In the past few years, focus groups have shifted from not only a marketing research methodology, but also an actual marketing tool. We’ve seen the Chevy “Real people. Not actors” ads; one, for example, parodying a focus group of millennials discussing what they want out of a new car, and the stereotyped results that follow. Just recently, Athleta released its “Up For Anything” ads, which show women who believed they were participating in focus groups being challenged to do things they never thought they could do. Ads like these experiment with the focus group format while also playing with what we ask participants to do and the kinds of results we might get from them.
So what do we really get out of focus groups? How did they evolve into what they are and how we use them today? Coming out in February of this year, “Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation” by Liza Featherstone should give us a thorough and interesting account of the role focus groups play in American consumerism, market research, politics and more.
According to the book description, “Divining Desire” will cover a history of focus groups in the United States. This includes their origins in gaining a better understanding of political discourse, to their shift to market research and consumer insights. The author also discusses how focus groups play into people’s distrust of “out-of-touch” CEOs and politicians, questioning whether focus groups are a good way to deal with these issues. The book promises a critique of the pitfalls of focus groups, and what true benefits they have. Ultimately, the text may be asking us “are focus groups really about democracy?” Are focus groups about giving people a voice, or are they about making people FEEL like they have a voice?
So what is the future of focus groups? Featherstone’s book may give us a hint, but for now, it’s up to us in the industry to make our own innovations and decide where we want to go.
Segmentation provides great perspective into the diverse clusters of consumers in a target market. Once segments are defined, however, it is important to identify which provide value and promise for the brand.
This determination often focuses on a) segment size; b) the percentage of the segment engaged or open to engaging with the brand; and c) their spending potential in the category. Understanding who the segments are, but also their current and potential relationship to the brand, makes a segmentation more strategically actionable.
For more on W5’s philosophy and approach to segmentation, please refer to our newly-updated white paper, “W5 on Segmentation.”
Lately we’re all bearing witness to an array of irresponsible behavior—it seems to be the tone and tenor of today. We’re taught to wipe our feet, hold the door, and say “thank you” when served. But what about the big stuff? Who is there to guide us as we move from crawling, to walking, to running our own thing?
One area of my life I thought would be difficult to manage was investing. Investing money is never easy, as there are a host of rational and emotional issues attached to assuming risk. More so, I thought investing was ‘dark’ and could not be easily done in an ethical manner. It just seemed putting my money in the hands of companies, or people, who wouldn’t adhere to my standards was a nerve-racking endeavor―as news on investing was often fraught with people operating unethically, or even illegally. Yet I wanted to invest well, and at the same time find a good rate of return for my risk. I was perplexed.
Then I came upon the concept of ESG investing. ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance―three main elements to consider when measuring the ethical impact and overall sustainability of investing in a company. Environmental measures assess the company’s impact on nature as well as other animals; social aspects take into account a company’s business practices with others including vendors, its own employees, as well as the overall community in which it operates; and governance, or how a company operates and runs the day-to-day accounting practices and its management style. Basically, they are yardsticks with which to measure corporate behavior with the rationale that a company that behaves well on ESG measures, over time, also performs well financially.
How W5 conducts its business has always been paramount to each and every employee at our firm. How we operate is why we operate. It only made sense to extend this principle to the money I saved for my family’s future―ESG investing fits the bill.
I’ve found it easiest to ESG invest through mutual funds, Index funds, and ETFs. That way the chore of determining ESG suitability of a stock or the like is left in the hands of a team of experienced investment professionals. At the close of 2017 there are now a dizzying array of ESG options. The goal is to find the right set of people to handle the task at hand. Personally, I recommend looking beyond the fund itself and see how well the investing company itself does at adhering to ESG standards.
Any company can develop and market an investment instrument that fits the profile of ESG investing, yet I’ve found the most successful funds are those resulting from an investment firm’s ethos―the reason it exists. One such company is Parnassus Investments based in San Francisco. Not only does Parnassus have a series of successful ESG-related funds, it is founded and managed on such principles. There are other such firms, and I’ve found it’s a matter of matching personal style with investment style. Such an approach has been a winning combination for me, making it possible to successfully invest in today’s complex world and still sleep at night.
