Are Audiences too Smart?

  Look what my idiot husband did 
  Originally uploaded by luckycee.

With every passing year we think we become smarter. We get a new gadget, a new phone (sometimes we can’t tell the difference between the two), a new car, a new hair do and sometimes even a new body. We read more, learn more, study harder, work longer and balance our work and our "life". We "consume" media in ever new formats denoted by TLAs and order-in the food we are simply too tired to cook ourselves.

After writing this post on focus groups, I received some great comments and feedback. I also got a question that made me stop and think … KG asked:

Since MySpace, YouTube, blogs, and all 2.0 phenomena, have focus group participants become a little too media-savvy? Or too jaded because they’re constantly surrounded by media messages in their leisure time?

It’s a great question because it raises a number of other questions about the nature of our audiences, their analytic ability and their willingness to act. My view is this …

In that focus group participants are "supposed" to be representative of us lot, then we are really talking about the GP (general public). And you know, we might be interested in blogs, might write or read them, and sometimes even comment on them, but I don’t think that changes the fundamental drives that attract us to products and services. If anything, it makes us admire good marketing/sales more because we have some understanding of the techniques.

Having said that, I think we also are more short tempered. We don’t suffer fools or poor quality — we fast forward through ads or remove them via TiVo, we click away from those annoying interstitials (which agencies think they work anyway?) and find alternatives to YouTube when Google puts too many ads in feed.

Does this make us smarter or more savvy? Does it affect the sample? No … I think these changes are, to a degree, uniform — affecting more or less equally. And if we are all smarter or more tired or more overwhelmed, then it balances out.

BUT … KG also seems to be asking a hidden question — is marketing still effective? And the answer is yes — but a "qualified yes". Because we are more savvy, overwhelmed, tired and plain fed-up, and because we can now choose the timing, method and manner of our consumption of media, we are also changing the dynamic. We seek truthfulness and authenticity. We seek dialogue and engagement. And we also seek novelty and entertainment. This means that, as marketers, we need new tools to engage our audiences.

But remember, no matter HOW much smarter we are … there are still some of us who are going to tattoo our asses.

9 thoughts on “Are Audiences too Smart?

  1. Gavin, you are right on about my hidden question. That’s an excellent point about how our knowledge of marketing/sales makes us appreciate it better when it’s well done.
    And I agree with your “qualified” yes about marketing’s effectiveness. There seems to be so many challenges facing marketers these days with media/time fragmentation. From what I see, this challenge is indeed keeping everyone on their toes.

  2. Hi again Gavin — I’ve re-read your post a few times now, and you’ve touched on a lot of subtleties in the audience that I hadn’t considered.
    Great answer, and thanks for keeping the conversation going!

  3. KG … thanks for asking the question in the first place … I would never have pondered this otherwise. Now let’s wait and see what Tim has to say for himself.

  4. Gav/ KG- awesome post- I will comment more later, but first I have to get ready for my early flight tomorrow for Taiwan. I just didn’t want to give the impression I was ignoring this. I’m not, not at all.
    I’ll be back, I promise…

  5. For the record- I fully intend to get another couple tattoos, but no coin slots (or anything else) on my ass. I promise.
    Marketing is still very valuable in the mix of things, but as you point out, it’s a different kind of marketing that works now. Sure, there will always be an audience for traditional message-crammed-down-your-throat marketing. Somebody will always respond to being told what to do. However, the seas are changing and the current is pushing those ideas further away from land. Marketing is rapidly evolving, at least in the online/ social networks world, into relationships and user experience enhancements. More and more people are migrating online and into online social networks. These people are increasingly intolerant of being told to do or think anything. They are looking for the best possible experiences. Help them with that and you have a winning program.
    I believe more and more focus groups will evolve into online groups. I mean, me for instance; when I want/ need immediate information from my market, I simply ask the community of readers of my blog to answer a question or participate in a poll or two. If that doeasn’t give me enough information, then I go to the forums where they hang out. Since I participate in those forums anyway, I’m not seen as a soulless marketer coming to eat their offspring. Note: participation is very important for credibility.
    The times are changing and for the better, in my opinion.

  6. Too right, Tim. Times are changing because of the approaches that active and smart marketers (like your good self) are taking. Who needs a focus group when you are active in and a member of your community?
    This is where the technology companies have been very clever … they have been engaging with “user groups” and online communities for years. It is where some of the best ideas come from and it can also help with prioritisation of features etc.
    And you can Beta test in the real world, learn from it, and then release a BETTER product because of your community. Everyone wins.

  7. Your photo had me laughing out loud and wondering how in the world you were going to tie it back to your topic.
    The last line was like a cherry on a sundae!
    In a recent post about focus groups (and it may have been you speaking at another venue) someone made the comment that people in focus groups say what they think they are supposed to say i.e. of course I recycle. But that they don’t always do what they say.
    I wonder if this new demand for authenticity from the consumer will increase their own authenticity in return?

  8. It is really encouraging to read that online forums/user groups are used by those companies brave enough to hear what real users have to say about how their products behave in the real world.
    “Real” is what it’s always been about, and the online-groups situation takes the focus-groups artificiality out of the equation.
    It looking like those that don’t get on board with the real “real” might be left far behind.
    I’ve learned a lot from the conversation here. 🙂

  9. Hey Gavin,
    I meant to comment on this MUCH earlier but… well… I think I closed the browser and lost the tab. And then I had this appointment at the ass tatoo’er, so… 😉
    I was having an interesting comment chat on Kate’s blog and have begun to wonder, do people really want truth? Or, to ask it better, are we choosing authentic over truth when given the choice?
    It feels to me like we’re choosing “authentic” over most things. We’d rather have it “real” than paired down and checked. And many of us are willing to consciously accept that the facts might actually come out otherwise down the road… just some rambling thoughts/questions. Great post.
    The ass picture. Man. Won’t shake that for a LONG decade… 😉

Comments are closed.