Optimistic v Delusional

Market research is often criticized as being the “pessimistic arm” of marketing.  We test ideas to try and make them stronger.  We provide caution signs and provide “what if” scenarios.  But sometimes we are known as the “idea killers” – the bad news guys that come  in and say “launch at your own risk”. 

It’s hard for us to absolutely predict though what will happen in “real life”.  Often because something changes after testing – the price, the quality, the flavour, the shape, the brand, and just sometimes  – the economy.

I have read in a few places  recently that what has got the economy into the current state is optimism.  That people were too optimistic that the market would turn and that YOY growth was something that was expected rather than hoped for.  

But over the last few years I’ve been hearing from a lot from different people that times have been really tough – especially in FMCG. Higher interest rates and fuel prices mean less cash in the  weekly wallet, so things don’t get into the shopping trolley as easily as before, or if they do they are bought on price (or even a few home labels slip in instead). And the more you talk to people the more you hear – business has been really tough for a while. The bottom hasn’t fallen out over night. 

So there seemed to be something going on more akin to delusion than optimism.  Optimism is hopeful and positive.  Every day may be a little better than the last. That your life will be good, but bad things will come, and you’ll get through them.  Delusion is where everything will be good, all the time, and everyone will be rich and have a pony. 

So I’m optimistic that things will get better, but realistic to know that the next little while will be challenging.  And I’ll keep testing your concepts, and give you constructive suggestions based on what people are telling us will make them better, and if your idea is a dog I’ll let you know that too.  You can take that advice or not. My feelings are though, that over the next few years you may be listening closer to your customers a bit more than you have in a while.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Optimistic v Delusional

  1. moltn

    Out of curiosity, when you do focus groups are you testing the product/proposition or the actual marketing campaign?

    I think focus groups/market research is invaluable when it comes to product development but I’m starting to think it’s not great for testing marketing campaigns. I’ve watched so many groups essentially kill off some brilliant concepts as they were too edgy/unusual – I think they would have done really well if they were launched but after they were slated by focus groups the ideas were dumped – it’s too risky to go out with a concept when your audience doesn’t like it.

    The problem is the audience is concentrating on your ad for an hour and a half, which is a pretty unrealistic situation. If they just saw the 30 second TVC they might have loved it.

    But yeah, agree that when it comes to proposition then the feedback from users is priceless and should be listened to.

  2. kelpenhagen

    We test (as well as help create) it all – comms, NPD, line extensions…you name it, we’ll do it!

    Marketing campaigns are tricky to test – I agree. But the key is to probe beyond the “I like / I don’t like” and get to what it’s telling them about the brand. Not that they hate chimps, or the colour red, or clowns scare them, but how it makes them think and feel about the brand – and if this is what the campaign is trying to achieve then it’s a winner. If the fundamental consumer insight is bang on, then a campaign should work. I agree some researchers take too literally what people say – and they are genuine idea killers.

  3. I’d be interested in your take on how to avoid pitfalls of market research — chasing or validating only what you expect vs. the new ideas consumers may be unfamiliar with.

    Market research can be valuable; I recall a U.S. hospital whose top physicians were bent on rebranding it a “medical center,” which in their eyes held more prestige. The brand research came back that U.S. consumers perceive a “medical center” as a tiny doctor in a strip mall while a “hospital” is a shining city on a hill, so they stuck with hospital.

    However, I also recall no amount of market research ever predicted the two-door minivan would be popular (a huge success). Honda misstepped when it launched its low-end SUV targeting 20somethings with wink-wink fully reclining seats and images of surf boards … when the ultimate buyer turned out to be a dad in his 40s with two young kids.

    How do you structure research that is valuable without making a huge mistake and missing a bigger opportunity?

    And please don’t say, “by hiring me.” 😉

  4. thisiscow

    I agree Kelly, it was delusion that, as you say, every day you’ll have a pony (well, maybe in Oz!).

