Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Research - UK v USA

As we were planning our US launch I asked Chris Jones, Brand Guardians Research, what he thought were the differences between research in the UK and the USA. 

He quickly responded, "Well here we have qualitative, generative research and quant, whereas in the States it's mainly quant." 

Well this seemed like a good start point for a blog - but Chris is too busy doing research to write about it - so having had a 20 minute chat with him about it, and following his conversation with a US based researcher - who's actually Welsh, I thought I'd try to jot down a few interesting nuggets. Apologies for any shortcomings...

It seems the biggest determinate in different styles is size of market. Although this is not the whole story as if you take the market on this side of the Atlantic as Europe, around 320m people, it equates roughly with a US market of around 300m people. But of course the whole genre of modern marketing and branding has been honed in the 'single' US market whereas historically Europe has been diverse and differentiated. Classically we think of the American brand as the single-minded, identity-led, homogenous mega-brand. The US has a culture of vision-led, big idea brands. 

They're often the ones we now call 'global' brands: McDonalds, Coke, Microsoft, Nike, Starbucks. Across such a large geographical base with a vast range of people and cultures, a clear brand strategy of command and control delivers an effective and sustainable(?) business model. Research has been used to validate the brand propositions through numbers - data on who will, who won't , who might, when, where and how often. Maybe a sense of a predetermined idea that just needs testing.

Research in the USA is based on six key centres: New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and then San Francisco for IT or Florida for leisure. It tends to be conducted by a travelling team consisting of agency suit, client and researchers. Over the duration of the project much of the learning happens in "off-line moments." As the team travel together they exchange ideas, insights and developments that inform and direct the project. The tendency is to compare and contrast different regions and then develop ideas that span the differences - not always ending up with the highest order idea. 

It's a model that has worked well for successful brands across America. But even regional brands in the USA are the size of many European national brands. The well-practised US marketing process is geared up for an elephantine scale. 

In this world of increasingly savvy consumers and smaller differences between different products and services we need better ways of accessing the real consumer truths. Rather than just hear what they are telling us we need to see below the surface. Consumers know how to read the marketing code, they know how they are supposed to respond. In qualitative research, projective techniques and collusive methodologies are used to uncover the real truths. The approach needs to be fluid and adaptable in comparison to a broader megalithic approach. 

Our qualitative research is much more of a journey into the unknown - and is used across the whole of Europe. By defining alternate realities that test the corners of the envelope of a proposition we draw out comments, attributes and ideas in focus groups that steer and inform the development of the brand concept. Rather than compare one area with another, we learn from each one and use that learning to add to the richness and breadth of a brand. The process is iterative and culturally sensitive. In Europe there is an understanding that brands only exist in the context that they live in. This contrasts with the stereotypical US brand that once dropped from the 'Brand Hercules' that delivers it, imposes itself on the new environment - think EuroDisney/Disneyland Paris. 

Obviously there is a huge role for quantitative research in Europe as well. Every brand will have a tracking service and be part of a monthly omnibus poll. Most brands will require some statistical data to launch, expand or invest.  

Our expertise in understanding regional insight has two immediately useful applications for US companies and their brands. One, taking a fresh approach to working within the US and in understanding the nuances of, what are after all phenomenally large, ethno-geographical differences and using them to inspire new ways of inter/pan/cross-state branding. And two, delivering US brands into Europe using culturally sensitive insight to develop and hone the best way to appeal to and enhance the new market.