As a researcher, it’s a little dispiriting to hear the constant refrain that Steve Jobs achieved his remarkable string of successes without any market research. And it’s positively frightening to think that thousands of less-talented entrepreneurs will blindly follow Jobs’ example of working without a net, only to come crashing down to earth.
But it is worth setting the record straight. Apple has used market research, though perhaps not in the traditional sense of the word (much to their credit). As recently as May of this year, they launched the Apple Customer Pulse panel among consumers who own Apple products. And while they may not have used outside researchers to help them develop new products, they appear to have had a rigourous design process built around the needs of the consumer. In Jobs’ own words, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want… we figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it [emphasis mine].” And then there were those iPhone prototypes that Apple employees carelessly left at bars – presumably artifacts from internal product testing. All of this counts as market research, if only by another name and outside the box that market researchers typically use to confine their craft.
More accurately, Job’s legacy is that most traditional market research is useless when it comes to designing new products—after all, consumers can only comment on those things for which they have a frame of reference. But it’s also true that research that digs beneath the surface of what consumers say, and focuses on understanding their needs and motivations can inspire the development of innovative and successful products. Maybe Jobs and Apple could have used more of that kind of research when they designed some of their less successful offerings… like Ping and Apple TV.
This is one of my favourite new quotes. It’s from Ira Glass of public radio’s “This American Life” in a recent public forum. Though I’m sure a few folks who own broadcast licenses would disagree, there’s an essential truth and an implicit hope here for the rest of us who are attached to the radio business one way or another.
Radio as we know it is changing in a way that we may not even recognize it a few years from now. Radio that emanates from the broadcast tower may even fade away—though I personally suspect it will be around longer than some pundits predict. But, even if those towers do go down, something similar will inevitably rise up from the ashes.
I’m convinced that listener research can play a big role in understanding these changes and identifying new opportunities. But it will take a vastly different approach than most of the radio research that’s done today.
The questions are no longer “what station do you think of first for [insert attribute here]” but more like “given all the other media alternatives available today, what is it about [insert type of radio here – AM/FM radio, Pandora, podcasts etc.] that gives it its value to you.”
How, and to whom, you ask the questions also has to change. You can’t expect to get the insights from the dinner-hour interruption of a random landline telephone call that you can get out of a two-way conversation with an engaged consumer. And that conversation could take place where the consumer listens to whatever they listen to, in an online/mobile community of which they are a member, or any other mutually agreed upon setting.
The key is staying open to all the possibilities, with the resolve to be on the side of the survivors, wherever that might lead you.
IDC estimates that mankind will create 1.8 zettabytes of data in 2011. That’s 1.8 trillion gigabytes, some 9 times greater than the amount of data we generated as recently as 5 years ago.
The sheer volume of data, and the race to harness its value, has potential to be a game-changer for all sorts of industries. And that includes radio. We now have more decision-making information at our disposal than ever—PPM, cost effective online survey options, chatter on social networks, and transactional data from radio’s digital extensions (not just the station website or Facebook page, but also apps and complementary web services to broadcast such as Radio DNS).
The whole notion of “Big Data” holds huge promise, but also raises big questions. How can we keep up—capturing and storing all that data? How do we take data from different sources and combine them into a coherent whole? How do we filter, process and communicate the data to provide timely, relevant information for decision-makers? And maybe the biggest question of all—is radio willing and able to face these challenges? Other sectors, including the digital media, are already well down that road.
There’s a web page on each station site where their morning news anchor asks listeners to respond to a handful of questions to get their input on the station. Interestingly, the questions are presented in a poll format where you can “vote” and view results to date. (Sidenote: despite what appears to be a female-based format, at I write this, 79.2% of those responding to the FM News 101.9 poll were men.)
I suspect that the main purpose of this “research” is marketing. Both web pages boldly announce that “We’re building FM News 101.1/101.9 just for YOU!” And, with all the brains and resources behind these launches, you would think they could do a bit better job if research was their job one. (And maybe they are, somewhere behind the curtain.)
The idea is intriguing. New stations like these that venture into uncharted terrain could clearly benefit from listener feedback to help them refine their programming. There a number of ways they could do this: online bulletin boards conducted over a period of several days, a larger panel selected from the target to give a quantitative assessment, etc. With all the “Format Finder” studies that have conducted over the past 30 years or so, how come you don’t hear much about “Format Fixer” studies before or immediately after a station launches?