Archive for March, 2011
The past couple of weeks have seen me tearing up and down the country moderating focus groups as part of an insight project I’m working on.
Writing a feedback note to the recruitment agency I use, it struck me that there’s nearly always one respondent in the group that you’d rather had stayed at home, even if it meant you were down on numbers. These are the people who don’t behave badly enough to be actually asked to leave (which seems to be reserved for drunks, aggressive types and anyone catastrophically off-brief), but still make the moderator’s job a lot harder.
Deciding to actually tell a respondent that they need to quieten down / stop showing off / admit that they’ve been to at least three groups in the last month is a last resort as it almost inevitably affects the group dynamic and the flow of the session. But there’s only so much you can do with body language, redirecting the conversation and ignoring the loudmouths.
I can’t lay all the blame at the door of the recruiting ladies, who often have rather challenging briefs to meet on short timescales and can’t be expected to put every single respondent through a personality assessment and lie detector test – although there’s no question that there are a few field recruiters out there who need to pull their socks up and stop sending the same groupies to every job they’re given.
But I think I’ve come up with an (admittedly fairly radical) suggestion to address the problem of The Respondents You Wish Had Never Turned Up. It’s called Moderator Screening.
What if we paid every respondent an extra fiver and asked them to turn up a bit earlier, say twenty minutes before the group. Then if viewing facilities put CCTV in their respondent waiting rooms the moderator could remotely watch the respondents interact and if necessary ask the viewing facility hostess to quietly pay off (i.e. give them the money but send them home) anyone who looked like a researcher’s nightmare.
It could work for hotel and in-home groups too. Get everyone seated in the bar/kitchen and let the moderator sort drinks, coats and have-you-come-far-today questions. A few minutes face to face might be enough time to pick out any disruptive influence and discretely encourage them to go home early.
I’d much rather moderate a group of seven happy, chatty respondents than eight where one is dominating the conversation and making everyone else clam up. What do you think?
Every few yards there was a hole in the wrap:
I’m speaking at Bettakultcha VIII in Leeds on April 12th. Bettakultcha is kind of like a cross between the Interesting un-conferences and stand-up comedy. You have five minutes to present/entertain and must do so with twenty powerpoint slides that change bang on every 15 seconds. Since it’s held in the evening with a bar AND a bring-a-bottle policy, the crowd tends to lean more towards comedy club than conference…
I’ll be talking about why I love lists. The event in Leeds is actually sold out, but I have a spare ticket. If you’d like it, leave a comment below & I’ll pick someone. Otherwise, there are still tickets available for Bettakultcha Bradford on 27th April.
I’ve been freelancing as a Planner for for nearly a year now and I’m doing a lot more qualitative research than I did as an Agency Type. I think partly this is because I no longer sit in a room full of quallies ready to head off to Milton Keynes with a discussion guide at a moment’s notice – and partly because it seems to me that if you’ve got to turn the insight into a brief/strategy/positioning, it makes much more sense to do the groups yourself (assuming of course you’ve had some qual training).
If something interesting comes up in the middle of a group, as a Planner you’re right there and able to move away from the discussion guide and explore the topic – and it’s far easier to overlook a real insight nugget of a respondent comment when you’re in a viewing room stuffing M&Ms down your throat.
Emily Reeve from The Nursery wrote a great Ten Top Tips for doing qual for the APG a few years ago. The piece seems not to have survived the move to the APG’s shiny new website (and a few things she mentions like doing groups in-home are a bit dated now), but I’ve got a well-thumbed print out filed away so here are some of her Top Tips:
Get there early
Get there about 30 minutes before the groups start. Any less and you won’t have time to work out how the DVD player works, go to the loo and sort out the massive amounts of stimulus so that there’s enough room for you and 8 respondents to sit in the same room.
Make friends with the recruiter
You also won’t have time to make friends with the recruiter…by asking her how she found the recruitment process you can sometimes pick up some useful insights about your target, e.g. interesting to discover that most of the Persil users had originally thought they were buying Ariel.
If you’re reading out scripts keep the tone of your voice reasonably neutral. This is not a presentation to the client, so gushingly enthusiastic tones will only make respondents feel either cynical or obliged to say that they liked it.
Write down your thoughts straight away
Set aside a bit of time to ‘dump’ all of your thoughts from the groups, almost as a stream of consciousness. It may be the last thing you feel like doing [after an evening of groups] but honestly is worth it. If you leave it ‘til the next morning you just won’t be able to remember it in the same detail.
To this, I’d like to add a few things I’ve picked up along the way:
Respondents don’t like an audience
Try and avoid letting clients sit in on groups. They can blumin well stump up for a viewing facility – or as an alternative try popping a video camera on a tripod in the corner of the room for the client to watch later (make sure your respondents agree to this though!). One discreet videographer or trainee researcher normally isn’t a problem to accommodate (so long as they’re properly briefed beforehand), but any more bodies and you’re putting on a play, not a focus group – and the insight you get back will be all the worse for it.
