Directional decision makingLet your competitors paralyze themselves…

…with reams of research and analysis, while you execute immediately on information that’s “good ‘nuff to run with.” Build the plane while you’re flying it. Test and validate assumptions with small customer samples and “micro-win metrics.” But be sure to iterate often and course-correct as needed to align with your goals.

The key is to be directionally correct, instead of exactly correct. Be 60%-70% certain of your direction instead of waiting to be 100% certain while the ship sails without you. Trade the balance of your research security blanket for spot-on market timing and iterative course corrections. We live in a real time world that won’t stand still while you try to snap a clear photo. If you run alongside it, you get a much sharper picture and share a common perspective with your stakeholders.

Case in point: Russ Klein, Burger King CMO 2003-2006, now Executive Vice President and President, Global Marketing, Strategy and Innovation. Russ has built a fast-food legacy with being “directionally correct.” His “60% rule” is now viewed as not only more “responsible” than missing market trends in deference to 100% certainty, but also as a breakthrough strategy with proven fiscal results.  In FY 2008, Burger King increased revenue by 10% to $2,455 million from $2,234 million the previous year. Revenue similarly grew by approximately 10%, or $148 million, in FY 2007 from FY 2006. Increases in revenue were a direct result of Burger King’s successful advertising campaigns as well as the tendency for consumers to seek lower-cost dining alternatives during stagnant economic conditions (immediate relevance). Net income also experienced rises over three years, from $27 million in 2006, to $148 million in 2007 and finally $190 million in 2008. Not bad for a 60% “guesstimate.”

While periodic in-depth studies are indeed valuable, (though not always entirely reflective of truth – must add experience), quick course corrections can be made with relative confidence by validating assumptions with customers. I use directionally-optimized decision processes such as “quasi-quant” research (quantifying qualitative research) and pre-launch validation to help our clients get to market faster for bigger market share opportunities.

My “quasi-quant” approach is a two-step research process you may find very useful, practical and relatively inexpensive. It is especially useful for niche markets in which the entire market size is too small to justify statistical confidence.


Jelly beans

You don't have to count all the jelly beans to know there are approximately the same number of each color...though a little shy on the black ones.

First, do a series of interviews or focus groups (if you have time and budget) with a small representative sample of your target audience. You can even conduct simple phone interviews if they are structured well.


Using learnings from the interviews, craft a web survey to validate the findings. You don’t need 5,000 completed surveys – or even 500 – to get directionally correct information. If you can come up with 50 or 100 replies to your survey of people in a representative sample, you’re golden! Though your statistical confidence is low, you’ll be able to see patterns upon which you can overlay your experience (directional decision making is far more rewarding for the more experienced decision maker).

Though research purists may cry foul, this method is very practical, and the remainder of the risk can be mitigated with a good test marketing plan (which, in my opinion is worth more than any research result).

What are your opinions and experience with directional decision making?

Directional Decision Making in Real Time Marketing