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The First Step: Diagnosis


Maybe a year or so ago, I put together a piece collecting my ideas from working with some of the biggest sports brands in the world and what I learned about doing proper market research from working with teams in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States on some research from 2020-2022. 

The key takeaway from the projects and my blog post:

  • Research is a struggle for most businesses, but the payoffs can be tremendous if you have the patience. 

Why do I bring that up this morning? 

Well, I just read an article about investigating your facts because one challenge we all must overcome is our willingness to get back to the shorthand of what we’ve always done. 

Roger L. Martin says we rely too much on data in our decision-making. We are making the point that all data we have is for things that have happened in the past. 

His question: ‘What would have to be true?’ is a good way to keep your head clear about the assumptions you make based on data. 

I have taken the using the line with people that:

  • Data is reactive and research is proactive. 


Data is looking in the past. 

But just as bad, you are often assuming that things will remain the same. 

Further, you usually lack context of why you’ve gathered the data. 

Finding opportunities requires data, information, and insights. 

This is why the diagnosis phase matters so much. 

You need to know the direction that you are market is moving. 

What do people want? 



Where are you headed? 

Not what they’ve always wanted. 

The latter can be true, still. But you do need to confirm it. 

What does a proper diagnosis look like?

  • You begin with a hypothesis.
    • What are you attempting to answer?
  • Talk to some customers.
    • When I put together the rough outline for 2024, one of the ideas I mentioned was ‘Market Orientation’. That can go by many terms: Customer Focus, Inside Out Thinking, or Market Focused. 
    • The big idea is, “You aren’t the customer. What you think can be wrong because you are too close to the problem.”
  • Do this by starting small and growing.
    • Don’t go backward and start with big surveys. 
  • Ingest the data, draw conclusions, make predictions, but most importantly, look at the direction.
    • The future likely won’t look like the past, but directions can be important. 

How do you know you’ve made a good diagnosis?

Your research will speak to you:

  • You’ll be able to name customers that you’ve had a similar conversation with. 
  • You’ll see situations that will all “make sense” now. 
  • You will notice things you’ve never thought to investigate before. 

The key here is that doing good research and diagnosis should be an ongoing thing. Not a big event, but an ongoing conversation. 

In my brand management classes and workshops, I teach people that doing this kind of research is a lot like being a pointillist painter where you can continue adding reference points for a long time before you can make sense of your situation. 

Just remember, your goal in a diagnosis is to find the future.

Make sense?

Let me know. 

You’ve made it this far, hit me up with a reply here. 


You’ve made it this far: will you forward this to just one person that is thinking about doing some market research, finding new opportunities, or making sense of their data!?