Current Events And Market Insights: Knowing Doesn't Equal Understanding

At the end of January, I spoke at the Esomar Shopper Insights Conference and part of my speech was about how technology makes the market insights professional role more challenging in some ways. For example, technology has made the world flat: The Internet makes it possible for information to travel fast, and it feels like we know everything about anything (or at least we could).* But my point was that knowing doesn’t equal understanding.

And in the past weeks, with the world on fire, this thought has been nibbling at the back of my mind. It was there when I watched television and followed the latest developments in Egypt or Morocco. When I read the news or watched the videos and pictures from the earthquake in Japan, or more recently when Britain, France and the US decided to intervene in Libya. I can follow the news minute by minute via Facebook or Twitter (and I do), but I feel I lack the context and local background to really understand what’s going on — like most of us. How will the intervention in Libya change the relationships in that part of the world? How will the earthquake and the issues with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant affect the Japanese economy? The world is flat, but we are still limited by our own horizons.

And what does this mean for us as market insights professionals? How will all these events influence or change consumer behaviors? How can and should we support our (internal) clients in a world that's changing every minute?

My advice would be to act very cautiously. As researchers we have to constantly realize that our own mindset is one of the biggest enemies in understanding consumer behavior in other countries or regions. Analyzing information from other regions is really, really hard. Why? Because we can't handle the unknown very well. Our brain translates information into a context we are familiar with. So when you are analyzing information from other regions to understand customer behaviors, make sure you include insights from people who truly understand the markets you're looking at: Take history lessons, talk to locals, and always realize that things may be different than they seem.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. How, if at all, do you see current events affecting our role?

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* Freely taken from Thomas Friedman, author of the book 'The World is Flat'.