An interesting tweet from Tom Ewing (@tomewing) has been rolling about in my mind.
It has made me think about a few experiences have had with “young people” over the past ten years of working in the same firm. I started there in my late 20s, but now I am clearly the old guard; pushing 40, senior role, blah blah blah. Here are some observations.
- I’m not sure if this is just the type of young researchers we have been hiring, but there is a desire by about 90% of them to have a 9 to 5 career. Good on them. Market research is a means to an end. A job they hold down to pay bills. The future of the industry for them is about as exciting as the future of the Wedgwood factory. This is not a “bag Gen Y” observation – for a start, I loathe the whole Gen Y labeling system, but rather that the majority of young researchers treat their job, well – as a job. The future of the industry they work in is of vague interest, but not a conversation they want to help shape. And it should be noted there are a bunch of researchers in their 30s and 40s who are like this too.
- A young-researcher-future-leader we did have who worked for us perhaps wasn’t supported as well as he should have been, as no one really knew what to do with his skills. He was digital when everyone else was analogue. He was turning left when the whole place was hardwired right. Everyone loved him and appreciated his passion and enthusiasm, but no one knew what to do with him. I’d like to think we would now (this was about 7 or 8 years ago), but back then the best thing was for him to head to a place that could harness his passions (and at the time that was outside the MR industry). I see on LinkedIn he is now “Head of Projects, Europe” for a new media company. He is still working outside of consumer research, but he is the type of guy who I’d love to have back in our organisation. (Simon – if by some random chance you are reading this – we fucked up. But looks like it worked out the best for you anyhow!)
- So back to the 10% or so who give a shit. Where is their platform to tell and talk to us about how they see things? Internally organisations tend to be quite poor at setting forums for researchers to “navel gaze” at where we are heading, and the noise about the industry tends to be generated by the same old voices those who need to be heard and seen to have a view via conferences, PR etc. The big risk is that bright and passionate people are needed everywhere. And I’ve seen a lot of these bright and passionate young researchers move in other directions as what they have is a valuable and desirable commodity – passion, curiosity, commitment, intelligence, and drive. Working with them is a pleasure, sometimes a pain in the arse (the little upstarts) but never dull. How do we get these “kids” more involved in shaping the future of research?
- The cynic in me though has always seen a lot of talk about the changes and challenges in the industry, but there is still nothing like just getting on with it. Making it up as you go along, perfecting the theory by working on a real project, delivering good work by creating something that worked for your client and their problem. The real bright stars out there should be engaged as much in this sort of work as talking about where we are headed.
This post is a little foggy with no conclusion or answer, as I shift thoughts about in my “sickness head” but that little tweet has got me thinking…
(Tom Ewing has done a post about this as well which can be found here)
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.
I have been working on several projects lately that relate to packaging design and comms testing. Some of these projects have been very good gigs as they have taken me overseas. And I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been so heavily involved in the world of information hierarchies and brand devices that I’ve had little time to come up for air, but I am convinced that design can save the earth (or at least a bottom line) in more ways than I ever imagined.
When I was a young player in this job, we were always taught the biggest and best jobs were the ones you got to “set the strategy” – you know, hang out with the CEO and marketing director and be a “trusted advisor” blah blah blah…
But the jobs I’ve found most rewarding over the past little while are not so much the strategy stuff but the execution stuff. The business end of a workstream. Making sure all that “strategy” is actually being brought to life. And while I find myself tearing my hair out about the ad finitum approach that some clients have to testing designs or creative (question: it won’t hurt to chuck in another 58 designs will it?…answer: errr, yes it will hurt) if you come at it with a really objective methodology then it can be incredibly illuminating. Removing the whole beauty parade approach to testing anything creative is the key. Getting beyond “do you like it” and taking it to the level of “who does this feel like it’s for”, or “what does it tell you about when to use this” is where the magic flows. A few projects have freaked us out about how much design speaks to people and can lead them right to you, or steer them far away.
We just finished a whirlwind project where we had 23 pieces of stimulus to evaluate overnight for a big decision that needs to be made today. I was really concerned we’d get it down to five or six options, when we really needed to come up with the one. Seven groups later we have it – and our respondents were able to clearly tell us why we needed to ditch the other 22 and go with that one. The answer wasn’t the prettiest, it wasn’t the most obvious either – but it was the one that answered the questions we set them, which were dictated by the strategy. I get a strange kick out of isolating the separate impact of the thing that is doing the communicating (label, creative etc), with how and what the thing is communicating about the brand. Some people stop at the thing. And the old Hall and Partners PSI framework works every time (persuasion, salience, involvement) at giving a truly objective view of things – cuts out all the designer or creative director tantrums. Just a cool framework to tell them what’s being taken out, at what level, and where the gaps are.
So when Baxterd pointed me towards this and this it seemed very fortuitous. I am a pretentious fuck who believes design does make a difference (and in more ways than I ever really thought…)
And don’t get me started how research kills good ideas. You may think your idea is the coolest around town, but to quote matt moore “does your idea sell more chicken?”