The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 7 Issue 5   August 2011


Every research need has a history.

When we begin a research project, we need to be aware of the biases, characters, past events and other elements which may have an effect on the outcome.

Read on for more…

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Wicked Good Research
The last time I was in New York City it was with my wife Beth. We were there for a long weekend and, thanks to Beth’s pre-planning, we managed to get tickets to see the Broadway musical, Wicked.

Now in its 8th year, Wicked is written as a prequel to the well-known Wizard of Oz story. It includes many of the characters from the original movie and, in particular, it focuses on Elphaba… the future Wicked Witch of the West.

Anyone who’s seen the movie (and who hasn’t?) knows that the Wicked Witch is pure evil: green skin, black hat, maniacal laugh and an entourage of scary flying monkeys. Surely there is no “other side” to her story.

And yet after experiencing Wicked, I came away with an entirely different point of view regarding both the Witch and many of the other characters. Elphaba is painted as a sympathetic figure, taken advantage of by the Wizard and others; the monkeys are persecuted through no fault of their own; and don’t even get me started on that conniving, “good” witch, Glinda.

It was a terrific example of how often in life we “enter a story” somewhere in the middle, implicitly assuming we’re seeing things from the very beginning.

And, as with most things (wicked or otherwise), it got me thinking about market research…

When you watch the Wizard of Oz, you come in at the beginning of the movie — the story itself, however, and as Wicked makes clear, has already been going on for some time. Likewise, when we begin a research project, there already exists a “prequel” of history, biases, characters and other elements which may have an effect on our findings.

Ignoring what’s come before can put your project in peril, which is why we recommend keeping these three things in mind when conducting market research:
  1. Context matters

    As a researcher, you need to gather as much background as possible. Sometimes, for example, a client may tell us, “We know x, y and z, so just tell us about a and b.”

    But if we simply take that at face value, without digging in ourselves and fully understanding how and under what circumstances these things came to be “known” (prior research?… anecdotal evidence?… company lore?) we may be missing the larger picture and incorrectly framing the problem.

    Chasing a wicked witch, in other words, is only productive to the extent that she really is the cause of the business problem at hand. And while it may take a bit more time at the outset to step back and gather background information before the research begins, moving quickly, but in the wrong direction, benefits no one.
  1. Everyone has a bias

    This doesn’t mean that we each have an axe to grind in every situation, but it does mean that we have a particular view of the world that informs our judgment. Those who are close to a particular issue and/or have been involved with it for a long time, often have the most difficulty seeing it from other angles.

    A restaurant owner with an interest in increasing business, for example, may notice a high incidence of older people within his customer base. As a result, he may conclude that changes should be made to appeal to a younger demographic.

    Research, however, might reveal that something else entirely is driving the makeup of his customers (wealth, location, etc.). Simply reacting based on his experience-based bias may not yield the results he needs.
  1. Speak to your audience

    Given the different histories, biases and inclinations we all share, it’s important when presenting research to set the stage properly and speak to the interests and context of the particular audience at hand. A sales manager, for example, may need a different emphasis and explanation of key findings than, say, a communications manager.

    People are quick to reach conclusions based on who they are and you want to make sure this doesn’t prevent them from processing the information properly.

    You don’t want them to decide “wicked witch” based on certain features of your presentation or findings; if you rely on a “one-size-fits-all” presentation across all groups, however, you may lose your opportunity to communicate clearly.
Here’s the twist: Each of us has biases, each of us has history, and each of us sees less than 100% of what’s really going on. That’s reality and it’s the stage on which all research plays out.

Ignoring this reality when managing your projects isn’t necessarily cowardly, heartless or dumb, but as we say in Boston, it may get in the way of your conducting wicked good research!

— Mark

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As part of our standard approach to market research engagements, we begin every opportunity with a “start-up meeting,” a session in which we encourage our clients to invite as many of their colleagues who have an interest in the outcome as possible.

This preliminary session helps ensure that before any research begins, all those involved are in agreement about the project scope and intentions. Three suggestions for getting your next start-up meeting off on the right foot:

  1. Collect and review the background material.

    In many cases, the client will have commissioned research on the topic at hand in the months or years before. It helps for all team members — client and research partner — to review these studies, reports and background material prior to the meeting so that everyone can know as much about the issues, and the world view of those involved, as possible. This also ensures that all team members are starting with a more consistent base of knowledge.
  1. Throughout this review, and during the start-up meeting itself, spend more time than you think you might need in developing a better understanding of the history of the research need.

    Dig into the assumptions, hypotheses, history and agenda of those involved. For example, on many occasions, as a result of digging in during this early meeting, we’ve seen the project scope, approach, and/or sample frame all influenced or changed from what was originally anticipated when the research was first designed.
  1. Get all the stakeholders on board.

    Make sure everyone with a connection to the project has a voice and an opportunity to share their context and point of view.


Wicked Good Research

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

We enjoyed the recent LIMRA Marketing and Research Conference (held in Boston, this year) and we wish to welcome all the friends we met and who are receiving their first issue of Research With A Twist!

We also congratulate Paul Neumayer of Baltimore Life for winning CSR’s drawing during the conference (he is the proud recipient of an Amazon Gift Certificate).

Finally, we are planning on attending LIMRA’s Group and Worksite Benefits Conference (scheduled for Sept. 7 to 9 in Chicago) and look forward to meeting our old and new friends there.

Many a man thinks he is seeing something, and it is completely different from what it seems to be. Whoever misapprehends, misjudges.

— Geoffrey Chaucer, The Merchant’s Tale

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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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