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Shakespeare’s 450th birthday research : A light-hearted article that explores what market researchers can learn from Shakespeare’s plays

Good timing. I received this article by Northstar Research Partners, written to mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday tomorrow, Wednesday 23 April.  It is a light-hearted piece that explores what market researchers can learn from Shakespeare’s plays.

Was Shakespeare really a Market Researcher? Rhiannon Price, Research Director, Northstar Research Partners

23rd April 2014 will mark the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. Having grown up a stone’s throw from his birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, I have always been interested in Shakespeare. Moreover, the conspiracy theories surrounding his life and authorship have always fascinated me. Did he really write his plays? Was he educated enough or close enough to the royal court to produce his works? Was he Sicilian? Was he gay? But it wasn’t until I started really looking at some of his most famous prose that it dawned on me – I knew the real answer… The Bard was a Market Researcher!

OK, perhaps not. But we, as Market Researchers, can look to his work to remind us of some key industry rules. Below are 6 pieces of advice from a man who knew a thing or two about different types of people and their motivations in life.

#1  “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages” (As You Like It)

Take time over respondent sampling: If the men and women are merely players, then we researchers are merely the directors. Here Shakespeare reminds us to cast our research well and ensure we have the right people at the right stage of their lives.

#2 “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool” (As You Like It)

Listen to the quiet ones: Anyone who has done a focus group will see the truth in this quote. Without fail there is always one respondent who speaks the most but says the least. And then, on the other hand, there is always the quiet one who you wish would contribute more as every word they utter is gold.

#3“There ‘s daggers in men’s smiles” (Macbeth)

Take notice of body language: It is a truth older than Shakespeare, but perhaps the most important for us to remember. Do not always believe what people say, listen for what they are not saying, and look at their facial expressions and body language to help paint the bigger picture.

#4 “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?” (Macbeth)

Never ask a leading question: Wise words from the Bard. No matter how much you believe you know what a respondent is thinking, it is highly likely you don’t. In this respect, respondents surprise me more often than not. And even if you do know, and they genuinely agree, can you ever be sure?

#5 “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet)

Give credit to post rationalisation: Here Shakespeare captures one of key human traits we have to take into consideration in Market Research – when people make themselves believe a truth because the alternative creates too much dissonance. Often seen when justifying purchases, especially big ticket items, we have to try to unpick post rationalisation from actual belief.

#6 “My love’s more richer than my tongue” (King Lear)

Understand past behaviour to unlock future intent: We all know that asking respondents to tell us what they want in the future is a thankless task. And actually, is rather lazy on the part of the researcher. Instead, as Shakespeare insinuates, we should look to their past behaviour and past ‘loves’, combined with their present unmet needs, to help inform new product and service development.

In all seriousness, perhaps it’s not too far off the mark that Shakespeare was a Market Researcher. He showed an innate understanding of the human condition and studied human behaviour intricately to create his complex characters and weaving narratives. Isn’t that what we all inspire to do as Market Researchers?

Rhiannon Price, Research Director, Northstar Research Partners