The false dichotomy in research

The word “digital” is ubiquitous and is a major part of 21st century vocabulary. “Digital” is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “online”, but clearly there is a difference. For example, the use of digital communications may refer to online, television, radio or mobile.

In education, we have digital learning, digital education, digital research and digital-based subjects. The pandemic has accelerated the pace with which many universities have made the transition to online learning, further blurring the lines between so called traditional and digital learning. Digital continues to be used in so many contexts, however, my issue here is with the term “digital research”.  

I’ve taught in higher education for over 20 years, so have witnessed the huge strides in digital technologies in education. This is particularly evident in research – so much so that it’s hard to imagine conducting research without an element of digital technology. Here lies the issue, have we now reached a stage where it’s time to drop the word digital?

There is no one definitive definition of digital research. The term is misleading and needs to be specified in greater detail. Tsatsou (2018. P.1241) defines digital research as “the employment of digital technologies in research practices.” This may imply everything from using the internet to conducting a literature research, to making digital the object of the research. Similarly, Burke (2018, p.248) acknowledges the difficulty in defining digital research, by providing a generic definition – “the research of all technology-related connective matters.”

On Twitter, I recall one post where the researcher commented the pandemic meant they were only able to conduct digital research from home.  But this suggests an inability to do any form of traditional research. This is not the case. Simply reading a book or an interview transcript might be interpreted as traditional research. Yet, what if the reading was undertaken online? There is now a blurring between digital and traditional methods. 

We talk about digital research, yet digital is an essential part of all research. This is what makes digital and traditional research a false dichotomy. Does research really become so different when it’s in digital form? I propose that digital research is just another form of research.

Why do we feel the need to choose between traditional and digital research? Would it really matter if the word was dropped? Surely, by focusing on digital research there would have to be traditional, or non-digital research?

Digital is so ubiquitous and encompasses so many aspects of research. So, will 2021 be the year when we finally drop digital? I think the term ‘Research’ works just fine.  


Maria Burke (2018) ‘Making choices: developing digital research frameworks for information management’, Journal of Documentation, 74(1), pp. 247–254.

Panayiota Tsatsou. (2018) ‘Literacy and Training in Digital Research: Researchers’ Views in Five Social Science and Humanities Disciplines’, New Media & Society, 20(3), pp. 1240–1259. 

Research tips for business students

I’m always happy to share my advice on how to do research, so I was delighted to be asked to give a webinar to students and staff at Harare Institute of Technology, Zimbabwe. Delivered on 26th October, my presentation focused on ‘Writing a Successful Research Project: Tips for Business Students’ and draws on material from my book – Essentials of Business Research: A guide to doing your research project’.

Marketing as a Linear Process


How often have you undertaken a marketing activity and followed a linear process?

Many of the marketing concepts we use today are linear processes.

The marketing research process: Definition of the research problem, objective setting, research design, data collection, data analysis and presentation of research findings. Step-by-step, you continue with the process right through to completion. 

Elements of academic research are often illustrated as a linear process: Select a broad research topic, narrow topic, research focus and research questions.

In reality, when applying marketing concepts, the outcome rarely follows a linear process.

You’ve analysed your data, but not fully addressed your marketing objectives. This calls for revisiting the data collection stage of the process, or possibly rethinking your marketing objectives.

When applying a marketing concept, take a critical approach. Is there another way of illustrating the marketing planning process? How do environmental factors influence the marketing planning process? Will each stage of the marketing research process be adapted if undertaking cross-cultural research?

Another way of looking at a linear marketing concept is from a network perspective. How do objectives connect with data collection? What is the network of relationships of those stakeholders engaged in the marketing project?

It’s straightforward enough to follow a linear marketing concept. But in reality, consider adapting and/or taking a network view as to how these concepts will be apply.



Why Bother With “Turbo Charged Platinum Mach5” Razor Brands?


Do you own a “speed and strength” named razor brand?

Today I finally ditched my “Turbo Charged Platinum Mach5” razor brand for something more modest – a set of disposable razors.


