The first principles of market research – People are People.

Richard Walker, director at Mustard, on why it’s sometimes good to pause and reflect on what job it is we’re supposed to be doing, and how “segmentation thinking” can help us do this job more effectively.

Sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves of some core fundamentals about what we do and why. Yes, this is one of those blogs that will ask you to take a look in the proverbial mirror, or send you off searching for the wood amongst the proverbial trees.

Many researchers like to talk about methods – surveys, focus groups, online communities, depth interviews, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Some talk about sectors, and some talk about the “insight category” – i.e. brand research, customer satisfaction, U&As, concept testing, etc.

One step beyond, Mustard often expresses what it does as “making the difference” – be that improving satisfaction, driving loyalty, optimising products, services, communications. Through the work we do, we are fluent in the language of NPS, customer effort, regression, semiotics and projective techniques. But, getting back to the brass tacks, what is the one thing that unites all of this work?

It’s about people.

Our job, quite simply, is to understand people better – and to help our clients understand people better.

It’s ALL about people. It’s about what people do and why, and what they don’t do and why. It’s about what they intend to do and why. It’s about where people are, and what makes them different to other people. It’s about what people need, what motivates people, what people believe, what people think and how people react.

Being “in the people business” is a cliché, and also applicable to hundreds of job descriptions – coaches, healthcare, recruitment, social services, etc. However, the most important thing to remember for anyone in our sector (market research and customer insight) is that we too are a people business.

Good characters are what makes a good story.

Good characters are what makes a good story.

So, the onus is on us as researchers to tell the “story” of the insights in such a way so that “the people” – our chief protagonists – come to life for our research sponsors.

An effective way of doing this is by approaching ALL projects with a segmentation mindset.

Starting from the premise that no market, audience or groups of customers is homogenous, segmentation-thinking forces us to not only find the differences, but also to work harder to understand what they mean. Why do the differences exist, and what are the implications for the client?

Segmentation-thinking allows us to find and communicate the difference making details, and helps with the development of action-focused recommendations framed around real people. For example, what’s the (realistic) strategic business ambition or objective for that cohort – i.e. recruit, retain, ignore? How do their needs, motivations, behaviours, etc. differ from one cohort to another? What does this mean in terms of deployable tactics – how can we, and how should we, try to serve, influence or engage with them?

Some clients approach us directly to deliver or refresh their market segmentations or customer personas. Some briefs are less overt but “scream” segmentation in terms of the underlying business need. The majority of briefs, however, don’t call out this requirement so specifically. I would argue that, in ALL instances we should be segmentation-thinking regardless of what the brief asks for, from research design through to (most crucially) the analysis and interpretation.

A recent example, Mustard has a long-standing relationship with a client who have been developing its “self-service” digital offer. The client needed to understand the digital behaviours and attitudes of its audience, whilst also exploring why take-up and usage of its self-service offer had started to plateaux.

People-thinking meant that through the research we were able to use and overlay published benchmarks, trends and forecasting data (plus previous research) to compare and contrast our client’s people to other people in the UK. How are they different, how have they changed, and how will they change in the future?

Segmentation-thinking was applied by focusing on different cohorts within the survey data according to:

  • The extent to which they were confident online and using digital services
  • The extent to which they had wholly or partially engaged with the client’s digital services

We developed a matrix, each cohort was sized, and then uncovering the pertinent insights and working out the strategy, tactics and relative priority of the tasks (and audiences) became a fairly straight-forward task thereafter.

Segmentation-thinking can be applied to all qualitative and quantitative projects.

The advantage of thinking this way in quantitative studies is, of course, (depending on the sampling) it allows us to “size” the cohorts and consider each of them in terms of commercial opportunity (or risk).

The advantage of thinking this way in qualitative studies is that (with their permission) we can use REAL people to help communicate the salient insights.

People-thinking and segmentation-thinking feels obvious, but within the day-to-day of a busy researcher’s life, taking the time out to revisit and remind ourselves of these first principles is a worthwhile exercise.

Power to the People!