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June 2008
ADM logoLiving in interesting times 
An old Chinese curse says: May you live in interesting times. Given the political scene these days, they certainly are. Another old saying (don't recall the source) is that when you see a movie with a US President who is African-American or female, you know it's futuristic. The future may well be just a few months away. 
In the meantime, it's pretty interesting at ADM Marketing & Research Consulting. Finishing up a busy Spring, writing new proposals, appearing on Jeopardy! and getting ready for a vacation in Ireland, the beat goes on. 
A New Brand
UnbrandedPlanning for Brand Building
In an era of mergers, more mergers, and mega-mergers, building or re-positioning a new or relatively unknown brand can be risky. This is especially true for a niche product and a modest budget. This is where planning becomes more than just important--it is critical. There is little wiggle room for big mistakes.
The product in question is a medical device, sold and distributed, primarily, through medical professionals. In addition to this "push strategy," the client also has a "pull strategy," using direct-to-consumer advertising to bring inquiries into a call center, which triggers referrals to the appropriate medical professionals. The client is in the process of establishing a brand positioning and strategic marketing effort. The research is looking at both sides of the marketplace to better obtain a 360 degree view, through:
  • A telephone study of medical professionals--key to the success of this brand--who are or used to be customers to learn what the client is doing right and what they are doing wrong
  • A brief telephone survey among consumers calling in, getting a better idea of what appeals best to these buyers and what turns them off

In the first part, we focused on former customers in order to uncover areas that need improvement or repair. This is very much like a Trade Study, learning why retailers carry a certain brand, or why they don't. It may seem strange to characterize medical professionals as "retailers," but in this case it's quite apt. What we learned is that, in fact, financial incentives--direct and indirect--are key to maintaining this customer base. Customer service and product quality are very close behind.

During the briefing of the interviewers for the consumer part of the research, we discovered that as many as 30% of the people calling in had little or no knowledge of the product category, much less the brand. They were intrigued by the advertising and wished to learn more. This bit of information made us realize that the questionnaire would be--in effect--moot for that 30% of callers. We would end up with around one in three people answering "don't know" to most of the questions. We immediately redesigned the questionnaire to screen out those people who were unfamiliar with the product category. Of course, this slowed down the data collection process, but we will end up with better data.
The lesson here is: listen to the interviewers. They are the ones who actually interface with respondents. They often have a better feel for what is going on in the marketplace than all the strategists and analysts.


Funeral Planning
Mouse on $$The Boomers Aren't Babies Anymore
Now that Leading Edge Baby Boomers are over 60 and beginning to retire--or at least, think about retiring--they are also confronted with the reality of mortality. Many have experienced end-of-life decisions for parents, grandparents, and other friends or relatives. It is not surprising, therefore, that the cohort that has always insisted on doing things their way is making plans for, and leaving explicit instructions for, their own finales. As Iconoculture, a newsletter that looks at various generational and cultural groups in American society, points out, Boomers are opting for deep sea, deep space, and nearly anything in between, as final resting places.
One of our clients works with independent funeral homes to provide pre-paid funeral plans. We have, over the past 2 1/2 years, looked into this marketplace to determine how people 50 and older think about pre-planning. Here are some things we've found: 
  • Pre-planning of funerals is not unheard of--three out of four people 50 or older have heard of it--but only one in four has done it--the oldest generation more than the Boomers.
  • Whether or not they've done it, Boomers think that pre-planning their funerals is important.
  • About one in three Boomers has selected and purchased a cemetery plot; about the same proportion has selected a funeral home.
  • Only about a third of Boomers who have recently had experiences with funeral homes were completely satisfied.
  • Though they often want to do things their own way, Boomers do hold on to some traditions: most want some kind of memorial service.
  • Cremation is of serious consideration to about half the Boomers who are at least 50.

As time goes on, and as Boomers have more experiences with funerals and funeral homes, it will become more common for them to want more of a say in how they make their final exits. While creative entrepreneurs are already offering alternatives to traditional memorial services, the research indicates that Boomers, who have always steered their own courses, will want a basis of tradition with an updated spin.

Remembering and AcknowledgingD-Day 
This week we observe the 64th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the end of World War II. I'm normally not so sentimental, nor prone to be jingoistic. However, having watched "Band of Brothers" again last weekend, I was reminded of how much has changed since 1944; not just the most obvious technological or sociological changes. The whole way we view ourselves as individuals versus community members has changed.
In spite of the horrors of war and the many ways in which Americans sacrificed during World War II, there is one thing we got right--something which has had lasting impact on everyone's life. That is the GI Bill, a large and substantial "thank you" from the American government to the soldiers who fought and lost so much. This important program, which sent thousands of returning GIs to college, produced engineers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and businesspeople who ushered in an era of prosperity which benefited nearly everyone. These hard-working people combined their military experience and education to improve the lives of average Americans by introducing affordable housing, automobiles, telephones, televisions, medical care, and countless other consumer goods and services. Their children (that is, many of us!) grew up in an expansive era which gave them the confidence to take risks and create their own destinies.
It is the times in which each of us came of age that inform our world views and, ultimately, the way we make decisions--purchase and otherwise. This "GI Generation" grew up in a period of economic depression and scarcity of nearly everything we now take for granted. Because of their efforts, we grew up in exactly the opposite environment, which produced a very different effect.
To those of the GI Generation who are still among us, I say, "Thanks." You saved the world and gave us one that is more comfortable, more satisfying, and more fun. 
This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman