Archive for the ‘Oliver Truman’ Category
This week, Oliver Truman looks at a purchase decision many of us take every day, and how this reveals the fine line involved in getting marketing right.
Let’s talk sandwiches. It’s a topic that’s been broached a few times on the B2B Blog, and is a mainstay of British conversational repertoire. It’s also a subject that never ceases to provide insight onto the challenges facing your average marketer. A quick Porter’s Five Forces analysis of “the sandwich market” tells us that rivalry is intensely fierce because:
In some ways, my own buying behaviour bears out the above characterisation. Of a lunchtime, I like to maintain a balanced portfolio of sandwich suppliers, assiduously rotating them over the course of a week. Bramhall (home of B2B’s HQ) is blessed with a range of stores selling sandwiches (and other lunchtime fare), from retail behemoths like Tesco, through to quite a few independent delis.
The sandwich retailers’ response to this kind of promiscuity is typically to rely on the reliable crutches of the 4Ps in order to win business:
Taking the final P – promotion – My sandwich antennae were recently drawn to an advert that’s cropped up outside the local petrol station forecourt. It was promoting the range of snacks that can be bought there – all of which are available under a “meal deal” promotion.
You have to admit that the brief of trying to promote a petrol station’s sandwiches to anyone other than fuel customers is a tough sell. Petrol and service station sandwiches are about as revered as the standard of catering found in most NHS hospitals, or at the zenith of British Rail. In short, there’s a credibility gap to be made up. Even so, someone’s had a go.
The advert I mentioned is worth further scrutiny, though. While it’s laudable that the oil majors are seeking to diversify into the Panini Pound, the execution of this campaign is so crass that I felt moved to include it below (click on the image to enlarge):
I should perhaps first draw your attention to the strapline – “Inspired by farmers’ markets”. With a claim like this, I bet you’re wondering what exactly it is that your local garage is selling nowadays – Homemade chutneys? Free range eggs? Organically reared pork and leek sausages? All sounds rather appealing…
Except it’s not quite these sorts of things. How about a 500ml bottle of Coca Cola? Or a Grab Bag of Walkers Salt and Vinegar crisps? Somehow, I can’t see these items being laid out on canopied trestle tables on the village green any time soon. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I’m also guessing that these goods won’t also be presented to me in a rustically-adorned wicker basket.
Quite aside from the absurdity of the products involved, the message also seems to be that the mere process of selecting three items of your choice (a pre-packed sandwich, a bag of crisps and a carbonated drink) is somehow highly evocative of folksy, rural life. That’s besides the fact that the concept of “pick your own” has more to do with picking berries than it does buying farm produce at market.
All of this got me thinking – would I ever fall prey to the wiles of the marketer so easily? I was certain my answer was “no” until I returned home yesterday evening. Upon entering the kitchen, I saw several cans of Heinz “Farmer’s Market” soup on the side, which I’d bought only a few days earlier. I’d been had. There really was no sense in which this soup was any more a genuine slice of rural life than buying your lunch from a petrol station.
And all of this shows the difficulty of getting marketing right. There’s often a very fine line between good and bad implementation of an idea – both the oil company and the soup manufacturer started from the same premise – but only the latter had implemented the idea credibly.
The notion of credibility in a market is important. In launching any new product or service, companies must first establish whether their brand is well-placed to meet expectations. Even with the best product in the world, if you’re not seen as being a plausible choice, there’s a high chance of failure. For the record, the petrol station won’t be going on my roster of lunchtime venues any time soon.
In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Oliver Truman tells us how a night in front of the box provided an insight into presenting market research data.
The bitterly cold, dystopian winter suffered by most of the Northern Hemisphere recently has given me the perfect opportunity to indulge one of my favourite pastimes: The fine art of staying in of an evening.
Just as summer is characterised (some might say romanticised) by long, action-packed days outdoors and lobbing another shrimp on the ‘barbie, winter presents the perfect opportunity to over-indulge and be lazy. This includes the doyen of all inert pleasures, slobbing out in front of the television.
