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.

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.

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.

Why track party size?

August 7, 2009

This is question we are often asked, “can you explain to me why you track the size of shopper parties amongst shopping centre visitors and also why you ask spend questions of the shopper party not the individual level?”

Well, we know on average that around 60% of shopper parties are solus shoppers, in other words for these people the individual spend and the party spend is one and the same, but let us consider the other shopper groups. Let us take the example of a shopper group. Mum, dad and the ‘little un’ who is only 4 years old. Let us consider £30 spent by them on their shopping trip. The £30 was spent by the mother, but the actual cash came from the father’s bank account via cash point machine and wallet. The £30 was actually spent on clothing and toys for their daughter.

So is this spend by the mother the father or the child? Is this actually £10 per head or is it more meaningful to keep this at the £30 per party level?

Party size remains a key statistic for shopping centre managers. A fall in average party size combined with constant footfall can indicate a rise in the number of shopper parties and hence it is vital to measure spend at the party size too.

Focus Groups Briefing

July 29, 2009

The brief is the cornerstone of all research. It need not be a lengthy piece of work but there should be a written document to ensure that everyone is clear what they are expecting from the work. Whilst not comprehensive, the following ‘headlines’ should be considered, and like this post proves the brief really can be short and sweet!

1) Purpose of the research: Why is the research being considered in the first place? What hypothese do you have about your business? What questions are you hoping to get answered? Think here about who exactly will want to get access to the information provides and ultimate give consideration to just how the results are to be used in the organisation?

2) Objectives: Map out the specific topics that need to be covered, in short you need to be clear on just what it is you want to find out?

3) Target group profiles: Ideally as tightly defined as possible, with some thought to where these people might be found. One challenge we are sometimes faced with is that of wanting to find non-users. Non-users of a new or a niche brand may be very easy to find, and as such they may represent a potentially large segment to target. However we’re sometime asked by shopping centres to find non-users of their scheme. Bearing in mind that the centre itself may have existed for many years, and may potentially dominate the town centre the chance of finding non-users i.e. never users may be the equivalent of looking the needle in the haystack so perhaps you can focus on lapsed users – those that have been but have made a decision not to return – an incredible source of rich material on the areas your business may need to focus. Especially in these challenging times where sales are all important – every person in a focus group (no matter what they look or sound like) that has an opinion based on their experience has a valid and important insight into the performance of your brand and may be more helpful than you think.

4) Required feedback: How do you want or need the information, for instance this can be a ‘book of the film’ approach, more of a presentation format, an executive summary report, the full blow by blow transcript of the focus group or a video of the groups from start to end

5) Timing: Not forgetting of course to be clear just when feedback is actually needed!

So there it is. Not too hard after all.

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.

Qualitative Research Venues

April 25, 2009

We are often asked “where is the best place to hold Focus Groups?”  This is actually quite straightforward.   Here are some tips.

  1. Brand image: As the identity of the client or business under study may be announced it is important that the location used is somewhere which reflects the status of the brand. 
  2. Easy access: This means that a location should be chosen with good public transport links and with nearby parking.
  3. The basics: The room should be big enough to accommodate your respondents and you sitting comfortably in a circle with some additional sits for observers ‘at the back’, have some natural light, be at a comfortable temperature for up to 15 people (not have a noisy air conditioning or heating unit to disrupt the voice recording) , be totally quiet and closed off from any people wandering in or past,  and tea/coffee/water (but not alcohol) should be available.  Having a separate area to meet and greet the respondents so they can gather until all our present is really helpful.
  4. Beware cheap alternatives: Be aware that the brand owner’s own premises may not be ideal, for instance with shopping centre research attendees are less likely to be critical of their experience if groups take place actually in the centre’s management suite.
  5. Rented rooms: Most branded hotel chains offer more than adequate facilities for the purposes of holding Focus Groups.  Again the savings to be made in ‘no cost’ alternatives are usually false savings if the facilities are inappropriate (see point 3) since the cost of the venue tends to be less than 10% of the total project cost.
  6. Filming: One final point, if clients wish the groups to be filmed they should ideally be held in bespoke studios which are available around the country. These locations are usually fitted with two-way mirrors and an observation room.  If a viewing facility is not available filming can be arranged through a freelance professional service.

Focus Group Respondents

April 25, 2009

Another question we get asked is how do you determine who to recruit for your Focus Groups? Essentially we will aim to recruit to a given specification which is likely to be defined by criteria such as age, gender, or life stage, but can also be determined by attitudes, values or behaviour.  Where a clear recruitment brief is available that is one thing, but I’ve also been faced with the comment “I want to appeal to everyone from 18 to 80.” It’s a nice concept but essentially flawed, as far as Focus Group research is concerned, unless you are able to stretch your budget to cover all these groups.  Our approach is that in qualitative research we are aiming to talk to a small group who between them may help us uncover those issues relevant to a particular demographic, in other words each group’s composition should be of ‘like-minded’ individuals to maintain relevance. 


So it is important that we recruit along certain lines.  A too tightly-defined group, for example ABC1 current users, aged 28, non-working mums and married with 3 children, might be feasible to recruit given enough time and money but is almost certainly one extreme.  At the other end of the scale a group spec of ‘Female shoppers aged 18 to 44 years’ is probably too wide, since the 18 years olds are more likely to be living at with their parents, or possibly students, and the forty-somethings may well have children if not grandchildren of their own.  This means that they will have quite different perspectives on most issues, including your brand or market.  Mixing genders is also something that we try to avoid.  For example, combining young male pub drinkers and young female pub goers in a group could be a complete waste of time and money as each potentially is oppressed by the others expression of their differing motivations and needs from a pub. Female shoppers also have particular views on shopping which males frequently do not begin to comprehend and mixing them is not at all advisable.


The key issues to consider when creating groups, therefore, are:-


  1. Gender: the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ cliché is true in most markets.
  2. Age/life-stage: Pre-family respondents probably don’t have any interest in nappies, and many retired have no need for a mortgage!
  3. Social class: Although this has fallen out of fashion it is still in vogue in the popular press and a number of brand owners still target using social grade or class.
  4. Income: students, unless they are independently wealthy, are probably not in the market for Ferraris and many of the better off are not likely to be motivated by a lot of promotional offers.
  5. Usage/behaviour: This is possibly the most important issue when?, how often? and have they ever used your brand? – if recruiting for ‘regular’ users what is your definition of ‘regular’? Lest not forget the all important lapsed user or the non user group where it is vital to ensure they fit your criteria of ‘non’ or ‘lapsed’ customers.
  6. Values, beliefs and motivations: These are the deep-seated drivers that influence behaviour, and that help to explain the reasons behind the behaviours that take place.