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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, March 13, 2006

Charu is sick of Focus Group bashing, and feels, Don't Shoot the Messenger!

It's a debate that's been going on for years ... its funny .. I feel a little caught in-between ... as I do more and more ethnographic research, I'm getting less fond of focus groups. Still, traditional FMCG sort of clients rely heavily on focus groups as their preferred method, and I work with many such Clients.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Clients and Researchers don't really look at these tools as data collection tools but as ends in themselves. How many times have you heard the brand manager or the account planner say ... we've done the 'mandatory' focus groups. Both researchers and clients adopt one or the other method, depending on their own comfort levels, rather than the requirement or need from the project.

Focus Groups are a bad word among many anthropologists and ethnographers ... and Ethnography is seen as the latest hyped buzzword by many motivational researchers. It's about hybridization and we need to be flexible as researchers in adopting these tools ... I remember during a recent project that involved Ethnographies, there came a point when I felt a couple of quick focus groups might help our understanding of an issue ... luckily the Client, although a workplace Anthropologist, felt the same. We did them, and they added lots of value to the Ethnographic Study.

I'd rather think of myself as a Qualitative Research Practitioner or Consultant ... than a focus group moderator, or an ethnographer !

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8:33:45 PM    comment []  trackback []

Some think not.  Including Henry Ford, who said:

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse." 

-- Henry Ford

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Reshma Anand, a young qualitative researcher who's recently moved to the UK, has a nice blog called MindSpeak. I loved this post on A Research Metaphor , where she leans on The Quilting Bee as a metaphor to describe the differences between qualitative and quantitative research. Just borrowing her qual and quant quilts here .. go read her post for more details. Can you guess which quilt is for qual and which one represents quant ? It's not rocket science !!!

A picture named the qual quilt.4.jpgA picture named the quan quilt.3.jpg

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8:02:10 PM    comment []  trackback []

Thought I'd share some great blog posts and papers I had bookmarked and finally got down to reading:
Rashmi Sinha has some really good essays on Tagging.  She has a whole category dedicated to this area, and I found the following posts particularly useful:
A cognitive analysis of tagging (or how the lower cognitive cost of tagging makes it popular)
A Social Analysis of Tagging (or how tagging transforms the solitary browsing experience into a social one)
- "Tagging: From Personal to Social" - a powerpoint presentation here.

Some good tips in An Adoption Strategy for Social Software in Enterprise by Suw Charman.  She suggests that its key to identify users "who would clearly benefit from the new software, helping them to understand how it could help, and progressing their usage so that they can realise those benefits". I still struggle with tryig to figure out how we can enable the lowering of perceived risks in using such technologies. 

Doc Searls introduces the concept of the Intention Economy turning on its head the Attention Economy conversation that focusses more on the 'seller'.  He says:

"The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don't need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don't need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don't have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer's purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just "branded" by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or "capturing") buyers.

In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, "I'll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don't want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?" ó and have the sellers compete for the buyer's business."

Reading this, and with my limited understanding of the Attention Economy, am wondering .... does one follow the other ... from Attention to Intention ... or Intention to Attention?

Tracking the Future of Telephony ... a great transcript of a very interesting by Norman Lewis director of research for France Telecom at eTel.  Really good stuff ... some snips:
"The fundamental point is voice and audio now just becomes another application on the Internet. And that is incredibly exciting, as far as I am concerned, because it is like time, it is now liberated, it is not a stand alone application anymore. It is embedded in everything we doÖTime has became intrinsic in everything. I think that is where voice is going in the future. I think that is truly revolution".

"... we have that possibility of taking that application [voice]Öand liberating it [voice] from that kind of stranglehold that I think telcos have had in the pastÖ and now we can begin to do things we have never done before. ÖIf you just look at the recent period with Ebay-Skype...voice is becoming something of an adjunct to other services and will open up new possibilities...I see this as a huge golden opportunity for immense innovation...What we [the telcos] are doing is re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic. That is essentially what a lot of us are doing in our companies. The innovation landscape has changedÖ"

"It can actually create a sweet spot for all of usÖfor me innovation is rarely about identifying problems our customers have got and trying to solve them. Real innovation is about social change. It is about adopting, it can be incremental, it can also be very disruptive. But if really had to begin with real social motivations, of why people are doing things. What kind of things that they really want to doÖ it is a social consequence that they [ìdigital childrenî] introduce technology into their lives in ways we do not quite fully understandÖ understanding customers [social] behaviour and motivationsÖthat is the coal face as far as I am concernedÖAre we going to develop Internet apps that really embed voice in everything we do, and fundamentally transform that whole experience. I think that is the question."

danah who is a really really smart researcher, ethnographer, media-ecologist, digi-culturist, sociologist, (she's looking for someone to bestow upon her an 'ist') explains Why Youth Heart MySpace.

