“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

It has never been easier to get an answer to a consumer question. If your question has been asked before there is a good chance that a quick search on your company database, or even Google will yield an answer. If your question is a new one, then there is a proliferation of tools that will put it out to consumers and get you the results in double-quick time, sometimes in as little as a few hours.

So far, so good. And the story gets even better when you consider that not only is it quick, it’s often very cheap – sometimes even free – to get to these answers.

So what's the catch?

When answers are so easy to come by, does this change how we value them? How we approach them? How we use them? When we use them?

It’s only natural that if something is expensive and takes time to do, we treat it accordingly – taking a view that we only have ‘one shot’ to get it right and therefore putting time, effort and consideration into each aspect of it. We carefully manage the risk.

If it’s quick and cheap, it feels more disposable; if you don’t get it right first time it doesn’t matter, you can just do it again, the risk feels much lower.

But when it comes to consumer insight are we perceiving the risk correctly? Are we looking at this over the right time frames?

Yes, the running of the exercise itself might be considered lower risk – easily and cheaply repeated should the need arise - but what of the risk associated with acting on answers that are wrong? Or answers to questions that are wrong? What could be the implications for your business if you base decisions on an answer rather than the answer? What opportunities could be missed, wrong roads travelled, advantages ceded, customers upset or left unsatisfied?

We see this particularly in the use of social media listening. Social media listening tools afford us a fantastic opportunity to see what people are saying in real time, without survey bias, but so often the questions asked of the tools are so broad as to be unhelpful – generic briefs which seek only to listen for e.g. mentions of our brand or competitor brands. Yes, it might be useful to know if there is an unexpected buzz about your brand but generic listening generates so much data that is meaningless, it runs the risk of missing opportunities because they get lost, or even falsely ascribing significance to something which is ultimately a red herring.

On the other hand, using social media listening to ask more pointed questions, designed to test hypotheses built from solid thinking, seeking to explore opportunities have much more potential to help you drive your business forward in the right way.

So to avoid all of these issues, do we need to go back to ‘old-fashioned’ methods; longer lead times and more expensive fieldwork? Of course not. Faster data collection and analysis is absolutely necessary for us to be able to get consumer information into a business and keep pace with the speed that things need move to stay competitive. And not only that, many of these new methods offer a genuinely better way of connecting with consumers, helping us reach people that traditional survey methods can’t, and gaining insights in context amongst other things.

So what does need to change?

For us it’s quite simple: go back to treating these exercises as high stakes, because they are.

We need to put the focus firmly on getting the questions right, framing the challenge in the right way and ensuring that we are selecting the right methodology for the right reasons; because it will connect us with the right people in the right way, giving us the right answers which we can then action as a business. Not just because it is fast and cheap.

This doesn’t mean adding weeks to lead times, but it does mean that some time needs to be allocated to proper planning and senior, more experienced members of the team need to be involved at the right times.

And from your agencies, you need to be demanding the same.  Everyone needs to be working to the same goal and with the same mindset: getting the right outcome, not just the quickest.


With thanks to Tom Woodward for the image