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No customer surveys for Apple. Really?!

Lots of Apple flurry these days: becoming the top-valued company (ever), winning the Apple vs. Samsung patent-infringement case and the excitement around its next version iPhone (5!), unveiled this week.  

All very exciting; but the item that dropped my jaw didn’t actually grab the major headlines.

 


Is there life without customer surveys?

In her recent blog, Mary M. Flory, AMA’s managing editor of magazines and e-newsletters, relays a fascinating quote by Apple executive Phil Schiller: ‘We don't use customer surveys, focus groups, or typical things of that nature. That plays no role in the creation of [our] products,’ he said (as originally reported by CNET).

What! They don’t use customer surveys?! For those of us in the market research industry, that statement rocks our world.

And yet, between you, me and the print on this page (or screen on your iPad/iPhone), they don’t seem too worse off for it!  On the day of its launch, the iPad sold over 500 thousand units making it one of the fastest-selling consumer electronics products in history.


Create consumers, rather than researching them

On paper we researchers famously advocate that superior marketing savvy must be founded on solid market and consumer research. Having been weaned on the textbook obvious, the very possibility of the world’s most valuable company not employing consumer surveys leaves us stumped!

Like trading in one iPhone for a newer version, maybe we need to trade in our old-school perspectives.  

Speaking of ‘school’, one strategy is that Apple builds its customer base by cleverly selling its products through the educational network. As posted by ‘jenngerl’ at NewMACOnline.com, ‘Students get an early exposure to Apple products, become comfortable with product interface, and come to know the quality of Apple’s goods — which hopefully hooks them on Apple products for their lifetime.’

Why research the consumer when you can have a hand in creating them? Clearly, despite the fact that Apple does not rely on customer surveys to create its products, they have no shortage of good decision-making for their efforts.  

To add insult to injury, as market researchers, after we’ve toiled over sample sizes, weighting, cross-tabs and eventually elaborate reports, we sometimes discover that the findings we’ve delivered go ignored.  


Admit it: consumer research can miss the mark

Heavily researched ‘New Coke’ which was launched mid-80s in the USA, stands as a monument to this fact.

Former Coca-Cola Company CEO, Donald, Keough stated, ‘The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.’

As the ‘New Coke’ fiasco attests, even consumer research can get it wrong.

While Apple apparently doesn’t do traditional consumer research through customer surveys, it’s not to say there is no value in it at all. By no means!  

There are more companies whose product/service failures can be attributed to blindly assuming they knew their customer and/or market and evading research altogether.


So what do market researchers have to offer their clients?

What can we learn from these two scenarios … Apple doesn’t recognise the benefit of customer surveys, and some of the Coca-Cola results were found lacking?

As market researchers we know there is merit in consumer research. Results that indicate the contrary should spur us on to proving its value, and doing the best job we can to leverage insights and knowledge.


Get the market research data out of the tables and into graphs

What I believe our clients want is not better data, but rather the ability to leverage data to make better decisions. The market researcher’s currency has to change from that of collecting ‘data’ to that of informing ‘decision-making’.

We can create data visualization techniques that illustrate the meaning of the customer survey findings and pair it with relevant product innovation research, findings from other research or knowledge of the industry. And there’s always the option of leveraging the latest visualization technologies to be able to tell significant truths and share findings with others.

Before we, as market researchers, create another cross-tab, perhaps the ‘higher cause’ would give us reason to pause.

Make it less about the customer survey data and more about the way the data can be leveraged and visualized, to make better decisions!

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