Views from the Hills by R. E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail

More on Observational Research

Recently I received a call from a long time reader of the Views. He stated that he was disappointed that I did not mention In-Home and In-Store observations in the two Views I recently wrote on methods and locations of research aimed at uncovering new product opportunities. He is right. I should have since I consider the point of purchase and point of use observation to be most important in the discovery phase of research.

I have often written about the habit A.G. Lafley, P&G CEO, has of visiting consumers' homes on a monthly basis. In the May 17 issue of Fortune Magazine, Mr. Jim Stengel, Procter's chief marketing officer, is quoted as saying how P&G has cut their reliance on focus group research. Instead the marketers are urged to spend lots of time with consumers in their homes, watching the way they wash their clothes, clean their floors, diaper babies, and asking them about their habits and frustrations. As Jim says, in 2000, the typical brand manager spent less than four hours a month with consumers. It is atleast triple that now. Jim feels that P&G and their competitors have already met the consumers' obvious needs and that today's opportunities lay in meeting needs that consumers may not articulate.

I am reminded of another CEO who believes in being in the trenches on a daily basis. In the mid 90's, David Glass, CEO of Wal-Mart, was voted the most admired CEO in a Fortune magazine poll. Mr. Glass spends two or three days a week in stores and would like to spend more. He is quoted as saying "Not much constructive ever gets done in Bentonville" their home office. When John Smale, former P&G CEO, took over as chairman of General MOtors, one of his first exercises was to take Jack Smith and other GM executives to a Wal-Mart management meeting. The objective of the business was to see how Wal-Mart made their decisions.

One of my basic principles of the exploration of new ideas is that of Observation, Investigation, and Interrogation. In my career there was no better example of this principle than the task given to me in 1969. That task involved looking for opportunities related to non woven disposables in the surgical field. Over a two year period I set up a system that involved the three step principle of being in the operating room to observe the surgical procedures, interviewing the surgeons and nurses, and the most difficult step of challenging beliefs. For example at the time of my research there was a belief that all surgical patients had to be covered with three layers of material for protection. In those days, cloth drapes were utilized which allowed fluids to easily pass through the layers of cloth. If we had a fabric that contained a fluid barrier, would only one layer be adequate? Why did orthopedic surgeons want fluid migration while other surgeons wanted absorption? Much of our learning occurred in the pertain room during the actual procedures. (The most difficult task in this  project was obtaining permission for me and my team to have access to the operating rooms.) Through the two years we learned a lot about needs, their reasons and most importantly the possible solutions.

If you are in a battle whether a business war or a war between nations, the best place for determining battle options is on the front line, in the trenches. This is where the action is. It is where wars are won or lost.

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