Well, partly to do with price. My ten disposable razors were a third of the price of eight premium blades. But also to do with purchasing – I no longer wanted to be “locked in” to buying blades.

The men’s manual razor market is an interesting one. The dominant brand is Procter & Gamble owned Gillette who have been very successful over the years with their razor and blades strategy.

This strategy typically involves selling the blade handle and one blade at a reasonable price. Customers are then locked in when it comes to buying new blades. These blades are produced by one manufacturer and are more expensive than disposable razors. Wilkinson Sword is another razor brand that adopts the razor and blades strategy.

Razor and blades brands typically have two notable characteristics. First, the blades are more expensive than disposable razors. Second, they often have “speed and strength” associated brand names. Examples include the Gillette “Turbo” “Mach3” “Mach3 Turbo” and “Fusion Power”. While Wilkinson Sword has the “Quattro Titanium” and “Quattro Titanium Precision” models within its product range. The process of “speed and strength” brand naming appears to have started in the 1940s and 50s with Gillette’s Superspeed models.

Why so many “speed” and “strength” named men’s razor brands? Stereotypically, words such as “speed” and “strength” are considered masculine traits. While the female version of Gillette’s Mach3 is named “Venus” and features line extensions such as “Divine” “Breeze” and “Embrace”. Interestingly, Mach3 blades can attach to a Venus handle and vice versa. A great way to cut down on the cost of shaving! But perhaps go against marketing intentions.

To be honest, the brand names adopted by Gillette and Wilkinson Sword do work well. Names such as “Mach3” and “Fusion Power” suggest high levels of performance. They are appropriate for products positioned at the premium end of the manual razor market. Furthermore, they are also ideal for line extensions. For example, from the “Mach3 Razor” to the “Mach3 Turbo Power Razor” and finally the “Mach3 Sensitive Power Razor”

Razor brands such as Gillette and Wilkinson Sword rely on the razor and blades model as a way of generating repeat buying. No doubt the marketing machine behind the razor and blades strategy means it’s likely to continue. We’re also unlikely to see the end of the tradition of “speed” and “strength” brand naming.

So, why bother with “Turbo Charged Super Mach5 Powered” razor brands? Yes, there may well be some difference in performance. But, will consumers get fed up with being locked in to buying expensive blades? Also, is it time to move on from stereotypical brand naming? Will we see a move towards unisex razors? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on razor brands in the section below.

Why Are So Many Tech Brands Named After Fruit?


Another social sharing app. Another fruit. This month’s launch of the new social messaging app “Peach” is causing a stir on social media. Founded by Dom Hofmann, creator of Vine video app, Peach’s USP compared to other messaging apps is it lets users use “magic words” to send interactive content.

What’s also interesting about Peach is its name. The tech industry has something of a tradition when it comes to fruit named brands. Following Peach’s launch, one of my first thoughts was – “Why another fruit?”

Fruit named brands seem to be synonymous with the tech industry. Examples include Apple, Blackberry, Raspberry Pi and defunct brands such as Apricot Computers and Tangerine Computer Systems. There is clearly a tradition of “fruit naming” in the tech sector that goes back to the late 70s early 80s.

But why fruit?

The tradition of fruit naming influenced Raspberry Pi founder Ebden Upton. In an interview back in 2012, Upton commented “Raspberry is a reference to a fruit naming tradition in the old days of microcomputers. A lot of companies were named after fruit. There’s Tangerine Computer Systems, Apricot Computers, and old British company Acorn, which is a family of fruit.”

Both Jobs and Wozniak considered several technical names, before realising that Apple was a good fit. Even though the products are technical, a simple name such as a fruit clearly works. While Blackberry’s name is associated with its product, but also has an association with the fruit. The word “black” evoked the color of high-tech devices, while the small, oval keys looked like the drupelets of a blackberry.

So, is keeping up with this tradition of fruit naming a smart move by Peach?

I believe it is.

The brand’s founders have come up with a name that fulfils all of the key criteria when naming a brand. First, it’s unique. The choice of name will allow the brand to develop a distinct identity.

