Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mr Sub Sinks

OK folks, I don't use my blog for a lot, because quite frankly most of what I would post has been posted by someone else in probably a better format than what I can express. So, what you'll read below is nothing new - the only difference is that I happen to be impassioned by the situation...

Mr. Sub, a large Canadian sandwich shop put-out a series of ads, with the tagline "No one likes surprises". One of the executions had a middle-aged father sitting at a dinner table with his family, and he says something like "Family, I have an important announcement to make... I'm gay. Flaming gay..." and then the tagline "No one likes surprises" comes up along with Mr. Sub's logo. Here's a link to the ads and the reaction to it http://tinyurl.com/yekvydx It would be worthwhile to read it now.

Here folks is my take on this...

I believe that Mr. Sub and it's agency did not set-out to deliberately offend anyone with this ad. I say that because I believe we live in a sensitive society. Moreover, I have to believe that someone at BOS (Mr. Sub's Agency) and Mr. Sub itself would have enough common sense not to produce anything that they felt would intentionally hurt anyone. So, while I actually fully agree with and support everything the CAW says about coming-out, and I agree with the fact that the Mr. Sub ad could be viewed as offensive, I do not believe this is the relevant marketing or research issue.

To me, the relevant marketing and research issue is the same old thing that I see in so many ads that I view and test - the ad just sucks (as do all of the executions in this set of ads). The reason why it sucks is that it does absolutely nothing to enhance the brand image, it does nothing to create a bond with the brand and there is no emotional or psychological resonance in the ad what-so-ever. Humour, or irreverence, used in one execution of an ad does not bond people to either the brand or the product. There is no doubt that there are irreverent brands out there, and that there are brands that have irreverence as part of their DNA. However, Mr. Sub is not one of them.

In fact, the article above says that the ads were created on the insight (i.e. research) that people know what to expect when they dine at Mr. Sub. That's fine. Though it's not the greatest insight that research could produce, it works to build a campaign. What irks me though is the fact that the agency thinks that it has to use sophomoric, bordering on moronic humour, to get that message across. In my own ad testing experience, I have had to suffer the humiliation of testing ads that have people "playing water glasses" and doing "folkloric dance" because of all the time that they save with a particular service. Fortunately, these ads never test well and they get left on the focus-group floor where they should. And that's what should happen with all ads that attempt to use humour the way Mr. Sub has.

Finally, what I noticed was that the final shot of the Mr. Sub Ads say "A Canadian Classic for over 40 years". Now, how about tying that theme of "Canadian classic" into the fact that people know what to expect at Mr. Sub directly in the creative. That's linking the brand to an emotion, instead of linking it to irreverence.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's The Lack Of Confrontation That's The Issue

There's a great commercial that was filmed in Toronto (I've used this focus group facility room many times) that skewers focus groups. Here's the YouTube link.

For those that may not know, Shreddies has launched a "New" "Diamond-Shaped" cereal. The humour around this, of course, is that there's nothing new about Diamond Shreddies - the diamonds are simply the same square Shreddies that have always been around, but they have been rotated 45 degrees. The ad's humour is that it makes such a big deal out of nothing.

Anyhow, back to the comments about focus groups, and even about projective techniques used in them. The commercial shows the moderator intently listening to and "soaking in" everything that participants say about the Diamond Shreddies - including answers to his "projective questions".

From a therapist's point of view, this passive and even "rah-rah" attitude fosters respondents and clients to produce a significant amount of Bullshit in their answers (which the commercial uses as it's main source of humour). They not only try to please the moderator/therapist, but they realize that once the moderator/therapist accepts their first BS response without challenging it, they will continue to feed BS to the moderator/therapist for the rest of the session/group. There are any number of reasons why a person will continue to feed BS to a moderator/therapist, and are beyond the scope of this article - but suffice it to say, once the BS-genie is out of the bottle, it is very hard to get back in. The important thing to note is that to put the "cork back in", we don't necessarily need to know WHY a person is feeding BS - we just need a quick way to stop it.

All of this leads to the issue of "confrontation" - when does a moderator or a therapist risk calling a client/participant on their BS responses, in an attempt to go deeper with the client/participant or get more honest responses. The therapeutic world makes a HUGE deal about this, and with good reason - people react differently to confrontation, and there are literally an infinite amount of ways of confronting a therapeutic client. The therapist needs to be very careful in confronting or the therapeutic relationship can suffer irreparable damage.

When it comes to confronting participants in focus groups, I think virtually all moderators have very little idea what they're doing. I think good moderators know how to confront when participants present BS on a "logical level". For example, when I conduct groups concerning Federal Budgets or Policies, it is easy to spot the BS when participants say something like "I want the government to lower taxes and spend more on health care." It's also easy to confront, by explaining the incompatibility of the choices identified, and getting participants to work through what they really want in this situation.

The above is kind of a gimme though. How do we get participants to cut through their BS when they feed "passionate" responses about liking or disliking a product/advertisement like they showed in this commercial? Typically, the moderator asks more questions or follows the discussion guide assuming that the questions are ordered such that each leads to a successively deeper insight from the participant. This rarely works, as it does not take into account HOW the respondent is avoiding in the "Here And Now" of the session. It assumes that the participant is "following the moderator" down the path to deeper discovery. If this is not happening, following the guide, or asking deeper questions does not work.

Unfortunately how to confront BS in a qualitative session cannot be explained quickly here. I think part of the issue is for moderators to recognize when BS occurs - and in my experience only about half can do this. The next part is how to actually confront. This takes therapists years to learn and do, and it could be argued that about 75% of all therapist training is how to confront successfully.

I remember one example where I noticed a participant's responses were getting increasingly "politically correct" and conforming more to "populist idea" about the brand and less about his own experiences. He was also becoming more resistant to projective questions. This participant then related a personal story about how he has such high demands of himself and his family. I then said to him "Has anyone ever called you a perfectionist?" With that one statement, he knew I had caught a hint of how he was avoiding showing his true feelings in the interview. While his initial responses to my remaining questions did not get more truthful, he became more engaged in projective questions that I asked him - and I was able to probe his opinions much more deeply.

In the end, many moderators know that we can't believe everything respondents tell us. However, it is up to us to know how to pull the truth out of participants. That trait, in my opinion, is how moderators should be judged.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Branding In A Social Media Context Exposes How Empty And Vapid Most Consumer Goods Really Are

As both a researcher and psychotherapist, I’ve known for a long time that most brands absolutely suck at creating emotion, having empathy and fostering deep connections with their customers (even though they like to think they do). I think that social media will absolutely blow the cover off that fact, revealing this very large deficit in most brands. However, for those brands that adapt, a new life could be found to the point where this is the revolution most brands have been waiting for. After four pages of introduction, I’ll provide a list of how companies and brands can succeed in a social media environment. You can skip to it if you want right now, but that would just be a recipe for failure – and no one wants that, now, do they?
Let me start by relating social media to the type of psychotherapy that I practice, called Gestalt Psychotherapy. Gestalt psychotherapy states that the therapist is an active participant in the therapy process – not a passive observer of it. The same can be said of social media – everyone participates, everyone can see everything else, and everyone can change its course, by contributing content, forming their own network or making their own platform. So, with social media, by virtue of being there, your are changing the content – AND THERE ARE NO PASSIVE PLAYERS BUT THERE ARE VIRTUALLY NO DOMINANT ONES EITHER. It is an ordered form of mass contribution and that’s incredibly powerful, and at the same time, incredibly humbling to those brands that used to be the sole seed of power. It’s no longer about your big announcements – it’s about being in the game as an earnest person

And that’s the issue social media presents for virtually all consumer-based businesses. Before social media, brands used to be very controlling and passive in what they did. The control and flow of products and communication was one way – from them to you, from them to you in a very “command and control” type of style. They produced, they distributed and you had to buy or else the schedule, and pipeline would get clogged and break-down. They were manipulative, and they had to be to get your attention, as most traditional advertising “interrupted your everyday life” to get your attention. Consumer-based businesses had to become cleverer especially in the face of competition and more decentralized knowledge, distribution and production. That’s why people who understand psychology like me are good at branding – we know how to get attention in a sly sort of way.

In social media, the attention is there already – people are having engaging conversations about any kind of topic you can imagine in any number of formats, and to attempt to influence the conversation is like pushing a string uphill hoping it goes somewhere. Where brands used to advertise and shout loudly to get our attention, their attempts to join the conversation of social networks is akin to a 500-lb gorilla crashing a party. They’ve got no idea how to communicate – or what to say in this new media – especially when pushing product in self-interest is verboten! Unless you’re Apple, social media doesn’t care if you’re “new and improved”, “bigger, better, badder or faster”, “soft as the early morning dew on a golf course” or the fact that you enable people to live “longer, better, faster and more beautiful self-actualized lives.” You’re allowed to join the club, you’re not allowed to sell to it. Check your sales pitch at the door, and be prepared to be a real human being. The end result is that when you are human, you will attract people to you. Simple concept, eh?

So – what’s the benefit of a brand to join a social media network? As stated before, you get to join the conversation, and have as much power as everyone, but not as much power as you did before. It’s influence, but on a more human scale. A brand gets to listen, not to dominate. A brand gets a chance to actually be of service, instead of always “reacting” to problems. Instead of having a brand’s logo be a friend or buddy to a customer, or instead of having a 30-second spot do your communicating, some executive who is responsible at the brand actually has to sit and respond – and that’s hard for companies that are so used to using logos, distribution channels, internet sites, 1-800#’s, off-shore CSR’s and researchers like me that keep them so distant from the customer. As a psychotherapist researcher, I would say 95% of my job is no more than advocating for the basic needs that customers want from neurotic brands to begin with.

There’s a wonderful saying about advertising – that only 50% of advertising works, but no one knows which 50%. In social media, virtually all of your messages will work – but they will do so only on a very small scale. They’ll impact a few people here, and a few people there. Only a very small portion of social media messages will have the mass effect that advertising has, and in many cases, it’s going to be a complete crapshoot as to which one captures the zeitgeist of the social media community. Companies embracing social media will have to get used to the fact that they’ll be hitting a lot of small-scale singles, instead of the large occasional bases-loaded home run. They’ll also have to get used to the fact that they won’t know what will happen once they get to the “plate” that is social media. The best thing that can happen for brands is simply to be in the game, instead of watching from the sidelines.

This is going to be a very tough pill for many brands to swallow. The main reason why is that businesses hate not knowing – and I don’t blame them. Businesses and successful brands got to where they were EXACTLY BECAUSE THEY KNEW. Successful brands, companies and people take very little risk once they are successful because what made them a success is a formula that they stick to time and time again. I’ll never forget George Heller, former CEO of Hudson’s Bay talking at a retail conference in 1998. Members of the audience during question period roasted him about the fact that HBC companies had a pitiful web presence, when compared to U.S. retailers. After about three of these questions, Heller looked at the audience and said “You know what, do any of you want to come with me to my next board meeting and tell my board what you’re telling me right now?” No one raised a hand.