Strategic tracking of brand health and perceptions over time helps companies understand which marketing initiatives are successful and where future efforts may be focused to improve market positioning.
With 2018 on the horizon, many companies and brands take this time of year to consider their strategic tracking initiatives. Some may be initiating a brand health and tracking research study for the first time – establishing benchmarks and getting the initial brand pulse. Others are looking at a dinosaur tracker and ways to make it more respondent-friendly, mobile-optimized, and strategic.
At W5, we often hear clients ask “How can I make my brand tracker strategic and more insightful wave-over-wave?” We get the question so often in fact, it was featured in the December Quirk’s Ask the Expert series.
We understand as times change, so do the methods and best practices of strategically tracking brands, which is why we evolved our white paper on the subject, W5 on Strategic Tracking. Learn about our approach, research objectives tracking can answer, considerations for mobile-optimized trackers, how to leverage qualitative research, and various reporting strategies.
Whether you are looking to launch a new tracking initiative in 2018, or discuss ways to better leverage your current brand tracking research, we encourage you to reach out to W5. We are keenly aware of the importance of consistency and planning to bridge the transition between tracking methodologies and partners, and have successfully transitioned tracking surveys for several clients―each presenting unique challenges and opportunities.
I think automation is just getting going by the likes of Amazon, autonomous driving, and behavioral algorithms. Should it follow typical diffusion of innovation models, our future will soon be on auto-pilot. And not just driving, but lots of stuff that is repetitive and easily replicated, such as factory work, construction, food prep, transportation, insurance renewals, and financial services transactions will soon all be executed by autonomous artificial intelligence (AI). Entire industries will be on auto-pilot, more or less.
This means a lot of people will no longer be needed to do that work as robot-to-worker ratios soar. What will these people do? I’m sure they’ll be a lot of political bluster and reflexive pullback, but in the end, I think these people will simply not have to work. How will they earn a living then? Maybe they won’t have to worry about that too much. One solution I hear more and more about is Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI is basically giving people a certain amount money, a basic income, free of charge or obligation. No needs test, everyone gets a stipend, regardless of current status.
As a typical industrious American, my initial reaction was not positive. Overall, it just sounded lazy and, in the end, not beneficial to those receiving or giving; nothing breakthrough, or even clever about it. But then I did a bit of homework on the matter, and my opinion is starting to change.
While the concept of UBI may sound like the outcome of twenty-first century liberalism, it’s roots are old and deep. Over two hundred years ago one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, advocated “a citizen’s dividend to all United States citizens.” Noted Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek promoted a “wage floor, which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself.” Even current conservative man of the moment Paul Ryan has proposed that states commingle different forms of federal anti-poverty funding—food stamps, housing assistance, and more—into a single funding stream.
The thought is that free from the constraints of having to [continually] prove a ‘needs-based’ model to receive assistance, all people would have a basic ‘floor’ from which to build their lives, say $10,0000 per year. From there, people could control how to direct their lives, rather than living a life prescribed by the government―a blending of neoliberalism and reform conservatism.
Proponents of such a model believe we’d see a rapid reduction in poverty and crime, and an increase in creativity and innovation―especially among the young and old; to those most vulnerable, ten grand a year would mean the world.
Pieces of such a model already exist in one form or another, right here in our country. For years the state of Alaska through the Alaska Permanent Fund has made an annual distribution of thousands of dollars to all state residents―absolutely free money. Stockton, California’s 27-year old mayor is getting ready to pilot a program where all residents of the town will be given $500 monthly, no strings attached. Further afield, the UBI model is currently being discussed, tweaked and/or tested all over the world, from Finland and the Netherlands, to France, India, and Kenya; the nature of the concept is not constrained by geography, politics, or current economic strength. I find such an idea very intriguing.
While there are many arguments for and against UBI, the fact remains the idea is quickly gaining traction as we evolve from an industrial-based world economy to an information-based model. The vast effects of such a rotation are not yet fully comprehended by financiers, politicians, and certainly not your Uber driver―who may soon need it most. Yet such a fundamental shift will require an equally radical response to counter the effects of this transformation of toil. UBI might be a step in that direction.