Geeks in Toyland - a Wired article on how Lego managed to effectively convert their customers to their R&D labs and effectively re-wrote the innovation game! [link via Steve at All this chittah-chattah]
"Some Lego executives worried that the hackers might cannibalize the market for future Mindstorms accessories or confuse potential customers looking for authorized Lego products. After a few months of wait-and-see, Lego concluded that limiting creativity was contrary to its mission of encouraging exploration and ingenuity. Besides, the hackers were providing a valuable service. "We came to understand that this is a great way to make the product more exciting," Nipper says. "It's a totally different business paradigm - although they don't get paid for it, they enhance the experience you can have with the basic Mindstorms set." Rather than send out cease and desist letters, Lego decided to let the modders flourish; it even wrote a "right to hack" into the Mindstorms software license, giving hobbyists explicit permission to let their imaginations run wild.

Soon, dozens of Web sites were hosting third-party programs that helped Mindstorms users build robots that Lego had never dreamed of: soda machines, blackjack dealers, even toilet scrubbers. Hardware mavens designed sensors that were far more sophisticated than the touch and light sensors included in the factory kit. More than 40 Mindstorms guidebooks provided step-by-step strategies for tweaking performance out of the kit's 727 parts.

Lego's decision to tap this culture of innovation was a natural extension of its efforts over the past few years to connect customers to the company."

I tested VoiFi ...was disappointed with the basic sound quality.  Uninstalled.

Bookmarked ... and still to read/play with:

When The Long Tail Wags the Dog and The Long Tail of Popularity

- On quick glance, basic orientation by Paul Beleen in a whitepaper called Advertising 2.0 (pdf), on "what everybody in advertising, marketing and media should know about the technologies that are reshaping their business"  Printed, to be read in detail on my flight to Delhi later this week.

- Veer, who has an excellent blog that I recently discovered on the Indian mobile revolution, has launched MyToday, a public RSS aggregator, with Rajesh Jain.  Haven't yet played with it ... will soon!  I like that it has a mobile phone edition too.

- A collection of articles on Creative Thinking [link via Chuck Frey's Innovation Weblog]

7:46:37 PM    comment []  trackback []

Jennifer Rice at Brand Mantra has an excellent series of posts on Maslow and Branding. She's looked at 8 core consumer needs: Security, Connection, Esteem, Control, Aesthetic, Cognitive, Self-Actualization and Transcendence. She starts the series with this ....

"Remember back in your Psych 101 class when you learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? Bet you never expected to see it again in the business world, but...ta da! Here it is. Personally I think a few are missing like freedom and control. But in general, we can easily see how strong brands relate back to the hierarchy. In the next couple posts, I'll walk through the expanded hierarchy (8 needs instead of 5) and discuss their relation to brand strategy."

For the uninitiated, an explanation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  I've culled out, from Jennifer's multiple posts, some of the key points and examples that she makes - they are in italics:

on Security:

"This is the "No one ever got fired for buying IBM" syndrome. There are people everywhere who will only purchase products and services from companies that have proven themselves over time. They stuck with SBC when their more adventurous counterparts were fleeing to try one of the new competitive phone companies."

on Connection:

"We're seeing this era of fragmentation come to a close, and the locus of connection is reforming on two very different levels: the physical world where brands like Starbuck's are providing modern tribal gathering spots, and the virtual world where like-minded people can connect based on affinity instead of geography (like Slashdot.) As with trust, all brands can work on facilitating a sense of connection through blogs and forums. But newer brands that are plugged into the grassroots economy are making 'connection' a foundational differentiator for their brands. I'll end up revisiting social technologies and grassroots economy after going though the entire hierarchy, because the virtual locus of connection is actually the point at which 4 different needs intersect."

on Esteem:

"Some newer ways of delivering Esteem include: "New Economy" forums like LegoFactory. Not only is this a place to show off your new Lego designs to other community members, but you also get a chance to be publicly recognized for a great design by the Lego Product Designers themselves. Another example is Slashdot, where you earn karma for smart participation in the forums. You can see in the FAQs that people's karma scores serve as 'reputation badges,' and it appears that some folks were a bit peeved when the karma indicator was changed from a potentially unlimited number to a label ( Terrible, Bad, Neutral, Positive, Good, and Excellent.)"

on Control:

"Control is tightly linked to the notion of freedom; without freedom we have no ability to control our environment. Control and Freedom are two sides of the same coin, a linkage that has surfaced in primary research for several different technology and B2B clients. Features like flexibility and customization relate back to Control, but so do social technologies like blogs, forums, user ratings, etc. The emerging grassroots economy is pushing both Freedom and Control into the hands of employees and customers... forming a vast, distributed human network where each node (individual) can connect, communicate, make choices, learn from each other, grow. In essence this new economy is enabling and empowering us to live and work the way we want, not how someone else tells us we must."

on Aesthetic:

