Support Proactive Marketing with Proactive Market Research
Proactive marketing is possible only if marketers have proactive research delivering information about the future market environment and customers’ wants and needs
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Successful businesses must understand the dynamics at work in their environment and define their own path strategically based on the areas of greatest opportunity in the future. Easier said than done, right? Especially for large organizations, if they develop products and solutions in response to what customers tell them they need or want today, by the time they process that information, plan, develop and bring the solution to market, consumers may have completely changed, making the new product obsolete before it even begins.
Innovation has the greatest potential impact when it is translated into products or solutions that address customer needs they don’t or can’t recognize and articulate right now. For example, when the microwave or cell phone were introduced, most consumers would have said they had no need for them. However, when consumers were educated about the need that the product solved and the benefit they would gain, these products gained mass acceptance. We may now be seeing the same phenomenon with Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Proactive marketing and market research and innovation
Successful innovation happens in companies that practice ‘proactive marketing.’ Proactive marketing is focused on the future and the long term. It looks ahead to what might happen and is ready to act on it. Marketers can only do proactive marketing if they do proactive research that tells them what customers want and need in the future and how the market will change. Proactive research is when professionals look into how customers and competitors act to find unstated needs, predict future needs, and estimate how needs change over time. This helps them find and create new opportunities.
However, much of market research is focused on reactive projects, such as those validating preferences that have been clearly articulated, rather than proactively focused on uncovering implicit or emerging needs. Did the project result in learnings that were new or added value to the company’s ability to be innovative in either offering or communicating a solution? It’s not at all unusual that market research is focused on reactivity. Pressure, the volume of research requests, and resource constraints must be traded off against the many questions that clients ask market research to answer. As a result, there’s a limited amount of projects any team can take on, and that doesn’t leave much time or energy for proactive research.
Of course, there are other challenges to championing proactive research within an organization. Many market researchers tend to be introverted and prefer to wait until someone requests a project. That approach certainly guarantees reactive research. Proactive market research can be more nebulous and perhaps even sound vague or undefined to decision-makers. Everyone knows what an ad test or concept test is. Why they should be done, and what organizations do with the resulting information. But “studying the future of mobility and what customers will want and need” may be harder to understand and approve.
Proactive marketing needs market research
Other challenges for proactive market research are corporations’ focus on short-term results. Then there is the challenge that it may be difficult to convince others that the results are helpful and valuable. They may say the results are interesting and then go back to doing what they have always done. It is up to the MR professional to not only deliver the results of proactive research but to lead the company to understand and see what those results mean for the organization’s future.
Finally, it is challenging to choose the right area for proactive research. Should you focus narrowly or broadly? Should you stay within your company’s vertical or look at adjacent markets? Since there is no way to know what will happen in the future, it can be hard to figure out the best way to do proactive research. Despite these problems, here are six steps you can take to make your organization use proactive research more:
1. Bring the Organization Along. Proactive research really can’t be done in isolation. Creating strong collaborative relationships with others in the organization, introducing them to the concept of proactive research, and educating them on the value can help you gain buy-in to the projects, ownership, and faster activation of the results.
2. Keep it Real. When discussing proactive research and potential results, keep bringing them back to the organization’s reality and long-term business impact. How will the findings increase revenue? How will the findings encourage innovation? What will competitors do if they learn something about the future market that the company overlooks?
3. Balance Art and Science. Don’t be a fortune teller! You don’t have a crystal ball, but you do have data resources and analytics. Help everyone understand the process and the probability around your predictions. Being transparent about your process will increase confidence in your results and help drive organizational change.
4. Fit into the Business Calendar. Every business has a specific flow, and there are times when people will be more receptive to the results of predictive research. If the strategic planning cycle is from July to October, share results in June. If your company uses a stage gate process for innovation, time sharing the results of relevant, proactive research at the right point in the process.
5. Show momentum. It is difficult for humans to understand today the value of the information they will use to prepare for the future. So if you deliver a momentous prediction this year for 2030, you will still need to justify your budget for next year. Show and be prepared to demonstrate how the work you do will ensure success in the long term.
6. Stay Strong. Be consistent. Remember, this is a years-long effort and not a one-shot deal. Use your collaborative relationships to continually introduce new ideas and perspectives on the future into the conversation. Consistently demonstrate the value of proactive market research to the organization.
Proactive research means taking a different approach to market research, and change is difficult for businesses. However, proactive research can also build credibility for the market research function and open the doors to other opportunities within the business. How successful you are perceived to be as a function correlates strongly with how the research results help the company to make and successfully implement innovative decisions.
Jim Whaley is a business leader, market research expert, and writer. He posts frequently on The Standard Ovation and other industry blogs.
OvationMR is a global provider of first-party data for those seeking solutions that require information for informed business decisions.
OvationMR is a leader in delivering insights and reliable results across a variety of industry sectors around the globe consistently for market research professionals and management consultants.
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