Use Research, Make Smart Decisions

Trying to figure out why your customers are unhappy? Try talking to them directly.

Trying to figure out why your customers are unhappy? Try talking to them directly.

Quality research can reveal problem areas in your operations, as well as provide clues on how to fix them. Research also can point out what your customers like about your operation.

Seeing the good, the bad and the blah becomes an invaluable decision-making tool. You know what needs improvement, what is going well and what is just sort of meh. You have a basis to make smart decisions with confidence.

Customer satisfaction research or authentic engagement with a web-based panel of your customers can yield insights that might reinforce what you already know or totally surprise you. Either way, you aren't operating in the dark. Your customers shine the light.

Organizations can convince themselves of a problem area, but without solid data, they are simply guessing. Blame lagging sales on your sales reps, only to discover your customers love the sales reps, but don't like erratic delivery of your products. Instead of shaping up the sales force, you should be taking a hard look at your fulfillment department.

In a marketplace full of choices, it is smart business to know what your customers think of your business. For all the nest efforts to brand yourself, in the end customers determine your brand, so it's better to find out from them sooner than later.

Many leaders resist research because somewhere deep down they don't want to know what's wrong. If they don't know, they don't have to undertake the hard work to fix it, which can mean anything from personnel moves to culture change. But it is getting increasingly tricky to skate by problems, which can be an iPhone image away from going viral.

This kind of research comports nicely with the emerging trend of customer relationship management. It is hard to have a relationship if you never talk to your customer. Asking questions, in formal research or informal contacts, can be an excellent way to build those relationships.

You wouldn't make a financial decision without looking at business numbers, so why make decisions about your operation without checking in with your customers? At times, checking in with customers can be a humbling experience. But better a little humiliation than a disastrous decision.

Make smart decisions by soliciting and acting on advice from your customers, who in many ways are the business partner in your enterprise that really counts.

Trump's Appeal as Honest Asshole

Why do people like Donald Trump? The answers might surprise you.

Why do people like Donald Trump? The answers might surprise you.

Few would argue that Donald Trump came out on top of the first GOP presidential debate last week or in interviews afterward, but post-debate polls show his popularity continues to rise. Why are people favoring a candidate who comes across so disagreeably? searched Reddit for posts that offer some glimmer of an explanation or, more accurately, a picture of why. Trump's brash, politically incorrect comments about his opponents, war heroes, women and news people constitute a one-finger salute to the status quo.

Some people expressing support for Trump on Reddit say they like him because he is honest. He says what he thinks, without much of a filter. "He's an asshole, but at least he's honest," wrote one Trump sympathizer. This accounts for the correlation between Trump insults and his rising poll numbers. 

Another contingent of Trump supporters appreciates that he "can't be bought." One especially colorful comment suggested that Trump's ruthlessness and financial independence is what is needed to shape up Washington where money buys influence and corrupts. This perhaps explains why Trump mentions his personal wealth so often.

A third group likes Trump because he pencils out as a bad President, which America "deserves." As one person put it:

"I'm seriously thinking about voting for Trump, and here is why. I firmly believe that our system of government is deeply flawed, if not completely broken. Yet we still keep voting for the same type of people. If Trump wins, there's a good chance the whole thing will collapse from his absurdity. Then maybe we could start over and build something better that works. A vote for Trump is a vote for full system breakdown, which I believe is exactly what we need."

Or: "He's not the President we need, he's the President we deserve. I'm older than most of you. I remember when politicians worked together sometimes for the greater good. Now, with MSDMC and Faux News controlling the conversation, this country is so divided, nothing gets done. The whole system is what it wasn't supposed to become. The only way to fix it is if the entire system emplodes so we can start over. That's what Trump would do."

There may be more than madness to Trump's often apocalyptic analyses. He has messianic intentions to become the country's Great Destroyer.

Taken together, these reasons to vote for Trump begin to take shape as something other than the rants of raving lunatics or disgruntled political trolls. They form a sort of deformed logic – our government has become so inept that we need and deserve a champion who will blow it to smithereens.

