The next best thing to customer market research…

July 28, 2010

Market research has always been my favorite part of marketing.  The idea of using research to uncover what is in the minds of your target customers — their beliefs, their needs, their ways of thinking — to create better products or stronger messages really excites me.  I’ve always viewed research as the key to solving a complex puzzle of customer needs and a brand’s benefits.

With this perspective, it is probably no surprise that I am often recommending to my clients that they conduct customer research when they are facing marketing challenges or decisions.  Research, when done well, will typically help them find the answers they are seeking.  Most of my clients agree with my recommendation, but budgets or timing tend to get in the way for some clients and prevent the research from taking place.

In those cases, I often help my clients search for the next best source of information and ask, “Well, what do the rest of your employees believe?  What does your employee research tell you?”  And, most of the time, I get a blank stare and a reply something along the lines of “I don’t know.  We’ve never asked them.”

In theory, this response surprises me.  It would seem so easy for organizations to leverage their employees to understand their perspectives on the organization’s brand, products/services, messages, and positioning since the employees work with customers and understand the business.  However, in practice, I can’t say that this is unexpected.  After many years working in marketing for a variety of companies, I don’t think I ever completed or fielded brand market research as an employee.  The fact that conducting employee market research is a rare practice should not imply that it isn’t valid or valuable.  For organizations that are unable to complete customer research to inform their marketing decisions, employee research is the next best option because it can be done very quickly, inexpensively, and it can provide real insights.

Two arguments for not conducting employee market research are:

  1. The employees are biased because they are so close to the business.
  2. The employees may not be honest in the research for fear that their comments will impact their jobs.

However, I believe that the biggest reason why organizations don’t conduct employee research is that they simply do not think of it.  As for the two arguments listed above, they can be address with the following:

  1. While employees do have a unique and perhaps biased perspective, those who deal with customers regularly most likely have a good understand of what customers are thinking and what they need.  This perspective is valuable to understand.
  2. Creating an anonymous or “safe” process to conduct research with employees so that they feel comfortable providing their thoughts does not have to be complex.  Anonymous surveys through online tools such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey or the use of external moderators are simple and budget friendly ways to ensure employees feel enabled to share their true thoughts and feelings.

With all of this in mind, I would even recommend that organizations that do conduct customer market research regularly also consider conducting employee research periodically.  The two pieces of research together will yield very powerful findings that will likely lead to better recommendations and decisions overall than if just one form of research was completed.

Employee research is certainly no perfect substitute for customer market research, but it nevertheless is a very important tool that organizations can easily and should employ to help them make better marketing decisions.  Especially in cases where an organization is deciding between employee research or no research at all, the organization should leverage employee research.  In the absence of customer market research, the cost of not leveraging the employees’ perspective will likely exceed the basic costs of conducting the in-house employee research.


A marketing analysis of LeBron’s decision

July 12, 2010

I feel that I should state up front that this post will be a bit different from the typical posts that I write for this blog.  Most of the time, I try to write posts that give some hints and tips to help marketers improve their brand management and marketing.  This post doesn’t follow this pattern.  Being an Akron, Ohio native, and a devoted Cleveland sports fan, I can’t help but comment on LeBron’s “decision” this week to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers after 7 years and join the Miami Heat.  I know that there have been many analyses, articles, and posts over the last four days regarding LeBron’s decision (and it seems most of these have not been in favor of the decision), but I would like to think that my perspectives on his decision will be a little bit different.  I am not going to analyze if his decision was a good one for his career in terms of his chances of winning a championship, ever being an MVP again, or being considered one of basketball’s greatest stars in the long run.  I know that there are a lot of opinions already published regarding these topics.  Instead, I’d like to offer my opinions on his decision from a marketing perspective, both for the LeBron James “brand” and for his many sponsors.  Given my ties to Cleveland, I’ll admit that my analysis isn’t entirely objective, so feel free to take it with a grain or two of salt.

For the LeBron James brand, I’m afraid that his decision to leave the Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat has significantly destroyed its value. Unfortunately for LeBron, I don’t think that he received much counsel in terms of protecting his personal brand while he was weighing his options (I wish I could have had a chance to talk with him about this!). The backlash against LeBron that has come from all areas of the country (not just Cleveland, Chicago, and New York), with the exception of Miami, has been staggering — and not just among sports fans.  It seems that the general sentiment towards LeBron and his decision is one of disgust.  I believe that there are two issues that have caused this reaction:

  1. People are angered that he didn’t stay loyal to his hometown team and that he chose to embarrass Cleveland so publicly on a special ESPN program.
  2. They are shocked that he did not choose to try to become a legend and win a championship on his own.  Instead, he chose to try to win one with the help of his “buddies” in South Beach.  Because of his choice to join forces with two other great players, his unique talent will no longer be center stage – it will be diluted as he becomes one of three key players on the Heat.

One week ago, LeBron was arguably one of the most loved and respected athletes in the U.S.  Today, he is mocked for his immaturity and despised.  This is such a sudden and dramatic shift in sentiment — and one that I do not think LeBron will be able to ever entirely overcome.  No matter how well he plays in the future, he will never have the brand power that he had before 9pm EST on June 8th, and I believe he significantly curtailed his future sponsorship opportunities as a result of his brand value destruction this past week.  I know that people are arguing that it is good that LeBron didn’t make his decisions based on money, but I wonder if he thought about how much he might be limiting his future earning potential for additional sponsorships, based on his decision to “take his talents to South Beach”.

With respect to LeBron’s existing sponsors like Nike and Coca-Cola (who owns Vitaminwater), I am very curious to know their overall reactions to LeBron’s decision is at this time.  If I were a brand manager for any of LeBron’s existing sponsors at the moment, I would be having emergency meetings with my advertising and PR partners to determine my strategy moving forward.  Given that the general public’s sentiment toward LeBron has completely reversed so quickly, I would be very extremely hesitant to continue or launch any significant campaigns featuring LeBron at this time.  Associating my brand with his devalued brand would not be something I would be focusing on.  I am very interested to see if LeBron is de-emphasized from his current sponsors’ campaigns and if, over time, these existing sponsorship deals are not renewed quietly.  I suppose only time will tell, but I have a hunch that there are a lot of LeBron’s sponsors out there who are not very happy with his decision or with the way he decided to announce it.

So those are my two cents on why LeBron’s decision might not have been the best one from a brand and sponsorship perspective.  Again, I admit that I might not be the most objective person to analyze the situation given my roots — so I’d love to hear your perspectives if you have any.  From a marketing perspective, do you think LeBron’s decision was a good one?