Falling in love with Bose – again

When it comes to ‘marketing and brands” I have a split personality. As a logophile (fascinated by the meaning of words) I must explain that the definition of personality is “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving”

One side of my marketing personality i.e. pattern of thinking, the dominant side in recent years, has been to think a lot about the fundamentals of brand adoption and brand commitment since this has been at the heart of my work on Deliberate Marketing, or ‘D-Marketing’ for short. My contention is that a great deal of physical waste and most of the wasted marketing spend, still roughly half of all spend, is due to there being no explicit agreement on what makes people buy things and keep buying them. There are lots of theories and models but very few businesses consciously identify through rigorous discussion which they agree on. If you don’t really understand why people buy/keep buying then how can you efficiently invest in marketing? There may never be a perfect and complete understanding but if you are not curious you never progress. So my message has been ‘Be deliberate, have a hypothesis, continually learn and improve”. This will save money and save the planet. If you want the full version or the fun version of this argument see the links in the last post.

The other side of my personality ito my pattern of thinking, pops up every now and again triggered by a personal experience of either falling in or out of love with a brand. From time to time it feels to me that I’m witnessing in myself something similar to the Hadron Colllider, a collision of brand protons that creates a reaction, either positive or negative. I blogged about one years ago (you can find it in ‘Big Fat Marketing Tweets’, the one about falling in love with BF Goodrich off-road tires having known nothing about tires or off-roading). This week I had another real time change of heart about a brand, in this case falling back in love with it, and again it was down to a particular collision of events and stimulus.

I have been loyal to Bose headphones for more than 30 years. It was through Bose that I discovered ‘noise-cancelling’ and at a time when I was starting to do a lot of long-haul travel it transformed my life. I could block out the world and relax. I think I am now on my fourth set of headphones having upgraded a few times as new features came along. My one criticism is that the lovely soft ear pads degrade over time especially if, like me, you have a sweaty head. The first time I took them back to the store in Regents Street to see if they could be refurbished I was told about their trade-in scheme. For not that much money I could swop my old headphones for a brand new pair with the latest features – brilliant and ahead of its time in terms of recycling (the old headphones were refurbished and resold apparently). I did this twice ending up with my current pair which offer brilliant sound, very decent battery life and are wireless. I’ve had them a few years but last week as I came off a flight my ears were covered in a kind of black dandruff, the ear pads had finally started to disintegrate. So I decided to go the Bose shop – in Cape Town – and see if I could get them repaired but knowing I might get tempted to trade up.

A lot has happened in headphones since I bought my first pair of Bose. Back then they were super expensive compared to anything else available but if you could afford them, and I could, they were the best. There were really only two ways they got used, either listening to music at home if you wanted the purest sound without disturbing anyone else or being disturbed by anyone else, or else for in-flight entertainment (my first pair had all the attachments, I’ve kept them, that allow you to plug into the socket on any aircraft when watching  a movie or listening to your own stuff on your i-pod/phone).

Now headphones are much more integrated into everyday life both work and play. People want to be connected to their music, pod casts, games, TV and social media anywhere anytime. Whether in the office or WFH headphones are an essential tool. There are now lots to choose from, from in-ear like air pods to over-ear like my own  ‘Quiet Comfort’ Bose pair (I can only use the bigger over-ear headphones, hate things in my ear) and noise cancelling is common place across all the brands.

Since I bought my last pair of Bose, probably 6 or 7 years ago now, two other things have changed for me and I think most people. Firstly I never buy anything important without checking the reviews on-line and secondly I feel more guilty if I make unnecessary purchases and don’t try to recycle (I said more guilty, not paralyzingly guilty, I still like buying things). Thinking I would get offered the chance to spend a bit more money and upgrade I thought I better check the reviews of the latest Bose headphones. Were they worth it, were there better alternatives? If there were then I’d treat myself knowing that I could recycle my old headphones.

The quickest of searches unearthed two very relevant pieces of information. Firstly, Sony had some new headphones that were getting better reviews than the latest Bose set. Sony were ‘more expensive but worth it if you can afford it’ was the general consensus, you have my interest. Was now the time to switch brands and end a 30 year-long love affair? Secondly Apple had bought Bose and were planning to merge them with Beats. Beats were the headphones American rapper Dr. Dre backed, he made a fortune when they were acquired by Apple for $3 billion in 2014. With the exception of some Eminem, I loathe rap music, in my view the ‘c’ is obviously silent. Headphones by rappers for rap are not for me. They could be the best, most durable and cheapest headphones in the world and I would not put them on my head let alone buy them. Sony make better headphones and Bose have sold out to Beats of all brands. Was it even worth going down to the Bose shop?

