Friday, September 26, 2008

What to expect as a focus group participant?

So, you have been asked to participate in a "focus group". What now?

In our post What is a focus group? you can learn more about the purpose of a focus group.

Why have you been invited?
You are invited based on certain characteristics of yourself, your family, your business, etc. These often include age, gender, kids/no kids, lifestyle, type and size of business, or your function within a business.
Our recruiters often "think" you may qualify. They ask additional questions to be certain that you do. If you do, they will give you the date, time and location for your session. Often you cannot choose a different date because the characteristics of the participants vary according to the session.

What should you expect?

  1. A pleasant exchange of ideas guided by a moderator. Many participants find the groups very informative because you can learn about other solutions to the challenges you face.
  2. Five to eight other panelists, a moderator and often an assistant moderator will be present.
  3. Alist of topics that must be covered, but other than that it is an unstructured discussion.
  4. A moderator who is prepared to lead the discussion, but who is not an expert on the topic. Even if she is, she will not show it. She is there to learn from you!
  5. Your views to be listened to and valued. There are no right or wrong answers. This is not a test. Sometimes the group is asked to solve a problem. In those cases it is not the solution that is important, but the issues that participants raise in getting to the solution.
  6. Expect the question "why". "Why do you do that?" "Why do you think that?"
  7. Depending on the topic, the session may also be audio- or video recorded to assist in the analysis and report writing. The recordings will not be shared with the client or anyone else. Recordings are destroyed after the report is written.
  8. You will not be contacted by anyone based on your participation or what you said. This is not a session to generate sales leads.
  9. A reward in cash or kind for your input.

What do we expect from you?

  1. to arrive on time and stay the whole session
  2. if you must cancel, to do so in advance through your recruiter
  3. to come prepared to share your experience, ideas and reasons for those ideas
  4. to speak up, whether you agree with the popular view or not
  5. to give everybody a chance to speak and treat each other with respect
  6. to have fun
  7. if you have suggestions after the session, to please let us know through

As a Certified Moderator, the real reward is to see the exchange, how people learn from each other and the fun they have. I always appreciate your presence and your input. I hope you decide to participate.

What is a focus group?

This article is posted especially for the benefit of those we ask to participate in our focus groups. It is an excerpt from the quintessential marketing research text book, “Marketing Research", by David Aaker. V. Kumar and George Day. Please also see our post "What to expect as a focus group participant".

Focus group studies are a qualitative research method.

"Qualitative research is done to obtain a basic feel for the problem before proceeding to the more analytical portion of the study.

[...] to find out what is in the consumer's mind
[...] to get a rough idea about the person's perspective
[...] to become oriented to the range an complexity of consumer activity and concerns."

"A focus group discussion is the process of obtaining possible ideas or solutions to a marketing problem from a group of respondents by discussing it. The emphasis in this method is on the results of group interaction when focused on a series of topics a discussion leader introduces. Each participant in a group of five to nine persons is encouraged to express views in each topic and to elaborate on or react to the views of the other participants."

"The focus group discussion offers participants more stimulation than an interview; presumably this makes new ideas and meaningful comments more likely. Among other advantages, it is claimed that discussions often prove more spontaneity and candor than can be expected in an interview. "

In the end one knows the range of consumer expectations and motivating factors, and thus which products or services to offer or how to improve existing ones.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What are your destination’s “accidental” brands?

You don’t have to go to Jamaica to know that it has great beaches, rivers, waterfalls and flora. Then again, several Caribbean islands have those.
But, I don’t think anyone can leave Jamaica and not know what is unique and innate to Jamaica:

  • Blue Mountain Coffee
  • The Jamaican Bob Sled Team (with its own restaurant and merchandise at the airport)
  • The colors of the Jamaican Flag (used in every imaginable tourist-related product)
  • The colors of the Rastafarian movement (see above)
  • Braids
  • Jamaican Jerk
  • Chicken-every-imaginable-style
  • *Bob Marley*

What a great diversity: music, food, colors, entertainment, “boutique” java, sports and fashion.
And most sustainable and renewable.

Three Questions for you:

  1. What are your destination’s unique and innate accidental brands?
  2. How can they be exploited, preferably in a sustainable way?
  3. Is there something for every taste?

Why you should know the trends

Competition is tough. Those who survive and thrive are those who can come up with new product ideas, innovations, and effective strategies to get these to the customer… first (or almost first). Not any new product or customer care innovation or strategy. No, those ideas and innovations that appeal to your customer. And, alas, the speed of change in customer tastes and preferences. Generations amorph. Lifestyles change. Developments outside of your product category now influence yours like never before.

