11. What dementia teaches us in framing market research questions

market research questions benefit from contented dementiaI have been reading Oliver James guide to how to communicate with dementia sufferers.  The implications are striking for those of us who have to design market research questions. By the way Oliver James has just been announced as a speaker at next year’s Market Research Society 2017 annual conference.  I hope he talks about this issue!  James’ advice comes about because those suffering from Alzheimer’s lose the ability to lay down new memories. So the most respectful and effective way to communicate with them is by using the memories already laid down. Because they can use these to relate to those around them and to orient themselves. Here’s a link to the Contented Dementia website that tells you more.

Here are the rules:

  1. Don’t ask questions
  2. Treat the client (that’s the subject with the condition) as the expert
  3. Never contradict the client (their worldview IS their reality)

It’s remarkably useful advice for talking to just about anybody if you want to communicate with them.

Market research questions force participants to construct their answers

  1. Let’s start with the asking of questions – which is foundational to market research. The issue with asking questions is that virtually all of the questions you can ask require the person answering the question to construct an answer. Which Alzheimer’s sufferers struggle to do. But actually which most people will have to think about. There are no answers ready made. Even being asked your age requires you to think a bit and to decide if the person asking you the question has the right to know your age and what age they think you are so how their view of you will be adjusted when you tell them.  Its all made up. That’s why automation in market research is going to come a cropper soon because it presumes that questions elicit answers which are already there.  They aren’t.  Research answers are fabrications even when they are true. Which is why you need effective analysis and interpretation.  You can’t bypass that.

The reason why social listening has become a useful research tool is that it is effectively collecting opinions without asking questions.  There are problems inherent in this. They may not talk about your brand so you may need to ask them directly. But never forget that the asking of questions elicits new information. It doesn’t draw out old.

Market research questions should respect the participant’s world and not impose the questioner’s agenda

  1. Treat the subject as the expert. Very important. What we need is their way of seeing things not ours. Research findings are strewn with lapsed customers who as far as they are concerned are still loyal. They just didn’t buy as often as the brand owner wants them to.  Or who don’t ‘like’ advertising when what they mean is they don’t understand it. Or that it doesn’t look like the advertising they have seen for this category in the past.  One reason why observation is so useful is that it puts the subject in the driving seat. Its what they do. Not what we think they do or wish they would do. Watch them buying your product. Using your product.  Talking about how it fits into their lives. Make them the expert and build the product around them you will learn so much more and you won’t be talking at cross purposes all the time.
  2. Never contradict them. It’s their reality. This becomes awkward if you are researching customer experience. Because at least half of customer complaints arise because they didn’t understand how to use the product and didn’t have the time or the patience to find out how to.  Great design makes it easy for the customer to make the most of how to use a product.  And that means product development research.  You have to look at your product through their eyes.

The deeper and more uncomfortable truth about all of this, is customers are using old knowledge to use products and make sense of them. They are not sitting down and solving product issues. Marketers are in love with the new and the emergent.  That’s not where most customers are. This makes it difficult for us to build in product features that are innovative and different.  Great market research questions (of course we need to ask research questions) recognise the limitations in asking people to put into words what they have not thought about very much and explain their existing experience of using a product. Even if they have to make it up! For more about market research you can visit the page on my website.

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9. Immersive marketing training

immersive marketing training blends several elementsThe internet has made it possible to create really immersive marketing training. Not only can you train people at their desks. Not ideal on its own. Believe me I’ve done it!  But you can take people out of the office for enriched learning. And you can also put them in cohorts where they can learn collaboratively whether they are in the same office or not. Often they learn more from other students who are in other contexts but without having to leave their offices they can collaborate and learn from the experience of others.  This new way of learning is called mixed mode learning. Let me unpack the elements.

The 4 elements of mixed mode training

Firstly classroom learning – that means taught by an expert, away from the office, away from mobile phones and other distractions. That is how training used to be done and it is great that we can now supplement that kind of training because the risk is that the student only learns from what is presented. And doesn’t apply the learnings well when back in their place of work.

