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Marketing: Advanced class

post #1 of 94
Thread Starter 
I see in the Op-Ed page of the local paper a column by John Balzar of the L.A. Times: "Test stores a pipeline to bigshots."

Test stores are the latest thing in marketing, next to product positioning in entertainment vehicles (such as BMW in an action movie produced by BMW).

The test store is a decoy store that is wired for sound and video so that sellers can find out what buyers really think of their products. The idea started with Sony, I believe.

A friend tells me that Sony execs staff the test stores in Tokyo, and when a customer picks up a product, will rush over to ask what was it that prompted him/her to pick it up. What does the customer think of the design, the functionality, whatever.

The writer says, "I'll give up my privacy for the chance to be heard. What could be sweeter than a pipeline to the big dogs?"

What do you think of this? Would you favor the ski industry doing something similar to find out what you really think of their products? Would you like to have a pipeline to the big dogs?
post #2 of 94
Of course! although, this method of measurement is fraught with peril. Each of these listeners is going to filter the customer's response through his own set of prejudices and a whole raft of other emotional stuff.
You could have 3 of these execs listening, and afterwards come out with a different account of why the customer liked it.

I quite like the use of Mystery Shoppers: professional surveyors who visit the service-giver and use their product or service, and then write a report on teh experience.

I'm surprised ski resorts don't use these more.
post #3 of 94
That's cause we can pick out Dick Tapply by sight now! Actually, I use them occasionally.
post #4 of 94
Thread Starter 
Get this. At a test store in Minneapolis, manufacturers and retailers pay $100,000 for access to the video and audio tapes.
post #5 of 94
Isn't someone doing that for the ski industry? Aren't there market research companies? If not, there needs to be.
post #6 of 94
It's the old saying.

"Nothing happens until somebody sells something".
post #7 of 94
None of the ski area big dogs I'm familiar with know anything about skiing or lessons or ski slope conditions. They're all bean counters and "human resources" specialists who know "all about running big businesses".
post #8 of 94
Thread Starter 
Sony is a big business. One strategy for becoming so was to be zealous in finding out what the customer wants. In the test stores (what's the name of the main drag in Tokyo? That's where the flagship test store is...) products that aren't even on the market are on display. If a prototype does not raise sufficient interest or receives unenthusiastic comments from store browsers, it is immediately yanked from the production queue.

The motto at Sony (roughly translated) is: Give them what they want before they even know that's what they wanted.

Anticipatory marketing is Sony's great contribution to the field.
post #9 of 94
Just curious, is the shopper in the test store aware that it is market research store and that the videocameras and microphones are "on"? Or is this all done surreptitiously?
post #10 of 94
You're all lost in the nineties - wake up!

In the nineties, no one asked customers what they wanted. They created products and services that they thought were great. But, it's the oldest rule in business! Find out what the customer wants, then give it to them!

Everybody makes business out to be some sort of rocket science - it aint. It's really simple. Find out what the customer wants, give it to them, treat them like gold and they'll be with you for life.

The nineties created all kinds of people who were way overpaid and who had no clue about what business is really about. They're still out there, see Anderson Consulting.

I had this figured out about the ski business long ago. This business, is devoid of any real clues about what customers really want and how to serve them the best.

It's so easy to see. Like in CO, everyone thinks the pass wars are the answer - wrong! Ski areas can't afford to operate at losses - no one can! And, once the prices go up, all those customers they thought were theirs will be gone! Again, it's the nineties mentality - "Let's get a bunch of customers at a loss, we'll figure out how to make money later".

Realestate is a short term answer that makes their books look better. In reality, they need to treat their business as any other service business does. For the life of me, I can't figure out why there's so many dumb bunnies in the ski business. Take the Big Show. They have all these customers and can't even figure out how to sell them friggin ski lessons!

Then, look at the ski manufacturers. Why on earth can't I go to Head's web site, pick the ski I want, and it's at my door 3 days later? Why, do I have to go to a ski shop? It's crazy. If I owned a ski company, I wouldn't sell to ski shops. I'd go directly to the customer. The customer goes to my website, orders their skis and boom - they show up 3 days later.

Skis, don't need to be tried on, I don't need to touch them, and I don't need to talk to anyone about them. Skis, are a commodity, just like books. If there's one good thing about the nineties, it flushed out a few very good models -like Amazon. By selling directly to customers, profits would go up and customer satisfaction would sky rocket.


[ May 09, 2002, 11:26 AM: Message edited by: SCSA ]
post #11 of 94
"Everybody makes business out to be some sort of rocket science - it aint. It's really simple. Find out what the customer wants, give it to them, treat them like gold and they'll be with you for life."

I'd like 3 feet of "the milk".

