As Mark Twain so famously said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Sometimes you know you have the right answer, so you work the research results to tell the story you know will sell the company on your program.
You risk being wrong, big time
The new product line was failing. The POS wasn’t meeting anyone’s expectations yet the consumer research not only validated the product concept but the follow-up research supported the marketing strategies implemented. What the heck was going on?
“We want it out or fixed”
The customer bought into the product concept. In fact, we brought the research to life in the presentations we were making. We had pictures of focus groups and shop-alongs. We put quotes into the slides that consumers had about our new product and marketing plans.
But once the product was launched, shoppers weren’t buying. And our retail partner was blunt and to the point. The product needed to be fixed or we were going to be off the shelf.
Back to the drawing board
Truth was we inherited this new product from another team, so we weren’t steeped in the decisions that led to the ultimate marketing strategies. That meant we were digging in with fresh eyes. This was the first of our insights: fresh eyes mean you see things differently.
The product concept was developed carefully and methodically. It was a home run in research from concept through production prototypes. So we knew that the actual product wasn’t the issue. That quickly suggested the marketing was off base.
We pulled up the product presentations and reviewed what we had promised and the support we offered as a reason to believe. The case looked air-tight. Then we decided to actually look at the original research. This was our second significant insight: go back to the data and make sure you aren’t drinking your own marketing Kool-Aid.
The PowerPoint slide had become the research
What we found was both shocking and perhaps expected since you know how poorly the product line was doing. The research done was qualitative and obviously subject to interpretation. And it was done with only 20 people. You read that right…the marketing for a nationwide product roll-out to a big box retailer was built on the input of 20 shoppers from that chain.
But that wasn’t our biggest gripe. Rather, three distinct themes in the research emerged. Two of them contradicted the product manager’s view of how to go to market. One aligned beautifully. The PowerPoint obviously played to that theme and no other point of view was introduced. The PowerPoint slide “became” the research and that was fatal flaw.
While there should have been some checks and balances on this project, we were able to see that the contrary positions held the right answer (after all, we knew what didn’t work).
Predictably, the end of the story is we fixed the marketing and the product line became success. And burned into our marketing philosophy is that we repeatedly return to the original research and never, ever, let the PowerPoint slide become the research.
Let us know if this has ever happened to you!
Focus groups are not science. Their popularity has been driven by ignorant brand managers to give them leverage over their bosses abetted by unscrupulous market researchers. Any time you hear the expression, “we learned in focus groups that,” the bullshit light should go on. You cannot conclude anything based on focus group research.
Focus groups do have legitimate uses. They can be highly useful in:
1. Expanding the number of options
2. Learning consumer language
3. Educating your own intuition, (many a frustrated practitioner partially justified the use of focus groups by saying, “at least they are talking to someone else’s wife rather than basing their certainty on the opinion of their own wife.”
scott @ catalystics.net
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