Archive for the ‘Simi Dhawan’ Category
Business-to-business market research and business intelligence agency, B2B International, was voted one of the top six research agencies in the country in the ‘Best Agency with a turnover of under £20m’ category at the Market Research Agency (MRS) Awards.
At the MRS awards evening in London on 10th December, B2B International was judged one of the top six agencies on many levels: strong financial performance, brand strength, client retention, global expansion, diversification into consumer research, good employee progression, and innovation and thought leadership.
Results posted earlier this year by B2B International for 2011 saw revenue breaking the £4m ($6.3m) barrier and profit increasing by 17.5% from £580,000 to £700,000 EBITDA. Since its formation in 1998, the company has continued its record of growing its revenue and making a profit for 14 consecutive years. The agency has opened offices in North America and China, and recently launched a consumer arm, Deep See, for a complete b2b2c research solution.
Nick Hague, MD of B2B International, said: “With a record number of entries, it is a great honour to have been shortlisted in the MRS’ prestigious ‘best agency under £20m’ award, and a wonderful recognition of how the company has grown, diversified, and won new work this past year. We pride ourselves on maximizing return on investment for clients, especially in such a harsh business environment”.
Following the launch of Google Consumer Surveys, Simi Dhawan offers her thoughts on this new way of gauging consumer opinion
Every month, here at B2B International, we hold a working Lunch & Learn meeting for all executives. This serves as a sort of groupthink discussion into ways of advancing the business, whilst raising collective awareness of hot topics (think ‘Big Data’ or ‘Mobile Research’).
Last month, having just launched our B2C arm ‘Deep See’, it was not surprising that the recent commence of Google’s Consumer Surveys tool cropped up. Similar to ads, a business pays Google in order to construct a self-designed short survey that reaches consumer audiences by being embedded within publisher sites (e.g. Adweek) with access to select consumers/readers, who can be targeted accordingly. Whilst readers browse articles, a short survey question will pop up and readers are then introduced with the trade-off between answering the question (taking a few seconds of their time) in return for gaining access to the premium content they are seeking. Publishers then receive a percentage of what Google charges the business who is commissioning the research – a ‘win-win’ money-making model.
Figure 1: Google Consumer Surveys Homepage – www.google.com/insights/consumersurveys
Whilst one reader, in response to James Verrinder’s article about the tool within Research Live magazine, exclaimed:
‘I think everyone in the industry just peed their pants,’
this is not entirely true. Whilst any new (and mass) means of data collection does of course stir up a gossip frenzy, it does not mean that we are cashing in our chips or drawing up a panic-ridden contingency career plan just yet.
In truth, I admire Google for recognising this opportunity, which looks as though it could potentially provide a more cost-efficient alternative for smaller businesses with limited resources from which to commission what might otherwise be a full-scale and detailed research programme. However, whilst it is well suited to short, quantitative surveys (more comparable to a ‘dip your toe in the water’ polling survey), this type of research is not without limitations…..and more specifically, it is of little current value for the B2B researcher (as its name implies).
Whilst Consumer Surveys is able to target respondents based on basic demographics i.e. age, gender and census region, it can go no further than this. Moreover, if the total survey length is 3 short questions, then another limitation of the tool is that each question is actually answered by a different person, rather than allowing a single individual to complete all of the questions (which places the validity of any cross-analysis into question). More than this, there are time restrictions. Should you need the survey completing within a certain timeframe then this option may need careful consideration as it is directly related to many factors and, as such, difficult to predict (e.g. from the sensitivity of questions and the screening criteria to publisher site content and competing surveys in existence at the time).
However, whilst understanding these limitations might push our noses back into joint and release us from any emotional whiplash incurred from the initial revelation of Google’s move into the market research industry, one point worth noting is that this will not be the only application Google launches in this space – and the likelihood is that this will cause a ripple in terms of sparking others to think of new, innovative measures to harness insight from ‘Big Data’.
In this week’s Business Surgery, Simi Dhawan takes a look at the role of ‘copying’ within product and service development.
Being intrinsically nosy, it is no surprise that I have found myself in research. Of particular interest, is anything related to new product development – where the words ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ are frequently bandied about as USPs. Given this interest, I was intrigued to read Lucy Kellaway’s article in the FT which discussed academic arguments towards social behaviour claiming that ‘almost all our decisions are based on copying’. The theory suggests that as time goes on and we are faced with more decisions and busier diaries, we tend to learn from others and do more copying.
