Whilst working on a recent innovation project for a new beverage, a colleague of mine made an innocent, yet profound comment about the product pictured here. "Dry blood!" she exclaimed in a disgusted, and disbelieving tone of voice.
Yes, that would be disgusting. Yet, here it is. DRY BLOOD ORANGE SODA. I hope this packaging was not done by a reputable design firm. I am pretty sure that DRY BLOOD is not what they were hoping to communicate. What exactly is DRY BLOOD ORANGE SODA? I wonder if a real human being (consumer) was ever involved in this process? Probably not. Oh, by the way, the soda doesn't taste half bad. But, I don't think many mere mortals will ever try it. Vampires?
For years, people have been predicting the death of focus groups. I may have even penned such an article. The truth, however, is more like Mark Twain's quote, "news of my death has been greatly exaggerated." Focus groups are still the go-to qualitative methodology of choice for marketers and researchers.
But, then along comes technology and the world changes. Mobile ethnography is one of those changes. The ownership levels and capabilities of today's smart phones has presented us with a powerful tool called mobile ethnography. I started doing consumer-generated ethnographies almost ten years ago. We would send research participants small digital video cameras, together with a project workbook that provided instructions about how and what we wanted them to capture. The core advantage of this methodology was that we see what the consumers sees and simultaneously hear what they are thinking. It was this "presence" that turned out to be the key advantage of this approach versus in-person ethnographies and focus groups. We are still using this methodology, but now, we are using smart phone apps as the tool.
The great thing about smart phones is the consumer interface. They are pretty easy and intuitive for consumers to use thanks to Apple's philosophy being applied to this appliance. With our app, we can send out activities for consumers to do, calling for photos, videos, notes and tags. This combination of capabilities provides a robust, flexible pallet to design our research to address a plethora of learning objectives, some of which are just not feasible with focus groups due to their "time and place" constraints.
The biggest advantage I have experienced, however, is the ability to have an ongoing dialogue with the consumer. When the consumer posts a submission, say like the one shown above, I can follow-up with a comment or question to build on my understanding, adding a creative, spontaneous opportunity to generate insights. Here again, this is a big advantage versus focus groups, where my ability to follow up and probe is, at best, constrained. You know how it goes, pass a note to the moderator, they ask the question and you are done. And, of course, you end up asking the question to the whole room.
So, to answer my own question of whether mobile ethnography will replace focus groups, the answer is that there is a time and a place for both, but I am finding that, given the value and flexibility of mobile ethnographies, the time and place for focus groups is becoming less frequent. What are your thoughts?
Whenever you are following a "trend" you can be absolutely certain that a "counter-trend" trend also exists. What's more important is that often these "counter-trends" are the most profitable places to play for marketers. Trend/Counter-Trend is one of the principles of our Insightful Thinking methodology that has been one of most useful and insight producing exercises we teach our clients.
The reason this approach is so effective and profitable is that everybody sees the same trend reports, and in the rush to stay relevant, marketers are quick to adopt these trends as strategies for their innovation and brand positioning. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Trying to steer your business to where the "ball is going" is worthy advice. So why don't we see more brands following the "counter-trends" on purpose?
Well it takes some guts and it takes a higher level of curiosity to look at the "trend" and say to yourself that their might be another point of view that could be interesting to my business. That's why it is so interesting when we see an example of a brand following this approach, as discussed in the article from Fusion.net authored by Rob Wile _.
Rob reports on the success that Hungry Man frozen meals is having with an approach that is decidedly "counter-trend" with higher calorie, more hunger satiating comfort foods. The real story here is that Pinnacle Foods, the owner of the Hungry Man brand has committed itself to understanding and delivering on the needs of a definable and large segment of consumers who are looking for a convenient way to satisfy their hunger at the end of long day of hard work. They (Pinnacle Foods) were not blinded by the trend for healthier eating. Can you imagine if Hungry Man tried to market themselves as healthier? It's kind of ridiculous isn't it?
But, of course, that is precisely what some brands have tried to do. Can you say McDonald's? No guts, no glory!
The article referenced in the link below offers "five ways to design the customer into your company." Its a good read.
