Hindsight helping to provide foresight

Market research exists in the short term, but reviewing past research projects can uncover trends relevant to the future, says Bryan Urbick of Consumer Knowledge Centre.

How much market research is too much research?It could be argued that too much of anything may not be a good thing, but from my knowledge, no marketing executive in the drinks sector ever got fired for undertaking market research to provide appropriate solutions to meet their corporate objectives. Of course, it is the quality rather than the quantity of research that is important.

More often than not research projects, particularly qualitative projects, are based on specific short-term objectives - of the brand, the product or category managers. They squeeze every ounce of information and insight from the data, and then the reports are filed away to gather dust.  One reason for this rather short-term approach is the belief that the insights that are relevant for today will be irrelevant for tomorrow. While there may be an element of truth to this, the drinks sector certainly can benefit from identifying the drivers of change. What is it that drives consumers to change from one brand to another, one type of wine to another or from one sub-category to another? How can marketing teams capitalise on these ‘influencers’ of change?

Combine short-term thinking with all the research reports gathering dust and one might be forgiven for thinking that market research has a relatively short shelf life. Quite the contrary!  Sir Winston Churchill aptly put it when he was quoted as saying; “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” This quote has relevance in virtually every business today.

Why look back? Because it gives us an opportunity to look at changes that have taken place over time and what drove those changes. The beverages people were consuming (and how and where and why) 20 years ago may well be different from today. Some have certainly stood the test of time, but their drivers of consumption may have changed.  At the very least, the moment of choice based on the current competitive set has changed.

It’s an often-heard comment that if we knew then (referring to some point in the past) what we know now, how differently things would be. For marketing teams, this wisdom of hindsight is about obtaining insights or intelligence after the event but before it has actually happened.

But how do you go about obtaining this hindsight-foresight thinking? In corporate terms, one place to start is to look at where you have come and where you are today.  Couple this with all the intelligence that you have gathered over the intervening years. In market research terms, gathering insights from past research is a process we call ‘research reviews – but is, in effect, ‘qualitative data mining’.  We use cognitive processes to create three principal values from this intelligence: Hindsight, Insight and Foresight.

The research review process involves the analysis of large quantities of data to extract previously undetected intelligence or interesting patterns of behaviour. The drivers of change over the preceding ten years, for example, may well shed light on the shape of events that will occur over the next ten years.  By overlaying current technologies and behaviours, we can extrapolate strong hypotheses for the future.