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How to interpret “illogical” market testing results

From time to time I’ve made analogies between marketing and home shop experiences and pointed out the simple wisdom that can be found through working with your hands. So bear with me for a moment here as I wind up to a theory on illogical market testing results.

Cindy and Chris at Northside Service Company were miracle workers in bringing my 25-year-old NuTone intercom system back to life. However, when all was said and done there were some glitches. You are supposed to be able to push a button to initiate a call from a remote unit, the recipient is able to talk hands free, and you as the initiator can continue to talk by pressing a button each time you want to speak.

My system wasn’t working like that. You could initiate a call and hear another person and they could hear you, but after that first time you pressed the button subsequent presses did nothing; the signal didn’t go through. There was another issue, minor but consistent across the system: the “end call” button which returned you to whatever you were doing beforehand (like listening to FM radio) didn’t work.

This one-and-you’re-done setup worked fine for summoning kids to dinner or answering somebody who pressed the doorbell. And standing at a wall intercom and talking back and forth in your own home seemed a little Austin Powers-ish. Nonetheless, I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

Through testing I found ONE remote intercom system, out of 16, that worked as it was supposed to. You could press and release that talk button and continue to communicate, and the “end call” button worked as it was supposed to. So I took it apart. And it turned out it was mis-wired. Two wires going to terminals marked “red” and “red/white” were reversed.

I tried mis-wiring a second remote and it, too, began to work properly. I thought about the master controller and what might be wired incorrectly. No schematics are available after a quarter century, certainly not on the NuTone website. Perhaps I made a mistake when I took out the pull connectors to send it in for repair. But I was pretty careful and the pull-off single wire connectors were grounds, so they should not affect the electrical switches.

My guess is that something deep within the system was mis-wired at installation and the original owner put up with it the entire time they lived in the house. There is no other logical explanation because the problem began with an illogical mistake. It takes only a minute or two to remove a remote from the wall and rewire it, so that’s what I’m going to do with the remaining 14 remotes. I’ll also put a note inside the housing of the main controller for a future owner of the house.

Getting to the marketing analogy, many many years ago I worked on a test mailing that involved a bunch of shredded U.S. currency visible through a window in the outer envelope. The product was a newsletter on reducing your taxes, and the message of the involvement device was that you might as well be tearing up your own money for all the unnecessary taxes you’re paying. This test was a disaster. The numbers indicated that absolutely nobody had opened the package and considered responding.

And that was odd. The involvement device may have been a bit sensationalist and there were probably some quirks to the copy, but it followed a solid platform related to the features and benefits of the publication we were selling. I could accept a terrible result of responses that were 20% of the control’s, but 0%? Something is wrong.

My hunch is that somebody at the mail house (or possibly the post office, but less likely since that would be a hanging crime) took a fancy to my gimmick and simply appropriated the few thousand pieces involved in the test. Illogical and far fetched, but can you give me a better explanation?

Happy April Fool’s Day, by the way, but the above is no joke.

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