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French Frying Your Brand's Selling Position through Survey Research


A much younger version of me used to play right forward on a soccer team.  And I was fast.  I remember frequently racing with the ball up the sideline, past the other team’s defenders, and then centering the ball to a teammate who would hopefully put it in the net.  I recall on one occasion, after racing up the sideline, centering the ball directly to a defender instead of my teammate.  I mistakenly assumed that my teammate would be there, I obviously should have looked first, but had he been playing his position, the outcome could have been very different.  

Soccer, football, lacrosse, basketball, with just about every sport positioning is a critical component of success.  The same can be said for any brand.  As you watch football this season, notice how many big plays are made as the result of a receiver finding an open position on the field.  In business the action is far slower, but the same principle applies.  If you can outmaneuver a defender (the competition) and find or create an open position, you can make the big play.  Easier said than done, but when you have a sound game plan (a positioning strategy), the likelihood of success is much greater.  

I’ve mentioned before how vital a Unique Selling Position (USP) is to the success of a brand or product.  If you don’t have a strong USP or are looking to develop one, there is a simple yet powerful research method that can help you get there, it’s called multidimensional scaling (MDS).  There are several technical aspects of multidimensional scaling, but for now I’m just going to focus on one of the most basic applications. 

Say you’re a fast food restaurant focused on burgers and fries.  Looking at product sales over the past couple of years you notice that while burgers are holding steady, sales of fries have been progressively falling, so you start to consider options for revitalizing the category.  The first step, in a process such as this, should be multidimensional scaling.  Multidimensional scaling helps you know your position in the minds of consumers relative to your competition by analyzing the attributes associated with your brand or product category.  From there you can discover opportunities/positions for enhancing your brand or even taking it in a new direction.

In our example, a simple survey would be constructed asking participants to rate the fries for several competing restaurants on a variety of attributes.  A question may look something like this:

Q.  Please rate the French fries from each of the following restaurants with regard to the six attributes below.  For each attribute, slide the circle in the direction that you feel best describes the French fries at that restaurant compared to the fries at other fast food restaurants. 

Wendy's Scale

The results could then be graphed using a perceptual map.  The perceptual map below is my guess, no research was actually conducted to develop this, and yes, there are several burger and fry restaurants not included here such as Checkers, Whataburger, and White Castle, to name a few, but the number of brand comparisons should be kept to a manageable level.  I don’t eat a lot of fries either, so my expertise in this area is lacking, but for the purpose of illustration, here’s the way I would anticipate this playing out:

Perceptual Map

Notice a very open position in the “unique” and “less unhealthy” quadrant.  Now fries are never really considered healthy, but there certainly is an opportunity for fries that are less unhealthy, and with a little creative thinking an answer can be found and in fact, in this case, was found.  

Presenting sweet potato fries, a healthier and more unique option.

BK Fries

If you’ve tried them, as I have, you will probably agree that they are a step down from regular fries with regard to taste, but they still taste okay, and to the growing market of health conscious consumers, a viable option.  Sweet Potato fries are the result of an open positon discovered in a product category that is more than a century old.  

Another possibility could be to offer baked rather than fried fries to make them healthier.  I’ve had those to.  Yet another possibility may be to move into the uniqueness space by offering a “fry bar” where people top their French fries with different sauces or sprinkle on flavorings.  

Additional perceptual maps could be developed for some of the other attributes or a multidimensional perceptual map could be developed by graphing multiple attributes, rather than just two.  

The next step would be to test the actual viability and demand for these options, but with this type of multidimensional scaling, the focus is on simply discovering the open positions.  

What opportunities exist out there?  Will it be your brand or the competition that finds the open position?  A survey with questions designed for multidimensional scaling is the first smart step. 

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SWOT in Market Research

My work, volunteerism, and personal life contributions are out of balance almost all the time.  Most likely, it's because I really like to sleep and love to watch TV.  If I could sleep (or watch TV) less, than I could contribute more to these life foci, but as it stands one of these three areas of my life almost always dominate the other two.

StrengthsWe all have our strengths...and weaknesses.  Coach Paul Westphal said "The key to any game is to use your strengths and hide your weaknesses."  Most of us really heed this advice.  We always try to play up our strengths and downplay (or hide) our weaknesses.  When we're asked the dumb question, "What's your biggest weakness?" in a job interview, we always mention a strength that can be disguised as a weakness.  "My work/life balance is out of whack.  I'm a workaholic."  But, what do we do when it's necessary that we actually assess our weaknesses and address them?

