Monday, July 20, 2009

From Terrorist Detection to Market Insight: Understanding Our New "New Rules of Engagement" Subscription Study

I am at a customer site today as part of our team that is delivering the results of a project based our new narrative research techniques that we're using as the basis of our new subscription study, "New Rules of Engagement: Re-Tooling Information Sales and Marketing for the New Economy," sponsored by the Software and Information Industry Assoication and Special Libraries Association. Narrative research has evolved out of efforts to understand the often weak and ambiguous signals from global terrorist networks. Needless to say, you can't really do market research on terrorists, but we saw that this technique is an excellent way for our clients to analyze customers rapidly in an innovative way that fits with many of their most critical research needs.

As with terrorist networks, many publishers and technology companies are dealing with rapidly shifting client behaviors, with lots of asymmetrical behavior that's difficult to analyze using tradional research methods. In traditional research, one formulates a hypothesis to test using quantitative or qualitative research techniques. In quantative studies, for example, someone interviews subjects and then filters down the results into a cohesive picture. In quantitative research, a questionnaire asks specific questions that requires people to respond to specific possible responses. These are both good techniques if you want to filter out a lot of possible answers that may not be your focus. But as good as that can be, many of the opportunities and threats that our clients face lie beyond this type of pre-determined focus.

An analogy as to why this is important was used in our client presentation today. We asked the people in the room to look at a short video of six people passing basketballs to one another, three wearing white shirts and three wearing black shirts, and to count the number of times that the people with white shirts passed the ball to one another. There was some disagreement on how many times the white shirted people passed the ball, but surprisingly several people missed another key input - a person in a black gorilla suit walked in and out of the scene during the passing. In other words, our ability to filter and to concentrate on specific goal not only may not give us exact anwers but may also ignore or focus on interesting phenomena that could be potentially important or a actually just a distraction.

Narrative research addresses this key gap in human perceptions in interpreting information about markets by enabling people to tell and to code unbiased stories about how they use or make decisions relating to products and services and then have them passed through software that relates their responses to key themes. When patterns emerge from this process, research sponsors can then refer to the original, unbiased stories and find new ways to analyze them. Instead of being "locked in" to specific biases or ideas that formed the information, you can refer back to the original unbiased stories and find new ways to interpret them individually or in aggregate. When you get enough stories to draw statistically significant conclusions, the result is an extremely powerful database that can answer different questions again and again over time on a very cost-effective basis. If you add more stories over time to that database, the results can be even more powerful, as you can begin to track changes in perceptions that you would not have been able to detect if you had had to form a specific idea ahead of time for testing via traditional research.

The net result for "New Rules" subscribers will be a rich, reusable resource of hundreds of stories from executives and implementers in enterprises telling how they use and make decisions on obtaining information services that they use to perform their jobs. In today's volatile economy, being able to hear unbiased stories from these complex and shifting decision makers and to analyze them quickly and effectively can be a critical factor in responding to the many changes in organizations that are compelling new and accelerated approaches to buying and implementing enterprise information services. Combined with the on-site workshops what we will be conducting for the core research subscribers I expect that "New Rules" will be the core element of many company's strategy planning efforts this year. I encourage you to investigate our prospectus and to see if you're ready to take advantage of this ground-breaking approach to market research that can power the marketing of your information products and services.

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