Unordinary Thinking No. 27 – The magic of the bl*@dy obvious

One of my favourite things is when the answer to a problem, or the solution which best fits, is so obvious, so simple, that it brings a smile to your face.  It is one of the characteristics of what we term unordinary.

Two examples below.  Both relate to the world of understanding customers which, in our hearts, is what Lexden is about and gets us up in the morning.  If you are ever in the business of wanting to really get to the nub of what your customers are after and are thinking of commissioning some customer research, then you should have the following in mind.

The first relates to a conversation I had with an eminent research professional with many years standing about focus groups.  He said something so simple that, for me, it is a wonder it has not had a material impact on the worldwide sales of qualitative research companies (maybe it has).  Off the record, considering it is his livelihood, he mused whether there could possibly be a more unrealistic situation in life than an observed focus group.  Think about how mad it is.  Firstly, you pay participants to come to a place they have never been before so they can have free sandwiches and beer.  You ask to be allowed to observe them from behind a two way mirror.  You put them together with a group of individuals they have never met before and ask them to interact.  And then you ask them questions about things they typically have very little interest or emotional connection with.  All topped off with a rushed ‘final recommendation’ activity in the last five minutes when they just want to go home because it is 10 o’clock at night.

You ask them to come to your research world instead of going to the customer’s world.

And marketers then base their communications activity and product development on what people said in this totally unrealistic environment.  Isn’t that a little crazy?

The second example gives the antithetical approach to the above.  It comes from when Honda had just launched their first cars into the US and they were struggling to understand why sales were not at the level they had hoped for.  Being new to the US market, the conventional thing to do might have been to convene focus groups to understand what the US car consumer might want from a vehicle, and how this differed from Japanese consumers.  But Honda chose a more obvious route.  The engineers, designers, technicians, sales people and marketers all convened together to various car parks around Los Angeles and simply observed drivers and passengers using their Honda vehicles.  Getting in and out.  How they opened and packed the boot.  Which hand they held their keys in.  How they drove off.  All of which provided gold plated insight for how to alter and improve their cars for their American customers.  Observation of actual customers, using the actual product in an actual situation.  The Japanese call this the sangen approach.  Clearly it cannot give you the whole answer (what does?), but it is so obvious, so clever, that it makes you feel that it would be a failure to ever pay thousands of pounds for another focus group again.

A simple approach, eliciting better insight about what customers want and need, at a cheaper cost in a quicker timescale.  Does it get any better for marketers or businesses?

I love the irony.  We have all heard participants in focus groups say they want solutions that are quicker, cheaper and more convenient-it’s just that this one delivers it without a focus group.


Lexden is a Customer Strategy Agency. We put customers at the start and the heart of the business strategy.

We work with brands to attract and retain happy customers. We achieve this by helping them to understand what makes their customers tick, building memorable customer experience strategies and creating engaging customer value propositions.

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For more information about how we can help you take your customer strategy forward please contact or call us on M: +44 (0) 7968 316548 T: 01279 902205. You can follow us on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter @consultingchris.

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