Making the Perfect Research Burrito

I’m still relatively new to the market research industry compared to most of the people I meet at conferences who’ve been doing this for 25yrs+. I may be at a disadvantage in overall knowledge and experience; however, I do bring a fresh set of eyes to the table. One thing I like to do at conferences is walk around and hear the ‘elevator pitch’ from each vendor. Conversation after conversation, booth after booth, I’ve started to see a pattern. In my mind (a market research ‘newbie’) everyone seems to be selling the same thing ‘ just repackaged and rearranged. Then one day around lunchtime at a conference it hit me”Market Research is like Mexican food.’ What? Yes, think about it. Mexican food is usually just the same ingredients (rice, beans, cheese, etc.) – just rearranged and called different names (burrito, taco, etc.).

I’ve spent some time thinking through this analogy as it relates to my own job ‘ marketing a market research company. ‘How can we be different’? 

This morning I was reminded of a TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell back in 2006 titled Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce. Gladwell’s presentation was about a breakthrough understanding about the nature of choice and happiness developed by Dr. Howard Moskowitz. Dr. Moskowitz is best known for his work with Prego spaghetti sauce. Pepsi originally hired Dr. Moskowitz to discover the ‘perfect’ Pepsi but Howard found that it was much more valuable to identify the perfect Pepsis (plural). In other words, Dr. Moskowitz understood that it was better to create products that model the unique tastes and preferences of different segments. Ultimately, this is where Prego’s Extra Chunky and their entire line of spaghetti sauce comes from. Gladwell’s ultimate point about Dr. Moskowitz’s revelation was that the key to making consumers extremely happy was to embrace their diversity. Gladwell said it best in his analogy of coffee:

‘If I were to ask all of you to try and come up with a brand of coffee — a type of coffee, a brew — that made all of you happy, and then I asked you to rate that coffee, the average score in this room for coffee would be about 60 on a scale of 0 to 100. If, however, you allowed me to break you into coffee clusters, maybe three or four coffee clusters, and I could make coffee just for each of those individual clusters, your scores would go from 60 to 75 or 78. The difference between coffee at 60 and coffee at 78 is a difference between coffee that makes you wince, and coffee that makes you deliriously happy.’

So as I sat drinking my coffee this morning I thought about my analogy of market research as Mexican food and about Dr. Moskowitz’s revelation on making customers truly happy. To put this in Mexican food terms, I think as market researchers, we need to strive to provide customers with the perfect burritos, the perfect tacos, etc. Too often we generalize our capabilities and they all mush together. Instead we need to focus on marketing our capabilities in ways that help solve specific problem segments. Don’t sell them Conjoint Analysis; sell them a structure for optimizing product features and benefits. Focus and segment the solutions (capabilities) by the problems that people have. 

To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell, ‘This is the difference between Mexican food that makes you wince, and Mexican food that makes you deliriously happy.’ 


Here is the full presentation from Malcolm Gladwell.

Isaiah Adams is the Manager of Social Media Development at Optimization Group, a marketing research and analytics firm that uses cutting edge technology to help clients make fact-based decisions. Follow Optimization Group on Twitter @optimizationgrp

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