Every year hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on consumer and market research. All those involved in NPD will know how a myriad of research projects is deemed fundamental. Yet, managers across the globe may be wasting a good portion of their research budget. Learn more on how to leverage research results and create new opportunities in this article by Bryan Urbick, Chairman of Consumer Knowledge Centre.

Brand managers and marketers across the globe may be missing a vital trick and, often, wasting a good portion of their research budget. By taking existing research and overlaying the numerous findings that relate to a broad spectrum of brand themes, a whole new picture is likely to start to emerge.  A picture which often throws up a more complete brand story than one piece of research taken on its own.

Imagine launching a new product or concept with little or no research. Unthinkable. But brand managers and researchers across the globe may be missing a vital trick and, often, wasting a good portion of their research budget.

By their nature brand managers work in silos

Brand and research managers, by their very nature live in silos – usually working in designated teams – and these are most often brand- or category-based. This simple fact can mean that millions of pounds worth of excellent research material is wasted each year.  This might sound shocking but research these days mines for so much information, throws up innumerable insights, opens up so many new opportunities, and very often for only one single project, brand or category.  The brand teams involved will work through all the information to hand, they may even wring the last drop of insight out of the findings, and then they will move on to the next project, and often fresh research will be commissioned.

So what is missing? Take this scenario… What if all the research, from the numerous different teams, working across a company’s brand portfolio, were looked at and considered together – across different categories; across the same or even different consumer demographics?  What, then if a new team of experienced researchers were brought in to re-review all of this research, as a whole?  What would emerge?  Well quite apart from the fact that the sheer amount of information would seem to be able to drown those unwilling to dive in, it is worth noting that a seasoned qualitative researcher is attuned to seeing patterns and can link insights to their own wider understandings.

It is a little like deciphering those mind-boggling patterns

By overlaying numerous research findings that relate to a broad spectrum of brand themes, a whole new picture is likely to start to emerge.  It is a little like those rather mind-boggling patterns that you need to step back and squint at to see a specific, previously unseen image.

Leveraging existing learnings (though looked at in a new way; a new perspective) is an extremely valuable exercise.  It is not simply a matter of recycling old information, far from it. What is being referred to here is leveraging existing learnings in a wider, holistic context.  Not merely going back over individual research projects one by one, but literally overlaying all of the insights and seeing where common threads start to appear. Taken on their own these insights might have little to no impact, yet when seen in a cross-brand/cross-category context, these insights can start repeating and compounding, showing that something more fundamental may be going on.

What a good researcher is looking for in this type of research is quite different to going over one single research project – again it goes back to exploring emerging patterns.  What they are aiming to establish are what bridges across a portfolio that can be built to utilise momentum from one brand or category and cross-fertilise with the insights from another.

In the case of NPD recycling research can be very powerful

This can be particularly powerful in the case of NPD. So too is defining what ‘disruptions’ need to occur to alter the rules of the categories, through to analysing what knowledge gaps start cropping up.  It is precisely these types of fresh insights, drawn from archived research which can be utilised across entire brand portfolios and foster common understanding. That’s right, another huge benefit is that by default this type of research re-energises internal communications. Sharing learnings can ignite new concepts, ideas, ways of thinking and procedures, many of which, when taken individually on each project might not have survived.

Another huge benefit is that by default this type of research re-energises internal communications.

So for instance, one piece of research may well highlight that mothers focus on healthy food solutions for their children. In fact the entire research focuses very much on mum wanting the very best for her child. Overlay this with research which throws up a seemingly random insight that mothers love treating their kids, they love rewarding them. Then take more research that tells us how kids deem healthy food to be boring. Yet another strand of research repeats that mum’s will give in to ‘unhealthy’ foods if their child really likes it. This occurs when they are in ‘treating’ mode, not always, but this is more often a ‘special occasion’ treat. As a ‘special occasion’ treat is about breaking the rules, how about creating a treat which does not focus on ‘healthy’ but very much responds to those ‘naughty but nice’ moments:  those moments when mum wants to reward her child and make them feel good.  Then the idea of a treat that happens to be more healthful can be developed, rather than something healthful that is a treat.  Surprisingly, different innovation and brand building ideas come from each of those statements.

The real power of this type of research occurs when reviewing larger data sets

Of course, the above example may seem obvious.  The real power of a research review is from the wide range of different connections that occur when reviewing a bigger data set.  Qualitative data is, of course, but its nature is very different – and does have many more assumptions of drivers of attitudes and values (all the ‘why’ questions).  Though often based on small sample sizes, and focused on specific attitudes and behaviours for which they are screened, when reviewing en mass, a more solid understanding can be gleaned.  When we conduct research reviews for our clients, we consider qualitative and quantitative findings for the previous 3 – 5 years (depending on the project scope), so are considering learnings from tens of thousands of consumers.

Now back to those silos

There is of course value in the way that research is undertaken project by project. However, despite what brand and category teams may believe, lots of important information can be gained even years after the original research was undertaken.  In context, hindsight is a powerful thing.

From a strategic perspective new directions can emerge for future exploration

Team hindsight with the creation of a multi-dimensional strategic framework, and we start to identify (and explore to some extent) potential ‘white space’ areas of opportunity, as well as ‘grey space’ areas (areas that are theoretically covered, but perhaps not well/not completely).  This multi-dimensional framework should help to establish some clear hypotheses as ways to best tackle these ‘white space’ and ‘grey space’ areas – focusing on areas of greatest potential and ultimately garner success.  And from this strategic overview, a series of potential directions can be drafted to consider for future exploration, and can, of course, be further researched in their own right.

This approach offers brand managers the opportunity to find out, without a huge outlay of expenditure, relevant truths that could be further exploited.   For those companies who have very big deliverables, but reduced budgets this is an excellence source of actionable insights.  Done correctly this methodology should provide the internal confidence needed to explore new themes, that ultimately lead to new brand extensions and positioning strategies.

As we all know, nothing is ever black and white.  And though the qualitative research approach might appear to be throwing everything together and creating confusion, this should provide invaluable results save not only hundreds of thousands of pounds but months of time too.  This type of qualitative research review should be seen as a powerful road-map for innovative and fresh insights. By pulling together all the elements that not only make up a product, but the category, the brand and the context, as well as the consumer, brand managers and researchers have the potential for enormous clarity even though they may feel at first as if though they are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

By Bryan Urbick

About the author

Bryan Urbick, Chairman of Consumer Knowledge Centre, is a frequent author and lecturer around the world on the subject of kids, families, women, Prime Timers (people aged 55+), product development, innovation and the NPD process.  Bryan sits on the Editorial Advisory Board of Young Consumers (Emerald Group Publishing Limited) and is a member of the international Literati Network. For more information please visit: