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We asked BrainJuicer founder John Kearon for some insight on what's new in marketing research.
What are your top 3 tips for new marketing research methods?
OK, here’s a thought experiment for you: If you had shares in every market research approach and were prepared to create a portfolio to hold for the next decade, which market research methods would you be buying and selling?
I’d start by shedding my entire portfolio of classic research approaches that rely on people’s post-rationalized beliefs about why they do things and what they say they like, asked in environments unrelated to the behavior in question. I’m not saying they won’t continue to be important in MR, but I am saying I believe they will be declining rather than growing. So my top 3 “sells” would be:
1. All current pre-testing and concept testing approaches. They have a notoriously bad record for predicting failure for some of the best-known and commercially successful adverts and new product launches. Adverts such as the Cadbury Gorilla and Stella Artois’ Jean de Florette—both reassuringly expensive campaigns—were punished in classic pre-testing; and new product launches including Bailey’s Irish Cream, cash point machines, and the Sony Walkman also fared badly in classic-concept testing research.
2. Perhaps controversially, I would also be selling Focus Groups. Yes, they can reveal powerful insights in the hands of a great researcher, but all too often they are just the lazy default of unquestioning research buyers and produce little or no insight on the subject at hand.
3. My final sell would be Brand and Advertising Tracking. As far as I can see, this is dead from the neck up, offering little or no insight, direction, or positive contribution beyond the comfort blanket of a monthly number. If this sort of research were banned, businesses would suffer withdrawal symptoms for a couple of months, after which they’d never go back. Instead, they’d spend the money on the sort of research techniques outlined below that can actually help companies grow.
Now to what to buy. I’m interested in those research approaches most closely tied to Behavioural Economics. BE is finally explaining how people really make decisions and showing it to be quite different from what current market research believes. My top 3 “buys” would therefore be:
Any “We Research” techniques, such as prediction markets. These techniques are increasing the accuracy of concept testing by tapping our ability as social animals to predict the behavior of other people, yet doing it better than we can predict our own.
I would also be buying shares in Ethnography and Netnography, as anything based on observation of what people really do is massively more accurate than what people say they do—or the reasons they give for saying it.
My final pick would be Game-Based Research. This can help put people into the context, mood, or hot state they would actually be in when choosing a response, so it elicits far more accurate research results than the vast majority of current, non-contextual research.
What item of news recently caught your eye and why?
In the UK, the quality newspapers’ reaction to Steve Job’s passing was sadly revealing of our liberal intelligentsia’s dismissal of the significance of anything they see as commercial. Some of the commentaries bordered on the Pythonesque in their “What have the Romans ever done for us?” tone. Sure, Jobs invented the computer interfaces we take for granted; sure, he shaped the devices we use to play our music and changed the way we buy music and media; it’s true he redefined what a mobile phone is for and generated a global lust for beautiful and functional technology … but what did he ever do for us? The journalists urged us to get a little perspective. Jobs was hardly Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu, he was really just a good marketer and surely not deserving of the eulogies erupting around the world. I am saddened by the anti-commercial attitude that still survives in Britain towards the entrepreneurs and inventors who through creativity, boldness, and perseverance bring great products to a grateful public. I sincerely hope attitudes change and that we start to finally appreciate people like our own Jonathan Ive (selected by Jobs as his design guru, now SVP of Industrial Design at Apple Inc. and the conceptual mind behind everything from the iMac to the iPhone and iPad) and the engineer James Dyson, who has reinvented the way we clean our homes.
Do you have a favorite business app?
I love technology … but the wonderfully friendly, long suffering, Wayne Nightingale—who meets me off transatlantic flights with a cup of tea and drives me home to the kids—has to be my best business app. Thanks, Wayne!
If you could choose another profession, what would it be?
I’d be busy blowing up current approaches to education and setting up highly alternative schools whose motto might have to be: “You’d be mad to send your child here.” Education must be the only field of life where a Victorian child transported in time to the present day would essentially recognize the experience. Now, that means either that our education system was perfected long ago, or—more likely—that there hasn’t been nearly enough progress since. You just have to compare it to the advances in medicine over the same time period to wonder how our education system could have looked. I hope I’ll get a chance to make a contribution to the system before I pop my clogs.
What quality or qualities do you most value in your business associates?
The passion and perseverance to be really good at the thing they do best; the integrity to be true to themselves; the tolerance to know what it takes to work well with others; and the playfulness to enjoy their work.
What do you think is the worst bad habit to have at work?
To think work is just the dull chore we’re forced to do before we retire. Don’t be boring, don’t be too serious, make sure you enjoy what you do, take some risks, have some fun … and see what you can achieve!
As someone at the top of your profession, what keeps you inspired or makes you hit the ground running in the morning?
Caffeine and alcohol help … as well as a contrarian spirit that enjoys change for change’s sake. I like to question market research dogma and to invent exciting new ways to better understand and predict human behavior.
About John Kearon
John Kearon, dubbed "the Steve Jobs of Market Research", is Chief Juicer and Founder of BrainJuicer Group PLC. John has been recognized by Ernst & Young twice for his entrepreneurship: Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 and the London region’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009. BrainJuicer has been a two-time winner of the ESOMAR Award for Best Methodology (in 2005 and 2007), and John was awarded the Advertising Research Foundation’s Gold Award for Great Mind/Research Innovator in 2008.
John’s recipe for success is: creativity, resilience, determination, perseverance, stamina, drive, imagination, resourcefulness, courage, commitment, ability to go without sleep, and a touch of madness.
BrainJuicer Group PLC, a thriving international marketing consultancy founded in 1999, provides fresh, validated, consumer-driven insight to 11 of the world’s top 20 consumer companies, their creative agencies, and many others. BrainJuicer specializes in helping clients with innovation, focusing on ideas, insights, concepts, communications, and the measurement of customer and employee satisfaction. Learn more at BrainJuicer.com.