And that brings me to my next point – if a brand does want to change, they need to get someone in there who is PASSIONATE about social media. All those well-intentioned individuals poking Mr. Heller about the internet were no more than Sunday Afternoon Football sports critics. They’re passionate about their criticisms, but not passionate (or likely smart enough) about implementation. PASSIONED individuals are smart, curious and can live with the uncertainty. They affect people by their passion, and not by their reason or intelligence. I wouldn’t even attempt if I were you, to “whip-up some passion” among some people in your office and start a social media division. You either have passion, or you don’t. It can’t be ingested or injected at regular intervals like a pharmaceutical pill.

So, after four pages of introduction, below is a list things that a company can do, from a psychotherapeutic point of view, to engage successfully social media – and show that companies and brands are not empty, vapid, deer-in-the-headlights organizations with no human or social skills or graces at all. My suggestion is that you give this list to someone who is passionate about Social Media. However, chances are someone who is passionate about Social Media already knows these things. So, if you take this list and give it to someone who is not passionate about social media, my deeply profound psychotherapeutic advice is to “enjoy faking it” because that’s all you be doing. I’ll no doubt see you in a little while when you wish to cope with the feelings of failure that you’ll experience.

Realize That Everything Communicates And Everything WILL Be Talked About

Before training in psychotherapy, I heard the phrase “everything communicates” as it relates to a brand, and I didn’t believe it. However, after my training, I strongly believe this to be the case. I can use a patient’s socks to relate to their childhood, their hair to relate to their parents. I’ve done Fairy Tale psychotherapy, and even underwear psychotherapy! Everything does communicate.

However, perhaps it is time to reframe this old axiom to EVERYTHING WILL BE TALKED ABOUT. I can see a Starbucks mug on my desk, and bet that I can find those interested in talking about their wooden stir-sticks. I see s stapler on my desk, and I bet I can find dozens of conversations on that. I see an Ikea product – bet I can find detailed discussions of how well the wheels work on Ikea Shopping Carts.

This has two fundamental implications. First, as a social media communicator, you need to know what conversations you need to be involved with – and maybe you should be involved in all of them. Imagine the cart designer for Ikea shopping carts saying “just looking up this topic, and noticed your conversation. We can make some changes you discussed. Twitter me at #CartWheels for more info.” WOW!! Toronto is considering a ban on disposable coffee cups, and I can guarantee you that there are hundreds of blogs, Twitters and Facebook chatter talking about it. Imagine the Starbucks person responsible for coffee cups joining the conversation in a human and honest way. For those that are interested in it, this could be an exciting proposition!!! A business and a brand could literally spend an infinite amount of time deciding what blogs to contribute to. A watch company need not only contribute to watch-related discussions, but perhaps to design and mechanical engineering discussions. A trophy manufacturer could contribute to a local soccer league Facebook account.

Second, if this proposition doesn’t make a business self-conscious about everything it does, I don’t know what will. Everything does communicate, and everything will be talked about. Successful businesses in the social media environment will be neurotically obsessed (and yes, there are positive benefits of neuroses) with detail, if only because they now realize that EVERYTHING will get talked about.

The Goal Is No Longer To Sell – It’s To Excite And Contribute

I would never want my local soccer leauge’s Facebook page bombarded with posts about bulk discounts at Troy’s Trophy Townhouse. But if my son posted that his trophy broke, I’d sure appreciate Troy telling us how to fix it, or that next season’s batch will take care of that issue. Imagine Dove, Panasonic, Starbucks, Swingline, Vonage, Kraft and Papermate making legitimate, human conversation with me concerning various issues that relate to their brands. Could Papermate tell me how to hold a pen so that I don’t tire my wrist as much? If I complain that I could never staple more than a 5 page document, could Swingline give me some advice? If I tell people I hate the reception on my cordless phone, could Panasonic communicate with me to determine if there is something more I could do? Could all this be done by a human being whose sole responsibility is to actually be caring? Would I re-distribute messages from companies that are actually useful to me? Though none of these would be a marketing home run, they’re little singles that could change the nature of brands, if they are done with humanity, timeliness and respect.

The Person Communicating Your Social Media Should Be Passionate, Sincere And Wise

I get a sense that most corporate brands have few individuals who are passionate and sincere about what is being offered. I think the corporate currency of social media will be legitimate, honest and sincere passion for a product or service. Corporate postings cannot be about selling or promoting stuff – they must be about what the social media outlet is talking about. My wife exclusively uses cloth diapers for our son, and is involved in no less than four or five social media outlets about the subject. How does Pampers join the conversation without actually being pushy? It’s not about shouting loudly. I can guarantee you my wife would not use Pampers no matter what, but if the person at Pampers were as passionate and sincere as my wife, my wife would at least likely listen and engage in conversations. It’s about showing real pride and humility, which are the basics of just being human with other people. My wife may never buy Pampers from you, but she may end-up liking you. And as a key influencer in her social media groups, that may be a nice person to have as an ally. The goal is not to influence, it is to connect.

Some social media advisors say the face of a company should be the CEO or the VP of PR. I disagree on both counts. The CEO is too busy, and PR guys are trained in PR, not social media. PR guys are not sincere enough for Social Media. If I had to pick a group within a large organization, I know that some firms like cell phone companies have “Executive Response Teams” or people in “The Office Of The CEO”. Those people would likely be my first stop on the search for social media faces for a company.

Responsiveness Is Critical

There are two kinds of responsiveness – responding to communications within the social media environment, and changing your company based on the comments from social media. This is more than responding in the face of a crisis, but can a company actually be responsive to a single individual, or group in a quick and sincere way? Can a company change an aspect of itself quickly if need be based on a Twitter complaint? Or can it effectively justify why it won’t change? Companies that engage in conversations that show how responsive they are, and companies that are more open and transparent will be the ones who win in the social media environment.

Put Hundreds Of Voices To What You Do

If you manufacture Diapers, not only can you talk about that product directly, but you can also engage in discussions about packaging, landfill, fasteners, children’s play and various charitable endeavors. If you manufacture computer printers, you can also enter conversations about electricity management, paper and even document handling. The point is, that your product now is never your product. Maybe a computer printer could find new life in a discussion among artists who print-off their work. I can just see marketers in a boardroom trying to find line-extensions or additional markets for their products, spending big bucks to research the market. While I would not counsel against that kind of work, social media could be one of the places where companies can both research and gain an actual presence in a market very efficiently and effectively.

Design, Design, Design As Your Next Emotional Calling Card

This last one may sound crazy, but it’s going to be one of the most important elements of your firm and product in the future. Advertising used to create excitement for your brand on an emotional level. It used to provide imagery and fodder for the mind to create a sense of psychological engagement with the product. As the power of mass advertising decreases and social media increases, you still need to find a way to engage people emotionally with your product. In my opinion, social media, as brands will use it, will not and should attempt to engage on an emotional level. I don’t think the medium is suited for it, and I don’t think that’s what people want out of the medium (though this could change as social media develops). Also, on a psychological level, when people communicate between others on a social media platform, they bring-up certain images and feelings about the individuals with which they are communicating. The feelings help individuals know what to do and say while they’re communicating. With social media, you can’t hear a voice, or really see a person, so we search for and rely on memories. In my opinion, emotional currency will be created and maintained by a product’s design, the imagery associated with the product and its logo. Product and packaging design has always been a way for brands to impart emotional and psychological feelings to products and services, and they will become more important in the age of social media. Design will serve as a calling card in social media, much more so than advertising will.

How Not Knowing Allows Me To Make Sense Of The Passion Economy

A place of not knowing is a place of growth. How many of us though, dare to go there in ourselves? Or how many of us dare to go there publically? What’s worse – how many of us actually know what a place of not knowing actually feels like? That is, how many of us fool ourselves into thinking we’re there, when we’re not even close?

A good psychotherapist will at various points work carefully to create so much confusion in their clients that they no longer know which way is “up or down”, to directly quote a recent and perhaps unfortunate psychotherapy client of mine. A common saying among psychiatrists and psychologists is that the Rorschach inkblot test works because the images “confuse the rational mind so much, that the real personality has no choice but to come through.” And that’s exactly the purpose of being in a place of “not knowing” – when you’re there, it’s when your actual personality shines through. When a good psychotherapist cuts his way through all the flotsam and jetsam that clouds a neurotic individual’s mind and gets to a person’s real being, the therapist basically says “Hi, nice to really see you” and then leaves the client to sit in yet a further existential swamp to come up with their own solutions to the world. The only difference between the flotsam and jetsam that the therapist had to cut through, and the existential swamp that has been reached, is that the existential swamp is “who the client actually is.” We leave the client with their own swampy resources to solve their own problems and their own personality to contact the world.

So, what does this have to do with The Passion Economy? Well, as a psychotherapist, and as a human being who through his therapy training has been so confused as to ask “which way is Saturday” The Passion Economy scares me. It scares me because it is another layer introjected of flotsam and jetsam that people swallow whole, hoping that it actually becomes part of themselves. After being exposed to a talk on “The Passion Economy” people could walk around thinking “I’ll be passionate about everything I do”, or “Hey, the people I work with are not passionate – I’ll take myself to a firm that is passionate”, or “I’m going to be the passion transformer in my office”. A similar, and equally scary reaction is “Eh – the passion economy – it’s got nothing to do with me.”

All of these are based on the psychological theory of introjection, which is really worth exploring here for just a minute. Between the ages of about 3-19, a child and subsequently teen learns a hell of a lot about the world, and their personality is formed. It is formed by observing and taking-in parts of the world, and by having lessons in basic humanity taught to kids throughout these very psychologically formative years. For Freudians out there, this is the Super-Ego, or ideal of an individual. It is primarily a collection of all the “shoulds” one is exposed to in their life – where the person doing the “shoulding” could either be a parental figure of the individual themselves. Classic examples – “I should respect my elders”, “I should share”, “I should not cross at a red light”, “I should be charitable”, etc…

What happens on a more technical level, is that the introject, or should, is psychologically swallowed, and then integrated. Three things happen, two of which are psychologically healthy, and one of which isn’t. I’ll let you guess which is which:

- A person is given a “should”, takes it in and takes it for a test-drive. They try it out, see what they like about it, and see what they don’t like about it. If they like it, it becomes part of them, and they can modify it to suit their own personality.

- A person is given a “should” and takes it for a test-drive. If they don’t like it, they respectfully return the “should” to the dealership and say very definitively “This is not for me. Sorry if I offend you by refusing it, but it just won’t work.”

