Learning from their mistakes

If The Apprentice was the face of market research, then it would definitely need some of Dr Leah’s TLC. Or possibly something a little more drastic. Regular viewers will know that research has been battered and bruised by Lord Sugar’s hot and cold attitude, candidates’ terrible techniques and forgone conclusions: the industry is portrayed very poorly on the show. But what can we learn from the way the contestants use market research?

Know and listen to your customer

In order to improve a brand, you should listen to the group that know it the best: its customers. They probably have an idea in their mind about what you can do to improve it. While this is impossible in The Apprentice as the brands are made-up for the purpose of the show, it is clear that you need to talk to somebody who would buy your product.

Episode 9 saw teams Evolve and Endeavour set the mammoth task of creating ready meals. Evolve went for the yuppie market, creating Oh My Pow!. Endeavour wanted to create a ready meal for children: team member Miles was behind his gruesome Dracula dinners, championing it as the choice for children, while project manager Alex preferred his Around The World meals, with a character called Popty Ping (Welsh for ‘microwave’) teaching children about geography.

Stage one of Endeavour’s market research saw Myles and Alex pitching their ideas to mothers. Interestingly, they liked the idea of the educational, around-the world food, and while one mother said that her children would love Myles’ gruesome dinners, she also noted that they have that sort of thing at Halloween. So from that feedback, obviously they went for… Myles’ gruesome dinners. The problem here was that they didn’t listen closely enough to the answers their market research gave them.

In stage two of Endeavour’s market research, they targeted children who absolutely adored the Bat’s Blood pasta. But do those children buy ready meals? No. The supermarket-shopping, money-wielding, child-caring grown-ups do, and they hated the idea. They were put off by the food because they didn’t think it looked healthy, and it had a great huge skull on the packet, just like a bottle of bleach.

The Bat’s Blood ready meals weren’t popular, then, so Endeavour lost the competition. Poor Alex got fired too, brainwashed by Myles’ “My kids would love this” vibe. If only he’d stood back and asked, “But would your wife buy Bat’s Blood?” Chaps: next time, you need to know your market – and listen to what it’s telling you.

Converse with your customer

Even by the final stage of the show, the contestants still didn’t really ‘get’ market research. Luisa, baking entrepreneur, did well to assess her market by approaching a fellow baking shop owner. But instead of talking with her, she talked at her – allowing the interviewee just four words in edge ways. Thus, she was unable to gain any insight whatsoever.

A meaningful conversation is crucial to meaningful data – and the longer the conversation, the better.

Your research is only as good as the questions you ask

Episode 8 sparked a great deal of disdain within the market research industry because the failure of the task was blamed on the market research.

Set with the task of creating a dating website, candidates were faced with the choice of marketing to twenty-something professionals, or the 50-plus demographic. Team Evolve opted for the latter. Alas, they knew nothing of these alien grey-haired beings – so they turned to research.

Carried out by the candidates, the market research was doomed from the start. They gave their 50-plus audience the choice of a ‘cheeky’ dating website or a ‘traditional’ website. I know what I would choose: cheeky has disastrous connotations. No-one wants to find a partner on a cheeky dating sight. So, essentially, the only option for the five group participants was a traditional, boring website – and so ‘Friendship and Flowers’ was born.

There is a lesson to be learned here: if you need information, you should get someone who knows what they’re doing to facilitate your research. The answers you get will only be as good as the questions you ask.

Don’t show your audience your back-of-a-fag-packet idea

Episode 3 saw candidates design a piece of multi-usage furniture to pitch to big department and catalogue stores.

In order to get feedback on their design, Endeavour’s market research team asked a handful of blokes on their lunch hour about their folding chair-come-table. The product was illustrated by the presentation of doodles on scraps of paper – I’ve produced similar things myself in lecture theatres.

As a result, the feedback was extremely negative – with comments such as “not convinced” and “puzzled and confused” thrown around. The team chose to ignore this feedback yet won the task by 3,042 sales.

Is that another failure for market research? No. All it proves is that if you want honest feedback on your product, you need to present it to your audience in a fitting way: find an appropriate platform to showcase the design.

Asking a handful of people for their opinion isn’t market research

The best example to illustrate this point comes from last year’s Apprentice when Melody concluded that “no-one in Paris drives” because four commuters in a Metro station didn’t. So the standout product which she disliked – an award-winning booster seat backpack – was avoided. A decent pitch on the opposite team with that product secured a record €214,000 order.

Misguided market research and a foregone conclusion lost Melody’s team the task. The lesson to be learnt here is to ask a representative sample of people: if Melody hadn’t chosen to ask a tiny handful of commuters, she would have found a different answer.

So what should The Apprentice do differently next time?
To repair the damage done to market research by Lord Sugar’s hopeless hopefuls, change is needed. Maybe next time around, The Apprentice should come with its own purpose-built insight community.

The community could include loyal viewers of the programme, who could be subdivided into different consumer groups according to age, income or other demographics, in order to provide relevant groups to respond to different tasks. These group of people would be at the candidate’s fingertips; opinions could be extracted quickly, with minimal effort.

Such a platform would allow various types of questions to be asked, designs to be showcased and qualitative conversations to be had.

None of which will be any help, though, if we have another crop of candidates with cloth ears, incapable of listening to consumers.

 

This article was originally published on Research-Live.