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Last year Time Magazine featured a cover story about fat…specifically that fat has been unfairly vilified and that in fact carbs and sugars are the real danger. They were not the first with the story nor will they be the last. The question is, how will this impact the food products on the market?

The idea that carbs and sugar were the worst things you could eat would not have surprised a dieter in say 1970. It was in the 1980’s that conventional wisdom moved toward the notion that fat caused weight gain and with that heart disease and thus should be avoided. Over time the public came to accept this wisdom (after all the idea that fat causes fat isn’t hard to accept) and the market responded with a bunch of low fat products. Unfortunately those products were higher in sugar and carbs and the net result is that Americans have grown heavier.  

If the public buys into this new thinking we should expect the market to respond. To see how well the message has gotten out, we conducted a national survey with two goals in mind:

  • Determine awareness of the sugar/carbs being worse than fat thinking.
  • Determine if it would change behavior.

About a third of respondents said they were aware of the new dietary thinking. While still a minority, a third is nothing to be sneezed at. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of advertising still focus on the low fat message and food nutrition labels still highlight fat calories at the top. It took time for the “low fat” message to take hold and clearly it will take time for this to take hold as well.

Already there is evidence of change. Those aware of the message prior to the survey were far more likely to recommend changes to people’s diets (38%) than those who were not aware prior to the survey (11%). Clearly it takes more than being informed in a survey to change 30 years of conventional wisdom, but once the message takes hole, expect changes. In fact, two thirds of those aware of the message before doing the survey have already made changes to behavior:

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This past spring we surveyed our consumer panel about the winter of 2013 – 2014. We used our proprietary message prioritization tool called BracketTM to determine that high heating bills were the worst part of enduring a challenging winter.

Energy utilities dedicate resources toward educating consumers about ways to conserve, which both increases sustainability and also keeps money in consumers’ wallets. One conservation method is to use programmable thermostats – homes and businesses can be kept cooler at night or when no one is around, and warmer when people are home (and the opposite is true in the summer). The set-it-and-forget-it nature of the program means the consumer doesn’t need to fiddle and adjust; once you decide what temperature you want on which day and at which time, the system takes over.

But we like to fiddle and adjust, and thermostats can also be controlled through apps on your PC or mobile device. This allows you to over-ride the program if you forget to re-set it while you’re on vacation, for example.

We were interested to understand consumer interest in these technologies, so we polled our panel once again and asked them what type of thermostat they used, if any, and how interested they’d be in installing a fancier type than they have now.

Nearly all of our survey participants use some type of thermostat. Half use a standard thermostat (not programmable). This number is higher among non-homeowners (61% vs. 48%). Landlords take note: consider upgrading to a programmable thermostat in your rental units.

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This past summer, much of my TV viewing was dedicated to watching the series “Downton Abbey” and “Breaking Bad” in their entirety. “Downton Abbey” continues this January, but “Breaking Bad” concluded its five-season run before I started watching it. I was concerned that I would accidentally learn Walter’s and Jesse’s fates before seeing the final episodes. My friends who had seen the series were quite accommodating. But it’s tough keeping secrets in the digital age, and unfortunately, I did learn what happened in advance of watching. Jesse’s outcome was revealed by Seth Meyers during this year’s Emmy broadcast. And Walter? Well, I guess I’m to blame, since I was stupid enough to read a New York Times article in which the first paragraph states “Warning: Contains spoilers about the new age of television.”

The article, by Emily Steel, discusses the social ramifications of revealing dramatic plot twists. She cites a study by Grant McCracken, which Netflix plans to use as the basis for a digital promotion which creates a flow chart to classify people by their propensity for spoiling. At the root of all this is an attempt to understand how people view television content in the age of time-shifting and streaming, which has critical impacts on TV’s business model.

As viewing patterns change, so does water cooler conversation. You can’t simply blurt out, “How crazy was it when Danny took out Joey last night?” You need to first establish that the episode was watched by the people in the room. But the burden seems to fall more so on the one who isn’t caught up; I fell a few episodes behind my friends watching “Sons of Anarchy” this fall – so I had to make sure that they weren’t talking about it when I was around.