- A person swallows a “should” whole. There is absolutely no integration process involved what-so-ever. The person simply “becomes” the should, no questions asked. It the becomes like a carrot infront of a horse. A person keeps trying to reach for the should, but never does. Disappointment after disappointment follows because they cannot live-up to this “should-ideal” that they have swallowed whole. In the end, when a person tries to live-up to a number of these shoulds, their ego function is reduced, and their sense of who they are becomes neurotically impaired. This person gets very confused because people continually reject him – he doesn’t know why – because he is afterall, living up to what he “should be” in society. These individuals continue to swallow the next big thing, hoping that it will be them.

What my concern about a “passion economy” for you, in this audience, is that unless you have strong ego boundaries, you are likely in danger of having the third option happen to you. How do I know this – because as a marketing consultant, researcher and psychotherapist, I have to ask you one thing – have you guys ever listened to yourselves talk??? I mean seriously? For the most part, you simply put-out quote after quote from other marketing gurus. You’re quoting newspapers, journals, academic studies that you really know nothing about, taking one or two sentences out of very detailed works, and swallowing them whole. You’re quoting successes of other companies to support your own theories, when in fact, you have very little idea as to the truth of the situation. As a consultant, I’m constantly asked for ideas that amount to spoon-feeding you.

Just a few weeks ago I was asked to submit a consumer research proposal on innovation to a food company. I wasn’t even there to talk about innovation, I was there to research a brand line extension – they just happened to like my line of thinking. So my proposal to them for innovation said (I’m paraphrasing here) “before I suggest any consumer methodologies, I’m going to suggest researching your staff and finding out their views of innovation – because if you’re so desperate as to ask me how to innovate, the problem is not with how you ask consumers how to innovate, the problem is with what your definition of it is, and how you implement it.” So I do get concerned that you will attempt to package and eat whole “passion” without understanding it. I guess though, I can’t fault you for that – wrapping-up difficult concepts and making them look appealing enough to eat is what you do for a living as marketers and advertisers. However, I hope you can see that a diet of advertising alone will make someone psychologically anemic.

I also want you to notice a critical element of this speech – I have not, and will not quote a single thought leader, individual or case study. All the ideas in here, with the exception of the theory of introjection, are mine. Quoting others is fine, but what concerns me is that I have no idea where the speaker begins and the quote ends, if all I hear a speaker do is rhyme-off an endless string of quotes. It amounts to someone chanting positive affirmations to an audience, in my opinion.

So, let me return to a “passion economy” and “not knowing.” The previous part of my speech may have suggested that I don’t take a “passion economy” seriously, and that’s actually not true. I take it very seriously. I think that people should do what they are passionate about – it is the way to good mental health, in my view. Passion represents good ego function, good mental health and it is the way society grows. The goal, however, is to find-out what you are passionate about, and you get there by not knowing. Me – I’m passionate about being witty, I’m passionate about laughter, and I’m passionate about making real human connections and contact with people. I’m also a lazy son-of-a-bitch, who’s very shy and uncomfortable around others. I’m a bit of a wise-ass and as my therapist supervisors would say “I’d like to thud people between the eyes with my clinical observations.” I would prefer nothing more than to sit at my cottage 24/7 and listen to the lake, wind and waves. I’d prefer to play with my 16 month old son, but leave the hard parenting to everyone else. Those last few items would lead many to classify me as a narcissist.

That’s it. That’s me – and here’s the good news. When I engage in what I’m passionate about, I don’t know and I don’t really care about outcome or results. I will naturally do what is necessary to engage in my passions without knowing. This does not mean I have a sense of recklessness or abandon – it means though I can proceed without knowing, but at the same time be passionate enough about what I’m doing to get help and self-support along the way. It’s a process called maturation, and ability to contact the world. For example, if I as a parent think that I can do all the easy stuff with my kid and none of the work, I’m in for a really rude awakening. With passion comes responsibility that is easily accepted. So, yes, I do my fair share of parenting work because I am passionate about my son

I had a therapy client who said to me “Brian, how do we know if this works” and I simply said “I don’t, but it’s something I believe in, or else I wouldn’t be here.” She looked at me with tears and said “Well, at least that’s honest.” I do the same with my corporate clients - I have no idea if my methods are going to work, but I’ll stick with you every step of the process. When you are passionate, there is nothing more, and nothing less you can do. The best part, is that clients appreciate when you’re honest with them and that’s what I think sells – not when you feed them half-assed, half-regurgitated, and half-passioned hyperbole.

Now, here’s the bad news. As a researcher, I’ve finally learned I’m not passionate about marketing or advertising (at least bad advertising – I love the good stuff and will tell you straight-up about it). I’m not passionate about profit, big corporations and helping my clients make a buck. I’m not overly passionate about tactics or strategy (though what I’m exceptionally interested in is why people propose the strategies that they do). I don’t care about the latest and greatest way of doing things because that’s not where my passion lies. What that means is that part of what I engage in will never have any appeal to me, but as long as I’m in it with what I’m passionate about, it seems to vanish into the ether.

What this means is chances are deep down you’re not passionate about what you do either. You’re not passionate about marketing, on-line, accounting, process engineering, media monitoring, statistics, accounting, HR procedures, law, computer programming, whatever it is that you do. I highly doubt a garbage man is truly passionate about waste removal. When I started my business, I kept observing my Father-In-Law. He’s a gruff guy and a maverick of sorts, who ran a sewing, trim and thread company. There’s no way that this guy was passionate about the ladies sewing and quilting clubs that he supplied. All he was passionate about was being the boss and busting the unions that worked for him and getting as much financial credit as he could through his business. As a therapist, I really question anyone who comes up to me and says “I’m passionate about monitoring how many people walk by and view bench advertising” or “I’m passionate about optimizing the size of an internet ad for my clients” or “I’m in customer service at Rogers, and I love it.”

