Back then, we had phone cords, and we LIKED it
We've all become so accustomed to the concept of all the world's information at our fingertips via the Internet that we can joke about wasting that power to argue with strangers and look at pictures of cats. You want the GDP of Botswana? Duh. $34 billion. Ever wonder why you never see baby pigeons? Here you go. Why does God allow evil to exist? Yawn. Take your pick.
For instance, years ago, I helped my employer, an ad agency, pitch a credit card aimed at women business owners. In fact, they had partnered with an association of women business owners to issue a co-branded card. As someone who had never owned a business or an ovary, how the hell was I supposed to know what the audience wanted?
Enter patent #174465A, Improvement in telegraphy issued to one A. G. Bell of Salem, Mass.
I started smiling and dialing. I called women business owners I knew, from the owner of Focus First America, to a fingernail shop that my mother frequented. When I exhausted that list, I went to--yes--the Internet to find members of the women business owner's association.
I asked them what they wanted in a credit card. I asked them how they used their current cards and what they did and didn't like about them. To get an understanding of context, I asked about how they started and built their businesses. I asked them what pressures they faced and what accomplishments they celebrated. I asked them about how products and services marketed to women or women business owners made them feel. I also just let them talk.
For all the detail I requested, no call lasted more than 20 minutes. Complete strangers happily shared their thoughts with me. Very few people flat out refused to talk to me.
As a result of 25 phone interviews, I developed a series of insights and a strategy that merited one of my most ego-satisfying moments of my careers. We lost the pitch. The client said "you brought 10 men to pitch a women's business and the only one who knew what he was talking about was the planner." That would have been me.
What the phone allows--and what the Internet really doesn't--is fast access to the "why?" Unlike surveys or polls, phone interviews allow the marketing researcher to change the path of inquiry in a heartbeat when new ideas emerge. Active questioning gives the kind of insight that passively scanning websites or message boards can't.
In a follow-up, I'll share some of the techniques I've used. Feel free to wait by the phone.