Listen or die – market research

My investment company, Moxie AS, prioritises companies that show a high level of innovation and research. The reason why is that we in the organisation believe that research is an important aspect of every business endeavour, and should therefore not be taken lightly on. As you may well know, there are different phases and types of research necessary for business development, and one of the most essential areas is market research.

In some respects, traditional market research is just like television research in a different context. Sam Ford, however, says that this is not the way marketing should be done. In his recent piece for the Harvard Business Review called In Marketing, People Are Not Numbers, Ford argues that the marketing sector should stop using a broadcast model for market research.

Very few people would think of the name “Knut Harald Nylænde” when discussing this topic, as I am not from the research industry (nor from the marketing area) myself. However, as a business leader and entrepreneur, my business philosophy resonates with much of what Ford posits.

One of the most frequent and tough criticisms hured at advertising is the fact that it “sells” audiences and consumers as commodities. This includes turning consumers into mere figures or statistics, viewed quantitatively to “measure” a campaign’s success. But at the end of the day, these audiences are still human beings, with actual human feelings andemotions. For this reason, marketers and business owners and executives alike should stop treating the “consumer sector” as one homogenous entity, because they’re not. Every customer, client or patient has a distinct personality and a unique need. Most importantly, they have something to say about your brand and your business.

I am also a staunch supporter of listening and of consumer engagement.

In the aforementioned HBR article, Ford puts forward the principle of spreadable media, referring to the fact that in today’s online world, audiences have as much power and capability to spread and assign values to content as the “producers” themselves. This is why I think that it’s very important for business executives to recognize the power and potential of social media. The fact is that people do talk about you online, and it would be wise to listen.

Now that we’ve figured out the whys, let’s talk about the how. How do you balance consumers’ interests and sentiments up against those of the business? That’s a tough question to answer, not only in the field of research, but also in the areas of product and business development. There is one piece of advice that always comes to mind when I think of this dilemma:

“Give the people what they need in the form of what they want”.

Let me tweak it a little bit to make it more applicable to our current context:

“Give the people what (they think) they need and want in the form of what you can give them”.

In simpler terms, there must always be some form of compromise. Ultimately, it all boils down to being able to realize and understand that your business is not all about you. Business and entrepreneurship are intended to solve a problem, and if you don’t open your ears to the ideas of the public, then you would fail to get a grasp of what the problem really is. As a result, obviously, your business would end up offering the wrong solutions.

The conclusion is: Learn to listen, and learn to listen well.

Knut Harald Nylænde is an investor and businessman currently residing in Norway. Primarily engaged in the investments sector, Knut is also interested and frequently blogs about issues in business leadership, finance, global economy, and culture.