Secondly mentored learning. Often applied when training beginniners or juniors. They are placed in proximity to those who can direct or mentor them. In situ.

Thirdly private study. Which can be accessed anywhere. At work at home or even en route!  People can learn a lot on their own – and they can also work at their own pace.

Fourthly group work in teams and learning from other students. This ought to happen in the classroom but often gets left out because of the pressure to get the most out of whoever is running the training. But students learn from one another. They also learn faster by helping each other. The dirty secret of the classroom is that the one doing the teaching learns more than the students! So it makes sense to give the students the opportunity to help others because it beds their training in and makes it more thorough. The experience of other students also enriches their own experience. In immersive marketing training we will need to enter the customers’ world. There are so many ways of doing this. It has never been easier. And it doesn’t always need to be done in the classroom.

Imaginative design is needed for immersive training

To make the most of these different types of learning requires thorough and imaginative course design.  There also needs to be a mechanism for making sure that students aren’t disadvantaged by others who aren’t working as hard so that they aren’t held back. And we need to protect students from getting distracted – otherwise it’s not really immersive marketing training.

You will need to think differently about the course. Which may start a few days before with a pre-course exercise and work to bring to the classroom session. This is not optional – the course has started when you do the exercise and it starts you thinking.

The classroom element needs to include expert direction but also collaboration. The latter is just as important. So time needs to be made for it.

After the classroom session has finished, there may be personal study and perhaps a meeting with a local mentor or a follow up call a week later. And perhaps a review session using an online platform – great if everyone can meet at the same time. But using a platform people can interact and add comments in a more flexible way.

Training can be so much more immersive these days. Make sure you get the most of the marketing training you have. Don’t just use one of the elements. Make sure get the most from all of them.  For more about my training you can visit the relevant website page.


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8. Focus Questions the key to running better ideation workshops

FocusOne of the reason most meetings are ineffective (and ideation workshops too) is that it takes a significant amount of time for participants to work out the purpose of the meeting. Whether they can make a contribution. And whether they feel like supporting the outcome.  That may seem crazy but whether or not the organisers have made contact to communicate this essential information beforehand there is no guarantee that anyone has read it – or prepared.  And even when they arrive they may still be waiting to find out if they meeting will do anything for them. All of those uncertainties are a huge drag on a workshop. So when designing a workshop you need to make sure everyone knows why they are there and can see the value of the workshop. Or your workshop will sink. Without trace.

What are the focus questions to use in ideation workshops?

I got this from the pocketbook series and the one written about facilitation by John Townsend & Paul Donovan. I have used the focus questions ever since without fail.  Here they are. Let’s say the workshop was about a new way of agreeing the communications plan for the next quarter.

The focus question would be What difference would it make if we found a way to significantly improve our communications planning?

The follow up question is  And what is holding us back from making the improvements.

Get everyone to answer both questions. The beauty of this approach is that it makes clear what the point of the workshop is. What is in it for them. Why it matters. And then launches the group into starting to address the issue. You can still have an icebreaker or a warm up exercise after that. But people will from those first 10 minutes know why they are there.

Ideation Workshops need everyone to believe that the workshop is actually capable of succeeding

facilitatorspocketbook has great advice about ideation workshopsThere’s another bonus. And that it is that it is almost impossible for someone who doesn’t agree with the objective or who doesn’t think the workshop will deliver the objective to withhold their scepticism. Why is this important? Because if someone doesn’t  believe in the meeting they can sit and pick it apart all the way through and destroy the dynamic.  It doesn’t mean that person can’t be in the meeting. But it is important to know who they are – so you can recognise that their negativity is not specific to a particular idea or statement but scepticism about the whole workshop. That is much easier to manage in workshops because their continued scepticism without explanation undermines what every one else as a work group is trying to do.  Once you have acknowledged their scepticism more often than not they are free to participate without being negative because you have heard their objection.

