Research

Market research… and the holiday spirit

And so the holiday season draws to a close and as we return to work, most marketeers are struck by the same thought: why don’t I become a pool cleaner and then I can be on holiday the whole year around? For most of us, this is swiftly followed by the realisation that we don’t know anything about cleaning swimming pools and so instead we focus on two very important tasks: planning the big projects that are going to step-change brand performance and planning the next family holiday to a pool somewhere sunny.

AUGUST HOLIDAY CROW 2Let’s be honest, as we get our feet back under the table at work, the latter often takes precedence and the first thing we do is to immerse ourselves in the research for it. Every source and anyone of value to the decision is engaged: friends and family, consumer reviews, pricing comparisons – the lot. By using them, we maximise our chances of finding the perfect holiday and minimise the risk of disappointment and wasted money.

Yet ironically, and increasingly, for big marketing projects research is questioned. It may be because of experience of researching a project to death (which inevitably leads to inaction) or receiving an overly researchy, non-commercial answer (which often leads to a recommendation to do more research!) or just a general sense that the research has merely described the past. It’s so easy to listen to the research naysayers who belittle its value and instead advocate riding with the white knights of ‘big data’, off-the-shelf industry reports, or frankly, personal intuition and a survey cobbled together on Twitter.

At The Crow Flies we’re not curmudgeons, advocating that you should simply do what you’ve always done and damn the consequences. But at its best, we see the value in well constructed research, when engaged consumers and engaged clients are brought together over the right questions to uncover commercial solutions to commercial opportunities.

The Crow approach to managing research powerfully is to think about The Nest and The Egg…. ‘The Nest’ is the research framework. Neither too broad in scope nor too shallow in depth and focused on fuelling decision making. ‘The Egg’ is how research participants and client stakeholders are immersed, involved and fully engaged in incubating the project to deliver results that can be leveraged with scale and impact.

Get this balance right and research can significantly increase your chance of delivering commercial success on those next big projects before you head off on that very well researched family holiday…

The Nest focused, usable, scalable

  1. The critical 5%
    Research is typically around 5% of your budget – but it’s the most critical 5%, everything else hangs off it. Give it focus; give it attention, immerse yourself in it and it will deliver.
  1. Ask for your answer
    Too many research projects don’t go far enough. Uncovering consumers’ unmet needs is only the start. Finding out how your brand can solve them should be the output – which brings us on to…
  1. focus on the interface
    Brands are not built on research alone, nor on research strategy, planning or innovation…they are built at the interface of the four. Set-up your research and all the parties involved to ensure the outputs directly inform action.
  1. Methodology blah blah
    We know people find new research techniques interesting and exciting but often they promise more than they deliver. Focus your brief first and foremost on finding the unmet consumer needs that unlock commercial success and don’t fret about the technique.
  1. Usable utility
    Elaborate videos & complex segmentation models are of no use if they don’t build shared understanding & uncover new, usable insights. Prioritise outputs that will help the marketing team to make decisions and the sales team to scale up your brands, profitably

The Egg immersive, informal, impactful

  1. De-objectify the process
    Consumers are real people. They’ll only tell you what they really think if they feel comfortable & relaxed. Informal is the new formal and releases real truths.
  1. Go long
    Longitudinal and dialogue techniques will cast light on how consumers actually behave over time. These fresh perspectives can unlock real value.
  1. Get engaged
    Time is short & attention spans ever shorter. Put engagement at the heart of the process – give quant studies personality, reduce the length of interviews. Focus on what’s essential to learn.
  1. Raw not just scrambled
    There’s a role for the formal debrief but raw can be better. ‘Live’ debriefs the night of research, open dialogue & discussion for big opportunities at pace.
  1. Sunny side up
    Consumers are marketing savvy and love to get creative. Don’t just ask them to tell you their frustrations, involve them in creating the solutions. It’s amazing what they come up with

It’s time to reconsider the very real commercial value that research can unlock and to be a little more sceptical about research naysayers – ultimately there’s an agenda behind it. For a different approach to market research and brand building that maximises your chances of delivering commercial success, get in touch.

 Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. rob@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260 

© The Crow Flies, 2017

Generalisation Y?