How differently this story might have ended had I chosen to stop there and buy on-line but I have recently had a few really bad experiences buying on-line and it was easy enough to go to the Bose shop and see if they could replace the ear pads and better still, check out the latest Bose headphones for myself. I like shops, especially specialist shops. I like talking to the kind of experts you get at a dedicated brand flagship store. Thank goodness I did and thank goodness Paul, the manager who had persuaded me it was worth trading up to my last pair of Bose, was still there. What did I learn from Paul?

  • The story of Apple buying Bose is bollocks, a false internet trope to put it more politely. MIT (the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have a significant stake in the business which they use to fund leading edge research into acoustics technology and the business is proudly private and independent.
  • Bose were, and thanks to their MIT connection still are, the pioneers in noise-cancelling and many other areas of acoustics.
  • The latest headphones are better only in the sense that they have been optimized for both work and play. Bose offered the equivalent to the latest Sony product with, for example, more than one setting for noise cancelling and slightly longer recharge intervals.  For how I use headphones my set were still as good as any.
  • Bose have tried hard to find better material for the ear pads but can’t. More durable means less comfortable so they have accepted that they need to be replaced every few years and offer a replacement set at a reasonable price. Swopping them over takes just a few minutes and could be done while I waited.
  • They no longer offer the upgrade policy, but I guess they don’t need to if the headphones can be refurbished while you wait and your last pair are still excellent.

I have checked all this out. The Apple rumours are indeed fake news that started with an April Fool Tweet from an Apple employee. The founder of Bose, Dr. Amar Bose, donated some of his shares to MIT of which he is an alumnus. And having listened to the new, top-of-the-range Bose headphones I could tell no difference to the set I have which they still sell alongside the newer more expensive model. I’m fairly sure it would be the same with the Sony equivalent. So, I paid a fraction of the price of a new set of headphones and walked out with my old headphones looking, feeling and sounding as good as ever. I felt really good about this, I’d saved myself a lot of money and done the responsible thing. I also felt a lot warmer and better informed about the Bose brand. I’d fallen in love all over again on the basis of new information:-

  • Bose were driven by the passion and expertise of a founder, Dr. Amar Bose.
  • They work and innovate with the best people, MIT.
  • They strive to be the best not the biggest or most profitable.
  • They are proud of their products and only too happy to restore them rather than just try to sell you a new pair.

What’s not to love? And by the way check out their sunglasses with inbuilt speakers, brilliant sound, audible only to the wearer and yet you can remain aware of what is going on around you. Bought a pair of those too.

What learnings do I take from this? What has been re-affirmed in my mind?

the combination of Macro/micro marketing insight is imporant. Learn from looking at a market, examining the data driven models, the top-down analysis but also learn from personal experience.

Love/delight/positive emotion are the key driver for some brands. I did not want to buy Sony, I love Bose, I was looking for positive affirmation of my brand choice, a reason to stay with them.

Because, alongside the emotional connection, it is what you do that counts, not what you say or project. The products are brilliant, the service first class, the repair/refurbish/re-use ahead of its time.

Making people aware of waste is the goal, that will change behaviour. I am informed about, and now sensitized to, the issue of excessive waste and unnecessary purchases. A few years back I would have looked for every excuse to buy some new headphones I did not really need and not thought twice about it. Now I am responsive to doing the responsible thing, if it’s made this easy.

On-line shopping is potentially very bad for society. There are some occasions and some purchases when on-line ordering makes sense, for example if you know precisely what you want or cannot get to a store. But on-line research and peer group reviews cannot be totally relied on, the ability to just click and buy, thereby missing out proper consideration and first hand research, is what creates the very wasteful ‘reverse supply chain’ where one in three products get returned and often scrapped.

Much as I love Bose there are some lessons for them. Firstly their range architecture is not great in terms of how they position each product. It’s fine if you are talking to a knowledgeable Bose person like Paul but just looking at the names and features does not help you navigate their range as well as they could.

The Apple buying Bose rumour was very high and prominent on the list of search results – they need to fix that.

Bose is one of the few brands that I allow to have and use my email address – so use it, communicate some of the useful information I only found out once in-store. For example, scotch the Apple rumour, let me know about the replacement ear pad kit.