If you want to part of the solution and help the extremely poverty stricken today, go to Give Directly and launch a UBI of your own for someone less fortunate.
It’s that time again! Don’t act surprised, we do this every year. For those with small humans in their lives, the holidays can be a time for anxiety, stress, and heighten blood pressure as store stock up and sell out of the items that are sure to make your little folks’ hearts skip a beat with excitement. We all put our parents through this nightmarish wild goose chase for plastic, stuffed, or video things, mostly before the advent of Amazon and eBay. I think my father is still indebted to the mob for the – not one, but three Power Ranger figures I received when I was seven-years-old.
So in the spirit of the holidays, I went around the W5 office to see what quests we put our loved ones through to obtain our favorite holiday trophies.
Ian McDiarmid | Practice Consultant
“For Christmas when I was 13, I really wanted an Xbox, which came out that November. I told my mom I wanted it, but that I didn’t expect to get it since it would be sold out everywhere. On Christmas, I was so surprised when I opened up a brand-new Xbox. I was even more surprised to find out that my mom waited in line at a Best Buy starting at 4am to get it.”
Robin Morey | Practice Consultant
“Ok, so there was a time that I was super into dinosaurs and I asked my mom for a dinosaur bone. I was young enough that this didn’t really seem unreasonable, but I still knew it was going to be hard to find. She went through a bunch of holiday catalogs from museums and places like that and actually got me a cast replica of a t-rex tooth. I was super excited! And I still have it.”
Allison Savicz | Practice Consultant
“Well for me at age 6-8 it had to be the Crissy Doll with the pull down hair which was later updated to include the Talky Crissy in the early 70’s tho I was already too old for her by then!” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crissy
Ryan Delaune | Practice Consultant
“My parents weren’t big holiday shoppers, so if we wanted something particularly hard to find, they would always give us the cash value and told us that if we could manage to save it, we could buy it ourselves when it was available. We rarely succeeded.”
Grace Brown | Client Relations Consultant
“One present that really stands out in my mind was the year I got a Samantha American Girl doll. I mentioned wanting one to my mom several times, but thought it was a long-shot present. However come Christmas morning there she was with several outfits (the figure skater outfit and matching skates my hands down favorite) and books to go along with her. I still have my Samantha and plan to pass it down to my child someday.”
Amy Castelda | Senior Client Relations Consultant
“As a kid I remember one year I really wanted a Tamagotchi. My older sister had one so of course I needed one. I wrote Santa to ask for it for Christmas. I’m not sure the trouble my parents went through to get it for me. It was a “Santa” gift meaning technically they couldn’t complain about it or else the truth would come out…”
Martin Molloy | Partner
“I remember begging for what seemed like 20 years for an Intellivision system. When I finally got it I sunk into the black hole of video games”
Tom Daly | Senior Partner
“First off, I’m older than most readers to this blog – I was a kid in the golden area of Saturday morning cartoons TV (’67-’77) heavily reinforced with pre-sweetened cereals; our parents could have cared less.
As an OC (only child) I religiously sat glued to Saturday morning cartoons until nearly noontime came and my mother screamed at me to ‘get dressed and get out of here!’ so she could follow her weekly routine of doing the wash and vacuuming (while smoking her Parliament 100s). One year, nearly every third commercial it seemed, was for Major Matt Mason. This was the era of Apollo and my dad actually knew some NASA engineers and military, so Major Matt was my guy. The best part of Major Matt Mason’s world was the Space Station – highly detailed and well built. It put me in another world.
I would literally beg, on my knees, every night at the dinner table, for a Space Station et. al. ‘Please, please, please, it’s all I’ll EVER want!’ I would whimper on the floor under the roast beef in a proselytized state. My father would tell me to get off the floor and the dog would growl, thinking I was there for his Milk Bones. This literally went on for months. In the meantime, I dutifully sat glued to the television, seated but a foot from the screen, waiting for the ad (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R99hAG0tgkg), letting myself be drawn into Major Matt’s mission on the moon. I wished so badly to be there.
