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This is article five of six in a series of lessons for small retailers by Malcolm Gladwell Blink .

Wow, what a great chapter for marketers Blink is. This quote on p. 160 summarizes the thoughts the great retailer (Louis Cheskin) had on the packaging: “Cheskin was convinced that when people make an estimate about something they can buy in a supermarket or department store without realizing it, they convey the sensations or impressions they have. More often than not, Czechin believed that most of us do not differentiate – at an unconscious level – packaging and an unconscious level product.

A key concept in this chapter is that experts are often more confident in identifying what will work – or win – in the market than market research is based on consumer surveys. For small retailers, this chapter is a must read. You know what good, you rarely have money for consumer surveys.

Gladwell explores the New Coke debate and the incompleteness of market research that led to it. While this is a well-known marketing mistake, Gladwell offers his typical behind-the-scenes news story and tells us why the marketing information on which the coke traders based their decision was triggered.

Even more interesting is his exploration of a musician named Kenna, a person who music experts agree should be distressing, but can’t find the top 40 shows on the radio because market research can’t capture the same data that experts see flashing

Why? Because, as Gladwell points out, “… the experts’ first impressions are different … more esoteric and complex.” (p. 179). Kenna music is different and it is difficult to put a particular label on it, so it is impossible to adequately measure music market research.

Gladwell also links the story to the Aeron chair – a new product with a completely innovative look that even experts have said will fail. But with this chair, which looked so different, people didn’t know how to feel about it themselves; Gladwell says consumers have “misinterpreted their feelings” (p. 173). Market research has shown that the chair will not work, but it has succeeded because it is a great product.

What does this chapter mean for a small business owner? Two lessons.

First, we need to understand the boundaries of market research. This method is neither flawless nor will it guarantee market success or prevent market failure.

Second, the small business owner should learn to identify in which areas he or she is an expert and in which subjects he / she is not. In areas that you know you are an expert in – where many years of experience have been well learned and you can instantly grasp something about your industry or industry that relates to your customers – and even those topics are a safe bet that you are truly an expert.

However, the key pitfall is that you think you are an expert in all areas of your business. You are not, and even your customers are not. They are super smart shoppers, but neither are they always aware of why they do what they do … so, where possible, study what they do and then find ways to change that behavior to your advantage.

Remember: brand (who you are) + package (face to customer) + people (customers and employees) = marketing success.

© 2006

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by Craig Lutz-Priefert




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