My Biggest Culture Shock Ever – And What it Means for Your Research

When I worked in research for public relations agencies, it was pretty typical for an account team to send a survey out to the office to get input on something (like a campaign idea or a tagline) that they were working on for a pitch or even for an existing client. More often than not, our clients ran national communications campaigns, but a lot of the ideas were based on internal insights gathering in our Manhattan office.

Of course I was always delighted that my colleagues were gathering insights, and I recognized that there wasn’t always time or budget to do a full nationwide research program–  but I often worried about how usable their findings would be. Surveying a handful of college-educated, mostly white, 20- to 40-something women who work in an NYC PR agency does not really get you a good cross-section of the country. 

Sometimes in our “bubble” on the coasts, we forget what America looks like. I regularly remind clients that…

• Around  31% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, but in San Francisco, it’s closer to 56%.

• Around 45% of 28 to 32-year olds are married in the US, but in Washington D.C., only around 26% are.

• Two-thirds of the nation is overweight or obese, but in Manhattan, this drops to 42%. (I was pretty surprised to learn that the average American woman is a size 16-18— sizes I rarely see in stores in New York.)

• The median household income nationwide is $63,688– but in San Francisco it’s $96,265.

I’ve traveled around the world, but the biggest culture shock I ever had was moving from NYC to Michigan. It was the first time I had friends who were married, churchgoing homeowners with kids before they turned 30. Their daily lives, their priorities, and the things that make them tick are so different from everyone I knew in New York– but their money is just as green. They are seeing your campaigns and buying your clients’ products. Leaving them out of your research likely means you are not really understanding your whole audience.

It’s easier to do research with people who look and think like us, but it’s rarely the right thing to do.

Want to up your research game or talk about your own surprising culture shocks? Contact us!

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash.

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