Thursday, 28 May 2015

Opinion polls – what’s the point?

I guess you know which opinion polls I’ve got in mind, unless you’ve been on Mars for the last few months.

How could the opinion polls have got the general election result so spectacularly wrong? There was a trend between all the pollsters so well-defined it was impossible that it was wrong. Even the most experienced of commentators started their interviews from the premise that no single party was ever going to win a majority. And yet, with the benefit of that very precious commodity hindsight we now all know that was completely wrong!

But do you think any pollsters will shut up shop as a result of the debacle. Yes, I doubt it too. We all want to know the future as early as we can and we’re prepared to do what we can to get into that privileged position.

To some extent, I would say that’s how it is in business too. We conduct focus-group activities to try and find out what consumers want. We want to know what fashions are going to be big next year or what type of biscuits our children are likely to be devouring in huge quantities next summer. As with politics, the rewards for getting it right are significant but this election has just given us a crystal clear example of why we shouldn’t put too much faith in our attempts to read the future.

Build it and they will come – words on the epitaph of many a failed business. It’s worth reminding ourselves that customers, in any business, have a habit of doing what they want. You may think you’ve just constructed a world-beating business model that’s bound to make you a millionaire but your future customers may have other ideas.

I’m not saying it’s a futile exercise to try and forecast the way in which your business will perform in the future – far from it. My point would be simply this – remember it is only a forecast and there is no substitute for getting close to the market. In other words, don’t rely on “polls” too heavily – have the equivalent of an election and find out what your customers actually want for real. Talk to them directly and ask them to “vote”. Find out for yourself what is really going on and don’t allow any kind of filter to come between you and your target audience.

Having said all that, there’s another angle in this that might be worth noting. Your soundings may be wrong and your consumers may reward you with unexpected business which you had given up on. Just as they may turn away unexpectedly there is also a very real possibility that your business proposition may be more interesting than even you imagined. So don’t give up on serendipity – we all need a bit of luck some time!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The ups and downs of a campaign

As I write this, the political campaigning of recent weeks is drawing to a close and the UK is about to vote for the next Prime Minister. The TV debates are over for now and the battle buses are presumably parked up somewhere as the support teams take a well-earned rest.

The campaigns have been tiring enough for the public who have been the recipients of so much messaging and so much targeted hype. But, what of the protagonists – what have they learnt from the process before some of them rush onto the next stage? Does a political campaign have useful parallels with a marketing campaign and can we learn anything from studying the way our politicians behaved during the campaign?

In a nutshell, I would say a resounding yes to all of the above. Which of is going to forget the bacon sandwich incident, the Green Party brain-freeze or expressions like “pumped-up” and “hell yeah”? OK, in business we don’t have the luxury often of appearing on national TV to get our message across and most of don’t command a budget the size of a political party. But we are often waging a campaign to raise awareness of who we are and what we stand for. Every time we open our mouths before a client or engage in a dialogue with the object of persuading a client to opt for us, we are on exactly the same path.

So, in my humble opinion, we would do well to heed the lessons of the past few weeks. Perhaps, like me, you cringed every time you heard the expression “pumped-up” or winced when a politician struck a note which was not authentically their own. Maybe you hid behind the sofa when you saw a “life-time supporter” of a well-known football team simply forget what they were called.

Yes, it’s good to identify with your target audience and talk about subjects likely to be of interest and relevance but remember to be honest if you want to be credible.  As we’ve seen time and time again just recently, if you are faking it, there’s a good chance you will be caught out. As I suspect some of our politicians are about to find out, it may well be simply impossible to come back from such a position of having been exposed!

But just in case you think this is just an exercise in politician bashing, I would pay them all a massive compliment for harnessing meticulous planning and prodigious quantities of energy. Surely these are two absolute prerequisites for any business campaign. Having sown the seeds, it is absolutely vital that you have the resources and energy to harvest your results. If you go after a target market you will like as not provoke a reaction – be ready to deal with the tiger you will be holding by the tail!

Be ready for the long run. Whether you’re a politician or a business person, I think you’ll you’re your personal equivalent to marathon training to be very useful.