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Hypothesis on Noisy Thinking

Planners get the research they deserve.

1/ Culture – over used these days. But what we are so used to doing we don’t notice is worthy of study. Nudge nudge. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. The giveaway is the phrase ‘you know’. We all collude where culture is concerned. And the solution is to think like an alien – get a man to understand makeup. Get those without kids to understand parenting. Become an outsider and frame your hypothesis that way.

2/ The market category. Is usually a conspiracy between brands who share their employees, business models and most of their brand benefits. Spending 90% of their time being the same and wondering why marketers then have to spend 90% of their time trying to find ways for their brand to stand out and be different. So hypothesise what are the norms of the category and which of them can your brand break and should it break?

3/ What are the key numbers driving usage and consumption? How many people are eating cereal in London this evening. 5000, 50,000, 500,000? Put numbers on everything and it will make you curious to find out what the actual numbers are. The convention is that qualitative is fluffy and quantitative is hard. Nonsense. Numbers are abstractions – there are false positive false negatives and standard error. Numbers are as fluffy as the fluffiest customer quotations. So use them qualitatively and you will learn loads –mostly that your assumptions are wildly out because your working hypotheses are ahem wrong – but you’ll do better the next time around. Next

4/ Pay attention to behaviour or use the product yourself. The body is a brilliant learning and memorising system – so efficient a lot of it gets stored without alerting your conscious mind. Do you have a model for how ordinary people buy and use your products? Go and get one.

5/ What are the heuristics operating in the market. Heuristics are just shorthand routines – thought patterns or behaviour patterns which people use to make fast decisions. Or just to avoid thinking too hard. Find out what they are. Do you think they’re behaving rationally? There’s no time for that. Wendy will be talking about this later.

6/ How do customers perceive the brand? Pay attention – not how do brand owners fantasise that customers thought about them. But how do they really perceive the brand? Half the things that people think about the brand were never put there by the marketing team. And these brand dimensions may be plain wrong with no basis in fact. But people believe them. And that can be useful.

7/ A model for how communication works. It’s a long time since planner Mike Hall leaped out of his bath in the Grand Hotel Brighton at the MRS conference with the eureka moment that there are 4 ways advertising works and no ad can ever do all of them. His insight drove his company Hall & Partners to the top of the research league table. And whenever you hired them they would ask you to tell them how you wanted your advertising to work before they would do anything. Forcing you to decide if your campaign was about making the creative famous and talked about. The salience strategy, or was knocking a piece of knowledge into the customers’ skull – the persuasion strategy, or building warmth by convincing you they shared your sense of humour or that you liked them – the empathy or a lastly a Call to action. Think about what you worked on today. Ask yourself how do I expect this idea to work commercially? If you don’t know. Then go home and think some more. Creative communication models are difficult – that’s why clients give us the task instead of doing it all themselves. I guarantee however you hypothesise how it’s working – you’ll be wrong in some aspect – because every single campaign works slightly differently. Its keeps us from getting bored.

8/ What impact does context have? This is an area that Spring Research where I have been working has done a lot of work in the last year. But so are a lot of other agencies. Do you know that depending on context people say and do very different things? Of course you knew that. Did you know that people give different answers to research questions depending on where they are when you ask them the question? Of course you knew that too. So looking at the impact of context is a really important area specially now we can research it using mobile phones.

9/ What mistakes or misunderstandings do marketers commit regularly in understanding what motivates their customers? What mistakes have you made recently? If you haven’t made any then you haven’t been hypothesising hard enough. Make hypotheses big enough that they’re either mostly right or wildly wrong. Make tiny mistakes and you will never learn anything.

10/ When people buy or use a product a lot do they switch onto automatic pilot, become promiscuous and shop around or fall in love with the brand and bang on about it all the time? Note to listener they won’t do all 3. They can’t.

That’s the 10. There are loads more. But here’s the thing. You can’t answer any of those 10 questions without recourse to some kind of research. And that is where research comes from. From asking vital questions you don’t know the answers to. You may not need research at all but of all the ways to find out research is usually the easiest and most accessible.

Why do you think I’m here this evening? To be on the same bill as Wendy Gordon. She ran the course I went on to learn about qualitative research – 27 years ago when she was at the top of the industry then. Flamingo Research have consistently produced really interesting work – I’ve used their case studies to teach MBAs about online research. You work in a city which is one of the world’s great centres of research. Use it. We won’t just do research for you. We can help you think!

John Griffiths


Watch his talk here

John has been a planner on advertising for 30 years, direct marketing for 25 years and integrated it all together with sales promotion, sponsorship, PR and latterly the web for the last 20.

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