Ask, and people will guess at what they do. Watch them, and you'll know.
This is the simple idea behind gotomedia. We study people. We're passionate about understanding how real people interact... - from Gotomedia's site
Met a director of market research for a local company at a party recently. He loves marketing because he loves the study of human nature all the way from psychology to literature to spirituality to...well, heck loves people period.
He certainly reminded me why my blog is so damn b-r-o-a-d.
People is a big topic.
I'm reminded of a hike in one of those posh L.A. canyons not too far from my sister's home, after I'd immersed myself into marketing and it was beyond doubt I'd passed through a one-way stile. No more VLSI chip design for the graphics board, no more C++ code for the software application, not even visionary-pie-in-the-sky-CTO-dreaming.
"Interesting," she commented, "now we're all students of human nature." (She's in human resources and my other sis is in psychology.) Harry Beckwith (love his books) once said that to be a better marketer we should read more literature. I'm jiggy with that.
Another thing about the study of human nature? Become a better observer. (Works more effectively if your lens aren't clouded by filters and preconceptions: Know thyself. And then get out of the way!)
Think like an anthropologist. Like a journalist.
"[Market] researchers must take the mindset of a journalist, investigating cultural details and crafting compelling narratives from those nuances", says Alex Wipperfurth in Brand Hijack.
I'm trying to think like a reporter these days. Geesh, so how does one report in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India without even speaking the same language? And the alphabet resembles curlique squiggles from outer space. Easy, says a master observer:
Q: How do you do interviews in places, like China, where you can't speak the language?
Gay Talese: The linguistic barrier isn't really a problem because, no matter where you are, most of what people say isn't really that interesting. Because what people say isn't necessarily what they really believe. And what they say to you today isn't that they are going to say to you later on when you know them well. In the beginning, the interview is all but meaningless. [This was a common refrain among the journalists interviewed in this book.] All I'm trying to do is to see people in their setting.
Language isn't even all that important when I'm reporting a story in a country where I can speak it. I didn't want to interview Sinatra for "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." I got more from watching him, and the reaction of others to him, than I would have had we talked. When I wrote recently about Muhammad Ali's trip to Cuba in Esquire, I never talked to him, because he can't really talk clearly. The reporting I do is more visual than verbal. My reporting is less about talking to people than what I've called "the fine art of hanging out."
Q: How much thought do you give to an interview's setting?
Gay Talese: A lot. I like to be in the place where the person works. Or I like to do interviews someplace where I can see the person interact with others. I don't care too much who it is: your wife, your girlfriend, or a belly dancer you're involved with. I like to have some dialogue. - interview with Gay Talese from The New New Journalism: Conversations on Craft with America's Best NonFiction Writers by Robert Boynton
In most cases, customers have no idea how to articulate their "ideal world." Also, they may say they care about something, and do the opposite.
In addition, a discussion of the company, the category, and the competition can make things muddier, not clearer.
In my experience, the key is to have a broadbased and visceral understanding of the marketplace; including trends - and possibilities - in technology, the media, corporate pressures, societal trends, end customer frustrations, etc.
Being immersed in "it" will lead to innovations that no one has ever considered, let alone articulated.
p.p.s. Disrupt markets. Why settle for product innovation? "Uncovering social truths does not lead to mere product innovation. It leads to market innovation. In other words, brands based on social insights make a major leap that dismantles the status quo and changes the rules of the marketplace." (Yup, Alex Wipperfurth again.)