Every year companies spend millions of dollars on market research, trying to understand what customers want so as to best satisfy those wants through the company’s offerings. However, in attempting to understand what will satisfy customer wants, companies often focus their market research solely on the needs expressed by customers-the “voice of customer” in marketing jargon. But voice of customer only captures expressed needs, not all of the actual customer needs in the market. By applying intuition to market research, marketers are able to more fully understand the actual customer needs in the marketplace, and to thereby realize a competitive edge in satisfying customers and making sales.
Although market research is an invaluable tool for learning the expressed needs of the customer, market research can only capture needs that the customer is able to articulate. In truth, consumers do not always know what they want, and statistical market data, or focus groups, cannot reveal what consumers themselves do not know. The Weather Channel is a good example. In the 1980’s, interest in news about the weather was thought to be strictly local–market research had shown that consumers wanted local weather reporting. But a small group got the idea that a 24 hour weather channel would reach a market of consumers that resonated with an offering of regional and national weather in addition to local weather. Despite what traditional market research and conventional thinking held, the Weather Channel today is a multi-million dollar cable channel enterprise with an accompanying website that receives over 300 million annual views.
The history of markets has shown that customers are not good at expressing needs for visionary offerings not yet in existence. For example, products in common use today, like the computer, the iPhone, or chunky pasta sauce, all came about through the visionary intuition of their inventors. The existence of a market for each of those new products was envisoned through the intuition of the marketer, not through traditional market research methods. In essence, the most effective marketing views traditional market research through the lens of intuition.
But how do you do that? View traditional market research through the lens of intuition? How can you use market research and intuition to ascertain whether the “next best thing” you are creating will be accepted by the market? The first place to start is with good, solid, traditional research-your intuition has to have data to work with, and your company has to have logical reasons why the marketing should work. But what then? Let me explain by recounting what I did.
During my time with a Fortune 500 company, I was charged with the responsibility for market intelligence. It was my job to conduct market research on the company’s new products, to analyze that research, and to develop a strategy for effectively marketing those products, all the while being mindful of what the company’s competitors were likely to do in the same market. Lots of data was available to me-from investment banks to specialized research firms. Others with a role like mine in the company’s other divisions had an accuracy rate of approximately 70% in predicting what competitors would do and when they would do it. But my accuracy rate was way better, close to 95%. When senior management concluded that my accuracy rate was due to the amount of information and analysis methods I was using, the company synthesized my research tools and analysis methods into a system for other divisions to use, but their results were never better than the usual 70%.
The real secret to my success rate was to read the voluminous marketing data, and then to use my intuition to go beyond it. For example, when the task was to analyze what a competitor’s actions in a market would likely be, I would always start by studying the data, which would yield some answers but never the breakthrough answer that was worth basing a reliable strategy on. After my study was complete, I would ask my intuition where to look for the information that would reliably predict future competitor activity. Working on the traditional marketing data I had already studied, my intuition would always come through–I would often get a real gut feeling that told me that I had hit the right information stream. I would then follow that gut feeling to hypothesize what action the competitor would most likely take. It was my gut feeling that allowed me to go from an average analyst to one that consistently made near flawless predictions about competitor moves 2-3 years in the future. What would it be worth to you or your company to know your competitors moves for the next 2-3 years?