When I’m over visiting our US office, I am spoilt for choice with latest episodes of my favourite stateside shows. Whether it’s gritty crime procedurals like the Law and Order franchise, comedies like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm or rollicking police brutality courtesy of “Sheriff” John Burnell in World’s Wildest Police Videos, there’s sure to be something that tickles my fancy. And when back in Blighty, there’s nothing quite like a weekend afternoon spent watching the telly, shouting obscenities at overpaid men kicking around a bag of wind.
The researcher reading all of the above could be forgiven for segmenting my viewing behaviour, and putting me squarely in the “Trash TV” bucket. However, I do occasionally like to indulge my intellectual side. This typically consists of gamely attempting to get a single correct answer in University Challenge, employing such stellar strategies as “shout Verdi whenever there’s a question about opera”. (This worked. Once.).
In the UK, the BBC have set up an entire channel devoted to worthy, arts-based but ultimately under-watched programming – the sorts of programmes I should be watching. It’s called BBC4. In a recent surf around the electronic programme schedule, I happened across a programme they had on entitled The Beauty Of Diagrams. The market-research-report-writing part of my brain couldn’t resist.
This particular episode in a series of six was about Florence Nightingale. It turned out that not only was the Lady of the Lamp a celebrated nurse, she also had a gift for statistics and the visual presentation of data. In her studies of sanitary conditions during the Crimean War, Nightingale took great interest in statistics related to soldier mortality rates and causes, convinced that observations on the ground could somehow be proven powerfully by data.
William Farr, then Compiler of Abstracts at the General Registry Office, had long put together tables of data related to the deaths of soldiers in combat. However, Nightingale was not looking for a straightforward, sober presentation of the facts as many of her contemporaries might have chosen to do. She wanted impact to ensure that her work effected real change.
In her 1858 monograph Notes on matters affecting the health, efficiency and hospital administration of the British army Nightingale produced one of the first of that most celebrated diagrams – the pie chart. Although William Playfair could probably lay claim to the first pie diagram around 50 years earlier, “Nightingale’s Rose” (shown below, click the preview for a larger version) nonetheless showed dramatically and accessibly the impact that infectious diseases had on mortality rates in the theatre of war. Each segment of the pie represented a month, with the size of coloured segments within each sector being roughly proportional to the cause of death: Blue denotes death from infectious disease, red indicates mortality due to wounding and black shows all other causes.
The sheer magnitude of the blue sectors, their peak and then subsequent decay with the introduction of better sanitation gave strong visual testimony to the ends that Nightingale was seeking to achieve. At the same time, however, the diagram was also an exaggeration of the true picture. The sectors were not proportional in area to the rate of mortality, rather the data was mapped to the radius of each segment. By having the blue infectious disease sector as the outermost portion, Nightingale had (unwittingly or otherwise) exploited the geometry of the circle to subtly accentuate certain parts of the data. As this article shows, when Nightingale’s Rose is recalibrated to show area alone, the effect is far less pronounced.
Leaving aside the precise accuracy of Nightingale’s diagram, the wider point to make is that appropriate presentation of data is a vital component of report writing, both in general but especially in our realm of market research. A compelling piece of market intelligence relies not only on storytelling, but also our ability to paint vivid, memorable, but nonetheless accurate representations of the data we have gathered.
The discipline of data visualisation is a growing one, particularly in an era of ever-more-complex computer graphics capabilities. I’ll leave you with some of my favourite examples of data visualisation from around the web:
If there are any further examples you’d like to share, please contribute them using our comment section below. And, who knows, these might just provide the inspiration for B2B’s next market research report – just as a lazy night in front of the telly provided food for thought!
This week, Oliver Truman looks at some of the honestly-held misunderstandings we make in everyday life, and at why misconceptions about the market research industry should make us sit up and take notice.
Sometimes we all make mistakes. As human beings, we’re loath to admit our failings, particularly when we think we might have got something wrong.
