Fan Research is NOT just for big brands

I keep meeting new founders, usually from within the service end of the CPG industry (promo agencies, digital marketing outfits, etc.), who snap back into BigCO assumptions about what early-stage brands can or cannot afford to do. This snapback owes itself to memories of serving their former client base: mid-sized and large CPG companies. BigCo has a specific definition of what constitutes a ‘proper’ end deliverable from an agency, for example.

But, here’s the problem with the assumption that BigCo’s standards for most things matter to you, the early-stage founder. In matters of regulatory approval, the standards are the same, yes. But when it comes to many other executional touchpoints, there is a continuum from awful to mediocre to good enough to superb to museum-ready. 

BigCo only hires ‘approved vendors’ who have completely adapted their entire business model to deliver ‘museum ready,’ overbuilt solutions to folks who simply have the money to waste on this unnecessary artistry or 5th decimal accuracy. The latter is the most significant political concern for large companies where the 5th decimal variation affects earnings per share. But not in your business.

 It’s nonsense for the most part and has no apparent relationship to business outcomes. These overbuilt vendor solutions are mostly a desperate plea for excess control. For years, I watched companies waste money on overpriced executional vendors when they could have obtained ‘good enough’ execution that influenced consumers for ⅓ the cost (or even less). 

And ‘consumer research’ is one the frequently overbuilt vendor solutions you will hear (from ‘everyone’) ‘costs a ton.’ Bullshit. Only if you insist on the academic, arm’s length definition of consumer research practiced for BigCo marketing divisions (for outrageous sums). This is 5th decimal point control-seeking behavior that does not concern you.  

Founders have a clear need here: understanding the dominant behavioral drivers behind repeat purchases of their products. This is simultaneously both an advanced and fundamental need. The idea of understanding behavioral drivers is STILL revolutionary to BigCo marketers schooled in watered-down psychology of emotions that reflect an arrogant legacy of the marketing discipline: that they can simply manipulate behavior through the proper magic framing. The latter is not necessarily false, but the legacy approach to try to manipulate viewer emotions devoid of any context related to use. Ritz is fun, being my favorite example. WTF?

You’re smarter than this. We’re smarter than this. Understanding fan behavior is not that hard for the most part IF you ask questions like a social scientist with an open mind. 

Bottom line? You can and should do your scrappy research early on in your iterative journey as a consumer brand entrepreneur. You do NOT need to hire a research company. Please don’t.

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]