    At the same time, a lot of the mess we’re in at the moment could well be because the powers that be in the media and the markets have simply decided that it’s time for a recession. It’s then become a self fulfilling prophecy as people spooked by the constant drum beat of bad news hide their savings under their beds.

    OK, obviously I appreciate it’s not quite as simple as that, but I do agree that perceptions have a lot to do with it.

    But absolutely – one flip side of the downturn is that it really is a case of listen to the people who are buying your stuff for a change.

  5. kelpenhagen

    Ben – sorry about the delay in the reply. I’ve been thinking about your question as it’s a good one.

    It’s ultimately the 60 million dollar question!

    The quality of your researcher will dictate the outcome of the research. People are still doing focus groups and reporting what they see on the surface (the most amusing but alarming summary I read recently was how people like humour, animals and music in ads…oh, as well as ads that “don’t try and sell people anything” – wow, the ad code is CRACKED! Let’s all retire!) How that helps a client even in a basic evaluation study I have no idea, and it certainly won’t open up a clients eyes to a higher opportunity.

    But back to your question – “How do you structure research that is valuable without making a huge mistake and missing a bigger opportunity?”

    1) make sure your researcher is up to it. Ask to see case studies of what they have done for other clients that they feel demonstrates their thinking. If they can give them to you, client references are good too. How have others found working with them – have they added any value to the process, or just reported back “findings”

    2) structure the methodology to answer the question – seems a bit obvious but you still see groups being run to answer a demand forecasting brief, or a quant job to help determine positioning without any qual insight

    3) have a tight brief but be open for a different answer than you expected. You hospital example is a good one. I’ve seen though similar results and clients have a “we are going to go ahead anyway” – which was the intent of the post (often as the research has been commissioned to validate their desired changes or some other business driver rather than test them or build on them)

    4) just as the researcher has to be up for it, and able to deliver insight and not findings, the client also has to be able to accept and work with them as well. Brand Vanity (that old chestnut) can often get in the way of good consumer insight. Clients struggle everyday with how THEY want their brand to be versus how consumers want their brand to be. We’ve done research post-mortems for clients before – “tell us why, despite research, this product failed.” And often it’s beacsue they missed the “watch outs” in the research. They wanted an answer, and no amount of research would change their mind (and you often get pressured by clients to omit certain pages in a report when it goes to a higher audience…so the story is “more positive” – hence the “delusional versus optimistic” post)

    Research can be used for good or evil. A bad researcher, a lazy client, and it will go bad. But a good researcher and a good client, and you can come up with some pretty cool stuff.

  6. kelpenhagen

    Dirk – yes, I really feel we are slipping into recession because (to quote Paul Keating, ex-PM of Aus) people believe”it’s the recession we had to have”.

    What I am really interested in that belief that the market would “stay gold” forever, and it was that delusional attitude (and inflated egos) that got us in a mess. (We are smarter than the market, we are better than the market). And now the black hatting that has gone on (my gooooodddd, the shhhipppp is siiinnnkiingggg, the skkkyyyy is ffffaaaallllliiinnggg) has made average folk keep their wallets a bit more closed than normal (well me anyway, but that’s because I was a chronic over-spender and things had to change!)

    Heard a quote recently- “be optimistic but expect the worst” – every day will be good, but be prepared for the unexpected stuff cause it’s going to happen.

  7. Kelly this is a great post! I had an economics professor who once said that the average person on the street is as qualified to predict the future of the economy as an economist. Why? Because what we believe is what dictates our behavior, which is then reflected in the economy.

    I agree that the delusion that drove our beliefs about the economy is what kept people from recognizing clear signals until they became too great to dismiss.

    Along the same vein, this is what could also make the recession worse, or go on longer. So many people and businesses are acting out of fear, and will probably swing the pendulum too far in the other way before it gets better.

    I also have to say that the media plays a big role in fueling both the fear and delusion. I hope people will start to think more critically about the media they consume, but maybe that’s too much to ask.

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