Getting to Source
Miss Bea is an 8-year-old lemon beagle who lives to sniff. We happened upon canine nosework after she adopted me. She is my first dog and I wanted an activity that would help us learn about each other and teach me about living with a dog. We tried obedience and agility, but found we were both perfectly suited to nosework – we get to work alone; it’s a complex sport with many layers that make it easier or harder; and conditions are always changing, affecting both our methods for searching as well as the outcomes of our searches. And we both love it.
In nosework, “source” is where the target odor – a small amount of essential oil placed on a Q-tip – is located, hidden from the view of the dog and handler team. Teams are brought into a search area filled with potential hide locations and the dog works until it clearly indicates the exact placement of the source. Once the dog indicates, the team calls “Alert” and the hunting stops. If the team is right, the dog is rewarded with praise and treats. Alerting too soon, or when the indication is weak or uncertain, means no reward.
In marketing, as in nosework, research teams work through piles of data to locate or develop a small number of truly new insights that will influence the direction of a campaign. As the chief strategy officer for Güd Marketing, this work is among the most satisfying, in part because it is very difficult. Being successful lies in discerning precisely which information is meaningful and which is a distraction. There are many nosework techniques that are useful in successful research.
Develop Independent Searching Habits
In nosework, we work to build the dog’s drive to hunt independently for the source odor, without regard for what the handler is doing. Just two weeks ago we missed an easy hide in a second search because it was just like the hide in the first search. I impatiently moved Miss Bea past it because I was convinced they wouldn’t put the second hide in the same place as the first. I was wrong. If I had allowed Miss Bea to search independently, we would have been successful because she didn’t have any preconceived ideas about where the hide would or wouldn’t be – she was simply focused on finding it.
Having the drive to search independently is critical for the marketer. Clients are opinionated about their brands and their customers, which can lead to preconceptions, which in turn can short-circuit the searching process. Focusing on easy, obvious answers that only align with client’s preconceptions can end the search before new information and keen insights can be gleaned. In nosework it’s called a miss. In marketing, it’s a missed opportunity.
Quickly Eliminate Areas That Don’t Pay
While alerting too quickly is a potential pitfall, so is staying too long in an unproductive search area. Yes, it’s important to check everything. It’s more important to be disciplined enough to quickly identify the areas that are not yielding results and move on.
In advanced nosework we place distractions – like pepperoni or cheese – in the search area to confuse the dogs. The web is loaded with the information equivalent of pepperoni. Data can be seductive and it is easy to be lured away from the real purpose of your search by something “interesting” only to realize hours later that you’ve gained nothing that contributes to your assignment. Your search should focus on genuinely useful and meaningful information that is directly relevant to the client or the brand being explored.
Miss Bea is in the game to get paid – in her case, with treats. When she enters a search area, she banks on finding odor and being rewarded. It’s why she plays the game. As a researcher, I’m in the game for my client’s success. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of information, that there are pearls of wisdom, nuggets of knowledge or perhaps an entirely new lens that will inform or enhance a marketing campaign. I am determined to keep searching until I find it.
Finally, Trust It When You Find It
In nosework, one of the hardest skills to build is trusting the dog and risking the “Alert.” The same is true in marketing research. Researchers and their teams are reluctant to call it – to bank on that one key insight. Calling it is nerve-racking, especially if you are afraid of being wrong. This type of fear is so pervasive that there are a host of pejorative terms to describe it. In finance, it’s analysis paralysis. In sports, it’s choking. In any circle it comes down to the ability or inability to make a decision and take action. From personal experience – many years in marketing (though we are still relative novices at nosework) – I can attest that the only antidote to fear is practice. Mentors are helpful for teaching, and support from a team can boost the probability of calling it right and at the right time. But just as the commitment to relentless searching leads to rewards, relentless practice builds the confidence needed to be able to call “Alert” and chart a successful course for your client’s brand.