October 13, 2010

Is Marketing Research All Wrong? Marketing research as always relied on psychological concepts, theoretical constructs and interview and survey techniques widely considered as surrogates for reality. Billions in ad campaigns have been committed on the basis of the results unearthed. Yet, in his forthcoming book Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant, trashes long-standing marketing research techniques and offers four alternative ways to better understand and predict consumer behavior. His central argument is that we are measuring the wrong thing, at the wrong time with the wrong people. He insists that awareness, desire, preference and choice are functions of the unconscious mind rather than a rational process. For Graves branding is about emotional imprinting and logical short-cuts. “Our reliance on brands … is a pragmatic system of packaging up product associations into an unconsciously identifiable device that removes the need to make complex, long-winded conscious evaluations of alternatives every time we purchase something.” He doesn’t think consumers know what they want and clearly believes that they can’t articulate what they want or why they want it. He suggests we stop asking because the output is useless. “If human beings were routinely capable of such accurate introspection, psychoanalysts could be replaced by a two line computer program.” He indicts market researchers for asking questions out of context, for talking to the wrong audiences, for ignoring behavior in favor of opinion and for generally missing the mark. “Our unconscious minds have vast amounts of data that we regularly rely on to make decisions, but we have no direct conscious access to those processes, “ he argues. Graves argument boils down to several key points …. Decision-making is unconscious and we can’t really get inside consumer’s heads. Anything consumers tell us is a post-action rationalization or re-interpretation of events they themselves cannot fully understand or explain Just asking the questions, changes the answers Buying is done emotionally, in-the-moment and we don’t have the tools to simulate or even understand the mechanics This moment is affected by a wide range of variables (e.g. people present, environment, stimuli) which make tracking it or generalizing about it almost impossible So like a direct marketer, he believes that observed behavior yields a more potent insight that the full range of current marketing research techniques. “When market research wanders into the realm of the future, it is inherently reckless.” He takes a strong obligatory shot at focus groups concluding that “if accurate consumer insights is the objective, and then by far the simplest ‘solution’ is to avoid focus groups altogether.” Graves’ solution to understanding consumers better is four-fold. Mount “cost effective yet meaningful live tests” Give up market research as a CYA risk or blame mitigation tool Go with your gut Measure any consumer research or insights against 5 criteria expressed as the acronym – AFECT. Analysis of consumer behavior; hard data. Frame of mind; context. Environment; the range of potential stimuli Covert study; disguise the real topic when engaging consumers Timeframe; recognizing the snap judgment ala Gladwell’s blink hypothesis This is an annoying, eye-opening, thoroughly researched and tightly argued book. It will alarm some, enrage others and state the obvious for many. The outstanding question is; will it prompt change? ________________________________________________ Full disclosure: I got a free review copy from the publisher. Want it? Be the first to ping me.
The QR Code Quandry There seems to be a flurry of QR code use. The 2D barcodes, originally developed in Japan in 1994 to track packages, are showing up in print ads, on billboards, on vehicles, on packaging and in TV spots for a variety of brands. Are they the next cool thing or are they useless? The mechanics of QR code use are rudimentary in the United States. Hardly anybody knows what they are. There are no statistics on penetration and the biggest guess is 5 percent. Most phones aren’t factory-equipped with readers. But there are many readers using all kinds of technical standards which are mostly incompatible with each other. Usefulness and customer experience is a direct function of user dexterity, phone hardware and software settings, network bandwidth and settings and sheer dumb luck. My own experiences have been frustrating and dismal except for the plain vanilla video I eventually got to work. Proponents argue that QR codes offer the real estate and interactivity that print, outdoor, wearable’s and other media lack. They cite the potential for QR codes to deliver hyperlinks, photos, video, games, coupons, audio, payments and entertainment. Among the suggested uses for the codes are: Enhanced business cards Coupons Shelf talkers Product or ingredients information Recipes Recommendations Reviews & user generated content Micro-payments eCommerce Videos, audio & MP3s Scavenger hunts & contests Ad delivery Maps and directions Among the early adapters, Sears is printing QR codes it’s annual holiday Wish Book. Esquire used them to boost subscription offers. Best Buy put them on in-store signage as did Dicks Sporting Goods and Delta uses them to expedite ticketing. Movie marketers use them to distribute trailers and prompt pre-release demand. Starbucks tried them as a payment device. Ford, McDonalds and Calvin Klein have also experiment with them. Advocates think they will be as big as UPC bar codes and will offer an important enhancement to retail and be a companion to consumers at virtually every point of sale. The doubters, lead by Dan Neumann, or Organic, argue: It’s not necessary because we can trigger URLs other ways Nobody knows about it Nobody has the right equipment Adoption and penetration growth isn’t likely anytime soon. Experimenters have ignored the customer experience in the rush to be first. Customers' pain of use isn’t offset by the joy of what they get I’m telling clients to wait and see. This looks like a technology ahead of its customer base where the cool factor obscures what could be significant down stream potential. And even with monster predictions for smartphone purchases and use, the likely uptake for QR readers and codes is iffy, at best. If clients insist on being first or are desperate to grasp a digital meme perceived to be cool, we are trying to carefully sculpture the customer experience, build practical use cases, anticipate technical glitches and devise instructions for reader downloads that are simple and easy. We are recommending baby steps – simple POS uses, coupon downloads or instant win contests to gauge consumer appeal and measure operational performance. QR codes are currently a quandary, worthy of both experimentation and skepticism.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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