The parable of the hungry client – lessons for market research and insight

Posted by Ray Poynter, 10 July 2019


Ploughman's Lunch

In the future, one of the key skills that insight professionals will need is that of curation. But curation is not an everyday word and sometimes people ask me to define what I mean in a market research and insights context. So, here is an explanation in the context of the parable of the hungry client.

Imagine a time in the past when times were hard and food was scarce. Our hero, a chef, wants to open an eating place for passing clients. However, all he has is a small amount of chicken meat, some pasta, and a few tomatoes, along with salt and pepper. Using these ingredients, the chef is able to create tasty meals that fill the plate of hungry clients – allowing the client to complete their work.

Let’s roll the clock forward and times have become better, there is now a choice of three cheeses, chicken or fish, pasta or rice, and spices such as curry and cinnamon. The chef has the opportunity to create more choices, but he has to work within limits. For example, the meal has to be affordable, the ingredients have to work together to create an appetising meal, and the meal still needs to fit onto the client’s plate.

Move forward to today and times are really good. Our chef has an amazing range of food at his disposal, almost unlimited spices and flavourings. However, the limitations still apply. For each client, the food has to be affordable, it has to blend ingredients to create a tasty meal, and the meal needs to fit on the plate. Just because there are more ingredients, the client does not want to eat multiple plates of food. The chef creates a meal that matches the plate, not one that matches his supply of ingredients.

The lessons for market research and insights

In the past, market research was like the chef who had limited ingredients and who had to use everything they had in order to be able to serve a satisfying meal.

Today, market research has enormous amounts of data, from multiple sources. However, the client still wants a single plate. As the amount of data and information grows, the size of the deliverable does not grow – it still needs to fit onto a single, metaphorical, plate. The deliverable should be ever more appetising (i.e. it should be blended in a tasty and engaging way) but it should not grow in size.

The process of using more inputs, to create more useful results, that do not grow in size, is what we mean by curation.


PS, following a conversation about this post, perhaps we can add some advice for clients, from the Japanese expression ”Hara hachi bun me”, to eat until your stomach is 80% full. The point being that it is better to get 80% of the value with 20% of the effort, rather than struggle to squeeze the last 20%, which will take 4 times as much effort.

2 thoughts on “The parable of the hungry client – lessons for market research and insight

  1. Sadly, some clients also want a 100% guarantee that what is on the plate will remove all doubt and uncertainty from their life. They are also concerned when something that is on another restaurant’s menu is not on the chef’s menu, that they are missing out on something. The meal must not only be satisfying, it must leave no room for hunger of any kind.

    The chef must learn to be willing to say, when soup is not what will satisfy the client’s real hunger, “no soup for you”, instead of trying to make soup while letting his prime ingredients spoil.

  2. Also chef needs to cater the plates individually for each client in the restaurant as not everyone has the same tastes. Some clients want pasta, some seafood, some fillet steak, some burgers. Some really want the fillet steak but are only prepared to pay for the burger.

    Others have had their own big breakfast “at home” and only want a cheese sarnie… but chef still needs to ensure the bread is really fresh and the cheese is lovely and tangy regardless!

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