Editor’s note: Priyanka Carr is general manager of market research at experience management company Momentive.

group of Black and white people joining puzzle pieces at deskOur world is full of multidiverse groups, with smaller populations within those groups and smaller communities within those populations (and so on). When looking for insights about these many subdivisions, we can’t simply look at the averages and assume we have insights that are reflective of the opinions and experiences contained within. 

Findings that aggregate results can. be misleading. Trying to base marketing or sales strategy on these results will impede a company’s ability to gain real and impactful insights as market researchers try to understand the full human experience and the motivations of their audiences.

Aggregated data can result in everything from poor product launches to underwhelming market performances and alienating audiences. Companies need to focus on detailed segmentation and get granular with data to accurately understand the people behind the numbers.

Using research to understand market forces

While many companies have successfully started using research, the examples below point to the increased importance of digging a bit deeper. 

Scrubs company FIGS recently placed a Facebook ad that showed a doctor of osteopathic medicine holding a book upside down titled, "Medical Terminology for Dummies," apparently trying to understand the content. The reaction from the osteopathic community was swift, calling the company out for its discrimination and demanding an apology. FIGS scrambled to fix the problem, but it might have saved itself a lot of trouble and forfeited goodwill by simply gathering better data, including a broader range of insights and listening to more inclusive voices.

In that same vein, Apple recently released its AirPods Max wireless headphones, which come with a soft carrying case that – to many eyes – resembles a bra or a handbag. The responses ranged from predictable jokes to genuine exasperation, which ultimately marred the highly anticipated launch. It is critical to seek out a wider, more diverse group of opinions even at the design phase, to avoid distracting from your product or messaging with unintended consequences.

Because there is no such thing as the universal human experience, companies need to understand that their customers’ reactions are shaped by rich experiences.

Digging a little deeper into your data 

Research needs to move beyond generalizations and be scaled enough to encompass many groups. It's easy for companies to generalize data insights, particularly around demographics. Momentive recently conducted a test to demonstrate the impact of this generalization and explore how people need to manage data in order to make decisions with products. 

In this example, one particular test product did very well with men ages 18-44, and another one did well with women ages 18-44. Taking the average of both products would look equal in appeal across demographics. However, they were two very different products and outcomes, even if the simple data would have suggested there was little difference.

Cropped shot of a group of unrecognizable people fitting puzzle pieces together on the floor

Failing to determine accurate and detailed segmentation narrows the lens for understanding audiences, and can lead to more troublesome outcomes like conscious or unconscious bias and stereotyping. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a vastly different experience for most groups, depending on a range of identifiers, including race, sex, age, socioeconomic status and employment. 

For many polls, we commonly see categories like “white vs. non-white” as racial identifiers – recent election results as an example – which are inadequate for any level of understanding. Even a slightly more detailed survey asking whether respondents are “Hispanic” fails to reflect the important nuances within the large and diverse groups that would fall under that category. 

Raising your data game to improve results 

Businesses are making better decisions by reaching targeted audiences. This requires acknowledging diversity and understanding that what you sell one group of people is not the same thing you should sell another. 

For example, a company bringing a product to market today should be looking at focused audiences, rather than just hoping to sell to all Americans. Smart companies will carefully consider potential audience data for a product and conduct research to understand how they can reach those customers.

For companies struggling with how to use data, there are several strong examples of brands that gather and balance data well. Procter & Gamble has a strong basic understanding of its audience and continues to reach out to a variety of segments with outstanding messaging. Coca-Cola, perhaps the world's most global brand, understands segmentation. Coke is an expert at adapting its advertising and branding for localized audiences all around the world, allowing it to reach diverse audiences as individuals.

The most impactful way to conduct meaningful, actionable next-level research is by solving for what’s not obvious. Good research starts by gathering a large-scale sample and then carefully balancing that sample. Combining those elements lets organizations segment the data to look for main effects and important intersections. Anything less rigorous opens companies up to the pitfalls that come from an inadequate view.

6 tips to raise your data game

  1. Embrace buyer personas, which are detailed descriptions of your target customers based on customer and consumer research. Buyer personas let companies talk to customers about their products in a personal way that highlights the benefits that are important to the personas.
  2. Avoid analysis pitfalls like generalizing or misrepresenting the data. Data experts always consider alternate explanations for why respondents answered the way they did.
  3. Add questions about basic demographics when sending out questionnaires, like a new product concept survey, to a broad group of people. This will help identify marketing focuses and potential shortcomings in product design.
  4. Be thoughtful about demographic questions, especially when asking about racial, religious or gender identities. One basic step to make demographic questions feel more inclusive is to include a fill-in-the-blank option that gives respondents the power to write in their own answer. 
  5. Collect segmentation data related to purchasing patterns, preferences and other distinct categories in order to sort customers into specific groups. This data can be collected through interviews, existing customer data and focus groups.
  6. Use high-quality, representative samples balanced by demographic information to allow for more sophisticated weighting of data. Building this important context into surveys helps drive better decisions by ensuring the results are even more accurate.

Near-sighted data will prevent brands from reaching their potential, but these challenges can be overcome through proper research and a deeper understanding of results. By utilizing the full data picture and not being afraid to dig deeper, companies can identify and reach audiences that can truly impact their bottom line.