Posts Tagged ‘consumer’

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Like to Watch

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Watch what I do; ignore what I say.

Watch your customer. Just stand around and quietly observe. Retail expert Paco Underhill (a man worth talking to) has made a very good living out of simply watching people shop, asking a few intelligent questions, mixing in a healthy dose of experience and intuition, and forming conclusions.

Beware of the Hawthorne effect (i.e. once people know they’re being observed they change their behavior). Only after you’ve formed a sense of how people behave should you start asking questions. How their answers match (and don’t match) their behavior is where insights often reside. Why do they say one thing and do another? What can you do to take advantage of this attitudinal gap?

For years, consumer research told Kellogg’s that our customers religiously read the nutritional label when selecting cereal. Does that smell right to you? The real-world approach was to stand in a few aisles and watch the process. Not surprisingly, very few shoppers took the time to even scan the nutritional content. But, of course, they want to be seen as good consumers and parents, so they tell us that they did.

Combined with the notion of “brand as experience,” I think there’s a lot to be gained by regularly watching your customers walk through the experience you’ve created. Watch and learn.

In the same line, television ratings are also a joke. The important question to ask is not “What did you watch,” but “What did you do while you watched?” As we all know, viewers typically flick the channel changer at commercial breaks, making that program’s rating irrelevant to whoever placed ads during that break. These real behaviors matter.

As they search for insight and opportunity, marketers are even daring to go where no one has gone before- into the bathroom. Consider the highly successful extension of Mr. Clean by Procter and Gamble. Ever impressive in their observational work, P&G made sure to observe people first-hand. Researchers were reportedly amazed to learn that people dreaded cleaning the bathroom. They discovered that some people even cleaned their bathrooms in raincoats and boots, just to avoid contact with that specific filth.

Even with a preconceived idea that people dislike cleaning, there was absolutely nothing like seeing the real thing. As a result, Mr. Clean MagicReach was created and the painful experience was alleviated.

So, watch and listen to real people before you interfere with that reality by asking your questions- as insightful as they might be. Get the real story. Read or listen to Paco Underhill for more detail and lots of inspiration on this subject.

As the old aphorism says, look before you leap.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy – stay tuned for more of his thoughts on the Customer, Positioning and the Future of all this stuff coming to the 3rd Button in the New Year.

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Introducing On the Future

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

trends-2015

While you may read about a lot of trends as 2014 winds down, we’re happy to introduce On the Future, our first forecast of product and brand trends for 2015 and beyond. As you’ll see, our report is quite different. It goes beyond the coming year to see what brands and products will be up to several years from now. We deliver this in what we call Sterling Futurecasts. Each futurecast in an actual illustration depicting a product, service or item we believe will be brought to life thanks to the convergence of many aspects of our current reality.

Using a cross-section of cultural anthropology, market research, trends observation and forecasting, and industrial and experiential design, some of the Sterling Futurecasts include:

Urban Defense

The over-population of urban environments and the creation of more mega-cities will drive the creation of health and wellness products that help consumers navigate and fight environmental challenges. Sample products include pockets embedded with a silver-based antimicrobial nanotextile that sanitizes your hands on contact.

Augmentality

Wearables that track the steps you take or the food you eat are already falling behind the true potential for the convergence between health and technology. Future products will allow for up-to-the-minute reports on your blood composition in order to recommend changes to your diet and exercise regimen.

Frugeois (pronounced Froo-ZHwa)

Millennials and the generation that follows have each experienced the recent economic recession in their own way, and each has learned that conspicuous consumption and careless spending never ends well. For them, being frugal and finding new ways to reuse and repurpose what they already have is paramount.

We invite you to download the report and let us know what you think the future holds.

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The Importance of Why

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

You know the who, the what, the where and the how, but it all starts with the why.

It seems as if I’ve been running into this kind of situation a lot lately. The marketer has a ton of research on the customer, possibly all the way down to a working CRM model. The marketer also knows, from research that might range from huge segmentation studies to lots of highly creative qualitative work, what the customer thinks- of the product, the brand, the market and the competition.

In other words, the who and the what are well understood- but not the why. To me, the why is all about context- the real-life context into which our products and services must somehow fit.

Why do your customers do what they do, think what they think, and say what they say?

If you really want to get to the bottom of the why, you’ve got to be willing to step into the real lives of your customers, the real lives that will go on whether your brand and business is there or not. You’ve got to understand how these lives are working, how deep-seated attitudes determine how customers approach your product or service. This essential context is the medium within which you must operate- the medium through which your marketing stimulus must travel if it is to create the desired response.

Yes, there are trained psychologists out there with the knowledge and tools to probe the inner workings of your customer’s psyche. Some of them are probably worth their weight in gold. I just haven’t had the pleasure of working with one of them yet. My personal bias is that while I may be missing out on some deep-seated revelation, there’s nothing I can get from a therapist that I couldn’t get from a beer with a few friends. So, with this bias as context, here’s a simple suggestion: Just talk to your customer. Conduct a set of comfortable, natural discussions with your customers, and don’t ask them anything about your business. Just talk about them. Learn about their hopes, fears, ambitions, attitudes and points of view. Just let go and don’t worry about all that marketing crap- save that for a different discussion.

Now that you’ve stepped back and learned about the why, you should be able to link this context to the “what” that you already know. You’ll find yourself much more confident as you move forward, able to leverage how your audience really feels and connecting it to what you need to accomplish in the marketplace. And the consumer, who hopefully in the course of this book became the customer, now becomes a full-dimensional human being.

Stay tuned next time for more thoughts on the Customer from Austin McGhie, Head of Sterling Strategy.

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Research is Reality Television for Marketers

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

tvAs I’ve said before, only idiots and crazed entrepreneurs make decisions without research. A few of those entrepreneurs are legendary, precisely because they defied business or marketing logic and did what research told them not to do. This is how truly differentiated businesses are built and how many truly differentiated brands have been devised. This is why those legendary entrepreneurs were so wildly successful. But this is also why they are so few in number.

Smart marketers play the odds. On the occasions when they bravely ignore the odds, they do so at least knowing what those odds are. Smart marketers do their homework. They’re not bound by it or held hostage by it, but they do it. You’re not an idiot when you defy logic; you’re only an idiot when you don’t know what that logic is.

You must give a high priority to getting as close as possible to the real world. Participate personally. Get hands-on as much as possible. Stay in touch with your customer.

In the US, marketers and their agencies tend to live in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. They tend not to shop at Wal-Mart, not to ride the No. 2 bus to work and not to consider Denny’s a big night out. In other words, they tend to be out of touch with their average consumer.

At the 2004 Academy Awards, held in March 2005, host Chris Rock did a remarkable thing. He took the television audience away from the beautiful people in the theater audience and to a nearby Cineplex, where he interviewed real moviegoers. None of these people had seen any of the best movie nominees, and most of them cited Saw, Barbershop and White Chicks as the best films of 2004. You can fight reality if you’re on a mission to raise the entertainment bar, but you’d better embrace reality if you’re a marketer.

So what to do?

Hire a company to conduct ethnographic-style fieldwork for you, and insist on coming along. Spend time with people in their homes, at work, on shopping trips. Our strategists often like to talk to people in “friendship pairs,” so they’re more comfortable with the process and more likely to call BS on each other. (There’s at least as much BS in reality-based marketing research as there is in reality TV.)

And do not- do not- mistake focus groups for real life. Recruiting a bunch of people from a database and setting them in a room with strangers, a moderator and a two-way mirror is about as far from reality as any of us will ever get without pharmaceuticals. People who agree to do this for money cannot be considered representative.

For reality you need to get back out into the real world. The closer you get to reality- to real customers moving through real lives with real feelings, fears and desires- the closer you are to the kind of insights that can really make a difference.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy – stay tuned next week for more on the difference between data and insight.

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Sterling Buzz…

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 3.19.11 PM

We’re happy to share the findings of some fascinating research conducted by Google in partnership with Ipsos and Sterling Brands! Now we can say without a doubt, that digital research has become more important than ever in combination with in-store shopping and linking consumers to local stores.

“Eighty-seven percent of shoppers research before visiting a store, 79% search during their visit and 35% look after, according to research released today by Google, based on an online survey of 6,000 smartphone users conducted in partnership with Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands.” -AdAge

Click here to read the full findings from the study

And in a related story published by AdAge, retailer Macy’s has used these Google digital search findings to bolster local inventory ads to highlight what’s in local stores for shoppers who use devices to plan and complete a purchase. Read more on that story here<<

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Customers Not Marketing Advisors

Monday, October 20th, 2014

There is a critically important and logical order implied when it comes to strategy development, a priority that is often ignored by marketers, strategy consultants and (especially) communication agencies. It is a simple syllogism that goes like this:

-Know where your differentiated advantages lie

-Know what you need to do to win the game

-Then go to your customer and find out how to win

Rely on business strategy, competitive advantage and marketplace dynamics to tell you what to do, not the customer. Instead, the customer should tell you how to do it.

To find your strategy, there a number of things you must do, and an order in which customer feedback comes into play:

1.) Look Inside. Based on the vision and core capabilities of your organization, your competitive advantage and what you see as prevailing marketplace trends, determine  the strategic alternative or alternatives that are best for you from a long-term, bottom-line perspective. I’m making this sound easy, but finding the strategy that brings all of this together in one idea is a real art.

2.) Determine which strategy is best. It’s OK to talk to your customer to determine how to refine that strategy. Will they give you permission? Where does that permission start and where does it end? What sort of stimulus do you need to get the response that they’ve indicated they’re capable of?

3.) Find the easiest path to implement your strategy. Customer research is all about finding the easiest path, in that it allows you to find natural marketplace momentum and use it to your advantage.

To put it simply, don’t ask the customer – “Do you like this ad?” Ask them “Does this motivate you to do/buy X?” Customers are not marketing advisors, but they will tell you what they will or wont do.

Norwegian Cruise Lines once embarked on a beautiful, award-winning advertising campaign designed to entice young people to take cruises. The company essentially ignored the competitive realities of its own business. Surveys found that young people loved the ads- and so the campaign went full steam ahead.

But “Do you like the ads?” was the wrong question. “Will you go on a cruise?” was the right question. An even more critical question should have been posed to the older people who really do go on cruises, and that was: “Will this ad campaign scare you away?” Unfortunately, the answer was: yes. Older folks stayed away from Norwegian in droves while only a trickle of young people took the plunge. Bad for Norwegian. Good for its competitors, who had stuck to marketing to those older cruise takers.

Remember to develop yours strategy first, then go to marketing. And, if you are going to talk to your customer, ask the right questions.

Austin McGhie is Sterling’s head of Strategy

Next week we take a deeper look at research and its rightful role in support of brand strategy.

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The Consumer is Dead

Monday, October 6th, 2014

For what it’s worth, the term ‘consumer’ really irritates me. I still use it to make myself understood, but it bugs me. With time, I’ve concluded that the word bugs me for strategic reasons- not just because I don’t like the word itself.

‘Consumer’ conjures up a mass of people ready to blindly ‘consume’ my product. By comparison, the word ‘customer’ seems more singular and implies a relationship of some kind. Consumers consume. Customers purchase- if they are treated right. Consumers are the way of the past. Customers are the wave of the future.

This makes a difference on a couple of fronts. Right now, retailers have customers and most of their suppliers have consumers. For structural reasons, but also because of this schizoid mindset, the retailer often has a much stronger relationship with that person than does the manufacturer. Over time, this almost always leads the retailer to become a more trusted ‘guarantor’ of product quality than the manufacturer. Ultimately, this means that the retailer can source products and build brands that the customer trusts more than those from the manufacturer- and they’ll be cheaper for many of the same structural reasons.

I believe everyone needs to build a real, working customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. Forget the software for now; just embrace the theory. In the old world, terms like 1:1 marketing, segmentation and mass marketing were too often viewed as distinct alternatives. The fact is, for many marketers, inside their customer database reside customers who deserve to be handled 1:1 and can be profitably marketed to this way, customers who can be approached on a segment basis, and customers who can only be profitable if they’re treated en masse.

Depending on your business, you may even be able to determine the unprofitable customer- and although all consumers may seem like they are worth having, some are definitely best sent over to your competition.

So, let’s stop thinking about the people buying our products and services as consumers and promote them to the exalted status of customer… and then we can all go back to fighting over them.

If you’re a manufacturer and this creates confusion with intermediates such as retailers, who you currently call customers, I have another suggestion. Call them partners and treat them accordingly.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy. Stay tuned for a continued, in-depth take on the customer all month long.

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Build an Experience

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

A brand is a promise of a customer experience.

This definition should be fairly obvious when you look at immersive or experiential brands such as retailers (and many services). But it is also at play in a more subtle way in even the simplest product categories.

In these more subtle cases, you may have to shift your mindset from that of a consumer buying your product to that of a consumer experiencing your brand. In order to do this, try walking through a real shopping experience, from start to finish, with an assortment of your customers. Map the ‘experience trail’ for each. Where are the highs? The magic moments? How can you take advantage of them? Showcase them? Where are the lows? The dissatisfiers? How can you fix them?

A great example is when I once walked through a bunch of department stores with a group of women shopping for apparel. Stores like these still separate their apparel into departments with anachronistic titles from the 1950s, such as ‘misses,’ ‘petites,’ ‘juniors,’ and ‘women’s.’ The conversations you hear in these walk throughs are a complete downer, as women describe one section as meant for ‘older, bigger women,’ and wistfully recall the days they fit into anything from the colorful, ‘junior’s’ department. The worst thing about this scenario is that just down the mall corridor are specialty stores such as the Gap, where all women are treated exactly the same, regardless of their size.

Walk throughs like these almost always yield surprises, and often, it’s not those seemingly more critical parts of the process that please or piss off your customer, but the trivial stuff that you might have over-looked— and you can fix.

Okay, so you’ve mapped out the shopping experience step by step and you know where the issues and opportunities lie. Some questions you should now ask yourself:

-How does each step in the experience hook into the next?

-How do you maximize the efficiency of the transition from one step to the next and thereby minimize the odds of competitive intervention?

-How can you deliver each step in a way that ensures that the trail consistently delivers the desired brand experience?

The next step is to map out your competitor’s brand experience. Where are their customers most vulnerable? What are their competitive strengths? What are the weaknesses you can exploit?

Look at your brand as an experience rather than a product or service. See it through the eyes of your customer. Pull that experience apart, get it right- both step by step and as a whole- and then put it back together again.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Brands’ Strategy team

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Position Narrow, Catch Wide

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I think I first heard the above expression from Alpa Pandya, a colleague of mine at Sterling, and I’m happy to give her full credit for it.

Although obvious to the best marketers, “position narrow, catch wide” seems counterintuitive to nearly everyone else. I means that if you want to appeal to a wide audience you must position yourself in a narrow, specific way. Its corollary is that if you try to be a lot of things to a lot of people, you will be nothing to nobody. A friend read the phrase and told me about an old radio commercial that began: “Men! And that includes you girls.”

Another, similar saying: “Positioning is the art of sacrifice.” In other words, done right, great positioning is subtractive in nature, not additive. The road is filled with tough sacrifices you must make if you are to achieve a narrow focus.

Think of real life. The people we admire most are those who stand for something specific. They have a point of view and it’s simply not negotiable. The people who get the attention of the media (for better and sometimes for worse) are also those with a strong, specific and narrow point of view.

In marketing as well as life, it takes nerve to position narrow, which is perhaps why entrepreneurs are so much more successful at it than professional brand managers. Positioning narrow entails finding your core audience, understanding it and building a sustainable relationship. Once you’ve done that, you can enlist that core to help the rest of the world “discover” you.

nike

Ideally, then, you want a core audience that is inspirational to others. Nike is a great example of this. It’s clear to everyone on the Nike campus and across the marketplace that Nike is a brand for the high-performance, highly competitive athlete. That said, Nike also knows that about 80 percent of its shoes are worn by people like me, often simply to go grocery shopping. Why do we buy high performance shoes if we live low-performance lives? Because we all think we have a bit of that high-performance athlete in us. And because we all feel we need to be ready and equipped to perform, even if we never do.

Nike’s message? Don’t confuse your core customer with your target market.

That said, within the organization, we first want everyone to know we are building our brand for our core customer. This is important because we want every employee to know the people for whom they are designing products, experiences and marketing. Ideally, we want everyone to have a single customer in mind. Why? Because life is so much simpler when you are designing for a solitary person instead of a faceless demographic. Ideally, we want every single employee working on the same product experience to have that same individual in mind. The long term goal, of course, is to have everyone outside the organization also understand the individual we are building for- and we want them to aspire to be more like that person.

Once all of this is in place, we then want to reach out to those who can best help us achieve our objectives. This might be limited to our core audience (remember the need for critical mass), but it might just as easily be directed toward those legions of undecided buyers.

In practice, this means our core audience is unequalled in importance. They are the people we are working for, the people for whom our brand is built. With luck, others aspire to be more like them. But that is a completely separate issue from identifying our target market when it comes to communication. In other words, target narrow, reach wide.

