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Catalog coverIf you open your mailbox today, chances are that there will be a catalog in it. Even with the explosion in online purchasing, paper catalogs continue to be an important part of the retail marketing mix. Whether they spur traditional mail- or telephone-ordering or, more often now, online purchasing and even foot traffic in brick and mortar stores, catalogs remain critical for retailers. They not only show consumers what is available, but they also serve as an important branding tool.
Even if the recipient does not open or thoroughly review a catalog, its cover, its size and the kind of paper it is printed on can all telegraph meaning about the sender's brand.
But isn't there much more to be gained if the consumer does open the catalog?

How Can Marketers Maximize the Likelihood that a Catalog Is Opened?

Based on an online survey among a panel of consumers nationwide, TRC estimates that the average household receives 3.7 catalogs per week.  That is nearly 200 in the course of a year!
So how can catalog marketers break through the mailbox clutter and inspire consumers to look at what is actually inside their materials? We asked our national panel about some factors that influence their decisions to open (or not open) a catalog they receive. A key learning is something catalog marketers would certainly confirm: targeting is critical. Product interest and perceived need account for a large share of the decision to open a catalog, so getting the catalog to the right person is of course essential.
But once the catalog is in the right mailbox, it is clear that what the recipient sees on its cover will be important in whether or not the catalog is opened. First and foremost is the specific offer (sale, percent off, etc.) highlighted on that cover. Cover imagery also plays a role, particularly if the brand is familiar to the recipient.  
Take a look at the accompanying chart, and note that we asked some respondents to think about catalogs they might receive from familiar companies, while others considered catalogs from companies they had not heard of before. All of those answering had indicated earlier in the survey that they receive and open/look through catalogs in a typical week.

Catalog cover testing2

Leveraging Consumer Research in Catalog Cover Selection

Knowing that the cover can be so important in whether a catalog is opened, TRC believes it is well worth it to devote resources to ensure that the right cover is used. While some catalog marketers will test multiple covers prior to full mail launches, it is impractical to test more than just a few. Those few are typically selected from among a broader set – based on “gut feel” or simple preferences on the part of the design team.
But what if there was an efficient, consumer data driven method to select a “winning” cover from among a broad set of candidates? TRC has developed just that method: our approach leverages our proprietary Bracket™ survey technology to submit a large number of cover designs to a tournament-type evaluation that yields rankings and relative distance across the entire set of designs. An even more streamlined approach, Message Test Express™ or MTE™, can provide similar insights for up to 16 cover designs – in around a week and for a cost of approximately $10,000.  
Considering the volume that any catalog must compete against in the typical recipient’s mailbox, isn’t it practical to maximize the likelihood that the catalog will be opened? Concise, consumer-driven metrics on likely success have been shown in our experience to be superior to “gut feel” evaluations and are certainly more affordable than in-market testing of even a small number of options. Why risk missing a great opportunity by overlooking an optimal cover execution?

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Research new food products organicFitness and health have always been important to me, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become even more self-aware of what I eat and where my food comes from.  A key turning point was a year and a half ago when I watched the documentary “Food, Inc.” by filmmaker Robert Kenner.  After watching it I literally was on the fence for a month contemplating becoming vegan.  But alas, my love for a good piece of steak won out.  However, it did leave an imprint on where and what type of food I buy.  My fiancé is of the same mind so when he moved in we started searching out ways to buy locally sourced food and meat from animals that are treated humanely.  Many of our friends, especially those with kids, tend to be food aware as well.  My parents on the other hand, though health and wellness is important to them, think “organic” is a big grocery money scheme.  This got me thinking…who are the most food aware?  Is there an age difference?
Using our online panel of consumers I asked a series of questions to find out.  When looking at health and wellness attitudes, eating well is important to both young and old.  Where we do see differences are those 44 or younger are more motivated to improve their health and wellness and like dining at restaurants that specialize in farm-to-table.  Bob and I are huge fans of farm-to-table restaurants and have been excited by the recent addition of a few establishments near us.

 Top-2-Box: Strongly agree 44 or younger 45 or older
Improve health and wellness 70%↑ 46%
Dine at restaurants that specialize in farm-to-table 46%↑ 26%
Up arrow indicates significantly higher value at 95% confidence level.

Across the board, younger consumers are more likely to buy organic products.  I think the only time my parents buy organic is when my brother comes to town with his little ones as he and my sister-in-law insist on organic only.

 Buy Organic Always / Usually 44 or younger
45 or older
Vegetables and fruit 69%↑ 32%
Meat 58%↑ 22%
Bath and Body Care 58%↑ 20%
Cleaning Products 53%↑ 19%
Up arrow indicates significantly higher value at 95% confidence level.


Now, when asking about participation in various “green” activities (i.e., recycling, composting, and gardening) we see no difference by age.  However, younger consumers are more likely to participate in farm co-ops and raise chickens.

 Yes % 44 or younger
45 or older
Participate in Farm Co-op 19%↑ 2%
Raise Chickens 16%↑ 3%
Up arrow indicates significantly higher value at 95% confidence level.


From our research, it appears that younger consumers are more engaged in wellness activities related to food than older consumers, even though both groups believe health and wellness to be important.  Buying organic can be expensive – so the question becomes how much are people willing to pay for organic products or meat from animals that are treated humanely.  This might be a good topic for a conjoint study which would pit various product options against one another to see how price comes into play when grocery shopping.

