Tag Archives: focus groups

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 christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or call us on M: +44 (0) 7968 316548 T: 01279 902205. You can follow us on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter @consultingchris.

Unordinary Thinking No. 25 – Darning socks

Sewing is not something I have ever given much thought to.  That is until I read a really nice story about sewing machines (which, I might add, is not something I normally do either), which illustrates the idea of unordinary perfectly.

Jo-Ann Fabrics, a retailer in the craft and fabric space, wanted to sell more sewing machines.  Presumably this is no different to any of their competitors or, indeed, any organisation. After all, when in business is it not about selling more things to more customers more frequently?

Where Jo-Ann Fabrics approached things differently to others in in a simple premise: they actively pursued a strategy to understand their customers and what would work for them.  Now, don’t just skip over that last sentence.  Read it again.  It is definitely unordinary for an organisation to pursue active strategies and tactics to get under the skin of what their customers do and what motivates them.  Most organisations talk about it; very, very few do something about it.  The important point is to know how simple it can be to do.

Jo-Ann Fabrics used their website as a mechanism to understand what would appeal to their customers.  They did this by making the website a test and learn laboratory whereby different customers would automatically and randomly be shown different offers, website designs and tone of voice.  They looked at what customers actually did, rather than what they said they might do in a focus group.  From this, and following through to which customers purchased (or did not), they were able to gain insight about which overall propositions were most successful.  This, in turn, enabled them to think deeply about what was motivating their customers in order to hone how they communicated with them.

This led to quite a surprising offer for customers.  A deal which, on the face of it, sounds pretty dull and not very good:  Buy one sewing machine and get a second one at 20% off.  However this deal was successful-and not just in selling more machines.

But why? Well, at some level, customers evidently found the prospect of saving 20% on a second sewing machine worth having. However, generally, customers are not going to want two sewing machines and 20% is not exactly an awe inspiring discount.  The point is the offer acted as a catalyst for these customers to talk to friends, relatives and colleagues, any of whom may or may not have been in the market for a sewing machine.  It is no different to the classic ‘member get member’ schemes which you see in all sorts of industry but are often not very successful (certainly the ones I have seen in banks).  So why was this one successful?

I think it comes back to customers’ more deep seated reasons for pursuing a hobby such as sewing.  Making curtains or repairing clothes fits very much in a nurturing emotional space for people.  It relates back to the ‘gatherer’ role of our prehistory and because this is so deep rooted in our psyches, connects at a far more emotional level than the pure rationality of ‘20% off’.  What this means is that people really want to connect with others around this type of activity.  They want to share with others what they get out of it and they want others to (emotionally) benefit in the same way that they do.  It’s why you see sewing classes and clubs.  At Lexden, we have repeatedly seen with certain audience types that craftsmanship, in the form of activities like sewing, often has a significant place in their lives.  And these people often interact very closely, and have strong influence, with others who hold similar values to themselves-a lot more so than for other audiences.

When you know the above, deciding how to communicate with these people in a way that will resonate with them is much simpler.  It will just ‘feel right’ to them.  So when Jo-Ann Fabrics put this understanding together with an offer they had already observed working, the commercial benefits were multiple.  They had people finding time in their busy lives to have conversations about Jo-Ann Fabrics and about their sewing machines.  They had multiple amateur salespeople closing deals for more products.  They tapped into a pool of brand new seamsters who may not have even realised they wanted to have a sewing machine.  They have converts who will come back to buy more fabric, buttons and cotton thread (okay, so this is where my desire to know about sewing starts to diminish).

Looking at customers from a different startpoint, in order to get to a different result.  Incorporating a deep seated understanding of what makes customers tick.  An obvious and simple solution (in hindsight).  All stitched (sorry) together to give multiple benefits to the organisation.  Pretty unordinary.

Posted by Ajai Ranawat

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

For more information on how we can help you, contact christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or ajairanawat@lexdengroup.com, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.