But with all of this conversational jockeying going on, I needed to ask a pretty basic question: how much time must elapse before what happened in a popular TV show becomes “fair game” – no longer subject to Spoiler Alerts?

To find out, we surveyed TV viewers from our online consumer panel. We know from conducting new product development market research studies (using conjoint and Bracket) that the way a question is framed influences how respondents answer. We wanted to look at the issue from both sides, so we randomly split our sample into two groups, and posed essentially the same question to both: how many days need to pass before people can communicate freely about a show and not face criticism for spoiling it for someone who hasn’t watched it yet?  We asked each group to assume a different role: one group was told to assume that they had just watched the episode, and the other group was told to assume the episode had aired, but they hadn’t watched it yet. We upped the stakes by describing the show as the final episode of a series that they liked a lot.  

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Message testing advice"Become the known." My parents have given me plenty of great advice over the years, but this is my dad's favorite. If a new restaurant opens in town, he's on a first name basis with the owner within a week; at a large social gathering, he'll make a new friend in no time. While in these situations I usually prefer to remain just a face in the crowd, he encourages me to step forward and make myself known.

Recently, someone sent me a list of 50 pieces of advice being shared on social media (although "become the known" didn't make the cut!). This got me thinking – what are the best pieces of advice out there?

I set out to answer this question using TRC's online panel and our message testing Bracket™ technique. Through this tournament-style approach, we asked 500 respondents ages 25+ to choose the best (and worst) pieces of advice from this list of 50 items. Click here to see the full list. Our results were calculated at the respondent level, then aggregated and normalized on a 100-point scale.

So, what advice did our participants like best overall? The top 10 pieces of advice, in order of relative performance, were:

1. Show respect for everyone who works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.
2. Remember, no one makes it alone. Have a grateful heart and be quick to acknowledge those who helped you.
3. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.
4. Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all they have.
5. Take charge of your attitude. Don't let someone else choose it for you.
6. Don't burn bridges. You'll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.
7. Count your blessings.
8. Choose your life's mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90 percent of all your happiness or misery.
9. Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen every day.
10. Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems.

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  • michele
    michele says #
    When I was in sixth grade, my school offered a typing course. My mother is a registered nurse, and at that time didn't need (or ha

Purchase Funnel Measuring AwarenessWe at TRC conduct a lot of choice-based research, with the goal of aligning our studies with real-world decision-making. Lately, though, I’ve been involved in a number of projects in which the primary objective is not to determine choice, but rather awareness. Awareness is the first – and arguably the most critical - part of the purchase funnel. After all, you can’t very well buy or use something if you don’t know it exists. So getting the word out about your brand, a new product or a product enhancement matters.

Awareness research presents several challenges that aren’t necessarily faced in other types of research. Here’s a list of a few items to keep in mind as you embark on an awareness study:

Don’t tip your hand. If you’re measuring awareness of your brand, your ad campaign or one of your products, do not announce at the start of the survey that your company is the sponsor. Otherwise you’ve influenced the very thing you’re trying to measure. You may be required to reveal your identity (if you’re using customer emails to recruit, for example), but you can let participants know up front that you’ll reveal the sponsor at the conclusion of the survey. And do so.

The more surveys the better. Much of awareness research focuses on measuring what happens before and after a specific event or series of events. The most prevalent use of this technique is in ad campaign research. A critical decision factor is how many surveys you should do in each phase. And the answer is, as many as you can afford. The goal is to minimize the margin of error around the results: if your pre-campaign awareness score is 45% and your post-campaign score is 52%, is that a real difference? You can be reasonably assured that it is if you surveyed 500 in each wave, but not if you only surveyed 100. The more participants you survey, the more secure you’ll be that the results are based on real market shifts.

Match your samples. Regardless of how many surveys you do each wave, it’s important that the samples are matched. By that we mean that the make-up of the participants should be as consistent with each other as possible each time you measure. Once again, we want to make certain that results are “real” and aren’t due to methodological choices. You can do this ahead of time by setting quotas, after the fact through weighting, or both. Of course, you can’t control for every single variable. At the very least, you want the key demographics to align.

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