"Aesthetic used to be a nice-to-have, but it's increasingly becoming foundational. Witness the explosive success of Apple and the iPod, or the gotta-have Razr phone. Target is bringing designer style (Isaac, Oldham) to the masses, along with InStyle magazine and "The Look for Less" show. Starbucks combined coffee with an aesthetic environment. Barnes & Noble did the same for books. There are now 250 bathroom faucets from which to choose. Style is important because it's an external representation of our own self-image. What we wear, drive, carry... they're all badges to demonstrate who we are. It makes me wonder if Aesthetic really is the core need; perhaps it' something much more basic, like 'validation of self-existence.' Perhaps style is our subconscious way of defining who we are, or attracting a mate (like peacocks and bird plumage)."

on Cognitive:

"This is about learning and understanding the world around us. While many people still blindly accept the doctrines of traditional authority (church, state, corporations, media, etc.), others are taking control, asking questions and seeking answers. Brands that knock down barriers to knowledge and provide easy access are delivering on this need. These aren't just the obvious brands like Google; they're also brands that practice transparency and educate customers on the how's and why's of their products, services and business practices. Transparency and openness deliver on customers' desire to know. FedEx tracking is a great example (of both Cognitive and Control). And of course, blogs and forums fit into this category as well."

on Self-Actualization:

"Nike pioneered the focus on self-actualization with their famous "Just Do It" tag line. Home Depot followed suit with "You can do it. We can help." Brands that demonstrate a belief in their customers' abilities will win the hearts and minds of those who want to reach higher and accomplish more. But it needs to be more than just talk or a nice tag line. Microsoft's campaign, "Where do you want to go today?" appeals to this need, but I haven't found a lot of supporting evidence for the promise (of course, I haven't looked very hard.). How about creating more interactivity with customers, learning where they want to go, offering online education classes, or perhaps social networking tools that connect mentors with learners?"

on Transcendence:

"This need is about giving back, enriching others or championing a greater cause. The Body Shop was founded on
core values like environmental protection; their web site reminds visitors, "Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, that's the only thing that ever does." The Toyota Prius won Edmund's Consumer's Choice for Most Significant Vehicle in 2004. Cause-related brands have strong appeal to small but loyal customer segments."

There is so much potential for social tools and technologies to address so many of these needs - the needs for Esteem, Connection, Self-Actualization, Cognition, Control . Am looking forward to reading Jennifer's thoughts on how they interact. It would require a cultural change in organizations to acknowledge that some of the more powerful human needs, or in marketing terms, customer drivers, lie in the value of actually passing on the control and freedom to customers. Tied into this need are the needs for connection, esteem, cognitiion, self-actualization and ultimately, transcendence.

Web 2.0 companies have shown the way - their products are in perpetual beta, their architecture and marketing is decentralized, they encourage communities of users to self-organize around them. Recently, in an email to Rob, I wrote .... I think one of the most difficult things for people to do is give up control and relinquish 'power' to the many unless they see tangible 'cost-per-click' sort of gains. It's the single largest barrier to accepting and adopting a process that is different to one we have been so conditioned to. Sadly, what few realise the act of giving up that power itself can be so empowering for them - why is Wordpress gaining popularity - why is Flickr so popular - why are del.icio.us and Skype and so many others gaining traction today? They weren't built in a day and pushed onto us as a final product or service - they are being built by and around the community that breathes them. The folks behind them had the guts and vision to say - let's see how our customers 'play' - how they self-organize into networks (developers for instance) - embrace the criticisms with the accolades - and build around what they build. Chaos ..... and creativity. So powerful.

2:27:37 PM    comment []  trackback []

Kiruba announces BarCampChennai. Check out the Wiki on BarCampChennai for all details.

A picture named barcamp chennai.jpg"BarCamp is an ad-hoc unconference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction. The two day BarCampChennai focusses on Web 2.0 and Next Generation Internet. It takes place on April 8th and 9th (Saturday and Sunday)
. It's an open, welcoming, once-a-year event for geeks to camp out for a couple days with wifi and smash their brains together."

This time I am going :). I thought I'd bring in a slightly non-geeky perspective and engage in a conversation around how you can build Brand 2.0 on the web. Will share my presentation here when done. Initial thoughts as a starting point for a conversation ...

How does a world of rapidly evolving social media affect your organization's brand strategies and values? Organizations large and small, public and private - continue to extrapolate this year's brand plan and fail to recognize and adapt quickly enough to market changes impacting future strategy. Brand strategy tools must be rethought. From blogs to podcasting - social networking sites to Google Adsense - participation, economics and structure of media and communication is being reinvented.

The brand no longer lives with consumers and marketers alone. In the experience economy the Brand is the nexus of a new connectivity between employee and customer, organization and stakeholders, evangelists and community. There is a third space that is evolving - the social web. It is changing how we 'consume' brands and promises.

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8:30:23 AM    comment []  trackback []