Understanding customers, cost or asset?

April 26, 2012

Ask a bunch of business people and they will all go on of the importance of consumer insight, of putting the customer at the heart of your organisation, of getting close to the customer or any other similarly clever sort of phrase. 

It is one of those things we accept as being rather important and the sort of thing that is just the way businesses have to be these days.  Or do we really?

I was reminded by a tweet earlier today that as people get promoted in organisations they usually get moved further away from their customers, and thus have a lower chance of understanding their customers at first-hand.

It has been said that marketing is too important to be left solely to the marketing department.  I’d suggest the same was true about insight or market research.  Not only that, but it is too important to be seen as it is in many organisations as a ‘nice to have’ or just a cost to the business. 

I once knew of a business where conducting some research to understand how your customers perceived your service was seen as a little vanity project for the marketing team.  But they weren’t doing it because they hoped to get a free lunch from the research agency; they were doing it to give some hard facts and figures to the business and to support a corporate tag line that was about being the best.  As soon as things got tough for that business they took a knife to the research budget and they had no empirical data to back up any claims.  The senior management team saw market research as a ‘nice to have’ and not as a ‘need to have’.  To them it was really a cost and not an asset.  Sound familiar?

They had not made the connection that by cutting back on research they were getting further away from understanding their customers despite the fact that they would still have chanted in unison in any strategic workshop session the mantra ‘we need to get closer to our customers’.

In the current climate it seems that saying it and actually doing it may be harder than ever. The research budget does appear to be back on the chopping block.  Ever the easy thing to remove, I’m sure many a conversation has been had along the lines of “why conduct research every year when every other year will probably do?” 

Ironically in these times when trends move ever faster and fashions change ever quicker is it not more important than ever to understand how your market, your sector, your competition or your consumers’ needs are changing?  Arguably the demand should be for more insight, not less, for increasing budgets not cutting them.

So next time you hear someone trotting out those phrases about understanding the customer, find out what they have actually done about it.  Have they really seen insight as an asset to their business or did they really just see it as a ‘nice to have’ that quite frankly they just don’t really see the value of.

The rise of do it yourself – a good thing?

April 4, 2012

There was a time when as a brand manager/ marketing manager etc you surrounded yourself with the right mix of skills. Often this involved paying other people who were experts in their particular field to do the stuff that you couldn’t do.  These people worked for companies who did things like design things, draw things or write things. (Clue: You knew it’s what they did because they tended to work for businesses with wacky names or ones with three or four surnames thrown together, and they all seemed to have been to better universities than you).

They in turn might hire other people to do things like storyboard, script and film stuff for a TV commercial.  (Clue: You recognised these other people because they seemed to wear clothes that you didn’t think were suitable for wearing during the week). Somehow it seemed to make sense.

But then things changed a bit. You didn’t need to spend money on people to do all of that sort of stuff. You could do some of it yourself.  There were computer programs that meant you could type your own brochures, why you could even use other programs to design things like maybe a logo, after all how hard can it be?

Then other people came along and invented other things that you could use to do your own research.

So what is the role of the brand manager /marketing manager in this day and age? And is all this do it yourself thinking really that smart?

Nowadays it seems (particularly to reduce costs) you can do a lot of things yourself. Of course you write your own annual brand plan, and you even type it yourself! You go out and observe some of your consumers in real life and also compare and contrast your competitors’ products or service offerings.  But you might also be tempted to do a bit of your own research using a cheap web application, after all how hard is it to write questionnaire, format it and then email it out to your own database?  The next bit gets a bit boring though. You have to analyse the responses, and then really you should compare the results somehow either to a previous study or make some other meaningful comparisons. Only you don’t, because that’s not what you do and it’s not what you should do.

I’d probably use the example of the orchestra and the conductor. It may not be the best example but let’s go with it all the same. You see in the orchestra my belief is that the conductor sort of keeps it all together.  He or she ‘orchestrates’ a group of other people with their own skill sets and as a result creates something wonderful.  But the conductor even if he/she is really good on the violin doesn’t take the solo spot. If he/she is rather brilliant on the trumpet doesn’t take over when the trumpet gets its solo spot and even if they are a wiz on the timpani doesn’t hog the limelight for the percussion solo.  They use other people to do the bits they are good at and the really smart conductor probably also recognises their own limitations.

Just because you have a camera built into your phone doesn’t mean that you should shoot your own brochure. Just because you have a camcorder in your phone doesn’t mean you should produce your own commercial. Just because you found a cheap app on the net doesn’t mean you should do your own research.

Remember, you are the conductor, so conduct.  Do not try to play every part as well.

Measuring Marketing

August 17, 2010

In our recent survey of shopping centre managers, we found that 80% of shopping centres were commissioning advertising to promote themselves. What surprised us was that only 50% of shopping centres were measuring how effective their advertising was.

Marketing budgets can be enormous, with huge TV ad campaigns, but without market research it is impossible to tell if your message is getting to the right people and if it is influencing their behaviour.

Lord Leverhulme famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the problem is I do not know which half.” Without this type of feedback on marketing campaigns some shopping centres will never know.

