Failed Test? Try An Ethnographic Study

Most marketers run various tests to before making decisions on new products, packaging, media mix, media levels, creative messaging, etc. Testing is good, but we must also remember that you can’t test everything. How many great product ideas have been stripped of originality by testing or have come out years too late to take advantage of the marketplace? New product development can take three years at large corporations. We must also be cautious about the types of research we use and its limitations.

Ingrid Fetell from Landor says that too often marketers treat focus groups as a quick-and-dirty solution to every knowledge they need. But focus groups have their limitations. After all 80% of new products fail within six months, but almost all pass through focus groups on their way to market. The Seinfeld pilot failed in the eyes of focus groups that said it needed a stronger supporting cast. Focus groups have also rejected the Sony Walkman, Baileys Irish Cream, and the ATM, which was considered “too impersonal.” But some scholars like Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman see ethnographic techniques as having a more accurate ability to gauge consumer opinion given the unconscious nature of the decision-making.

What’s a real life example? Cambridge SoundWorks’ used ethnographic research to determine why sales of its new speakers were slow despite enthusiasm from male prospects. The retailer sent researchers out with video cameras to follow prospective customers for two weeks and they discovered the “spousal acceptance factor.” Men were being talked out of their purchase by girlfriends and wives who thought the speakers were ugly – an insight men didn’t offer up in a traditional focus group. They offered a new range of sneakers with a new look and they became the best-selling product line in the company’s history.

Are you using focus groups because they are quicker and cheaper than quantitative studies? Maybe its time you try an ethnographic study.

Online Research: Temptations and Limitations

Internet research is quickly gaining popularity as a marketing research method. In fact, growth of research via the web has increased six times the rate of total market research. The advantages of Internet research include real-time reporting, reduced costs, personalization, higher response rates, and the ability to contact hard-to-reach targets. But what are the disadvantages?

A recent American Psychology article detailed several disadvantages of online surveys. We must be careful of sample bias that effects the generalizability of your data. Unlike random dialing of telephone numbers, nothing exists to give you a random sample of Internet users. And people who can participate in online studies tend to skew towards certain demographic profiles other than the general population. In addition, response rates for online surveys versus paper are generally lower. Online participants may drop out before completing a study and there is often difficulty in getting a hold of them at a later time. This is because email addresses change more frequently than phone numbers and mailing addresses. Online also runs the risks of multiple submissions or flooding a site and people may act differently online than they do in real-life social interactions. Also are participants who they say they are? With an in-person study, you can see that someone is who he or she says they are.

Another fact to consider is that the vast majority of online research is quantitative with companies using applications like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. There are limitations in conducting qualitative research online – how do you get someone to taste your product or what if you need to observe their behavior? Internet research is gaining ground and may be attractive because of its immediacy and lower cost, but it is good for us all to also keep in mind its limitations.