At Christmas, my aunt and uncle came over and dropped over a very large wrapped box. It was a Space Station with all the trimmings. I was ecstatic. It still probably ranks as one of the most emotional moments of my life; my greatest desire was fulfilled (probably the last time, actually). I guess my parents thought they would have appeared to have given in if they acquiesced to my pleas – easier instead for my mother to have her brother pick it up and deliver it late Christmas Day. A win-win-win all around: I was sated, my parents were off the hook, and my aunt and uncle came out of the blue to achieve hero status. I didn’t even see the connection until years later, and I couldn’t have cared less.
When my uncle was dying of cancer, years later, I thanked him for the Christmas present. He told me ‘they wouldn’t buy it for you.’ I never knew if he was telling the truth or he was still keeping the story alive, he was an old-school guy and perhaps thought it best for me to parse it out. I knew not to ask further. Regardless, we both smiled and left it at that.
Of note, I hear that off-and-on Tom Hanks has attempted to get a Major Matt Mason movie funded in Hollywood along with Roger Zemeckis, a $100-million plus epic based on Tom’s love of Major Matt’s world. Well, he can count on this Tom chipping in and getting lost for a few more hours should Mr. Hank’s actually build that Space Station.”
Marketing across channels has been decidedly veteran-focused this week as brands offer their yearly thanks to veterans. That got us thinking about the work we’ve done with veterans and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Veterans are often discussed more as symbols than as people. Depending on the talking point being supported, veterans can represent sacrifice, freedom, American ideals, patriotism, war, trauma, or any notion, positive or negative, that serves the speaker’s goals. What we see far less often is a thoughtful discussion in which veterans are real people with real experiences and needs.
In the past couple of years we have worked both with specific branches of the military, veteran-focused organizations, and organizations hoping to serve veterans. Throughout these engagements we’ve sought to understand the experiences and needs of veterans and military from their own perspectives. We’ve sought to bring their voices into the conversation. In honor of Veterans Day, we’d like to share the top three insights we’ve uncovered in our research.
1. Serving in the military is a job, and a difficult one at that
While there is a certain honor and distinction reserved for the military, it is still a job. As a job, it’s pretty brutal. Military members sign up for little pay and tough hours. They sign their bodies up for grueling training, their minds up for intense amounts of stress, and their families up for frequent moves and months of long-distance separation. Many choose this path, but not without understanding that these costs come with a host of benefits. Military members are promised quality health, educational, and financial benefits to counter the toll that a military life takes on their bodies and minds. These benefits and services provided to veterans are not bonuses, they are repayment. One doesn’t have to agree with the ways that the military operates to agree that people deserve to be compensated for the work they do, and far too often, the physical and mental toll of military service creates numerous cracks through which veterans fall. The resources provided to veterans, by public and private organizations, help lift veterans back up and seal those cracks.
2. More isn’t always better
Creating resources for veterans is a popular idea for brands, but we’ve been impressed by the ways that clients we’ve worked with want to make sure that the investment they make goes towards actually improving the lives of veterans. After natural disasters, food banks often find themselves flooded with food donations but without the financial and manpower resources to distribute food to victims. Similarly with veterans, sometimes the biggest need is not in creating more services offering more benefits, it’s investing in connecting veterans with the resources they need when they need them. This kind of structural investment isn’t flashy, but it’s vital when the goal is to meet the needs of veterans.
3. Actions speak louder than words
The veterans and military we have talked to across our research engagements are well-aware that it is popular and easy to tell them you support them or thank them for their service. These sentiments are of course appreciated, but what is even more appreciated is when they see concrete action taken to improve the lives of veterans. They feel that a person, organization, or brand truly appreciates veterans when they are out in the community building homes for veterans, serving food to veterans, or even just spending time with veterans. Veterans have real needs, so hearing that they are appreciated is nice, but actually trying to understand their experiences and help meet those needs is so much more impactful.
These lessons are not profound, they’re common sense, but they are far too often forgotten in the midst of pronouncements about who veterans are and what they represent. In the end, it’s important to remember that veterans are people, not symbols. Do something this Veterans Day to improve the life of someone you know who has served in the military, not because of a vague notion of freedom or service, but because, in their position, with their experiences, you would want someone to do the same for you.