October 2010: Monitor the discussion points – and take account of them in your media plans

By , December 27, 2010 11:43 pm

October 2010, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

The role of market research is all about providing consumer perspectives to businesses in useful and reliable ways, since the view from the boardroom is almost inevitably different from that of their customers. What may seem consistent and reasonable to Al Gore, may not appear so to some of the public. For companies promoting low-carbon products, the key issue is to take a holistic view of how different types of people will view your communication messages. As a valuable addition to existing strategies, companies should monitor social media forums and take account of discussion points within their media plans.

A consumer perspective in essential for businesses developing media plans for their low-carbon products. The view from the boardroom is almost inevitably different from that of their customers. To set the scene, let me first discuss a couple of everyday examples.

Recently I visited a coffee shop in a nature park, where there was slow service, little food selection and no place to sit. Taking the company-viewpoint, our waitress apologised, saying that it was rarely like this, and there were never problems on weekdays. Yet there would be few customers mid-week to appreciate such high-quality service, and as a weekender, she did not give me confidence that I ever would.

Too often, company service statistics represent ‘how the company is doing’ rather than ‘measuring the customer experience’.  The role of market research is all about providing consumer perspectives to businesses in a useful, and reliable, way.

Consider train travel. Look out for information about the ‘the proportion of trains which are delayed’ next time you are waiting for a late-running train, on an increasing crowded platform, and think how you would rather know ‘the proportion of travellers who suffer delays, especially those who fit your travel profile’. This is quite a different thing. It could be that the train companies provide a very punctual service late at night, running near-empty trains, but struggle in busy times. Perhaps the delays are particularly affecting some customer segments – such as high-revenue commuters. And, unless the trains are reservation-only, for every delayed train, a higher proportion of people will actually be affected.

For media plans, the key issue is to take a holistic view of how different types of people will view your communication messages. If you align your media plan with a particular relevant opinion leader, it matters what they do in all public areas of their lives – as Tiger Woods has shown with sports sponsorship. If you advertise in a particular publication, it matters how engaged readers are with the editorial environment[1].

From our Environmental Choices study, we know that Al Gore is a dominant climate change opinion leader – especially amongst Americans where 14% spontaneously mentioned Al Gore and/or An Inconvenient Truth as being personal inspirational. Yet he is a controversial figure. When prompted, 39% of Americans indicated that Al Gore has been ‘effective in shaping their thoughts’ about climate change, as against 22% who thought him ‘wrong-thinking’ on this subject.  From Al Gore’s perspective, it would likely seem consistent and reasonable to be concerned about climate change, be a Democrat, invest in cleantech industries and attack fossil fuel interests. Yet, his climate change views are resisted by many Republicans, and some are suspicious of a conflict of interest about his investments. As one Environmental Choices respondent said about climate change “People like Al Gore make a big deal of it so they can line their pockets with money”.

The leading climate change opinion leaders in Canada and England are David Suzuki and David Attenborough respectively who, although without the same impact as Al Gore, do not greatly divide public opinion. Amongst Canadians, 41% think David Suzuki has been ‘effective in shaping their thoughts’ about climate change, as against 8% who think him ‘wrong-thinking’ on the subject; and amongst the English, the equivalent figures for David Attenborough are 42% and 2% respectively. Both these figures are presenters of natural history programmes shown on high-end national broadcasters – the CBC and BBC. This is no equivalent broadcasting option available in America, probably to the detriment of how climate change is communicated there.[2]

The BBC is a leading broadcaster of information about climate change amongst the English (29% indicating it ‘effective in shaping their thoughts’ on the subject; 3% think it ‘wrong-thinking’). The Guardian is the most influential ‘quality’ newspaper followed by the Times and Independent. Among Americans, the National Geographic magazine is influential (17% ‘effective’; 1% ‘wrong-thinking’).

Organizations now have access to consumer viewpoints as never before. People can now make comments, both positive and negative, posted directly onto company websites and through social media – such as with Al Gore’s Repower America Facebook group[3]. As a valuable addition to existing strategies, companies should monitor discussion points raised and take account of them within their media plans[4].


[1] This is quantitatively demonstrated in ‘Media placement versus advertising execution’, Edward C. Malthouse and Bobby J. Calder, International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 52 Issue 2 2010

[2] See Timothy Garton-Ash’s description of the advantage the BBC gives to British politics compared to American politics in ‘America needs new politics’, Globe and Mail, June 22, 2010 – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/america-needs-new-politics/article1647695/?cmpid=rss1

[3] See http://www.facebook.com/repoweramerica

[4] This is one of the conclusions of ‘Consumer-generated versus marketer-generated websites in consumer decision-making’, p.245,  Fred Bronner and Robert de Hoog, International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 52 Issue 2 2010



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