CSR will be presenting “Lessons From History: Learning About Strategy From the Battle of Gettysburg” at the LIMRA Marketing & Research Conference in Baltimore on May 27th to 29th. If you are planning to be there, contact us here, we’d be delighted to meet.
We are all pilgrims on the same journey, but some pilgrims have better road maps.
– Nelson DeMille
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As many of you know, CSR has a long history of gaining strategic insight and inspiration for our work from Abraham Lincoln, and from the Battle of Gettysburg. This month being the 150th anniversary of the assassination of the man widely credited with being among the top American Presidents of all time, we are prompted to share with you this month’s newsletter, inspired by his leadership, “Keep Calm and Carry a Map.”
Keep Calm and Carry a Map
Because of the GPS on our smartphones, reading maps is quickly becoming a lost art. We look at maps all the time, but only to the extent that a particular map displays the route we want to take at that moment (for example, from our mother-in-law’s house in Kansas City to the nearest hotel), then we do what our phones tell us to do. I couldn’t find my own way to half the places I’ve used GPS to find. I am used to just sitting back and following directions.
A great lesson that we take from military history is the critical importance of knowledge of the terrain. For example, without a firm grasp of the topography of the area, the famous “fish hook” defense strategy used by the Union army, which gave them the edge during Day Two of the Battle of Gettysburg, would not have been possible. Granted (Civil War pun intended), we are not in a wartime situation as we map how to get to a hotel from our mother-in-law’s (at least, not all of us).
However, our businesses are in a constant battle for either survival or preeminence over competitors. What is the terrain that we must master in order to win the war?
The minds of our customers.
What’s the best way to become intimately familiar with that terrain, thereby giving us competitive advantage over other businesses? Since there is not yet a GPS for the mind (!), here are some suggestions we have for navigating this landscape:
Stop and ask for directions.
In any book about military strategy, there are maps to explain the actions of both armies. The commanders would always consider “the terrain” before deciding when and how to make a move. For example, in Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels about the Battle of Gettysburg, the first thing Longstreet does when he discusses information gained from a spy with General Lee is to pull out a map to assess the extent of the potential threat and to get the “lay of the land.”
Unfortunately, in many companies, the culture can be similar to that old saw about men driving around lost, and refusing to stop for directions. I wish I had a hot fudge sundae for every time a client has come to CSR for a research study among customers AFTER the organization has decided to launch a particular new product or service: the effective equivalent of launching a military campaign without first consulting maps or reviewing the terrain.
Without having first conducted concept or product testing, for example, one of our clients wanted to test messaging around a new service option for brokers. At this point, their options for what they could do with insights gained from market research were limited. In fact, brokers were unenthusiastic about the planned launch, and we’ve yet to see the release of that particular service option. Being committed to understanding the landscape of customer opinions, needs and preferences before product launch would have saved the organization a lot of time and money.
Knowing the Route is not the same as understanding the Terrain.
Another key lesson from Gettysburg is the potentially tragic outcomes that arise from making assumptions about the terrain. For example, “Pickett’s Charge” was the deadliest exchange of the battle because Lee assumed that the middle of the Union line would be weak. However, it proved not to be, and more than 6,000 Confederate lives were lost that day. The kinds of assumptions that are made about the terrain in the world of business are less obviously deadly, but still harmful.
For example, whenever we buy something, we receive, via email, those closed-ended customer check-in surveys after the purchase: “How satisfied are you with the purchase you made?” “Would you recommend this vendor to a friend?” “Would you buy from this vendor again in the future?” Similar to mapping a route on our cell phones, this gives the company sending the survey some pieces of information about the route, but little about the terrain between Point A and Point B. Not knowing the terrain – the context of decisions and actions – can lead to potentially incorrect assumptions about customer behavior.
Whenever I fill out one of these check-in surveys, I marvel at how it doesn’t assess why I bought what I did and what the purchase experience was really like for me. I wonder why don’t they ask open-ended questions, like, “Why did you want to buy this item?” “What did you need from the purchase experience?” “What would have improved the experience?” Many believe that answers to open-ended questions are not typically easy to analyze (or ARE they?) but even if that’s the case, isn’t it worth the effort to avoid assumptions, and to get answers to the correct questions, the ones that really enable us to understand the motivations and needs of our customers and prospects?
Many paths lead to the same destination.
Some leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, understand that diversity of opinion is a fact of life, and that rather than resist it by squelching individuality, it’s best to leverage the wisdom in opposing points of view. In our work, we see a similar phenomenon – customers take different routes to our products and services. There’s Point A (need for a product) and Point B (purchase of that product), but many different paths to the same destination. Some may be attracted by product features, others by a service plan.
That’s why it’s important to recognize that the terrain can be different for various types of customers. At CSR, we believe that segmenting a customer base, through a methodology that relies on open-ended questions, designed to uncover the deepest meaning of the customer experience, provides the ultimate map of customer minds. If you agree, we’d be delighted to talk with you about our experience with these kinds of “needs-based” segmentations.
Here’s the Twist:
Abraham Lincoln lived and died a long time ago, but studying him and the battles that took place at this terrible time in our nation’s history can remind us that knowing the ground on which we fight is a huge competitive advantage. Understanding our customers means we first have to include them in conversations, not assume that we know why they do what they do, and always keep in mind that not all customers, or their motivations, are alike. Bringing all of these elements together will put your research team “on the map”!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
After understanding the landscape of customer opinions, needs, and preferences, the best way to share that insight is to “map it out.” Here are three of CSR’s best practices when it comes to leveraging and communicating research concepts and results:
Many times, internal teams, who are accustomed to working with large numbers and are predisposed to large-sample quant studies, need to be convinced that a qualitative methodology is the best choice for a particular research need. Use graphics to show that qualitative is more efficient at gaining insight from individual research participants, or that 1:1 qualitative interactions provide more value than focus groups.
Communicating the results of qualitative research is more powerful when customers and prospects are asked the same questions in the same order, then the information collected is content-coded. This enables you to display results in ways that are more convincing than, for example, focus group results.
Helping internal team members understand customer viewpoints is always made easier when the team can watch or listen to interview excerpts that illustrate key points. Leveraging today’s technology to include video and audio in presentations and reports makes the results more memorable and credible.
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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