Finally, I’m not sure Bose have nailed their over-arching positioning. I think it’s something around “The art and science of getting much more from less” but what do I know?

One-eyed Dan – Doing more with less

The D-Marketing eBook is now live and can be downloaded here. I warn you, it’s over 90 pages long and important as the topic is – saving the planet by reducing waste and wasted marketing – it’s a chunky read with my usual clunky writing style. There is an ‘In a nutshell’ section and in fact all the sections can be accessed directly from the index page so the reader can skip any bits they want and get straight to what takes their fancy. But still, 92 pages, it’s a lot especially since I have always been of the view that far more business books are bought (or downloaded) than are ever read.

This was praying on my mind so I thought about the ‘business books’ that have been widely read, books like ‘The One-minute manager’ or ‘Who moved my cheese’. They are short, light with a bit of a story that makes you think. Then I thought about the most read books in the world – children’s books. I lost count of the number times I read the marvellous ‘Cops and Robbers’ by Janet and Allen Ahlberg to my kids (and lately to my grandson). Honestly I still know most of it off by heart.

Bingo I thought, I’ll write a short story that comes across as a kid’s book but which is in fact the summary of the arguments for D-Marketing. And so I did – you can download it here.

It’s the story of One-eyed Dan who saw more with less (get it?) and it breezes along in just over 20- pages including some illustrations. Enjoy, you’re welcome. Go change the world.

From Market Research to Insight to Intel

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On the CBS show ‘Seal Team’ an elite US Navy Seal unit called ‘Team Bravo’ undertake dangerous missions in scary places taking down terrorists. Conveniently there seems to be one such mission every episode for the ‘Frogmen and Door-kickers’ with not too much hanging around. Think ‘Band of Brothers’ meets ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. Working hand in hand with the team are a military Field Intelligence Officer and a CIA agent. They don’t do much of the fighting, shooting and door-kicking but they are on the ground with them and provide Bravo with the intel they need to plan and execute the missions. This intel comes from the many sources they have at their disposal – databases of baddies, satellite reconnaissance, undercover operatives and lots more besides. They pull all this together under pressure, fast, in real time and their intel invariably proves vital to the success of the mission, particularly when the unexpected happens and new plans and ‘exfils’ (getting the hell out) have to be created. They have Team Bravo’s back and there’s strong mutual respect and trust. They hang out together, go drinking together in between missions and – plot spoiler – one of the Seals has a bit of thing for the Field Intelligence Officer. They are close, tight.

And that’s where ‘Market Research’ is heading. Not just integrated with the operational teams, in the fight.

Here is the briefest of history lessons. Market Research began with ‘mass observations’ of the type the US military carried out during the Second World War. They’d send people to observe the troops in the places they were stationed, observe what they were doing, how they were behaving, pull all the results together and draw conclusions on their fighting preparedness and morale. After the war someone had the bright idea to actually ask people rather than just observe and infer, either in small groups or as part of large surveys using the results to inform commercial rather than military decisions and the modern Market Research Industry was born.

I’ll skip very quickly through the next development which was an explosion of techniques and modelling to overcome the problem that people don’t always make good witnesses on their own lives. The problem is you just can’t trust what people tell you or even what you observe.

Picking through all this research was a job for experts and specialist market research agencies. Companies built up market research departments to translate the market information needs of the business into briefs for the agencies and then help convert their debriefs into actionable insight. Insight was the goal even though no-one ever succeeded in pinning down precisely the difference between ‘a finding’ and ‘an insight’. Lots tried, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, both heavy users of market research, developed several ring-binders full of best practice that sought to explain exactly what an insight was. Hell, even I had a go – discerning, actionable, inspiring, er….. a bit like a good idea, you’ll know it when you find it, although the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Something like that. Despite this slight confusion about exactly how to turn market research into insight, so attractive was the idea of insight (or the insight idea) that Market research departments and experts rebranded themselves as the “Customer/Consumer Insight Team”.

Next? The two D’s. The first is obvious – data, lots of data, big data, so big you need data warehouses and algorithms and all manner of human and artificial intelligence to turn data into information. The second D? “Do” – the advance of technology allows you to get lots of data on what people actually do (as well as where they go, where they get their information etc). With data on what they do you don’t need to rely on what they say they do. But you still need insights for data needs to become useful, actionable information.

Step aside market research agencies, and welcome in management consultancies. They love data and are really comfortable using it as long as this data is of the large numeric kind and requires little in the way of imagination to make sense of it but lots in the way of systems and technology. They are not so comfortable with what we used to call ‘qualitative data’, the soft stuff. Not just focus groups (in fact please, not focus groups) but depth interviews, ethnographic (modern term for mass obs) and cultural insights.

