Can The iPhone Kill CPG Copy Testing?

13 10 2008

Last week I spent three days in a dark room in Philly at one-on-ones. 

They were OK, but still: is this any way to learn how consumers will really act? Or is there a marketing variant of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that somehow renders all of our learning uncertain?

Maybe CPG marketers should borrow an idea from the researchers at IBM’s Almaden Research Center.  According to WIRED’s Blog Network, Almaden is:

“seeding Apple’s iPhone Applications Store with research projects in a bid to see how users in the real world take to them. (…) ”

“In the first 24 hours of the program’s release on the App Store it bagged about 60 reviews from real users. Now more than 500 reviews have been written of it,” he says.

“You can never have a total sense of user experience by doing lab studies.” 

According to Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies,  “Researchers as well as software developers often come up with great ideas but don’t have ways to test them, especially from the standpoint of getting them to a lot of people. So this could be invaluable.”

It would be just as fair to say, “marketers as well as their agencies often come up with great ideas but don’t have reality-based ways to test them”. How can the iPhone and other interactive media help?

Three Ways To Turn Digital Marketing Into A Lab

If we’re paying attention, digital offers us all brand new opportunities to trade market research theory for a deep dive straight into reality.  If we’re wrong, we can learn and adjust quickly. If we’re on to something, we have the chance to learn while we earn.

Here are three ideas to consider:

  • Use Google To Test Ad Copy. Paid search is a dirt-cheap way to find a set of consumers who are in the market for your product and find out what words and ideas are motivating.  Direct marketers do this today. There’s no reason why brand marketers can’t learn here too.
  • Use YouTube To Get Feedback On TV Commercials. Every marketer I’ve ever worked with has had ideas that they love, but are so far outside of the box that they can’t figure out how to test them. Why not do some cheap production of these ideas and put them on YouTube and see if the idea has any traction? Obviously, you can’t do that if you’re announcing major news that you don’t want competition to know about. But, let’s be honest: most of the time, our brands don’t have major news.
  • Pay Attention To How Your Users Are Talking About You. People who like your product may be talking about it in a fresher, more imaginative, clearer way than you are.  The atmosphere at corporate HQ is unavoidably polluted with corporate lore, personalities, and competing egos. Your users are free of all that. There’s an excellent chance that they’re more free to get your communication right than you are. Same goes for product images on Flickr. Look at how people shoot photos of products in your category. I’ll bet those shots are a lot more exciting and a lot less constipated than what most of us have been shooting.If you have the budget, you can do what General Mills and Kraft have recently done: start their own word-of-mouth networks. General Mills’ “Pssst” gives members the inside skinny on the latest product news. Members can also test new sample kits via snail mail. similarly shares news, coupons and sampling offers. (Hat-tip to Prophet, who picked up the Brandweek article before I did.)

I appalud both companies for not falling prey to the notion that “marketers are not in control of their brands anymore”.  These marketing execs are doing exactly what they should do.

They’re learning to move as fast as their consumers do, and to operate in the same reality. That reality does not exist in sterile conference rooms, or thick binders, or behind two-way glass in Philly.

It’s where reality has always been: out there. General Mills and Kraft are out there.

Has your company been there lately? You may be surprised how different it looks lately.