What I learned about product research at a pub, in Fitzroy at 3am

Seeking small-scale clarity can often be more useful than generalising guessing from afar.

Where were you at 3AM on 19th of June? Most people were probably wisely tucked into bed, sound asleep.Not I, I was at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy watching the Australian Socceroos play Netherlands in the World Cup. We all know the result, Australia lost 3-2, but watching the game I made a valuable discovery:

Joined by roughly one hundred other late-night soccer fans we crowded into the pub, hoping to see the Socceroos win, or at the very least put up a good fight against the Dutch.

In the function room the publican had set up the largest television they could find, giving everyone a glimpse of the game. The crowd filtered in, settled in for the game. We hadn’t realised it yet, but we were about to, this older, rear-projection TV was going to present two problems:

1. Poor picture quality — Sure, we could see the game, follow the ball and cheer/despair at the appropriate time; but for slow motion replays and appreciating the skilful ball movement — this TV was not able to cut it.

2. Narrow screen format — Our big screen was not properly tuned in before the start of the game, and as a result TV was chopping off a small portion of the picture at the top and the bottom. Yep, you guessed it, the missing picture is also exactly where the scoreboard and game clock appear.

Once the game was under way, we noticed that up the other end of the room was a smaller, newer, flat-screen TV. Perched up high this TV was also showing the game in crystal clear clarity. The size of this screen was not big enough to accommodate the entire room, however from a distance you could easily make out the players, the skilled footwork and easily read the scoreboard and clock.

When the game started, the majority of fans were gathered around the big screen, enjoying a beer and letting the game tick away. While everything was going smoothly the big screen with its ‘just good enough’ clarity was sufficient. However, when a goal was scored, a penalty was given or a poor decision was replayed, the big screen wasn’t appropriate and fans would turn toward the smaller screen.

As the game played out, the scores became closer.
As the scores became closer, viewers wanted more details:
“How long is left?”
“What’s the score?”
“Who was just substituted on/off?”

People started to switch from watching the big screen to the small, preferring the clarity and answers to their unasked questions.

Nearing half time, it was evident that this wasn’t going to deliver a predictable outcome.

Even if the Dutch won, Australia had been playing far better than expected. Viewers were keen to see and understand what was happening, how the Aussies had been so good. They no longer wanted to see the game on a large screen.

They wanted to know “What happened, and Why”? Something only the clarity of the small screen could deliver.

By the final whistle signalling the Australia’s defeat, the majority of the late night punters had their back to the big screen, watching the smaller screen preferring to be better informed for the game analysis later that morning around the water cooler.

So, what did I learn?

As most of you will know, I am an advocate for nimble, small-scale product research.

This night at the pub provided my “AHA” experience.

To gain the best insight, take the ‘small screen’ approach. The big screen is raises more questions than it answers. Small screen thinking uncovers clarity, understanding and insight.

As the punters and I found out, the devil (and opportunity) is discovered in the detail!

Still looking for a healthy sugar?

I’ve given up, and here is why you should too!

Noelle Campbell has called a spade a spade and cleared up the differences between healthy sugar and non healthy sugar.

It doesn’t matter what a celebrity might say, or the minerals and vitamins present. To my knowledge, one sugar cannot be any more or less healthy than another sugar.

There is no healthy sugar.

Only a healthy amount of sugar (hint: it’s as little as possible).

Dr Herb Meiselman - Pragmatic Research for Product Development

Picking up on an idea from Jerry Seinfeld, when a big name from the world of Sensory and Consumer Research comes to Melbourne, I hope to meet with them, buy them a coffee and pick their brains about their specialist topic.

The NZ/OZ Sensory Symposium was recently held in Melbourne and I was lucky enough to catch up with Dr. Herb Meiselman, the guru of emotional research and our keynote speaker. I hope you enjoy it!

Can Trained Panels provide hedonic data better than consumers can scale sensory attributes?

Relying on trained sensory panels or internal employees to provide hedonic ratings has always been a big no-no. However, there have been some recent research findings that show the line between Consumer Research and Sensory Analysis blur, that is trained panels may be able to predict liking and consumers may be able to complete attribute scaling.

Seeking Herb's opinion of which approach he is more comfortable with, Herb said he felt more comfortable relying on consumers to provide attribute scaling, than trained panels to generate liking scores. Herb consistently reminded me: Never de-emphasis the value and importance of hedonic data generated by the target consumer. It can be useful at various stages throughout the product development cycle.

Are Rapid Sensory Profiling methods useful?

We focused on the Rapid Sensory profiling methods that are becoming more popular in consumer guided product development of late. While never one to shy away from recommending large Home Usage Tests or Central Location Tests, Herb sees the potential in methods that allow for co-creation with target consumers.

While some methodological precautions are required, using small consumer groups to guide development can result in cost savings and increased speed of reformulations. Until academic studies catch up and test these assumptions, Herb remains optimistically cautious "We don't know yet if they are valuable, they might be"

Any parting advice?

"Always aim to match a method to a need, not the other way around". Herb remains open to trying new methods if they can be proven by replication and practical outcomes. "Some people are rigid about methods. I want to see something that works, but also meets certain criteria"

Coffee Order?

Herb: English Breakfast Tea, Kevin: Mug of Cappuccino

Dr Herb is an expert in sensory & consumer research and product development evaluation. He has published more papers than Australia has had prime ministers, has worked with the US Defence forces to fuel soldiers and co-founded Targeting the Consumer short courses. He is internationally regarded for his work in the field of emotional research.

Could food innovation benefit from a Lean Start Up approach?

Over the recent break, I went for a drive. And not a short drive either. I drove to Perth. It took 38 hours in the drivers seat to cover just over 3600km. Needless to say there was some time to kill.

I had prepared for this trip by downloading an audiobook called The Lean Start Up, by Eric Rimes. This book outlines the steps start-ups need to take to become more innovative,  stop wasting peoples time and be more successful.

leanstartup

I recently promised myself to write more, and one way to do this is to share learnings from thing I read, work that I am involved in or observations of the industry. I hope to provide some gems of information, food for thought and thought for food. I allow myself no more than 20 minutes to write each post and no more than 10 minutes to edit and rephrase before I post.

So, follow along as I see how appropriate a Lean Start Up approach is for todays food industry!