Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How to promote heartburn

Over the past few years, I've had the pleasure of working with public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee, helping them promote various products and services with some news-generating public opinion polls. One such client of theirs is Prilosec OTC, the famous over-the-counter heartburn treatment for those who suffer from frequent heartburn (on a self-reported basis, about 13% of the American adult population).

Last year, MS&L had ICR run a quick survey in our Excel Omnibus program, asking over 1,000 adults about what type of music is their favorite. We found that, nationally, seven listed styles of music stacked up as follows:

  • Country was most popular, the favorite among 26% of adults

  • Rock was next, tops among 17%

  • Pop / Top-40 was favored by 15%

  • Classical at 10% (however, 22% among senior citizens)

  • Rhythm and Blues at 8%

  • Hip-hop / Rap at 7% (however, 18% among 18-34 year olds)

  • Jazz at 5%

  • Another 11% of respondents said that their favorite type of music was not on that list of seven varieties. Anyway, why would Prilosec OTC want to know what kind of music people like? Well, they really wanted to know what kind of music that frequent heartburn sufferers like! And that proved to be Country -- even more than the general population. In fact, among Prilosec OTC's target market, Country music is preferred by 38% of adults, which is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level, versus non-heartburn adults (24% preference).

    So, how did MS&L put this information to use for Prilosec OTC? I'll let some of their press release speak for itself:

    NEW YORK, Nov. 10, 2005 /PRNewswire/ -- For the first time ever, the Country Music Association (CMA) is bringing Country to New York City for the presentation of the 2005 CMA Awards, and several events have been planned from November 10th through November 15th to help New York City celebrate.

    ...On Friday, November 11th at the historic Roseland Ballroom, Country Music performers, including the legendary Charlie Daniels, will join together with athletes and dignitaries in a variety concert to raise money and awareness for the veterans of America's armed forces and their families. Prilosec OTC will introduce the grand prizewinner of The Prilosec OTC Burning to Sing Your Heart Out Contest, Dallas Burnett, at the event. As part of his prize, Dallas will perform on stage with Charlie Daniels during the concert.

    ..."Prilosec OTC and Country Music have something in common -- they are both #1 with people who suffer from frequent heartburn. We have had so much fun working with the CMA to celebrate Country Music and educate consumers about frequent heartburn. This was an exciting venture for us as we connected with so many different types of people and Country Music fans from all across the country," said Kip Olmstead, Brand Manager of Prilosec OTC.

    Fun, indeed. If you want, you can even check out the fan-written song video that won the contest.

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    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Mapping with Frappr

    Okay, I admit it. I'm a Geography nerd. I've always loved maps. I even went so far during my Ph.D. candidacy at Temple University as to take on a minor topic in "Quantitative Methods in Geography". (If you must know the other 3 topics I chose, they were American Military History from 1898 to present, European Diplomatic History from 1800 to 1945, and Naval Warfare from the Spanish Armada to present. I left all that behind for a career in Marketing Research!)

    So as not to bore you with a treatise on the value of cognitive space, let me just ask you this:

    Whether you are a regular reader of Inside Market Research or whether you are a first-time visitor, whether you practice in the field of Marketing Research or whether you do not, won't you please "Add yourself!" to the Frappr map you see at the bottom of my right sidebar? I really don't ask much of my readers, yet I pour forth all of this excellent free content to each and every one of you. So, please, won't you give a little back by mapping your visit?

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    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    They love us in China

    Many hits have been coming to my recent blog post, entitled "Usable research". Imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from a Chinese blogger who goes by the name of 'Heart5', asking if he could re-copy and re-post my "Usable research" article -- into the Chinese language!

    I figured, "Sure, why not?" I consented to my material being re-posted.

    Thus, so to speak, I'm syndicated in two languages now. I hope my hit counter goes to a billion!

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    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Bad profits - case #1

    People are going to think I'm the new step-child of Fred Reichheld, creator of the loyalty concept called Net Promoter Score (NPS), a simple index that subtracts those who aren't strongly likely to recommend a company from those who are.

    Reichheld is pitching another concept in a new book. It's the notion of "bad" profits. How can a firm call any profit "bad", you might ask? Well, bad profits are earned at the expense of customer relationships -- when a company makes the customer, member, or client feel like they've been misled, mistreated, coerced, or abused. Bad profits are the bank's $35 overdraft charge on a check for $9.75. Bad profits are (were) Blockbuster's late fees on video rentals. Bad profits are when your $89 hotel room bill also comes with a $12.50 surcharge for using the telephone, even to call 1-800 numbers.

