The Barbecue: A modern form of meal perfection

Spring is in the air in North America. The sun is beginning to shine, the doors are beginning to open, and the barbecues are back on the deck. It’s a strange object the barbecue. An outdoor oven on wheels, flame in a framework; it manages to hold a special place in our meal-time motivations.

The barbecue it is at once egalitarian and aggressive, ideal and instinctive. In fact, the barbecue seems to represent a modern form of meal perfection for many people.

The barbecue promotes m-eating together

There’s something very primal about the act of sharing meat; it brings people together. Like a pride of lions preparing and sharing their kill, the barbecue is a powerful magnet for social interaction and unites family and friends in the process of meeting and eating:

“We’ll throw all the family meat on the barbecue, and we have baked potatoes, salads and beverages. The kids are all out swimming, so we’re relaxed and just sitting around. Everyone shares their meal; it’s like they bring their meat in from the hunt and share it. It’s wonderful. It gives the cousins a chance to play. That’s a tradition.” – Grandmother (2008)

The barbecue relieves performance pressure

Where other meals can require extensive preparation, and place enormous pressure on the cook, the barbecue helps deconstruct formality and reduce performance pressure. Everything tastes good on the barbecue, and it requires much less effort than a formal meal:

“Family barbecues are my favourite things in the world. It’s usually at one of my Uncles houses. The kids play together while the adults sit together and drink. The guys are at the BBQ cooking. It’s just a great time….There is so much variety in the meal, everybody is involved. You stuff yourself. Everybody is happy.” – Mother (2009)

The barbecue breaks down barriers

Both physically and socially, the barbecue has the power to break down barriers. In a physical sense, it breaks down barriers between indoors and outdoors; food preparation and food consumption:

“Usually when you’re cooking in the kitchen, a lot of them aren’t huge and everybody’s crammed in. When you reel out the barbecue on to the deck, and everybody’s out there, you can all socialize around the cook.” – Mother (2008)

In a social sense, the barbecue helps to break down gender barriers; re-engaging males with food and the meal preparation process:

“I have a very clear memory of my dad preparing a western meal [barbecue]. It stands out for two reasons. Firstly, my father was cooking instead of my mother. Secondly, it was the first time I’d seen red meat cooking. It was like I was watching something magical happen.” – Father (2008)

So what are your experiences with the barbecue? Does it hold a special place in your mind, or is it just an oven on wheels? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on the barbecue.

Three interesting things on the interweb

In between depth interviews and brand strategy sessions, I managed to waste some time last week feeding my internet addiction (a diagnosis of the problem can be found here: all consuming internet search). In the interest of sharing this addiction with others, here are three interesting things on the interweb.

Interesting interweb one:

In a beautifully written post for the Harvard Business Review titled, ‘The Secret to Meaningful Customer Relationships’, Prof. Roger Martin discusses the importance of using qualitative research to better understand customers. To quote from his post:

“If our understanding of customers is based entirely on quantitative analysis, we will have a shallow rather than deep relationship with them… [Quantitative research] is rigorous from a numerical statistical perspective. But note what we have to give up in order to acquire this 'rigor'. It means that our words have to be used, not the respondents' words.”

Interesting interweb two:

In a two-minute video titled,
‘Sexual Performance’, Dr. Ginger Grant shares an excerpt from one of her recent presentations; providing tips and techniques on how managers can improve employee workplace performance. As always, her take on the topic is both interesting and original.

Interesting interweb three:

In a post titled, ‘RVSP - A Cultural Construct?’, the New York based anthropologist Krystal D’Costa considers how cultural conventions can influence whether or not people RSVP for functions and events. She ends her post with the following reflection:

“By sending an evite or mailing a paper invitation, perhaps the event loses some of its importance. We're saying, I'm too busy to formally invite you. So perhaps it's fair for the invited in this case to say, ‘I'm too busy to respond.’ ”

Soap, Sex and other Edgy Insights

Last week I wrote a post for the BC American Marketing Association titled, 'Soap, Sex and other Edgy Insights'. The post explored the the value of insights that may, at first, seem a little strange.

