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The art of playing with words

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Somewhere in the air above the English channel

I’ve just sat down, fastened my seatbelt, took my Kindle out of my bag, kicked the bag graciously under the seat in front of me and got ready for the flight. I looked lovingly at my Kindle and got excited about an hour of blissful reading in peace. Oh yes, I do love a good read! Not to mention the luxury of being able to do that in the morning! I just love a good story and can get totally lost in it. I also love how good writers are able to play with language and flirt with words in unforgettable ways.

At some point last year I was reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters and I still remember one delightful sentence at the very beginning of the book:

“… Vergogna meant shame, and was a remnant from the founding of the village in the seventeenth century as a place for sailors and fishers to find women of… a certain moral and commercial flexibility.”

A certain moral and commercial flexibility? Can you think of a more elegant and positive way to describe the oldest profession in the world? Pure genius! And isn’t it amazing how that one specific description just stuck with me and I can remember it until now?

That proves how powerful the written words can be. How easily they can seduce us, play with our emotions or stay with us for a long time, if used in a clever way. It also shows how we can talk in a compelling way about matters that are not always pleasant or easy to talk about.

One of our main areas of expertise at boutiK is communication development. In practice it means writing and testing communication concepts to help our clients find the most compelling way to talk about their products. As qualitative researchers with so many years (uhm!) of experience we have written and tested hundreds of them. And we have that unique instinct that tells us straight away what doesn’t work and the skills that allow us to make it better. We are often asked to ‘smoothen’ the concepts and play with their language before we show them to consumers.
And yes, we do love playing with words! We are certainly not morally flexible, but our pens definitely are!

Author: Kasia Gandhi

The more expensive the fur, the better it is

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Moscow Domodedovo airport, Departure Lounge….

The notion that good quality comes at a higher price is deeply entrenched in the Russian mind. The bargain coat may not seem such a bargain any more if it leaves you with frostbite. It is the more expensive one that’s going to keep you snug and warm through decades of harsh Russian winters.

Having enjoyed observing Russian consumers in action and listening to their lively discussions for the last couple of days, I’m – once again – fascinated by the uniqueness and richness of the Russian culture and more than ever convinced of the risks of translating “emerging market” into “market for lower cost products”.

Of course, Russian consumers want good value for money (don’t we all?). And of course, despite a strong and growing middle class, the buying power of many consumers is still limited, at least by Western standards. But, they certainly do not want cheap products. In fact, a low price immediately raises fears: Fears about quality and that paying little up-front means pay-back time later on.

Past experiences of queuing for poorly finished, undeserving products has – if anything – only reinforced the desire for good quality that lasts. Fortunately for Western brands, this is what they still are generally associated with.

Brands lucky enough to have earned Russian consumers’ trust should be watchful not to jeopardise this perception with specifically designed lower-end versions of their original products. At least not if lower-end means – or can be understood to mean – lower quality and less durability.

Instead, attractive offers as well as new product ideas that deliver affordable value – i.e. quality that lasts – play much more nicely to Russian desires.

Still, I didn’t buy a fur (as tempting as it may have been in the icy Moscovite winds even though it’s only just October). To me, no fur is a good one, not even an expensive one.

Author: Karin Heath

“Goo are wey”, or the power of the written word

370 240 mattd

Southwest Trains, en route to London Waterloo…

After giving my 5-year old daughter a big row and her storming into her room, I came upstairs to find a note on her door. “Goo are wey” it read (which translates into “Go Away”).

A clear message, despite the admittedly poor spelling.

This made me think of a common concern of clients when we suggest online chat-based focus groups as a research method: “But isn’t it unnatural for research participants to respond via written chat rather than answering verbally, live or via webcam?”

The truth is, it’s not. Definitely not for the more professional or B2B audiences. For many of us, writing is the first choice of communication. We are much more likely to email, chat, text, post or tweet than to pick up the phone or meet face-to-face. You may not like it but that’s how it is.

So, participating in a focus group via chat is not a big change from how we spend most of our working days (and a big chunk of our leisure time too).

And there are other advantages too. When we post a question in an online chat, all participants answer at the same time before reacting to each other’s responses. So the chance of one individual leading or influencing the group is much lower. Recruitment is easier since no travel or technical set-up is needed – and it makes it possible to speak to hard-to-recruit or geographically disperse audiences in a group setting. Clients can observe from anywhere in the world. Plus we get a full transcript of the session instantly at no extra cost.

