Research That Makes You Go Huh, Volume 2

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Brandweek reported on a new survey of “leading marketing executives”, members of a group call MENG (Marketing Executive Networking Group). The study produced some findings that have at least a couple of us going “Huh?” Some of the more confounding points relate to:

1) Marketers’ target markets. According to the article, “88% of respondents said the baby boomer audience is still the most sought-after demographic. But other target groups ranked almost as high. Gen Xers tied Hispanics for second (86%), followed by women (85%) and Gen Yers (84%).”

Huh? Who’s left? Senior citizen Asian and African-American men? (It turns out Asians were the sixth most frequently mentioned group, followed closely by Gen Z and Urban — two groups I’ve never heard of). With the margin of error, there’s fundamentally no difference between the top five categories. Which means marketers are targeting…everybody. What a surprise.

2) Gen X and Gen Y.
The managing partner of the firm that conducted the study said “t
he upcoming a pretty spoiled generation in terms of getting it all…” The article goes on to say that marketers are also eyeing Gen Xers, and, again, quotes the partner, this time saying “this audience is savvy in getting what they want.”

Huh? Gen X and Yers are spoiled? How did he come to that conclusion? Perhaps his firm has done research that bears this out, but it wasn’t cited. But come to think of it, it’s really not that controversial a statement. Many of the Gen X and Yers that I know (and read this blog) think that boomers are pretty spoiled, too. Which, I guess, makes 80% of the US population spoiled. Glad we got that settled.

3) Green marketing. The study found that 32% of marketers think that “green” marketing is an important issue. When asked which “guru” they recognized, “time and again Al Gore’s name came up” according to the research firm partner.

Huh? You’ve got to be kidding me. Al Gore, a green marketing guru? Oh wait, I guess he has done a great job of marketing — his movie.

According to MENG’s chairman, “this is the first of a series of studies by MENG which will make a major contribution to the growing effectiveness of marketing.”

A “major” contribution? Huh?

Jim Novo has a term for this kind of study: Research for Press Release. Research that is designed to do nothing but generate press for the sponsoring firm. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing this. But if you’re going to do a study like this, then, at the least, follow these rules:

Rule #1: Tell us something we don’t already know. For instance, in the MENG study, it would have been a lot more interesting to know how marketers’ target markets are changing and not just which segments are most popular. Why not ask “which demographic segment(s) will you spend less on in 2008?” or “which segments do you find the hardest to reach and convert?”. And then follow up with relevant questions that drill down into the issue.

Rule #2: Make it relevant to your business.
A study like this one does nothing more than generate a day or two of press for the sponsoring firm (who I refuse to name here). In this case, what does this study have to do with the services the firm offers? As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing.

Rule #3: Develop a long-term plan for your RPR. The sponsoring firm in the example above may already be thinking about replicating the study next year. But with so many surveys already addressing “marketing trends”, the likelihood that it will become associated with the premier study on marketing trends is pretty slim. Better to ask a set of specific questions — say, about planned investments in analytical techniques — and become the leading survey on that topic.

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