A client recently asked me for my definition of insight. This was a "getting to know you" meeting and I think that she wanted to know whether I had ever thought about the question before. I laughed (out loud) and, before she could wonder whether I was mocking her, I said that the question reminded me of a never-ending discussion on Linked In that asked the same question in a Research/Insights Group. She knew of this post, and thankfully saw the humor as well.
After sharing a chuckle, I offered the following definition:
INSIGHT: defining a relationship between at least two pieces of information.
Odd you say? Most people would and have defined insight as "the aha moment" or "revelation" or, as academics have offered, the "moment of convergence versus divergence." But let's make this a little less esoteric. In my humble opinion, there is not much value to focusing the definition of insight on the "moment." Yes, it is a wonderfully magical experience when it happens, but it doesn't help us towards the actual achievement of insight. Thus, my proposal is that, instead, we focus on the concept of "insightful thinking."
So let's take a simple but profound example. Over five thousand years ago the ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first to have had the insight of pi. That is, they noticed the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter as being consistently about 3. Somebody had the "aha moment" of noticing the relationship. But the real question is how did they do it? Did they simple do "thought experiments." Did they take some ropes and take a bunch of measurements? In other words, did they get their hands "empirically" dirty?
"Insightful Thinking" focuses on the process of how to arrive at insights. That's what we teach in our Insightful Thinking Workshop. #insightfulthinking
A large part of my career focused on marketing to kids, beginning when I was at P&G looking to launch a new brand in the kids juice drink category, which evolved to the acquisition and re-launch of Hawaiian Punch. "How 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch?" I cherish the lessons learned as a kids brand manager, because they revealed some basic truths about how our brains, adult and kids, process information, which has been pivotal to the balance of my career as an insight and innovation consultant, and central to my philosophy of #insightfulthinking.
The primary lesson I learned was about Concrete versus Abstract thinking, and its consequences for branding. You see, kids under the age of 8 do not process information the same as tweens, teens, or adults. Their cognitive development is referred to as Concrete Operational. Yikes, I'm no psychologist, but I hired one who helped me understanding the significance of this concept. Dr Lang Rust is an educational psychologist, who early in his career worked with the developers of Sesame Street. The lessons he shared with me were many, but the one that really stands out for me is a simple way to understand concrete versus abstract thinking.
The exercise is this: when I say a word, I want you to tell me if a picture comes to mind, or not? OK, here we go. The first word is DOG. Do you see a dog in your mind? Can you describe it? Heck, you can probably even imagine the dog barking, or doing a trick, or whatever you want really. You might even feel some emotions based on how you feel about dogs. It's easy.
The next word is TRUST. Any pictures come to mind? Not as easy, right? If you work it you can begin to make trust more concrete by coming up with metaphors or analogies, but other than picturing big letters in your mind, there doesn't seem to be a visual representation of the abstraction of TRUST.
So, what does this have to do with brands? Everything! The fact is that while we eventually develop the ability to think abstractly as teens and adults, it doesn't come as easily, or as quickly. Literally, concrete ideas stick, and abstract ideas don't. In this regard, concrete versus abstract thinking is very much related to Kahneman's concepts of System 1 (instinctive, intuitive, fast) versus System 2 (logical, deliberate, slow) ways of thinking. See previous blog post.
How 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch? Sure! By communicating the brand via a concrete character---Punchy--- we were able to deliver an instant cue to the brain that Hawaiian Punch is funny and fruity, but most importantly we made the brand mentally recognizable.
Moving to an adult beverage example, what comes to mind when I say Corona? Beach, bottle with lime, sun, etc. All good things. What comes to mind when I say Michelob Ultra? You get the picture! Or not.
Most brand strategies I have seen are expressed as a collection of words and phrases. These words and phrases are often configured in either a pyramidal, house architecture, or sometimes a kind of mind-map. The purpose of these structures is to represent a variety of information that branding experts have determined to be important dimensions or variables, such as brand essence, emotional benefit, functional benefit, reasons to believe or support, etc. Very few have a brand strategy that is expressed as imagery. Design theme boards or mood boards come close to a visualized strategy, but are rarely validated with consumers.
