You might think a market research conference would be a pretty boring way to spend three days, but think again. It was actually a lot less about traditional research and in many ways a lot more about understanding humanity. While many of the ideas presented, particularly from the keynoters, may not have been “hot off the press,” when looked at together and in the context of market research, they shed light on how brands and marketers need to do a much better job of truly understanding their customers and communicating with them in more personal ways.

The Market Research Event” is an annual conference bringing together industry thought leaders, research companies and big brands to showcase new methodologies and research tools, company case studies and inspirational keynote speakers. This year’s conference was held October 20-22, and I walked away with five tips for making market research personal.

1. Harness the power of others.
In a presentation derived from his book, “Absolute Value”, Itamar Simonson spoke of the shifting relationship in customer decision-making among P, O and M: Prior experience, Others, and Marketers. We marketers are not the ones in control anymore, although many still want to think so. Rather, “others” are the star now, whether through reviews, social sharing or good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Others have the credibility. How is your brand researching what others are saying? Are you changing your marketing tactics accordingly to not only raise awareness and communicate about your brand, but also to listen to the conversation your customers are having?

2. Build relationships.
Building relationships and trust were at the heart of a talk by Simon Sinek. While applicable to human relationships, the message is no different for brand relationships with its customers. If we as marketers and brands always insist on being right, fearing to admit failure and “spinning” our way out of tough situations, we will continue to erode what little trust we have left with our customers. Just interacting in the digital space is no good — it’s cold and transactional and not really a relationship.

Throughout his engaging talk, I was reminded of the classic United Airlines commercial that was about the importance of relationships, and not just doing business “by a phone call and a fax” as the advertisement says. How many real relationships does your brand have with its customers? Does your brand make the effort to build trust?

3. Realize that not everyone’s a connoisseur.
Youngme Moon spoke about the power of being “different.” She used the analogy that as brands, we are connoisseurs of our product category, and we make the false assumption that our customers are connoisseurs as well. They are not. And just because we as connoisseurs see giant competitive differences in our 1.7 percent higher efficiency or our 2-year longer warranty or our better/faster/nicer service, to our customers it is often all the same. As brands, we keep up with the competition instead of truly being different and offering something that a non-connoisseur would notice. “To be different is to be alone,” and unfortunately many brands lack boldness to be different.

4. Tell stories.
Telling stories was at the core of many presentations. Humans are natural storytellers, and everyone loves a good story. As market researchers we do our research reports and dashboards and present data, not a story. As marketers, we are very good at telling the rational, the facts and figures, the information we think people need to hear, but they want to hear a story. There’s an emotional aspect to every purchase, even in the B2B world that we work in at Two Rivers Marketing. We neglect the emotional too frequently and are missing a bigger opportunity to connect with customers and engage them with a story.

5. Look outside your industry.
While our agency focuses primarily on B2B brands, this research conference offered up examples, case studies and insights from Motrin, ESPN, ADT, Heineken, the BBC, MetLife, the Detroit Institute of Arts and more. There’s great value in approaching market research and marketing by taking a wider view than the category you work in.

While you may be a connoisseur of your own category, the best research findings and marketing approaches are rooted in human insights and not in your product or category insights. Go beyond your category and address someone’s human needs — a trusting relationship, a good story, connections with others, etc. — to find the real insight to your marketing.

And that’s not boring at all.

About Patrick McGill

As the managing director of strategy, Patrick is our very own Sherlock Holmes. When he’s not immersed in research, you’ll more than likely find Patrick traveling — those travels have taken him to all 50 states. You can email our inquisitive Mr. McGill at