Can anyone deliver.

post #12 of 94
SCSA, while I agree with some of what you are saying I don't think everyone is ready to buy skis by mail, e or otherwise. If demoing could be made easier and less expensive then more people might know what they want without having to go to the ski shop. A large number of people like to touch the skis and talk to a salesperson before making a purchase. I am referring to skiers who probably don't read or post here.
post #13 of 94

That one's been answered a bunch of times.

The reason is that something like 97% of the people who buy skis have no idea what they want, and most will buy on the shop salesman's recommendation. Therefore, ski mfgrs will not sell on-line because the ski shops have said that if the mfgrs do that, then the shops will stop carrying their line(s), which would be disaster for the mfgrs.

You need to remember that we are the rare exception in the ski business, because we do demo and we do know what we want before we plunk down our cash.
post #14 of 94
Thread Starter 

You don't think that giving the consumer a direct feedback line to the boss is an "ask"?

I don't think any of the products in the Sony Demo Store in Tokyo are for sale. These are products in development. Shoppers may sign up for contests and be recruited to beta test products.

The direct feedback is used to make decisions on how to make the product more to the consumers' liking or how to proceed if the product is just not clicking. The point is, it is part of a process of continuous improvement or kaizan.

Nike seems to get away with multichannel merchandising, why can't the manufacturers?

Some consumers will want to handle and try and others are brand-loyal and know what they want. Make it easy for both to get what they want.
post #15 of 94
I'm going to address SCSA questio, why skis aren't (yet) sold online...
From my point of view, there is also a cultural
reason, maybe it's fading away, maybe it's circumscribed to some countries or even regions of a country, nevertheless it's there.
I do love to go out to a shop (usually the same 2-3) and chat with the people working there.
The human touch, even when I buy.
At one, in particular, the "salesmen" aren't only that, they are ski instructors (part time, of course) ski-men (name used to indicate he who tunes the skis), and it's great to hang around.
Lots of things to learn, to discuss, and maybe the occasional discount, why not?
When I'm not out to buy something, I try to keep this to a minimum, after all those people are working, not sunbathing. Still, I have the feeling that even they are enjoying the occasional chat, for a change...
This, of course, annoys (used to) my wife, since I spend (spent) an incredibly amount of time doing so.
This way I bought my skis, ski boots ,ski clothing and assorted accessories for the past 15-17 years...(but also the mountain bike and its fork )
A second reason is that "online buying" has not been well (yet) accepted, here in Italy, very few do use this method. And even those who use it,
do not deem it secure enough for their credit cards.
post #16 of 94
Thread Starter 
The key question in this thread is:

As a consumer, would you like to have a means of telling the service/product providers what you want from them?

Does this industry need a pipeline or conduit between the consumer and the providers (where communication flows both ways)?

Yes, there are survey groups, secret shoppers, and the like. In most cases, the research is contracted by the resort and national studies are conducted by NSGA for the annual SIA Intelligence Report and RRC for the annual NSAA "skier days" report. (Snowboarders must love that term.)

I am wondering if something could be devised that would enable those in the executive suites of resorts and manufacturers to get candid and direct information from the consumer. That is, information that is not subject to bias (interpretation) in the gathering of it.
post #17 of 94
Nolo said:

As a consumer, would you like to have a means of telling the service/product providers what you want from them?
Well, I can think of two ways to do this quite easily. One a push, the other a pull.

1) Here in EpicSki, why not a new Forum that is entitled "What we want the industry to hear from us". Then promote it via email to the heads of the companies.

2) If the companies themselves really cared about what you thought they'd put a discussion forum, or email on their web site that really meant something. (Don't give me that they already have a "Contact Us" on their web site. Most do, but the person receiving it has no power and probably doesn't know what to do with the info.)

Have you ever been to a "demo day"? We have them every year at our mountain. Why don't companies give you the chance to write down your comments, or send an email? Have you ever seen a rep at one of these events write down what you said about the ski when you return it?

But, that being said, there are a few companies who try to do it right:

I know that Vail uses on-the-hill interviewers. These people ride the lifts and do an interview with the guests. They have a quota, usually 100/day and the results are taken quite seriously.

In the Vail ski school they also send out (or hand out) feedback forms to the clients. These forms are then logged and a copy is handed back to the instructor usually with a review with a supervisor.

At Waterville Valley, we have people doing interviews in the lift lines and in the lodges. People are given a discount coupon for a lift ticket if they respond.

In today's high tech world there is no excuse for a company not being able to get great feedback from their customers.


[ May 10, 2002, 07:15 AM: Message edited by: WVSkier ]
post #18 of 94
Thread Starter 
I know that Vail uses on-the-hill interviewers. These people ride the lifts and do an interview with the guests. They have a quota, usually 100/day and the results are taken quite seriously.

In the Vail ski school they also send out (or hand out) feedback forms to the clients. These forms are then logged and a copy is handed back to the instructor usually with a review with a supervisor.