At Discovery Research, one of the solutions that we utilize often for the benefit of other organizations is SWOT.  You're likely familiar with SWOT from any business class you've ever taken.  In business, when companies need insight, we're taught to bring a group into a room and talk about the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and to put them into a matrix.  From there, we can identify everything we need to know to move a company forward...right?  Where does SWOT fall short?  There's a challenge with the process.  SWOT is most often constructed by the employees for their company.  What's the problem there?  Oftentimes employees can't see the forest for the trees.  

When we've conducted SWOT for Discovery Research...on ourselves, the recurring feeling that I get is that we're just too close to our own issues to see them clearly for what they are.  Strengths are considered stronger, weaknesses considered less weak, opportunities (or innovations) are under-represented, and the threats are ominous.  How do we get away from this cycle?  The answer is a SWOT analysis that is generated using content that is gathered from outside the organization.

I'd suggest that you think through this process.  Here are a few ideas for gathering consumer generated content to construct your next SWOT.  

  • It's ok to ask about your strengths and weaknesses during your traditional research (Surveys or Focus Groups) and pinpoint them.
  • SWOT can be used for more than just companies.  They can be used for your products, services and brands.
  • Newer market research techniques like analyzing social media content, or online communities, get at this information very quickly if you know what to look for.
  • A good consumer generated SWOT will not only look at your company, but will also look at your competitors.
  • Use SWOT to drive action.  What's the point of understanding your opportunities or threats if you're not going to do anything about them?

SWOT analysis is a great business practice.  Even if you are constructing your SWOT with your internal staff, it's a valuable exercise.  It's worthwhile, however, to take the process to a higher level where you can see an unbiased view of your organization.  There's a lot to be understood, and a consumer generated SWOT can drive business innovation and insights that you wouldn't have uncovered otherwise.

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Netflix Social Media Sentiment Analysis


I'm sort of a Netflix junky.  I love that I can sit down for twenty minutes, catch an episode of some random television show and walk away.  I'm also sort of a binge watcher.  I find myself totally addicted to different shows and watch them for hours on end.  An awesome evening for me is to hang out with a cool drink, a bed, and just veg out and do nothing (I like my time off).  

As a market researcher, I wondered about the social media analysis around Netflix. I quickly found that there was a TON of content around their brand.  Netflix is generating about 135,000 pieces of content each day and the contributors on the subject are a random smattering of every day folks, the news media (including Huffington Post with a whopping 99 on their Klout Score), and social media junkies.  In July alone, Netflix generated over 2 Million pieces of Social Media content around their brand (Source - Crimson Hexagon).

One of the ways that we analyze social media at Discovery Research Group is through Crimson Hexagon's ForSight software, it provides a quick and easy way to drill into the mounds of data that this sort of subject provides.  When I took a look at the sentiment analysis on the Netflix topics I uncovered something that I found really interesting and likely comes up in marketing research with some frequency.  The subject that generates the most positive sentiment around the brand is also the subject that generates the most negative sentiment.  

The three biggest areas of sentiment associated with Netflix subject matter in July are: from the positive end (selection); on the neutral landscape (staying in); and on the negative horizon (again selection).  This is sort of interesting.  Netflix has a 44% positive sentiment; and a 19% negative sentiment.  On the positive spectrum, selection accounts for 34% of the 44% (i.e. folks like the selection); on the negative spectrum, selection accounts for 18% of the 19% negative sentiment (i.e. ranting about the selection being odd).  

For those of you that watch Netflix, you know that Netflix has some of the most random TV shows and movies that you'll ever run across.  Pick a classic show and it's probably there; but pick a newer show and the selection may be somewhat limited, especially on the movie front.  That's what seems to be driving this "Selection" theme; people that LOVE the selection; followed by people that COMPLAIN about the selection not being "new enough".    

Netflix SelectionHere you can see how the Netflix selection fared.  The interesting piece to this is when the negative Netflix Selection (the red line) crosses over the positive Netflix Selection (around July 26).  This was driven by a random "Tweeter" that said "Netflix needs new movies" and was picked up over and over and over (on a really large scale).