A few years ago I worked on a research and strategy project for one of the world’s largest soap manufacturers. One particular interview from that study has stuck in my mind. It started simply enough - a young woman describing the drama of her life and how showering seemed to fit in. She described the way it felt when you rub soap over your skin in the morning, and the sense of satisfaction a late night shower delivers; washing away a drunken night on the town.

And then, unexpectedly, she leaned a little closer and let out a secret.
“You know” she said, “I like to put bars of soap in the drawer with my panties. They smell nicer that way.”

Now what do you do with an insight like that?

Sticking with sanity

As marketers and market researchers, we tend to like rational results; answers that can be easily explained. People want lower prices. Product quality is important. Customer service is essential. When we’re faced with insights that seem strange, or don’t fit with our existing ideas, the natural reaction may be to dismiss them or label them as fringe.

According to
Prof. Zaltman
from Harvard University, “over 80% of all market research serves mainly to reinforce existing conclusions, not to test or develop new possibilities.” The implication from this finding is simple. In an attempt to play it safe and deliver what is expected, marketers may be missing out on some of their biggest opportunities.

Exploring edgy insights

When archaeologists are interested in understanding a culture, they often move beyond the palaces and places of worship, and turn their
attention to the trash. It can be messy work, but hidden amongst the shards of bone and broken pots exist some deep insights into everyday life.

The same is true for market researchers. To get to the heart of what motivates people, we often need to go beyond obvious answers and start digging amongst the
‘mental mess’. For example, in morphological research,
we’re encouraged to assume the presence of ‘meaningful Gestalten’ even when things initially appear to make no sense. Simply put, we don’t dismiss anything. Instead, we assume all insights may be part of a 'meaningful pattern of motivation' and we keep digging.

Why marketing success involves edgy insights

All of this brings me back to the start of this post, and one woman’s soapy secret. As market researchers, we were faced with an insight that didn’t initially make sense. But we dug deeper, and came to understand that soap motivations extend far beyond quality and price.

How we wash is heavily influenced by social norms, sexuality and our state of mind. We found that opportunities for soap go beyond moisturizing methods, touching topics like body image (think
Dove), sexual angst and exploration (think Axe) and how washing can help create a mental transformation (think Original Source

So how did we deal with that particular soapy secret? We kept digging. And in doing so, we began to uncover much deeper and more exciting market opportunities.

Brand Trust, Contracts and the Catholic Church

Watching television this morning, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct tension between stories of spiritual salvation and scandals of sexual abuse. Today is Good Friday in North America, but for the Catholic Church there was very little good news to be seen on the television screen.

From a personal perspective, I have no opinion on this topic. However, from a professional perspective, I can’t help but consider how this may be affecting the level of brand trust and loyalty amongst Catholics. At the core of this consideration is the concept of a psychological contract.

What are psychological contracts?

In law, most of us are free to enter into contracts. If there is an offer of goods or services, an acceptance of that offer, and an exchange of consideration (money or otherwise) - then a legal contract has been created. Should either party choose to break that contract, they can face serious consequences.

In life, there exists a similar concept called a
psychological contract. Although psychological contracts are not part of the law, they are an essential part of our lives. Organizations, friends and brands can all be party to a psychological contract; and just like legal contracts, when people feel that a psychological contract has been broken, serious consequence can occur. Trust can decrease. Loyalty can be lost.

A contract with the church

Without wanting to over-simplify the topic, I believe that deep psychological contracts may exist between religious institutions and those who follow them. In the case of the Catholic Church, there may be an implied offer of spiritual safety, guidance and even salvation. For those who accept that offer, consideration is exchanged in the form of prayer, penitence or perhaps charitable payment.

So what affect could these latest sexual abuse scandals have on a psychological contract between Catholics and their Church? If Catholics were offered safety and salvation, and then experience sexual scandals, are they likely to feel that their psychological contract has been violated? These are pretty deep questions with very real ramifications.

Trade the lawyers for trust

Watching the news coverage on Good Friday, it would seem that the Catholic Church has yet to fully appreciate the seriousness of their situation. As I said at the beginning of this post, I have no personal opinion on this topic. However, from a professional perspective, I can’t help but consider how this may be affecting the level of brand trust and loyalty amongst Catholics.