As I close, let me combine passion and not knowing:

- When you become passionate, you will be comfortable with not knowing. I have no idea how this speech is going to go over. I think I’m being a bit of an asshole up here and letting some hard truths fly. However, I am passionate about “being cruel to be kind”. Surprisingly, it generally works out for me, except with my wife.

- It is quite clear that passionate people are successful people. However, I have also said that passionate people are also comfortable with not knowing. So, let me ask you this as a question – what’s the real driver of success – the passion, the not knowing or some combination of both. I suspect it’s a combination of both. Not knowing allows the passionate person to see others, see options, and be OK with being uncomfortable as they pursue their passions.

- One thing you must do is throw-out all of those introjects that you have about who you are, and know who you are not. I have not used a single example of a successful company or individual in my speech. The reason why – you’re not them. Your companies are not Microsoft, Nike, Apple, Coke, Zappos, Google, Amazon, eBay or Yahoo – and guess what – they’ll never be. You’re not Gates, Jobs, Knight, Branson, Dell, Buffett or Obama. Chances are, if you were, you wouldn’t be here right now – you’d be running your company. I’ll never forget reading a book by Sergio Zyman called “The End Of Marketing As We Know It” when I started my consulting company seven years ago. He was Senior Vice President of Marketing for Coca Cola. In it he said “Hire the best people. Pay the best salaries and offer your employees the opportunity to travel the world.” I looked at myself, in my tiny soft-loft condo at King and Bathurst and just said “yeah right.”

- When you are working on an introjective level, you are not the catalyst for change that you think you are, or the catalyst that we and others so “pump you up” to be. It is only when you begin to truly change and see yourself that you COULD, POSSIBLY, AND VERY RARELY change and others for what they are. Therapists are taught to live with not knowing whether their interventions have any significant effect on their clients. It’s critical to the training – it takes the self-interest off the therapist and puts in on the actual humanity and human transactions that go on between the therapist and client. Can you live with not knowing about whether you have an affect on others? Can you live without knowing the end result? Can your company live without knowing – because if they can’t and you can, you’re not in the right place as an innovator. Can you enjoy the journey and not the outcome? I think you can, if you’re passionate about yourself.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Anxiety Of Being A Guru

On the positive side of things for my consulting business, I have engaged a sales associate who will work at growing the business, and it will be an excellent relationship. However, with sales comes the production of marketing materials and other things designed to promote me as a "guru". These things include presentations, theories, outlooks, White Papers, imperatives, frameworks and other such advice that one may receive from a genie in a bottle, horoscope or a fortune cookie.

As I have continued to get involved in the marketing community, I have noticed two types of individuals and potential clients - The Introjector and the Projector. The Introjector says "feed me", "teach me" or "tell me what I should do". They are always looking for the latest and greatest idea, swallowing it whole and adopting it without much chewing it over at all. They never include themselves in the incorporation of new ideas because the grounding of who they are in their professions is very weak.

The Projector is actually someone who is "scared" of change or even "cowardly" towards those who suggest new ideas. They have a wonderful way of dismissing anyone or anything who is "new" by making other people shake in their boots. The shaking that Projectors cause in others is no more than their own uncertainty - they have the somewhat unique ability (and one that I secretly envy) to make other people feel uneasy when it is they themselves who are feeling awkward.

In dealing with both personality types as a supplier of research and consulting, I am surprised at the amount of work, and effort that is involved in justifying and explaining to satisfy these individual personality types. I believe that a good consultant can create value, provide insight and be competent with a particular methodology or framework. However, the best ones that I know simply have the ability to work in the here-and-now with their clients to force and manage necessary change, regardless of theories, frameworks, imperatives and White Papers. Do I have it in me to actually sell the "steak" while most others will still sell the "framework sizzle"?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Missed Opportunities

As a psychotherapist I know there are certain instances where the client is handing themselves over to me on a silver platter. That is, they say or do something that is such a perfect window or entry into their psyche, and it is impossible to ignore. As therapists, we are trained to recognize these and work well with them.

The key for a non-therapist to understand is that these "nuggets" are often not visible to the client, or to the untrained eye. It's not like the client blatantly says "I'm so sad" or "I've realized that I like to make other people laugh because my own childhood was so dull" or "I overachieve because I want to best my Father, who never challenged me enough." These, if anything, are more difficult to work with than the nuggets I'm talking about.

When a client reveals themselves, they do it through something that may be out of character for them, something that may be a little different or perhaps using a phrase that seems a little unexpected or out of context for the therapist. And just like in any other discipline, when you get these opportunities you run with them. For example, when in a court of law, your opponent makes a mistake, or misses a piece of evidence, or in hockey, when there are three offensive players to one defensive player - you just go with it, and don't waste the opportunity.

Recently, I was in a focus group in Calgary, and the subject was a very detailed policy issue applicable only to a very small segment of the population requiring a large amount of knowledge. By all accounts the groups were going well, and were fairly heady - as most policy work is not based on deep emotional stuff. Anyhow, smack in the middle of the group, a participant gives me a psychptherapeutic nugget... I mean somthing that I could not ignore - it was a perfect gateway into her deeper thoughts and emotional frustrations with the topic. So, I switched hats, and put on my therapeutic one, and quickly launched an intervention - and it failed. The participant was still in her head, so I did it again. I asked a different question in a different way designed to exploit the gateway she had clearly left for me - and again the probe failed. I had not moved her past her head to her heart by one inch. After this, I left it and returned to my standard guide, as I could tell I was getting a bit annoying with this person. Basically, there was a missed opportunity to probe an emotional response.

