Posts tagged “expertise”

Don’t Abandon Expertise For The Fleeting Pleasures Of Collaboration

In a thoughtful piece that carefully debunks some of the co-creation hype, my friend and colleague Denise Lee Yohn writes about Viewer Created Adverising Messages at brandchannel

Much more important, however, is the fact that these ads likely miss the opportunity to demonstrate brand leadership; that is, to express the unique and compelling brand point of view that transcends the product or service being sold. The ads everyone points to as having been the most disruptive, and therefore the most successful, are ones that represent the thought leadership of the brand. Think Apple’s 1984 commercial and Nike’s original Just Do It campaign. No consumer, no matter how talented or cool or brand fanatical, would have ever come up with those ads.This is because consumers know what they know at the moment-they know why they like a product-but they don’t know the vision of the brand. They don’t know the company’s dreams and aspirations for the brand, and so they lack the insight and foresight to realize an ad’s full potential. Their ads may be cute or clever, but they won’t further brand leadership. Just as product development should be consumer-informed, so should creative development. But innovative, game-changing companies don’t ask consumers to actually develop new products for them; they shouldn’t ask consumers to develop ads for them either.

Now, I’m not questioning the effectiveness of some brands’ consumer-created ads. Converse and MasterCard stand out as companies that have not sacrificed brand consistency, thought leadership, or alignment in their efforts to engage their consumer base in fresh, interactive ways. And before you accuse me of being some old ad agency type pining away for the good ol’ times, let me tell you, I’m not. I’ll be the first to assert that the old advertising model is broken and creative teams need a big wake up call. But that wake up call needs to come from the clients, not consumers, and therein lies the fundamental reason why V-CAMs [Viewer Created Advertising Messages] are a mistake.

Brands are the responsibilities of the companies that produce them. Companies are ultimately responsible for the perceptions of and relationships with consumers that brands develop. Although the consumer now has more information than ever on which to base her brand perceptions, and she is in more control of the brand relationships, it remains the marketer’s role to shape and nurture brand image and equity.

In the blogosphere, consumer-generated content thrives. So even if companies don’t solicit V-CAMs, they’ll still be created. And that’s okay. But actively pursuing consumer-generated advertising as a marketing strategy is a lazy and irresponsible approach to branding. Furthermore, it’s doomed.

Ethnography and new product development

From Innovation Weblog (via The Business Innovation Insider)

Simply put, ethnography – as it applies to innovation – is the process of doing observational research, going into the field to watch how customers utilize your products. Often used in consumer new product research, ethnography is an excellent way to uncover new opportunities for product improvement.

For example, speaker Pam Rogers, who is corporate director of global customer excellence and innovation, explained how the inspiration for a pedestal/storage unit for its Duet front-loading washers and dryers came from observing a woman who had placed her Whirlpool dryer upon cinderblocks, to make it easier to load and unload it without having to bend over.

Okay, yes, I guess, but really, no. It’s not simply about observation. That seems to be the easy part to explain and so that’s the part that gets spoken about. I’ve written a bit about ethnography here

So often, companies go to the trouble of studying customers, only to address the opportunities revealed by usage. For example, an award-winning snow shovel was redesigned when the design team went out to watch how their product was being used, found that women instead of men were shoveling, and so they made the handle smaller.

But there’s much more that can be revealed. What is the shoveling occasion (or, if you will, ritual) really about? What meanings does it hold? Does it hearken back to childhood? Or does it represent female independence? Or the nurturing of motherhood? Or the abandonment by men? Probably it’s none of those, but the point is that within the ordinary activity of shoveling we can find deep meanings that can provide enormous opportunities for innovation as we question the basic assumptions about what the product could possibly be.

I’ve found the word ethnography to be a troubling one, frankly. It’s a mouthful, it reeks of academic snootery and hand-waving inconclusiveness. It’s gets confused with anthropology and various parties have tried to claim the pure methodology only for those with the right doctorate. And I’ve been an advocate for stepping aside from the word and pointing to the key elements (getting out of your own context, observing and interviewing, and synthesizing something new). But that is troubling for some.

Grant McCracken has written a strongly-worded piece about the coming-of-age of ethnography in business in 2006, and there’s a spirited discussion in the comments below his piece, including several entries from me, including one where I advocate ignoring the word and just getting to the root of it (as I said above). Grant doesn’t take too well to that.

It’s a very troubling issue that is perhaps eating away at the development of an excellent practice and community of practice around that excellence. But I do think the terminology wars and the discipline battles are painful, frustrating, and perhaps fruitless. I look at the “interface” community which has split into many different professional networks based on what term they agree with (IxD, UxD, UX, UD, IX, ID, etc.) or what end of the egg they prefer to break open.

Yesterday I was in a conference call with a prospective client. We were proposing some work and hadn’t used the word ethnography at all. An internal person from another part of the organization was very interested in displaying her own mastery of the research process, and made numerous references to some ongoing work as “my ethnography.” Only she couldn’t even comfortably pronounce ethnography. And she wasn’t doing it; she was sending it out to the “only” provider that did this, apparently (?). And what were they doing? Inviting cool kids to an art gallery in Miami. [Okay, I don’t get this at all].

At a conference the other week I participated in a side conversation that included this snippet “Oh that’s not ethnography, that’s just depth-interviewing.”

I may be coming around to Grant’s way of looking at this. We have a problem. I’ve got my explanation, sure, but so does everyone else, whether they have more experience than I do, or worse pronunciation than I do. We’ve got experts like the Innovation Weblog getting it badly wrong, Pam Rogers perhaps missing some of the point, my recent encounters (presumed experts in their own peer group?) with their own versions of what we’re doing, and on and on.

Unfortunately, I have no solutions. And I don’t see a culture that is ready to reach a solution, establish a common language, speak in one voice (not millions), establish standards, or even work together on this.


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