From a business perspective, whilst copying might bear negative connotations as the “cheat’s” way, by contrast, it is a practice that most successful businesses have actually mastered! A perfect example is the smartphone. Whilst many versions exist, making it hard to distinguish a clear product definition, broadly speaking, this is a mobile phone built on a mobile computing platform (the operating system that controls it – like Windows), enabling it to perform more advanced functions than a standard phone. Whilst IBM introduced the first smartphone in 1992 – the ‘IBM Simon’ (as seen below), more advanced smartphone products now make up the base of every leading phone manufacturer’s product portfolio. A clear case in point that ‘copying’ and advancing others’ ideas is not only commonplace, but canny business practice in getting ahead of competitors and capitalising on existing markets created by their products and hard work!
There are many such historical examples in business, although you would meet with some resistance in getting people to proudly declare that the basis of their creative innovation is imitation. Whilst (not surprisingly) there is stigma attached in linking the two together, I agree with Lucy Kellaway’s notion that it is less a “necessary evil” but a skill to be embraced and perfected. This is a topic that has been the subject of much scholarly debate for many years. An article by Theodore Levitt in the Harvard Business Review in 1966 made the point that our business world increasingly bows to innovation – seeing it as the pre-requisite to business survival and growth – a view that still stands true 25 years on. However, the article also goes on to explain that whilst we see a continual flow of seemingly new products and services enter our market, strictly speaking, these are actually not innovations at all but imitations of previous products where he argues that imitation is “not only more abundant than innovation, but actually a much more prevalent road to business growth and profits”.
Tied in with this, as an avid viewer of the TV series ‘Dragon’s Den’ (clearly the pinnacle showcase of all revolutionary product development), amidst the public annihilation of prospective entrepreneurs for our shameless entertainment, the ‘Dragons’ appear to cap the risk of their investments by researching a couple of basic principles, namely:
• Is there an existing market for this product?
• Is there a patent in place to protect this product?
Fundamentally, all of what we need to know can be primarily captured in sales potential and product demand (to ensure growth), paralleled with measures taken to reduce competitor imitation (allowing us to enjoy product differentiation for as long as possible). In fact, the very existence of patent protection is evidence alone that imitation and copying forms a large part of everyday business practice!
Equally, more than most, product development teams recognise that the spurring on of “new” ideas does not happen in isolation of existing ideas. In fact, very much like the atoms that make up every human being which are in a constant state of change, product development is also a continuum and never at a standstill. A stream of thoughts piled on top of thoughts, advancing and changing all the time. Indeed, in B2B research, we’re often directing insights to our client’s “product development team” rather than a “new product team” per se. More than this, since most patents are only secured for a fixed period of time (rather than being infinite), this demonstrates wide recognition that businesses reserve the right to eventually access others’ ideas and build upon these, where this is an essential part of product development and innovation. Just imagine if we were all still reliant on using the ‘IBM Simon’!
As a junior researcher, I entered my role condoning the mantra that “the best products solve a problem”. Now, several years on, experience and common sense suggests that “the best products often solve problems with existing products”. Whilst I always relish an opportunity to test a new product or concept, this is often an adaptation or “add-on” feature to an existing product, rather than something that is completely revolutionary. In B2B markets, whilst the words ‘copying’ and ‘imitation’ might offend our clients and perhaps demean all of their hard work in bringing something new to the fore, the intelligence that they gather from working with us when it comes to testing their concept or benchmarking this against competitor products, suggests that they fully understand these principles as forming an integral part of business behaviour. If they are not learning from what competitors are doing, then they are learning (and developing) their products from the feedback and ideas obtained from their customers or end-users. It is this mass overlay of available information that allows them to progress their ideas and concepts, so as to implement them more effectively.
In short, I am not arguing that adaptations to existing products or services are not examples of innovation in business terms. Rather, these are the best examples when they can drive sales and growth. Therefore, businesses need to both recognise and act upon such principles by focusing their attention on competitive intelligence as a catalyst for their own ideas or new market opportunities. If the words ‘copying’ or ‘imitation’ sound misguided or offensive, then call this “product development”, “rejuvenation” or “replenishment”. In fact, call it what you like, but know that successful imitation will see you grow. Learning from others will not only save you time, but see your business replicate the countless successes of others that have done the same – a lesson certainly worth copying.
In her latest Thursday Night Insight, Simi Dhawan assesses the place of stereotypes and clichés in the world of b2b marketing
Political correctness credibly avoids offending others and yet conflicts with our psychological well-being. Whilst we’re fiercely encouraged – even warned, of the dangers of spurting out some stereotype or saying anything that might come across as casually anti-social, in psychological terms, we could argue that in some cases, our psyche inherently needs to build stereotypes to make sense of the world. Put briefly, the classification scheme in psychology termed “pigeonholing” suggests that we’re so overloaded with information entering our five senses each and every day, that we need to “group” some of it together or, at least, make general inferences (based on previous knowledge) to digest it all. Of course, that is not to overlook the dangers of making wrong assumptions – particularly those based on social stereotypes.