So the point is that it's important to manage your brand online.  The thing that you always assume will be your brand's 100 lb. gorilla can also be the thing that silos you and pins your customers into a very specific view of who you are.  If that advantage goes south, than what was an advantage can turn into a disadvantage at a moment's notice.  It's important for you to know if that is happening so that you can actively address it.

Mobile Research is the New Gamification


I was putting together a market research proposal the other day for a quasi-governmental organization.  The RfP was huge (they always seem to be), for a relatively conservative sized engagement.  In any case, I reached a point in the proposal process where it started to ask for information on research that we provided that did NOT include telephone surveys, online surveys, and focus groups.  I found it oddly interesting.  

Now, don't get me wrong, we provide those types of "new market research" techniques, mobile, social media, text analysis, data visualization, etc. It simply seemed somewhat strange for it to emerge in this quasi-government research process.  I hadn't seen the request laid out so clearly, concisely, and specifically.  

The researcher or procurement officer definitely knew his/her stuff.  The way things weregamification phrased was correct, the question was legitimate, etc. but it got me thinking.  Much like gamification was the buzzword of the market research industry about two years ago (I really grew to hate the word even though the techniques seemed to make sense), mobile research has become the "new" buzzword of the 2014 market research industry.  We've seen it coming for two to three years, we've been prognosticating that it will be here soon, we've staked the claim that when it comes we won't be able to escape it.  I'm here to tell you, when these sorts of research departments in this type of organization begins to request these types of techniques, you know it's hit the mainstream.

Funny thing is, even though we've started to see MANY more requests for mobile, it's not always clear what the researcher expects to get FROM their mobile initiative.  Are they looking for an app; an online survey that's style-sheeted to mobile; geo-location capabilities; SMS capabilities; upload and download of media; it's really non-specific and often times unclear how they want this technique to apply to their business or what they'd like to gain from it.  They just know they need to "do" mobile research.

Moving forward, I hope that the term "mobile research" doesn't become a catch-all for every type of research that happens to be completed from a smart-device or a cell phone.  If that's the case, every single one of us that conducts phone survey research or fields an online survey is conducting mobile research...we'll always end up with those devices in our samples.  It seems like mobile research is really headed in that direction.  It's sort of the undefined wild-wild west.  Similar to survey researchers that called all their "fun" surveys gamification (as opposed to their 30 minute boring ones); we can't just do a survey, hope it's completed on a participant's tablet, and call it mobile.  Or, can we?  

Am I doing mobile research?  Yes.  We conduct research using apps, mobile devices, mobile style sheets, etc. and feel like we're pretty good at mobile research.  Do I know what you define as mobile research?  Well, maybe not.  

The Bite Heard 'Round the World: World Cup 2014 Social Media Research


A few weeks ago, when World Cup 2014 began, we did some social media analysis going into the soccer tournament.  The article was titled "A Social Media Research Read on World Cup 2014."  The World Cup is always full of high drama, and this year was no exception.  We had biters and hunters, high profiled players with broken backs, teams with early exits, and did you see that US goalkeeper?  In any case, here's an "end of tournament" infographic on the most mentioned social media content from World Cup 2014.  Enjoy!

World Cup 2014 Analysis

Your Market Research "Thing"


Every one of us has "OUR THING."  If you think about it, you'll know what I mean.  "Our thing" is the "thing" that we talk about incessantly, the "thing" that gets us excited, the "thing" that people politely avoid talking to us about (unless they really want to know).  A question on the "thing" opens up Pandora's Box...a conversation that, as a casual participant to the conversation, you can never get back in the box.  That "thing" "our thing."

Let me give you an example.  My brother-in-law's "thing" is Disneyland.  If you're headed to Disney and ask him for advice on the subject, you'll receive a four-hour lecture on your next trip (his bucket list item is to see every Disney theme park in the world).  Most people's "things" are very different.  I have a friend whose "thing" is Hawaii (when you go to Hawaii, he sends his GPS with you so that you will visit all the best sites); my "thing(s)" are soccer and music.  I even have a friend whose "thing" is college mascots.  If you ask him what the mascot is for any Division 1 School, he can tell you.  He's almost an idiot savant on the subject.  