If you are in charge of innovation, customer care or strategy at your organization, how do you keep track? If you are on a small island, it’s a two-edged sword. What you see in the U.S. (or elsewhere) this year will be on your island at least a few months later. So, you have time to prepare. But, unless you spend enough time abroad and sit down to analyze what you see, you won’t know the trends.

That’s where a trend analyzer comes in handy. Michael Tchong of
Ubercool, “The most influential trendspotter in America”, according to the London Daily Telegraph, will be in Curacao to take us through his analysis of global trends this coming May 29th. He is hosted by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Curacao.

Mr. Tchong has spoken, among others, for Evian North America, Diageo, Euroforum in Rotterdam, several realtor associations in the U.S., Visa Europe in Istanbul, Luxury Home Marketing, Ubertrends in Colombia, several hospitality groups across the U.S. and at the Harvard Business Club.

He will take us on a whirlwind tour of the most telling trends and leaving you infused with new ideas that make sense. As a professional you cannot afford to not be aware of possible innovations (unless you can afford not to have a job). But, even if you are not specifically in charge of innovations, his presentation will leave you impressed and inspired.

Visit for more information and to register.

Ask for the business and make it personal

On a recent visit to Jamaica, the Jamaicans impressed me with the fact that every Jamaican asks for the business, consciously or subconsciously. Everybody asked: “When are you coming back?”

The most impressive of all was Keith, the driver on the airport shuttle. He welcomed us aboard with a nice, personal flight-attendant-like speech. The kill came as we arrived at the airport. He said, paraphrased:

“Did you enjoy your time in Jamaica? .... I hope you come back. And remember to tell your friends what a good time you had, so they will come too. It’s because people like you and your friends keep coming to Jamaica that people like me have a job. So, thank you for coming and have a safe flight home.”

Now, that hits home.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations. What's the difference Part II

This is the second of a three part series. The previous post dealt with Public Relations. The next will deal with Marketing.

As competition increases, the focus on marketing also increases. When I started working in marketing in the Caribbean 20 years ago, very few companies had marketing staff. Today, that's the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately though, it is not always clear to non-marketers and some marketers alike what the function encompasses. Terms such as public relations, advertising and marketing are sometimes used interchangeably. When we do so, we omit to consider all the tools available to attract good customers.

This is an effort to provide some clarification.


When competition increased, companies started to try to explicitly convince buyers to buy their product. Up to quite recently accountants and lawyers in Curacao did not do so. Now they have started putting up advertising, telling us what they are good at. Soap manufacturers went down this path many decades ago. Banks started some 20 years ago and now are at it in full force.

Advertising is "any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor" (Armstrong, Kotler). It involves designing advertisements and campaigns and placing these on radio, TV, billboard, Internet, in the paper or magazines, etc. Some companies, "advertising agencies", are able to do everything following a well-thought out strategy. Others do part of the process. Graphic designers in principle just design an advertisement following the specific instruction of the advertiser/client. Copywriters just write a text following instructions of others. Independent photographers, video producers, etc. in principle also follow instructions of others. Their creative juices should be flowing within boundaries set by the client or determined by a strategy.

Marketing communication
Advertising and public relations are now often referred to as marketing communication.

(Sales) Promotion
The term "promotion" may cause confusion. It is conveniently used in the four marketing P's to denote everything that has to do with communicating with the client: advertising, public relations, direct marketing, sales, customer service, and sales promotion.

However, if you want to use the terms correctly then (Sales) Promotion is "short-term incentives to encourage the purchase or the sale of a product or service" (Armstrong, Kotler). Think of sweepstakes, raffles, buy-one-get-one-free, give-aways, coupons, programs in which you save and get something later, etc. In Curacao we often call them "kampana" or "speshal".
Why are they used? Everybody already has a toothpaste. If you are introducing a new toothpaste you must convince the customer to leave his old toothpaste and buy yours. An incentive in the form of a gift, lower price, a free trial, etc. may do so. A good sales promotion always induces the customer to "ACT NOW" or its gone.

Read about Marketing in the next post.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The marketing of green: 5 ways to be part of the trend

Green has taken center stage, not just because of global warming, but also because of the price of oil. Finally going green also makes good business sense immediately (the way business people, unfortunately, like it).

Here are five tips to ride the trend. Remember though, you can ride the trend, but you must be sincere. Otherwise it will hurt your brand.

