You’re Probably Bad At Research


I cringe when you talk about your net promoter score, or your customer satisfaction survey, or even your focus group feedback. Like too many, I’ve watched with baited breath as these metrics rolled in, seen teammates scramble around a point or two, and raised my arms in celebration of some arbitrary number indexed to an industry standard, benchmarked against high performers.


A pig with lipstick still rolls in poop.

If you read that first paragraph and didn’t puke in your mouth, I’m talking to you. Is your biggest aim to be compared to everyone else? Is that really what you want for your business? While that’s not exactly what these research mechanisms are intended to do, far too often that’s exactly what they end up creating. They consume valuable resources, create ridiculous distractions and cost you important strategic impacts.

We are very firm in our set of standards, and our customers care about them too. We don’t strive to just check 8 out of 10 of the boxes.
— Michelle Sharp : Cotton Bureau

It’s not them. It’s you.

Your customers should be an important part of your process, but their feedback works best when it tells you something you didn’t know about where you want to go or a new place you could be, not when it is a validation of the same shit you’ve known for the last five years.

Recently I had a nice chat with Michelle Sharp from Cotton Bureau. They say they’re the best place to buy and sell t-shirts on the internet, and I happen to agree.

Michelle told me a little bit about their process for evaluating customer perspectives, “We get feedback that we've heard before all the time, so sometimes we have to take it with a grain of salt. But, it's really up to us to curate a great collection, since at the end of the day, we have to put the Cotton Bureau name on it along with the designers’. So, we really try to make sure that all designs live up to our standards."


Strategy First. Feedback Second.

First, make decisions about who you aspire to be, defining your business and brand strategies, including your customer profile, then determine what feedback matters to your strategy, and grab that. Don’t let bullshit you don’t care about deter you from being great!

Cotton Bureau doesn’t. Their newest project BLANK, is a perfect example of how strategy and research should work together. 

You see, the tiny business that’s just trying to do what’s right saw their opportunity to leverage their strategy and create a new and better line of women’s t-shirts to print and potentially sell wholesale. But to get there, the list of requirements gets pretty lengthy.

So, when I asked Michelle about this she said, "We are very firm in our set of standards, and our customers care about them too. We don't strive to just check 8 out of 10 of the boxes. We're really looking to check all of them, and in aiming to do so, it helps us develop and prioritize our strategies.”

And the company is fully aware of what a successful launch would mean to their success. “If we can produce BLANK in the United States it would improve our delivery times, quality and consistency, not to mention help us fill an obvious void in the market- women's t-shirt blanks that actually fit women." 

And, they’ll take the feedback when they need it – like when it comes to testing the first run of BLANK. 

Michelle said, “Feedback is really important to us," said Sharp. "When we launch, our plan is to produce a limited run of samples for user testing so we can collect as much feedback as possible about fit and quality. From there, we'll evaluate the feedback, prioritize it, dial-in our fits, and hopefully end up with a product that works for more women (and men). It's a lot of back and forth, but it's an absolutely necessary part of the process."


The Lesson Here

There ain’t no reward in trying to be just like everybody else. You’ll end up with the customers nobody else wanted because you’re willing to listen to everybody, and when you do that, you’ll be the best mediocre anyone’s ever seen.


Future seeker, without a crystal ball. Obsessed with strategy and connection. A crusader for culture, great copy and big ideas. Laughs spontaneously and cries contagiously. Scorpio.



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