Keys to a good start

Research is essential in the development of a campaign, offering useful information to be used during the launch and beyond.

Research is essential in the development of a campaign, offering useful information to be used during the launch and beyond.

A more vivid picture and better sound quality are just two of the elements that high-def TVs and other home entertainment technology offer to those who'd rather camp out on the couch than head to the theater. But aside from those "bells and whistles," Panasonic recently began to wonder what other effects its products have on its customers.

"We wanted to get a deep-dive understanding of how the consumer lives with our current product," says Bob Greenberg, VP of brand marketing at Panasonic Corporation of North America. "I don't think any company has a real understanding of that."

Anecdotally, Panasonic knew that people gathered together in front of their high-def TVs, but was unclear on the effect these products had on the overall consumer lifestyle.
Working with Harris Interactive, the company conducted a survey to find out how families use their time together and whether Panasonic could play a role in that time.

The survey results found that 48% of adult parents said they don't spend enough quality time with their children and 63% agreed they would spend more money on technology if it increased family time. Those findings helped to shape the "Living in High Definition" program, launched in August 2007.

Observing consumers
The program centers on families - which Panasonic is recruiting (17 so far, with a goal of reaching 100) - who use its products, documenting them in video that appears on www.LivingInHD.com, and offering feedback to the company about what works, what doesn't, and how Panasonic plays a role in their lives.

"You can never stop learning about the consumer because after these products comes the next generation of products," says Greenberg. "By observing how people try to connect things, [we find] better ways to enjoy these products and get more professional results."

"The research goes hand-in-hand with the broader story and vision of what Panasonic is trying to accomplish," adds Adam Paige, VP at Cohn & Wolfe, which works on the campaign. "It shows our commitment to understanding the consumer, HD, and how it's going to impact the family. It's a broad stroke that gives us the opportunity to tell many different stories."

Recent campaigns have illustrated the ways research can be used, not just in the work leading up to a PR push, but throughout a campaign's continuing stages. As campaigns strive to speak more directly to consumers, companies have increasingly opted to do just that - ask consumers what they want and how their products or services can provide it in an engaging way. The right research can add an unexpected dimension to a campaign.

Research played a major role in development of the "That Guy" campaign from The US Department of Defense (DoD) TRICARE Management Activity. The campaign is designed to educate young members of the military about reducing and controlling their alcohol consumption.

"It was critical to create a program that resonates with the target," says Jennifer Quermann, SVP at Fleishman-Hillard, which works on the campaign. "Research has touched every part of this campaign - down to the taglines."

Every three years, TRICARE, which administers a healthcare plan to active duty service members, conducts a survey which, most recently, indicated that 54% of active duty military personnel between the ages of 18 and 25 were binge drinking - consuming five or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the previous 30 days.

Working with Fleishman, TRICARE conducted three different focus groups with members of this target group. The first in May 2006 spanned all branches of the military and tested which themes would be most effective. A second focus group was conducted to test the "That Guy" concept, which is based on not being "that guy" who loses control after a night of partying. The team learned that the long-term consequences of binge drinking, like poor health, didn't resonate as well as short-term ones, like embarrassment, spending too much, or not getting the girl.

Once the campaign was in full-swing with an interactive Web site, viral videos, and campaign materials, a third focus group was held in March 2007 to make sure the message was hitting home.

"Some of these jokes are edgy and we can say, 'This is how these guys are talking. This is what matters to them,'" says Quermann.

Girding the pitch
In some cases, the research begins long before the campaign. Dr. James Levine, a professor and researcher with the Mayo Clinic, had done 10 years of work on non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) before he approached Steelcase, an office furniture and design company, with the Walkstation, an adjustable work surface attached to a treadmill.

"Having facts and figures to justify a rather unusual product is needed," says Dave Kagan, director of marketing communications and product launch at Details, the Steelcase company that is selling the Walkstation.

Steelcase regularly conducts its own research, the Workplace Index Survey. In 2007, they decided to take a look at the impact obesity has on businesses, like raising healthcare costs and lowering productivity. One piece of research from this survey found that 78% of workers felt that exercise has had or would have a positive impact on their productivity.

The findings were used to position the Walkstation as a way to address this problem, bringing healthy activity to otherwise sedentary workers. Furthermore, it gives companies a reason to buy the product for its staff. For this, and many other campaigns, research roots the campaign in fact, which immediately resonates with consumers.

"We always reference the research," says Kagan. "Our salespeople reference it and our interviews with the media reference it. It's at the heart of the legitimacy of the product. It adds credibility."

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