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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If you can't beat 'em...

Just spotted an interesting article in good old Research Mag (actually rather good online) ... In effect it's saying that research is increasingly out of step with people's experience of social media and the Internet (and even of phone calls for research purposes) when it continues to try and ring fence itself from marketing.
I totally agree that researchers claiming the high ground - we're not trying to sell anything here - is often not relevant online. As far as consumers are concerned, they're interacting with a manifestation of a company that does want to sell to them at some point so it makes no sense to pretend otherwise.
Plus, as the article points out, both research and brands can benefit by seeing research as part of a brand experience. People generally like giving their views if they're invested in a brand - and tend to think better of those companies who make an effort to listen to them.
Yes, there are issues about how 'biased' or otherwise these views are within a brand context, which is why the Tank believes it's important to ground opinions garnered online with more 'conventional' interactions. And of course we have to obey by the data protection laws - which may sometimes make things a bit tricky...and as some of the commentators point out may need some client education.
But we need to be aware that social forums and online brand interactions are more and more used to supplant research as we know it, often not by researchers or Insight Departments. Apart from doing justice to consumer experience there are pragmatic commercial reasons why we just have to embrace these cross-over marketing/research interactions. A purist approach won't do us any favours, just give us less of a look in...

Taking a step back...

For some time now, I've been writing monthly columns on mobile for New Media Age - you can find the latest set of musings on the need to link up brand and product here.

But I thought it might be a good idea to backtrack a little, too - because while products and services need to gel with the brand, they certainly also must be right for the consumer in the first place. There are so many risks of that not happening in big, tech-focused organisations that I thought it worthwhile sharing a piece from a couple of months ago, so here goes...

Keeping true to consumer needs takes clear vision

In an ideal world mobile products and services would be designed to serve the needs of the consumers they target, both in design, execution and price. They would then be marketed in a way that pushed target users’ buttons.

Mobile services can be a time-saver and an essential tool for work and play, but only if they work well and meet a need, be that functional or emotional. If not, the technology is anything from useless to downright detrimental.

In reality, from concept through to execution, marketing strategy and launch, there’s a myriad of twists and turns at which the product risks taking on a life of its own, sidestepping those consumer needs. Often the reasons for this are as human as what drives the consumers you’re trying to please in the first place. Far too often operators or vendors cause us to struggle through what appears to be the result of sheer thoughtlessness. For every good implementation of a mobile service, there are plenty of convoluted and hard-to-use ones.

Internal handovers from one department to the next frequently lose the essence of what made the proposition great for consumers in the first place. Perhaps not enough details are passed on, or internal rivalries or team targets fuel changes. There’s a recession on, but if you choose to go with a solution that’s harder to use or works less well purely for cost-saving reasons, you’re on shaky ground.

Once the product or service is ready, the marketing needs to push the right buttons too. Even brilliant creative work can fail to take interest through to purchase; when it’s less brilliant, it can put a spanner in the works. Remember Orange’s rather clever idea to have ‘mobile trainers’ helping its customers, which was completely undermined by the hugely irritating know-it-all youngster in the ad.

Granted sometimes the concept itself is flawed and has no foundation in consumer reality. I once worked on a project that made no sense to anyone who put themselves in the consumer’s shoes. Yet investments continued because it was the CEO’s brainchild. In today’s market, you’ll pay dearly for such vanity. Similarly, big mobile companies’ need to offer music or sports services sometimes seems more driven by a desire to hang out with celebrities than in meeting consumer needs. Surely it must be okay to be that enabler who isn’t as cool but makes it all work?

It’s surprising how low the priority is on making sure the essence of consumer needs that drive a service travels with the product as it makes its way to the user. Often it’s because we all have our personal experience to draw on - we’re all consumers too. But if we don’t have a chance to see how users react, a concept often takes on its own truths, fuelled by the views of those whose minds are deeply steeped in mobile knowledge. That’s quite different from most consumers out there. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen people completely non-plussed about something that seems utterly obvious to its creators.

Of course, what consumers say isn’t the whole story, but it has rarely been more risky not to let them guide you. And no matter how attached you are to your idea, be humble enough to accept that some aspects might be wrong, which means you need to change things to attract those people who will generate your revenues.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The New Qual - and the old

It has been a while - but here we are-a-blogging again with new vigour and verve!
Anyway, came across this article on the much exaggerated death of the focus group yesterday.

I heartily agree - even if the references are  American they're still very relevant ... though I think that as qual researchers we need to argue our case slightly less defensively. We don't want to be seen as luddites, do we?

So, let's start by extolling and completely embracing the wonderful opportunities of the web - so many more possibilities, so many more bites at the cherry but also only delivering a part of the truth - and not necessarily self-explanatory. 

In the context of social buzz measurement and listening in on conversations online qualitative research can and should have the following clear roles: add our precious interpretation to what is said online but more importantly ground it, put it into context and give it more meaning by conducting through face-to-face interaction with a wider range of people (than the 8% who blog or tweet - let alone the smaller sub-group who talk about brands).  Qual research can contextualise what is being said online by observing and talking to people 'in the flesh' - some of whom may care rather less about the sector and brands than those who express a view online.

There are a lot of social media people talking about getting something 'more real' through 'natural conversations' - and yes, they do have a point.  We're excited to listen in too.  But, hold on a minute - this reality is still only one slice of the truth - and neglects quite a few others.

In the final instance research using social networks can give us new qual data to digest - but on its own it could be quite misleading and confusing.   Mr and Mrs Client - you need good thinking, you need to understand what is NOT said, you need to understand the underlying emotions and motivations, you need to make sure you get views from people who would not spontaneously talk to you - you need qual - the new and the old!