting, in which several stakeholders from the client organization, including one member of the company’s Board of Directors, were participating. Before we even started, this Board member announced that he didn’t think the findings were worthwhile because the audience of participating executives was not correct.
Interestingly, he shared this opinion even though he himself had participated in the compilation of, and had approved, the list of potential participants before the research started; that the best minds in his organization provided us with the list; and, the individuals he thought we should have spoken to were only one level more senior than the folks we did interview (and from the same disciplines in the organization). In addition, the research team members, with whom we had shared our findings during the engagement and while preparing the presentation, were completely blind-sided by this HiPPO’s attack, particularly in light of his involvement in the project up to this point.
We never progressed to the “meat” of the presentation during that call. This was a classic case of a HiPPO throwing his weight around because the research didn’t agree with his preconceived notions. While the research team at our client shrewdly did everything they could to include him in the process, It didn’t prevent the HiPPO from rampaging wildly through the final report.
While we did come to the happy conclusion that as a next step, we’ll conduct additional research among the specific individuals in which he expressed interest, we wonder, if the conclusions are the same as what we have already seen, whether this HiPPO will follow them, or find something (or someone) else to prey upon!
Leopards Can Change Their Spots
While some HiPPOs are intractable, well-executed research can change minds. We’ve seen it happen – leopards can change their spots. The trick is to tell the research story in a compelling way, so that the insights have both an intellectual and an emotional impact.
For example, we recently completed a market landscape and product concept testing study for a major insurance company. The stakeholders were absolutely positive that the study participants, close to a hundred B2B decision-makers, would prefer business model “A” over business model “B.” During interim reporting, we let them know that by far, executives were choosing “B” over “A.”
Their reaction was incredulous, and the questions about and challenges to the research design raced at us like jungle cats. During the final presentation (which we were allowed to complete this time, luckily), we included several audio clips from the interviews with these executive decision-makers about why they preferred business model “B,” and did not prefer “A.” This step helped convince team members as to the reliability of the findings – the combination of data and the words of the research participants turned these leopards into kittens.
The Elephant in the Room
A good way to tame both HiPPOs and leopards is by pointing to the elephant in the room. Perhaps you’ve met this kind of elephant – an obvious truth that everyone knows, but no one wants to talk about. Let’s distract those other beasts with some shock and awe!
Recently, one of our financial services clients decided to terminate a popular brokerage software solution without testing the idea among its users and distributors. We started hearing about this issue, and the dissatisfaction it was causing, during one-on-one interviews with these clients-of-our-client for an unrelated research initiative. Apparently, the stakeholders heading up this area for our client had already heard some of the complaints, but decided that the furor would die down, and it would be forgotten.
When we supplied our client, however, with verbatim comments, demonstrating the emotional reaction to their decision, and the impact it might have on their business – clients were actually talking about feeling “betrayed,” and possibly severing relationships – the client team stakeholders started to more seriously consider the gravity of the situation. It took an outsider (us) to point out some solutions, including, reinstating the software for certain client segments, and testing messages regarding the termination of the software program. Suddenly, the elephant appeared for all to see! And our client was able to achieve its objective without further antagonizing clients or assets under management.
Here’s the Twist: Let’s admit it. It’s hard to navigate office politics. That’s why, when you google “office politics,” there are many “how to” suggestions – how to survive them, how to play them, and how to master them. By cultivating awareness and managing the “big game” of office politics – the HiPPOs, the leopards, and the elephants in the room – you’ll increase the likelihood that the hard-won results of your market research initiatives will be food for thought, rather than being eaten alive by the wild animals in your organization!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
A useful and effective tactic for navigating office politics is to use a third-party vendor to run interference for you. Here are three very practical ways that suppliers can provide support. Outsiders can:
Ask obvious questions without seeming stupid. What’s the goal of this brand campaign? How does this new product differ from the one you already have in the market? Why do your bank’s ads have a talking bear in them? These types of issues might become “wallpaper” (unnoticed, part of the background) to insiders, but outsiders can easily surface them, forcing discussions about potentially unclear, dissonant or clumsy situations.
Help “the usual suspects” think about new options, brought from other companies. Particularly if your company has been at an impasse on a particular decision for a long time, having fresh ideas, especially those that come from other, respected organizations, can help break the logjam.
Present research results without being tied to any particular outcome. A supplier will likely be aware that one stakeholder wants one outcome, and another wants a different result, and therefore, might need to be judicious about how to present research findings. However, the vendor’s role is to represent the data generated from studies as accurately and fairly as possible – making life easier for internal research teams in the process, and hopefully, minimizing fallout from any internal tussles on you.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
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