Home > The Monday Musings Column > on market research and advertising

on market research and advertising

Over my years of working I have worked in sales several times and, in my own businesses, I have had to rely on my own abilities in that area. Knowing what will sell and how to get it in front of those who will buy varies according to what it is you are selling, but the basic principles are the same whether you are standing at your stall in the market or pitching a multi-million pound deal in the boardroom. If you don’t grasp them you will not last long.

This is not about the mechanics of selling though, it’s about some of the stuff that goes on around it. Specifically understanding who will buy what, why and how to get their attention.

Starting with the back end of that, advertising, it has struck me how things have changed. Visual advertising, mainly in the form of TV commercials, but also including billboards and the like, used to have an element of wit and style, but these days they seem to have dumbed down to a point where many are just puerile. If they are intended to make me want to buy the product, they don’t, but worse, they put me off using the company altogether. I vote with my wallet and there are some places where I will no longer take my cash based on their advertising.

Perhaps these companies have researched and tested these adverts; they almost certainly have because the Berkshire Belle amuses herself by taking part in market research and will often warn me that her tablet is about to “make a noise”. Some of the questions that she will then be asked are so off the wall as to be worrying, for example she will often be asked to say what sort of person the advertiser is, and various other oblique questions that are almost impossible to answer with any credibility.

Not only is someone paying shed loads of money for this research, but they will also go on to spend much more on commissioning the commercial and getting it out there. But if the questions are ones that it is not possible to answer with any genuine accuracy then the results will be flawed so what is the point?

As stupid as it sounds people are using this stuff. Perhaps it is because they have paid a lot for it that they choose to believe it; I don’t know for sure, but I have certainly been on the inside of teams who have been using data from this sort of market research and cannot ever recall it being challenged by those making the decision.

I am not saying that all market research is wasted. You do need to know, but be careful with what you get back because people lie in at least some of their answers. Use such data as a guide rather than an absolute and do look carefully at the results that you get when you go to market.

Maybe my criticism of advertising is, in part, due to flaws in the research. I don’t know the answer to that either, but I suspect that, whilst it contributes, the biggest problem is a general dumbing down of society. Our expectations have been lowered so much that we get what we deserve. For me it means that, just as I will not buy from a cold call, I will buy very little that I see advertised on TV.

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