My family's "thing" is Zombies.  We've had many conversations around the Walking Dead comics and TV show.  We've had serious intellectual discussions on where we will go when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs (not if...but when).  There's a Lowe's next to our house...first stop for nail guns, pick axes, and duct tape.  Followed by stop #2 to Costco for 200 pound cans of soup and any other random item needed in very large quantities (but I diverge...actually I'm just not going to give you the plan...survival of the fittest and most prepared...ha).  I have a friend, and industry associate, whose "thing" is '80's punk bands.Suicidal Tendencies

A couple of months ago, I was at a conference with this friend and industry associate in Vegas.  The conference had educational content during the day, freedom to do what you wanted in the evening, and resumed with the educational content the following morning.  After a night of gambling, my friend made a point of meeting up with me in the morning.  She'd had a "life altering" experience the night before.  She'd met, and gambled next to, the original drummer for the band "Suicidal Tendencies" (there are actually 25 former members of Suicidal Tendencies).  This is the band that performed the song "Institutionalized" (All I wanted was a Pepsi...but she wouldn't give it to me...look it up.)  She and I shared a love for music, especially of the alternative sort (I've been following alternative music since it started in the '80's) so I was one of the very few industry professionals who actually new who Suicidal Tendencies were.  On sharing her amazing story, I was able to share my experience of getting kicked off a Disneyland ride (Indiana Jones), so that the drummer for Blink-182 (Travis Barker) and his entourage could ride the ride (how cool was that)?

In any case, here's the business question at hand.  When trying to gather answers and actionable insight using market research techniques and methods, is it better to have "your thing" or a smorgasbord of "things" that you pull from your tool chest?  I have a friend and researcher who almost always enlists conjoint analysis for just about any business question he has; while another friend uses focus groups almost every time she needs an answer (rarely a survey to be found).  You see it in our industry all the time.  A researcher I know writes the most difficult and complicated surveys our company has ever had the dissatisfaction of programming (couldn't write a simple or short survey to save her life).

Each of us, as market research providers, has our "research thing."  We HAVE to differentiate and we're often asked what we do better than anyone else.  When pressed on the topic, it's probably no surprise that the answer for Discovery is that we do many surveys, focus groups, designs, etc. but the work we do better than almost anyone else is in the text analysis and social content space.  Is that our "thing"...probably? But we must remind ourselves every day that it's important for us to stay well rounded in our research designs and approaches.  

It's important that each of us, as market researchers, try to stay methodologically and technically agnostic.  The focus group, social media analysis, survey, MROC, (insert your "thing" here), is not the only way to answer your business question, and it's often not even the best way to answer the question.  We can't be a singularly focused market research zombie (instead of Brains...more brains; we say Surveys...more surveys).  Remember that the next time you go to do something the way you've always done it.  It's a challenge, but I'd encourage you to stay research agnostic and simply find the best fit for the business question at hand, even if it means you try something new.

Research-Based Thoughts on the Economy of Soccer and Other Sports


With World Cup 2014 kicking off in Brazil tomorrow, I thought it was worthwhile to throw together some thoughts I've had around Soccer (and other sports) in the United States vs. that of the rest of the world.  As readers of this blog, you'll have to bear with me (or ignore this post) if you're uninterested in soccer, or are into this blog specifically for its Market Research content.  There's very little market research info in this particular article so you can stop now if you're so inclined...or read's up to you. back to the subject matter.

I grew up in the United States; however my father is from a small town in Wales (UK).  Likegmort most young boys, I started my American sports experience by playing youth football (US), baseball, and basketball.  I especially enjoyed football, however I wasn't very big and wasn't very tall (and probably wasn't very good).  One day, after I sat the bench in a 4th grade football game; my dad came to me and said, "I really don't understand this sport very well."  He went on to tell me the story of my soccer history.  My father played soccer when he was young and has a great understanding of the sport.  My Welsh grandfather was something of a phenom in his day.  He played for a community "professional" team called the Garth Rangers (see picture) in the 1930's.  Soccer flowed through my veins.  I dropped American football, and went on to play soccer.  My family has a soccer history that goes back a very long way.  My ancestors played, my Grandfather played, my Father played, my Brothers played, and my Sons have all played soccer.  It's become more than a sport for us, it's part of who we are.  

It was rough going for me as I started to play soccer in the 5th grade.  I don't know if you could start that late now and still succeed.  I was really bad at it to begin with and kids made fun of me.  I began working hard at it...really hard...and felt like I had history and culture on my side.  After a couple of years I started making traveling teams, club teams, then my high school team, had a college experience with the sport, and have now coached for about 20 years.  If there's ever any question about the influence of one conversation, I'm here to tell you that words change lives and they change outcomes.  