Flushing out the doubters

I was running a workshop about how to run better brainstorms. And using this technique found someone who hated brainstorms. He was a creative whose whole job depended on getting credit for his ideas. He hated the idea of giving his best ideas away and not getting credit for them.  I was able to agree with him that brainstorms were problematic for him but that if he wasn’t prepared to suspend his disbelief he would get very little from the session – he had at least to try to understand what a good brainstorm was capable of even if he didn’t think ANY brainstorms were any good.  He hadn’t changed his opinion but he was able to participate.

So always ask the focus questions – and ask the value question first before you ask people to identify what is wrong otherwise they will start to become negative and tell you what is wrong and won’t work without having to told you why doing this is going to be worth it once we have seen the problems and  found a way around them. Use the focus questions and you will see your ideation workshops (and your meetings) improve their effectiveness dramatically. And if you need me to run a workshop for you check out the workshop page.


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7. An advertising strategist should choose the role of the advertising

Ads work in different ways – so the advertising strategist’s job is to pick the right role. And advertising mostly works INDIRECTLY. That’s the point. Tell people to do something. The vast majority won’t do it. But an awful lot of people are influenced.

advertusing strategists select the lrole of the advertising

If I am passionate about this it is because when interviewing the earliest planners we could find for the book 98% Pure Potato about the beginnings of account planning this came up time and time again. Here’s just a couple of headlines before you go and buy the book. Advertising works better against people already buying the product. It’s not very good at persuading people to buy it for the first time.  And the way it influences them often is to remind them of the positive experience of using the product – in other words you are not communicating anything new. You are re-activating an experience they have had. Its not the only role of advertising but my inbox is full of posts from experts telling me they know how to build audience engagement.  And mostly they are going for an immediate return on investment. Advertising engage sell – but real life isn’t like that.

Advertising strategy is the art of indirection

Stephen King one of the founders of account planning laid out a ladder of indirect effects in the order of  indirectness and argued that the more indirect the advertising the more effective it is.  You can imagine what a problem this gives the ROI brigade. The more you chase an immediate conversion, the less effective your advertising is – because much of the effectiveness of advertising is long term.  What he and Jeremy Bullmore successfully did at J Walter Thompson was to persuade clients to take the long view. When a recession came along their clients would continue to spend. Because the agency had shown the longer term value of doing so. You can see how different that is from the current pressure to deliver immediate results.  Indirect effects doesn’t have to mean months and years. But it doesn’t mean clicks either.  Direct response advertising works – but it works by getting hold of a customer – lifetime value. Or a purchase which is so valuable that it repays the marketing cost in a single purchase. Most purchases don’t work like that. So think indirect. And think how you can get advertising to do its magic the way it does it best. Indirectly.   Advertising strategists need to know this – it’s pure gold. I am unpacking Stephen King’s Developing advertising strategy document on a separate page. You can find a fuller description of the ladder of immediacy by going to this page and scrolling down.

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6. Consumer Research: Farmers, Hunters and Scavengers

One of the best ways to think about consumer research is in terms of farming versus hunting.  And not scavenging!

I started talking about this at the 2009 MRS conference.  My good friend, the ethnographer Siamack Salari was good enough to name check me when he gave a talk on the topic for newMR.   Seth Godin started talking about it in 2010 when the idea went mainstream.  And he referenced Thom Hartman from whom I think he got the idea. So there are some links for you to follow. Its a powerful concept I think you will find useful because the distinction between farming and hunting is such a fundamental one.farming

A) Classic market research uses the Farmer/cultivator paradigm. Growing plants in artificial conditions in systematic and comparable ways. Using orchards and greenhouses. And fenced fields (I spent a year of my life on a Kiwi sheep farm!). Representativeness is everything. There is nothing wrong with this. Most research is like this at present (on or offline – because online is trying to emulate offline research mostly)  and it isn’t going to go away.
consumer research is tipping towards hunting nowB) Online social research  uses the Hunter Gatherer paradigm. Its not only online  but also includes bricolage and ethnography. Wherever you are observing people.  The hunter goes off and collects wild things. They don’t pick up anything and everything. In fact there is a considerable skill to locating and getting hold of the wild fruit/wild game fish they have gone after. They get the freshest wild fruit. They get strong and plump game.  What they catch isn’t better than what a farmer grows. Its different and looks and feels different.
consumer research should never be scavengingC) Scavenging is a debased version of the Hunter Gatherer. The scavenger will pick up anything and bring it in even if its dead or dying. There is no particular skill and no guarantee of representativeness. Showing a video clip/blog reference which turns out to come from another market entirely (USA?) just because it backs up your argument is a classic case of scavenging – so is treating your group quotations as a vox pop to pull out extreme comments to get a reaction.

