Industry Commentary

Create More Value in Research By Abandoning Structure

October 20, 2020

Jack Miles
Senior Research Director

Why genuine research and using less structure creates more value

Structure is old news. It’s time for qualitative researchers to tear up their discussion guides and quantitative researchers to forget data traditions. By removing the limits it puts on our research, you can create greater value by engaging participants, widening your perspective and viewing the world more realistically.

Yet researchers love structure. It creates order and helps us make sense of the world. However, it can also limit how much value our research institutes.

Let’s look at why:

Structure kills participant engagement

If you enforce research structures onto your research participants, you’re providing a potentially negative user experience. This, in turn, reduces the quality of the engagement between you and your participants. Why? Because people don’t like structure’s enforced neatness, it shows they aren’t in control of their environment.

Borders misrepresent the world

Categorising research our research limits how much we understand people’s behaviour. However, we often – rightly – use categories and segments within marketing. So much so that Al & Laura Ries say a brand must promote its class to grow. But categories are perceptual; they don’t really exist. Consumers don’t buy/use/compare on a per-category basis.

Innovation needs broad thinking

If you bring diverse types of people together, you’re enabling creative thinking from which quality innovation follows. If you create overly structured sampling, you’ll get the reverse effect.

A rigid sample = people who all think the same. Your sample will have insufficient perspectives to breed creativity and innovation.

Instead, shatter such limitations placed on research by using:

Research au naturel

The only way marketers can prioritise customers is to be market-orientated. The best way is to spend time with people and talk with them to gain insight in a less structured way. No discussion guides. No viewing rooms.

As B2B marketer Brian Macreadie says:

“Real marketers go down the pub at midday – where real life happens.”

Big Broad data

You probably use multiple and ‘big” data streams to meet your research aims. But is big data better data?

Instead, by being broad and measuring what happens outside a category, data can add more value. For example, software company Cornerstone surveyed 50,000 customer service workers. Those completing the survey on a non-default browser stayed in their jobs 15% longer vs those using a default browser.

By going broad, not big, with data, Cornerstone’s found that staff who used a non-default browser had an informed world view, resulting in better work performance and job longevity.

Random interactions

We all live in predetermined and necessary groups such as work, family, and friendship. However, they limit how much we understand the world around us and determine who we interact with. Even in the potentially borderless world of the internet, we live in what Eli Pariser calls “filter bubbles” where what we look for online reflects our established interests vs the new.

It’s time to break free and find new information sources by creating ‘unnatural’ interactions. For example, get your Finance team to watch an innovation workshop, Customer Services, to attend a financial audit and Product Development to walk the shop floor.

By removing the structure, and promoting naturalness, your research will become more valuable with:

Better participant engagement

Marketing Professor Jonah Berger says that if you give people agency, they’re more likely to behave the way you want them to. Apply this to research, and you could have more engaged participants creating better ideas or revealing sensitive information.

A real-world perspective

A structure can make the world look black and white when it’s many shades of grey. Removing structure frees you up to better reflect the world you’re trying to understand.

Yes, it means your research is messier, but the world is a messy and chaotic place.

Military strategist John Boyd says that it’s being able to make quick decisions among chaos – not relying on structure – that win in conflict.

Broader thinking = better innovation

The more diverse minds you have in samples and random interactions, the broader your ‘frame of reference.’ It means you have a bigger picture view of the world with better innovation and creative problem-solving. Sociologist Howard Aldrich credits entrepreneurs’ ability in this area as a critical reason for their success, not as is widely thought, their individual creativity.

Structure – you’ve done us proud for a long time. Too long. Instead, let’s embrace naturalness, breadth and randomness. And in doing so, keep it real and let research create more value.

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