Isn’t it strange how in this age of ever smaller micro niches of ‘targeting’, powered by digital ‘big data’ engines, and the promise of ever-more accurate psychographic profiling, that the use of the term ‘Millennial’ is still used with so much unthinking and carefree abandon. Ahhh…the intoxicating, beguiling whiff of pseudo-expert terminology. “Millennial”. It’s like it has some magic power – to impress, to confound, to enthral. Marketeers, despite their intelligence and above-average ability for rational thought, are swept into the alchemical vortex created.

In fact, ‘Millennials’ wear many cloaks. Echo Boomers, Generation Me, Generation We, New Boomers the Net Generation and possibly the most interchanged name, Generation Y. The one factor that connects them all is that they’re a generation, sharing nothing more than a birthdate somewhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. That’s a full 20 years. And that’s everyone born during that period – or approximately 14 million people in the UK alone. Yet somehow, they’re too often seen as a homogenous mass, sharing traits and attitudes and behaviours that somehow, make them a useful targeting profile. Generation Y? Generalisation Y more like.

Here are just a few of those Generalisations.

  • Millennials are confident and team orientated with a greater sense of civic duty and social responsibility than generations before them. They want to achieve; indeed, they expect to achieve, and they expect to do it in their own way.
  • Millennials are lazy and work shy, apparently, and more like to have narcissistic tendencies – either a high degree of attention seeking and a quest for power or more of a self-orientation, being defensive, idealistic and having a keen sense of entitlement.
  • In the work place, work-life balance is valued more highly; they’re likely to pursue creative roles, or possible multiple roles to fulfil their different life goals. Not bound by loyalty to institutions, they’re also much more likely to hop from job to job, like ambitious rabbits.
  • Millennials are supposed to be more liberal – both socially and economically – yet they are typically less politically active (witness Brexit, where ‘Millennial’ voter turnout was lower than all other age cohorts)
  • They are ‘always on’ these super-connected digital natives, not knowing any other way of living – using digital for getting the news and connecting with friends with social media habitually –creating alter-egos
    for themselves in the digital world vs. the physical world

Slide1I’m sure you know a ‘Millennial’ or two; indeed, you could well be one. You may recognise yourself in some of this – both positive and less so. But here’s the rub: you’re just as likely to recognise people who are older, maybe even younger – who share these traits. I don’t fall into the Millennial age bracket, but I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative (a trait of Millennials apparently). I’m not lazy or work shy, yet neither are many younger people that I’ve worked with or mentor. In fact, I’ve not known a group of young people who have had to work so hard as this one: to afford to rent in London, to pay down student debt, or just to get or hold down yet another low paying internship for some much-cherished work experience. It’s as hard graft as the Industrial Revolution, just very, very different work – and slightly less grimy. And I’ve not known a generation who have been shown so little genuine loyalty by employers, many of whom are more concerned with metrics rather than real engagement. No wonder engagement is lower and little loyalty is shown.

Rather than targeting a whole generation, what’s more useful to brand owners and brand builders is striking the right balance between identifying a meaningful market segment – defined not by birth year, but by attitude and behaviour. One big enough and recognisable enough to the people you are targeting to actually move the needle commercially and ‘small’ enough to be differentiating and informative for targeting your brand or your marketing activities.

So, don’t think ‘Millennial’. Don’t think ‘Generation Y’. Think ‘Why Generalise?’ Why generalise when you can build a consumer targeting profile yourself. Why generalise when you can develop a whole consumer market segmentation if needs be – one that is more useful, more usable and more commercially valuable than crude brushstrokes.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260 © The Crow Flies, 2017

Mistrust

slide1There’s a tendency in business to always put a positive spin on things – somehow to be ashamed to face up to the big issues in plain speaking language and dress them in such polite terms that they lose their meaning. On Tuesday though, I gave a presentation at the annual Organic September trade briefing in London, hosted by Soil Association Certification, one of the themes of which was mistrust. In fact, it was the first point I made.