Don’t be afraid to go off-guide
Some of the best stuff I’ve got from groups has been when I’ve shown them a piece of creative that didn’t quite make the final cut or a POS leaflet that was lurking at the back of my client file. Keep everything to hand so that if the group rejects all the designs outright or suddenly want to talk about product guarantees you’ve got something to discuss with them. This is another reason why I think Planners should do their own groups where possible.
It’s sod’s law that the hotel restaurant will stop taking orders just as you wave off your last respondent. There is nothing more soul destroying than trying to find something to eat at 10pm in the middle of nowhere. So even if it’s only 5.30 in the afternoon and you’re not hungry yet, eat something. And chuck a few cereal bars in your bag of stimulus.
Dear Johnnie Boden,
Your fashion empire is one of the Top Five Brands I Want to Work On, but mainly because your DM strategy seems to be a bit flawed, at least from a customer’s point of view.
In the past 12 months I’ve bought three items from you, which hardly makes me a Top Customer and yet you keep mailing me with the determination of a love-sick spurned suitor.
I rang the nice lady in Customer Services to ask if it was really necessary to send me a new catalogue every fortnight and it turned out I was on your database three times. Perhaps I can introduce you to a nice DM agency that knows how to de-dupe lists?
Then yesterday you sent me a newspaper. Normally this would be A Good Thing, as thanks to Newspaper Club newspapers from brands can be funky short-run (cheap!) things that make your customers feel all special and loved with unique, added-value content. But this was effectively a 48 page catalogue, printed on newspaper. Not unlike the not-printed-on-newspaper catalogue you sent me a fortnight ago.
You also sent me menswear, teenswear and kidswear catalogue-newspapers. Since I have neither husband nor children (and you should at least know about the kids as I asked the nice Customer Services lady to take me off your Mini Boden database too) this seems like a waste of trees.
I do like your lovely cardis and comfy PJs. But do you think you could get a bit better at not telling me about them so often please?
a loyal-ish but exasperated customer. xxx
PS you already know how I feel about you flashing your best offers at Brand New Customers Only. Having a better offer fall out of my Amazon package than you just emailed me as a customer is taking the p*ss.
UPDATE, 23/03/11. Just got a nice email from Leo-the-email-team-leader at Boden. He says he’s ‘adjusted my account settings’ so I’ll only get one catalogue a season and ‘if you ever receive a better offer than one you have recently used (say within 7 days) we will always refund the difference so that you are not worse off’. He also ‘hopes that you will continue to enjoy our clothes, and that you appreciate the less frequent trips to the recycling bin!’. So they’re listening!
So I went to see Frankenstein last night, as part of National Theatre Live, the idea being that instead of schlepping down to London and forking out megabucks for a theatre ticket you can watch the show at your local cinema instead.
It’s a genius idea really – if your ‘product’s’ audience is constrained by geography just find a new distribution channel. And even better you could conveniently restructure your ‘product’ to encourage a repeat purchase, in this case Benedict Cumberbatch (himoff Sherlock) and Jonny Lee Miller (himoff Trainspotting) alternating the roles of Frankenstein and his Creature. I saw Benedict as the Creature last night, but if I hadn’t gone and booked focus groups in for the reversed repeat performance in a fortnight I’d be on the phone now trying to get seats.
And on the same theme of ‘try something different’, I’m off to Kirkstall Abbey on Saturday evening to watch BBC3’s live re-imagining of the same story as Frankenstein’s Wedding. This is an even more cunning approach as they’ve persuaded 12,000 of us to turn up as audience/extras on the night – thus adding 12,000 to the viewing figures as well as creating loads of online chatter.
12,000 extra viewers might not sound like much, but if you consider that last Saturday BBC3’s most watched programme was Family Guy with an audience of 623,000, even small gains start looking worth chasing. Add in the friends and family effect and that you can’t really escape buzz about the show in Leeds this week and at least they’re going to see a serious regional uplift in Saturday’s figures.
Two very different approaches and if we’re being fair I think both have essentially noble intentions to engage new audiences. It’s just a bit weird that they both entered my life in the same week.
I really enjoy Sali Hughes’ beauty columns in The Guardian (and her snarky twitter feed). And since she isn’t a slave to the Gods of Designer Brands, quite a bit of the stuff she recommends is reasonably priced too.
The problem is that in my experience, reasonably priced beauty stuff is very rarely properly packaged. Now I don’t drag my makeup around in my handbag or keep chucking it in a suitcase. And yet my makeup containers rarely survive for as long as it takes me to use up the actual makeup inside.
