Is *this* why we avoid small-scale research?

Philip Morgan

The idea that a big company's brand can "have purpose" is an appealing one.

If people with P&L or strategy responsibility are going to invest in brand purpose, at some point they're going to have questions about effectiveness or ROI. As we'd expect!

Our culture has a bias towards data, so they're going to be interested in arguments that make use of data. Exhibit A, a study on the effectiveness of brand purpose: From the video's description:

At EffWorks Global 2021, Peter Field explores the IPA Effectiveness Databank to share what quality evidence can be uncovered, and to offer a framework of the type of evidence that should be collected and evaluated if committing to brand purpose.

(The IPA is a British professional association for advertising firms.)

It would be fun to have that 26-minute video transcribed and flag all the paragraphs that are caveats and context about the study's methodology and findings. Absent that rigor, I'd estimate that 20% of the presentation is the study's author carefully and humbly providing said caveats and context so the study's findings can be properly interpreted.

One of the things the Internet has done is to industrialize the production of hot takes. Various click-hungry publications delivered:

The whole thing feels somewhat predictable. You've got a consultant giving the market the kind of data-informed story it is hungry for, and anyone who doesn't like the story, or has a competing story to sell, picks at the methodology. Those kinds of complaints about methodology never surface when the story matches priors. Maybe small-scale research isn't really about methodology at all?

A lot of us don't do primary research. I suppose it's a thing we don't do in the way most of us don't run a marathon. (Apparently 0.5% of us have ever run a marathon.) We don't do it because it's never occurred to us that people like us do (or could do) something like that. And even if it did occur to us, it seems like a crapload of work!

The controversy with Peter Field's research into brand purpose is certainly another reason we avoid doing research ourselves. "It's so easy to screw up the method and look like an idiot or become a lightning rod for controversy!" We look at research and see a crapload of work and a bunch of risk.

I think that's a shame. Like many novel, uncertain situations, we instinctively overweight the potential for harm, and underweight the benefits of the higher-order consequences we can't easily see at a glance.

This is a beautiful antidote:

The second and third Expertise Incubator challenges are focused on small-scale research.

Let me know if you're interested in joining the January 2022 cohort.