Why is this important? The answer lies in understanding how our brains process information. An Edge article (http://edge.org/conversation/the-marvels-and-flaws-of-intuitive-thinking) by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, explains how our brains use two types of thinking, what he terms System 1 and System 2. System 1 is the thinking that is fast, instant, automatic, associatively coherent and largely unconscious, whereas System 2 is the more deliberate, effortful, rule-governed and logically coherent. I would argue that the artifacts of brand strategy are largely, if not completely, expressed as System 2 Thinking, yet the primary way in which we form impressions of brands is largely, if not completely System 1. The pair of images above from Kahneman's article easily express the difference between System 1 and 2 Thinking. Which one impacts you more quickly and more deeply?
So the real question is: Do you have a brand strategy that comprehends and expresses the visual associations and the consequential network of additional associations that ultimately comprise the meaning of your brand, both the current perception and your strategic vision?
We have developed a method to understand and develop these visual associations that is always very revealing and a powerful tool to embed your brand in a rich web of emotional meaning that is irresistible. As an example, we worked with a well established consumer brand who's key brand image attribute was "trusted." I guess that is better than being "untrusted" but it lacked the persuasive power to truly drive and differentiate the brand. We were able to illuminate how this abstract idea of "trust" could be visualized as "protection and comfort", leading to significant improvements to the business-building power of its advertising.
#Daniel Kahneman, #neuro-marketing
I was reminded this morning of a the amazing power of Paradox to unlock a deeper view and understanding into any situation in life. Our wants, desires, drives, inclinations always seem to point us in the exact opposite direction of the truth. So before this gets too deep, how do you apply Paradox as an unlock to insight? When observing a situation, always consider the "the logic of opposite." For example, I am currently obsessed with a new game called Trivia Crack (name appropriate). One of the brilliant things that they have designed into this app is a limiter on how many games you can play in a row (they give you three lives). When you run out of lives, you have to wait an hour to play again. You would think that creating an obstacle to my desire to play the game would be counter-productive, but here comes the "paradox." It makes me want to play it more!
How does "paradox" affect your business or brand situation? How might it?
Researchers have shown that our brains are hard-wired to perceive information most effectively when it is presented as narrative. In fact, Professor Paul Zak, as stated in #HBR October 2014, conducted studies demonstrating that our brains release higher levels of oxytocin, a neurochemical that stimulates feelings of empathy, when people were exposed to effective stories. Moreover, he learned that the driver of oxytocin levels was the degree to which a story was able to garner sustained attention through the expression of tension in the story.
As an example, I went to see the movie Interstellar this past week, starring Matthew McConaughey as a reluctant hero astronaut who is called on to find a new "Earth" in time to save its inhabitants, and, most important to him, his children whom he had to leave behind. Here's the tension, every day he spends looking for a new "Earth" on the other side of a wormhole is years back on Earth. With this cosmic clock ticking, I was hooked. I was anxious for him to complete his task so that he could return to be reunited with his children before they died of old age. I am pretty sure that in this heightened state of oxytocin empathy I would have done just about anything to help his cause. Heck, maybe even buy a Lincoln! Here's a link to the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2585177369?ref_=ttvi_vi_imdb_1
So, making the long return trip back to the title of this post, The Neurobiology of Concept Writing, we have learned by experience that when developing concept statements for new product ideas, that this same principle is at work. The key is in what is generally called the "Insight Statement." Some people call this the "Accepted Consumer Belief" but in order to tweak those oxytocin levels, you have to make people feel and sense the tension. This is the bar for a great concept statement, and more rightly, the goal of every insight manager or innovator.
I'd love to hear about examples of insight statements that you believe really pushed the right buttons.
This blog offers stories and discussions on how to build more relevance and differentiation for brands. The author is Timothy Coffey, Chief Revolutionist of Launchforce Strategy, a consumer research consultancy that specializes in highly creative qualitative methods. His experience ranges from brand and research management at Procter & Gamble to innovation management at Tupperware to founding and leading an integrated marketing strategy agency. He is the author of three books, Innovation Myths & Mythstakes, The New Super Consumer, Mom&Kid, and The Great Tween Buying Machine.