A New Way to Think About Competitive Advantage
There are many ways to achieve competitive advantage. You can build a better product, offer better customer service, have a lower price, or be easier to do business with. Whether you have a tangible advantage or one that exists in the hearts and minds of customers, competitive advantage can be an important key to market leadership.
Unfortunately, many companies allow their competition to define competitive advantage, which leaves those companies continually behind the eight ball. Indeed, true market leaders seem to be always one step ahead – redefining the customer experience for their advantage just as the other companies catch up.
How do they do that? Simple.
They know their customers better than the competition. By out-researching the competition, they develop a stronger and more intimate understanding of the consumer, what problems they use the product or service to solve, why they prefer one brand over another, and what drives them to purchase. They may or may not have larger research budgets, but what they do have is a creative approach to marketing research. After all, if all competitors do the same research, they all have the same information. Market leaders think outside the box to get different and better information than their competitors. And if knowledge is power, it is also the way to create and maintain competitive advantage.
Thinking Creatively about Marketing Research
If you work in marketing research long enough, you run the risk of becoming a little bit stuck in that place where every research problem looks like it can be solved by an online survey with a sample of 300 respondents. In between meetings, project management, and putting out fires, it’s hard to find the time to think creatively about marketing research. So, here are five tips to help you think outside the marketing research box:
- Think beyond the heavy users. Ask yourself, “Who has the information? Who really knows the answer to this question?” For example, if you are researching a hair grooming product for teen boys, you might consider asking Moms of teen boys in addition to the boys themselves about how the product is purchased and used. If you work for a car manufacturer, you probably often turn to car buyers for research. What about asking a few experienced car salespeople about buyers? They probably know things about car buyers that the buyers don’t even know themselves. Similarly, when you are researching home buyers, why not talk to mortgage brokers? Or real estate agents? Think of your research problem as an ecosystem with many different parties who can offer their perspectives.
- Pair traditional methodologies for more insight. If one methodology is good, two might be better, right? For example, you’ve just completed focus groups or IDIs. Why not do a few home (or office) visits to see the product or service in use in situ? Similarly, especially with online qualitative, ask participants to take a few photos of their home’s pantry, bathroom, garage, or other relevant location. The difference between what consumers say they do and a photo of what they actually do can be illuminating.
- Use digital bulletin boards to investigate time-intensive purchases. Rather than relying on consumers’ memory of the purchase process, engage with people who are in the process of any purchase that takes place over time, such as buying/selling a home, buying a car, or any other major purchase. Reconnect with them periodically during the purchase process to understand their journey. You may have to connect more often with stragglers, but the depth of knowledge gained will be worth the extra effort of this technique.
- Assign pre-work to focus the in-person discussion. Don’t waste time in your qualitative research collecting benchmark information about the products and services the participants use, or how they use them. Conducting a short survey before the focus groups or the IDIs can help you make the best use of your interview or discussion time. Similarly, asking participants to diary their process while they are purchasing a product or service can improve your qualitative discussion. By supplementing the information you gather in the qualitative exercise with a minimal effort by participants before the group (or even while waiting for the group to start) has a multiplier effect on the information you will gain. Another idea is to ask participants to stop using a frequently used product for a few days before the groups to evaluate the true impact of the product. For example, if you stop using moisturizer for three days, what changes or differences might you notice?
- Use qualitative to supplement quantitative for more insight. Doing a round of qualitative research before developing a quantitative research study can help you better define the research problem and information objectives. It can also help you with wording questions because you actually hear the Voice of the Customer and the language they use about your product or service. Further, conducting qualitative after a quantitative study allows you to dig into the results and get faster to that all-important “why” about consumer behavior. Either way, for a minimal additional investment, you can vastly improve the actionability and accuracy of your quantitative research. Using digital methodologies can be especially helpful here. For example, ask participants to make a Pinterest board (or similar) that visually describes their Ideal product (like a collage but digital). They can download images from the web that help illustrate the story of their relationship with this product or make videos of how their family uses a product. The sky is the limit – anything you can think of (but always with an eye to individual privacy).
Research can give you new ways to think about how your products or brands are different and better than the competition as well as new perspectives on customers and prospects. A thoughtful and imaginative approach to investing research dollars can help you learn more about the marketplace – and give you a critical leg up on competitors.
Contact Felton Willis to get your competitive advantage now!