Awareness is Everything: September 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sometimes It Counts To Count -- And Sometimes It Doesn't

A couple of very good posts on the uses of qualitative vs. quantitative data have come my way over the past few weeks. Both of these are well worth looking into:

Andrew Hargadon, author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, wrote this on his blog about “the virtues of qualitative research”:

“Qualitative research is, at its heart, an attempt to understand how people (or fish) interpret their reality and as a result make it. Anyone who has both looked at manufacturing statistics and wandered the factory floor knows that you can learn a lot by watching and talking to the workers about their work and their lives. And so, when you decide you want your company to be more innovative--and you decide to reward those who are ‘innovative’--you need to be very careful how you are measuring innovation.”
In an unrelated post, Bob Sutton, author of The No-Asshole Rule, discusses on his blog the current focus of many management gurus (including Sutton himself), “evidence-based management”:

“Managers and the business press seem to automatically assume that quantitative evidence is always the best evidence....The message seems to be that evidence-based management means management by quantitative data. I reject that thought, and have always believed that there are times when qualitative data are more powerful, valid, and useful for guiding action than quantitative data.”

Sutton goes on to describe three areas he feels it essential that companies use qualitative data:

1. When you don’t know what to count.

My take: This is what we often use qualitative techniques for in market research. If you don’t know what specific kinds of answers you're looking for, you can’t even construct a questionnaire with closed-end questions. So, often the first step is a qualitative study that will allow you to understand what’s important and what even begin to understand what can and should be measured.

2. When you can count it, but it doesn’t stick.

My take: It seems to me that this is the least compelling of Sutton's reasons, if only because so many companies seem to want numbers of some kind before they’ll make a decision. But it is true that compelling stories and images, which can only come from qualitative research, can be very persuasive.

3. When what you can count doesn’t count.

I don’t have anything to add here that’s better than Sutton’s observation: “In the hunt for and obsession with what can be counted, the most important evidence is sometimes overlooked. As Einstein said, ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’ ”

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Ford and JWT blur the line between marketing and research

"This is a marketing research project, and you won't be marketed to as a result of this project. And we won't use your image or words to market anything."

We say this, or words to this effect, at the beginning each and every focus group we do. Words like this appear somewhere in the recruiting script of every quant survey we do. We live by these words. And we're not the only ones -- the "church and state separation" between interviewing people for research and interviewing people to solicit marketing endorsements is a wide gap that's observed by most ethical agencies, and spelled out in the standards and ethics statements of groups such as CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organizations).

Apparently the folks at Ford and JWT did not get that memo about the ethics of market research. A couple of weeks ago the Ford "Swap My Ride" campaign launched, complete with testimonials solicited under the guide of marketing research:

"In New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas, its advertising agency, JWT, had workers pretend to be from a fake market-research firm, track down owners of cars made by Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other competitors, and ask them to drive new Ford models for a supposedly impartial weeklong test." (from the Wall Street Journal, sub reqd)

Not only did JWT gather and film the research "respondents" under a ruse, they *never* told some what was really going on. Again, from the Sept. 14 Wall Street Journal article:

"Reached yesterday, Mr. Campos [one of the participants] was surprised to learn In-Home Test Drive Experience isn't a real company and was linked to Ford. 'I had no idea,' he said. He added it doesn't change his high opinion of the Focus, but that it would be better for the company to be 'more straight-forward.' "

The WSJ calls this an "aggressive marketing tactic" and seems to suggest that Ford has no choice, as the quality perception of American cars is so low among buyers of foreign (especially Japanese) cars that it's virtually impossible to get past that perceptual screen and get people to really "see" the cars and the quality improvements that have been made over the years.

“We wanted raw, unbiased opinions,” said Toby Barlow, co-president and executive creative director at JWT Team Detroit, Ford’s longtime creative shop. “We didn’t want them to think they were in a TV commercial. We needed a trick to get real objectivity and honest responses.” (from The New York Times, sub reqd)

They wanted honest responses, so they had to lie to get them? If people didn't know that their video was going to be used, I wonder if they told them that their words and images were going to end up on this Ford website?

This is a story that's just now starting to throw off a backlash (see here and here). I predict that the backlash will grow. In the end all that will have happened is that once again those of us who are actually practicing market research according to ethical guidelines will again have to defend our industry to consumers who are quite rightly skeptical. And Ford will simply come off looking desperate. People, this is not how social media works. The point of consumer-generated media is that you let the consumers generate the media, not trick them into starring in media that you generate.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Four resources for trendspotting

There are no new ideas, blah blah blah...we've all heard that. Ideas don't come out of thin air, they are generally the result of a winding path of connections made between and among things that others might see as completely unconnected....random firings of neurons in someone's brain that never connected before and may never connect again. Which means 1) you should always capture your ideas and 2) don't look to me for valid neurological explanations!

Trends, or (officially), "a manifestation of something that has unlocked or newly serviced an existing (and hardly ever changing) consumer need, desire, want, or value" make excellent stimuli for those who are looking for new ideas, especially since trends themselves are often the result of some freethinking person's connection-making process. And lucky for us, there are many sources for trend information that we can use as creative stimuli by simply asking ourselves, "how can that work in my business?"

For linear thinkers, this would be:

New idea = (Trend info + odd little bits of stimuli from God knows where) incubated in a creative, connection-seeking mind.

So step #1 is to gather information about trends to feed your mind. Here are my 4 favorite trend resources, and why they should be in your RSS reader or email inbox:

Trendwatching.com: Publishes a free trend briefing each month that is full of not just observations, but also lots of good "what does this all mean and what can I do with it?" info. Recent example: Their September trend briefing is a great rundown of tips for trendwatching that shouldn't be missed if you have any interest in trendwatching, of which here is a brief summary:

1. Know why you're tracking trends
2. Have a point of view
3. Weave your web of resources
4. Fine-tune your trend framework
5. Embed and apply

Springwise.com: Trendwatching.com's sister site, employing the same network of 8,000 spotters who scour the globe for new entrepreneurial ideas. These they have helpfully arranged in a free idea database, guaranteed to get your neurons firing on all cylinders. They publish a free weekly business ideas newsletter. Recent example: StuffYourRucksack, which helps travelers know how they can use their excess baggage capacity to bring much-needed supplies to underfunded non-profit organizations around the world.

PSFK.com: At the free level, PSFK publishes a group blog that's one of the most prolific out there, publishing many posts each day. Recent example: GoMoBo text-message pizza-ordering service

StrangeNewProducts.com: This blog hasn't been updated lately, but it's fun to tour their archives. Example: Caffeinated sunflower seeds

So, where do you find info on new trends? And how do you use trends info to add value to your business?

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