Second, it’s easy to remember, say, spell and travels well. When considering the latter point, one only has to think of Apple. During my visits to China I’m reminded of Apple’s popularity and the adaptation of its brand name into Chinese – “Pingguo” (Ping-Gwor). Choosing a fruit avoids the difficulties associated with translating a fictitious brand name.

Third, the name can be extended across different product categories. Again, Apple is a great example when you consider all of the different types of products within its portfolio.

Finally, by choosing a fruit as its brand name, Peach is making itself synonymous with the tech industry. In fact, it’s simple. Why choose an obscure name when a fruit ticks all the right boxes?

It will be interesting to see if Peach can compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. But by choosing a distinctive, easily recognisable fruit as its brand name, it has the potential to develop a strong brand identity.

Will we see any more fruit named tech brands? There is certainly scope for a few more. What about grapefruit, watermelon or Ugli fruit? Perhaps the last one is taking it a bit too far!

What do you think of Peach’s brand name? Do you think it’s a smart move to follow the tradition of “fruit naming” in the tech industry? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments section below.

3 Top Chinese Brands to Follow on Twitter


Do you follow brands on Twitter?

A study conducted by Nielsen Research found that 59% of UK users follow brands on the social media platform. Reasons include: Competitions, information on new products and interesting content. In fact, 34% follow brands because they regularly create interesting and entertaining content.

Many leading Western brands such as Coca Cola are masters at producing content. Examples include visuals, links to ads, videos and competitions. With over 3 million followers, Coca Cola is one of the most followed global brands on Twitter.

Coca Cola – Masters at producing great content.


However, what about lesser known brands? There are plenty of up and coming brands developing innovative products and creating great content. Several of these brands are relatively new entrants in their respective markets and come from developing countries.

An increasing number of Chinese brands fall into this category. Given my interest in China, I regularly follow major Chinese brands on Twitter.


For me, what’s interesting is to see how these brands develop their social media presence over time. In many cases, Chinese brands are competing against dominant Western brands in mature industries. For example, Li Ning, often referred to as “China’s Nike” has taken steps to go beyond its domestic market. Although it faces a real challenge to successfully compete outside China.

So, here are my 3 recommended top Chinese brands to follow on Twitter. With a little background on each one:


#1. Tsingtao Beer (@tsingtao)


Founded in the early part of the 20th Century, Tsingtao is arguably the most well-known of Chinese beers outside China. It’s sold in retailers in the UK and is the ideal companion to any Chinese takeaway.

What is perhaps surprising is Tsingtao’s low number of Twitter followers. At just under 3,000, the Chinese beer is at the early stages of developing its follower base. On Twitter, the brand uses video, strong visuals illustrating its products and stunning scenery of China, together with competitions.

Tsingtao is certainly creative when developing content. And worth following in 2016 to see how its brand communication develops on Twitter. Expect to see more stunning visuals of China, product development, internationalisation and competitions.


#2. Xiaomi (@xiaomi)


The global smartphone market is not just about Apple and Samsung. China also has some notable tech giants. One of which is Xiaomi. Founded in 2010 by Lei Jun, the entrepreneur is now one of the richest people in China with a fortune in the region of $15 billion.

Xiaomi’s aim is to produce high quality technology at a competitive price. Products include smart devices, TV, audio, tablets and a range of merchandise.

With a rapidly growing Twitter following (Currently 152,000), expect to hear more about Xiaomi in 2016. The company is keen to penetrate other BRIC economies, entering the Indian market in 2014 and Brazil in 2015. What will be interesting is to see how the world’s third largest smartphone maker progresses with internationalisation in the year ahead. No doubt, new product launches and updates will be communicated via its Twitter account.


#3. Huawei Technologies (@Huawei)


Founded in 1987, Huawei is a telecommunications equipment and services company. Still largely unheard of outside its home market, Huawei is another of China’s leading tech companies.

The consumer division of this tech giant rose 70% to more than $20 billion in 2015 from a year ago. A rate of growth that many Western brands can only dream of. This growth is largely due to strong smartphone sales in China.