I was, I’ll admit, a little bit fearful about how it would land – would I be seen as a doom-sayer when actually the headline news is good (the organic market is growing by over 5% in a food market that’s flat and sluggish)? Because, although it’s a brutal fact, mistrust is all around us at the moment. I’m no political commentator, but take Brexit. ‘Out’ votes driven by fear, anger and mistrust of privilege, of politicians, of Europe, of faceless Bureaucrats, of ‘silly’ laws, of the status quo. And in food retail, what else drives the pervading mistrust of big food producers and big food retailers as horsemeat scandals, obesity crises (for whom the retailers, fairly or not, are blamed), mass-manufacturing, ever falling quality, increasing prices and the perceived weasel-words of products and brands that get found out (and increasingly easily get found out, at that)?

So yes, I was fearful that it was a downbeat message and no amount of delightful condiments on the ‘Praise Sandwich’ would obscure the truth.

Yet for every weight, there is a counter balance; pendulums swing both ways. And for every issue there is an opportunity. Of course, if you are connected with the Organic or natural products movement, either as farmer, a grower, a producer, a retailer or brand owner, then you have reason to be cheerful. Never has there been such a sea change in the mainstream market seeking out provenance, transparency of production, desire to know more about producers, dare I say it… craft – than now. And it’s only going one way. Look at the new channels appearing – online, concrete, pop-up, markets – the fragmentation of retail away from ‘the big weekly shop’ can only benefit these retailers. And look at the incredible array of entrepreneurs and small businesses, of all ages, all attitudes, backing their beliefs and bringing sensational new products to market. Many will fail – that is the way of things – but rarely have the tailwinds of fortune been so great. Never before have we seen so much consistent variety in high quality new product development. For someone interested in innovation, it’s like a premium version of Whack-A-Mole. One may fail, but three pop up.

This mistrust may seem to sting if you are in the volume end of the market, yet it is a nettle to be grasped. Take the big supermarkets for example; consumers squarely point the finger of blame at them. In our research we found that issues such as the ‘horse meat scandal’ became tipping points for their ire, electromagnets that once activated, attracted further critique, proving their fears, legitimising their concerns: ‘if they’re doing that, what else are they doing?’. Obesity crisis? That’s because the retailers force us to over buy because of their buy-one-get-one-free offers. The war on waste? Have you seen how much they throw away? Have you seen the over-packaging?

Yet this consumer mistrust really is an opportunity if a committed purpose is drawn up and big action is taken. Take yesterday’s theme, organic food. In the past it’s been seen as a middle class indulgence, yet now it’s being taken seriously by a broader church because of the natural and ever-increasingly innovative approaches being used, the scientific proof on nutrition being brought to the table, and of course, the willingness to adhere to – and be seen to adhere to – a higher standard of certification. Conventional or mixed farmers are taking note – so too should the retailers. And it is clearly not just about organic. This is about local; it’s about backing independent producers; it’s about knowing where our food comes from; it’s about breaking a crazy system that sees pork imported from the Far East somehow ‘cheaper’ than pork produced here. It’s about getting back some common sense – and commercial sense – and letting shoppers see it.

From a brand point of view it’s an opportunity too. The mistrust should spell the end of the silly era of ‘story-telling’. It’s not stories we need as consumers. If trust is wanted, truth is needed. Truth: plain, bare, simple.

(Coverage of the Organic September trade briefing can be found here:  http://www.naturalproductsonline.co.uk/soil-association-streamlined-message-make-organic-everyday-choice/)

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

 © The Crow Flies, 2016

Why I’m Going To The Garden Centre For A Pint

How inward focused insight can kill innovation: what all brand builders can learn from managed pubs

Last week I took my family to a local pub which had just re-opened following significant investment. We were excited to see what changes had been made, how the money had been spent and the offer improved. We speculated en route, talking about the simple, obvious changes they would have made to improve the experience: a gate to prevent younger children from running out of the play area and straight on to the main road, a larger restaurant area, the development of the beer garden as a place to relax in the summer months. Maybe, given the number of very similar competitor businesses in the area, they would have gone further and taken the chance to differentiate and premiumise their offer: they might have invested in a pizza oven, added more natural and healthy options to the menu or improved the entertainment available to children – there was so much scope to enhance the offer and we couldn’t wait to see how the experience had been improved.

Unfortunately it hadn’t. Instead the investment and four week refurbishment had been spent in making it look even more like every other pub in the area. You know the look – most managed pubs look the same – a sort of toned down version of how trendy Shoreditch bars looked 5 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good. Pubs need ‘freshening up’ and my issue is not with the choice of furnishings. What frustrates me is what sits behind the decision: the issue that too many marketing strategies are being built on the wrong insight.