A recent report on trends in market research concluded that qual research is making a big comeback helped by technology to a large degree. Video platforms allow you do a lot of qual and do it cost effectively. So, you kind of get qual in quantity if that makes sense.

I am now going to play one of two “I told you so” cards here for anyone that cares. For the last 10 years as ‘big data’ has exploded I have been banging on about the need to use more ‘qual’ research. Put simply, numbers tell you what, they don’t tell you why. Qual tells you why but with no indication on materiality. Ergo, you need both – something I learned as best practice in my alma mater, Unilever, many moons ago.

There was another very interesting conclusion in this report. Two other trends were identified. Firstly, a trend to do more research/insight/qual/quant in-house. The new technologies often have such good CI (customer interface) they allow business to go DIY.

Secondly, the big new thing is empathy apparently. Business and brands need to build customer empathy. As someone who has always struggled to define the difference between sympathy and empathy, I’m not buying this. I can think of a lot of other ways to nail what is going on here without using the words ‘customer empathy’. Understanding, intimacy, affinity, nous. ‘Customer Empathy’ sounds a bit wokish to me, rather obtuse and a distraction from the real issue. For a long time, people have talked about the balance of power between ‘consumers’ (dreadful word) and brands shifting for a whole bunch of reasons but essentially because of technology generally and social media specifically. We can all share our views, review the opinions of others, get the low-down on anything, anywhere, anytime, maybe even become influencers, the arbiters of taste and choice. The ‘consumers’ are people and they are now empowered. If you already thought it was important to research what they do and think it’s a whole lot more important now and – if you know what you’re doing – easier.

What does this tell us about the future of ‘Insight Departments’ and Market Research Agencies? They have no future in their current form.

The Bravo Seal team don’t want just research, the don’t want just insight, they want intel and they want it as an integrated part of their team from people right there alongside them using every valuable source of ‘data’ they can, interpreted with intelligence, speed and commitment for the mission in hand.

Time to play my second and final “I told you so” card. Whereas you only have my word for the first I have documented proof for the second. Back at the end of 1999 the UK Marketing Society asked me to write a piece on the future of marketing in which I made the prediction that in the future Market Research would become Market Intelligence. It is fair to say a) even a broken watch is right twice a day and b) I did not entirely foresee the full impact of technology but even back then the idea of Intel made much more sense to me that Market Research or ‘Consumer Insight’.

What I did not foresee was that the line between qualitative and quantitative would blur. My model, as I have described above, was based on smaller scale qualitative research complimenting quantitative data by adding the ‘why’ to the ‘what’. I could see how video research platforms can reduce cost, extend reach and therefore allow us to do more qualitative research with the tech also facilitating faster analysis and sharing of findings. But the constraint is that qualitative research has to be moderated – someone, hopefully someone smart, has to ask the questions and react immediately to the responses – ask a follow up question, probe here, dig a bit more there. But what if you could break the link by conducting interviews without a moderator? This is sometimes called ‘asynchronous’ research because you do not have to synchronise a respondent with a moderator. The simple version – which is already used extensively in video recruitment interviews – is just to pop up written questions some of which are ‘open-ended’ (have you got a degree in maths? = closed ended question; why did you choose Finance? = open ended question). Great, you can just share the link, the respondent or candidate can record their answers whenever they choose and you can look at the results whenever you want. Without the need to schedule the interviews you can run as many as you want. As a rough rule of thumb you need circa 50 people in a chosen sample group to be able to get statistical significance. Typically, if you were running a study you’d want 3-5 different sample groups (e.g. young/old/users/non-users). So, if you want to run a study that has 150 – 250 interviews that is going to take several moderators and/or a long time. With ‘asynchronous interviews” you could do it in a day or so. But…. there’s always a but…..there are 3 problems with this.

  1. People respond better (more honestly and fulsomely) to people asking questions compared to an impersonal written question.
  • With no moderator you can’t change tack according to the responses – you can’t vary the question set, the order, the follow-ups
  • Somebody has to look at all the interviews – it might take just a couple of days to do them but you have to add on the time to analyse them and remember, video cannot be searched unless it is transcribed into words.

All of this, I’m pleased to say can be solved (to a large degree) by technology.

