Monday, March 9, 2009

A Marketer's Dilemma

After reading "Kenna's Dilemma" I became convinced that sometimes the public just does not know what it wants. Consumers not only react and feel differently when using a whole product over an extended period of time (as in the home-use tests used in the Pepsi vs. Coke battles) but they also tend to have difficulties explaining feelings about unfamiliar things. These two issues are what I feel are the most important takeaways from the chapter in regards to a marketer trying to gain insight from customers.

When testing products, a simple sip allows for subjects to get a sample of a product (in the case of the reading, it was Coke or Pepsi). As mentioned in the reading, people react differently when trying out an entire can as opposed to just a sip--especially when testing a product over a longer time frame, say, a week. Market research is a tricky thing. Sometimes, subjects answer or react differently to a product under a controlled experimental atmosphere than they would under no supervision in the privacy of their own homes. This is why sometimes you've got to trust your gut.

The first example the popped to my mind was the beverage Snapple. Throughout Snapple's history, the bottler has rolled out over 75 different flavors. As far as my understanding goes, not one of them had been subjected to any type of market test. Snapple simply rolls out a new flavor, puts in on the market, and sees how buyers respond and use performance as a benchmark. The reason Snapple was able to do this for so long was because of the economies it had built through its distribution network. It was relatively inexpensive to create a new flavor, put it on the shelves, and see how well it sells. Consumers were able to purchase and drink Snapple, garnering the full experience of the product--not just a sip. To me, real-life performance is the best way to measure the strength of a product or service--not a bunch of simulations to constituents who (hopefully not) may not ever use the product in the first place.

In the case of Kenna, his music was so off-the-wall that there is, in my mind, no way that a group of music analysts would have been able to identify the type of listeners who would enjoy Kenna's unorthodox style. Kenna is definitely the type of artist who would develop a cult following (known to market industrialists as a niche). This, to me, taints the effectiveness of market research. Yes, a lot of the time, market research is highly useful and a decent predictor of performance. However, a good amount of times (and with today's extreme diversity in tastes and preferences) the tested subjects' perception does not truly account for the outside variables that affect how great a product or service can truly be. Kenna's different style of music appeals to a different style of audience. Personally, I hardly ever love songs right off the bat--they have to grow on me, and that takes time. How can that ever be accounted for through a listen-and-respond 15 minute questionnaire?

In 1985, market research was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is in 2009. I do not know if there was any market research done when Nike's team worked on developing the Air Jordan I. These shoes were definitely the first of its kind. Historically, basketball shoes had been white or black solid colored shoes with a more traditional, conservative look. Nike literally put all of its eggs in one basket with these revolutionary kicks. People had never seen anything like them before, and thus would probably react negatively to them--initially--due to unfamiliarity. Michael Jordan was the man they would depend on to save their company. Now, even to a pure basketball lover such as myself, the shoes are somewhat unattractive (I have always wondered what I would have thought of them if I was a teenager in 1985). They are bright, loud shoes with a boxy yet plain design. I'd be willing to bet that if a group of respondents were surveyed and asked "How likely are you to buy these shoes?" the results would tell a whole different tale than what actually took place. Jordan was a rookie in the NBA at the time, and the NBA banned the shoes because the league felt that it violated uniform codes. Jordan (prompted by Nike management) continued to wear the shoes, and begin to receive fines from the league (which Nike gladly paid for). This created a buzz so definitive that the shoes began flying off the shelves and fans could not wait to get their hands on a pair of forbidden basketball shoes. It boded well that Jordan was a... decent... basketball player and was playing well at the time. Couple this fact with the aided publicity and you've got yourself a knockout product. This anecdote serves as an example for both how consumers will react and feel differently over an extended period of time and tend to have difficulties explaining feelings about unfamiliar things.

Consumers do not always know what they want-especially as their preferences begin to change over time. There is no cut and dry way to simulate a human brain and how it will react to a new song as it plays more over time, a new drink as they begin to experience it while doing their everyday things, a new shoe as it gains popularity among different human channels, or a new style of chair as they see it gain prominence. Sometimes, you've got to trust your gut...

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