Taking some time to reflect over the holidays, I was pleased to consider how far the sports marketing world has progressed in its receptivity to analytics in assessing the efficacy of its efforts and in better understanding how to resonate with its stakeholders.
Certainly, there’s still way too much poorly designed research out there, but I’m old enough to remember when there was hardly any. So, if you buy into the notion that there’s much to be gained by taking a disciplined and objective look at your target customers, chances are that your property or sponsoring brand has at minimum dipped its toes into the water of marketing research. But as one who never settles for the minimum, and has spent a career in sports marketing insights, my holiday rumination circled around a consideration that even those sports marketers who have to some degree embraced marketing research have only skimmed the surface.
Traditional qualitative research has always relied upon conversations and probing consumers for deeper understanding of the rationale and emotions behind various beliefs, perceptions and behaviors. Whether it is in-depth interviews, focus groups or discussion boards, the qualitative branch of marketing research has often benefited from the deployment of projective techniques designed to derive what is truly important from consumers.
In this era of big data, we certainly can add to the researchers’ tool kit by analyzing behavioral data that, coupled with solid quantitative survey research, helps profile our customers, measure impact, attitudes and perceptions and details the nature of transactions. The quantitative gets at the what, whereas qualitative can tell us more about the why.
But as I thought back to some of the more interesting research that we have conducted over the past year, I recognized that while understanding the what and the why are mission-critical, some of the most groundbreaking insights have been fueled by the added value of observational research to augment and enhance the qualitative and quantitative tool kit. It’s this work that takes insights into the realm of the how, and that’s new, exciting and potentially groundbreaking territory for sports brands and properties.
The deployment of in-store or on-property observational research to assess shopping behaviors or consumer/fan interaction with activation elements or on-site amenities can add layers of important learning. Observing consumers in their natural environment, as an adjunct to traditional qualitative or quantitative research, provides an even deeper layer of understanding the how by seeing the ways in which the consumer shops or engages in the actual environment.
For retailers, such work has shed light on what works from a visual merchandise standpoint. For teams, leagues and sponsors, the approach has revealed what activation elements at a sporting event are most resonant. Marketers, through the eyes of the researcher, can see how consumers interact with others, gravitate towards various amenities or utilize public spaces.
In an era of where there is such a proliferation of information, it is still critical that consumers have brand awareness and perceptions about those specific brands that they want to engage with, and that they still have a primary place for traditional and new media. We have become strong advocates and believers in the fact that point of sale, visual merchandising and other influential factors, at the moment of truth, can really drive decisions and sway the consumer’s preferences as to what they originally contemplated.
Observational research, effectively intertwined into a study, can reveal many aspects of this reality that survey research or traditional qualitative modalities cannot.