Remember that line from Love Actually, “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” Well, the same can be said for market research. I’ll explain:
This Huffington Post article about Ben & Jerry’s got me thinking about it. In their early years, Ben & Jerry’s did some valuable market research without meaning to. They encountered an obstacle when Pillsbury (the owner of Haagen-Dazs) told Ben & Jerry’s main distributor that they could either sell Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s, but not both. To raise awareness about this issue Ben & Jerry’s got their customers involved. They printed an 800 number on the back of their ice cream containers so customers could get more information on Pillsbury’s ultimatum. As they documented the customer engagement, “Ben & Jerry noticed that most of the calls came between midnight and 2 a.m.” And boom! A market research light went off in their heads. They realized that most people were eating ice cream as a late night indulgence. This proved to be a tremendous insight for future marketing and product development. Now that is what I call accidental market research.
Another example? Turns out there may be a correlation between economic trends and women’s heel height. By looking at social media posts, product researchers at IBM discovered that women’s fashions have proven to be an indicator of economic cycles. In addition to filtering through billions of fashion blogs and other social media channels, the researchers also looked at shoe fashion trends over the past 100 years. Historically, they found that women buy higher heels during economic recessions. Low-heeled shoes were popular during the 1920s, and heel height soared during both the Great Depression and the 1970s oil crisis. Consumer products expert Trover Davis explains the correlation: “Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up – as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape.”
In the past four years, however, women may be straying from this trend. Researchers found that heel height peaked at the end of 2009, and has since continued to decline as fashion bloggers have written about the return of flats and kitten heels. This IBM study also reveals the potential of social media as a tool for trend analysis, and “illustrates how sophisticated analysis of social media could be used by manufacturers in planning future products, by retailers in choosing which products to stock, and by marketers in planning advertising campaigns.” We couldn’t agree more. IBM’s social media study will prove extremely useful for shoe retailers and fashion companies.
What can businesses learn from these two examples? Market research insights are all around you, it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes peeled. Look for correlations between product sales or events that you wouldn’t initially expect to be related. Think about how your everyday interactions with consumers can provide valuable data for future innovations. Finally, we’d love to hear about your unexpected encounters with market research – share them as a comment below!