  1. Use green to add value for your customer. I always thought a restaurant with its own vegetable, flower or herb garden is a neat idea. Now, it reduces transportation costs... and there is really nothing to beat freshly picked vegetables on the plate and flowers on the table.
  2. Use green to attract customer segments with a special affinity for the environment. You can imagine that if you are the only company in your category known to reduce, reuse or recycle water, energy, bags, etc., you may appeal to certain segments. This strategy works best for companies that are seen to provide a near-commodity, such as banks, insurers, and airlines. There are not so many other tangible sources of differentiation.
  3. Develop new uses for your products using green. Curacao cantaloupe is an additional way to use Curacao liqueur.
  4. Support efforts that reuse the waste that your company produces. In Jakarta, my friend Roy and his team make the coolest laptop bags from empty tubes of toothpaste found on the streets.
  5. Use green to distinguish your brand or company from others for a short moment. At MarkStra, our corporate gift this year was a reusable crate for shopping and a list of tips. Let me say that I consciously try to reduce our footprint through composting, planting trees, and several other efforts. But, I admit... the empty reusable crate over the holidays was to distinguish us from the habitual well-wrapped baskets well-filled with goodies.

Three strategic models to bring objectivity to marketing plans

I would not be surprised if in Curacao "strategy" will continue to be the marketing buzzword of 2008. Good for me, that was my specialization in business school.

A strategy determines how a company is going to compete. Some strategic models also provide objective tools to evaluate the quality of marketing plans. In other words, whether the right mix of resources is dedicated to each element in the marketing mix: line extensions (new products), advertising, pricing, service, direct sales, or consumer and trade promotions (campaigns). This for each product in your portfolio.

Last year I had the pleasure of applying some models which I had long "forgotten" to a client's portfolio.
  1. Product Life Cycle. Uses the life cycle stage each product is in (development, introduction, growth, maturity or decline) to help you determine for each product in your portfolio the right mix of resources and the level of profitability you should aspire to achieve. The PLC model has been around long and is quite readily applicable.
  2. Boston Consulting Group Matrix. Uses your market share and overall market potential to determine marketing objectives and resources to dedicate to each element of the marketing mix.
  3. Trout's Strategic Square. Uses your market share relative to that of competitors to determine marketing objectives: defend market share, attack the market leader, avoid the him or be a guerrilla.

For all some data, market intelligence and forecasting ability is needed. How to get the data?

Porter's Competitive Strategy. Uses SWOT analyses of yourself and your competitors to determine how to compete. It's a great model, which I studied at length when in school and which continues to be used extensively today. Unfortunately, there are few objective measures to determine your or your competitors' strengths or weaknesses, or which of these are relevant. Even the opportunities and threats facing the organization are not obvious. Hence, SWOT analyses often turn out to be an exercise in bias and subjectivity. A consultant should be able to be more objective. But, the first time I did so honestly (in 1995), I was fired on the spot.

Six tips to decrease marketing waste and increase your ROI.

With oil at 100 dollars a barrel, we can barely afford to produce waste, including marketing waste. What can you do?

  1. Find out who your true target customer is, so you can focus on her in all your marketing efforts. Be detailed, specific. Try to describe her in terms of demographics, lifestyle, friends, family. Then think of someone that you know who fits that description and finish the picture.
  2. Think of what will really help her and how much she can or is willing to pay for that benefit. Again, be specific. Everyone has insurance. How does your insurance product help her better than the commodity insurance product?
  3. Think of how you might influence that person best. Best bet: ask her what she really reads and watches and who or what she really listens to. Read, watch and listen. Not just skim, see or hear.
  4. Find out how many people there are in that target segment. Then you know, for instance, if it's worth your while to place an advertisement in the national newspaper or to approach her via her club or gym. The latter is produces less waste and gives your more opportunity to interact with and influence her directly. It is more effective. It may even be less expensive and more fun.
  5. Find out and decide if, realistically, you can grow your brand and how. If you have a very large market share it may not be easy. But, if you find alternative uses for your product, that can produce growth. If you can't, focus on another product.
  6. Then calculate, calculate, calculate. Calculate your target sales and the resulting ROI. Is your planned effort worth it? Or is to bound to be just "marketing waste"?

The greening of marketing: the 60-30-10 rule

When I started MarkStra in 1995, the Guerrilla Marketing Handbook by Jay Levinson and Seth Godin provided ingenious, effective, practical and low-cost marketing thoughts and tips for my own company and our clients. Here is one:

"When planning a direct mail campaign, remember to follow the commonly known 60-30-10 rule.

  • Sixty percent direct mail success lies in using the right mailing list;

  • Thirty percent depends on your making the right offer (that is, an offer that satisfies the customer's needs better than the competitor and provides value to him or her);

  • Ten percent depends upon your creative package"
Between 1995 and 2007, the price of oil (and consequently also of our marketing material) has risen from just over US$20 per barrel to US$100 and the environment is under pressure.

Have you stopped to evaluate if its worth it, both for your bottom line and for the environment, to produce some of the super-creative marketing material we marketeers strive for? Especially when you know that super-creative material is not exceedingly effective in attracting customers?