At Waterville Valley, we have people doing interviews in the lift lines and in the lodges. People are given a discount coupon for a lift ticket if they respond.
Thanks for the information, WVS. This is nice activity, but it suffers from the deficit I suggested needs to be addressed:

information that is not subject to bias (interpretation) in the gathering of it.
post #19 of 94
Thread Starter 

I neglected to say that I think your idea for a forum that CEOs audit is a good one. I also think this is a practice of savvy CEOs.

Remember what Weems said?

How do you market information that anyone can access? (That is, how does marketing lead to sales?)
post #20 of 94
If the survey is done right then there shouldn't be any bias.

o How many days are you here? (baseline, from which you can work to make the average stay longer)

o Will you be skiing any other areas while in Colorado? (Should we have cross promotions with other areas?)

o Why did you choose Vail? (What is our distinctive competence.)

o Will you take a lesson while here? If not, why not? (What's causing people to either take a lesson or not.)

Or course, you're right. Too many questions are phrased like this: "Given that a hamburger costs $9.95 do you think the food is too expensive?" This is typically the way political pollsters ask questions.

I've been in the "Knowledge Management" business for a dozen years. We help companies capture, track and interpret unformatted information. My specific area is not market research per se, but rather helping capture the collected knowledge of the organization.

Data ==> Information ==> Knowledge ==> Wisdom


[ May 11, 2002, 07:28 AM: Message edited by: WVSkier ]
post #21 of 94
Thread Starter 

Thanks for explaining the types of questions asked in the VBC research.

In your opinion, what is the most reliable and valid way to conduct market research?

Which is easiest to control for bias?

post #22 of 94

Like I said, I'm not a market researcher. But, going to your customers is one good way of doing it. I like the idea of people riding the lifts asking questions and getting responses. The problem with this method is that you only are asking people who already are your customers, so there is a bias.

Wouldn't it be interesting for a Vail researcher to ride the lift at Steamboat or Copper and ask the same questions? That'd be interesting.

I like to ask this question in an interview: do you think you learn more from your successes or your failures? Taking this to the ski business you might ask: do you learn more from the people who ski at your mountain, or from those that choose to ski elsewhere?

The FAA doesn't investigate every successful plane landing, but they sure scrutinize the unsuccessful ones!

The easiest way to collect market research is to make it easy for people to communicate with you; and to take it seriously when they do.

I bought a very nice picture frame for my Mom for Christmas and when I opened it it had a sticker on the glass which was put on with an adhesive that was simply awful to get off. I went to the company's website and went to the Contact Us link and sent them an email. Within an hour I got an email back from a VP Customer service who apologized and asked for my mailing address and he sent me several items for free.

Is that good customer service? Yes, but, it's also a great way of getting customer feedback on your products.

Now, couldn't a ski manuracturer put a sticker on the skis that said "We want to hear how you like our skis. Go to www.... and tell us." How hard would that be? But, of course, it'd have be be taken seriously by the company."

post #23 of 94
Don't resorts take surveys of their customers already? I'd be suprised if they didn't. The resort hotel we stayed at on our last vacation asked us to fill out a comment card at checkout. If you want a higher rate of participation the survey card could be tied into a contest. Win skis, lift tickets, lessons......... Just a thought. Or you could take the initiative to fire off an email to tell them what you liked or didn't like.
post #24 of 94
Thread Starter 
I think the best way to conduct a service business is to serve your customers, and the only way you can do this is to constantly check with them through a number of ways, one of which you hit on, BillA, which is the reward, but not just as a prize but as one of many fruits of the relationship between you and the company that makes the product.

One fruit could be to collaborate on the product. That's something Sony does when its executives see a teenager pick up a product and ask him what he likes about it and what he'd change or add if he was the head of design. What if K2 invited you to be a beta tester? Try the product, fill out a survey, and get a "pro deal" on your favorite pair. The demo fleet could be housed at the area rental shop and all beta testers could reserve a test pair during the beta period. At the end of the test, the skis are deeply discounted so the shops will have incentive to keep them for demo skis. How often would you bring up how great K2 the company is and these skis are just unbelievable, can't decide which one is my favorite. K2 could have the testers try the ski in different lengths to help the company come up with guidelines for consumers in stores, on the web, and to make the testers knowledgable in their personal interactions. The testers' word of mouth combined with availability to try should translate to a boost in local sales.

There are ideas. But to act, you have to really care. You have to believe that this is the best strategy on earth.

