Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why P&G's Global "Persuasion" Strategy is Flawed

Sure, they’re Procter and Gamble the global packaged goods manufacturer. Yes they are in over 180 countries with some of the most recognized brands globally. But does this make them invincible? Not quite. In fact, like most businesses big and small, they are facing pressure in key regions from their biggest competitors, Unilever and Kimberly-Clark.

In light of this, they’ve openly turned to internal growth as their strategy. By growing share in their current markets they think they can win the race. This part of their strategy may be right on – it’s how they are executing it that could totally miss the mark

In a recent Businessweek article Bob McDonald, the current CEO of P&G outlined his strategy. Alarmingly, he talks about “persuading” customers in various markets to use their products. I think this quote sums it up nicely:

“That means persuading men in India to shave with disposable razors, convincing African women of the benefits of Western feminine hygiene products, and selling more teeth whiteners to Americans.”

Without even going into the ethics of this strategy which could be its own blog post, I’d like to discuss why this strategy will fail in the long run.

One word: culture. The products in our lives are cultural manifestations. They are artifacts that play specific roles in our norms, traditions, rituals, customs, rites, etc., etc., etc. As such, they are imbedded into our lives for specific reasons.

Now, this doesn’t mean that new products cannot be introduced into our lives, or old products re-introduced in new ways. Persuasion however, is not the way to go about it.

This is not dissimilar to the age-old marketing rule that states that acquisition is always more expensive than retention. Persuasion is more expensive than cultural adaptation. In the end persuasion is like pushing a boulder up a hill. It’s hard, it’s strenuous and the likelihood of it’s success is limited.

Instead, by taking the emic approach (design anthropology, user experience…) and creating new products or adapting existing products to seamlessly fit within cultures, they will find quicker and more sustainable adoption. Culture cannot be forced, nor can artifacts be forced into cultures. But brands and products can find long-term and happy homes through altruistic understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture. And this I believe is much more in line with Procter & Gamble’s stated purpose:

“We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Want to Understand Human Experience, Take the 3rd Rock from the Sun Approach

I’m sure I’m not the first to make this comparison, but I probably am the first to refer to it in about a decade…I was watching the very first episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun. You remember, the show with John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, and a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt where a family of aliens from another planet come to earth to study humans. They take the form of humans and place themselves in a family situation with jobs, school, etc. The sitcom is driven by their discovery of how humans live – traditions, rituals, child rearing, education, humor – all of the things that compose our culture.

It dawned on me, that while their approach is comedic, it is an excellent anthropological approach for understanding the human experience. As anthropologists, researchers, and marketers, there are a few things we can learn from these goofy aliens:

Assume you don’t understand – Go in with an alien perspective and keep that perspective as long as you can. Take the approach that you are experiencing whatever it is for the first time. What are you curious about? What seems to stand out? Ask questions and dissect the pieces until you truly have an insider’s perspective.

Insert yourself – The way you will learn about the experiences of others is to experience it yourself, but keep that alien perspective while you are doing it. In anthropology we call this participant observation. Be part of as much as you can. If it means awkwardly inviting yourself to weddings, or over to someone’s house, you should do it (within reason of course). Which leads to my next suggestion.

Have no shame – There’s no place for shame in this exercise. There really are no stupid questions or requests. It might be humorous to those around you, but they will ultimately understand that your inquiries are part of a quest to truly understand their experience.

Partner with guides – Find someone who is an insider and make them your friend. When you earn their trust, they will share more with you and act as a gate keeper, getting you information or into places that you otherwise wouldn’t be permitted.

Have fun – Don’t take it too seriously. Human inquiry is a fun endeavor. Look at every new research opportunity as one to learn new things and have fun. Sure the joke might be on you, but in the end, nailing the human experience will be no joke. It will drive results for your customers and ultimately your business.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Back to the Future: What Paper Surveys Can Teach Us About Online Survey Design

Today, for the first time in my professional career, I had to design a paper survey. This was an interesting experience, because I’m used to using software like Survey Monkey or Zoomerang where I just choose the type of question and then create the text components. Sure I probably could have created the survey in one of these programs and then printed it out, but I decided to do it the old fashioned way.

What I took away from this experience was that this was a great exercise in survey design. Ultimately, while online surveys allow us many freedoms and are in theory easier to compose, we should stick to the principles of paper surveys, even when doing them online.

Here are the challenges/principles that I faced:

1. Brevity – There’s only a limited number of questions you can fit on an 8x11 sheet of paper, even back and front. This meant that I had to really hone in on what it was I was trying to get at, and I could not boil the ocean. And even online, who wants to spend 20 minutes filling out a survey?

2. Usability – How can I make this survey an easy and positive experience for respondents? What font size and spacing are most appealing? How should I lay out that likert scale?

3. Design – How do I make sure that the survey is visually designed in a way that represents my client’s brand and looks professional enough to deliver to their clients.

4. Prototype – How does all of this come together in the end? Once I finished mocking up my survey in word, I wanted to see how it would translate to paper. I found myself printing the survey with multiple font sizes, and I caught errors in grammar and spelling. It is always a best practice to test your surveys online or off on yourself and probably a few others.

Can you think of more? I’d love to hear them!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Usability of Ravioli

Tonight, my almost thirty, married self learned how to cook packaged ravioli properly for the first time. This is a staple that fed me through grad school, that I’ve had the skills to make for probably twenty plus years, and yet it’s taken this long for me to make it properly


Well you just boil water, throw it in and cook right? Apparently not.

When I read the directions on my Rising Moon Organics Wild Chanterelle Mushroom Ravioli (which is delicious by the way) I learned that to get the true ravioli experience, it’s a bit more careful than boil and eat.

Apparently you should never throw ravioli into a rolling boil, but instead should turn the heat down after the water comes to a boil, and at that point put the ravioli in. Then instead of draining it in a strainer, you should scoop them out with a strained spoon. It’s those few details that create a truly delicious ravioli experience.

It was at this moment, that I had a customer experience epitome. You can lead a ravioli to water, but that doesn’t mean it will be cooked properly. We need to understand how customers experience our company or product in situ to truly know whether or not they are experiencing it as intended.

Too many companies out there assume they know how people engage. I’m sure other ravioli packages have the proper instructions, but what difference does it make if their customers don’t read it? Had I not stopped to read the directions, I never would have made this realization.

So thank you Rising Moon Organics for not assuming I knew how to make the most of your product.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Part 3 - Inspiration: What primary, qualitative research provides, that no other means can

Another reason that I love primary qualitative research is the output. Ethnography in its best form is multi-media and multi-dimensional. It’s a combination of text, video, voice, and photographs. Most importantly, a key tenet of ethnography is storytelling.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the number of research deliverables or presentations I’ve seen that clearly have no shelf life beyond that single moment in time. They are boring, wordy, and full of numbers. Ad Age recently wrote about how this is hurting the industry here. So tell me, why spend thousands of dollars on research that is a one-hit wonder?

We all know the power of good storytelling. Ethnography and other in-context methods can produce some really amazing stories told through narrative and video. When compiled properly they are not only insightful, but they are inspirational and they live well beyond the research deliverable and final presentation.

It’s amazing how we or our clients can tell a story about one of our customers, but when you hear it from the horses mouth in a video or audio clip, it has exponential power. Time and again I’ve seen stories like these retold again and again, up through the ranks even to the C-Suite of Fortune 500 companies. This is a power that I have yet to see from quantitative research - but I'm sure some people get inspired by numbers :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Part 2 - Context: What primary, qualitative research provides, that no other means can

This is where lab settings and quantitative methods fail. Sure there are focus groups, and other qualitative and quantitative methods that can be interesting in a lab setting, but they are only telling part of the story, and the accuracy of that story can be questionable (I’m not going to debate focus groups in this post). What is missing is context, which illustrates what people do, not just what they say they do as well as all of the things that go on around what they are doing. This knowledge can lead to insights and innovations that could only be gained by in-context observations.

In-context research reveals many more options than the ones that you bring to a focus group, or that your participants can think up or rationalize on the spot. It shows us things that maybe aren’t recognized as important, but really are.

Who cares what your product is supposed to do. If you don’t understand how it actually fits into people’s real lives then you will never be able to truly design a good product or experience and then market it properly.

By understanding the context that surrounds products and services, we are able to suggest innovations, improvements and communications that truly resonate with people. The upfront costs of this are definitely more expensive, but the ROI on this investment will definitely have positive ROI if done right.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Part 1 - Inherent Understanding: What primary, qualitative research provides, that no other means can

When we talk about ethnography, we often talk about what it is going to do for design or marketing communication. What is often unrecognized, (always reality once you’ve done it) is that it is a powerful means of discovery and business immersion for us, the agency, on behalf of our clients - of course in addition to the plethora of design and communication insights that will be garnered.

Yes, as anthropologists, consultants and marketers, it is our job to immerse ourselves in our client’s business. However, there is only so much that can be gained from stakeholder interviews and existing research immersion. I’d suggest that this can get us 80% there. But, it’s that other 20% that can really make business-changing differences.

By actually meeting with current and future customers/users, we get an understanding that gets us closer to an etic (insider) understanding, which can only lend to us being more successful on behalf of our clients. The process of designing, conducting, analyzing, and synthesizing custom research provides a level of insights and empathy that cannot be gained through other means.

Furthermore, there is a clear difference in the caliber of insights, innovation, and design that is produced from people who truly understand the business, the marketplace AND consumers, when compared to those who don’t.

While a 12-week, global ethnographic study need not be necessary, some form of primary, immersive customer research is always worth fighting the good fight for.