When combined with surging crowds at rallies for Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders who calls income inequality the nation's number one issue, the pro-Trump movement shouts that many Americans of all political stripes are fed up and want a different brand of change.

Of course, the heat of summer gives way to cooler times when voters begin to pay closer attention and actually make up their minds. For now, the presidential candidates not named Trump or Sanders might do well to revise their campaign talking points to touch me of those frayed voter nerves.

Political Polling Mostly for Fun

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took aim at early polling this week after one poll showed his support in the Republican presidential nomination sweepstakes at a minuscule 4 percent. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took aim at early polling this week after one poll showed his support in the Republican presidential nomination sweepstakes at a minuscule 4 percent. 

Even though Fox News will rely on political polls to decide which GOP presidential candidates are invited onto the big-stage debate next week, polls right now don't mean very much.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took aim at early polling this week after one poll showed his support in the Republican presidential nomination sweepstakes at a minuscule 4 percent. He said the poll showed only 14 percent of GOP voters were undecided. "I think it is more likely that 14 percent are decided," he said.

While early polling is mostly useful as a private guide for political contributors, this year's polling has burst into headlines because of the crowded candidate field and more recently the surprising emergence of Donald Trump as the frontrunner.

Trump's brashness has been credited for his sudden rise in the polls, which has inspired – or reduced – other candidates into similar incendiary campaign antics, such as Mike Huckabee comparing the Iran nuclear deal to the Holocaust or Rand Paul torching the federal tax code.

The criteria for the first GOP presidential debate also has underscored political polling, especially the collective underperformance of most of the should-be-frontrunner candidates and the tight grouping of second-level candidates.

If the political polls tell any story, it may be that shouting louder is the winning strategy for gaining media coverage and pushing up poll numbers. But the story can be hugely incomplete. Trump, for example, may look good now, but will his tactics become tiresome and result in higher negative ratings? Will someone further back in the pack strike a nerve, whether on the debate stage or not? Will the muddle of a primary prompt GOP leaders to urge Mitt Romney to enter the race as the Republican white knight?

Political polls for the moment are mostly good for summer-time conversation on the back deck. The results will soon fade as the leaves turn colors and the snow starts falling. Enjoy the fun while it lasts.

Rats, Research and Repetition

Rats can teach humans something about communications. Rats, like humans, are wary of anything new, so the best communications should be on familiar turf.

Rats can teach humans something about communications. Rats, like humans, are wary of anything new, so the best communications should be on familiar turf.

Rats are an invaluable research tool. We usually think of them as stand-ins for humans on early clinical trials for new drugs or procedures. But maybe rates also can gives us clues on communications.

At least Clark Hays, an author and recovering cowboy, thinks so.

In a LinkedIn blog post, Hays says rats are extremely nervous about anything new, which they fear could be dangerous or fatal. "They restlessly, obsessively patrol their environment in search of new things, then studiously avoid those things until they are sure they aren’t dangerous or toxic (lessons learned, probably from living alongside trap- and poison-happy humans)."

People, Hays adds, have a similar reaction to new things. That's why, he suggests, familiar communications channels – newsletters, emails and meetings – have a residual value. People know what to expect.

Hays made his observations in regard to internal communications. That could just as easily apply to external communications. He talks of culture and consistency as guideposts for communications. Audiences are more likely to listen in customary places and absorb information that falls within the frame of their culture.

Too often, Hays writes, communicators are tasked with changing cultures. What they are really asking, he says, is to change how culture is discussed. "Truly changing a culture requires identifying and eliminating or minimizing negative traits and rewarding and amplifying positive traits, and closing the gap between words and actions." Treading on familiar ground can be a safer platform to explore a new frontier.

Hays says humans can take a lesson from "ratricide," where one rat or a group of rats is shunned by the larger group. "Rats, like humans, are highly social creatures and social exclusion can prove, quite literally, fatal for rats. Even with no obvious physical injuries, some rats shunned by their peers seem to simply lose the will to live and soon waste away."

