Marketing Research Rules!

I hate it when people make statements about topics that they just don’t know anything about. Like my girlfriend, every April she makes the same comments about bike racing being boring. She totally oversimplifies the beautiful sport by asking questions like “Why do they have to drive 200km? They win in the sprint anyway.” Every time, I grimace and tell her that she just doesn’t understand the history and greatness of the epic battle between warriors on their steel steeds that is enacted every spring on the hills and legendary cobbled streets in Flanders.

Now replace ‘my girlfriend’ by ‘a marketer’ and the Tour of Flanders story by a story about a brand you love. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to first get to know the product, competitors and relevant audience before you start talking to them or about them. Insights into your market are the root of every great piece of marketing communication, and they’re essential if you want to be taken seriously by your audience on a particular subject.

How, as a marketer, do you get great insights?

I’ve put together the learnings from my job as a university researcher and a communications strategist.
These are my six rules of thumb.


Start your journey towards insight-excellence by gathering your resources. Discover what other people found out about your subject or audience. Google is your God. Check online databases, research papers and reports. Or, be the source yourself: count social mentions, send a quick survey to your colleagues, go out on the streets and ask passers-by … You have to start somewhere.


Not everyone has read this blogpost. Some sources are more valuable, relevant or trustworthy than others. Infographics, for example, are fun, but make sure they are based on a reliable study. Moreover, check the country in which the study is performed. Are there reasons to believe that the results would be different for your country due to differences in their economic or cultural profile? Psychologist Geert Hofstede identified 6 dimensions of culture. For example most Asian cultures are significantly less individualistic than western cultures. This has to be kept in mind when making comparisons, for example when looking into insights into community work in China and Belgium.


It is dangerous to already have an idea about the ‘facts’ you are trying to find. Don’t bend the facts just to fit your goal. No is no. As Sherlock Holmes once said to Watson: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” And who are we to argue with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?


Time, budget or practical constraints can hinder you in getting the maximum out of your insights. Be honest. Report on your limitations. A survey answered by your colleagues is categorized as a “convenience sample”, not a representative dataset. This doesn’t mean that the survey can’t give you an idea about general market tendencies. Let your client or audience decide on the value of your insights. Or, if you were lucky enough to be given the time and budget, by all means, do draw a representative sample ;-).


Not really. There are better techniques for interpreting data than the good old ‘blank stare’. The point is, data itself is not valuable. Twenty pages of typed interviews or 3MB of spreadsheet data isn’t as convincing as your five minute analysis of the most important findings. And the analysis is the fun part of the research, it is the moment that you – the researcher – can be creative and combine logic with out-of-the box thinking. That’s exactly what Henry Ford did in 1896. If Ford had simply written out the wishes of his future customers he would have founded the Ford Horse Company and would have started training faster horses. Instead, he gathered insights and combined it with creativity and technology to create the Ford Motor Company. And we all know how that ended.

By the way, in the future interviews will probably write themselves, and the same goes for the spreadsheet data. Do you still want to have a job? Start working on those ‘eureka’ skills.


What’s the purpose of all your hard work if nobody has a clue what you are talking about? A wise woman once said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Present your insights in a concise manner; you’ll find that images, word clouds and graphs are really helpful. Make it clear and simple.

Good luck researching!

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