March 6, 2006
Power Of Anecdote And Agenda:
Your Prospects' Buying Patterns
by Barbara Bix and Melissa Josephson Edwards
As marketing directors, we want to invest money in marketing
projects that demonstrate a return on investment and
that will make a difference in the bottom line. How can
you develop a great marketing campaign that will deliver
By conducting market research to:
the best market segment(s),
the most promising prospects, and
clients' needs and wants.
with this information, only then can marketers
implement an effective marketing campaign based
sound data that will deliver the best prospects
to the sales
For many companies, the idea of market research can
be daunting. How much data do companies need? How do
marketers get the data they need? One concern is that
getting a lot of data is expensive. Another concern,
especially for companies introducing leading edge technology
services, is that they may run the risk of missing
the market window.
The ultimate solution is getting "just enough" data
to identify the best prospects and determine what it
will take to get them to act.
"Just enough" data enables marketers to:
- make wise marketing investments,
- manage the cost of data collection, and
- get to market on time.
Here's how to do it.
Tricks Of The Trade: Using An Anecdote
way to learn about how and why people buy is to ask
them to describe how they came to use whatever
service they're using today. Marketers can get much
better information when prospects describe their previous
thought processes and how they actually made decisions--versus “conjecturing” as
to what they might do in the future.
marketers make the mistake of asking people to predict
future behavior (e.g., “What would
you pay?”) rather than report on past actions
(e.g., “What did you pay?) When people report
on historical behavior, they automatically take into
account all influential factors at that time--rather
than limiting their response to just one question.
How Anecdotes Can Further Your Understanding
So, ask about the past and listen for stories. When
people tell their stories, they emphasize what's
important to them, reveal how they've acted in the
past, and describe what motivated them. When answering
open-ended questions, respondents often provide stories
rich with detail and ideas that marketers may not
have even considered. On the other hand, surveys
with “framed” questions generate responses
that are limited by marketers' preconceived hypotheses
Anecdotes reveal prospects' needs, wants, and priorities.
Understanding how and why people buy also helps marketers
differentiate critical needs from requirements that
are just “nice to have”. Marketers can
go back to stories to learn not only what prospects
value, but also to learn what circumstances trigger
purchases and where prospects turn to get the information
that informs their purchasing decisions.
In addition to helping marketers determine what features
to include in a new service, the information gathered
from stories can highlight what messages to emphasize
and identify the most effective marketing media and
sales channels. In fact, prospects' stories are often
the most dependable way to get the information marketers
need to create effective marketing plans and guide
their marketing investments.
Use Anecdotes To Identify Market Segments
Anecdotes and stories also help segment the market.
While we all have individual preferences when we
make buying decisions, most of us fall into broader
groups of people who tend to buy in the same way,
time and time again.
The cost-effective approach to segmenting the market
is interviewing respondents who appear to share similar
characteristics. Talking to clients, prospects, and
people in a good position to observe a lot of prospective
clients making buying decisions will also reveal the
buying characteristics of these broader groups more
When respondents repeat the same stories over and
over again, chances are these respondents are in the
same market segment. Once you're getting this kind
of data convergence, you'll want to validate this hypothesis
by continuing to interview from the same group until
you get 5-8 people telling the same stories.
hearing the same multidimensional story – rich
in details and hitting on many of the same dimensions – you're
getting enough data. Stories – unlike answers
to survey questions – provide such a depth and
breadth of data which really represent multiple data
of 5-8 people telling the same story – with
the same buying criteria and buying behavior – are
small, unless they're buying in the same way. If the
data is not converging, you are probably crossing market
segments. To distinguish the boundaries of the market
segment, interview until stories change and see if
you can define the circumstances under which the stories
Tricks Of The Trade: Avoiding Agenda
inherent in all data collection is bias. People often
have agendas or preconceptions about their
markets, especially insiders who have typically approached
the client set from a particular angle. An example
of this is the “happy ear” incentive, where
company employees or partners hear what they expect
to hear, rather than what the client is really saying.
Many companies, therefore, choose to outsource market
data collection to independent researchers who are
trained to ask questions that are open-ended and probe
the whys and hows of past behavior.
offer more than an impartial agenda. They typically
have a broad base of experiences across
industries and companies and can apply best practices
and lessons learned to your particular market and industry.
Through their ability to access the right people quickly,
they can help you cut costs by identifying the “right” people
Solid Beginnings Lead To Long-Lasting Success
Successful businesses are built on sound and compelling
data that represents clients' needs and wants. Gathering
anecdotes and avoiding agenda are key to effective
data collection. By identifying and speaking with prospective
clients in your market segment, you can quickly and
cost-effectively identify your target markets, nail
client requirements, and pinpoint effective marketing
With careful forethought, companies can spend just
enough time and money on data collection to get it
right—and avoid blind marketing investments—without
breaking the bank.