The Short Shelf-Life of Data

You make a significant investment in marketing research and you expect the data to be “good” for a while. Truth is, data starts to age as soon as it’s collected. Depending upon the industry, category, target, and type of study, the shelf life may vary significantly. The new year is a great time to take stock of your on hand learnings and consider their utility in the context of both age and type of research. This assessment may help prioritize the fielding of new studies over the coming year. And while you’re doing that, take time to consider your qualitative research, as well, and ensure that you’re getting the most out of every session with consumers.

So, When Should I Update My Research?

Certain key studies need to be updated or repeated every 3-5 years. These include segmentations, habits & practices, attitude & usage, and so on. Other studies are more volatile and require more frequent updates. These include brand image and advertising awareness, which are often conducted as trackers. Shopper behavior studies also require frequent updating because of the rapidly evolving marketplace. Your secondary analyses, like marketing mix and price elasticity, also require frequent updating.  Depending upon the category, every year probably makes sense. Make sure that your market structure analysis is also up-to-date and actionable. Take the yogurt category for example. Several years ago, this was a mature category and fairly stable. Kid offerings based on packaging innovation were the big news. Just a few years later, the category landscape has been transformed by the explosive growth of Greek yogurt, concerns about high fructose corn syrup, and the economy.

Anything involving behavior in an environment not controlled by the consumer or perception needs to be updated frequently to stay in tune with the current reality. Today’s consumer environment is rapidly evolving and preferences and behavior change much more quickly than ever before. We would argue that trends are cycling faster than ever before, too. Therefore, it really behooves the savvy researcher or marketer to keep their eye out for the swinging pendulum of change and consider updating studies like segmentations, habits & practices, A&Us, etc. more frequently. If you have a segmentation that you and your team are comfortable with, it’s not necessary to toss it. A very viable option is to replicate it and ensure that things haven’t changed and that you’re not overlooking something significant in the marketplace.

Additional Qualitative Research Tip to Make Your 2014 Research Work Harder:

One more area where we see clients missing a great opportunity to keep their finger on the pulse of their consumer is in their qualitative work. More and more frequently, clients don’t want to take the time to include a quick discussion of category, brand, or habits in their qualitative discussion guides. They prefer to dive straight into reviewing concepts and having consumers circle and cross off likes and dislikes without the benefit of frame of reference. The few minutes spent listening to consumers talk about the big picture is most often where the ‘ah-ha’ moment is going to come from. It’s in these conversations that you’re most likely to get the first hint of a shift – of that pendulum swinging. And it swings quietly; not every respondent is going to articulate that little nuance that opens your eyes. It’s subtle, like a gentle breeze – a comment two weeks ago, reappearing today. And being able to perceive that little shift early and understand the implication for your business is a distinct competitive advantage. Only the best qualitative consultants can help you notice these little earth tremors and place them in perspective. It’s worth taking the time to have the conversation with consumers that allow it to happen.


Have a question about strategic research planning? Want specific advice as it relates to study frequency based on your category? Contact Insights in Marketing today to discuss your research needs!