There may be no segment of business that is changing faster than Market Research and Consumer Insights. Translating consumer behavior into increased profit and sales requires agility in changing as fast as the consumer does, and preferably being a step ahead.

In their book Immunity to Change[1], authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey show how individual beliefs and collective mindsets combine to create strong resistance to change in human beings. Much of market and consumer research is devoted to discovering how to get people to change in the face of this resistance.

Don’t underestimate resistance to change  – a recent study showed that when doctors told heart patients they would die if they didn’t make changes in their habits, six out of seven did not follow through on the changes.

In recruiting for market and consumer research executives, the following traits are critical:

  1. An orientation toward growth – while past experience and success are important indicators, it is even more important that the candidate be looking at the gap between where the market and the consumer is now, versus where they are going.
  2. Awareness of both technical and emotional factors: People’s mindsets shape their thinking and feeling, so changing mindsets needs to involve both the head and the heart, recognizing that both need to be involved and each must be employed to bring about the other.
  3. Understanding that, underneath the resistance, people want to change.

Mindset (in the individual) and Culture (in the market) is a subtle phenomenon –if you shop at a supermarket when business is slow, you probably won’t notice, but the music playing over the store’s PA system is slow as well. But when the store is busy, the music is faster. Unwittingly, you will come to move in time with the music, shopping more slowly (and maybe buying more) when it’s not busy, and faster (and therefore clearing the store faster) when it’s busy. That’s how culture works.

As the example of the heart patients shows, behavior is hard to change, and even the threat of dying may not be enough to change it. The job of market and consumer research is to influence individuals’ mindset and the market’s culture, and mindset and culture are like the water a fish swims in – invisible to the fish as long as it remains immersed. Still, as a marketing executive said when she heard that analogy, “if the fish gets sick, you don’t change the fish, you change the water.”

The aim of a market and consumer research leader should be to:

  1. Understand the culture that is the water in which consumers are swimming.
  2. Change that culture either by a radical new idea (for example, Instagram has virtually eliminated Facebook from the teen market) or by chipping away at the existing culture (e.g., the shift from gasoline to hybrid to all-electric cars is gradually moving the market toward self-driving cars).
  3. Work with marketing, sales, and manufacturing to create sustainability of the change through product availability, pricing, and creating public excitement.

The purpose of research is to predict where the market is going and get ahead of it. If a candidate for a market and consumer research position does not possess the vision and growth mindset to be ahead of the market they are not doing research, they are writing history.

[1] Kegan, Robert and Lisa Laskow Lahey Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. 2009, Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA



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