The Losh Cause – Trusting your instincts
For all the facts and figures quoted by marketing strategists, Chris Losh believes that intuition can sometimes be a more powerful weapon than a spreadsheet.
Is it just me, or do we all spend too much time gawping at screens and crunching numbers, and not enough time actually talking to people? I mean, figures are always nice to have, and they often look quite pretty on your computer screen, but so often they can be an exercise in futility.
In the UK, a brand manager's mood in any given week can often be dictated by the tablets of stone passed down from the market research deity AC Nielsen. Yet, even as they prepare buoyant or defensive press releases, these acolytes will freely admit that they have huge reservations about the accuracy of figures they are quoting. All of which, to me, renders the analysis about as reliable as the work of your average haruspex.
Sometimes, you can't help thinking, a good gut feeling - as opposed to poking through the retail entrails - might be more effective than relying on stats and market research, not least because the latter can be utterly misleading.
Take the whole New Coke debacle in the mid-1980s, still held up today as an example of Great Marketing Disasters of Our Time, and one which had its roots in an over-reliance on market research and an under-appreciation of the product itself.
The problem was that Coke intended not to run its new baby alongside the original, but to replace it - something it had omitted from all its focus groups in the name of secrecy.
It was a fatal error because it totally underestimated the iconic status that the original had in American life. So what if people preferred to drink Pepsi? Coke was as iconically American as the Statue of Liberty, and the backlash against the interloper was instantaneous.
New Coke failed, not because it was a bad product, or because it hadn't done its homework, but because no-one appreciated that drinks can be about more than the product in the bottle. The public knew that, even if the brand's owners had temporarily forgotten.
The trouble is that proximity to a problem often decreases the ability to find a solution, since there is a tendency to draw conclusions that one wants to hear, rather than find answers that are accurate.
Take Australia's disastrous wine overproduction, which stems from a highly complex 1990s business dictum that didn't stretch much past, 'the more you plant, the more you earn'.
I remember meeting Aussie wine guru James Halliday at the time the (initial) 2012 plan was launched and asking him just where Australia was going to sell all this wine it was planning to produce, to which the less-than reassuring answer was 'The Far East'. When I suggested that this wasn't the soundest basis for doubling your vineyard area, he told me that I was being unduly negative and 'just had to look at the growth rates'.
Kiwis aren't going to want to hear this, but I get a similar feeling with New Zealand now. The country has planted like crazy over the last decade to fulfil demand, and while it is nowhere near being in oversupply, the quality of the Sauvignons in particular has suffered.
They've never been cheap, yet until recently they still represented fair value for money. But I no longer think this is the case - and judging by the underwhelmed grumblings from assorted hacks at the recent Release Tasting in London, I'm not alone.
For the moment, the fact that Chile, South Africa and even France are making better Sauvignon for the money isn't affecting sales. But these things tend to have a tipping point, and it wouldn't surprise me if, in ten years, Kiwi growers are looking at the acres of Sav that they planted around the turn of the century and wondering what on earth they're going to do with it all.
Doubtless there's no shortage of Kiwi winemakers who think I'm wrong and will point in their defence to figures showing solid sales predictions to the year 3050. But my instinct tells me they're heading for a fall if they don't start to deliver on the price.
Still, what do I know? I'm a journalist. No-one listens to us. I have the figures to prove it…
For all the facts and figures quoted by marketing strategists, Chris Losh believes that intuition can sometimes be a more powerful weapon than a spreadsheet....
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