As we reach the 40th anniversary of the rise of Punk, there’s a classic Sid Vicious quote that springs to mind. Asked by an interviewer “When you make your music, do you think about the man in the street?”, Mr Vicious replied, “No, I’ve met the man in the street. He’s a c***.”
It’s been said by those who knew him, that Sid wasn’t the brightest. That said, he seemed to have a decent grasp over the pitfalls of consumer research. Pitfalls that become more dangerous when creating anything new or different.
While not exactly representing the man on the street, here’s what Lord Alan Sugar of Amstrad fame thought back in 2005, “Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput”. Ten years later, over 300 million iPods sold. The iPod may have been superseded by the iPhone (not doing too shabbily either), but it sure wasn’t the failure Mr Sugar predicted.
“It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”
Apple certainly don’t ignore their customer insight – far from it, particularly post-launch. But when Steve Jobs was asked about how much market research went into creating the iPad, he responded, “None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want. It’s hard for [consumers] to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”
“A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
Sure, you can show your new idea or design to people for research, testing and insight. And when asked, the man (or woman) on the street will usually have an opinion. But tread carefully… it’s highly likely they’ll be inconsistent, unqualified, contradictory opinions, and that breeds fear and doubt, destroying the self-belief you once had in the idea (I speak from experience – a client once took some initial drafts of a new logo and, against advice, put them on Facebook for “customer research”. Following some extremely varied comments, it took several weeks to get the client to think clearly again about what they wanted to achieve and disregard some very unsuitable suggestions). This doubt may also lead to diluting down what began as a strong idea, accommodating various other aspects to try and please everyone. As the saying goes, ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’.
So when contemplating launching anything new or different (product, packaging, graphic design, brand identity, website, campaign) there are no safe bets. Even with all the research in the World, just accept you are going to have to take a risk. When you accept that fact, would you rather that risk be based on your own vision, or a camel?
Photograph: Billedbladet NÃ…/Arne S. Nielsen – Riksarkivet (National Archives of Norway)