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election bias new product researchSo I certainly do not follow politics closely, even during a presidential election year, which I guess could also be read as I don’t know very much about politics. But that small disclaimer aside, watching the news coverage of the recently passed Iowa Caucuses and upcoming New Hampshire primary, something struck me as peculiar in this process. These events happen in succession, not simultaneously. So first is the Iowa Caucus, then the New Hampshire primary, followed by the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, and so on with the other states.  And after each event is held the results are (almost) immediately known. So the folks in New Hampshire know the outcome from Iowa. The folks in Nevada and South Carolina know the outcomes from Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Doesn’t this lead to inherent and obvious bias? That’s the market researcher side talking. In implementing questionnaires we wouldn’t typically make known the results from previous respondents to those taking the survey later. This would surely have some influence on their answers that we wouldn’t want. We need a clean, pure read (as best as we can with surveys) as to consumer opinions and attitudes. Any deviation from this would surely compromise our data. 

But then again, is this always the case? Could there be situations in which some purposely predisposed informational bias is beneficial? I say yes! Granted one needs to be cautious and thoughtful when exposing respondents to prior information, but sometimes in order to get the specific type of response we want, a little bias is helpful. If asking about a particular product or product function, we may provide an example or guide so they can fully understand the product. E.g. 10 GB of storage is good for X number of movies and X number of songs. 

But circling back to the notion of letting respondents see the answers from previous respondents, even within the same survey, this could be quite helpful in priming folks to start thinking creatively. If we wish to gather creative ideas from consumers, it’s easy enough to ask them outright to jot something down. But it’s difficult to come up with new and creative ideas on the fly without much help. And responses we get from such tasks validate that point as many are nonsense, or short dull answers. So instead, we could show a respondent several ideas that have come up previously, either internally or from previous respondents, to jumpstart the thinking process and either edit/add onto an existing idea, or be stimulated enough to come up with their own unique idea. And truth is, it works! We at TRC implement this exact new product research technique with great success in our Idea Mill™ solution, and end up with many creative and unique ideas that our client companies use to move forward.

So while the presidential process strikes me as odd since any votes cast in other states following the Iowa Caucus may be inherently biased, there are opportunities where this sort of predisposition to information can work in our favor.

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Future new product researchDecember and January are full of articles that tell us what to expect in the New Year. There is certainly nothing wrong with thinking about the future (far from it), but it is important that we do so with a few things in mind. Predications are easy to make, but hard to get right, at least consistently.


First, to some extent we all suffer from the “past results predict the future” model. We do so because quite often they do, but there is no way to know when they no longer will. As such, be wary of predictions that say something like “last year neuro research was used by 5% of fortune 500 companies…web panels hit the 5% mark and then exploded to more than 50% within three years.” It might be right to assume the two will have similar outcomes, or it might be that the two situations (both in terms of the technique and in terms of the market at the time) are quite different.


Second, we all bring a bias to our thinking. We have made business decisions based on where we think the market is going and so it is only natural that our predictions might line up with that. At TRC we’ve invested in agile products to aid in the early stage product development process. I did so because I believe the market is looking for rigorous, fast and inexpensive ways to solve problems like ideation, prioritization and concept evaluation. Quite naturally if I’m asked to predict the future I’ll tend to see these as having great potential.


Third, some people will be completely self-serving in their predictions. So, for example, we do a tremendous amount of discrete choice conjoint work. I certainly would like to think that this area will grow in the next year so I might be tempted to make the prediction in the hopes that readers will suddenly start thinking about doing a conjoint study.   


Fourth, an expert isn’t always right. Hearing predictions is useful, but ultimately you have to consider the reasoning behind them, seek out your own sources of information and consider things that you already know. Just because someone has a prediction published, doesn’t mean they know the future any better than you do. 

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Curious mind new product ResearchI recently finished Brian Grazer’s book A Curious Mind and I enjoyed it immensely. I was attracted to the book both because I have enjoyed many of the movies he made with Ron Howard (Apollo 13 being among my favorites) and because of the subject…curiosity.

I have long believed that curiosity is a critical trait for a good researcher. We have to be curious about our clients’ needs, new research methods and most important the data itself. While a cursory review of cross tabs will produce some useful information, it is digging deeper that allows us to make the connections that tell a coherent story. Without curiosity analytical techniques like conjoint or max diff don’t help.

The book shows how Mr. Grazer’s insatiable curiosity had brought him into what he calls “curiosity conversations” with a wide array of individuals from Fidel Castro to Jonas Salk. He had these conversations not because he thought there might be a movie in it, but because he wanted to know more about these individuals. He often came out of the conversations with a new perspective and yes, sometimes even ideas for a movie.

One example was with regards to Apollo 13. He had met Jim Lovell (the commander of that fateful mission) and found his story to be interesting, but he wasn’t sure how to make it into a movie. The technical details were just too complicated.

Later he was introduced by Sting to Veronica de Negri.  If you don’t know who she is (I didn’t), she was a political prisoner in Chile for 8 months during which she was brutally tortured. To survive she had to create for herself an alternate reality. In essence by focusing on the one thing she still had control of (her mind) she was able to endure the things she could not control. Mr. Grazer used that logic to help craft Apollo 13. Instead of being a movie about technical challenges it became a movie about the human spirit and its ability to overcome even the most difficult circumstances.

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