What is it that some companies know which enables them to get their advertising right, straight from the off?
“Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”
Steve Jobs made this comment against the notion of market research when he launched the ipad to a disbelieving and unimpressed press corps who thought no one would buy one.
But who could argue with Steve Jobs?
Well me, for a start. Because…
There are two types of research. The type of research that Steve Jobs decried was the type that asks questions about the non-existent such as , “if this existed would you like it?” and “if this were in the shop how much would you pay?”
These are totally hypothetical questions, and by and large utterly pointless simply because they are hypothetical. Those questions rarely give usable results.
But the other type of research which asks questions about the here and now, can prove very useful. I can’t prove it, but I would be surprised if someone somewhere in Appleland did not do research which asked people questions such as, “what is the most annoying thing about your laptop?”
Asking those type of questions they might not have known what they were looking for, but they might well have been interested by the fact that portable computers couldn’t be held in the hand, while the buttons of the mobile phone were just too small.
And that is often where market research can score.
Let me give you examples of just three of the many market research programmes my company has run both for our clients and our subsidiaries.
First, we had a client who was selling a program that was aimed at teachers of 7 year old boys who were very reluctant readers. We were given the brief and advertised the program – and got nothing out of our advertising.
Naturally we had a rather unhappy client on our hands. But fortunately the client was open minded enough to be able to take advice. We suggested that the client should do some market research based on a single open question which was:
If you have any boys in your class aged between 7 and 9, and they were extremely reluctant readers what software would you use to help encourage them to read?
Now the answer clearly should have been, “none – because there isn’t any”. But in fact we got hundreds of replies mostly pointing us towards three rival products – products which our client said were “nothing like” their product.
So we changed the adverts so that they stressed all the things our client’s product did, which the products cited by teachers didn’t do. Those ads never mentioned the competition, but they certainly hit home to anyone using the rival products.
In another example we were asked to advertise air conditioning units to schools. The MD of the company was wholly against research on the grounds that “you can use figures to prove anything” and that his salespeople reported back to him that schools wanted air conditioning.
But our advertising campaign failed to bring in new customers, and we were kicked out by the firm.
Now I really do like to think I know how to write adverts, and when I fail (which fortunately is rarely) I like to know why. So I took it upon myself to undertake the research that we had wanted the company to do – asking schools if they had air conditioning, if so for what purpose, and if not, if they were thinking of installing any in the next year.
What we found was that about half of all schools had some form of air conditioning – perhaps just for the school office, just for some IT equipment, or in some cases, to maintain temperature in some class rooms that were prone to very high temperatures.
Further, we found that the schools that had air conditioning by and large would consider more air con, better air con and updated air con. However, the schools that didn’t have air conditioning took the view that no schools had air conditioning and that we were wasting their time with such a stupid notion. Air conditioning in a school? The very idea!
It was an utterly vital piece of information to have, for it meant that once a company had a chart of which schools had the air conditioning, then they would have a list of their potential customers. It didn’t help our client, since they had gone by the time the results came in, but it reassured those of us working on the creative side at Hamilton House that we hadn’t lost our touch!
My final example involves one of our own companies: the School of Educational Administration and Management. SEAM runs courses on school efficiency, and last year we were looking for new ways to advertise them.
What we did here was to survey school administrators and ask them how much unpaid overtime they had to do, and whether they were involved in any programmes to help improve school efficiency.
We found that, as we had guessed from incidental evidence, the vast majority were doing unpaid overtime every week, while only a minority were engaged with school efficiency programmes that would overcome this need. From this we had our new advertising campaign…
Unpaid overtime at the level existing in schools is unsustainable, but the weapon to eliminate it is in the school’s own hands – get the administrators involved in looking for efficiencies by using our course materials.
Research programmes like this can produce information which can radically change one’s whole approach to advertising – and such research costs very little. Indeed companies that are part of our Velocity programme are able to undertake such research within the programme without paying a penny.
If you would like to discuss how we might use research to expand your sales and gain you a competitive advantage, how much it would cost, or how you can join the Velocity programme please do call 01536 399 000. There is also more information on Velocity at www.velocity.ac
Alternatively, if you prefer please do email Chris@hamilton-house.com