Speaking at last month’s MAD//Fest London on the Kantar Marketplace Hexagon Stage, Harbour told the packed audience that they ignore qualitative data at their peril.

“Big stats are hugely informative. We find trends in using quant data, of course but I think insights hiding in plain sight are key. And I think in a time when quant data is becoming the hard currency, it's important to realise the true value of qual data and mixing it together.”

Revealing how US tennis player Andre Agassi was able to return Boris Becker’s brilliant ‘boom, boom’ serve by ignoring all the data his coach had given him, instead deciding to read Becker’s face and his tell, (in-plain-sight clues), to end up with a great career record against the German, Harbour gave three examples of following qualitative data, knowledge about human and cultural behaviour that led to different outcomes if quantitative data alone had determined the marketing tactics. 

PG Tips

Early on in Harbour’s career he worked on the iconic brand, PG Tips. However,  PG Tips didn't really have much going on - yes, it was a very well-known brand, but its penetration was static at 30%. Harbour and the PG Tips team believed that it would take some novel marketing to shift this stat.

 Don't believe the data all the time - who wouldn't want a Gromit mug?!?

Then PG Tips were offered what, on the face of it, looked like a fun brand collaboration by the team behind the film, 'Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'. A great chance to give away something free with a pack of PG Tips. In this case, a knitted coat for your mug, (yes, see the image above!), and a Gromit mug with a black nose, which when you pour boiling water into it, the nose goes red so you can tell the temperature of your tea! PG Tips put these ideas to the test.

What did the quantitative data say in the market report? Knitted coat for your tea mug? Stupid idea! Character mug of Gromit? People had loads of other character mugs already, so probably a no, too. This is where Harbour decided to use intuition over the cold reality of the data. “They already have loads of character mugs so actually they friggin love character mugs!!” 

The result? In one quarter alone, penetration went from 30% to 33%. Harbour said: “My argument would be the qual data saw something that the quant data didn't find - human behaviour. People love a cute dog perhaps. But there was something in what they said, something in their expression. Something in-fact that actually the quantative data didn't and couldn't give.”

(BTW, you can still buy a Gromit mug, £19 on eBay

Dove in the Middle-East

Harbour’s second example was a pricing one involving elasticity models when he was managing Dove in the Middle-East. A big hike in oil prices meant that Harbour and team had to increase the price to make sure the gross margin remained at least flat.

Cue boffins ploughing through the data to find out what would be the maximum price consumers would pay for a bar of Dove soap. The elasticity study said that the maximum people would pay would be 4.50 Saudi riyals. 

Yet, as Harbour pointed out, “There are no pictures or cultural references in an elasticity study… If I went to the wholesaler and said, ‘we’re putting the price up to 4.50,’ he would reply, ‘You’re barking mad! You’re crazy!’” In short, Harbour would have been told that the price change would be a complete failure. 

This though was not due to any form of ‘price sensitivity’ but something completely different, that the quantitative data missed. Harbour explained: “Due to what people wear in in Saudi Arabia, people hated coins. They didn’t want to pay with them, never carried them around with them. In Saudi Arabia, there is is the one riyal note and the five riyal note. So, unless you were dealing in ones or fives, or any combination of the two it was going to be tricky.” 

Therefore, the price went up to five riyals because at five riyals they’ll pay with a simple five riyal note and get no change. The results were great - volume stayed static, whilst  value went up by 10-20%. It was a big success.

“Cultural insight is not on an elasticity study. Unless you have your wits about you, unless you're looking around, you might find yourself falling into the trap of going for 4.50 riyals and finding your business falling off the edge of a cliff, not because of the price point itself. but actually because of the fact that people have shallow pockets and don’t like coins.”

To find out another great example, this time where Harbour, didn't follow what behavioural science might have told him, watch the entire riveting, insightful, and, at times, amusing session here.

This session, along with all the content from the three-days of MAD//Fest, is available here on our YouTube channel.