As an illustration, I offer a conversation with a young police officer friend who lamented about how dishonest people were today. I literally had to remind him about how he was spending the majority of his waking hours and how that affected his opinion.
Closer to home, I reflect upon how, while stewarding a number of affluently targeted media brands, I'd often talk sales colleagues off the ledge when research revealed that contrary to what they envisioned, 85% of the audience didn't drive the luxury auto makes that they were trying to sell advertising to.
Pragmatism would have pacified those concerns and reminded my cohorts that a mid single digit penetration presented an impressive index against the control population. By not wearing rose-colored glasses, we as research professionals can separate the marketing aura from the reality and then seek to bridge that gap with implications and strategy that result in a plausible brand positioning that is at the same time compelling as it is resonant.
So here, then, are my three simple rules for stepping back, and allowing the real voice of the customer to reverberate above your own pre-conceptions:
1. Everyone else has "brand A.D.D.": Part of "living our brands" means that we are consumed by every nuance of their existence. We may be staunch "top of the pyramid" advocates of their efficacy but we often fail to recognize that few in the target population share that singular focus or an ability to understand the finer points of our differentiated positioning.
Our attitudinal research continues to show time depravity as a major inhibitor for consumer engagement. Yet, I'm still amused by the long faces of many of our sporting goods clients, when their most skilled and avid participants drop the proverbial ball and fail to articulate the specifics of a product innovation or technological advantage during qualitative interviews. These respondents may appreciate the brand, but it's often on a very different level.
2. The Competitive Set goes beyond your market share rivals: As sports marketers, we tend to be a competitive lot, but we don't always see the forest for the trees. Pointing again to time constraints and the proliferation of leisure choices, we must recognize that our competition isn't just a rival team or brand in our category.
I go back to my respondent from a couple of posts ago, who was playing less golf because he got greater satisfaction and consistency of experience from his vacation home. Savvy sports marketers need to not only measure brand affinity within an expanded non-vertical competitive set, but they should put in place loyalty measures, as well.
3. No one calls the baby ugly to your face: I still shudder at the legions of sports marketers who take the short cut of administering their own surveys or asking leading questions that make it obvious who is behind a study. Garbage in equals garbage out.
If you really want to know what the customer thinks, you need an objective professional to ask the right questions to the right mix of people. It's a careful combination of art and science. But that investment will ultimately render more actionable insights ... even if what you hear may surprise you.