Media Perspective: Shielding the brand owner behind the market researcher

The two best-received columns I've ever written were the ones about traffic people and agency IT departments.

"Best received" meaning a couple of people e-mailed me to say thanks, which was very nice of them because normally I don't hear a dicky-bird.

Obviously, if I write about a particular medium the people professionally charged with representing that medium will dash off a letter for the next week's issue ("Davies is right to point out the broad reach and popularity of medium X, though his assertion that it is more downmarket than an Aldi tattoo cannot go unchallenged"). But that's not really feedback, it's more of an autonomic response - that's their job.

Not that I'm complaining, of course: what the internet has taught me is that I have a really thin skin. I've switched the comments off on my blog. I've learned not to do any vanity Googling and I never look at the comments field on anything I've written. The only feedback I'm strong enough to handle is in person when basic human decency prevents people from yelling "U SUCK & YUR OPINIONS AER DULLL" in my face.

And I bet I'm not alone. I suspect quite a lot of money is ploughed into market research for precisely the same reason: not because brands want to know what people think of them, but because they want to be shielded from it. As a former employee of a highly creative advertising agency, I've done many presentations about what a great thing it is that loads of people seem to hate our work. It's certainly polarising, I would say, but that's a good sign - it means we're standing out, we've had an effect.

But while I thought that was intellectually true, it never felt emotionally honest. People want to be liked and people with brands want their brands to be liked, even if that's not strategically necessary. Negative feedback is disproportionately important to us, we focus on it more than we should, we obsess about it. We need to remember that.

I wrote about this a few years ago, suggesting that the growing number of brands with blogs and direct conversations with their customers would lead to a new age of responsiveness. I wonder if that's actually true, I wonder if much of the current interest in data visualisation and buzz-monitoring dashboards is about shielding brand owners from too much direct impact.

Certainly all that aggregation of opinion is hugely valuable but the whizzy graphs, tag-clouds and carefully selected verbatims also have a useful distancing effect.

A nice pie-chart showing 38 per cent negative emotional valence is much kinder to the psyche than wading through endless comments about what a moron you are. I wonder if I could get one of those.