Steve Jobs disliked market research – but it is essential

Some businesses like doing research more than others. Marketers are probably some of the most creative people in a company, one of the lucky few who can make good judgements based on gut instinct.

Lucy Handley

While business people will always want to know what consumers want and need as a general means to inform their decisions, some get stuck in a research rut when it comes to testing out marketing creative.

In his book Insanely Simple: the obsession that drives Apple’s success, Ken Segall talks about Steve Jobs’ attitude to research: he didn’t like it and never did it with any of Apple’s advertising campaigns. Yet, they are some of the most successful ever written and aired.

This could be because Jobs was a creative genius – but in fact Segall suggests this wasn’t always the case. He wanted to call the iMac the MacMan, he also at one time wanted to put five messages into one 30 second commercial – which would have been too many for the viewer to taken in – and he put leather-like borders on iCal, Apple’s calendar application, at odds with the cool and clean lines of the rest of the programmes.

Jobs trusted his agency to advise him – Segall was on the creative team at Chiat Day that came up with the Think Different campaign – and he trusted his senior colleagues’ opinions, without having to spend millions on research.

In my experience, ad agencies dislike research, especially by a cautious or process-driven client, as it can sometimes kill great ideas.

Not doing research is a virtue of the facts that Apple is non-corporate, doesn’t have extensive mission or value statements and knows what it is, which can feed into every brief.

On a separate note, research has been used very effectively by companies to demonstrate consumer trends in general. For example, this year’s Marketing Week Engage award winner for market research is the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), whose research helped produce a 13% year-on-year uplift in advertising revenue for the third quarter of 2011.

Its research demonstrates that radio is creating a more positive emotional context for and receptiveness to brand advertising – and it was also a springboard for press (and radio) coverage.

The fact that the RAB focused on how radio affects people’s mood was also something that grabbed attention – rather than on more rational things like listening to it to get information. These nuances can make headlines.

I don’t think that marketers should ever ditch good research, either to get general consumers trends or to find out what people think about their ads – but they should make sure they ask careful questions that are going to elicit the most insightful answers.

Learn about the latest developments in market research to help your brand gain a competitive edge at Marketing Week Live. The event is being held on June 27 and 28 at London Olympia and is free to all registrants

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