Feedback. Not what it’s cracked up to be

In this guest post, Peter Miller warns of the dangers of listening to consumer feedback.

I’m not sure whether or not it’s fashionable to undertake 360 degree reviews any more but here at Adstream we persist. I have long been of the view that it’s the only feedback I can trust, though not the only feedback I can use.

Anything I find unthinkable and insulting I dismiss as a statistical error or vileness, thus rising above it. Any finding that rewards I consider commonsense and a credit to my hiring skills.

I dismiss the poor scores from my direct reports on the basis that they are paid a lot and don’t deserve happiness as well. It helps if you can consistently wander around in a blind haze of self deception.

Speaking of which, I want to acknowledge the Communications Council for putting on Circus – The festival of commercial creativity. Being a cheapskate I paid for a colleague and I to attend the keynote day only. It was terrific value as we enjoyed a terrific day of random creative ideas, experiences, insights and opinion.

The end of each presentation was given over to questions.

Almost without exception not a single question rose from the 800 newly illuminated, which I thought odd until I realised I was one of the silent absolute majority.

Jeff Julian of Hollywood fame was an exception. He was peppered with questions about the movies and movie stars which had nought to do with anything.

I wondered at this and concluded everyone must have been busting to go to the dunny, evidenced by the surge in that general direction. In my case I was still figuring out what they meant four hours later. In the case of Faris Yakob this ran for days and I still have the same question: What was that again?

Nick Law was as usual, beguilingly brilliant. From what I can tell every marketing challenge can be answered by some weird off topic scientific invention. In the case of Nike, hundreds of thousands of keen runners now find themselves with an electronic bracelet they can’t get off. Nike now knows when their runners are buggered even if the owner doesn’t.

My out take is that consumer marketing is now completely addicted to consumer feedback which used to be called consumer insight which used to be called market research.

Now we all know that customer feedback is so crucial. But what feedback can you rely on? So many advertising campaigns start with powerful offline creative executions are designed to create a rolling maul in the Twittersphere.

Yet it occurs to me that the involvement of consumers in these kinds of campaigns is not random and can’t be considered statistically reliable.

In some ways it is a bit like talk back radio. If an opinionated reactionary bangs on constantly about terrible the blight of boat people despoiling our northern beaches, guess who gets involved? Basically, Tradies with bad haircuts and very limited horizons jam the lines in agreement.

You wind up with a volume of extreme opinionation from the admittedly highly involved and a jock who assumes everyone agrees with him.

In marketing, we need to carry the majority, not only the feverishly engaged.

If we base our nightly media and marketing decisions based only on what the highly involved and engaged are saying and doing across the social media networks, we run the risk of missing what the silent majority is thinking.

There are some old fashioned remedies to this, and they don’t all involve social media. They involve reliable qualitative and statistically robust quantitative research.

And they also involve potent consumer campaigns that drive consumers to simple conclusions like I gotta get me one of them!

Peter Miller is MD of Adstream Australia


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