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Here at W5 we recently completed a research project for a company testing a change in the way customers order one of their core products. To accurately gauge reaction to this change we interviewed people at locations where they purchase this product. The discovery process of diving down the rabbit hole of such unique and varied consumer interactions is one of the most fascinating parts of conducting consumer insights research in diverse industries. I mean, who knew that the way consumers think about and buy socks could be layered with so many levels of complexity?!
However, the real challenge I enjoy in conducting research is to frame the research question in a greater social and cultural context. Decisions are not made, nor actions taken, in a vacuum. So while this research was very esoteric in focusing on the product itself and the ways in which customers think about how they purchase that product, the deeper issue this research raised was people’s resistance to change.
When companies decide to make big changes, for whatever reason, those decisions are not entered into lightly. The benefits of introducing change must be measured against the potential blowback that will occur as a result of those changes to any well established brand, product or process. The classic example of such blowback being of course the New Coke debacle, which was more accurately speaking a blowback against the elimination of original Coke.
In more recent times we have seen negative reaction to change every time Facebook introduces changes to their user interface. The pattern is predictable with Facebook announcing the changes, Facebook users denouncing the changes and threatening to cancel their accounts, the changes being implemented and eventually frustration to the change dying down.
In purely rational terms it should be clear that fear of and resistance to change is irrational. Why must something that is new and different inherently be worse? I suppose that whatever the new thing is must be judged in comparison to whatever it is replacing. As the saying goes – don’t fix what ain’t broke. But on the flip side of that coin is belief that there is always room for improvement.
According to research (discussed here) that questioned the human aversion to that which is newer, or more accurately, a preference for that which is older, there is an inherent belief among humans that things that are older are better. Study participants who were told that a piece of European chocolate was first sold 73 years ago rated it as better tasting than those participants who were told it was first sold 3 years ago. Similarly, participants who were told that a painting was painted in 1905 found it more appealing than those who were told the painting was painted in 2005.
But why? What is it deep within the collective human psyche that drives us to believe that which is older is better and that change is threatening? This is a question that I don’t have the answer for, although it is something that I will continue to ponder and hopefully gain insight into through future conversations and observations.
As we well know, the only constant in life is change. The attempt to understand the unknown variable (the reaction to change) and encouraging people to embrace that change, is the real challenge.
One year ago, drones dominated the Paris Air Show. Manufactured by major defense contracts, these drones were positioned as the future of warfare (and had a price tag to match in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars). Last month, the Hobby Expo China in Beijing featured similar drone with the same capabilities as the military ones (minus being able to blow stuff up). The difference? Many of these drones came with a price tag of less than a $1000. It’s no wonder open source drones, like the ArduCopter Quad from 3D Robotics, now outnumber military drones in the U.S.
What do drones and market research have in common? Well, nothing…yet. But reading Noah Shachtman article, 5 Drones at Work, there seems to be a common thread or strength if you will, of observation depicted. Drones that inspect oil equipment, conduct police reconnaissance, check on crops, and survey wildlife. In a sense, one could argue this is a form of ethnographic research, as ethnography simply aims to describe the nature of that which is being observed or studied (whether it be consumers, crops or wildlife).
At W5, observational ethnography is used to evaluate consumer behavior in detail, identifying meaningful patterns and themes that emerge through sustained, structured observation of people engaging in activities such as browsing, buying and trying products, or using services. By recognizing such patterns and themes and finding their underlying meaning, W5 ethnographers highlight the points of inflection at which consumers are most susceptible to influence, as well as develop a holistic picture of the market environment. Now, imagine a drone the size of a butterfly doing the observing. Impossible? Impossible like conducting Focus Groups in a virtual, online room? Impossible like collected data via mobile devices? Possibly.
There are, of course, existing rules and regulations that address a future where people, companies and police all command tiny aircrafts. (See Rules for Proper Droning for answers to questions like ‘Can I use a drone to spy on my sexy neighbor?’ or ‘Could a police drone look in my window for drugs?’) Chris Anderson, co-founder of 3D Robotics, reminds us “the military created the Internet, but the people colonized it and created the web for their own purposes. The amateur UAV community is hoping to do the same with drones—demilitarize and democratize them so they can find their full potential. There will be good uses and bad ones, but the same is true of any tool, from a crowbar to an ultrasound machine. Ultimately the way society best figures out how to think about a powerful new technology is to set it free and watch where it flies.”
Attention males ages 18-35, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but according to Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, you are not the coveted demographic in the tech industry anymore.
According to, “Sorry, Young Man, You’re Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech” by Alexis Madrigal, women are purchasing more tech products than men. Women take the lead in the following tech purchase categories: Internet usage (17 percent higher usage than men per month); mobile phone voice usage; mobile phone based location services; text messaging; GPS devices; and even Skype. According to Time Magazine, in 2007, women accounted for 45% of consumer electronics purchases, 58% of online retail purchases, and 44% of the NFL fanbase. This shows that women are no longer yielding to the stereotypes that limit their purchasing power to clothes, shoes, and washing machines, while the men purchase the fast cars, sleek televisions, cool phones, and game consoles. Women want it all, and they are willing to purchase it now.
Companies are catching on to that fact. It is not enough to advertise a sleek model on the hood of a fast car. Now car companies are showing women behind the driver’s seat accomplishing their goals. According to the article, “Marketing to Women: Surprising Stats Show Purchasing Power & Influence” by Steve Parker Jr., women account for purchase more than half of new cars and influence at least 80% of vehicle purchases and spend 200 billion on new cars and mechanical services per year. The purchasing power of women is evident in the popular Honda Commercial below, where a woman who has just been proposed to immediately takes a moment to think, and then says that she has stuff to do before getting married.
The bottom line is that like many other companies in the market, the tech industry is realizing that to achieve success they have to cater more to female customers.
So, I’m sorry guys, you’re just not as special in the tech industry anymore.
Millennials present marketing, advertising, and market research professionals with a unique challenge. A distinct combination of social, cultural, and environmental influences have formed a generation of consumers with very specific needs and touch points.
A force of approximately 80-90 million strong in the US, with an estimated $200 billion in purchasing power, Millennials are not an audience to be taken lightly. Understanding Millennial consumers’ mindsets, values, and purchase patterns and behaviors through creative and innovative Millennial-specific market research methodologies is essential to the success of most mainstream brands and products.
Our white paper, W5 on Millennials, outlines key characteristics which affect their attitudes toward and interaction with products and the marketing surrounding them, as well as how W5 approaches gaining a true understanding of how to effectively communicate and connect with them. Here is a snapshot of this force by the numbers:
24% of Millennials say that ‘Technology use’ is what most makes their generation unique, the #1 answer (Pew Research 2010)
50 median number of text messages teenagers send every day (Pew Research 2010)
48% of Millennials who say word-of-mouth influences their product purchases more than TV ads. Only 17% said a TV ad prompted them to buy (Intrepid Study 2010)
47% of 16-to-24-year-olds are employed, the smallest share since government started recording data in 1948 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011)
46% of Millennials say they’ve had vigorous exercise in the past 24 hours
45% of Millennials highly associate their lives with simplicity, compared to 51% of Gen X and 58% of Boomers
44% of Millennials say that marriage is becoming obsolete, compared to 35% of Boomers who feel the same way (Pew Study 2010)
43% of 18-24 year-olds say that texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone (eMarketer 2010)
42% of teens say the primary reason they have a cell phone is for texting. Safety was second at 35% (Nielsen Study 2010)
41% of Millennials have made a purchase using their smartphone
40% of Millennials think that blogging about workplace issues is acceptable. Compared to 28% of Boomers (Iconoculture 2011)
39% of Millennials have a tattoo (Pew Study 2010)
38% of Millennials count themselves as Democrats, 28% Independents, 26% Republicans (Brookings Institution Study, March 2011)
35% of employed Millennials have started their own business on the side to supplement their income (Iconoculture 2011)
33% of Millennials live in cities and 14% live in rural environments
32% of Millennials say they don’t like advertising in general, compared to 37% of the general population (Experian Simmons Study)
31 the age of the oldest Millennials in 2011
29% of Millennial workers think work meetings to decide on a course of action are very efficient. Compared to 45% of Boomers (Iconoculture 2011)
28% of Millennials have a gun in their home (Pew Study 2010)
27% approximate decline in email usage among those ages 12-34 over the past year (ComScore Study 2010)
26% of Millennials say they are not affiliated with any religion (Pew Study 2010)
23% of Millennials think they will still be with their first employer after two years (8095 Live survey 2011)
21% of Millennials say helping people in need is one of the most important things in life (Pew Study 2010)
20% of Millennials are Hispanic. Millennials are more racially diverse than any generation before them (U.S. Census Bureau 2011)
19% of Millennials have voted on American Idol (Pew Study 2010)
15% of Americans ages 25-29 who had never been married in 1960, compared to 55% in 2011 (U.S. Census Bureau)
14% of the Millennial population is African-American (Pew Study 2010)
12% (only) of Millennials disagreed that they should pay more for higher quality items (Intrepid Study 2010)
11% of Millennials have boomeranged back to their parents house after graduating from college because of the recession (Pew Study 2010)
8% of 18-29 year-old internet users have used a location sharing service such as FourSquare (Pew Study 2010)
7 average number of jobs a person will have by age 26 (Intrepid Study 2010)
6 # of text message sent by those ages 13-18 every waking hour (Nielsen Study 2010)
4 average number of times that Millennials eat out per week (3.39 per week to be exact), more than any other generation
For most, Malcolm Gladwell is not an author that falls into the ‘marketing research’ bucket. However, Gladwell’s books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Outliers: The Story of Success, and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology. So when I came across this TED video on segmentation and spaghetti sauce I wasn’t sure what to expect.
A complex, overwhelming methodology for many, segmentation allows you to identify and define those who are likely to benefit from your products and services, while at the same time identifying those who are not viable prospects. (Check out W5 on Segmentation for a comprehensive explanation.) The video opens with a story about Howard Moskowitz and his realization that food categories exist on a horizontal plane rather than a vertical hierarchy.
Howard’s task was the find the perfect level of sweetness to create the perfect Pepsi. While analyzing what seemed to be an endless amount of data, it became clear there would be no nice, clean bell shaped curve determining the ideal level of sweetness. In fact, there was no obvious pattern at all. Instead, there were various sweetness clusters. This lead Howard to his ‘ah ha!’ moment, they had been asking the wrong question. “You have been looking for the perfect Pepsi, you’re wrong. You should be looking for the perfect Pepsis.”
This thinking was so revolutionary that it took Howard a while to actually convince food companies to quit chasing the perfect product and instead chase the perfect products for each of the customer groups. This realization is at the heart of segmentation, and is why there are 52 different types or toothpaste, mustard, water, etc.
The video goes on to talk about Howard’s big breakthrough with Prego and the discovery of chunky spaghetti sauce (a style that was non-existent at the time, yet preferred by 30% of the market). Prego created their chunky sauce and rapidly stole market share from Ragu and pulled in about 600 million dollars from their chunky sauces.
Segmentation research has never been more valuable. Companies today face an increasingly diverse and growing population, fragmentation of media channels, and a volatile and competitive economy. In this environment, mass marketing is an inefficient option for communicating with consumers. Segmentation is the foundation of marketing. The stronger the foundation, the higher you can build, and the more you can achieve.