Fake News may be new, but fake facts are old.

There seems to be a “fact” about market research that still crops up a couple of times a year, generally when people are trying to avoid a round of research or want to question some findings. The “fact” is that “market research” said that the Sony Walkman would be a failure. The fact dates from the 80’s and the technology has been replaced several times, by the now sadly departed iPod and now by Smartphones, but I still hear it.

I’ve always been amazed that this could be true and wondered what methodology someone could have used to get something so very wrong.  After all, surely, if you found a music lover and gave them a Walkman to listen to their favourite tunes, they couldn’t fail to be blown away?

A little research of my own unearths the fact that the Japanese in the 1970’s followed their own style of market research, very different from the qual and quant consumer work we do in the west. This generally involved mid-level managers talking to retailers to determine what the customer’s desires and their future needs might be, rather than specifically asking consumers.  And if they wanted to back it up with numbers, they tended to analyse inventories, sales and distribution reports and monthly product movement records. In some markets this clearly worked, Japanese industry was going from strength to strength at the time. The methodology was perfect for the evolution of the company’s products and markets, just blind to revolution and new markets.

We also discover journalists reviewing the product at the time felt that the Walkman would fail as it offered no recording function. Cassette tapes had been recordable from the off and up to that point was their primary function. Losing the record function was felt to be significant at the time. Perhaps this is where the confusion stems from.

It has irked me for years and still does when I hear the research/Walkman story. I’m sure if I’d been given the product to research it would have come back with a glowing report (and at least one order). But then thinking all research, and all researchers are the same is clearly another mistake.

I thought of this the other day when friend told me that he’d missed out on a qualitative research project he’d really wanted to work on. His client liked his approach and had previously loved his work, but the “procurement dept.” had told his client that he had to use another company as they were cheaper. He wasn’t allowed to requote, and also didn’t much want to as the competition had come in some way cheaper.

The client’s procurement dept. had simply looked at an 8 group project and chosen the cheapest supplier. This would of course be sensible behaviour if they were buying a gradable commodity product, say sand or salt. But when you’re buying qualitative research (and quant too) you’re buying people, their brains, their experience, their background knowledge of the sector, skill in moderation and analysis and reporting, presenting etc. And these are all attributes that each researcher will have to one degree or another. But none of these will truly count for anything when the choice is solely made on the bottom line of a quote.

When we’re taking advice from a research company it is a bit like asking for directions, the more important the destination, the more closely you’d listen, but most importantly you’d want to ask the right person. Anyone can offer directions. Be picky about who you ask.

13/09/2017 Jon Taylor

Are stereotypes just jargon?

Like all professions marketing has its fair share of idioms and jargon. One of my bosses specialised in mixed idioms, I was told, very earnestly, “don’t throw the chicken out with the bath water” and also that one of my ideas was simply a “wild herring”.

Another boss introduced the widespread use of “able”; so, differences needed to be spottable and decisions were thinkable.

However, the real linguistic crime in marketing is how little attention we pay to describing and understanding one of our core constituents, namely the users of the services that marketing and brands seek to influence.

Much has been written about the increasing subjective use of stereotypes, “millennials” being one of the most over-used. A quick investigation of definitions reveals that they can be defined as born anywhere between 1980 and 2004. The thought that a 37-year-old can automatically be considered as part of the same group as someone who is 13 is madness. So, the next time someone says “Millennial” in a brief or meeting and everyone nods sagely and strokes their chin, someone needs to ask do you mean a 13-year-old girl in Woking or a 37 year old male farm hand on the Isle of Skye? Or perhaps it might be better to ask for more detail.

However, the greatest risk of using stereotypes as the starting point in marketing and communications development is that the process does not begin with people, but with an idealised view of a group of people. So, you start with the general, a composite, blended view, and attempt to apply it to the needs and attitudes of real specific people.

Of course, stereotypes are valuable as a useful shorthand that everyone understands and particularly when used in conjunction with a market or customer segmentation; but if used as the starting point for the creation of meaningful insight there is an enormous risk that the outcomes will be self-serving rather than providing genuine insight for the development of impactful marketing creative campaigns aimed at real human beings.

So, the next time you need to get insight into baby boomers, millennials or the so called Generation Z make sure you get a little more specific and actually talk to people in those groups rather than assuming you know them.

12/09/2017 Tim Evans

Do Half&Half scarves deserve the vitriol?

An increasing phenomenon at football matches has been the Half&Half scarf, now more frequently call the “Matchday scarf”. For the uninitiated, they are scarves which combine the colours of both sides, often fierce rivals. These scarves are sold on and dated the day of the match.

The regular home supporter views them somewhere on a scale that goes from baffled disdain to an aberration. Wearing opposition colours in the segregated home and away sections is at best poor form, even when evenly balanced by the other team’s colours. Hence the vitriol. The regular fan wants to sit with their own tribe. People who are as passionate and focussed on their team as them. Their desire is to belong. They are where they belong.

So, who is buying them? With the Premier League being a global brand, and with the advent of football tourism, nowadays people fly in from all over the world to watch Premier League matches. Rather than showing the colours of a specific team, they want to commemorate the game that they’re attending. They will also have seen traditional British fans wearing scarves and want to fit in with the locals. For these folks, the Half&Half is perfect. They want to go to the match, watch the game, sit amongst the dedicated, hard-core, die-hard fans, soak up the famous atmosphere, hear the chants and feel part of the event, if not the club. Being in with the fans (short for fanatics remember) is a key part of their experience. And they want to have a tangible memory of that. The Half&Half is a more visible match-day programme. It is a practical memento, and nothing like the badge of allegiance a traditional scarf is.

So, what do we learn? 

  1. That people who look like they’re doing the same thing and are indeed buying the same thing (match-day tickets), are actually doing two very different things indeed.
  2. It’s only when we stand back and understand how sub-groups behave that we get the whole picture, and that those outside a business sometimes see opportunities that those too close them can’t.
  3. In the long term the clubs need to ensure that the atmosphere the tourist wants isn’t diluted by the very tourists themselves.

10/09/2017 Jon Taylor