Soccer (or Football) in the United States has had a tough go of it.  In my rural Idaho town, soccer was ridiculed because the tough guys all played football.  Even to this day, soccer players are often called "grass pixies" by football players.  To return the "compliment," the football players are called "fat necks."  There are over 13 million soccer players in the United States and it is the third largest sport played (participation is ahead of hockey and football), and growing very quickly while other sports are declining in participation.  But for some reason, it hasn't gotten the traction of the big three in terms of popularity (Football, Basketball, Baseball), coming in at fourth in terms of popularity (not the number who play).

Having been a part of the game for many years, here are some reasons that I believe the sport doesn't get the same traction in the United States that it receives elsewhere:  

  • Low Scoring Games - In a culture where sports are often "stacked" toward high scoring games, 1-0 results or 0-0 ties aren't often appreciated.  Basketball actually changes its rules so that more baskets are scored in games (shot clock, no defense zone, no goaltending, etc.)  Football games give a variety of "points" for different scenarios that lead to high sounding scores when in reality a 14-7 result is actually very similar to a 2-1 result in soccer (very common).
  • Ties - Americans don't like ties, they are driven to win.  They hate to go through 90 minutes of soccer and see a game end 0-0 or 1-1.  I've heard people ask "What's the point?"  Part of this is a fundamental lack of understanding about how the "champion" of the league is crowned.  Leagues are based on three conditions; you get 3 points for winning a game, 1 point for tying a game, and 0 points for a loss.  The team with the most points at the end of the season is the winner.  Ties, in soccer, often can feel like a win for one team and a loss for another.  One of my most memorable games (that I coached) was a 1-1 tie.  We felt VERY good about the result, while the opposing coach came away yelling and swearing.  
  • Lack of understanding of the sport is a challenge for Americans.  What's offsides?  Isn't soccer JUST kicking a ball?  What's the strategy?  Soccer is a very technical game, much the same as baseball, basketball, and football.  Fans of the game of basketball, would never consider basketball JUST throwing a ball into a hoop.  There's SO MUCH MORE, and it takes some experience with the sport to understand just how difficult it is, and how amazing some of the players in the sport become.
  • More than anything though, I believe that the reason soccer hasn't caught on at the same level in the United States is really Economics and Marketing.  Soccer is not marketed at the same level in the US as it is in other parts of the world and the athletes aren't paid anything close to the athletes in the rest of the world...yet.  As a result, the best athletes in the US DON'T play soccer where the best athletes in the world DO play soccer. As a result, though our American players are good, we suck as a country relative to the heavies (the US is currently ranked 13 in the world behind countries like Spain, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Colombia, etc.).  
  • If we're not good enough at something, we whine about it and quit trying...I'm only half kidding here.  Our women's soccer program is consistently near or at the top of the world while our men's soccer program isn't.  We're capable; we simply haven't thrown the resource at it.
Let's briefly look at the economics of the sport.  Below is a chart listing the top-10 salaried players in each of the big four US Sports along with the top-10 salary for the world soccer players.    
Sports Salaries
The first thing you'll notice is that the pay in Major League Soccer (US Professional League) is NOWHERE NEAR that of the pay in other US leagues (averaging 3.7 Million vs. 24.0 Million - baseball; 21.5 Million - basketball; 18.8 Million - football).  This chart only includes salary.  When you take into account sponsorships the difference becomes astronomical.  The second thing you might notice is that the top paid MLS soccer player is nowhere close to that of the other US leagues or the soccer world scale.  Lastly, the world soccer leagues (EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc.) pay their players very consistently with the US Professional leagues (except soccer).
Forbes posted the top paid athletes in the world (all-in).  The top-5 were Floyd Mayweather ($105 Million in boxing); Christiano Ronaldo ($80 Million in soccer); LeBron James ($72.3 Million in basketball); Lionel Messi ($64.7 Million in soccer); Kobe Bryant ($61.5 Million in basketball).  Two of five were soccer players and two of five were basketball players.  If the United States would spend as much on their marketing, endorsements, and soccer player salaries, the world's elite would come to the US and as a result we'd be a contending country year in and year out.  The best players have a tendency to play and compete with the best, as a result their countries become the best.  
As it stands, our best US athletes go to other sports where the payout and notoriety is better.  Our best soccer players follow the money, leaving to play in Europe or Latin America, under many different systems and cultures of play which make it even more difficult for the US coaching staff to field a cohesive group of players.  As for the World Cup, I can't think of a time where our US team was more represented by MLS players.  It appears that our talent is growing, but the marketing dollars and economic reinforcement isn't keeping pace.  As a result, we'll likely not see our team go deep into the tournament which further exacerbates the problem...we aren't as successful as we'd like to be, so we don't spend the money on the sport, which makes us less successful in the sport.  It's a vicious circle.
I guess that's how marketing and economy explain soccer, we all know that soccer explains the world (ha), must explain the world as well.  