A few weeks ago now, myself and a colleague made our way in the early hours from Manchester to Liverpool, given that Liverpool airport was the nearest location from which we could enjoy a direct flight to Poland, courtesy of “Whizz Air” (recommended – if only for the shocking bright pink theme that runs throughout the logo, aircraft and cabin crew attire). On entry into the main check-in, in full view of all of Liverpool’s finest, was an enlarged poster, advertising a certain ‘commercial sparkling light perry’ that is not unfamiliar to some of us:
Now, whilst I have been unable to source the identical visual delight that graced our eyes that very day, if you imagine the above bottles surrounded by wide-eyed party-clad young females holding wine glasses, then you wouldn’t be too far off. On noticing this advert, I recalled an earlier conversation with my colleague that in the early hours, amongst the check-in counters of many a budget airline, you can often expect to enjoy the gleeful laughter of a “hen do” party or two. With this nostalgic recollection, I couldn’t help but think “good on you, Lambrini, you know your target market!”
About a week later a casual remark from a close friend revealed that Lambrini is actually manufactured in Liverpool – so was this more about inevitable geographical and commercial convenience or was this a targeted marketing ploy?
Still undecided, I went about reviewing other advertising campaigns to see if there was any more evidence to secure a view on how far stereotypes are played upon and it quickly became clear that my original suspicions were right. A few experiences (in front of the box) and conversations (in the pub) later, some interesting observations came to fruition – where the most active stereotypes appeared to play on the differences between males and females.
Amongst my “fieldwork”, the first growing trend I enjoyed was with advertisers seemingly offering females the “upper hand” at the expense of de-masculinising many a slightly ridiculed man. I share a personal favourite, as follows:
- The “Treat It With Respect” Toyota Yaris campaign wherein a young female who is begrudged by her boyfriend’s mistreatment of her beloved car two days before (when he spills some food in it) later gets him back by “accidentally” ruining a picture she takes of him and one of his favoured celebrities they bump into (‘Gaz’ from Supergrass, for those interested). See below link:
The second observation was the slightly shameless “tongue-in-cheek” manner by which advertisers blatantly flog their products by building their campaigns upon a broad cliché. For example:
-The Lynx Excite “Even Angels Will Fall” adverts revolve around vaguely patronising your average male by enticing them into purchasing a deodorant that is so irresistible that it will send a plurality of model-esque females in their direction – angels inclusive:
Whilst it might be easy to try and sabotage an advertiser’s attempt to allure their target consumers by advocating the use of general clichés, I hesitate to do so. It appears that this activity is a complete necessity if you are to successfully plan and execute your marketing activities by following The Four “R’s” Of B2B Marketing, namely:
1. Revenue – Marketers must generate revenue opportunities
2. Reputation – Marketers must build the company’s reputation/brand by engaging customers
3. Relationships – Marketers need to creatively strengthen relationships with customers/partners/media and reduce “distant gaps”
4. Relevant – Marketers must have something meaningful, relevant and of value to customers
Indeed, taking the aforementioned Lynx advert as an example, it does appear as though this brand has been successful in meeting these B2B Marketing guiding principles:
1. Revenue – It targets the advert towards those most likely to purchase the product (men) and makes use of TV as a medium which will easily reach a mass market.
2. Reputation – It consistently falls in line with other campaigns e.g. ‘the Lynx effect’ which similarly follows the theme of a deodorant that enhances male desirability from the opposite sex. (However, does this alienate non-heterosexual consumers?)
3. Relationships – By offering some level of consistency, this, in turn, enhances the brand image of Lynx. It makes it more memorable and clear to understand what the brand is about – avoiding any ambiguity or “distant gaps”.
4. Relevant – Although it is built around the male stereotype that within their “psyche” exists the shallow desire to attract the attention of beautiful women, it is altogether presented in a very “tongue-in-cheek” fashion. Often overly enthusiastic and quite openly a visual satire with angels dropping from heaven whilst passers-by look up in the sky in awe. In this way, it does not ridicule the brand or bore viewers, but entertains and makes us smile.
In B2B market research, whilst we approach each project from an objective stance, we would be lying if we told you that we never involve any common sense in our analysis. In a recent European research project examining bathroom usage of general home-owners, it would have been impossible to not have an expectation on “activities carried out in the bathroom” and was therefore a reassuring finding that more males than females trim their beards each morning (suggesting our data was representative of our prior understanding!)
