What is it about Abe Lincoln? He pops up everywhere and is referenced all the time. Think about it. Not a day goes by where you don’t see honest Abe referenced somewhere, somehow. Sure, on President’s Day and because of money. But that just scratches the surface of our Abe obsession. He pops pretty much every day in all kinds of expected and unexpected ways. On billboards. In quotes. On TV. In books. Movies. Parodies. As a vampire hunter. In costumes. To settle bets. A.k.a. he is the Elvis of ex-Presidents. Honest Abe is one of 44 U.S. Presidents (albeit one of our very, very finest) and has been deceased for 148 years. So why are there seemingly more Abe Lincoln references than those of all other non-sitting presidents put together? And what does this have to do with innovation, design, research, new product development and marketing?
So what does this Abe phenomenon have to do with innovation, design, research, new products and marketing? It’s this. All Abe, all-the-time is a real thing. But it’s the kind of thing that most people would never consciously notice. Most anybody can catch the obvious things. You need someone…yourself, a leader, an employee, an agency person, a researcher, but someone…who is able to notice the offbeat things, the emerging, the next, the heretofore unseen wave that leads to big ideas. And if you don’t have such a person, you should find one. Honest.
The single key to great market research isn’t slick research design. Or some perfect technique. Or recruiting exact match research respondents. Or asking just the right questions in just the right order. Or achieving statistical significance. So what is it?
The single key to great market research is INTERPRETATION. The ability to understand not just what a customer or prospect says, but what this really means. Here are the facts:
• People rarely know what they want in the first place
• Even if people know what they want, they have a hard time articulating it
• People cannot envision what they do not yet have
• What people say is often not exactly linear to what you should do about it
So how to get around this? When setting up research, focus less on the exact technique or research design and more on who is interpreting it. In research, you need a seer. Someone who doesn’t just hear, but that understands. You need to find someone with a sixth sense.
A lot of celebs seek to grab attention (see Cyrus, Miley or “Kardashian – Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, Kylie or Kris). They make outsized noise doing over the top things involving nudity, wrecking balls, giant teddy bears, costumed little people, farm animals and meat suits to get on our radar. And it works. For about 15 minutes. A lot of new products seek to do the same thing. But there is a HUGE difference between attention-grabbing “Whoa” and true “Wow” factor. And if you want to succeed for more than 15 minutes, you need lasting WOW factor. What is it and how do you know if you have it?
Look just above. WOW, right? Just WOW. Not made you look, 15 minutes of fame “whoa”, but WOW. Lasting cool. “It” factor. It’s a bitch to develop but not hard to define. Lasting Wow is deliberately built to reinforce brand, send the right message, with just the right design queues and touches that deliver lasting cool. You know you have it when most anyone in your intended target looks at your new innovation and simply utters the word, ”Wow.” Not “whoa” like a Miley Cyrus stunt. But “Wow”. Whoa is Miley Cyrus, WOW is Adele.
When developing new products, you should research, brainstorm, design and engineer with “WOW”, not “Whoa” in mind. At least if you want your new product to have more than 15 minutes of fame.
If you want good research to innovate, don’t go focus group. Go guerrilla. Go to where your consumers are. Where your customers actually do real things in real-time under real conditions. This is where you can have casual, comfortable conversations. And where you can make observations and gather subtle insights that consumers would never even think to articulate, let alone be comfortable enough to mention in a sterile focus group setting.
By way of example, on a client assignment several months back, elevation spent a couple of weeks with dog owners. We went to dog parks, backyards and trails. We hung out. And yes, we learned a lot by striking up casual conversations. But where we learned even more: observing subtleties and taking note of the occasional frustrated look on a dog owner’s face. In particular, many dog owners tried to tie their dog’s leashes up to trees, fences, park benches, etc. (while answering their cell phone, checking their email, stopping for a sip of coffee or to chat). More times than not, the leash would slip and the owner would have to lunge after or chase their dog.
From this, elevation created a series of leashes that easily attach/detach to trees, poles, fences, benches and more. The result: two feet of incremental shelf space at a major national pet store retailer for our client – and a competitor who never saw this shelf space raid coming. All because we went guerrilla and went to the dog park.
C’mon, you know you were thinking it. And I just said it. Having spent over two decades in the innovation, marketing and industrial design spaces and having sat through countless, mind-numbing focus groups, I’ve learned the hard way.
Here is why the traditional focus group is the LAST PLACE ON EARTH to gain game-changing insights into your consumers and their needs:
Traditional focus group rooms have are dull, artificial, sterile and have two way glass. The real world, outside of XXX shops and select Las Vegas venues, doesn’t have two way glass or any of the other features just mentioned.
Most groups will have a Bossy-Pants, gotta talk early and often, know it all who sets the tone for the rest of the group. Regardless of what others think, many respond in agreement with said bossy-pants just to fit in. Worse yet, others then just shut down altogether. This toxic stew gains you close to zero in terms of real world, usable insight.
It doesn’t help whatsoever that most people have a really hard time telling you exactly what they want in the first place. If they could, innovation, “the cool factor” and new product/service development wouldn’t be such a damn riddle. The unnatural, uncomfortable focus group setting only exacerbates this problem.
In summary, if you want to be bored silly, get fat eating too many backroom M & M’s, burn your budget and LEARN LESS THAN YOU SHOULD ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, by all means continue to rely on traditional focus groups.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to be bored silly, get fat or blow money, go guerrilla in your research. Nothing will help you see the challenges, feel the frustrations, and uncover opportunities faster than spending time with your customers in natural settings where they actually use products and services, experience brands and live life.
After working together off and on for many years to create new product innovations, Keith Poulson and Eric Greene are officially joining forces. Their new joint venture is Elevation, specializing in guerrilla research, brainstorming, industrial design and A-Z product development to launch. Elevation is a natural fit for the two, who have collectively innovated, developed and launched literally hundreds of millions of dollars in new product services for Fortune 500 on down to small companies. Keith brings over 25 years of industrial design experience, and Eric over 25 years of strategy, research, development and marketing experience to the partnership.