OPINION10 November 2009

Simon Cowell and Research

What the Jedward controversy teaches us about research

I can’t say I’m a fan of the X factor but these programmes along with things like Strictly Come Dancing show the risk of completely divorcing our own intuition and experience from decision-making in favour of ‘trusting the market entirely’. 

To be marginally heretical, consumers don’t work in isolation, they don’t come up with decisions on their own but ‘need’ to be led – at least to a certain extent. Thats not to say ‘don’t listen to consumers’ but more be aware of the ‘Jedward effect’, people tend to go with the prevailing fashion, hence Jedward are the greatest thing since sliced bread even though when it comes to the medium run they may go the way of Michelle McManus.

Co-creation in its incarntion as listening and developing propositions from customer input risks ‘going the Jedward way’. Its not that you should accept consumer input its just that that’s exactly what it is ‘an input’ not an output.

Equally how input is measured is key.  OK so with X million telephone respondents you would have thought that just on raw numbers alone this is in some ways ‘statistically significant’ until you realise that most of those phoning are within a very limited demographic.   

@RESEARCH LIVE

4 Comments

12 years ago

I agree that people go with the prevailing fashion but in the case of Jedward there's a good deal of leading going on too. My suspicion is that the initial surge in support for them was down to a desire to game the system and irritate Cowell. Then when his irritation seemed to fade the support dropped, leading to the latest twist. (Of course SC is bluffing the audience to a degree, because that's where the votes and the money are. And Jedward are a godsend in a fairly mediocre year for the show.) What does all this have to do with research? Search me! One lesson is that if you try and lead consumers too obviously you'll awaken a contrary streak (which may of course be exactly what you WANT...)

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12 years ago

For me the point of the article was not to imply that you should lead customers but rather to remind us that we should not rely only on ''customer'' polls who are not representative for a company's customer base. What we shouldn't forget is that when it comes to leading and innovating one of our best weapons is our ''gut instinct''. Then if we want to test our ideas we can use customer research data but that should be representative for our cusmer base or target audience. That means that we should not just take all the respondents answers but we should weight the data accoring to the contribution each demographic group has for our business. Another thing that we should not forget is that relying only on polls or customers focus groups has lead for the failure of many products and managers. Using brain imaging Neuroscience has now proven that often what people say during custmer focus groups is not exactly what they think or how they feel and this is not that they do that intentionnally but because they can not verbalise their ''gut feeling''.

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12 years ago

I think that what this tells us is that the public doesn't always choose 'the best'. It's the same with every category. Rationally it's easy to advance the specifics of one product / service over another, but that's not necessarily what wins support. How many great brands are out there which don't necessarily have the best ingredients, rationally? It's the same with Jedward. This links in with other popular discussions about predictive markets, herds and so on. The individual-based research we do is so far removed from what actually happens that we could rightly be considered as academic hoods (a media buyer called me that a couple of years ago, much to my astonishment). I liked the Leona Lewis paper I saw Brainjuicer do, which is relevant to this discussion both on the MR count and also the X-Factor count. Also, the final point is that X-Factor is great entertainment – so enjoy it for what it’s worth and please don’t put it on every conference platform next year.

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12 years ago

Yes, a pet subject of mine. How we incorporate the collective view into our individual choices. There's good modelling in this direction using Agent Based Models (some of these models are referred to as flocking models) and analytically we can use network modelling to explore collective effects, but for the most part market research is very ill-designed to assess the collective effect mostly because we interview people in isolation and treat their dataas individual rows on our spreadsheets. We quarantine our respondents who are, after all, social animals. One example. Get a group of people to write down (individually) what movie they'd like to see tonight. Now ask the same group to choose which movie they'd jointly like to see. Quite often the movie that gets most individual votes is NOT the movie that the group decides on. I call this the Adam Sandler effect. Nobody wants to see his movies, but everybody ends up seeing them.

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