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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

What Can You Learn from Toyota and Adobe?

While survey results and other types of big data can be very useful, we find that a few well-constructed interviews often provide the insights you need to make important business decisions.

Toyota and Adobe once sent "designers and managers" to California to "listen to customers," rather than scrutinizing big data, according to a report from Graham Kenney. Here is why:

  • The wrong data. Company needs, not client needs, often control what data is collected. And, the data may be limited to purchase history and service reports. An Australian wealth-management company asked clients to react to the company’s research. The clients responded that the "data was based on nonsense" because of poor questions. The questions reflected what managers thought clients wanted to say, not what clients actually wanted to say. Only half of the questions reflected clients’ priorities, Kenney reports.
  • Old data. Big data presents the big picture, but not individual issues or performance. Moreover, it reflects the past more than the present or the future.
  • Useless statistical analysis. If you measure something that doesn't need measuring, you will not learn much even if you apply statistical tools to the data you have collected.

Listening to Customers: Three Short Case Studies

When you prepare insightful questions and then to listen to your customers or clients, you can learn a lot from a few interviews. Listen for unexpected clues, and then ask follow up questions. Here is what we learned from interviewing a few of our clients’ prospective customers.

We asked first responders what they thought about new software that could combine geographic and other data during emergencies. We learned that emergency personnel would not have the time or skills to manipulate data in the field while responding to disasters. After a few interviews, we concluded that the technology would not succeed with that target market.

A distributor of textiles used for retail displays wondered if hotels would use one of its fabrics to decorate hotel rooms. We interviewed a few hotel managers and interior designers who said that they would not consider the fabric for such use: It did not meet fire regulations!

Follow up questions during interviews sometimes reveal emotional barriers that would prevent a new product or process from succeeding. One example is fear of job loss if employers automated some processes. Other emotional barriers include fear of exposure to physical danger, exposure to chemicals, and more recently, exposure to disease.

While large studies are critical when testing new drugs or comparing student performance in 2021 with pre-Covid performance, you can often learn enough from 20 or 30 or fewer in-depth interviews. When you hear the same thing from several sources, you have reached the "saturation point," says Kenney. It is time to stop.


Actionable Business Insights

Copyright © 4/21 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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