On the plane back to Toronto, I got to thinking about how it is that in a therapy session I can easily take advantage of these nuggets, yet in this group I could not. The following were my ruminations, which I believe to be relevant to researchers who wish to do detailed emotional probing:

- In a therapeutic session, the relationship between therapist and client is critical, and while it is very dynamic phenomenon, the relationship is built on trust, in that the client feels supported to reveal their emotional feelings. In focus groups, this type of emotional safety is very, very rarely established. Intellectual safety, like it is OK to guess wrong, or speak you mind, is established and encouraged - but the format simply does not foster emotional safety. My participant wouldn't open-up deeply to me because I had not set that tone, and I suspect that virtually all moderators don't either. I believe the introduction that all moderators give "assissnates" participants in the groups. What I mean by that is that the introduction serves to set a very heady tone, and keeps a respectable distance between themselves and the moderator.

- Fostering emotional safety takes time, and more importantly, it quite often takes going off-topic, or involves the moderator relating to the respondent in a way that clients may not like (for example, having a moderator admit that a client's product is inferior, or sharing personal stories about a product) to show that the moderator is simply not a gatherer of data, but a human being. Unfortunately, many clients feel that the moderator should not share personal feelings or stories.

- To the point above, I remember once meeting a young marketing student studying research, who said to me something like "I hear that researchers should never bias their work, I hope you don't." I turned to him and said "Actually, I bias my work all the time. The difference between me and you though is that I know what I'm doing and why." So, if I bias my work, it is to get the participant to open-up more.

- In order to take advantage of that nugget, I would have had to spend siginificant time with that respondent, leaving the structure of the guide behind me. Quite often, guides are way to focused on specific heady issues - which was fine in this case - I wasn't expected to or expecting to find any emotional issues. However, when dealing with emotional issues, a guide should not be overly structured, if there is a guide at all. Instead, the moderator should have instructions to "Find out what the brand image of x is" and leave it at that. The reason is that each person or group is different, and breaking through defences to reach the emotional core is different for every individual (and quite frankly therapists use different techniques themselves), so as long as the objective gets reached, how it is done should largely be irrelevant. Structured guides confine emotion in the group and the ability of the moderator to explore key issues. Even standard projective techniques will not work properly across all groups and across all individuals. Someone who has a highly suggestible personality or fears authority figures will respond much differently to projective techniques (as defined by the research industry) than an individual who reguarly triggered to respond with anger, fear or protection in the same situation.

- Clients need to either be very emotionally aware, or acknowledge that they themselves do not understand emotional processes and let the moderator do their job. A good moderator can re-interpret results into a marketing context, and use a framework to place the results into actionable recommendations.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What is the group really doing with the topic?

In Gestalt Psychotherapy, there are four common ways to avoid contact. First off - contact between human being is considerer a model of health in Gestalt - the more contact one makes, the healthier he or she is. Anyhow, the four ways are confluence, introjection, projection and retroflection. While they may seem like fancy words, they're really quite easy to understand. Anyhow, one of the reasons I like focus groups is that I get a chance to see which avoidance a group uses when I discuss a particular topic. The results are often quite revealing.

First, a brief synopsis of the four avoidances.

Confluence This is often a state of cluelessness and self-absorption. Teenagers are notorious for it. I'm reminded of the scene in Ferris Bueler's Day Off where Ben Stein is taking attendance among the class. The kids in it have absolutely no interest in him because they do not even recognize that he is there. That is the key symptom of confluence - in the group, people have no interest in you or the topic. There's an energy in the focus group room that gets sucked-out of it when a group is confluent, or there is a sense of phoniness. There can also be the exact opposite - too strong a sense of endearment to the particular topic, kind of like a puppy love if you will - which is also a teenage characteristic.

IntrojectionEver have a group that seems to passively and politely accept or reject what you are saying? It's the well-considered "Ummmmm.... I see what you're getting at" response. Or it's the "I don't know Brian - what you're saying doesn't sit well with me" response. What is actually happening is that the person is deciding to either accept or reject themselves and their beliefs, and not me or my topics.

ProjectionIn this type of neurotic behavior, group members actually feel something - it could be fear, anger, joy, sadness or pleasure, but they do not own it. Instead, they disown it in some sort of way - usually by not taking responsibility for their thoughts, feelings or actions. Instead, what they do is put these on someone or something else.

RetroflectionAt this point, the group is using its brains to sit on the fence and avoid contact. That is, it is wondering - should we risk exposing ourselves and our feelings? Should we take a chance and embrace what is being said?

So what I look for is how the group gravitates and behaves on a particular topic. While behaviours may start off disparate, within a few minutes of the topic, a skilled researcher can often tell how the group is behaving. From there, proper probes and client recommendations can be drawn.

Rather than give specific rules for specific behaviours, I will use examples. The fact is, there is no specific actions based on just observed behaviour, and besides, a lot depends on the nature of the product or communication being tested.

In my first example, my client was selling a service, but people did not want to acquire it because they were unsure about many of its attributes. Within the focus groups, this uncertainty took the form of projection - people were scared of this product, and people were even more scared about their lack of knowledge concerning it. My recommendation to the client was NOT to come up with solutions to each of the objections, or make the product more appealing. Since the product involved personal sales, I simply told the client to have its sales reps listen, emphasize and say "this is a difficult product to wrap your mind around." An indirect acknowledgment of the fear surrounding the product would make it more salable. Overloading with more information would have caused further fear, projection and distancing from the sales force.