Consumer research confuses farming and hunting all the time – its NOT helpful

Farmers and Hunters have never got on. They live in different places have different skills and often compete for the same resources. So farmers are always prone to accuse hunters of being scavengers. Because they can’t perceive order in what the hunters collect.  Farmers make bad hunters and vice versa. But please don’t believe the propaganda being put up by either side. Talk to hunters to find out what good hunting entails and who they perceive to be the good hunters and why. Talk to farmers for exactly the same reason. And go on using both! They’re equally valid. Avoid the scavengers.

If you have no time for research and are the sort of person who thinks you can get inspiration from ‘weird shit’ or things you find ‘interesting’ then don’t be surprised if you are accused of being a scavenger.

Consumer research requires a methodology and an analytical framework which is susceptible to objective assessment by a third party. It always has been. Both farmers and hunters are subject to it.

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5. On your marketing courses train the team before the individual

marketing courses train teams better than individualsI know that the default option on marketing courses is to sign off individuals to attend. But there’s no guarantee that they will implement what they have learned if they have learned in isolation from the rest of the culture. Here’s the problem.  Marketing is a generalist function – your work as a marketer impacts on every other part of the business. So learning marketing skills in isolation if you are not careful pushes you towards specialism when real effectiveness is about how to work alongside others in other departments to get to a shared destination.

It is not always possible or easy to get more than a couple of people away on a course.  But if you organise a training course for your company. Then (calendars permitting) you can get teams of people to attend.  You will still need them to get  out of the office otherwise they will be mightily distracted.  But by training people to work in a team they are rehearsing what they are doing during the day rather than teaching a group of individuals an identical skill. They are learning to work together better.

Marketing courses can benefit from bringing together everyone who works with marketing people

Let me give an example. I was working with a chain of pubs. I had just sat down with the owner and gone through the training I was proposing to do. We were distracted by a long phone call which I could not avoid overhearing. He was cherry picking pubs from a chain which had run into difficulties. I asked him how many pubs he had refurbished and re-opened simultaneously. He explained that the team’s capacity meant that they were only able to open one site at a time.    I apologised for how unoriginal my proposal was going to sound but what if the team was gathered to make a plan for how to open 3-4 pubs at once. As a specific project task? He accepted it on the spot.  It was more workshop than training because everyone there knew their jobs well. What they had not yet worked out was how to work together to be more productive. That’s what happened and I was invited to the launches of at least two of the new sites!

Link to training page

I believe that team work is more important for marketers than others because a lot of the time what needs to happen doesn’t change much. But the way communications dovetails with operations is really important. But the operations people don’t always remember to invite the marketing people to make sure it all comes together. Next time you are running a training course think about the value you might get by bringing people together across functions. I have trained marketing people and advertising people.  Sometimes I have had even people from the finance department in the training.  Because it helped them to understand how their contribution fit with everyone else.  Think team before individual next team you are planning marketing courses.

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4. For comms strategy fix the take-out not the input

communications strategy is about what the customer takes awayEvery communications strategy person knows this. But why do so few do anything about it. What you say matters less than what people take out. But meeting after meeting takes place where people argue about getting the details of the message right. Not the take out.  The break through that the invention of account planning brought about within British advertising in the 1960s was just that shift to consumer response.  It frees up the creative people to have ideas because they don’t have to worry about content but response. As Jeremy Bullmore told me when I interviewed him for the book 98% Pure Potato – if you think a hot air balloon will give you the response you need that’s fine!

