Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We’re All Shopper Marketers Now

Spending on shopper marketing, along with agencies and consultants that have popped up to support it, has grown rapidly. Is shopper marketing just a “gussied-up name for trade promotion”, as a recent article in Ad Age suggested? After all, as the Ad Age piece points out, shopper marketing lacks even a commonly accepted definition. Within shopper marketing, there is no hotter bandwagon than neuromarketing. Since the publication of Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology book, there has been a spike in print, internet, and blog coverage of neuromarketing, a field of marketing that considers consumers’ brain response to marketing stimuli.

Perhaps neuromarketing can offer some interesting insights into how people view, interpret, and act on advertisements. However, the flashy science and technology sometimes gets too far out in front of practical reality and actionable results. Adweek reports that Japanese advertising agency Hakuhodo has taken a stake in Buyology, a new neuromarketing consulting company established by Lindstrom. Perhaps neuromarketing is the future of shopper analytics; after all, Japan is the country of the future, where scientists have developed robot exoskeletons to assist aging farmers and robot teachers that they hope to activate in the next five years. However, it’s all too likely that high tech brain scans and electronic imaging won’t be able to replace careful studies of shopper behavior any time soon. As David St. Hubbins said in Spinal Tap, “It's such a fine line between stupid and clever.”
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The camera never lies...

...but lots of people do, especially when they’re talking to researchers or otherwise responding to surveys. A part of it might be attributable to the Lake Wobegon effect, from the mythical town of Garrison Keillor, where it is said all the children are above average. More technically, another driver is social desirability bias. This is where the respondent wants to provide an answer that will be looked at by others as favorable.

• A recent poll asked Americans who they voted for in the last election. This poll showed Obama thrashing McCain by more than 20 percentage points -- far greater than the actual Obama margin of victory on Election Day.

• When people are asked if they voted in a presidential election, the percentage of self-reported turnout is inevitably 10-20 percent higher than actual turnout.

• About 40 percent of Americans say that they attend church regularly. Counting and tracking methodologies used to determine true church attendance found that about half that number can actually be found in the pews.

• A number of years ago, a survey found that upwards of five million people claimed to be New Yorker magazine readers—an unlikely number given that circulation was barely above half a million.

People want to be on the winning team, and want to look virtuous and smart. So when we ask them to self-report, we often get responses that are wildly inaccurate. Researchers are exploring tools such as anonymous online polling and expressionless computer avatars in order to obtain more accurate survey results. But no matter how sophisticated surveys become, there is no substitute for the careful capture of actual human behavior, as we do with video-enabled behavioral analytics to see into the realities of shoppers in the shopping aisles.

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can see a lot by observing.”
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The focus group: dying a slow death?

How much useful information can you get from a room full of twelve people being paid $75 to eat cookies and talk about a product, place or campaign?

According to a recent Catharine Taylor column in Social Media Insider, the focus group is dead. Taylor points out that focus group testing failed to predict customer outrage over Tropicana’s packaging change, the complaints of baby wearing moms about a Motrin advertisement, or the howls of protest over the Sci Fi channel’s name change and Facebook’s new terms of service. According to Taylor, focus groups are “contrived” and encourage companies to listen to “customers who were either not invested in their brand very much or not invested in it at all.” Taylor comments that “the very idea that a focus group is valuable is ridiculous -- when compared with the real conversation taking place among the people who really care about your brand.” Is Taylor right? Can the focus group, often as stale as the potato chips served to participants, really be replaced by following the conversations of brand loyalists on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook?

Focus groups can indeed be a problematic way to get information. Participants are often distinguished more by their desire for a cash stipend than by their insights. Some people habitually lie about their background and past participation in focus groups in order to gain access. There is little that is natural or realistic about a forced discussion conducted in a bland office room. Often the companies conducting focus groups have a desired result, and interpret the data selectively to support their preferred outcome. However, as participants in the lively comments following Taylor’s post point out, the marketers can’t only listen to the opinions of the most intense fans garnered via social media channels, because they could be overly intense and atypical. In addition to paying attention to loyal customers via social media, marketers should be devising ways to make focus groups more relevant, realistic, and reasonable.

Our argument is that focus groups can play a role in information gathering, but are too far removed from reality, and that being
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