With the economy making everyone increasingly risk averse, it seems to me that Jon Steel’s adage about clients using research not as a navigational tool but to protect themselves and their career from a fiery end is becoming increasingly apt.
With limited research budgets and risk averse clients it can be very tempting to use research to prove that there is nothing wrong with the campaign/ positioning/ strategy/ creative, rather than using it to discover what the right, unique, differentiating solution might be.
If research gives respondents a choice of A, B or C (and if significant time and money has been invested in bringing these solutions to this point), it is very tempting to go with the most popular of the three, or some combination, i.e. the one that has nothing wrong with it. At this stage it is getting a bit late to start again from scratch just because the right answer D has been identified and in any case the kind of research techniques that separate routes A, B and C apart will not necessarily identify option D at all.
A campaign scrambled together from gut feel, an out of date U&A study and a few Mintel reports and then declared by research to have nothing wrong with it has a chance of success. But the right one developed from real first hand insight with the real target audience has the potential to be far more effective.
To deliver this we’re talking about the (in some client’s eyes) soft and fluffy end of research. The ethnographic kind that often doesn’t have set objectives and deliverables and other tick boxes that budget holders can happily sign off. Which is just the kind of research that gets very hard to justify when times are tight.
The majority of clients who embrace research will always want to hold on to the rubber stamping go-with-this-one end of the research process and will be reluctant to release that budget to a more exploratory phase in search of a holy grail of ‘the right answer’. And in the current climate expecting extra research budget to enable both rubber stamping and a real exploration of the lives, hopes and fears of the target audience is unlikely.
In our search for the Golden Nugget of Insight, should we be encouraging our clients on investing a lot of money on finding the right solution, or more modest sums on identifying which solution isn’t wrong?