It all Ads up

August 3, 2010

It’s good to see ITV back in the black, benefitting from a general increase in advertising spend.  As the economy has been recovering, firms are reinvesting in their marketing budgets, but are very much conscious of getting value for money.

We at Business Blueprints offer an independent assessment of how effective marketing campaigns are.  A clear indication of the penetration, awareness and relevance of a campaign that is not prejudiced by self-interest, gives you the information you need to judge the performance of your marketing budgets.

In a recent survey, we found that whilst 8-out-of-10 respondents were spending money on advertising, only 50% were conducting any research about the effect of their advertising, and only 35% were getting any customer feedback at all.

Don’t just do it

July 30, 2010

I read with interest in Retail Week a piece on B&Q and how they had embraced the internet for their on line research.

Using their own social media application ‘B&Q Voice’ they had generated their own panel of 80,000 customers which had allowed them to generate 2-way dialogue with their shoppers in the form of both quant surveys and through focus groups.

It is encouraging to see the research aspects of on line communities being made use of in addition to the ‘one to many’ broadcasting which seems to be the norm from many retailers.

Whatever next? It’s PyjamaGate

January 29, 2010

In amongst all the doom and gloom in our world it is great to see we still have a sense of perspective and the ability to focus on the real issues.

It seems that the wearing of pyjamas has become a hot topic for one supermarket in South Wales where customers have been pushing their trolleys dressed in their finest sleepwear. This of course raises a good question. Should shoppers be able to dress as they like or does Tesco have the right to dictate what their customers do or do not wear? Where does this lead on to? Banning football shirts but allowing rugby shirts, allowing jeans but not if they are too low slung?

Thankfully once again research comes to the rescue with the clarification that footwear must be worn and and nightwear is not permitted – a decision arrived at (according to the Tesco’s spokesperson) by “listening to customer feedback”.

The Power of Facebook

December 21, 2009

Anybody who had any doubt of the power of marketing on Facebook has had an object lesson this week from a couple from Essex. Jon and Tracy Morter successfully campaigned using only a single medium, gathering nearly half a million fans on their Facebook page. Taking a song originally released 17 years ago and beating the 4-month long marketing campaign driven single from Joe McElderry shows the real power of reaching people. Taken in conjunction with the fact that this campaign was only one week long, and had no budget at all the results are truly remarkable.

This may now mark a true shift in UK businesses perceptions about online and social media. As we’ve already said in other blogs, more and more companies are using social media to reach and understand their customers. This is what research has always been designed to do, but the advantage of social media is that it enables the possibility of personalised two-way feedback between a brand and their customers. 2010 will be a year that using social media will become a mainstream business strategy, with more brands realising the huge potential that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter bring.

Are those my numbers?

June 30, 2009

It is always pleasing when a client actually quotes us, and in the Daily Telegraph recently we read just that. In an article about Liverpool, Iain MacGillivray, Centre Manager for St Johns Shopping Centre, quoted some average spend figures directly from surveys that we have undertaken in his centre. This helped to show that even in the midst of a recession and with the recent opening of Liverpool One, the new 42-acre shopping centre on their doorstep, average spend per shopper party had risen by around £2 per trip from £24.96 in Spring 08 to £27.05 in Spring 09. This is great for Iain and St Johns since it proves independently of anything he thinks what has actually been going on. It is critical at this time with only footfall as an indicator of performance which has a +/- accuracy of 10% and random feedback from retailers that you know how well you are performing – especially when the pressure from underperforming retailers is probably at its peak. There is nothing more effective and powerful than being able to confidently talk about your business and be able to quantify your customers behaviour and their opinions and thus help the retailers in your centre to understand their context and their potential.

No hunches, no gut feel, no finger in the air, just good solid facts direct from your own shoppers. On a personal level it is particularly pleasing to see just exactly what insights we can bring through our unique brand of shopping centre research. I can’t think of a better advert for us, thank you Iain.

Top 10 tips for Market Research

May 7, 2009

One of the events of our month is the arrival of Management Today magazine, within which they never fail to deliver a list of top tips.  On the basis of if you can’t beat them join them, here is a top 10 to do list for marketing research projects:

  1. Understand the client’s needs: sounds simple but it is important to recognise the needs of different stakeholders and to be aware of the demands on them. 
  2. Play back the brief: the brief may not always be written down, yes really, so it is vital to confirm back to the client and/or budget owner exactly what you will be doing.
  3. Clarify deliverables: whilst you may visualise the output, this may not be as clear to all parties, so confirming what everyone will get is vital.
  4. Develop a step-by-step plan: all the clichés about planning are true and none more so in research, and there probably can never be too much detail.
  5. Remain objective: the purpose of market research is to deliver an independent, expert opinion based on credible, rigorous  questioning and analysis of your customers. 
  6. Track the whole process: regular updates are vital to the successful management of the project.
  7. Clarify who does what: make sure everyone involved knows exactly what is expected of them.
  8. Accept that things can go wrong: stuff goes wrong, don’t be surprised by it, but do ensure that you have alternatives in place.
  9. Keep your client informed: we’re all inquisitive, so  make sure there is a mechanism for keeping the brand owner aware of progress.
  10. Learn from it: A de-brief at the end of the project is a must to ensure constant improvement.