Building a Better Marketing Research Toolbox

Filed Under: Shopper


Dave Mastrofski

Vice President, Quantitative Research

It’s Not How Many Tools You Have, But How You Use Them Together.

A million years ago in my fledgling marketing research career, a small plaque sat on the desk of one of my earliest marketing research managers, that said:

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

I’ve heard that the person who originally dispensed that piece of wisdom was Mark Twain, or Abraham Maslow, or Abraham Kaplan. But as far as I am concerned, the source of that brilliance starts and ends with my old boss, because who could possibly really understand the meaning of this proverb without having spent some time working in marketing research? 

Just ask any consumer insights professional who has ever had to solicit a complex consumer market research proposal request. Pose any tough question to multiple research consultants, and you are very likely to get a lot of strong opinions on what is, in their opinion, the perfect tool to address to your marketing puzzle. Syndicated retail researchers could tell you how important it is to know how big your opportunity is. Panel data experts might say you have to begin by knowing what consumer behaviors you want to change. To a survey specialist, you can’t make a decision until you know how many consumers will tell you what they are about to do. And to a qualitative guru, the best recommendations come only from uncovering consumers’ deep-seated motivations, emotions, and intentions that can only be elicited by skilled probing.

So many tools to choose from and lots of differing approaches from vendors interpreting your objective as a nail, or a bolt, or a screw. There’s often good reason to believe it could be all of them, but we rarely have enough time or budget or patience to make use of every tool available. So, the skilled research “craftsperson” learns to pick and choose the best combinations of tools that can efficiently, cost-effectively and uniquely address the most pressing marketing research questions.

As a full-service marketing insights company that prides itself on crafting fully customized research plans, C+R has long built its reputation by continually seeking to combine complementary tools for better solutions. Some lessons we’ve learned in our quest to devise better and better research tools include:

  • Choose a tool based on not only the insights to be gained, but the actions to be taken. A great insight must evolve into what our clients will eventually act upon. Often, the best option is to use the selected ingredients from varied methods that focus on informing those actions.
    • Is there a projected sales performance threshold that a decision must be made for? Do we need to pick an ad that has the best chance of success? Do I need more depth of consumer language to make my messaging more impactful to the right audiences?
  • Be agnostic in the choice of tools. With the end decision in mind, don’t confine research planning to the tools that have always been used, or those that are in house, or even those that cost additional money.
    • Do we need to conduct a survey to know the demographics, or are there syndicated results that can give us a better starting point? If we identify the mindset of an ideal buyer in qualitative research, is there already an efficient way to find like-minded shoppers? 
  • Don’t begin every project with amnesia. While there is often merit to the idea of starting a study from a blank slate and making no assumptions, one of the pitfalls of starting a custom project can be ignoring the institutional knowledge of the context of the question. This knowledge should be used as a springboard for hypotheses and next-level questions.
    • If we already know that supermarket sales of our product are down, can we alter our strategy by finding out if sales are going to other channels, and then find out WHY?
  • A little dissonance between tools can be a good thing. What if different data sources appear to give us different answers? Consider how the method behind each research tool can impact how the results will be interpreted, and you can come up with a result that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
    • Example: When you ask CPG shoppers in a survey about their behavior in the marketplace, what they self-report can differ from how they actually made purchases over time, as reported in panel data. The cross-reference of these sources used together can give us truly unique insight: Using panel data, we can identify survey “blind spots” that consumers don’t even know about their own behavior. And with an expertly targeted survey, we can size the untapped opportunity among consumers who behave one way but might very well be open to adopting a new idea. Both comparisons present valuable marketing opportunities.

Lately, leveraging our partnership with Numerator, C+R has begun to find new opportunities by looking at the intersection of consumer and shopper behavior and attitudes. By imagining that opportunities exist precisely in the space between different methodological viewpoints, we continue to dig into new combinations of behavioral data along with a wealth of expertly applied qualitative, quantitative and hybrid techniques, in a suite of solutions we call Illuminator®.  

There’s always been a great deal of enthusiasm when C+R’s researchers and our clients design actionable research to answer the toughest business questions. That enthusiasm has just been amplified with the addition of our Illuminator® solutions. These solutions give us a unique perspective to understand the what and why of our clients’ business questions—ultimately solving the problem. Or, as some might say, nailing it. 


explore featured
Case studies

Hey, get our newsletter

join 5,000+ market research professionals
who “emerge smarter” with our insights