"Communications are how humans stay connected – sharing words, thoughts, stories, dreams, fears and more," Hays observes. "Without those connections, we suffer."

"Professionally, that holds true within organizations, where lack of considerate, consistent and creative communications can rightly be considered a form of social exclusion," Hays says. "While not fatal, poor communications can lead to apathy and disengagement that undermine efforts to create a vibrant community, linked to a healthy culture and focused on achieving desired results. And that is fatal for an organization."

Business Use of Digital Media Skyrockets

Businesses are using video confrencing tools more than ever before. 

Businesses are using video confrencing tools more than ever before. 

Business use of digital media has skyrocketed during the past eight years for tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and video. While e-newsletters were the most popular form of digital media in 2007, it is not among the top four in 2015.  

These are some of the key findings from an Input survey among 318 decision-makers in Oregon and SW Washington conducted by CFM on behalf of Oregon Business. 

The survey found the most popular digital communication tools used for business and professional purposes were business social networking sites, such as LinkedIn (64%), texting (61%) and social networking sites (58%). A majority of decision-makers also use live video, such as Skype or GoToMeeting (55%) and e-newsletters (53%).  

Use of some tools has grown dramatically. The share of people using business social networking and texting has more than doubled since 2007, while use of consumer social media sites has increased six-fold. On the other hand, use of e-newsletters has increased just 10 points since 2007 and blogging remains one of the less frequently used tools. 

Increased business use of digital media is not surprising. Based on a variety of CFM research efforts for private and public clients, CFM has found customers and business colleagues are using online communication and engagement tools to get information and connect with friends and business associates. Essentially, businesses have learned to go where the people are. 

CFM predicts use of video will continue to grow during the next few years because mobile media use is increasing rapidly, recording videos and posting to social media and websites is easy, and people are sharing videos with colleagues and friends.  

The online Input survey was conducted in March 2015.

Insight and Research: Compatible Companions

Both Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were innovators, as well as marketing icons. 

Both Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were innovators, as well as marketing icons. 

Henry Ford said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Ford's glib comment misses the marketing principle that drove his innovation – if he could make a cheap car, more people could afford to buy one.

Insight and market research exist side by side. Both are valuable. And to a greater extent that some realize, they are interdependent.

Steve Jobs is a more contemporary advocate of intuition. Like Ford, Jobs innovated in service of a basic marketing goal – if computers could be made simpler, more people would be willing to buy one.

Ford and Jobs are actually marketing icons, not non-believers. Both saw possibilities beyond what existed. They assembled technologies and talents to achieve a goal – a breakthrough product that demanded attention, fueled  a desire and then fulfilled it.  Marketeers Al Ries and Jack Trout would say Ford and Jobs followed the "immutable laws of marketing," not broke them.

Ford and Jobs were skilled at marketing how their products could change people's lives. A functional, affordable car translated increased personal mobility and freedom. A computer that didn't take a degree in rocket science to operate opened the door to unimagined creative opportunities. Making and buying cars for average Americans became a symbol for emerging middle class status. User-friendly computers enabled grandparents to talk face to face to their grandchildren dozens of zip codes away.

Too often, market research is reduced to gobs of data and sterile analytics. Good market research is much more than that. It reveals what people think, how they describe what they want and why they buy certain products and not others. Good market research is about people, not numbers.

A focus group of children playing with new toys demonstrates how insight and observable behavior can be viewed and assessed. Toy designers must have insight into what will appeal to childish eyes and observers at a focus group with multiple children and multiple toys can see which ones have the most appeal.

Market research can show that some creative ideas just don't work. That's not failure; that's avoiding an expensive mistake on a new product or advertising campaign.

Don't be lulled into the insight versus research debate. It's not a debate; it's a specious argument. Insight can be good. And it can be great if tested and tweaked.