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.