Cadillac New Logo

When Cadillac moved to restage its brand, which was (accurately) stigmatized as being only for old folks, the first thing the company did was design a product that would appeal to younger drivers. Cadillac hit pay dirt when rap stars began snapping up the Escalade, and the marketing team quickly saw the opportunity to position the model as the prestige SUV of the hip-hop set. This opened the door to the brand embarking on a massive shift toward high-performance luxury cars that continues to this day.

googleIn what may be the whopper of all narrow product positions, Google has specialized in and come to own a simple idea: Search. In the early days of Google, lots of “expert” commentators criticized this model as limited and overly specialized. But we’ve all now come to see that Search, by sucking away advertising dollars from every industry (all while appearing completely benign) was the killer application to end all killer applications. as we continue to expand our use of the Internet, search will be the one unifying “tool” that almost all activities pass through.

If Google teaches us anything, it is to not confuse how narrowly you position your offering with the ultimate size of your business. Indeed, it’s often an inverse relationship: the narrower the position, the broader the ultimate audience. Just look to Google- the narrowest and simplest of positions, and the widest of all catches.

Position narrow/ catch wide also applies to corporate communications. Way too much PR, advertising and point-of-sale copy is written with the belief that it is possible to convey complex information to its target audience. It almost never works. Not because the audience isn’t smart enough, but because it isn’t interested enough. Instead, you have to focus the message, whatever that message might be. As I used to tell clients when I worked in advertising- you can say whatever you want, but it’s only what they hear that counts.

Strategy, positioning and communication: in their best forms they are all acts of sacrifice.

Stay tuned- next time Austin shares how to Own your new position

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How to Beat the Start-Up Fatigue

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Start-ups are everywhere, “entrepreneur” is the new cool-guy job, and Ashton Kutcher is doing his Steve Jobs impersonation on movie screens all over America. Even though it’s an exciting time for business and a really exciting time to be a consumer, it’s hard not to have some kind of start-up fatigue.

Branding and brand strategy are essential tools that can help fledgling companies cut through the clutter. We all know that big, established companies have a lot to learn from start-ups in terms of staying nimble, driving innovation, and thinking about things differently. But start-ups can learn a lot from big companies, too.

DEFINE YOUR UNIQUE BRAND VOICE

What kind of brand do you want to be? If you are a tech start-up, the brand values that might come to mind are intuitive, optimistic, straightforward, and maybe a bit cheeky. But you are not alone in identifying with those values – these have become category conventions. They are assumptions, not equities. To live in the hearts & minds of consumers, your brand must stand for something unique. Tuckernuck, an online boutique, feels like a real-world brand because it has identified its college-prepster voice and speaks it unapologetically. Figure out what is unique and true about your company upfront, and all your creative decisions will become a lot easier.

REAL WORLD BRANDING IS VISUAL

warbyparkerlibrary

Even if you are working in technology, your brand no doubt stands for functional and emotional benefits that live in 360 degrees (not just on someone’s iPhone). So decide what those values look like in the real world. It helps to think visually. Color, for example, is an essential brand tool. If your company was a store, what would it look like? What makes it look different than the stores around it? What can you own? Warby Parker didn’t just create a smarter way to buy eyeglasses, they created a modern library. Don’t forget to build in these essential visual brand cues.

YOU ARE NOT THE CONSUMER

I imagine that one of the best things about entrepreneurship is being able to invest your energy in products or services that really matter to you. If you wouldn’t personally use the output of your efforts, you probably wouldn’t be there. That’s why it is worth reminding all entrepreneurs that you – and people with similar attitudes, behaviors, and means – are not necessarily your target audience. Your target may include you, but it doesn’t have to be limited to you. So you can’t rely only on your personal intuition when developing and branding your product, you must work to define your target, work to get their feedback, and work to listen to them on as many decisions as possible.

Big CPG companies require qualitative and quantitative consumer verification on almost every product decision, from basic product concepts that will never see the light of day to marketing executions. We can’t expect consumers to validate all of our decisions, and we are braver and better companies if we manage to take consumer feedback with a grain of salt. But expecting branding to be entirely intuitive is short-sighted at best. Do people actually want what you are selling, or are you talking to yourself?

ANTES VS. DIFFERENTIATORS

Many startups invest in a lifestyle brand approach, which means they build in non-essential components like shareable editorial content and feel-good charitable partnerships. Buy a sock, send a sock! It’s important to understand the role of these investments in driving your brand – if they are startup clichés, they are category antes, not differentiators. Activities you have to do to even get in the game are not activities that are going to set you apart. You may need some new tricks if you want to attract the attention of publicists, and consumers too.

Sarah Birnbaum, Sterling Design Intelligence