People are cutting back. [Oh, you heard that, too?]
I've had a couple of projects cancelled or postponed indefinitely in the last short while. One of them was to help an organization identify new markets so they could escape the commodity price-cycle trap of their current markets.
This is exactly the kind of project you definitely should not cancel -- projects that will help you crack new revenue sources. So what will this company do instead? I'm guessing, they will just push harder at existing markets, and find themselves in the same place a year or two down the road.
While having these thoughts, I bumped into a nice article in Marketing Profs. [Now that the economy is tanking, maybe we can catch up on our reading.] The quote from Jeffrey Immelt leapt off the page.
If it takes you a couple of years or more to really get an idea off the ground, then the fuzzy front end you cut now will leave you in even more serious glue in two to three years time. And if you kill the stuff already in the pipeline, you're not going to have anything new to launch in 2009 either.
I really wish clients would say instead: "Can you get me something substantive with less money?" That's a better challenge than dropping the idea creation process.
The article this came from is filled with good ideas from the Zaltmans. But like many of their ilk, they firmly believe that no approach other than their technique (individual metaphorical interviews) can get to the good stuff. Not true, in my experience.
OK, you are definitely not going to get these deep meanings from a survey. I agree. But individual interviews are not the gold standard either.
There may still be people running focus groups with 12 bodies in them. However, most of the kids I hang with have shifted to small groups when they are using a group discussion method. Small being five or six. And researchers frequently add advance activities such as blogging / electronic diaries / collage assignments / videos / you name it. And there's no rule about 90 minutes or two hours either -- you can keep people humming along for three hours quite easily. And yes, you can uncover metaphorical meanings in focus groups, in online research methods, and in many other ways.
In truth, the generation of insight has a lot more to do with the skill, knowledge and art inside the researcher's head than the method employed. There's no method going that guarantees insight.
As anthropologist Grant McCracken has said, the proof is in the pudding. If you got insight, you got insight. If you didn't, you didn't.
I have friends in the marketing world who have used Gerry's Zmet technique to great effect. And I believe all of methodological infighting and territory claiming must defer to this. If the method works, the method is good. The proof of the pudding has nothing to do with the theory of the pudding or the method of the pudding. The proof of the pudding is a client who says: "This was illuminating. I understand my consumer and my market in ways that I did not, could not before."
Back to the main point
This is no time to be cutting your future revenue streams by shutting down the insight machine. In fact, if you plan to be standing when things turn around, you should be cranking up the insight machine. Certainly, your customers and consumers brains are grinding away on many things right now. Not a good time to recycle some old insights.
How to Foster "Workable Wondering", by Gerald Zaltman and Linday Zaltman. In marketing profs, reprinted from HBS.
The Zaltman Method, by Grant McCracken in his blog, 2006.