One of the things I found weird working for different agencies and with marketers is that they always talk about understanding the customer. Yet they never leave their building to truly experience their audience. A pitch comes in for an FMCG brand and the first thing they do is organise focus groups. What about just walking down to the local supermarket and just standing in the aisle for a while.
Quite a few years ago now I did a brand planning course where at the end we had to create a strategy, creative brief and creative concepts for a chocolate bar that had no fat. I did some data analysis and detailed that the bar should go after the chocolate bar market not the health bar version. I also did two particular pieces of research that stood out. I walked around a supermarket watching women in the chocolate aisle. What I found was that women would be less likely to grab a chocolate bar in the aisle and more likely to grab it closer to the counter. This insight around 'shame' felt like fertile ground. I then created some concepts and set up a movies night at my girlfriends house with a group of girls in the target audience, the perfect environment for chocolate. I let my girlfriend run the session as I thought the depth of understanding of that 'shame' would be harder to say to a guy. They not only validated a concept but built on it making the language more feminine and more specific.
I topped the class on the assignment and the teacher highlighted the amazing effort I'd gone to mixing a strong analysis of the market and a deep understanding of the audience. Building it all into a great concept and good creative work. That act of observation, creation and validation was very simple and all of it cost me not much more than a couple of chocolate bars and making dinner for my girlfriend. Yet I've sat through piles and piles of expensive research and got very little insight to that depth that can truly be successfully used for any advantage.
If you are in the business of understanding people why not get out of the building and actually experience those real people. There is something very human and empathetic about interacting with people in reality not just reading about it. Not just treating a situation like a test subject just being a human being in a human space. Then having the ability to truly pull out what matters to whomever you are studying is still a skill that is hugely undervalued.