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Wind Tunnel Marketing, The Sequel: On the Need for Divergent Insight

21st May 10

Posted by Mel Exon

Posted in Brands, creativity

Post by Charles Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific

http://www.flickr.com/photos/breakfastcore/3114817008/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/breakfastcore/3114817008/

Jim Carroll’s excellent post on Wind Tunnel Politics reflects an idea he came up a couple of years ago – the notion of ‘wind tunnel marketing’ – an idea that Emma Cookson (Chairman, BBH New York), Jim (Chairman, BBH London) and I have been chatting about a lot again recently.

Given the traffic, RTs and positive comments the first post got, we felt it was perhaps time for a more thorough analysis of its impact on what most of us reading this do for a living – the development of brand communications.

We’d like to get the debate going and involve people from all sides – client, agency and research. So please let us know what you think.

Here we’ll look at three things to start the conversation:

I.                The origins of the problem;

II.               The results; and

III.              Some potential solutions

Then we’d like your point of view.

1. The Origins of the Problem

Pretty obviously the world is now crammed with very good, largely parity products across most sectors.  With the consequent decline in any real, viable notion of product USP’s the industry has increasingly turned to understanding the consumer as the key source of competitive advantage.

The Holy Grail is a breakthrough ‘consumer insight’.  Something that cracks open consumer motivations around a category in a new and fresh way and as a result allows a brand to more powerfully pitch its product or service.

Indeed many companies now have entire departments focussed solely on consumer insight. Some of you reading this may have it in your job title.

And, looked at one way, it makes a lot of sense.

After all, isn’t the whole notion of marketing about  ‘satisfying the wants, needs and desires of consumers ‘ ?

There is, however, one rather significant problem with it.

Everyone is looking the same way and largely following the same path.

Frequently doing the same research, with the same consumers via the same research companies on essentially the same products.

The result won’t surprise anyone – they get to very similar places.

So while marketers and their agency partners consistently (and rightly) talk up the critical importance of differentiation, most of our industry is wedded to a ‘best practice’ process that inherently takes them another way – to greater sameness.

2. The Results

Are self-evident and everywhere (ever noticed how hard it is to think of major brand examples of ‘great’ outside of the usual suspects?)

From mid-range family salons that, when unbranded, even car fanatics fail to recognise ( and can you remember the make of the ‘reasonably priced car’ on Top Gear ?…….you’ve probably seen it about 30 times ) to entire categories where the work is just too interchangeable (looked at any skincare advertising recently?)  Even brands aimed at youth (where one would assume a greater leeway to pursue difference) seem to be merging into one – an event with a DJ and some free form skateboarders anyone?

From a marketer’s point of view all this serves to do is to make it a game of scale of resources again.

He or she with the biggest distribution network / media budget / sales team wins.  The cost efficiencies of genuine brand differentiation are notable largely by their absence.

Yet, because large organisations inevitably (and understandably) need logical ‘handrails’ for staffers to follow, few are challenging the standard, solely consumer insight oriented process currently in place.

3. Potential Solutions

People need systems. Very few of us are individually brilliant enough to be able to operate day in day out in the trenches without them.  So an imploration to just ‘go free-form’ is unlikely to be of much use to most companies.

It seems to us, however, that the handrails that need to be put in place need to actively force diversity of thinking.

They need to be ‘hydra-like’ in that they need to regularly have the potential to lead to many different places – not always back to the same spot.

The CIA ‘Problem Definition Checklist’ does this (if you want a copy let us know).  When properly followed, the Disruption model does it. Interestingly, in his latest thinking, Adam Morgan is suggesting a far more diverse range of different types of challenger brands (and no doubt different ways to develop them).

For our part at BBH, we are re-committing to one of our oldest strategic tenets (and simplest of thoughts) – ‘insights from many sources, not just consumer’.  The product, the brand, the way category operates, the retail experience, the media landscape, etc, etc. – all are ripe for investigation – and all should be.

We are also re-committing to the future.

There’s something interesting here.  As per the famous Akio Morito quote - “we don’t ask consumers what they want ; they don’t know.  Instead we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we are there ready” -  the future is surely what we should be trying to work out the likely terrain of, rather than analysing that of the present or the past. Perhaps the most powerful model we are now trying to get grips is a fusion of brand insight with consumer foresight. Note – not consumer insight – but rather an understanding of where the market is likely to go rather than where it has been.

As we said at the start, we’d like to hear what you think. If this rings true, what are your thoughts on potential solutions?

One comment on “Wind Tunnel Marketing, The Sequel: On the Need for Divergent Insight”

  1. [...] labs talk about wind tunnel marketing, according to which customer insights is the current Holy Grail of advertising. And I, for one, [...]

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