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Market Research from Mary Ann O’Brien’s Perspective

If you’ve ever wondered why you need to do customer research, this post is for you.

We get it.

Customer research is expensive. It can be easy to excuse the need for it and instead choose to rely on your ‘gut’ when it comes to marketing strategy. Customer research is an investment that pays for itself with insight into what makes your customers tick and what ticks them off. Marketing strategies and campaigns should be grounded in customer research because that insight is what makes them most effective.


Why You Need to do Customer Research From the Perspective of Marketing Expert Mary Ann O’Brien

Many agencies can create marketing campaigns and some can make your brand stand out, but without customer research, no one can deliver results worth paying for.

OBI Creative Founder and CEO, Mary Ann O’Brien, has made customer research the foundation of her successful career and full-service marketing agency.

Since her early days as a marketing specialist for Gateway Computers, she has been a firm believer in the power of research to reveal customer realities that brands can then build their marketing strategy, messaging and creative execution around.

“The secret to more sales has never been in knowing how to better hawk your products and services,” says O’Brien. “It’s in understanding what makes your customers tick and what ticks them off, which is in essence, customer research. Armed with that knowledge, you can tailor the design and delivery of your products and services to your customers’ needs, wants and preferences.”


Customer Research Fuels Customer Delight

O’Brien says marketers have to know their customers’ lives and their own operations to identify what customers really want and need and to what extent their operations (including sales and marketing) are aligned to delight their customers.

Focusing on customer delight has led O’Brien to see the need for a shift in the marketing landscape away from brand loyalty as a strategy for sales growth and to attraction marketing, which O’Brien defines as the ability to attract consumers by understanding their values, preferences and needs by leveraging how your organization’s values, customer experience and products/services pull in like-minded buyers.  

The tool marketers need to attract more customers is already in their hands — research.

“We can use all the data sets to be smarter, which will attract more customers, which will add mass to us, which in turn will drive velocity and voila, the law of attraction, takes off,” O’Brien says. “I believe so firmly in starting every marketing effort with research that I designed the O’Brien Voice of the Customer™ (o.VOC) and the O’Brien Voice of the Employee (o.VOE) to study the experience or interaction between a company and its customers from their perspective. The knowledge we discover in these studies enables us to identify attractive solutions for our clients.”

Tactically, the o.VOC studies the brand experience from a variety of angles that include:

  • Secret shopping
  • Product service inquiry
  • Product usage
  • Qualitative and quantitative research
  • Competitor analysis


Best in class brands like Verizon, Advance Auto Parts, Gateway and Lenovo have used the study to steer their strategic direction. The goal of this research-driven marketing strategy and creative campaigns is to help customers see how a brand offers them more time, value and convenience.


What Your Customers Really Want

“Consumers are looking for brands to make things easier, more convenient and to give them back time in their lives,” O’Brien says. “When you start looking at marketing through that lens, you realize that you really do have the power to change the world by changing people’s lives in meaningful ways.”

O’Brien and her research team saw that first hand at a Quirk’s Event, where they listened to presentations on the latest data and research trends from leaders in their fields.


The Emergence of Human to Human Marketing

“One of the key takeaways I had from the Quirk’s Event was around the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to harness the wealth of information that Big Data is giving us about each other to distill marketing down to the individual level,” O’Brien says. “It is literally allowing us to market one to one. Instead of business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C), we’re going to be able to market human to human. That’s incredibly exciting to me as a marketer.”

An avid reader, O’Brien has been pondering another powerful marketing philosophy from the insight she’s gaining from the book, The End of Average.

“It’s an awesome book that will make you question every belief system you have,” she says. “For instance, it talks about level one versus level two thinking. Level one is what we want to access when we are conducting research, because it taps into people’s underlying beliefs and preferences, enabling us to hear what they really think as opposed to what they think we want to hear. When we know what people really believe, we can design marketing strategies and messages that connect with those beliefs.”


Marketing is More Than Selling

Marketers understand that they must support sales, but their role goes beyond getting someone to buy something. “We aim to win hearts and minds in a global marketplace and that requires making emotional connections with customers,” O’Brien says. “The best brands in the world understand that connections with consumers must be emotional to endure.”

Watch: Mary Ann O’Brien talks briefly about the fact that almost 90 percent of decisions are made emotionally.


Hard driving and unique, O’Brien’s approach to advertising and strategy is more of a ‘CMO for hire’ vs. a traditional ad agency relationship. She likes to say that if you wanted more of the same, you would not come to OBI Creative.


“If you want to win and want to share the good news of your brand with the right target in an engaging and results-driven way, then OBI Creative is the right partner for you.”