Every year, media studies like The Infinite Dial and others report the growing amount of time we spend consuming media of all forms, largely aided by the presence of the always-online supercomputers in our pockets. Of course, everything can't go up--we aren't getting more hours in a day. In fact, one of the forms of "media" that has demonstrably declined over the past decade is physical word of mouth. As we spend more time with our faces in screens, we are spending less time with our faces in...er...other faces.
The folks at Kingsford Charcoal realized this, because they could see it in their sales. With fewer social gatherings and get-togethers, there were fewer barbecues. Their response was to commission a whole bunch of market research to segment the various customers for grilling products, and to determine the motivations and desires of those segments. The result of all this research was to identify a segment they called "Everyday Grillers," including a deep dive into Hispanic grillers using ethnographic research, shop-alongs, and extensive copy testing to figure out what made the EG's tick, and why they grilled so much.
Kingsford pivoted their entire strategy not around the product (it's compressed carbon) but around encouraging, fostering, and providing resources for social gatherings. Remember when charcoal ads used to talk about how fast the briquettes would light?
The results were tremendous for such a "non-sexy" product. Among their goals was to realize 2% growth in dollar sales. The campaign produced 5% growth. The insights that the brand team generated from all of this research led to a widespread cross-platform media campaign that included social media, as well as time- and weather-based messaging. This story was so compelling, in fact, that the Kingsford team won the Gold prize for Cross-Platform in last year's ARF David Ogilvy Awards, which celebrate the use of research in advertising.
I tell you this because I know that there are thousands of stories like this--and they don't get told. We tell the stories of Elon Musk. We tell the stories of Jeff Bezos. We celebrate the visionaries who ignore the market, listen to their instincts, and go with their gut to achieve success.
Those are great stories, don't get me wrong.
But lets also tell the stories of the courageous, passionate brand marketers who don't go with their gut, who don't ignore the market, and instead seek out the opinions of their target markets, and listen to them. We don't tell those stories enough. "Marketer suppresses instincts, commissions market research, follows recommendations, and achieves increased share" isn't exactly The Tipping Point or Purple Cow. And as a result, we'll never know the names of those marketers.
But to me, they also have great stories to tell. I write this, in celebration of the humble briquette, because a friend of mine recently asked me to point him to evidence that "people don't tell the truth on surveys." I'm not sure I would say that. There are good questions, and terrible questions. There are questions that people can answer honestly, and some they can't. And yes, there are questions that people are less honest about than others. Competent people in my profession know that. And still, in the face of bots, social media misrepresentation, declining response rates, and other perils of the profession, they bravely soldier forth and ask people about charcoal.
So, here's to you, Kingsford team. Make mine medium rare.