Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
I work in an industry that tends to get a bad rap: marketing research. Business luminaries like Steve Jobs and Henry Ford took potshots at us. No one is making a reality show about our industry (and if they did, it would probably air on PBS). We get ignored, yelled at, hung up on, called spammers and phishers, etc., simply for trying to ask people about their opinions.
But with all that acknowledged, in the spirit of the season here are a few reasons I’m thankful to be a marketing researcher…
I get a unique glimpse into many different lives and lifestyles. From low-income single moms going to night school to earn a degree, to ultra-wealthy investors worrying about the next stock market hiccup. From second-graders talking about pets to seniors talking about healthcare. Vacation planners in the UK, software users in China, boat owners in the US, airline executives in Africa. I hear about their passions, their worries, their headaches and hassles, the things that make them smile or grimace. It’s a healthy dose of perspective at times.
Every day offers something new. Right now my active client list includes a hospital, a collegiate athletic program, a wealth management firm, a software development firm, and several others. In a couple months it will look completely different. Because we’re a custom research firm, we’re always tackling new questions and challenges. It’s great.
I get to see the impact of my work. Sometimes it’s pretty innocuous, like a new ad campaign shaped by our research. Sometimes it’s pretty direct, like determining which package ends up on a store shelf. Sometimes it’s an “aha!” moment on a manager’s face in a presentation of findings, when they start to see things from their customers’ point of view. However it happens, it’s a nice feeling.
I get the occasional serving of humble pie. Like hosting an online focus group and watching helplessly as a participant nodded off to sleep in front of her webcam. Or approaching someone for an in-person interview, only to have her spit a Tic-Tac at me. It helps remind me that I need to laugh at myself every now and then.
Whatever you do, I hope you have your own list of reasons to be thankful for your chosen career. And if that career happens to be as a programming director in charge of new reality shows, I won’t be insulted if you don’t call. But it’s your loss.
I’m over at Eli Rose Social Media today with some very non-political lessons from a very political 2012. Come visit!
I’m over at Eli Rose today blogging about wheezing toddlers, parachuting cats, and more. Drop on by!
Want to know about my last hotel stay?
Ask me in the next couple weeks and I can give you a hundred specifics — bed, desk, lighting, vanity, showerhead, coat hangers, etc., etc. And I’ll tell you about Elizabeth at the front desk who set aside a couple chocolate chip cookies for me because I was headed out for dinner and thought I’d miss my chance.
Ask me in a couple months and I’ll have forgotten most of that. But I’ll remember those cookies, and the gesture behind them.
Ask me in a year … and I’ll remember that I liked the place a lot. Maybe I’ll remember the cookies, maybe I won’t, but they will have done their job. Next time I go to St. Louis, I know which Hampton Inn I’m staying at.
We’re in an age of immediate access to information. It’s easy to find out who hosted the 1978 Oscars; it’s almost as easy to find 200 people who ate at an Olive Garden last Friday night to find out whether their breadsticks were warm when the server brought them. We’re wired to think of that as a good thing… but maybe it isn’t.
Want to find out if your customers are satisfied? Here’s the dilemma:
Ask soon after an experience, and you’ll be rewarded with rich details about the experience but little sense of the lasting impact. That’s great if you have an immediate operational need, but it creates an overwhelming and often misleading pile of data to sift through for strategic insights.
Wait a while, and you’ll learn the overall impact of the experience but lose out on the details that made it happen. Wonderful if you’re assessing long-term attitudes, but not if you’re trying to tie those attitudes to specific actions or events.
There’s no single right answer here. Most companies are stuck in the middle, trying to strike the right balance between the forest and the trees. It comes down to what questions you’re asking and why you’re asking them. If you haven’t aligned your objectives and your methodology, you’re in trouble.
But the point is this… Timing matters, and not always in the way we think. Sooner is not always better. Faster is not always better. Now is not always better.
Time is the only thing that can turn yesterday’s experience into tomorrow’s lasting impression. So if you want to know how your customers really feel about you, be patient. Time will tell.
I’m over at Eli Rose Social Media today. What does the Tooth Fairy have to do with brand promises? Come find out!
Breaking up really is hard to do.
A couple weeks ago, we moved our kids from the only daycare center they’d ever known. It was a tough decision and we agonized over it, painstakingly talking through the pros and cons – should we stay or should we go? And in the end, we decided that yes, we were going to make the big switch. Goodbye Daycare A, hello Daycare B.
With a few weeks of the new daycare under our belts, it’s easy to look back and feel confident we made the right decision. As I reflect on the decision and the events leading up to it, I can’t help but do so through the lens of a researcher. And what I see is a great illustration of the importance of research throughout the customer life cycle, from acquisition to retention to defection. Here’s why…
1) The reason we chose Daycare A is not the reason we stayed at Daycare A.
When we were originally searching for a daycare provider, a few centers met all our requirements. What stood out about Daycare A was the management team. The director and assistant director were welcoming, enthusiastic, and downright tenacious in recruiting us. It was clear they wanted our kids at their facility, and we felt comfortable leaving our kids with them. That sealed the deal.
Months later, both the director and her assistant were promoted to positions outside our center. A new director came in, with a completely different management style and a different way of interacting with parents, teachers, and children. We didn’t like it, and we talked about leaving. But we didn’t leave, because by that point we had gotten to know the teachers who cared for our kids every day, and those relationships were more important to us because those people were closer to our kids.
The lesson: Acquisition and retention are different animals entirely. The things you do to keep a customer are often very different from the things you do to get a customer.
2) The reason we left Daycare A was not the opposite of what made us stay at Daycare A.
In other words, we stayed because of good teachers but we didn’t leave because of bad teachers. In fact, the teachers were the biggest argument for staying at Daycare A. They just weren’t enough to keep us there.
The lesson: Loyalty is about more than not screwing up. Don’t assume that the reason customers leave you is related to the reasons they stuck around so long.
3) The reason we left Daycare A is not the reason we thought we would leave Daycare A.
I mentioned the rocky relationship with the new director. Well, her management style brought us very close to leaving on a couple occasions. If you’d told me six months ago that we’d be leaving Daycare A for a new center, I’d put money on the director being the cause. But she wasn’t.
The lesson: loyalty is unpredictable. On an individual basis, you can’t ask a customer to tell you why they’ll eventually leave. On a macro basis, you can’t deduce the mindset of the defector by surveying the loyalist.
4) The reason we chose Daycare B was outside the control of Daycare A.
So why did we leave? Our relationship with the director didn’t help. But there were other, more immediate factors. The new center is right on the edge of our neighborhood, so we have more of a connection to the other parents. And while both are within 3 miles, taking our kids to Daycare A was a stressful experience every single day: heavy traffic, inconvenient location, cramped parking lot, drivers littering and cutting each other off. Daycare B is the complete opposite.
In other words, the “big picture” experience surrounding Daycare B was better. There’s not much Daycare A could have done about that.
The lesson: You aren’t always in control of how your customers feel. But you can, and should, do everything in your power to understand how you fit into their lives. You might find a vulnerability you can’t address, but you might find an opportunity you can leverage.
5) The reason we chose Daycare B is not the reason we chose Daycare A.
We originally chose Daycare A because of the management. However, our two years of experience with Daycare A gave us a new perspective on how to evaluate a daycare center. So while we find the new center director to be quite friendly, we’re not looking to her to give us a sense of reassurance and confidence. Instead, we’re being more active in communicating with the teachers so that we know them and they know our kids. And if we ever have any concern that the teachers aren’t up to par… well, that’s probably when Daycare C will enter the picture.
The lesson: It’s not enough to know how your customers feel about you. You need to understand what previous experiences they bring to the table so that you can effectively address their expectations and needs.
So there you have it. From one breakup, five important reminders that you never know what’s going on inside your customer’s head… unless you ask them the right questions at the right time.
I’m over at Eli Rose Social Media today with a post on what TomKat and Robsten can teach us about our business relationships. Drop on by!
Election Year 2012 is upon us. Ugh. Ambrose Bierce had it right when he called politics “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.”
But putting aside the childishness of political discourse these days on both sides of the aisle, sometimes politics offers up a worthwhile idea or two. Take Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s ruling that business entities are entitled to rights alongside individual citizens. Two years after the Court’s decision, the debate still rages: are corporations people?
Maybe, maybe not. That’s not an argument worth starting here, anyway. But it is a worthwhile concept for marketers to think about when it comes to developing brand personas. And it was top of mind for me when I read Eszter Fehér’s blog post “What if brands were one of us?”, which poses the question: If brands were one of us, who would be your best friend?
It made me think about some of the things that make a “best” friend, and how brands can replicate that. Like being trustworthy, or loyal, or sticking up for you, or being easy to talk to.
Easy to talk to. That’s a tough one.
It’s the challenge we researchers face every day. Our clients want to know what their customers think, so we help our clients listen. But that’s only one perspective. We are also helping our clients’ customers express themselves in a productive manner, making us equal parts hearing aid and megaphone. It benefits all of us when we figure out how to make that process as easy as possible.
Naturally, any discussion of “easy” usually leads to the use of technology, and rightfully so. Online surveys are easy to put together, and online panels allow access to virtually any consumer profile. Taking it a step further, I recently completed a survey for T-Mobile that required nothing more than replying to two text messages, each with a single keystroke. Now THAT’s easy.
But as tempting as it is to seek ease in technology, that’s not always the answer. Last month I was on a KLM flight when a flight attendant approached me at random to ask if I would fill out a survey. He handed me everything I needed, and they went old school: souvenir KLM pen, paper survey in three languages, envelope to seal my results and hand to a crew member on exit. More importantly, he handed it to me at the perfect time, right when we were shutting down all our electronic devices and had 10-15 minutes of approach time with few available activities. Would it have been easier for them to just email me a survey invitation two days later? Sure, but I might not have responded. By paying more attention to my convenience than their own, they ensured a thorough and timely response to their survey.
And that’s the real lesson here. As a brand, you need to be easy to talk to. That means not thinking about data collection in terms of what’s easiest or cheapest or fastest for you… but rather, what’s the easiest and best way to give your customers a voice?
So… how easy are you to talk to?
I’m over at Eli Rose Social Media with some insights from the produce department. What do dirty carrots and ugly tomatoes have to do with your marketing efforts? Drop on by and find out!
And the award for the best commencement speech of the year goes to…
David McCullough Jr!
Mr. McCullough, an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, took to the stage a couple weeks ago with an extraordinarily blunt reminder for hundreds of high school graduates. It’s a 12-minute address (and worth it!), but here’s the gist:
The reaction has been amazing. It’s a message that resonated with many – parents, college professors, employers, curmudgeons, you name it. The address has garnered over a million views (and plenty of colorful comments) on YouTube. And while some view it as unnecessarily harsh, most seem to see it as a healthy dose of tough love.
But what happens when we take that message to our customers?
If you think we don’t, you’re wrong. We do it all the time…
Airlines and hotels treat you well when you reach Platinum or Diamond status. Fail to keep up your activity, though, and watch those upgrades disappear. You’re not special anymore.
Some software companies offer “white glove onboarding” or unlimited technical support to their new customers for a limited time in order to encourage adoption. Try calling months later with a problem and you’ll get a different reception. You’re not special anymore.
Pretty much every renewable service (Netflix, magazines, lawn service, bug service, cable, etc.) doles out generous promotions for non-customers, whatever it takes to get you to sign up. Once you’re a customer, though, regular rates apply. You’re not special anymore.
This isn’t to say that those aren’t perfectly valid promotions. Yes, customer acquisition is important. Yes, good customers should be recognized and rewarded.
This is just a reminder that at some point, your customers are going to wake up and realize hey, I’m not special anymore. And when that time comes, it’s up to you to cushion their fall.
Preferably without taking cues from Mr. McCullough.