Only the other day, a friend was bemoaning the arrival of students back into Manchester for the start of the new academic year. Longer queues at cash machines, processions of drunken youths in fancy dress and buses packed to the rafters were just a few of his misgivings. “Bloody retrobates”, he muttered.
At first I hadn’t realised, but after a few seconds it sunk in. “Did you just say retrobates a second ago?”, I enquired. “Yeah, retrobates. You know, delinquents”, he said. After several more verbal exchanges, it became apparent that my chum had been using the word retrobate instead of reprobate for quite some time, possibly even his entire life.
As it was perhaps a little too painful to admit it, he gamely attempted (for several minutes) to argue that he was right and I was wrong. However, in the age of instant access to knowledge, a quick mobile web search revealed the error of his ways. The score was settled.
Throughout that evening, as several more pints of English Ale were imbibed, me and my friends at the local pub were now alert to the slightest error – whether linguistic, factual or otherwise. Other highlights in the inaccuracy stakes that evening included:
Errors of the retrobate sort are referred to by linguists as “eggcorns” – The term itself involving an idiosyncratic substitution of similar-sounding words to mean acorn. There’s a tremendous website documenting these everyday anomalies at the Eggcorn Database. Some personal favourites include:
In the world of market research we are, to an extent, also on the receiving end of popular misconceptions about our industry and the work we do.
There was an interesting article on the BBC website this week about those who respond “don’t know” in opinion polling. Aside from the thought-provoking discussion about how such responses should be treated when reporting survey findings, it was the comments section at the end of the page that really grabbed my attention.
Here are a couple of comments that made me realise just how misunderstood the market research process might be amongst the public at large:
Recently on the radio, there was a phone-in on the subject of a recently conducted opinion poll and listeners were asked for their comments. One caller refused to believe the result, citing the fact that it was a survey of “only” 2000 adults. “I’m sure the other 60 million people in this country don’t think that way – It doesn’t capture that they think” was their claim.
On the flipside, us survey wonks should also accept that some of the blame rests with the research industry. Market researchers don’t help themselves when we talk to non-research audiences about sample sizes, weighting and quotas. Moreover, research also needs to be conducted in a way that is likely to engage and learn from, rather than alienate the audience. Unless the most appropriate techniques and methods are deployed, the credibility of the research process can be put at risk.
The comment below came from the comments in the same BBC article I mentioned earlier. I think it neatly captures an instance in which market research really doesn’t help itself:
For this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Oliver Truman kicks off with B2B’s first World Cup-related blog post of the summer.
Well, it’s almost here. And don’t we know about it.
The 2010 Football World Cup is upon us, and everyone’s got their knickers in a twist. Cue endless speculation about who’ll be in each nation’s team. Cue furious flag waving and shows of unbridled patriotism that would otherwise cause a diplomatic incident. Cue four weeks of shouting at the television. Cue the inevitable Thursday Night Insight analysis of what this all means.
I’m sorry to go all “grumpy old man” on you here, but is it me, or does the run up to the tournament feel like it’s been over-done this time around? Like Christmas, the speculation and hype around the competition (and England’s ritual, quadrennial shaming in a penalty shootout) seems to begin earlier and earlier every time. The adverts get brasher, longer and more stomach-churningly jingoistic, and this year appears to be no exception.
I am perhaps in danger of exaggerating my ennui at the situation, however. From a cultural and marketing point of view, events like the World Cup are fascinating insights into what advertisers try to do to switch us on.
At least from a UK perspective, the theme in this year’s World Cup advertising – like Maradonna in the late 1990s – appears to involve an excess of everything. The recipe for a successful commercial, it would seem, is as follows:
At its heart, all of this jostling for position comes down to achieving awareness and interest in brands during a key time in the calendar for advertising. When all around you are shouting, shouting louder, longer and with bigger laughs is central to securing a share of voice.
Of course, investment of this sort in marketing cannot come without accountability. Marketers must use research to understand the impact that advertising has had – Not just in terms of whether more beer, trainers or televisions have been sold, but also whether people’s longer term disposition to brands have been enhanced or damaged.
