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We recently conducted an online survey on behalf of a national food brand in which we displayed various images of a grocery store’s shelf space and asked consumers to select the product they would purchase from among those shown on the shelves. This project was successful at differentiating consumer choice based on how the products were packaged, and gave our client important information on package design direct from their target consumers.

That project got me thinking about how shelf space is a limited resource, and in some cases purchase decisions are influenced as much by what’s not on the shelf as by what’s on it.

For example, my Yoplait Fruplait yogurt has gone missing. And I blame you, Greek yogurt.

Fruplait is a delicious (to me) yogurt-fruit concoction that’s heavy on the fruit. There are four single servings to a pack and there are four fruit flavors from which to choose.

I had a wonderful relationship with Fruplait up until the time Greek yogurt started hitting the shelves. With Greek yogurt muscling in and shelf space at a premium, suddenly, the number of flavors in a given store was reduced. Then some stores stopped carrying Fruplait. Now, none of the four stores at which I typically shop carries it at all (it’s still available at some retailers).

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Big news today as Ron Johnson, CEO of J.C. Penney “resigned”. He did so following a series of decisions designed to make the staid Penney’s brand more hip. Sadly, thus far these changes have chased away existing customers without attracting enough new ones to turn around the store chain’s long decline.

Johnson’s decisions, like those of his mentor Steve Jobs, were made from the gut…no need for any market research. Jobs of course had an almost magic touch. Carefully choosing the markets to enter, when to do so and producing products that were seen as cutting edge. Often his decisions were seen as counter intuitive (such as the opening of retail stores in the Internet age), but time and time again he was proven to be right. So, why didn’t it work for Mr. Johnson?

First, Mr. Jobs was producing products for Apple, not J.C. Penney. Apple was known as a producer of fine computers that were easy to use (intuitive is a word often used). Some of the luster came off that reputation when Jobs left the company, but when he returned there was little doubt what Apple stood for and the types of products to expect. From the moment he returned he looked for places where that reputation (intuitive electronics) might find a market. Mr. Johnson, by contrast saw the J.C. Penney reputation as a problem and looked to change it…a far tougher task.

Second, Jobs often had success by leaping into relatively new markets and then using the power or Apple design and engineering to dominate it. He didn’t create the first digital music player, but he created one that was intuitive and he backed it up with a legal way to buy digital music. He could do this without giving up the existing Apple business (computers). Johnson needed to focus resources on shoring up the flailing store chain…perhaps if he’d had the luxury of creating small J.C.Penney Boutiques it would have worked.

Third, I am reminded of something that I once heard the legendary Warren Mitofsky say with regards to flawed sampling, “Results will be right until they aren’t”. Mr. Jobs was not always right. He left Apple the first time a failure (one could argue that others were at least as much to blame), started a new company that was largely a failure and then started his run, first at Pixar and then his triumphant return to Apple. He was clearly brilliant and had incredible vision, but he was not always right.   Of course, it goes without saying that not everyone has the same skills (me included).

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A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she’d taken a web quiz to tell her which presidential candidate best lined up with her stand on the issues. She was outraged that the web site thought she would vote the way it did. I’m not surprised (by the outrage, not her choice)…it is a case of a badly applied choice technique.

Basically the quiz worked by asking a series of questions to see where she stood on the issues. It then aligns her choices against the stand taken by the candidate (if you want to try one, here is one from the GOP Primaries this year). In essence it is a Configurator. Instead of building the perfect product for you (as you would with a Configurator) you build the perfect candidate. There are a couple of problems with this application.

First, Configurators allow you to build the ideal but generally don’t give a clear idea of what choices you might make if that ideal were not available (our proprietary Texo™ helps overcome that issue). In politics it is not unusual for voting decisions to hinge on a single issue and unlike products you can’t decide to add or subtract an important feature.  

You Think Researchers Have It Tough?

Posted by on in Healthcare

For the past few years MR blog posts have been dominated by posts questioning the future of Market Research or talking about just how tough it is to be a researcher in the new millennium. A recent discussion on Linkedin about the threat from DIY is a good example. If you read my blog frequently you know that I see the industry evolving, not going extinct. In any case, at TRC we do a great deal of research about Health Insurance and so I know that as challenging as research is, it is nothing compared to what the health insurance industry is going through.

First off, I'll ignore issues that have been with the industry for decades. More often than not they don't sell to the folks who use their products (most insurance comes through employers) and they often don't sell to the folks who pay the bills (a majority of insurance is sold through independent brokers). While some research clients don't expose us to their internal clients, we are nowhere near as separated from the folks who use our work as health insurance firms are.

Tagged in: Brand Market Research

two_dollar_billMy seven year old son gets a $2 per week allowance. He doesn't really do anything to earn this money. Rather I give him (and his brother) an allowance to teach them how to save for things that they want. Implied, and in fact part of the bargain, is that they can't hassle me for Pokémon cards, or Wii games, or anything else they "need", because they have their own money. Well, about a month or two ago my seven year old mandated that I start paying him with a $2 bill. Yikes! Where was I going to get even one $2 bill, let alone one every week?

As we consider my situation, let's juxtapose something we've all been hearing for 10 plus years now. The brick and mortar (fill in the blank) is antiquated, and on its way to irrelevance. The Internet is the way that EVERYBODY is going to shop for and do EVERYTHING! Heck, I've heard it so many times and for so long that I agree with it, which is odd since the only items I consistently buy online are books, DVDs and music.

When you go out to buy something how much importance do you place on the brand name? Not only does this vary from person to person but also from category to category. Yet the vast majority of brand related research has focused on understanding the importance of brand within categories, not across. That may be understandable from a brand manager’s perspective because he is in charge of just that brand. But while a company may sell a single brand a consumer makes purchase decisions across a spectrum of categories. The importance she places on a brand in a particular category is therefore contextual. Understanding this issue of Brand Relevance in Category (BRiC) and its implications is what three researchers set out to do in a large scale multi-product, multi-country study. Here’s what they did.

Tagged in: Brand

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