Assume your market and bingo! You bomb

market orientation

Assume your market and bingo! You bomb

Of all the concepts in the marketing universe, the most important gift we give our organisations is market orientation. It’s the omega of our discipline because it challenges a manager to recognise the fundamental truth that a) consumers are the source of a company’s success, but that b) these consumers inevitably see the world very differently from the employees that work within the company and who devise the strategies aimed at those consumers.

That might sound simple stuff but most executives, and many marketers, never fully grasp this point. You cannot assume anything about your consumer, because invariably your assumptions are based on conjecture. You must accept that without research into their world, everything you think about them and, consequently, every strategy you try to execute is almost certainly flawed.

We had two great lessons in the lack of market orientation last week. The first came courtesy of Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps who was so enamoured with his Government’s Budget that he tweeted: “#budget2014 cuts bingo & beer tax helping hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy. RT to spread the word”.

Well, his electorate did not let him down. Within minutes Shapps was drowning in an ocean of social media bile as thousands took offence at his apparent assumption that most working class people were engaged solely in the pursuit of beer and bingo.

“I say, you there! How is your whippet? Jolly good, jolly good. Carry on,” was one suitably acid tweet. The hashtag Torybingo, soon began to trend on Twitter and build a hilarious cavalcade of satirical bingo numbers including: “Bank offshore? 44”; “Rickety hips you can’t get fixed – 66” and “Closed your local A&E – number 23”.

At the heart of Shapps’ ill-conceived tweet and the opprobrium it garnered was a fundamental ignorance of the market and an implied distance – note the use of pronoun ‘they’ at the end of his tweet – between how men like Shapps see the world and how he perceives “hardworking people” see it. His lack of knowledge of real people led to ignorant assumptions of what they like which led, in turn, to a ridiculous communications strategy. Twenty minutes of focus group data or a basic survey of his market would have confirmed the fallacy of his approach, but the point about a lack of market orientation is that it negates the need to do research, because you assume you already understand what the consumer wants.

Lobbying group Thinkbox elicited a different but equally pernicious response on social media last week following its outstanding TV Futures event on Thursday. Sadly for all those tech mavens who have been predicting the imminent death of traditional TV in an age of digital alternatives, the vast majority of consumers are continuing to consume most of their content via the telly and not online or on mobile devices.

This finding, backed up by oodles of market-driven data, jarred with the experiences of many of the marketers commentating on the findings via social media. “Does not resonate with me. Almost nobody outside of a big event goes to live TV” was a typical tweet. “For me the only thing I watch live now is sport. Everything else on demand” was another.

These commentators (who, incidentally, both worked in the digital industry) demonstrate another classic type of lack of market orientation. If Shapps was guilty of knowing nothing about his electorate these commentators were guilty of taking a sample size of one, their own behaviour, and extrapolating it to the whole market. It’s an all-too common twist on market orientation in which, rather than use research to understand how the consumer sees the world and align your thinking accordingly, you take your beliefs and assume all consumers feel the same way.

As Thinkbox’s inimitable chairwoman, Tess Alps, pointed out in response to several of the ill-informed tweets questioning the veracity of the TV Futures data, “That is why proper research is so important – to stop us assuming our friends’ behaviour is the norm.”

Well said, Ms Alps. If only everyone was as market-oriented and research-driven.