In reference to this, does anyone with access to a reasonably recent computer or mobile device really yearn for the “good old days”?

Can most visualize making decisions about what to sell, who to sell things to, and how best to do it without being fully immersed in the wonderful world of research?

Market research has reached amazing depth and breadth. I’m saying that just like the biggest ocean vessel is not a thimble in the water, many search tools, especially aggregating some, can cripple most businesses that use even a few of them tons.

Surveys, interviews, focus groups and customer observation

They would be ordinary observation tools, basic research tools. Not entirely digressing from this, someone please explain to me what the ‘logic branch’ really is. I can’t wait to impose this on someone.

Data analysis and visualization

It used to be quite simple, whereas it was all about business and customer data. Enter what is called “big data”. If you don’t forcefully assert that your company is up to its big data waders, you are seen as a pitiful information killer, with limited likelihood of success in the future.

Oh good? In the 1980s, our company was completely immersed in “big data”. Unfortunately, we did not invent “big data”. We only had a provincial “database” with a few billion customer-focused data points. We had the wherewithal to combine all of this and then search for value, so the marketing and advertising direction, by evaluating all the relevant data attributes. Then we got nifty: consort sets of data attributes! So get ready: we’ve tested all of this in real-life scenarios.

Once you’ve gathered enough customer data and interrogated it in an immersive way, your Eureka moments are reasonably predictable. Thus, the liabilities inherent in live fire testing are much better quantified and, therefore, mitigated.

What didn’t we have to affirm to be elite big data users and pushers? Two things: first, a bunch of cutting-edge data analytics, visualization software, and platforms developed since then, and second, computing power. I remember buying excess “computer time” from one of the largest California government contractors to process our data, in addition to huge twin Crays in Nebraska, contracted to run forty-eight hours at a stretch, every three weeks, to update our not-so-big data.

For years I’ve pondered what the Samsung mobile(s) in my pocket can crush effortlessly.

There are hundreds of data analysis, visualization, and SEO tools out there, ranging from all sorts of obligatory Google stuff to other nifty wrenches amusingly named SurveyMonkey and SurveySparrow.

Forgive my arrogance, as popular and recognized as the aforementioned tools are, I would hate to tell those close to me that my company uses anything “monkey”. All of these come with hundreds of customizable modules, ranging in price from free trial to national debt of some third world countries. They all claim to be indispensable force multipliers in the marketing paradigm of the future.

So… I thought about it and went back to our “good old days”. This is not to denigrate our present which, at the pace of tireless scientific progress, will soon be a good old time. Fortunately, that brings me to the title of this piece.

A few years ago I was challenged by a client (there was one – the messenger was often fired), one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. Despite the efforts of their internal and external teams, they experienced a significant erosion of market share for a popular mid-size SUV, attributed to a competitive model from another big giant. The latter’s model, at least superficially, didn’t make much sense, as the brand was much narrower demographically. My task was to identify people who were about to buy the competitive model and bring them back to the original joint.

Interesting when a client has essentially unlimited funds and equally extensive human resources – internal and contracted – to do just about anything. Your humble scribe here, has given up on the data analysis highway that the client had already traveled. Instead, pull out my marketing “abacus”: buy videos of the competitor’s TV spots and watch a bunch of TV channels. Then, prompted by my wife, she the partner in this union with genuine brains and wonderfully critical thinking, I watched a top-notch network show she had watched. She asked if the success of the “other” mid-size SUV could be because two of that show’s lovely stars drove that car? A really cool product placement?

You can imagine my client’s reaction to this trivial information, however accurate it may be.

Back to my “work”. My client was specific: it would be the buyers of the other car who would be the buyers of ours. No point in simply selling more cars: just “better” the other, their tasteless naming convention for selling cars to people who bought the competitor’s specific model. I was schooled on it.

To put an end to this, given our resources on all things Internet and a friend who was the biggest lead generator in the automotive business, finding these people was not a major challenge. In particular, that I convinced the client to let us come up with a nifty incentive. In the interest of full disclosure, we went ahead with our mission and somewhat ignored the ban on simply selling more of these cars.

Take out your abacus, your slide rule and your walking shoes?

Focusing on walking shoes, imagine your fancy market research requires a briefcase, some printed paper, a decent suit (not Brioni), and some really good walking shoes? Wondering if this would be your grandfather’s concert, not our modern wonder-filled world?


A client asked me to write the summary of his new company. Incidentally, in the tsunami of the first bubble, writing these was a lucrative job for me. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t clear on the purpose of half of these companies: Dot Com Dot Com my …. Dot com. Still: writing the pages and a half was a fun challenge.

They have developed an interesting reverse auction platform for a specific small retail segment. The market was about 65,000 stores, 95% of which were privately owned. They developed a marketing campaign to showcase what really made sense. I perceived the message accomplishing little beyond solidifying the extent to which these business owners lacked the resources to compete with the biggies. The client was kind to me as he let me know that I just didn’t understand the degree of their sophisticated research including all the pillars of market research.

My approach, the client bought into it with real reluctance, was indeed “pedestrian” in every way, including literally! Yes: I borrowed a reflection from Bill Marriott. He knows a bit about customer experience.

I asked the client to print the most ordinary pager with specific points (read this as a minimum): advantages and how only. Then imagine the horror, created a regular order form/escrow form – not a purchase order since there was no cost to the customer. I asked the founder/CEO who raised all those millions for this rodeo (not his first rodeo) to dress up a bit and put on some walking shoes. We scoured Manhattan for much of two days, stopping at every store that might have customers, and pitching our stuff as simply as the one-page document.

We left with three things: agreements signed, bruises that we understood what we had to fix on the pitch, how to launch.

I walked this nice man’s behind. It cost him a few meals, my meager fees, and options that they eventually watered down with aplomb.

Have you sat in front of the one-way mirror to observe a live investigation? You have…

I remember my first. Also last. My colleagues in the room with me prevented me from entering the interview room and losing my belongings on ten of the twenty people present. Of course, none of the subjects knew who the company in question was. Offenders claimed that of the twenty-five marketing offers on the table, they would never buy from a company like ours. They were all frequent and high value customers.

The investigation was conducted by the biggest and best in space. The multi-page report was truly impressive.

If we had implemented just three of the twenty imperatives they advocated, we would probably have missed paying their bill. With our utility bills.

Just so you don’t kick me out of this world, I don’t put a blanket of ice cream on anything powerful in market research and analytics at all. But, in my humble experience, when all the big space mousetraps tell me that for sure the sun is rising in the west, I’ll still take a look outside. As I do before descending the slopes of the high mountains, whatever the weather says.

Written by Steven J. Manning.
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