JB

Campaign Middle East - - NEWS -

I’ve been in­vited to take part in an epic cy­cle ride in the Pyre­nees with a host of start-ups. It is a money-can’t-buy net­work­ing op­por­tu­nity for me and my brand; but I haven’t so much as cy­cled to the shops in a decade. Would I be mad to do it? I’m puz­zled. What sort of a brand is it that needs the good­will of a host of start-ups? Usu­ally, it’s the start-ups that need the good­will of brands.

I sus­pect you’ve only in­cluded your brand in this ques­tion in or­der to make it sound more re­spectable. I sus­pect that you’re suf­fer­ing from neo­ma­nia – a mild form of mad­ness in­duced in the gullible by any­thing new. You prob­a­bly bought a 3D TV. It’s been seven months since the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and I don’t think any­one in our in­dus­try in the UK has done any­thing to ad­dress the prob­lem that ev­ery­one has iden­ti­fied: we live in a bub­ble de­void of ‘nor­mal peo­ple’. Do you think we’re ca­pa­ble of truly un­der­stand­ing our con­sumers and what do you think we need to do? J Wal­ter Thomp­son Lon­don re­cently put this very ques­tion in an es­say com­pe­ti­tion for its grad­u­ate in­take. The win­ner was Eleanor Met­calf, who wrote: “The best way… isn’t by read­ing Min­tel re­ports or run­ning TGI ta­bles. It’s by break­ing out of our Lon­don bub­ble and speak­ing to peo­ple on their own terms, with­out agenda and with­out pre­con­ceived as­sump­tions. I’m will­ing to bet that an af­ter­noon spent in a pub in Red­car would be more il­lu­mi­nat­ing about Leave vot­ers’ mo­ti­va­tions than any of the hun­dreds of pan­icked think pieces pub­lished in the after­math of the ref­er­en­dum.”

I’m will­ing to bet she’s right. When data is pro­cessed, when 1,500 struc­tured in­ter­views are shown in chart form as part of a 52-deck Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion, 1,500 in­di­vid­ual hu­man be­ings are stripped of every­thing that makes them in­ter­est­ing and re­duced to data points. An in­vis­i­ble bar­rier – worse, a great dis­tance – is cre­ated be­tween us and those real, f lesh-and-blood, funny, fal­li­ble, ig­no­rant, opin­ion­ated, in­stinc­tive peo­ple. We’ve paid a lot of money to find out what they’re feel­ing – and then ster­ilised the an­swers.

I read of one piece of re­search that took note of the timed gap be­tween the ques­tion asked and the an­swer given (a met­ric ob­vi­ously un­avail­able on­line) and won­dered why it was ex­cep­tional. Surely the re­spon­dent who pauses, rolls the eyes and then says “Re­main, I sup­pose…” shouldn’t be given the same weight as the re­spon­dent who snaps back “Leave!”?

“An af­ter­noon spent in a pub in Red­car” de­serves to be­come in­dus­try short­hand for a stan­dard re­quire­ment; not, of course, as a sub­sti­tute for com­pre­hen­sive qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive re­search pro­grammes but as a re­al­ity check, a manda­tory obli­ga­tion for any­one em­ployed to in­ter­pret such re­search. Only when pre­sen­ters can show pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence of a Red­car af­ter­noon should they be per­mit­ted to pro­ceed. My com­pany has a huge turnover of chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cers, which means I’ve got a new boss ev­ery six to 12 months. How can I keep adapt­ing to changes when this makes it so dif­fi­cult to get long-term di­rec­tion for my role? You have a clear choice. You can ex­pend all your en­ergy on in­vent­ing strictly short-term pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, prob­a­bly price-based, heed­less of their ef­fect on brand eq­uity. Your short-term CMOs will be grate­ful to you for your short-term con­tri­bu­tion to vol­ume and will have left again be­fore they have to con­cern them­selves with the dam­age you’re do­ing. You could prob­a­bly keep this up un­til you re­tire, the main risk be­ing that you’ll drive your brand into re­tire­ment first.

Or you can leave and join a com­pany that un­der­stands mar­ket­ing.

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