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OPINION10 November 2011

The three Cs of TMRE

Opinion Video

Candidates, culture and customers: Jeffrey Henning reflects on the key themes emerging from The Market Research Event, held this week in Orlando, Florida.

Market research is the best profession in the world, but maybe not for market researchers. Stan Sthanunathan of Coca-Cola, the iconoclastic research head of an iconic brand, said he often looked for staff with skills outside the profession. Similar sentiment emerged from a panel discussion hosted by Karen Morgan of Morgan Search International: Jason Anderson of Blizzard Entertainment was an engineering manager who moved into research, while Ari Popper of BrainJuicer looks for candidates who are detail-oriented and curious rather than for staff with extensive research backgrounds. In his standing-room-only interview with Diane Hessan of Communispace, Sthanunathan said that research gave him a chance to unify his interest in quant and psychology; these comments were echoed by other attendees, who spoke of research’s ability to bring together the quite different interests of sociology and analytics.

Culture is key to transformative change with customers. The importance of culture – whether it’s the corporate or consumer kind – was a recurring theme across many presentations. Chanon Cook of Comedy Central presented research on the rising importance of “a new comedy culture” for their viewers, especially Gen Y: 72% look for humour in any situation, no matter how absurd, 53% say comedy provides a perspective on what’s truly important in life and 60% reckon they are as funny as any professional comedian. Timothy de Waal Malefyt from BBDO Worldwide discussed the need for brands to immerse themselves in understanding customers’ lives, in order to seek out opportunities where rituals (existing or created) can transform consumer relationships with a brand: for instance, Build-a-Bear has created a ritual for children to follow when “adopting” customised stuffed animals.

Jeremy Gutsche of Trend Hunter provided an excellent case study showing the importance of understanding customer culture, using the example of anti-littering campaigns, in particular the classic “Keep America Beautiful” campaign of the 1970s which featured an American Indian encountering a litter-strewn landscape.

The commercial was emotionally powerful and connecting, yet failed to change behaviour. In contrast, the Texas advertising agency GSD&M, charged with reducing littering by 5%, carefully researched those who litter and found it was part of a “King of the World” road culture of young men and pickup trucks. They came up with the campaign “Don’t Mess with Texas” that spoke to this culture: an early commercial featured two Dallas Cowboys football players saying to a litterer, “Don’t mess with me. Don’t mess with Texas.” The campaign resonated, and from 1986 to 1990 litter was reduced by 72%.

Pivoting from customer culture to corporate culture, Gutsche said that companies, and research departments, must create customer-immersed cultures. His advice: observe customers, interact with them, watch them choose, observe their usage – not as ethnography per se but in order to build customer empathy and connection within the company. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he said, repeating a sign that Ford hangs outside its Strategy War Room.

Similarly, in a session entitled “Beyond Ethnography”, Paulette Kish argued for the need to get internal staff more involved with customers through immersion retreats and “extreme ethnography”. As Sthanunathan had said: “The best research is where you immerse yourself personally. It will change the culture.” Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox, said that good research comes from good culture, from leadership that rewards and embraces risk-taking and investment in new approaches. “We are drowning in data and thirsty for insights,” she said. “This is the opportunity.”

Understanding how customers decide. Both Gutsche and Mulcahy separately discussed the need to shift research from a focus on products to a focus on people. While there were the obligatory neuromarketing presentations, attendees were more interested in some of the behavioural economics experiments. As Thomas Snyder of Emotion Mining reminded attendees, encouraging respondents to self-report leads to rationalisation; techniques must always seek to uncover the mediation of the subconscious. Brad Bane of Ipsos described how consumers can be “lazy or loyal” depending on the type of purchase decision. Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, discussed consumer choice-making in detail, based on her own famous behavioural experiments: how selling six types of jam instead of 24 led to a six-fold increase in sales, while students who selected from 30 chocolates thought those same chocolates were less delicious than students who had selected from just six. She offered practical advice for marketing on how to re-factor product lines based on this knowledge: cut options within categories and increase the number of categories, both of which will lead to sales increases.

Jeffrey Henning is chief marketing officer of innovation software and services firm Affinnova

1 Comment

8 years ago

Of course, you'll want to see the ads that work tooo.... http://dontmesswithtexas.org/view-ads/

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