Setting the Right Target is Critical for Better Marketing Research and Business Decisions
If you know me at all, you’ve heard me speak of my great friend, Andrew Wittman. Andrew is a consultant that helps companies and individuals, myself included, learn how to think critically about their environment. Among many, one of Andrew’s greatest strengths is the act of aligning people with a company target.
Among the many of Andrew’s critical thinking questions, the key critical thinking question is: “what is your target?”
In the marketing research and business intelligence space, we most often replace this with “what is your objective?”
Answering this question is a lot more difficult than one might imagine. And after some debate with Andrew as well as some internal debate with myself, I realized why this is so difficult: INERTIA.
Inertia is Newton’s First Law of Motion. Loosely, it is interpreted from two positions:
First, that objects at rest will remain at rest. Consider your target to be this object – it is at rest. Once you clearly define your target, you can stamp it above every door in your office. It is at rest.
Then there is the second position of Inertia – an object in motion continues in motion unless something influences the object. We often refer to this as a moving target.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on organizational vision. If you are one of the two people that has downloaded it, you may have noted that somewhere in it is a critical finding. When individuals are faced with competing priorities, two possible outcomes emerge:
- The first outcome is that employees try to do both, but usually cannot maximize effort on either, so he or she delivers a sub-par outcome for both.
- The second outcome, which we observe in consumer behavior as well, is that he or she will shut down the idea of executing on one priority and fixate on the other.
The one selected depends on the context, but more often than not, we tend to stick with what we are familiar with, or the one with the lower risk of a poor outcome.
When you aggregate all of these different types of behaviors, an organization looks like a broken gear box. This is the antithesis of alignment. There is no execution on an organizational target.
Let’s take an example by visiting a classic game theory exercise called “Battle of the Sexes.” We don’t need to examine the mathematics behind the game to realize the potential difficulties faced by the two players. Player 1 is the husband – Player 2 is the wife.
The two have agreed to meet that evening, but neither can recall if they will be attending an opera or a football game. As expected, the husband would prefer to go to the football game. The wife prefers to opera. But both prefer to be at either event together. As you read this, think about what strategy you would utilize.
There are a few options from my vantage point. You can roll the dice and go to one event and wait for your spouse (or a friend if you would prefer this way) to arrive. So how do you decide which event to select? And how do you know that your counterpart will make the same selection? Because if they are playing the same strategy as you, the paths are highly unlikely to cross unless one decides to stay put.
Alternatively, you could try arriving at both events hoping to find your counterpart. But what if the other opted for the same strategy? What are the chances that the other would adopt the same strategy?
If you are like me, you grew anxious thinking about the strategy you would adopt. Now let’s change the context. Imagine a company full of individuals playing a similar game. Well, if employees at this company are playing this exact game, buy stock in Hallmark, because there will be many marriages in trouble. But in all seriousness, if individuals in the process do not have clarity about how their activities get the organization closer to the target, it’s much more difficult to hit the target.
So what’s the answer? It starts with understanding a simple principle you have probably heard a hundred times: The only constant in business is change. We are fighting the battle of the moving target nearly every day. So the simple answer is to keep the target stable. The best way to do this is make the target the cornerstone and the foundation of your desired outcome. It should serve as the frame for all decisions and behaviors going forward. If my goal is to lose 10 pounds, I should ask myself before every meal, how is what I am about to eat helping me get closer to losing ten pounds?
Let’s take an example from a marketing research standpoint. When finalizing a list of clearly defined objectives, we can use these objectives as a reference point to any activity following. Assume that we have a very clear objective for a marketing research project: why are our customers leaving?
This very clear objective can easily be spun in several directions. So in questionnaire development, a good exercise would be to audit the document for each question’s role in answering the question, why are our customers leaving?
Reflecting back to the days of writing my dissertation, after time, I realized that an optimal strategy to avoid launching my laptop from a rooftop balcony was to try something simple. So I took the four research questions I posed, printed them out, and taped them on points all over my house. Most importantly, I put a poster of the questions on the wall above where I wrote. It sounds ridiculous, but it become a constant reminder when I found myself going down an unnecessary rabbit hole in my writing. Every once in a while, I would look up and review my questions and ask myself, “how is this seemingly worthless path I am taking help explain one of those four questions?” If I could not answer this question, the result was the Backspace button.
The takeaway here is simple – set a target, align your strategy to the target, and execute according to your target. This is what our friend Andrew Wittman refers to as our execution formula. And we like to think it is working for us.