Academic journal article Journal of Marketing and Management

Making Sense of Sensing Markets

Academic journal article Journal of Marketing and Management

Making Sense of Sensing Markets

Article excerpt



I was asked by the editor of this special issue to provide a perspective, based on my experience as a research supplier, on the challenges of market sensing in the real world. The assumption that there is a gap between marketer and market that researchers can alleviate is one I fully subscribe to. But the picture is more complex. Marketing organizations contain both managers, who hold the budgets, and creative departments, who create what the market is exposed to. Managers hire researchers, and tell creatives what to do. I have seldom seen creative work stimulated by research-based reports and directives, but I have seen it enriched in other ways. In general, the most creativity-helping research serves to enrich the creative person's sense of the real people they are trying to reach: to bring their consumer's into their heads and to help the creative person see things as their consumer does.


My direct objectives in this paper are 1) to point to some fundamental problems faced by researchers who would hope to help marketers and 2) to point towards some specific strategies that may help them. In writing this paper I have consciously avoided framing my arguments in academic and science-journal style because to do so would do direct violation of one of my main points: namely, that such presentation styles, in my experience, have never been effective at stimulating shaping the innovative thinking of their intended audiences.

The evidence I bring to bear is not pretending to be quantitative and my conclusions are not posing as definitive. They are grounded in the academically unfashionable but invaluable bases of personal observation, narrative, introspection and induction and they grow from my history as a down-in-trenches research supplier who has spent a lot of his career seeing what works, what does not work, and thinking about why.

My ultimate hope is that my stories and my conjectures will serve as a catalyst to more innovative research by professional service firms and more sensitive marketing by their clients in the future. And I hope, too, that it might stimulate academic research that would have a salutary influence on real-world practice.

Some Background

Most of my career has focused on children: children as audiences, children as students, and children as consumers. So the challenges which have been brought to me are probably somewhat different than those brought to my colleagues in this collection.

Good Clients and Bad Clients - the Curiosity Gap

My clients have mostly come to me because of their feeling that they didn't know how to do kids' research. The best clients were the ones that felt they didn't know how kids see things: that they couldn't see their product or advertising or survey or entertainment as the kids they were trying reach. My worst clients were the ones who were certain they knew kids (after all, they had kids of their own, or thought of themselves as kids at heart), and they only wanted answers to their pre-framed questions. I learned a lot from the work I did for both types of clients, but it was the open, curious clients who seemed to have learned the most from me.

An example

One of the more memorable experiences with a client of the second type happened in a focus group with pre-teen boys being conducted for one of the world's premiere package goods companies. The product manager on the scene radiated an aggressive self-confidence so characteristic of a real "marketing cowboy" - and he decided that he'd like to conduct one of the interviews himself. With the necessary deference to the guy who was paying the bills, I retired to the observation room and let him go. The group started, per plan, with him and the kids sitting in a circle on a rug in the center of the room, the big conference table pushed off to one side. Our guy launched in right away, peppering the kids with closed-end questions about the marketing issues that he was facing with this product. …

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