The hinge on the GOSH cheap-ish blusher (as recommended by Sali last weekend) has broken and is on its second piece of selotape. The printing on the No7 under eye concealer thingy (I’m allergic to the superior YSL version) has worn off so I’ve no idea what shade I need to buy next time and the powder puffs on the No7 pressed powder wear out so quickly I’ve had to buy spares from the chemist. Perversely of course, the actual power compacts are indestructible and you end up throwing perfectly good compact mirrors in the bin because No7 don’t do refills…
Then we move on to Haircare and Skincare. This Nivea shower gell bottle has a rounded top so you can’t leave it upside down to let the dregs gather:
And this Garnier hand cream might be the best one I’ve tried but ever since I broke two nails trying to get the blumin stuff out of the half empty tube I’ve switched allegiance:
These are essentially all design problems. Lovely packaging that persuades you to make a choice at the point of purchase is one thing – but if the same design then impedes usage you’re not going to repeat purchase.
Ben Terrett has a fantastic presentation in his blog archive called ‘I’m a designer, use me better’. He looks at how design can affect environmental impact and save money by solving problems.
Ben’s slide, not mine
If these beauty products were better designed, I wouldn’t be chucking them away half used and defecting to a different brand. So maybe the beauty industry needs to start using their designers better?
I sent a load of old Uni textbooks off to the charity shop the other week and one called ‘Compensation’ included lots of cautionary tales about compensation schemes that were supposed to boost productivity/quality/customer service but ended up having the opposite effect. Like the vegetable processing plant that started paying their quality checkers extra for every insect they removed – so the checkers brought their own insects in from home. Or the Communist top bods who measured screw factory output by weight – so the factories simply made bigger and heavier screws.
I was reminded of this when (yet again) I was on the phone to Tiscali/TalkTalk’s appalling customer support team last night. The call always starts with a recorded voice asking you to hang on at the end of the call to answer a couple of automated customer satisfaction questions. Twenty minutes later with no resolution and ready to explode with frustration I remembered that at least I could give a rubbish score for customer satisfaction on the survey. But the call handler has to hang up first for you to go through to the questions – and I realised that this call handler knew exactly how cross I was and had no intention of hanging up first so I could score her badly.
It suddenly struck me that I’d been in this position several times before and the call handler had always let me hang up with no reminder to stay on the line.
So I’m guessing that the Tiscali bosses think that their telephone customer support staff are doing an OK job – because the customers who didn’t get good service weren’t given the chance to give their feedback.
Perhaps when we’re designing or analysing any kind of feedback or evaluation measure we need to allow for the human tendency to subvert the outcomes to suit their own ends.
Based on what’s been on my mind this week I was debating whether to blog about Storytelling or Why Communications is about (doh!) Conversations not Shouting – then I realised they were basically the same thing.
I’ve been revisting the text of Jeremy Bullmore’s 1972 speech to Kraft, titled ‘The consumer has a mind instead of a stomach’, but which could equally have been called ‘How to do good advertising’. He talks of the difference between shouting at your target audience that they should buy brand X because of Y – and engaging your audience sufficiently that they come to that conclusion themselves. The analogy he used is the difference in how people will perceive someone who says “I’m funny” and someone who actually tells a joke.
(Incidentally, the only downloadable PDF of Jeremy Bullmore’s speech seems to have disappeared off the web. I only have a smudgy 7th generation photocopy.
Has anyone got a scanned version they fancy uploading? Carlos commented below and shared a link to a copy of the speech here.)
Telling a joke is basically telling a story. And the more and more fragmented and two-way communication channels get, the more brands need Storytelling to help them engage with their target audience. Just look at Cravendale’s Thumbcat.
But I’ve met far too many clients who seem to operate on a ‘if we tell them, they will buy’ principle. That might have worked in the 1940s, but these day’s there’s an unofficial contract between brands and their audiences – they expect brands to share an engaging story if they want connection (and the accompanying shift in mindset, attitude or behaviour) in return.
Or more simply – don’t yell, storytell.
Ministry of Information WW2 poster via The National Archives. Of course in these days of Behavioural Economics the poster would probably say that everyone else was already recycling their kitchen scraps…
I know I’ve written a couple of posts before finding tenuous parallels between my equestrian life and the world of agencies and Planning. But I really think I’m onto something this time.
Sarah posted recently about how frustrating it can be when Procurement gets involved in pitches, which got me thinking about pitches in general and pitch feedback in particular.
I was competing at a side saddle show last weekend and as well as placing us in order of merit in the class and handing out rosettes, the judge also spent time with each of us pointing out what we’d done well and where there was room for improvement, as well as providing us each with a short comment sheet full of tips and feedback.
Imagine if clients did that for pitches – ‘Your account director waffled on for far too long but I really liked the second creative route you presented. Try to have fewer words and more images on your powerpoint slides. You came a close second, very well done.’
I think we’d all get a lot better at pitching pretty quickly if clients gave us some honest feedback, whether or not we’d won their business. And personally I’d love it if pitches felt more like this: