Does Insight Have an Expiration Date?

A client recently raised an interesting topic: How long are market research results valid?  Is it safe to rely on a segmentation study from five years ago? How fast do behaviors and attitudes change, and how long does it take for a researcher’s insight to expire?

If we look at the market from a product perspective, then undoubtedly markets change as soon as new, revolutionary products come out.  For example, tablets changed the digital market; hybrids changed the automotive industry; social networks transformed the way people connect and communicate.

Large-Scale Shifts in Culture
From a broader perspective, we know that political, social and cultural shifts trigger change in people, their attitudes and behaviors.  We do not smoke like we did in the 1960s because now we know more about the health implications, and it is simply not cool anymore.  We are more aware of other risks to our health and well-being; we think more globally; we are concerned about the environment and we are more tolerant and politically correct than just a few decades ago.

Compared to the Western world, large-scale shifts can occur much more rapidly in vibrant, emerging markets. In places like China or Russia, every new generation lives in a completely different country from their parents and grandparents. Siblings with an age difference of just ten years can experience the world very differently. This is an example of how changes come from the outside in and how environmental changes push people to shift their attitudes. But do people really change at their core? That is, do they truly change on the inside, or are they simply adapting to a changing environment?

Fundamental Needs Remain Constant
Evolutionists would tell us that we have changed dramatically throughout history to become more capable of surviving. However, this does not necessarily mean we have changed our fundamental values as human beings. Weren’t people always driven by love and the desire for companionship?  Weren’t they always trying to compete with each other and affirm themselves in the eyes of others?  In other words, over time people have used different tools and means for showing off because they have always had the fundamental need to do so.

At Market Strategies, our experience has taught us that while people respond to a changing consumer landscape, fundamental human needs and desires remain constant. What changes are the ways they are satisfied. Brands and products are just the tools or artifacts that help us satisfy our needs. What drives the attitudes, i.e. the fundamental human needs, will not go anywhere.

Think about the need for safety, self-esteem, companionship, independence, status, order and self-actualization. This is the level of depth we should look for when we want to understand why people behave the way they do.  These are the constants at any time in history and in any part of the world.  Many years of international research has shown us that these fundamental needs are expressed in different ways depending on a cultural context. While it is very important to understand the context, the needs remain the same.  After all, this is what makes it possible for people from different cultures to connect and understand each other.  And this is how our clients should connect with their consumers if they want to last in people’s minds and hearts.

Grounding Research in Human Needs
How does all this help us answer our client’s question about whether they need a new segmentation study?  It really depends on what was at the basis of their previous segmentation — things that change or things that stay the same.  Were these product-centric attitudes and behaviors that shift as soon as the new cool thing comes out, or was it one of the fundamental human needs that will always stay relevant? Our recommendation is to take the fundamental human needs into consideration for any strategic study. This is what makes these efforts more time-resistant and creates a deeper and more sustainable foundation for segmentation, positioning and message development.

If you are searching for sustainable insight and would like to continue the conversation, I’d love to hear from you.

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