Kickstarter Mythology Needs Some Retail Reality

Kickstarter mythology has outgrown reality.

(But let me be very clear. I’m NOT talking about Kickstarter art, music, and movie projects. It was designed for these and they seem to be running pretty well overall.)

I’m talking about Kickstarter campaigns that raise money by Directly Selling new Products that have never been built – and taking orders for lots of them. In the computer business we used to call this selling vaporware and investing in businesses dedicated to vaporware led to the dotcom crash. Segway and Google Glass were both massive vaporware disasters.

Now, by selling vaporware with Kickstarter, we’re seeing amazing train wrecks among the most highly successful money raising campaigns. These train wrecks are all made possible by the mythologies that drive Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites. (Incidentally, a comment below points out this is a far more dramatic version of the direct mail practice of “dry testing”. There is already FTC guidance on dry testing.)

The Mythology of Kickstarter for Inventors. Inventor mythology starts with a belief that it’s enough to come up with a good idea and some money to build it. And Kickstarter appears to “unshackle” inventors so this can happen.
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Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.
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Lets Hold the Panic About Retail Showrooming – It’s Driven by Research Errors

I discovered an excellent blog post (link here) this week about marketers being mis-led by major research mistakes. One of his main examples? How “showrooming” fears have been blown out of proportion..

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The Good and Bad of Steve Jobs’ Market Research Legacy

Have you heard the “Jobs Excuse”? When someone introduces a bad idea with “well Steve Jobs says” or “…just like Apple…”. It’s an old name dropping game that hopes to make even horrid ideas sound good.

In the world of market research, we hear it most often through one popular quote from Mr. Jobs:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (BusinessWeek, May 1998)

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Why I Don’t Use Dial Testing (Perception Analyzers) to Research Infomercials

I’ve spent nearly 20 years improving infomercial sales based on audience testing our shows in research. To do this, we don’t use dial groups. That surprises many of my colleagues so I’m regularly asked “why”. Read more of this post

Mediocrity: The Biggest Danger to Advertising Research

A recent AdAge article quotes Bernbach as saying “The more you research, the more you play it safe, and the more you waste money. Research inevitably leads to conformity.” (Link here.)

It’s sad that the creative community all too often comes to this conclusion – only to use the idea of non-conformity to justify all types of advertising sins.

Yet I understand what might lead Bernbach to take this position: too much research is born in mediocrity. Truth is that a great deal of advertising research is a bureaucratic ploy – designed to deliver bureaucratically controllable success.

This research becomes no longer about finding the keys to exceptional success. It’s cautionary research to help people keep their jobs and help executives develop “plausible deniability” for failures.

This research is no longer about weeding out bad ideas in order to put money to more productive use. It’s about killing ideas that might threaten the status quo. Or it’s about killing any fresh new understanding that might challenge the organization’s carefully crafted (but inadequate) theory about the consumer. (It’s my experience that every organization can discover new insight about consumers with exceptional research.)

Bureaucratic research is born in mediocrity & hides behind statistics. What’s most destructive about this research is it looks just fine and has all the bells & whistles. Beautiful reports are generated from (expensive) blue chip research firms. Statistical analysis claims to show exact margins of error and large staffs execute a bureaucratically perfect job.

But while statistical margins of error are extraordinarily important they mean very little. Hugely more important than margins of error is whether the survey participant answered the question we thought we asked. Because if they answered the wrong question, the research is 100% wrong – even if it claims a +/-3% margin of error.

This type of research may be needed within a corporation. But it leads to…nothing productive. It doesn’t find unexpected profitability. And it kills many good ideas just to find a few bad ones (that were probably already obviously bad). And it leads companies to eventually fail because it allows companies to stay within their safe zone.

YET, Creative Teams Err When They Echo Bernbach’s Quote. I seriously doubt if this quote reflects the depth of Bernbach’s true opinion – he’s much too savvy to have minimized research across the board. Still, I have heard exactly this thought parroted by creative teams across the world.

Partly, some creatives suffer a kind of research trauma – having heard consumers questioned closely about things like the colors in the ad. (First rule of good research: Consumers are NOT creatives. Don’t ask them to critique creative choices.)

But that’s no justification to avoid research. I find that most often creative teams don’t really want to learn – they might find their work isn’t influencing consumers the way they thought it was.

Exceptional research is quite threatening and challenging – it reveals the unexpected. Embrace that truth and we find amazing power. But, its much more common for creative teams to circle up in the safety of non-conformity and write off all research.

Exceptional research is about learning. Research cannot, and will never, deliver the laser-like accuracy that too many executives hope for. But that doesn’t mean it’s a “failure”. Rather, research is about learning. Because if any creative team tells you they know all the answers you should fire them on the spot.

Let me try an analogy for research from my reading of history in the American west.

Suppose it’s 1850 and you’re in Oregon wanting to go to Sacramento. There are no roads and there aren’t even established trails.

The successful strategy is to do research. Read everything you can on the territory and search out all the maps. Then talk to anybody who’s been over even part of the territory – guides, pioneers, Native Americans, and farmers. And then, build a strategy – a plan – based on everything you’ve learned – complete with alternative courses in case the plan has flaws. Then continue to re-investigate your plan as you proceed. And be brave, but savvy.

Unfortunately, agencies too often just pick up a compass and head south only to starve in the wilderness, be killed by outlaws or be killed after encroaching on Native American lands.

And the most safety seeking corporations would prefer to sit and wait for 130 years hoping someone develops a camera to get a satellite image of the territory.

Marketing success takes the courage to look the truth in the eyes. Over the course of my career I’ve become more and more convinced that marketing courage is critical to success. But as any soldier will tell you, the courageous train and prepare themselves for action. And when the time comes, they act with little concern for their safety – because that’s what it takes to achieve their goal.

Unfortunately, I find the creative call to “non-conformity” is all too often the call to safety. What takes far more courage is sitting still and listening to consumers so you communicate with them in ways that get their attention better and lead to more action.

Do you use research courageously? If not, you’re leaving tremendous profit for your clients untapped.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

Want Consumers To Pay Attention To Your Ads? Make Them Meaningful.

A few weeks ago I ran across this article titled “Four Reasons Why We Choose to Watch Ads”. Seemed like a smart read because I always love to see simple lists about advertising. Read more of this post