Pre and post-campaign studies are one way of tracking brand health, but so too is tapping into what wags in the blogosphere, in forums and on Twitter have to say (not Wives and Girlfriends, by the way – the other meaning). Mining this publicly-available seam of insight is an emerging technique in consumer markets, and the world of business-to-business could well follow.
Like a World Cup advert, I think I’ve gone on long enough, but I’ll leave you with a prediction for the tournament. We can all then come back here in a month’s time and guffaw at how wrong I was. Argentina to win it – not least because they’re my selection in the office sweepstake.
In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Oliver Truman ponders whether being unique and innovative is always something we should strive for.
Plagiarism. It’s a word loaded with negative connotations, but we’d all have to admit to indulging in a little copying in our time.
It’s often said that the majority of popular music is highly derivative. To pick one trite example, only a few weeks ago, a music rights company successfully brought legal action against the 1980s antipodean pop behemoths Men At Work for “stealing” the signature flute riff of the song from a copyrighted nursery rhyme penned many decades ago by an Australian primary school teacher. And only the other day, the shuffle function on my mp3 player threw up another lawsuit-in-the-making: The Jam track Set The House Ablaze was immediately followed by Helicopter by Bloc Party – The guitar refrain in both songs being almost exactly the same to the note. I cannot imagine Paul Weller ever assenting to his work being used in this way.
We know from a lot of our work in the education sector that plagiarism is a particularly hot topic – New GCSE specifications being introduced this year will do away with many of the coursework elements of courses in an effort to curb the problem of copying from the Internet and drawing on parental help. In its place, pupils must complete assignments under “controlled assessment” conditions – effectively an exam in a classroom. In the consultation work we’ve done with the teaching profession in the run up to the new GCSEs, doubts have been voiced as to whether this focus on “cheating” is at the expense of encouraging children to be creative.
In the higher education sector, of course, ensuring plagiarism doesn’t take hold is crucially important to the vitality of intellectual thought and the academic process – and this rigour is instilled right from the very start at undergraduate level. Universities are actively seeking to use electronic systems of submission of students’ assignments so that all work handed in can be automatically verified using automated systems.
Looked at another way, though, plagiarism is possibly best seen as the flipside of the insatiable human desire for true innovation. Anything that is very obviously the same as something else is railed against – Not just because it might have been appropriated without someone else’s permission, but also because of the “oh no, not that again!” effect. And attempting to be genuinely different is the perennial challenge laid at the feet of marketers (and by extension, market researchers).
Taking all elements of the marketing mix – price, product, place and promotion – market research is often seen as the gateway to addressing how a company can position each of these uniquely against its competitors. But as all the best ideas are thought of – it could be argued that the room to innovate is closing.
From a price perspective – The supermarkets provide no better example of the way in which cost can be eliminated as a genuine differentiator. The shopping comparison site Mysupermarket demonstrates this amply. A simple search for virtually any branded product reveals that all the major players have pricing (promotions excluded) that is nigh-on identical. A few months ago, Sainsbury’s even ran a national print media campaign highlighting the fact that the products shown “Look the same… and cost the same”. And I thought price fixing was illegal(!).
Taking promotion as another example – a lot of the segmentation work we do is with a view to addressing the common needs of like-minded customers with effective, targeted and relevant marketing and service. This is a laudable ideal, and an approach we’d naturally endorse. However, segmentations only work if they’re usable and it’s here that our obsession with always doing “something different” can come unstuck.
When segments are awkwardly labelled, indistinct from each other in the real world and where there’s too many of them, an “innovative” approach soon becomes an unworkable one. Something far less glamorous, tried-and-tested but, crucially, actionable is the one that sometimes needs to win out. In other words, it’s sometimes better to be roughly right, than precisely wrong.
So what’s my conclusion in this innovative/conservative debate? I’m going to shirk out of this one, I’m afraid, and go for something non-committal by returning to the theme of music. I’ll leave you with the words of the late John Peel who, in describing one of my favourite bands, The Fall, concluded they were “always different, always the same”. Awkwardly for us market researchers, we have to be both too…