I’m not going to go in to too much detail because I’m currently working on bringing to market a platform that will do just this. But in headlines:-

  • You can have humans (recorded) to ask the questions
  • Using AI you can vary the question set
  • Using advanced sentiment analysis together with human over-sight you can process large volumes of video

This is a game changer that allows marketing and commercial teams to conduct a small-scale piece of video research then move seamlessly to a larger scale sample to provide not just ‘why’ but the statistical materiality. Or the other way around, start with a broad scale study to identify material issues then drop into more depth exploration. It is much more attuned to what product development teams and ‘user experience’ researchers need to do*(see footnote below). It can be run programmatically, it can offer a cost effective way to do ethnographic – in the moment – studies. It can be set up to run continuously, so the voice of the customer is always there, available to tune into for anyone in the business at any time.

This is next-level market intelligence where ‘qual and quant’ are working symbiotically to bring the customer right to the heart of decision-making, right to the heart of the mission. And all other things being equal, the business that’s closer to the market wins. The Seal teams would love it!

Footnote

This kind of ‘in the moment’ ethnographic research is even more expensive and even more time consuming if done conventionally. It is easier for digital products or experiences because the product development team and their User Researchers can set up tests and intercept the person at the moments they choose. Someone spends too long on one part of the site – PING – up pops a message, “Having problems?”. Someone gives you a low score in a customer survey – PING – up pops an open-ended question, “What could we improve?”.

But talk to the product development teams or marketing folk, and they’ll tell you what they really want is to see and hear the customer. They want video but they want it in the kind of numbers that allow them to understand statistical materiality. It is much easier to analyse numerical or written customer response, handling video is much more of a challenge. This is frustrating because my research* has shown there is a huge difference between what someone will write in answer to a question and what they will tell you face to face.

This is a real example. The intercept question was probing why a potential customer was failing to sign up and download an on-demand shopping app. When they were asked to write down their answer they said:-

“I found the address form complicated”

When the same person was asked to record their answer on video, with the web page live and visible alongside, this is the transcript of what they said:-

“You asked for my address here, but you didn’t make it clear whether I should just enter my post code or the full address. Then over here you had this map that asked me to move the cursor to my exact location. I did this and then without me spotting it you changed my address and I couldn’t see how to correct that. So I was trying to figure out whether I should just give up or put in a second address in the ‘work’ option but it’s not my work, it’s my home”.

If you were the dev team which would you find more interesting and useful? And would you like to know whether this was just one fat-fingered person or a problem lots of people were encountering?

Here is another real example, this time for a new kind of oat milk. The product was getting great customer reviews and in the surveys they were asked to say what they liked and what could be improved. One written response (typical of many) was this:-

“I really like the taste. Maybe the price could be cheaper”

The same person asked to record on video their reaction to trying the product and whether there was anything they’d improve. This is the transcription:-

“It’s kind of smooth and creamy, like milk. You get a hint of oat but it was not too strong like the others I’ve tried. They were watery and very oaty. This was delicious, something you could just drink on its own. If I had any suggestion maybe just a little too sweet.”

Quite a bit better, a lot more insightful.

Now imagine you that you could see and hear them at every stage of the customer journey. To stick with the last example, recruit someone who is interested in, but has not yet bought, plant-based milk alternatives and set them the task to go to a store, look on-line and then choose one to try other than your brand. When they’ve tried it, they then have to try your brand and compare the experience. They capture a minute or two of video at every stage of this process and you can prompt them with questions at any point.

*By the way, I was not telling the truth when I said this is based on my research. It was based on me, my personal experience with an on-demand grocery app and a new oat milk. The findings sounded very plausible though didn’t they? But I did warn you, you can’t trust what people say they do or what they say they think.

Entrepreneurship & Covid19

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Brendan Harris is an old friend and colleague. He is that very rare animal, someone who had a very successful corporate career (first at Unilever, where we met, and then at Coca Cola) who then went on to be a successful entrepreneur. He built and sold a smoothie business in Scandinavia & Northern Europe, Froosh, and is currently building an Oat Milk business in Italy which I am sure will do well. I hope so because I’m a small investor but I really think it will. He has two very smart partners, a brilliant product and brand, a well-thought through ‘go-to-market’ strategy and the market for plant based alternatives is hot. That ticks all the boxes for me.

Brendan is one of the smartest people I know and he’s also a very good communicator. He recently did a video for McWhorter Driscoll who support young entrepreneurs all over the world. You can watch it here and it’s well worth doing so if you are thinking about starting a business in these challenging times (or trying to survive if you already did).