A Social Media Research Read on World Cup 2014


I'm sure that you'd have expected this from us.  With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil only 3 days away, we thought it was important, no imperative, to put together a World Cup Infographic based on some social media research.  I'm sure there will be more of these to come.  Go USA!

World Cup 2014

Social Media Research - What's it Good For?


"After the event, even the fool is wise." Homer

Every one of us who provides market research products and services are eventually asked what makes us different than all of the other full-service research and market research data collection providers out there.  At that flashpoint, whether it's in an elevator or not, we're each required to give our 20-second elevator speech.  Personally, when I'm asked what we do best (other than surveys), I focus my attention on two things we do extremely well, text analysis and social media research.

It's easy for most researchers to get their heads wrapped around why they need text analysis.  Researchers are constantly generating unstructured text.  Whether you have open-ended questions in your surveys, focus groups, or are really trying to understand the "content" of a large conversation (like IDI or online qualitative), text analysis is fairly easy to understand.  These market research techniques are sort of the entry point to text analysis for market researchers.  The real fun in text analysis is had when we start to answer business questions using sources like customer service calls from internal databases, large transcripts (I mean really large), and the mounds of data that gets generated in the social media and online world. 

I'm often asked what use social media is as a source for market research?  For one, the data sizes are much, much, larger than "typical" research.  It's not uncommon to analyze hundreds of thousands of pieces of social media, online reviews, blogs, etc. content.  But the real advantage, in my experience, is the concept of analyzing events.Events

Every business has events.  Events come in many different shapes and sizes.  Some are planned, some are unplanned.  Some receive a lot of press on purpose, some on accident, and some receive little to no press at all.  When you launch a new product or service, that's an event.  When you hire a new corporate executive, that's an event.  When you receive backlash from your consumers, for whatever reason, that's an event.  When your business gains the attention of those around you...for whatever reason...that's an event.  And then there are EVENTS, like trade shows, exhibitions, local events like "Arts in the Parks", festivals, concerts, "Insert your city here...Days", etc.  A good event can be a big difference maker for your company.  A bad event can lead to a company closure (or in the case of the LA Clippers basketball team owner...losing your team).  A properly executed EVENT or sponsorship of an EVENT can put your company on the map.  As businesses, events make us and they break us. 

If you're wondering what social media research is good for, think the events of your (business) life.  Social media research allows you to understand the emotion, the advocates, the detractors, the attitude, the volume, etc. of YOUR events.  It can show you where your business started and where your business ended, and give you an idea of its current trajectory.  It can tell you if you've got an upcoming event that you're going to have to deal with, or what people really thought of your EVENT.  It can give you ideas for your future events or how to improve your EVENT.  And, social media research will supplement the other market research that you do by giving you a qualitative and quantitative notion of the "what's next," "what should I do now," or "where should I head from here?"  

Social media research has been one of the enigmas of our industry but it doesn't have to be.  If you think events, you can understand a strong use for social media in market research.  It's well worth consideration for your market research toolbox in my estimation.

I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny. Let Me Check Social Media First.


Sometime during the first week of any Marketing 101 course you learn about the halo effect.Reese's 
Quite simply it is a term used to explain preference shown towards certain products or brands because of a favorable association.  For example, say you like Reese’s peanut butter cups (and who doesn’t), and while walking down the aisle at your local grocery store you spot a jar of Reese’s brand peanut butter, you figure it must be packed with sugar and taste pretty darn good as well so you buy it.   This type of association can be the result of other products made by the same manufacturer (such as Reese’s) or, in the case of a brand, the association that brand has with everything it touches. 