The second example involved examining people's perceptions of safety and crime in their communities so that communications messages could be developed. What I noticed in the groups is that people were retroflecting their fears - they were spending a lot of time describing issues in the community, but stopped short of saying that they were personally scared for their lives, even though I knew they were. I began launching a few probes to see if I could get the participants to contact the deep fear inside of them, but they were having none of it. All of my probes brought-up further justifications and intellectualizations, which was a sign that what I was saying was really making them uncomfortable. The communications recommendation to the client was easy - do not mention words like "personal safety" or "harm". Instead focus a message on the fact that safety equals comfort and gentleness. Safety need not come with increased vigilance, with a lock-down of one's freedoms or with increased enforcement. Instead, increased safety can come organically from more community involvement and improved infrastructure measures. The goal of the communication was to provide safety alternatives that would not further fan flames of fear, but rather reduce the anxiety people would have about increased safety measures.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

We're A Hit Down Under!

I recently did a search on my company's name on Google, as was very surprised to find that two account executives from Markinor, a leading firm in South Africa had used my thoughts on projective techniques when submitting a paper to SAMRA, the South African Market Research Association.

To download the paper, click on this link, and note their distinction between "metaphoric and emotional" research responses.

Groups Vs. One-On-Ones

One of the things that has always given me pause for thought is whether to use groups or one-on-one interviews to conduct qualitative research. I've finally figured it out. Focus groups are generally good at producing middle-of-the-road results - say the kind of results you want when you want to reach an audience in a very general way - like with mass advertising. In this instance someone is likely looking for a lowest-common-denominator type of marketing. I will clarify that there are a lot of uses for this kind of approach. One-on-one interviews, however, are much more useful when testing something that is new, unique or takes time to be adopted.

Let's start with groups. Early on in my career, someone asked me "why do groups when you can just do a series of one-on-one interviews?" The answer always stuck with me - focus groups produce "group dynamics", and those are the key results of focus groups - it is not necessarily what people say that is important. We get to watch how an idea changes, where there is resistance to it, and where there is acceptance of it. We get to see how strongly people hold on to ideas, and how they react to having their ideas changed, rejected or challenged. A marketer can observe these dynamics and figure-out what arguments or factors will move people and change their opinions. This is why I love using groups to evaluate policy issues, which are very dynamic and flexible.

What prompted me to write this blog is a continual interest in why groups can still perform so badly at predicting certain product successes/failures, and why people always assume that "mediocre" products are something that have been "focus grouped." I finally came up with my solution. In observing group dynamics, I've come to realize that the group is always moving towards (or away from) something. Ten people take an idea, play with it and either change it or reach an opinion about it. When group processes like this happen, you can't help but get a watered-down version of the original.

In a focus group people are not themselves - it is sort of like "mob mentality" minus the violence - we would do and say things in a group that we would not do and say as individuals (hmmmm - maybe that's why groups are such bad predictors of behaviour). In a focus group, people ARE swayed by dominators - they are shy and they do advance their agendas. A moderator is there to observe, balance and interpret these phenomena. As such, they are not negatives - this is what happens in real life as people live in a dynamic world, and if what is being tested is something that needs to meet these criteria.

Let me give two positive examples of this. The first is a psychologist put jellybeans in a jar and asked individuals to guess the number inside. Each individual answer was significantly off, but when all answers were averaged together, it was surprising how close they came to the truth. The second one comes from Malcom Gladwell's book "Blink". In it he describes how market research and focus groups that are used to predict Top-40 hits were very tough on a singer named Kenna, yet the music industry claimed that his was the most innovative sound they had heard in a long time. Gladwell asks how can focus groups differ so much from experts? The answer is what I wrote above - focus groups are great when you want to appeal to the masses (and I know nothing more mass-oriented than Top 40 Radio), and that's what the research is geared towards.

It is worthwhile to note that what Gladwell fails to ask is whether it was actually a good thing that the groups were so negative towards the singer. If indeed standard groups produce "mass-oriented results", then what the groups are saying is that this person will not be a hit on Top-40. Maybe, however, there are other marketing avenues to get this singer across. Perhaps the masses do not hear what the record executives hear, and therefore Top-40 is too wide an audience. That to me is what the focus groups are saying. It is not a negative that the groups did not like the Kenna - in fact he even says "the problem is that this type of music requires a leap of faith." The fact is though, that Top-40 programers do not take leaps of faith.

So, this brings me to one-on-ones. In these settings, people make decisions independently, and the moderator has more time to probe deeply. Now what do I specifically mean by probing more deeply (focus groups often claim that they do "deep dives" into people's opinions, so how much more deep can a one-on-one interview get?) Well, Gladwell in "Blink" says that when people evaluate new and unique products, they don't have the words to describe them, or relevant frames of reference. As such, people need time to develop these - a moderator can take the time to develop this language with an individual participant more easily than in a group setting. A moderator is able to initiate more challenges and probes in a one-on-one interview.

Evaluating a new product or even a new signer in a group does not leave room for individual opinion. Moreover, in a group, people are not willing to take the "leap of faith" that Kenna recognizes is necessary to enjoy his music. A one-on-one will determine whether there is long-term success for a product. A group will help determine if there is mass, instant-term appeal. The issue for marketers is to determine which is more important to them. Unfortunately, in my opinion as a consumer, the latter seem to dominate.