Insights, market research and crystal balls

I started my work life as a consumer market researcher and I’ve been a provider and user of consumer insight information throughout my career. So let me share some thoughts with you.

First and foremost, market and insight research – focus groups or surveys – are descriptive tools, not a predictive ones. A few great examples of the failure to predict: Absolut failed in focus group research; a new product named Green Sleeves was predicted to be a huge success…ever hear of it; research on flavored tequilas suggested a huge potential.

So if you want to describe what people are doing and gain insight into current behavior, use market research. To predict future consumer behavior, get a crystal ball.

The reason? It doesn’t cost research respondents anything to say what they think you want to hear. So, in my opinion, what they tell you about how they will act, will behave or will buy is similarly worthless.

Even in the descriptive arena, to paraphrase the old adage, “market research is like a lamppost, some people lean on it and some are illuminated by it.” That’s where the insights come in.

Final thought – focus groups among consumers. Save your money. See the next posting.

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Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves

The Bronfman family changed the face of the booze business in America. Old Mr. Sam, regardless of what he did or did not do during prohibition, was smart enough when it ended to hold off shipping goods until they aged, had great taste and would command a premium price.

In his grandson’s office – that would be Edgar Bronfman Jr. – there was a photo of Mr. Sam with the caption, “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” That was his way of saying from nothing to nothing. In a biography on A&E, Edgar Jr. looked into the camera and earnestly said, “not on my watch.”

Not long after, at the turn of the century, the “genius,” as he was referred to, sold the birthright for a song.

No worries…the family holdings must have gone from $8 Billion to $3 Billion, I suppose. But, still a boatload of money.

Not quite shirtsleeves but prophetic nonetheless.

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Here Comes Whiskey

Once upon a time when the folks from Mad Men ruled the earth, it was all about whiskey – Scotch, Rye, Bourbon, and Blends. Oh sure, there was the multiple martini lunch (Gin not Vodka) but for the most part it was the “brown goods” that ruled the home bar.

By the late 60’s, Vodka started its ascendency and today it is the single largest category of spirits. And, it’s rise practically wiped whiskey off the map. The so-called brown stuff became “my father’s drink” and a new generation of drinkers jumped on the “white goods” bandwagon.

But guess what? There’s a newer generation of drinkers for whom Whiskey can be a real alternative to Vodka. Spurred on by the emerging sub-category of flavored whiskey (Red Stag by Jim Beam, Wild Turkey American Honey, others) I think Whiskeys will continue to grow and at a faster rate.

Bourbon is the engine of growth but you can expect good old Rye to fuel the category. Who knows – Blended Whiskey may make a comeback.

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