The halo effect is a really big deal in the sports sponsorship universe.  Attach your brand to the right athlete or team and you will endear yourself to their fans.  This of course has been done since before Jesse Owens sported a pair of shoes crafted by the founder of Adidas in the 1936 Olympic Games. 

Nike has had a couple of the most recognizable wins in this area, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.  At least Tiger Woods was a big win, now, not so much.  Tiger Woods became toxic for Nike and his other sponsors in December 2009 when his extra-marital affairs were revealed in dramatic fashion.  Now the Los Angeles Clippers have become toxic thanks to raciest comments by the team’s owner Donald Sterling.  No one wants to touch the Clippers because of the negative halo effect the brand currently has.  Sponsors ran from the Staples Center as if it was on fire.  Which of course was the correct move.  Stay with the Clippers and your brand becomes associated with Sterling and his views.  Drop the Clippers and you send a message that your brand does not tolerate racism.  The decision was easy.

So how long should a brand stay away in a situation like this?  In this case, probably until the Clippers have a new owner.  But it’s not always that cut and dry.  Not long ago I was involved with a client whose brand was under attack.  Misleading rumors were being spread about their flagship product and they wanted to know the extent of the damage in order to determine if a formal response was needed, and if so, the best way to go about it.  The rumors were untrue, but that mattered little.  Once out there, consumers are far more likely to believe what their friend shares on Facebook than a company statement denying it.  In fact, if the rumor hasn’t really gained much traction, any “official” statement by the company denying it will typically only serve to draw attention to the matter and risk fanning the flames from a small brush fire into a 10,000 archer blaze.  So where does the tipping point lie for responding, for abandoning a sponsor, for acknowledging a competitors move?  Fortunately for brands who find themselves embroiled in situations like the Donald Sterling debacle, or that of my client, the fallout is now easier than ever to assess, and consequently, a plan of action easier to create.

Curious about the impact of Donald Sterling’s comments on the Clippers sponsors I ran a quick analysis on a few sponsors using our text analytics tool.  Below is a measurement of the online conversation associated with State Farm and Carmax, two of the Clippers major sponsors.  The data was drawn from multiple social media platforms and blogs.   Notice the massive spike on April 28th in the volume of comments shortly after the news of Sterling’s remarks broke.  

 CarmaxState Farm

Drilling down on the comments I found that the negative comments had more to do with the situation rather than an actual dislike of State Farm or CarMax.  For example, people would retweet news that as a result of Sterling’s comments, several sponsors such as State Farm and CarMax had decided to drop the Clippers or should drop the Clippers.      

Take a look at the topic wheel for State Farm below covering the past 30 days.  When people mention State Farm and “car insurance” together, they also mention Donald Sterling.  When people mention State Farm and “video” together, they also mention Donald Sterling.  When people mention State Farm and “state farm commercials” together, they also mention Donald Sterling.  The relationship is significant and penetrating every aspect of the brand.


On the other hand, take a look at Red Bull, another sponsor of the Clippers.  There was certainly an uptick in negative comments on April 28th, but nothing like what State Farm or CarMax experienced.  The target market appears to be using social media to discuss Red Bull over a much wider range of topics.  The cluster analysis below shows this.  For example, drilling down on “Sebastian” in the second largest cluster I found that the cluster is primarily about a YouTube clip Red Bull put together about the new Formula One racing regulations as explained by Sebastian Vettel (and of course featuring Red Bull’s racer as the background prop).  The clip has over two-million views and is a factor in the steady rise in positive comments seen throughout May so far.

Red Bull

Sometimes a quick and speedy response to negative news is easy for a brand to assess and the course of action obvious, as was the case of with the Clippers.  However, often times the extent of the damage isn’t immediately apparent.  When that is the case a quick knee-jerk response could lead to disaster.  Fortunately for my client they carefully analyzed the situation before determining a course of action.  After discovering that the rumor wasn’t dominating the conversations associated with their brand, the decided to do very little to publically address it; so as to not draw more attention to the rumor itself.  The strategy has worked so far.  Although still out there, it’s now an old rumor, one that would make you seem out of touch with the latest if you decided to share it.  As a result, the brush fire appears to have burned itself out.  Had they not assessed the extent of the rumor properly, they very well could have fanned the flames with a disproportionate or poorly directed response.  

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