Four Ways Research is Just Like Mardi Gras

Four Ways Research is Just Like Mardi GrasI moved to New Orleans last year, and I’ve just survived my first Mardi Gras! (That’s me on Mardi Gras day.) If you’ve never experienced it, Mardi Gras is a weeks-long celebration featuring parties, costumes, and huge, elaborate parades, where onlookers clamor for beads, cups, and other goodies thrown by riders. I also managed to catch some surprising parallels between Mardi Gras and primary research…

1. You never know what’s going to happen. In research, a seemingly straightforward question could baffle respondents (that’s why we pre-test!). Something that feels like a crisis to the client could barely register among the general public. Or a logo that the client spent months developing could get bashed by one focus group after another. During Mardi Gras, you could find yourself eating king cake with a local celebrity, running into someone you haven’t seen since seventh grade who now lives in Buffalo, or walking two miles chatting with a guy in a tutu and bunny ears. You just never know.

2. You learn something new every day. I’ve spent my career learning a little bit about a lot of things, from life insurance to childhood vaccinations. During Mardi Gras I learned which “throws” are considered prime (shoes from the Krewe of Muses, coconuts from Zulu, and toilet paper from Tucks); the best techniques for catching throws (eye contact, big smile, and offering items for trade); and the best parade-day food (Popeye’s!). Lifelong learning may be the secret to happiness.

3. You have to try out different tools. I’ve embraced online bulletin boards, in-person interviews with iPads, and mobile research. For better parade viewing, lots of people perch on balconies, ladders, or even elevated lawn chairs. Hey, whatever works!

4. People are good. I’m so thankful every day that respondents take the time to answer my questions, and I’m amazed at how consistently smart, thoughtful, and creative my clients are. During Mardi Gras, I saw people bestowing prized throws on kids, helping tourists figure out which way was up, and offering umbrellas, food, drinks, and bathrooms to exhausted parade-goers.

This week, I’m emerging from the Mardi Gras haze to work on FIVE proposals! Wish me luck!

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Founder of Southpaw Insights