    Bad profits are especially harmful to a corporation because, while they may momentarily please Wall Street shareholders, bad profits actually undermine the foundation of customer loyalty (or "preference formation", as ICR's Dr. Steve Ballou likes to say). And typically, only firms with strongly loyal customers can capitalize on the long-term profitability benefits of word-of-mouth referrals and implementation of premium services. Companies that regularly exercise their right to earn bad profits are unknowingly creating a customer base that is so ready to defect, that when they do switch brands, they take 3 or 4 other customers (their family, friends, and co-workers) with them.

    Very recently, I had one such experience on the receiving end of bad profits. We took our annual vacation to Key West, Florida. We love the drive down the Overseas Highway, so our airline flight was into and out of Fort Lauderdale.

    When I chose a rental car, I knew our family would want a nice minivan, to carry our luggage and little Maddie's innumerable supplies, as well as have the opportunity to shuttle my wife Stephanie's sister and two cousins, who were also going to be in Key West that week. I used Orbitz to shop for and reserve a rental minivan.

    Orbitz does a nice job of displaying all of the comparable rental rates from various car rental firms. In my mind, over the years I have built the following price/value images of the available car rental firms, when it comes to minivans:

    Hertz is almost always the most expensive option, and I don't see the value benefit of their services, which seem to cater to executives in a hurry.

    Avis does "try harder", but this apparently means that they have found a price-point that lies just below Hertz's, but above everyone else's.

    Then, we have the free-for-all among the remaining car rental agencies: Alamo, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, National, and Thrifty. They are typically competitive with each other on price, service, and airport facilities.

    You also can find a lower tier of local or regional rental companies, like Advantage, E-Z, Fox, and L&M. They are almost always just a bit cheaper than the free-for-all companies, but you usually compromise on the location of their car lots and/or the extensiveness of their roadside service.

    Anyway, for this particular trip, we chose National Car Rental -- it was a brand that I trusted, and they were offering an American-made minivan for only $239 for an 8-day rental. My contract was for Friday evening through the following Saturday afternoon. I didn't read or notice the fine print that said, "Rates are subject to change if vehicle is not returned on the date and time agreed upon at time of reservation and rental."

    On February 11th, the Philadelphia area was due for a major snowstorm in the evening, and on that morning, we were still in Key West. Fortunately, I had called our airline (Southwest) the night before, and we got our evening flight seats changed to an 11:00 AM flight. (Believe me, my wife and daughter were not pleased to depart Key West for the drive to Fort Lauderdale at 5:30 in the morning! But, in the end, it was the right decision -- we got 15 inches of snow in my neighborhood.)

    In the rush to drop off our minivan at the National return area at the FLL airport, it never occurred to me that there would be any inconvenience on National's part, to take back our vehicle at 9:45 AM, rather than at 5:00 PM as contracted. Well, apparently this was a major hassle for National, because they took the liberty of charging not $239 for my rental, but an amazing $515! I didn't even notice this on the heat-transfer receipt that the check-in agent in the garage gave me. Indeed, I wouldn't have even noticed it a couple of weeks later, had I not carefully looked at our credit card statement for the month.

    How dare a company MORE THAN DOUBLE an already substantial bill, just because a customer did not use a product or service for an additional "expected" seven hours? When I called National to complain, they were indeed quick to refund the overcharge, and they weakly explained that "their computer system" recalculates rates based on the most expensive daily rate if a return time is not within an hour of expectation. I wondered aloud to them, "How many of your loyal customers simply don't notice this overchage, and furthermore, how angry do those observant ones become?"

    The representative I spoke to sheepishly said that this is something that agents have been complaining to management about for some time. It's just not fair to the customer. It's not abiding by the Golden Rule -- treating others the way you would want to be treated. Do you think if customers of National Car Rental found a way to fleece the company for over $300 just by manipulating the clock a little, the firm would stand by idly without changing the system? Of course not!

    So now, here I write. And about 15 people per day will read this article. And they, like me, will now place National Car Rental (and perhaps even its sister company, Alamo) at the bottom of that "free-for-all" class of car rental agencies. I'm not saying I would never use National's services again, but I am saying that I will not forget this experience when I'm choosing my next rental car.

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