November 5, 2012

Why Steve Jobs never did market research

One of the hardest things to tell the people who approve communications is: You are not the target.

It has to be said often because the I-like-it/I-don’t-like-it response can be based on personal taste and experience far from the preferences of the actual target of the message. The CEO may love Caravaggio and Mozart and Proust, but that shouldn’t influence the cat food campaign.

Puppy poop? Showing the ad/website/email blast to your spouse or tennis partners is equally invalid. First, they’re probably not in the target segment, either. Second, you brought it to them, so they are naturally inclined to offer you the answer you expect. Try as you might to present it neutrally, your pal/neighbor/direct report will search for subtle clues when you say “What do you think?” to interpret it as “What do you think of this wonderful thing?” or “What do you think of this pile of puppy poop?”

Market research is one obvious way out. Objective responses from people actually in audiences that matter. Done properly, you don’t step in the poop.

Steve Jobs, by contrast, never did market research. He felt (with considerable justification) that the marketplace had no clue what they wanted until he invented it and showed it to them.

Or consider our new double-secret crush, Lisa Cochrane of Allstate, who brought the Mayhem ad campaign to life, over the objections of most of her colleagues – and conventional wisdom. It didn’t test well, but she knew it would succeed. Jobs-ian vision.