Huawei has 147,000 followers on Twitter. This is a brand worth following to see how it competes over the next year with its main competitors – Apple and Samsung. Like Xiaomi, Huawei has strong international aspirations and has already entered many markets outside of China.

A repositioning strategy to compete at the high end of the smartphone market will no doubt be communicated via Twitter and other social media platforms. Again, another successful tech giant with sales increasing by 40% in the first half of 2015.

There we have it – my top 3 Chinese brands to follow on Twitter. Clearly, two compete in the same industry and are direct competitors. All three are creative when it comes to communicating their brand via social media. What’s particularly exciting for me is to see how Xiaomi and Huawei compete with Apple and Samsung over the next 12 months.

Which brands do you follow on Twitter and why? Do you follow any Chinese brands? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments section below.

What Do You Expect When Making A Customer Complaint On Twitter?

Have you ever tweeted a company to complain about their product or service? Did you receive a satisfactory outcome?

A few years ago, the main way of complaining to a company was via telephone or letter. But, increasingly, social platforms such as Twitter are being used by customers to vent their grievances.

Many companies now deal with complaints via social media. However, there is a disparity in how they approach overall customer service on social media platforms such as Twitter.

If you tweet a company to complain, they should view your complaint as an opportunity. A successful resolution to your grievance may turn you into a customer advocate. Potentially, you might then decide to share the positive outcome on Twitter. This can only be good news for a company’s image.

Personally, I’ve had a varied response when tweeting companies my grievances. One complaint I made is an example of how not to deal with customers. The firm took nearly one week to respond, failed to understand the nature of my complaint and didn’t resolve the issue. Not a great example of customer service!

I’ve also had situations where a company has worked hard to rectify a problem. In some cases, exceeding my expectations. Such a response helps to develop trust and retain customers. So, what are your expectations when tweeting a company to complain about their product or service?

Customers may have different levels of expectations when it comes to resolving complaints. Although, there are a number of essentials firms need to get right. If these are achieved, then there is every likelihood that your complaint will be dealt with in a satisfactory way. Below are 10 essentials you should expect when complaining to a company on Twitter:

#1. Recognise that not every problem can be resolved through Twitter

A company should ask you to direct message your email address. This prevents a possible escalation of the problem being made public. Also, it’s likely that they can resolve the problem more efficiently offline.

#2. Be honest and transparent

It’s important to be open and honest when dealing with customer feedback. The transparent nature of Twitter means that a brand’s reputation can easily be damaged if a company is not honest and open with its customers. Additionally, this can lead to a lack of trust in all future communication.

#3. Apologise then take offline

Once again, often the best way to deal with a complaint is to deal with it offline. This should only take place once an apology has been made on Twitter.

#4. Reply in a timely manner

As an absolute minimum you should receive a response the same day. Typically, customer expectations are the same day, or in some cases within the hour!

@JohnLewisRetail is renowned for its excellent customer service. This year, they even sent a telescope based on the John Lewis Christmas ad to a Mr John Lewis. A thank you to Mr Lewis for forwarding all the wrongly sent tweets he received throughout the year to @JohnLewisRetail.

#5. Investigate the problem

Once you’ve sent a direct message and communicated with the company, they should fully investigate the problem. Much of this investigation is likely to take place offline and should involve regular communication to keep you updated on progress.

#6. Be polite and choose language carefully when responding

A company’s initial response to your complaint needs to be polite and apologetic. The right tone of language needs to be used.

#7. Plan for different types of complaints

A company should have plans in place as to how to deal with different types of complaints. This forward planning ensures efficiency in resolving customer grievances.

#8. Be consistent in resolving complaints

A lack of consistency can soon become apparent when customers communicate the outcome of their grievance on Twitter. Adopting a consistent approach is likely to prevent any future complaints.

#9. Don’t ignore complaints unless they are trolls

Simply ignoring complaints does nothing for a company’s reputation. Again, you should expect to receive a timely response. If you do not receive a response to your Twitter post, then try using alternative means of communication.

#10. Respond to negative feedback

A company’s Twitter account will include both positive and negative feedback. There needs to be a response to all feedback. A satisfactory outcome to negative feedback can help to develop trust and retain a customer.

21 Brands Capitalizing On Star Wars Mania

This week sees the much anticipated release of the next Star Wars film – The Force Awakens.

Star Wars is a ubiquitous brand. Merchandising includes everything from pets clothing to spoons. The next instalment already looks like being a guaranteed box office hit. No wonder plenty of brands are eager to associate their products with the world’s most successful movie franchise.

So, here they are. 21 brands capitalizing on Stars Wars mania. See their Twitter posts below:

5 Reasons “Spare the Act” Is My Favourite Christmas Ad Of 2015

Do you have a favourite Christmas ad of 2015?

There’s certainly been some memorable Christmas ads this year. John Lewis’ #ManOnTheMoon campaign is generating an unprecedented level of social media attention. The retailer’s festive ads are now something of a tradition. Although not yet on a par with the likes of mince pies and Christmas pudding.

The success of John Lewis’ 2015 Christmas ad campaign is unquestionable. At 21 million views on YouTube, it’s on course to exceed 26 million for the retailer’s 2014 ad #MontyThePenguin.

Given its success, the ad has been the subject of plenty of spoofs across social media. This has also extended to TV. We’ve even seen Aldi the German discount supermarket taking on John Lewis directly in the “Battle of the Man on the Moon ads”. It’s said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. But for all its attention, this year’s John Lewis ad is by no means my favourite. Why?

John Lewis ads are synonymous with emotional appeal. Exceptionally produced, we have come to accept the retailer as the “Master of the emotional ad”. A great narrative, strong on emotion and a partnership with an associated charity. This is a successful formula. However, I prefer to go for something a little different.

A few other ads made my shortlist. Including Sainsbury’s Christmas narrative “Mog’s Christmas Calamity”. Based on the character created by well-renowned author and illustrator Judith Kerr.

In the ad, Mog causes all sorts of chaos in the Thomas family household. It looks as though Mog will ruin Christmas for the entire family. But friends and neighbours pull together to save the day. The ad delivers a strong message of “Christmas is for sharing”. Coincidently, it strikes a chord given how people are currently pulling together in flood torn parts of Northern England.

So, what’s my favourite Christmas ad of 2015? It has to be Currys PC World, featuring Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum.

Here are my 5 reasons why:

# 1. There are five ads over the festive period. Ok, so my favourite ad is a series of ads. However, unlike John Lewis with the one “big hitter” Currys PC World ads work because they look at the same theme but in different ways. This helps to make sure that viewers do not become bored or lose interest in the ads in the run up to Christmas.


Ad 1: “TURKEY”

#2. Using celebrity endorsement is always a risk with any ad. Fortunately for Currys PC World, Jeff Goldblum is just perfect. In all of the five ads he dramatizes the insight that there will be times when you have to act to keep the Christmas spirit. His role delivers on humour and is what we would expect from the Hollywood A-lister.




Ad 3: “MOVIES”

#3. The ad presents a clear problem – receiving an unwanted gift. Something most of us can relate to! The solution – An electrical product from Currys PC World. The aim is to evoke an emotional response. Unlike #ManOnTheMoon it doesn’t pull on the emotional heartstrings. But the intention is to induce a different kind of emotion – reflection and some might say fear. Reflecting on receiving unwanted Christmas gifts of the past. And fear of giving an unwanted gift this Christmas.

#4. For the ad to work, customers need to have faith in the product. Quality products are named in the ads thereby delivering a message that Currys PC World has the perfect solution to the unwanted Christmas gift.


Ad 4: “JIGSAW”

#5. Lastly, the Currys PC World “Spare the Act” ad is original. It stands out from the rest of the Christmas offerings this year. These are the reasons why “Spare the Act” is my favourite Christmas ad of 2015. Do you agree? Let me know what you think in the comments.