Let me give you the simplest example.  A cancelled train.  The station announcer apologises for the cancellation and announces when the next train will arrive. In 10 minutes time.  Now if the missing train arrives at the platform when advertised – what will people conclude other than that the announcer is an idiot or that communications on the railway is all over the place. They don’t forget the announcement because it turns out not to be true. Let us say that the cancelled train doesn’t reappear and that the next train arrives as advertised on the platform 10 minutes later. The announcer kept her word. Its not ideal. But at least communications matched what happened. To really understand the communications strategy you have to look at what was said. And what happened. Because the take out is a combination of the two.  People don’t just get communication from missed trains. Or public announcements. The take out is a combination of the two.

Communications strategy requires you to listen to your customers before you tell them things

That is why if you say you are investing in the community. But the newspapers report that you don’t pay corporation tax because of a loophole, it really doesn’t matter what you say. People will come to their own conclusions that you don’t really have their interests at heart. That is why Starbucks and Apple and Google may be powerful profitable companies but they are not really trusted.   If they wanted that trust factor they would be focussed on fixing the takeout. Almost certainly they are instructing their ad agencies to say one thing. And their PR agencies to mitigate negative reporting by hostile journalists. And customer  take out remains largely unchanged.

It follows that if you want to manage takeout then you need to listen to what your customers are saying. And probably you need to talk to them too to ask a few what if questions – to understand how they think. If you are running such a lean business that there is never any budget to find out what customers are really thinking and saying. Then you will find yourself in meetings polishing messages. And having little effect on their takeout.

Link to the account planning page

It matters because it is easy for people to take their business and their loyalty elsewhere – so you need to stay on top of takeout. Effective communications strategy requires it.

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3 Rule One of workshop design: Break a rule!

award winning workshop design

Inaugural award for best MRS workshop

The first and best reason to run a workshop is to break the tyranny of normal. It’s the first thing I look for whenever a workshop design is called for.  The more workshops you have in your workplace the harder your designers should be working to break the pattern because the workshops become part of what you do. It’s a problem for all meetings which workshop design can overcome but unless workshops are well designed you will revert to type.  Which removes the reason for having workshops in the first place.

Let me give you an example from the national research conference run by the Market Research Society which neatly illustrates the principle. What happens at conferences? A few hundred people go into a business suite and forget about the rest of the world for a couple of days. Isn’t that the point of a conference? So how to run a workshop at the conference. My fellow workshop partners Joanna Chrzanowska and I concluded that we would design a workshop with a difference. Which would give delegates experience from all over the world.   The theme was using crowd sourcing to design new businesses for the research industry. And we sourced crowdfunding experts from all over the world who those in the workshop could talk to across Skype to get their advice. We had one in Beijing, one in Sydney, one in Prague and one in New York (in her pyjamas so she told us later!) We didn’t try to find an expert from the west coast of the USA because it was the middle of the night. We created a game element where the experts could give the teams points for asking good questions.  And then we brought all our experts together to see the ideas which the teams had put together.

Workshop design  needs to break the tyranny of the normal

Hglobal experts enhance product designow much did it cost to put this global exercise together – from a technical point of view nothing.  We just needed 5 laptops with Skype installed, one at each corner of the room and one in the middle for the final plenary session. The effect was to blow up the format of what could be achieved within a conference. And the whole workshop took 50 minutes.  We picked a good year for it since it was the first year the MRS had given a prize for the best workshop and yes we won the inaugural award!

Clearly there is something theatrical about getting experts in from the four corners of the earth each one on a different continent. That is part of the marketing story which helped us to persuade the organisers to use our idea! The deep principle we were drawing on was to make the workshop the most interesting that happened at the entire conference by making sure that the focus inside the workshop was about the expertise outside the conference centre from all over the planet.

best workshop dedsign

At its simplest you might play a game to remove everyone’s smartphones and put them in a box in the corner of the room with a forfeit if anyone goes over to pick up their phone. I strongly advice you to do the same with pads and laptops. People who are checking their emails aren’t present with you – they aren’t actually in the workshop with you they’re only pretending to be.   It’s a very good reason for holding your workshops outside of your office so people can’t run back to their desks and get out of workshop mode. I once ran a workshop for a major telecoms client who had negotiated for their research company to lend the training room. This proved to be a failure as the research company not believing their luck spent the entire day poaching key members of the client team out of the room to have quick ‘5 minute’ conversations.  Away day means away. Somewhere else.  And it is the job of the workshop organiser to make sure that each workshop is like no other. To get the most out of those who come.

Link to workshop page

Workshop design  is an art form. Give your organiser the space to design the workshop well.  And make sure they know that is what you are expecting of them. Something out of the normal.

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2. Get more value from a research proposal

A subtitle might be Why I have to lie in the occasional research proposal I have to write.  Whether client or supplier we’re all trying to extract more value from research than we did last year. And in recent years, procurement has got involved to make sure that the project gives a return on investment and delivers value for money.  Alas the way they do it sometimes to dictate that interviewers must be paid no more than X an hour.   I understand why . After all executive time is the number one cost if the project is run properly – both to interview and analyse.  So why not stamp down?

Get your participants to give you more – that’s how value is created

star research proposals find star respondents

Here’s why.  If you set an arbitrary price for a researcher’s time you are demanding that the project is carried out by mid ranking or junior researchers. Fine if the level of interviewer experience doesn’t matter.  But what if the project is highly sensitive and needs substantial experience?  After all, the outcome is usually worth millions. So dear reader that is when I become economical with the figures to make sure that that the project doesn’t unwind.  Executive fees are pared back and other costs are marked up so I can hire the best people and pay them fairly.  The projects still come in on budget- I just need to make sure I am able to pay the right people for the job. Once I totted up the number of years of professional experiences represented by the 3 researchers working on it. It came to more than 80. Because that’s what the job demanded. Over the years I have used an anthropologist to look at European hotels, a conversation expert to study make up, and a young intuitive researcher to engage with 18 year old girls for a fashion project (I was not the best choice as  interviewer for that one!).  It is horses for courses.  I was very touched when asking a colleague her day rate last year she said – pay me what you want – I know the project will be a good one and you will make sure I get fairly paid.  So please don’t manage quality by stamping down on executive pay. I use all sorts of researchers but I also know when to hire for experience.  Cost controls of this kind make the project worse. And procurement don’t even know the damage they are doing.

Design more value from a research proposal by investing in participants

extra exercises using a smart phone enhance a good research proposal

Where I would welcome procurement’s involvement is where at research proposal stage they ask how much it will cost to recruit a research participant and how much they are going to be incentivised.  Not to once again knockthe price to the floor but to make sure they are getting great value for money. When you recruit someone you only pay once. That is why it is worth doing the job properly. Hire the wrong person or a faker and you don’t get your money back. Hire the right person and you can pay them a little more to do more tasks as part of the research. That way you get way more value.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Get them to do a pre-task if there is a gap between recruitment and the interview or questionnaire time.  That way they can think a bit more about their experience and they come along with more focus when you ask them questions
  2. Get them to use the product or service in a slightly different way. That way you get original and lateral feedback because they come to it fresh
  3. Get them to interview family and friends. That way you multiply perspectives – and they are likely to be more truthful when reporting other people’s opinions, people who matter to them
  4. Get them to do an extra task during or after the questionnaire which they can send you later. That is a very efficient use for an online platform as a way to collect diaries, audio commentaries photos and videos. Often using peoples’ smartphones. You can even get them to comment on one another’s postings on the online platform.
  5. Go back and find out if they have had any other thoughts in the interim – research is just a way of getting the ball rolling. The human nervous system, memory and unconscious are incredibly powerful. There’s no way you get access more than a fraction in a few minutes or an hour. So go back in a week and see what else they have come up with.

Link to Research projects page

Don’t try to do all of these – you’ll kill your respondents!  But you can see how easy it is to get more out of them.  And keep them motivated.  The way to get more value out of research starts with designing research proposal imaginatively to get more research value out of a scarce resource:  our research participants.  And that is why I make huge efforts to design great research proposals and I hire the most appropriate people to carry them out.


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