This issue is not limited to managed pubs. Indeed, some managed pubs get it beautifully right. The Revolution vodka bars are a brilliant example of a differentiated brand proposition, with a singular thought and focus which brought something new to the high street. The issue is that too many competitors now only look at what Revolution are doing to fuel their own offer development. What’s more, the problem is spreading. When you’re in your local managed pub, have a look at the drink brands ‘extending’ in to the spirit beer and cider categories and, if you fancy a challenge, try and work out what they’re bringing to the party that is truly different or better. If you’re struggling, order yourself a pulled pork burger while you think. It’ll be on the menu because it’s on everyone else’s.

Innovation, (and I use it to mean the development of the offer, be that a retail refurbishment, menu development, FMCG product extension or NPD), needs to start with the right insight and that rarely comes from looking only at what your competitors are already doing. It is well documented that pubs have been closing at an alarming rate and there are many reasons for this including the cost of labour, duty rates, macro consumer trends around wellbeing and so on. However, it is worth adding to the list that the industry has been too introspective, that the offer has not developed far enough and so consumers have voted with their feet.

Garden CentresWhere are they going? To the garden centre of course, a strange but relevant parallel. You can buy almost all gardening equipment more cheaply on line and a good range of plants from your local supermarket or DIY store, just as most drinks are almost identical but a third of the cost if bought from the off-trade. However, where pubs are shutting, the garden centre industry is thriving and is  forecast to continue to grow through to 2020. The reason? Their offer has evolved through external insight. They realised that they were competing with cafés, theme parks, shopping centres and, of course, pubs, for people’s leisure time and so they developed and differentiated their offer. When you go to a garden centre, the plant might cost more but you’ll be helped to pick the right species and told where to plant it. As a result, it will grow and so you’ll go back. Furthermore, when you return, you can shop in the craft store, take in a drink at the cafe, order a summerhouse, furnish it and, at Christmas, you’ll probably find one of the best Santa’s Grottos outside of Disneyland. And here’s the frustration – there is a much better place for that Grotto to be. A place where you could sit and wait for your turn in warm comfort, whilst enjoying a meal. A place that should be the beating heart of the community – your local family pub. But instead, they’re trying to sell you craft beer and pulled pork.

Doing things differently doesn’t need to cost more. It’s about choosing more carefully where to invest both time and money. My local pub could have committed to staff training and updated their range to offer food and drink discovery for the family. They could have spruced up the beer garden to create the optimal outdoor child-friendly space for the summer. They could, at the very least, have put a gate on to the main road to make the children’s play area safer.

So let’s step off the band wagon before it runs over a child or at the very least, before it leads to further poor strategy and ill thought through investment. Marketeers need not beat themselves up about it – nobody can reasonably be an expert in one category, immersed within their own business and simultaneously have the objectivity to look beyond it. However, look beyond it we must or the offer development that results will continue to disappoint.

At The Crow Flies, we help businesses to research, plan and develop compelling brand strategies and innovation pipelines – a process which starts with finding the right insights. If you have a brand or innovation challenge and would like some fresh thinking, give us a call – we’ll be in the garden centre having a pint.

Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to success for brands and businesses. rob@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

“You are the target market”

The boardroom table was packed with ‘suits’. Grey faced executives, tired from wearying international travel and delayed jetlag, early starts, late finishes and the effects of all day grazing on stewed coffee and day-old Danish pastries. Jauntily, the Brand Manager struts into the room and dims the lights. The lamp from the lectern illuminates his keen eyes. He introduces the new advert. Stresses that it’s not quite finished yet and a little post-production is needed. Reminds the room who the target audience is and when it will be launched. He plays it. 60 seconds of cinematic brilliance. A new Swedish director applying his talents to toilet rolls for the first time. Edgy. Contemporary. Challenging. The tonic this brand needs.

Silence.

Stony silence.

The executives shuffle slightly. One or two look at each other. Another frowns.

Then the Chief Executive pulls his finger from the dam. They don’t understand it. It lacks energy and pace. Is it supposed to be funny? Why is it so different from the last ‘new campaign’ a year ago? Will it shift boxes? They doubt it. The Marketing Director attempts to parry: remember, she says, “that you are not the target audience”. “We need to think about the needs and attitudes of Millennials here”.    But it doesn’t stand up. The tidal wave of criticism washes over the new advert, which sinks without a trace. The Brand Manager leaves the room, with a grey face, tired and weary.

Who knows in this fictional situation (inspired by real events) whether the new advert was any good? It may have been ground breaking or may have been clap-trap. But how we could we re-imagine the Marketing Director’s defence? What if we really could put our senior stakeholders in a situation where they really understood the target audience?  Here are a few techniques that are illuminating and fun.

Picture this! You need to start by constantly reminding your stakeholders who your target audience is (or are). What are their attitudes, their needs, their frustrations? How do these relate to your product category? You may choose a series of pen portraits, some voxpops, a short film or even a comic strip – however you do it, best to be clear who your audience is and be sure to bang on about their needs relentlessly.

ShoesMethod Act: get your critical stakeholders to wear the shoes of your target, to really be them. Is your brand a healthy snack? Get them to live on 2000 calories a day for a week. Or to only snack on unprocessed ingredients. Or to cut snacks out for a few days completely. Is your brand targeted at people who go clubbing regularly? Get them to work behind the bar for a night, or go out with a group of clubbers (release their inner pogo-er…)

(Sofa) Safari: it’s amazing what you can do from the comfort of your sofa or desk nowadays. Use resources to hand to find out about your consumers’ world. Targeting farmers? Go on to DEFRA website; read Farmer’s Weekly, organise a trip around a pig farm. But do it with a purpose: go back to your definition. What are the frustrations? What are the problems we need to try and solve? Do we know enough yet? Keep on immersing yourself in their context, their world.

Wingman: looking to target the gluten free market? Find some friends who have food intolerances or are coeliac. Interview them. Prepare a meal with them. Go shopping with them. Find out what makes them tick. Hear about their frustrations. And not just them: speak to their partner, friends or family. What are the impacts on them? There’s something illuminating about getting alongside your target and watching how they live their life.

Just watch out for variety and breadth. If it’s your Board you are going to immerse in the world of your target audience, ensure it’s everyone on the Board, and that they experience a range of situations. One may be broad in scope – a safari for example, getting them out and about, another may be tight (for example, living on a vegan diet for three days), one may be relatively short, another more extended.

What we’ve found with our experiences at The Crow Flies is that an immersion programme such as this starts our seeming like a major effort for the senior stakeholders, even a distraction. How can we fit around already busy diaries? Surely they don’t want me to do this – isn’t this what they should be doing? But once the benefits are seen, once the connections start to happen then reality bites. A safari, Consumer Connections – call them what you will – are quick and incredibly engaging ways to build stakeholder understanding and alignment by getting them to put their feet in the metaphorical shoes of their consumers.  More than this, they’re a way of getting brilliantly useful stimulus into the execution of your brand’s plans (including your expensive TV advert).

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

Time and brand planning wait for no man

On the news the other day, there was a report about two American sailors who have to be rescued 9 times by various coastal rescue services – just on their journey from Norway to Cornwall. They still have their trans-Atlantic crossing to make in a boat, ‘Nora’ that looks clinker built and is, well ‘romantic’ more than seaworthy. At the same time and on a seemingly unrelated path, I have been wrestling with a recurring challenge on innovation projects: why do great ideas get ditched so quickly?

The analogy of an ocean storm is what draws the comparison here. The ‘storm’ is the annual round of business and brand planning. Like a Force 12 storm blowing in, it approaches fast; it swirls and blows – disrupting normal events; the waves are big, awe-inspiring in fact and it demands immediate action.

If a brand plan is a good one, out of this maelstrom come the annual action plans, innovation being one of them. Teams set off, get briefs written and engage various partners. Insights are articulated and challenges expressed. Ideas are generated and validation kicks in. Yet, more often than not both client and agency are left disappointed: clients because the ideas aren’t ‘breakthrough’; agencies because the great ideas get left behind.  Why? There seem to be a number of recurring themes.

The ideas generated in the here and now always seem the best – they’re owned by that team; they have a senior sponsor (or perhaps originator), they seem fresh and new. But newness doesn’t make them the best ideas nor the right ones to move the business forward. Just as it’s important to test your ideas vs a competitive control, so you should also test your ideas against existing ones. Are we moving forward? Are we taking learnings and applying them for better results?

Breaker.jpgAn idea’s support and sponsorship is fleeting – there’s a purple patch for ideas. You love it; you present it with passion; you engage the Board, everyone’s excited. But depending on how you go about taking innovation forward, it can quickly wane. Rounds of iterative fettling; focus groups and quantitative testing if lingered over can sap the momentum. It’s important to be single minded, test and verify with urgency and get on with it. If you lose the momentum, whilst the idea may, in consumers’ eyes, still be a good one, you’ve probably lost the battle internally.

Great ideas don’t just spring out at brand planning time – we’re increasingly realising that great ideas are a jigsaw – a jigsaw of structured planning at a point in time, constant curiosity and spontaneous creativity. Put it this way: you are less likely to be successful if you set up an old meeting room with a few fairy lights and post-it notes than if you think about your physical environment for innovating all year round. More than anything else: capture thoughts and ideas whenever they arise and display them. Ideas attract interest like moths to a flame, but only if the flame burns brightly.

It’s never now or never – the market opportunity may be now or may be in the future, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell where you are with an emerging trend. Keep the ideas from the past and don’t be afraid to dust them off, tweak them and put them to consumers again. (And yes, a ‘Three Strikes And Out’ rule is sensible, but only over the course of years, not months).

Fine ideas are like fine wine –young white wine you may think is best with fish, but a bit of age and you realise it’s sublime with chicken. So too with ideas – and the insights behind them. New ideas can be a bit rough and ready whereas some time, some thought applied, some prototyping can put a sharp point on your idea. Think about how you nurture and protect ideas with potential beyond the one year window.

Like a big ocean storm, if a concept doesn’t make it through in time, then the next wave swamps it, even if it is a crackling idea. And this push, this desire for short-term winners means we risk losing the wild cards and the potential higher risk but high reward game-changers.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2016

Driverless – or headless?

Criticising research is rather like shooting fish in the barrel nowadays: it’s an easy target. In the corporate world, such criticism is often used to demonstrate the new and innovative thinking of today’s marketeer. No more the focus group. No more the 20 minute quantitative survey. We will be like Apple! We will trust our instinct and back our hunches! The future of driving is driverless!

Yet the headlining grabbing abilities surrounding driverless car efforts underline why knowing your consumer is so important. If nothing else, it underlines why having a clear knowledge of motivations for different sorts of drivers is crucial. Putting aside the ethical and moral questions that surrounds apportioning blame should accidents occur, the real issue in driverless cars is, well, just that – the car becomes driver less. A point which seems to have been missed in the rush to the prize.

DriverlessI don’t know about you but I like driving. I enjoy the freedom behind the wheel. I cherish – always have – the independence of owning a car – just as the pioneers of the American West cherished their horse and later, their Harley. It’s partially about the driving but it’s also about a whole host of other emotions: freedom, thrill, at times, security. Oh, I’ll be curious about driverless cars: I’ll be interested in the tech both with the cars and the infrastructure, but I’m not ready to forgo that deep, almost primeval feeling that driving can give me.

For others, driverless cars could be a relief – long schleps on motorways. Stuck in the middle lane with rabbit-like nervousness because of the lorries on the inside and the hustling Execs on the outside. In busy, nose to tail traffic, perhaps when driving to unfamiliar places (although there’s another emotion I love about driving – discovery). Perhaps, even an extension to ‘reverse park assist’ in urban environments. Yep, I get the rational logic. It’s the irrationality of driving, what it means, how it makes you feel, that’s been missed in all this. I’d rather the development money went into a car that runs on tap water or air – then we’d be making real progress. And chatting to a few drivers (heaven forbid, in research perhaps!) may – just may – be quite revealing.

 © The Crow Flies, 2016

Tales of Ales and Tails

Tales of Ale and TailsOn a recent trip Stateside, I got a real flavour of one of the retailer’s major dilemmas. The store was a large Publix on the Gulf Coast of Florida – certainly as big as a large UK supermarket. As always, I was spending more time looking for stimulus for work than actually doing the food shopping … and then I turned down the beer aisle.   Now, my figures will be slightly out but close enough to be both defensible and illustrative. In the US, the market has two major brewing players – Anheuser Busch Inbev and Miller Coors who control about 80 – 85% of the market’s supply. And then there are the craft brewers, alliances of craft brewers and speciality importers.

Yes, craft beer is likely to be more profitable on a unit basis than big beer, but to command well over 50% of the space? Commercial craziness, no?

That’s the dilemma for the retailer, particularly if you are mainstream / mid-market. How do you optimise your range and space and how the hell do you decide which brands to back, to underspace, to overspace?

Going back to craft beer (or increasingly snacks, spirits, bread, cheese…) it would be easy to argue both sides. For the big boys, it would go something like this: ‘Hey, you’re crazy. I know there’s all this craft beer hype, but just look at the rate of sale and the market share… and times that by the price we command… you should be overspacing us not underspacing us!’. If you’re a craft brewer, equally, you could say, ‘Consumers are tired and dissatisfied with the same old beer choice. They’re individuals not ‘consumers’ and a craft beer range caters to them, shows that you are a specialist and ….well, look at the profitability’.

There’s no right or wrong here, but there seem to be some common denominators.

How appealing is the category: craft beer is over faced because consumers care; it is increasing in both household penetration, frequency and basket size. Authentic beers, with interesting stories are cutting through with shoppers when all big beers can offer in return are new can sizes or bottle shapes. Essentially, research is showing that when a category can drag shoppers off their habitual shopping trajectory, then it’s worth backing.

Brands count: craft beer in the US isn’t stocked out with hopeless chancers. There are strong emerging brands. Brands that are working either because they are genuinely different (say, Dogfish Head), local (say Cigar City Brewing from Tampa) or frankly growing in fame and appeal (say Sierra Nevada, Stone Brewing, Sam Adams, The Bruery). Over in the UK, with Tesco for one aiming the gun at these long tails, it’s the categories where no brands exist, where own label can do as good as, if not better job than the branded alternative where attention is needed.

Principles matter: many of the craft brands in the US have managed to grow in value off the back of their founding principles, principles which they have stayed true to. Jim Koch of Boston Beer is a divisive character because he unapologetically popularised craft beer by owning the agenda, by being in the face of big beer owners and drinkers. ‘Here is a better choice’ he would say, when not dunking himself in vats of Boston Beer. But equally, Fritz Maytag saved Anchor; Keith Grossman built up Sierra Nevada on the back of kit he beat into shape with old ball hammers and welding kit. All of them wanted to drink better beer, so they did something about it. Brands of conviction, attract.

The competitive space is changing: in Chris Anderson’s book, ‘The Long Tail’*, he talks about how retailing will change because of the impact of the internet. Look at Amazon: online bookshop becomes frankly, anything they can sell that they can store and transport; no stores, no range reviews, no square footage to overly worry about. Want a rare Dutch flower arranging book (yes, Mum, I’m referring to you), they’ll get it. As consumers we understand that that might not be the case for a Sainsbury’s or an Asda or a Tesco – but for how long. Internet retailing allows us not to worry about big brands, the Number 1s and 2s, but any brand that takes our fancy. Until food retailers abandon their mega sheds, any strategy will be a compromise – we’ve got a big range, but…..

Interestingly it seems to open up opportunities at both ends. At the ‘endless choice’ end of retail will be the likes of Amazon; at the other, quite insightfully, will be the focused retailers who recognise that as shoppers our brains can only handle so much choice. Reduce the range, reduce the choice, watch sales grow: take Lidl or Screwfix.

And so it turns out, that was my dilemma. Standing in front of this amazing beer fixture; looking at all the choices, reading labels, thinking ‘Oooh, I’ve never had that..’ but totally unable to make up my mind.

*Chris Anderson, ‘The Long Tail’, Hyperion, 2006

Slide1David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that discovers the direct route to success for categories, companies and brands. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260

What we can learn from American public toilets

Let’s start with terminology, given that the readership for this post may not be British, as the writer is. This post is about public toilets. Loos. Lavvies. Public WCs (Water Closets). Public Conveniences. Restrooms. I clarify this, just in case ‘toilets’ could get confused with ‘Eau de Cologne’, and that ‘Public’ means ‘free for anyone to use’ as opposed to say, a public school.

Now, why, oh why, is the topic of public toilets in any way a viable, informative and interesting topic for a business blog, for Linked In?

Well, let me take you back. During my University years, I worked in a motorway (Interstate) service station during my holidays (vacations). Mainly, I worked in the café, clearing tables, serving cups of tea, griddling sausages, or behind the scenes operating the huge conveyor belt dishwasher, or occasionally prepping food. What I didn’t have to do, fortunately, was have anything to do with the toilets. Goodness knows, the company, Road Chef, spent a lot of time, effort and money looking after those toilets. There was a lovely lady called Gwen who’s job it was to watch over them. I’d like to say as a result of this that they were spotless. But they weren’t. In fact, they were terrible, awful, godforsaken, Damnable Cesspits. It was deeply depressing, to put yourself in the shoes of people who thought it was perfectly OK to:

  • drill holes in the cubicles so they could spy on you
  • graffiti the walls with lewd advertisements, like a XXX Classified Ads board
  • smear excrement over the seats (I kid you not)
  • urinate up the walls (again, I kid you not)
  • and leave the damn seat lid up (I know, I know)

I’m sure there must be some deep psychological study of why this is the case; why people, many of whom must be scrupulously clean and polite in their own space, are so happy and willing to vandalise and brutalise a public space – and worse, leave it for Gwen to clean up. But that’s not the topic for here.

Let’s just say that as a result of this experience, I keep an eye out on the quality of the toilets: and I’ve been, over many years, watching the responses to this behaviour, which is far from isolated – in fact, sad to say it is commonplace. In high traffic areas, the response has been attendants and barriers, paying for the privilege, keeping an eye out for miscreants (railway stations are a good example). Most places however can’t go this far. Here, more typically, one can expect to see sheet steel bolted to the inside of the cubicle. It doesn’t stop the vandalism, but it makes it more difficult to drill through and a bit noisier too. Anti-graffiti paints are also used. Many establishments also reduce the number of cubicles – fewer spaces, longer queues, easier to control. And of course, there are the plethora of tick lists reminding users that ‘this toilet is regularly cleaned’ or ‘this toilet was last checked at 10.05am’. In all, it’s a terrible waste of time and energy just to try and control bad and unhygienic behaviour.

A few weeks ago I was in the U.S. And yet again, in my international toilet ponderings, I was reminded of something, which, to a Brit at least has always seemed odd. U.S. toilets have two strange features. Firstly, they have ruddy great gaps around the doors (see picture – look, it could have been worse). And secondly, the cubicle walls start a foot off the ground. Handy for inspecting the shoes and socks of your neighbour should you wish (knitwear alert chaps). And there’s no graffiti.

Now, that’s a sweeping statement. So let me qualify it slightly. In every public restroom that I have visited in the U.S. there has rarely been any graffiti and in my recent 16 day visit, there was none.

What we have here is, unwittingly or not, a great example of behavioural science in action.

Crow looBecause the features of the cubicles – large gaps in effect – have a curious impact on how we behave in this public space. Think about it: a fully enclosed space is as private as being at home, but without the consequences. If you want to give in to your darkest perversions, you can and someone else will wield the mop.   But in the ‘gappy’ U.S. toilets, another voice is introduced into your mental dialogue.   The gaps around the door are about inch, 0.8cm wide*. In truth, you can’t be seen – but you can see people passing outside; you can detect and support that someone is waiting. It is no longer a private space even though you can’t (really) be seen.

And floor gaps are interesting too – because these are big. Should you want to chat face to face to your neighbour, you could kneel down and pop your head underneath**. You could certainly pass, say, a bag underneath. But here’s the thing. From the outside, you can see that someone’s in there. And they can see that you’re outside. And so, your mental dialogue changes again: ‘what will they think I’m doing unless my feet are facing forward and my trousers are down?’***

Feeling uncomfortable? That’s what’s going on though. These are, to use the behavioural terminology, nudges that persuade us to think – and crucially act – differently.

*I would like to point out that I haven’t measured this. That would be concerning.

** No, I haven’t before you ask, and that’s the truth.

***Goodness, there’s a quote that could be taken out of context.

Slide1David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. david@thecrowflies.co.uk; +44 (0) 1283 246260; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.

© The Crow Flies, 2015