This Month’s Newsletter

July 2017: The side effects of research

silence more important than wordsWhen you research people they tell you things. Things you hadn’t intended to ask about but which were on their agenda.  These odd asides are very useful in telling us how people feel about the products they use, how they think about themselves and even how unaccustomed they are to really be listened to. Something very rare in our frantic society. When I have run research projects,  people have come to vent their fury, to learn how to use the product, to collect medical advice to help a friend, and even to try to interview for a job!

Last week the subject matter of the study was health and what emerged was a blend of stress and balancing competing demands. The side effect we noticed was isolation – feeling grateful for somewhere to talk about the issue and to be listened to. So much so, that I am thinking for each future research project to attempt to name the feeling which has brought people into the room. Aside from the questions, we are paying them to answer. Perhaps the most useful thing that research can do for marketers is not when they tell you something they have told you many times about how they use your brands. But how they feel inside.

How many snake oil brands can you think of?

snake oil salesman

The sales director was adamant. It was a waste of time to work on the brand at this stage of development. He and the technical people had all the credibility his prospects needed to close the sale. Brands were for consumers. Not business customers like his. As I listened to him I was reminded of the snake oil salesmen who emerged from golden age of selling in 19th century America. Snake oil became big business. Each supported by a smooth-tongued salesman commending the virtues of aforesaid snake oil. The term passed into the language as soon as labs started to test snake oil and discovered that most of them didn’t have anything from a snake in them! That’s even before evaluating what this wonder drug did for you.

Brands took over from snake oil salesmen after that. Because brands are a lot more trustworthy. It was too difficult to police salespeople who made their own products. What famous snake oil brands do you know? More than you think. Coca Cola started as a tonic medicine for getting rid of headaches, stomach upsets and fatigue. Kellogg invented Corn Flakes in an attempt to restrain the patients in his sanatorium from pleasuring themselves. That is a very odd spin on A Healthy Start to the day.  Even as recently as 2010 Rice Krispies was banned from claiming that children who ate it for breakfast had higher immunity to disease and better attention levels. The great success of brands has been to make claims of brand benefit proportionate and realistic. That is great progress.  Brands still exaggerate (particularly in luxury) but they work within limits to build trust. If you’re not clear about how trustworthy your brand is, then give me a call and we’ll talk about it. Just stay away from snake oil talk. That train has long since left town!

Fear in the workplace – book by Sheila Keegan

fear in the workplaceThis month I have been reading The Psychology of Fear in Organisations by Dr Sheila Keegan. I have known Sheila many years as an eminent researcher. I knew also that she has a doctorate in psychology. So was interested to see what she had to say drawing on studies she has made in the workplace.  What we have here is a thoroughly researched book about the growing pressures in the workplace. how useful to have the number of studies which have been conducted in Europe and the USA which show that the majority of workers are not engaged with their workplaces and are experiencing increased anxiety because they know their employers are perfectly capable of downsizing them.  The rise and rise of business processes mean that people’s productivity is now measurable in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago.

Fear is not necessarily a negative emotion. It can trigger adrenaline rushes – it can stimulate us to work to escape or change a negative environment we find ourselves in. But there is a danger that fear can paralyse and that people spend a significant amount of their work time simply trying to manage insecurity or feeling threatened. Sheila explores how to change work cultures to being more psychologically healthy and how to use appreciative enquiry to find how what is happening without building a blame culture. I am just starting to write over the summer about a social model for building ideas inside the workplace so this is required reading for me. Highly recommended.

In other news 

The summer doesn’t look like getting quieter any time soon. More research in the pipeline and consultancy too. 98% Pure Potato the book about the origins of account planning arrives at its first anniversary and they are talking about putting a paperback edition together. Call me if you need some support as we move towards the holiday period.

Check out the blog at Further and Faster or follow johngriffiths7 on twitter.

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