There's the problem: the only thing you know is what you are doing right now or you did in the past. There's no way of knowing the new strategy, even if it is unassailable in theory, really is the best strategy on earth. But I wonder, if it costs a company x number of dollars to acquire a new customer, would it not make sense to spend a portion of the x on keeping the customers happy and involved?
post #25 of 94
Accurate sampling is the challenge. The resort's that measure themselves the best use a variety of methods to capture data. The cost of knowing where you stand, where you should go and what you are missing does not often hit the top of the budget for most resorts.
Administered surveys when conducted in a consistant fashion, ie: same table, same time of day, midweek, weekend, shoulder samples, same interviewer etc. etc. offer one snapshot. The questions should not only ascertain internal info but parallel NSAA or market area comparables. Prizes skew the data. Snow conditions skew the data etc. Ever notice on a powder day how everyone is light in the loafers, but put in a few scudding clouds and brown cancer.... These are effectively administered by the local community college or university through statistics courses....cost=soft/lift tickets.
POV or point of view machine capture are popular but (in spite of what they say) are easily skewed...people waiting for the phone, bathrooms, dinner or kids screwing around without arcade money...not to mention employees pumping up their respective departments.
Lift surveys work well if done in the consistant manner as above.
Exit interviews, mailings from lodging data etc within a two week from departure work well if prepaid postage.
I have conducted hundreds of post lesson focus groups and some of area focus studies and learned alot from them. Internal "employee on duty" tours work....in NM we paid an employee to "hang out" listening seruptitiously to conversations and timing lines etc.
In the end it ain't the data you gather and crunch...it is what you do about it that counts. How many documents do you need to support the need for more bathrooms and a reasonable hamburger?
post #26 of 94
Thread Starter 
Yes, and I should have been clearer: I am talking about talking to people who take lessons or do not take lessons to find out what are we doing right and what are we not. It will be different at each resort, but wouldn't it be great to find out what Deer Valley is doing right and VBC and Mountain Hi in addition to my shop?

I couldn't hear a thing the instructor said.

I asked a question and the instructor said we'd get to it and she never did.

I wanted to work on bump technique and my teacher made me practice hockey slides for two hours. When we finally got to the bumps, the light had flattened and I couldn't see squat.

This kind of feedback would be invaluable to improve each and US.
post #27 of 94
Robin is right, Accurate sampling is A challenge, but not THE only challenge. With due respects to those concerned, I do find it mildly amusing when I read comments that xyz SHOULD be easy. Let me assure you, coming from somebody who HAS done it/does it, accurate marketing research is very, very difficult if it is to be robust. Any idiot can compile a survey, and they generally do. Relying on negative feedback is a poor representation of the state of the market. As the saying goes, it’s the customer you DON’T hear from that won’t be back.
post #28 of 94
zackly. Taking feedback from a narrow sample can be very misleading. The kinds of people who will take that feedback card in the hotel room and fill it out are a distinct type. I know my mother wouldn't fill one out. It just wouldn't occur to her. There are people who will actively give feedback; they'll write an email, or go up to a desk and demand to have their say. They are a distinct type. But so many will quietly swallow up their experience, and maybe never come back.
There are lots of cracks for this stuff to fall down, too.
An example: I was in the ski school office one day, and a lady went up to one of the counter people, wanting to tell them about wonderful lesson she'd had and how good the instructor was. The counter person produced one of the resort's feedback forms (a monster of several pages) and asked if she'd like to fill it out. No, said the lady, I don't have time for that, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed my lesson.

So that feedback went no where. The resort had devised a very formal way for feedback to be given, but if the guests didn't want to participate in it, then their feedback was lost.

And an angry customer is more likely to go to the trouble of giving feedback than a happy one.
post #29 of 94
Thread Starter 
I agree that a mail-in survey would probably draw more negative responses than positive, but can't the skew be taken into account?

I don't know what to say about people who would require their staff to hand a happy customer a multipage form on which to expound on it. Why not hand the person a 4x5 piece of paper and an envelope to jot a note to the instructor (the envelope might encourage adding a tip), and ask the instructor later if he or she would share the comment for the team's "best practices" file.

I guess you can hire a team of market research experts to come in and design and implement a study, but unless the company fosters a culture of alertness to all forms of customer feedback, that study will just be expensive paper.

I am frustrated because the basic product doesn't change although I hear far and wide that we strongly suspect that it's not selling as well as it could. Why is it not selling? What's not clicking with today's consumer?

We hear this particularly about upper level lessons. Why aren't they selling? Why aren't we finding out why and addressing the deficiencies to try to turn the situation around?
post #30 of 94
Perhaps you're trying to market the wrong "product". Instead of selling LESSONS, we should be selling the RESULTS of the lessons. But first, can you identify what those results should be? Is it the ability to make perfectly crafted carved turns, to look like an instructor, to get the most out of your new shaped skis? Or is it a feeling of inner peace, better balance, postponement of the aging process? Or maybe (to coin a phrase) the "mountain experience".

Good basic customer sevice, on the other hand, isn't rocket science, and is not industry-specific. You really shouldn't need a sophisticated (and expensive) survey of any kind to know whether you'r providing good service.

Why not concentrate on identifying what the real product is - or should/could be.
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