And because these people like their private life private, they’re the ones least likely to be visible to us – the marketing bods trying to have a conversation with them.
Take the election. If you’d based predictions of the outcome of the UK general election on Twitter noise, it would have been easy to predict an entirely different result. But that was the broadcasting of an opinionated few, rather than the sentiment of an entire country.
I’ve always looked at women-of-a-certain-age and wondered exactly where they bought their floral tops and comfy elasticated waisted skirts, as I’d never seen them on the high street. Then I started working on a project for a mail order business and realised just how many ‘brands’ there were out there that I’d never heard of, simply because I wasn’t target market.
It’s the people who read the Daily Mail, who watch The One Show, who like chain restaurants because they know what to expect – they are the ones who are consuming the majority of what you are busy trying to get flying off the supermarket shelves. And I’m guessing that most of the people reading this blog would not put themselves in that category.
I had three distant relatives to stay last week who had never had a Chinese meal in their life, had never been on the internet, had never been to Starbucks and so on. Admittedly they were in their early 80s, but they were sprightly and switched on and still doing their weekly shop, paying their utility bills and getting on with life. I think the Cadbury Guerrilla and his online chums have passed them by entirely – although I bet they’ve heard of Compare the Meerkat, purely thanks to its enormous TV ad spend.
When we merrily ask customers to enter our promotional competition online, or to text in to win; when we put our customer helpdesk online; when we release a viral – we ignore a massive chunk of society. According to TGI, 22% of the UK adult population do not access the internet. And that’s not including the ones who can just about send an email but are not exactly blogging for Britain.
Even focus groups can be misleading. The recruitment screeners tend to ask if potential respondents agree with statements like “I like to make my voice heard and join in with the conversation, even if my opinion is different to everyone else”. That’s brilliant for group dynamics and the depth of insight you’re going to get, but hardly representative of the opinions of your target audience as a whole.
And that’s even before we get onto the thorny subject of ‘groupies’ who collude with dodgy recruiters to attend a group every week by pretending that they are new to research, regularly use the product being researched and/or don’t know the other respondents – where else can you earn twenty quid an hour for sitting on a sofa and talking about pizza? But it’s hardly a representative slice of your target audience.
I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own buzzy career, decent salary, upwardly mobile reality of social media, information at the press of a button and smart phones; of trendy bars and hip holidays; of the latest retro trainers and the kind of work where you’d probably turn up even if they didn’t pay you. But we’re the minority, not the majority.
At its core, being a Planner is all about being the Voice of the Consumer. Some consumers just aren’t the type to shout up and need the Planner’s megaphone to help get them heard – even among the very people who are supposed to be trying to have a conversation with them.