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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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I Look at Data From Both Sides Now

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

caddie and golferI was watching the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational and my 14 year old son came in to the room.  I told him the established narrative. After a difficult two years Tiger Woods had returned to golf, but not before firing his long time and very loyal caddie.   Most saw this as just plain nasty on Tiger's part.  

I then told him how another golfer, Adam Scott, hired the caddie and was now on the verge of winning the tournament. I summed it up by saying that justice had prevailed.

He didn't even miss a beat before asking me, "Did Adam Scott fire his caddie so that he could hire the caddie Tiger fired?"

I don't follow competitive golf closely enough to know the answer. Worse, I had not even considered that the narrative "Tiger mean/Adam good" might be a bit off.  

A good lesson for any analyst to learn.

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istock_000000237809xsmallThe recent New MR Virtual Festival on presenting data had a number of really useful and interesting presentations. Mike Sherman’s presentation, “Less is More: Getting Value (Not Just Reams of Data) From Your Research” led to an interesting exchange that I think highlights the change in thinking that Market Research must make.

Mike reiterated the point that many have been making…we need to focus our reporting on the key things we learned and not waste executives’ time with a lot of superfluous information. In addition, the report should not just summarize the data, but rather it should synthesize it. He gave an example of a data set with these facts:

  • · Jim broke his knee
  • · A burglar broke Jim’s car window
  • · Jim got a speeding ticket.

A summary of these data might be “Jim’s knee and car window were damaged and he got a speeding ticket”.

A synthesis of that data would be “Jim has been living dangerously”.

shopping cart image smallI was shopping for groceries with my 12-year old son the other day -a quick trip to the store that qualified us for the express check-out line. On the way out he said to me:

"It must be more fun to work the express line, because you can really learn things about people."

Well spoken young researcher.

Look into full shopping carts and you'll see a lot of the same things - milk; eggs; orange juice; the ever-popular banana. With our shared national culture, neighborhoods built around people from similar socio-economic backgrounds, and good old fashioned peer pressure we're all alike in many ways. Except for where we're not, and that (to paraphrase my son) is the fun part.

If you had the time to dig through a person's cart (and if she LET you look through her cart) you'd come...

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