Customer Research: Brochures vs. The Actual Beach

Is your customer research limited to the equivalent of reading travel brochures?
Arm chair travel serves a purpose, but is not the same as being there, don’t limit yourself to arm chair customer research.



Reading vs. Doing

How do you plan a vacation? Maybe you google your dream spot, talk to people who have been there, buy a book, watch a video, or even go old school and grab a travel brochure. But hopefully you then you actually go on vacation, since looking at photos is a weak substitute for feeling your toes in the sand. Are you approaching your customer research with the equivalent of brochures only?

Beware of the desk chair researcher:
Limiting your customer research to reviewing survey reports at your desk, instead of doing in person observations, is the difference between reading a brochure and going on a holiday.

There’s a massive list of differences between your online prep and being there. In the brochure, you have a second hand, filtered experience, which is based on the impression a marketer wants you to have of the location. The brochure and internet research give you an idea of what to expect, a help in planning.

While on the real vacation, you are fully immersed in the setting, with all senses impacted. You can notice, wonder and question what you experience once you arrive in your spot of choice. And return with vivid, real and personal impressions of a spot.


The risk of relying on incomplete information

It would seem unnecessary to even say that second hand descriptions are a poor substitute for first hand experience. So why would a business that wants to invest in improving or creating a new product, service or process, rely on the equivalent of travel brochure?

This is exactly what businesses are doing if only looking at surveys or reviewing data from behind the desk. These sources of data are valuable and can be included in an overall investigation and validation of new offerings. The risk when relying only on this type of research alone is that you are making decisions based on incomplete or incorrect information.


The risk of relying on irrelevant information

In addition, many businesses are looking at information they have for one market and applying this to all. When planning your trip to the Maldives, you are not looking up Trip Advisor reviews on Paris.

Customer’s needs can vary by gender, age, region and setting. And can even vary for the same customer depending on context. ( Your goals at work likely differ than your weekend goals) All of these differences can be hard to detect and subsequently base decisions on.

You may be planning a new product or service based on feedback from this information, but what it the bigger picture? How can you expand your research to stack odds in your favor for success?


Get out in the field

Be sure to get out in the field to gather more complete and relevant data in your customer research.

There are no guarantees of success, even with investing in field research. However, there are likely many other costs associated with new product and service development. To increase your odds of success, you should understand how relevant your data is to your project.

By getting out in the field and immersing yourself in your customer’s natural habitat, you benefit from a richness of input. Your customer research generates more value by going and observing your customers first hand. In the field, you can notice aspects of the environment that a survey didn’t reveal. Field observations provide you with the opportunity to discover the why behind emotions and actions that big data analysis may not reveal.


A customer research quick check-list:

  1. What information do you currently have on your customers? Inventory of your current data, including who the information collected from, how it was acquired, and how long ago. Determine how relevant this is to your needs today.
  2. Determine if this information includes such variables as age, gender, geography and context. And remember to include relevant research samples based on your goals.
  3. Was any of this information obtained from actually going to where your customers are and in person observations? If not what could you be missing out on? Are you limiting your research to survey responses or focus groups conducted in fluorescent lit one way mirrored rooms?


Keep in mind those differences between the brochure and the actual vacation. Consider if you are limiting yourself to only arm chair (or desk chair) research. Remember that what you bring back from the real experience, will be much more valuable.

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