Dart and science

“The only real valuable thing is intuition,” said Albert Einstein. Within the consumer healthcare industry, nowhere is that more true than in the realm of brand management.

Ironically, Einstein also said “if we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

That is the paradox of brand management. We have to go with our gut instinct, or intuition. At the same time, we have to be sure we’re right before we go ahead. In other words, intuition is the most important factor when making major decisions about how to market a brand. And so is research.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that not all research is created equal. I’ve witnessed my share of misguided research through my 20+ years in this industry. Too often, market research methodology is – knowingly or unintentionally – rigged to support original hypotheses. Forfeited is the golden opportunity to challenge assumptions and uncover new insights. Going into research with certain expectations is okay, but rigging the outcome is a waste of time and money.

The way I recommend embarking upon a research project is by compiling a list of questions that must be answered (and by whom) as product launch and brand marketing decisions are being made. Combining quantitative and qualitative measures – and knowing what to ask and how to ask it – are critical elements of the science.

The next step is even trickier. Even if the market research produces a pile of robust data that appears conclusive, all marketers must face the fundamental challenge of analysis – making sure that results are analyzed comprehensively and without bias.

What follows is also tricky – deciding what data is firm enough to build your business case on. Amid the flood of tables, charts, and graphs produced by the research process, there may well be certain results that are more significant and useful than anticipated – but there’s a very good chance they won’t be seen because they aren’t relevant to the original research questions. Sometimes you have to set aside your favorite graph, no matter how pretty it is.

On the other hand, if the results confirm a little too neatly what is already “known,” it’s time to dig deeper. You simply have to discipline yourself to be objective. If you can’t, hire people who can be.

Now comes the fun part. I like to call it dart-throwing.

Like Einstein, I believe that wielding a dart and letting it fly can, in fact, produce sound business outcomes. However, consider this before relying only on the dart for direction. If you were trying to score high points in darts with precision, you would want to know what you’re aiming for. That’s where the science of well-structured and analyzed market research combines with making good decisions.

Narrowing the range of product development options, marketing channel considerations, and other key brand decisions to a subset of well-vetted possibilities is the best technique. Then, hurl the dart.

This combination of empirical data and intuition is not easy to achieve or keep in balance. So much “analysis paralysis” results from an improper balance of “head” and “heart.” But once you develop – or hire – sound research methodology and a finely-tuned intuition based on experience, you can better trust the dart to hit the target.


Hamacher Resource Group, Inc. (HRG) Vice President Dave Wendland, a 20+-year retail industry veteran, is a popular presenter and discussion facilitator available to speak at corporate and association events on a variety of retail-related topics. HRG is a research, marketing, and category management firm specializing in consumer healthcare at retail. Product manufacturers, healthcare distributors, retailers, technology partners, and others rely on HRG for strategic and creative solutions to help build their business. Learn more at www.hamacher.com.

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