Looking on the bright side: How to embrace the negative

Looking on the bright side: How to embrace the negative


Sep 03, 2014

Share It

We’ve all been there before—maybe it’s the CMO’s favorite ad that ends up testing poorly, or the product with the fatal flaw that explains the poor sales, or the new logo that looks like private parts.

It doesn’t matter what industry you work in or what position you hold. When it’s your job to please your clients, or boss, or shareholders, it can feel downright counterintuitive to deliver research results when you know they are going to disappoint. And yet, it’s these situations—the bad news, the unpopular opinions, the unexpected outcomes—that often best illustrate exactly why market research is so valuable.

Presenting negative feedback is never fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. At iModerate we like to think of it as the researcher’s duty to uncover and faithfully report any and all findings—no matter how awkward that presentation, email, or conference call might be. Here are our tips for embracing the negative and making the most out of a bad situation:

Remember that all feedback is good feedback. For marketers, it’s only natural for negative feedback to spur defensiveness and a desire to wipe out or deny the negative sentiments as quickly as possible. But it’s important to remember that when consumers take the time and effort to offer up criticism, suggestions or ideas, that’s a good thing. It means people are interacting and engaging with your brand. It means that they are thinking about your products, helping you find ways to make them better, and best of all, giving you an opportunity to show that you care about their opinion.

Negative feedback can breed innovation. When consumers give negative feedback, they’re often telling you exactly what they want. In a recent interview, Barry Calpino, Kraft’s Vice President of Breakthrough Innovation, discussed the importance of asking consumers what they hate about your product. He outlined two research studies, one for Campbell’s in which customers complained that the soup’s meat pieces were too small, and one for Wrigley’s in which customers wished that their gum lasted longer. These sentiments were the impetus for new products, Campbell’s Chunky soup and Wrigley’s Extra gum, which have now been on the market for decades. Being responsive to negative feedback allows you to leverage what could have otherwise been missed opportunities for your brand.

Encourage a dialogue. As Newton’s Third Law of Motion says, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For proof, just check out the back and forth in the comments section of anything posted on the internet ever. Strongly negative sentiments can feel definitive, but in the court of public opinion, they usually inspire a strong rebuttal. Don’t let the bad vibes overshadow the fact that plenty of other people may feel differently. Negative feedback can often serve as the basis for great follow up research—ask others what they think about a dissenting opinion, and the response you get may surprise you again.

Seize the opportunity to “wow” a client. Negative feedback may be hard to swallow, but usually that’s because it is more surprising, more interesting, and more actionable than positive feedback. Delivering negative feedback in the right way can help you position yourself as more of a trusted partner than a vendor in your client’s initiatives. I don’t think we’ve ever had a client who regretted research that produced negative feedback. The aforementioned CMO certainly wouldn’t want that ad to air after finding out how many people were offended by it. The discovery of that product flaw ultimately leads to improvement rather than wasted marketing dollars. And that new logo? It might have left some marketers wishing they had done more research.

Our relationship with iModerate has enabled us to quickly and efficiently seek the voice of the consumer or customer, and incorporate it into our business decisions, allowing us to become smarter and faster to market. The team iModerate is, in essence, a virtual extension of the Abbott research team – from them, I know that when I pick up the phone and call, on the other end will be someone who understands my business, knows my target consumer, and will always deliver high quality results.

Kristen McLane, Manager, Shopper Insights & Category Development, Abbott Nutrition