Of course, online chat based groups are not always the best solution. As with everything, it’s horses for courses. But, we’ve had great success in using them for a variety of projects and audiences and I dare say our clients agree – including those who were initially hesitant about chatting rather than talking to customers.

As for my daughter’s message – although it was clear (to me), it didn’t quite have the desired effect. It made me smile and we made up straight away. But then, perhaps, this is what she really wanted anyway.

Author: Karin Heath

Bon appétit

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Having spent the last week in Poland with my family, eating ceaselessly (trust me, it’s physically impossible to stop when you’re here), I got thinking about food and how it defines different cultures. Cuisine is one of the most crucial elements of cultural identity. Every nation has different eating habits and unique attitudes to cooking and eating.

Poland is all about taste and enjoyment. I constantly tell my parents off for using too much salt and fat in their cooking. My mum refuses to use semi-skimmed milk in her coffee and neither will she skip the butter before spreading a generous slick of cream cheese on her bread. Then there’s the ocean of oil when she fries her finger-licking pancakes. “So what that it’s not healthy? ” is her typical response to my nagging. “If it doesn’t taste good, what’s the point of eating it?” I don’t bother arguing.

So yes, it’s all about taste in Poland – well, at least for my parents’ generation. And as much as I disagree with that in principle, I absolutely love my mum’s cooking. It’s DE-LI-CIOUS. End of!

This love of richness and flavour and disregard for health and calories reminds me very much of France. We conducted a few studies earlier this year across various European markets where we tested new product ideas and worked on communication development for a variety of innovative new kitchen appliances. To help our client get the context right for their marketing, it was crucial to understand consumers’ attitudes to food and cooking. Looking at the French and their enviable figures, I expected to hear a lot about eating well and healthily. But boy, was I mistaken! All the concepts built on healthy eating and preservation of nutrients tested brilliantly in Germany. In contrast, they were polarising in France and often got rejected altogether. Seeing the French consumers throw their arms in the air and pour scorn on the ‘healthy’ ideas was just like seeing my mum when I tell her off. “Who are they to tell us what’s healthy and what’s not?,” they said. “It’s patronising.” Or: “Food is about delicious flavours and the enjoyment of eating and not about counting calories. Let me decide what’s healthy for me and my family!”

But what does this say about the Polish and French from a cultural standpoint? Does the fact our taste buds so often take over suggest we’re more hedonistic and impulsive than the Germans? Possibly…
No wonder the French say ‘Bon appétit!’ before they start eating. The Polish equivalent ‘smacznego’, translates as ‘have a tasty meal’, even more directly focused on taste. So perhaps mum might be right after all: “Why would you want to eat it if it doesn’t taste good?”


Author: Kasia Gandhi

The apprentice

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July 2013 – On my sofa, Hampton (UK), watching…

OK, I admit it, I’ve done it again…I’ve watched the whole series, every single episode. Cringey as always and no need to get too serious about it. But, I can’t help thinking that someone needs to tell those wanna-be apprentices about market research.

I don’t know how many times they’ve said “but the market research tells us…”, and then still lost the task. Why? Because (a) talking to a random bunch of consumers, asking them leading questions, isn’t research. Simple as that. And because (b) what the consumer tells us is not what the research tells us.

Market research is not about blindly following consumer advice. It’s about listening to what consumers are saying, with an open mind. It’s about understanding why they are saying it, in the context of their underlying needs and expectations. Finally, it’s about analysing what they’ve said to spot opportunities and identify the barriers.
So, when Lord Sugar’s hopeful apprentices say “but the market research tells us…”, what they really are saying is “but what we heard consumers saying is…”. That’s why it isn’t working.

A common criticism of market research is its failure in spotting trends and inability to aid the development of ground-breaking products. This perception isn’t helped by the way market research is portrayed in The Apprentice.
In those episodes of the show where candidates failed the task because they were “following the research too closely”, the solution is not – as suggested by Lord Sugar – to ignore the research and follow their own gut feel.  Instead, the solution would have been to design and use research to understand consumers’ real desires and develop a product that meets these needs. So it’s not the research’s fault, it’s the fault of those who conduct it (in a bad way).

If ever the apprentice candidates would like to have a crash course in market research, boutiK would be happy to help. But then, they might not fail their tasks quite so dramatically and wouldn’t that be a lot less fun. So let’s keep watching them fail and the next time one of them mentions “market research”, I – for once – will try my best NOT to listen.

Author: Karin Heath

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