Gonzo Research Part II



Part II of Gonzo Research an article from our Strategy Director Brian Millar featured on the Natwest Business site. Brian reveals more into the wacky world of Gonzo research and how we do it at Sense Worldwide. The original article can be found here.

The kind of insights that will transform your business needn’t cost a fortune. From Silicon Valley to Slough, some of the world’s most innovative companies are looking in new places for fast inspiration that helps them to re-think their products and services. Here’s some more lessons we’ve learned from delving into the fringes of human behaviour for companies like Nike, PepsiCo and Samsung that small businesses can apply to their research too.

In a nutshell
– Discover the conversation
– Get close to customers
– Have an adventure

The world’s biggest, cheapest focus group
What are people saying about you and your competitors right now? You can go out and recruit a bunch of them to sit around and talk about it in focus groups, which are often a waste of money and good pizza. Or you can look at the real conversations that are happening in real time, right now. Sites like and can give you startling examples of the words associated with your brand (we recently found a competitor linked to the phrase ‘Elf shoes’).

Get close to customers
Mind Candy, the makers of the wildly successful Moshi Monsters, regularly turn their office into a crèche. So the people who pay their wages, kids, surround them. The hassle of having every employee CRB checked is more than paid off by having instant feedback on their ideas. We often take our clients to stay in the homes of their customers – it’s quite an experience for a senior Midwestern executive to spend a day in a hut in a Dengue-ridden swamp, accompanying a lady who is shopping for a family of seven with $4. We all come back from those trips humbled and inspired to help those customers improve the quality of their lives.

‘Deep hanging out’ is becoming a mainstream practice. Proctor and Gamble now insists that its senior executives visit a customer on every business trip they make. They step out of their business class bubble and sit around a kitchen table in an apartment building in Shanghai, learning about hair care, washing dishes and doing laundry. The top executives of the world’s biggest consumer goods company make it their number one priority to visit their customers’ homes. So what’s your excuse for not doing it?

Dig deeper
One of the twentieth century’s most famous ethnographers, Morris Freilich, was puzzled by a question. Mohawk Indians were the most daring builders of the New York skyscrapers. This, everybody said, was because they were unafraid of heights. That just didn’t stack up. Because Freilich knew that Mohawks live on the plains. So he went in search of the truth, and like a good ethnographer, he went where the truth gets told. In a bar, on payday.

There, after a few beers, the Mohawks gave him the lowdown. They were terrified of heights. But they were warriors. And men become warriors when they face death. The government had stopped them from fighting, but now they faced death high above the streets of Manhattan. But it still scared the willies out of them.

You should be looking for the true reasons people buy things. When you dig deeper, people surprise you. In the nineties, my company talked to CIOs of top US companies about IBM’s mainframes. IBM’s ‘big iron’ was the best in the business – but it wasn’t selling. When we got down to it, CIOs admitted their fear. If they recommended IBM, they’d seem old. They wouldn’t seem like people who got Silicon Valley. They’d get fired and replaced by somebody younger. We created a communications campaign, which told more relevant stories about IBM, got them in Wired magazine and turned their image around.

Just because you sell business to business, doesn’t mean the real reasons people buy are any different from the reasons kids want one brand of trainers over another.

If research isn’t an adventure, you’re doing it wrong
Our consultants spend their lives travelling around the world, talking to artists, Special Forces soldiers and shantytown dwellers. They help us guide some of the world’s smartest brands into new businesses, better products and ground-breaking services. There’s a place for surveys and box-ticking exercises in market research. But for true inspiration, you need to strike out in a new direction. It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t matter how big or small your business and it might just transform your whole outlook on life.

If you missed it you can find Part 1 here.

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