However, it is often good research practice to include a few “sense check” questions in any survey, to help validate the accuracy of your data in general, where if something looks out of the ordinary, then you can assess your approach. In this respect, taking human experience and general judgements into consideration (even those that could sit inside a common finding or cliché) is not a disadvantage – but a valuable skill. In short, research is not an exercise employed to unveil a host of new surprises to the marketers commissioning any project; rather, it exists to further refine and build on our pre-existing thoughts and inferences. To further demonstrate my view that clichés can work in our favour, I (in clichéd fashion) end with a quote by the eminently wise Stephen Fry:
“It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.”
“It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.”
In this weeks Thursday Night Insight, Simi Dhawan finds a stark difference in the Inuit daily routine when compared to her own, but also finds undertones of universal similarity.
I’m turning into my dad. Not quite the revelation that a twenty-something female should readily admit, but there it is. I accept this statement on the grounds that I thoroughly enjoyed watching “Human Planet” on the box this evening – gripping stuff indeed. The content could not have been more apt as I watched how men and women across the globe wondrously survive Arctic conditions – whilst my mind flipped back to the photos emailed by colleagues in our New York office this afternoon displaying the 17 inches of snow that had fallen overnight!
It’s often easy to accept your daily routine as you instinctively follow a set pattern of behaviours day-in, day-out. Get up. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Go to work – and so on. In doing so, it’s no wonder that you can forget about the bigger picture and fathom that human beings across the globe live a completely different lifestyle to your own. Today, I watched in awe as I learned of how an Inuit’s dogs are more than merely “Man’s Best Friend” in Greenland, but are their only reliant means of transport to source food and other resources for their survival. Whilst we grumble and curse if our boiler breaks down, there are those who can within minutes create warmth in dangerously freezing conditions by building an igloo with just their hands for tools – now that’s resourceful.
Whilst the programme unfolded and I watched mesmerized by how “different” life in other corners of the world is, perhaps the most interesting revelation was that, in fact, it isn’t much different at all. This occurred to me as one Inuit turned to his brother during a hunting expedition and grumpily requested that “he stop snoring so loudly this time!”
Whilst I don’t claim to be sledged to work every morning by 12 Greenlandic dogs across sea ice, what I can profess is that as human beings, our basic needs for survival do not change. How we go about achieving these needs in our everyday existence is merely a product of our environment and heritage, but in essence, these are universally the same.
In B2B market research, some of our prospective Clients would feel reassured to learn that we’ve previously worked within a similar industry to theirs. However, in truth, whilst this logic stands to reason, I’m confident that my colleagues would agree that whether we have or not makes little odds when compared with what really matters; the question or objective that the research is seeking to address. When we’re designing a study that will shed meaningful light on an issue, we don’t worry so much about the sector as we do about the research method we’ll adopt and the specific questions we will ask. If we’re product testing, then we know a demo within a focus group is likely to ascertain the most meaningful results – whether the industry is education or sanitaryware, what matters is that the audience is the right one and the questions we ask will give us the answers we need.
As people, we enjoy the possibility that we are unique, but yet feel reassured when we are backed by others. In the same way, whilst businesses thrive on standing apart from their competitors, they equally enjoy keeping a keen eye on their competition. A risk assessment could be carried out before an important decision is made. However, in simple terms you have two options: you take risks and lead the market by innovation or you opt for a more sensible approach and wait for others to take the leap first. If the market reacts positively, you can jump on the bandwagon and strike whilst the iron’s hot (to win market share of a market which you now know exists) or you go back to the drawing board if the market is not forthcoming.
As a researcher, the most rewarding aspect of what we do is knowing the value that you can add to such a decision. I don’t say this with any agenda, but from experiences that I’ve repeatedly encountered. During a project brief, you are completely at the mercy of those responsible for informing you about their business and the particular product, service or market that is being explored. However, post-research at the project de-brief, it never fails to intrigue all involved how much more insight is warranted from research – from the voices of the market as it stands now, rather than an assuming perspective that is slightly out of sync.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have the fundamental demeanour to call myself a risk-taker, simply because, by genetic default, I like to think things through and take measured decisions. However, given the right tools, information and intellectual ammunition, there would be no reason why I wouldn’t take a risk to try and reap the rewards in doing so! Indeed, this is what market research gives you. It’s the balance between a blind-sighted gamble and a calculated risk. It’s realising that to know your market you need to listen to what it wants and stay close to it. Like our fellow human Inuit’s across the globe, it’s imperative that to survive any condition (however extreme), you need to keep alert of every changing aspect of your environment – only taking risks once you have acquired all the necessary skills and resources you can pool together to do so.