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pollsters-went-wrongThe surprising result of the election has lots of people questioning the validity of polls…how could they have so consistently predicted a Clinton victory? Further, if the polls were wrong, how can we trust survey research to answer business questions? Ultimately even sophisticated techniques like discrete choice conjoint or max-diff rely upon these data so this is not an insignificant question. 

 
As someone whose firm conducts thousands and thousands of surveys annually, I thought it made sense to offer my perspective. So here are five reasons that I think the polls were “wrong” and how I think that problem could impact our work.

 

 

5 Reasons Why the Polls Went 'Wrong'


1) People Don’t Know How to Read Results
Most polls had the race in the 2-5% range and the final tally had it nearly dead even (Secretary Clinton winning the popular vote by a slight margin). At the low end, this range is within the margin of error. At the high end, it is not far outside of it. Thus, even if everything else were perfect, we would expect that the election might well have been very close.  

...

2016 election sample representativenessI always dread the inevitable "What do you do?" question. When you tell someone you are in market research you can typically expect a blank stare or a polite nod; so you must be prepared to offer further explanation. Oh, to be a doctor, lawyer or auto mechanic – no explanation necessary!

Of course, as researchers, we grapple with this issue daily, but it is not often we get to hear it played out on major news networks. After one of the debates, I heard Wolf Blitzer on CNN arguing (yes arguing) with one of the campaign strategists about why the online polls being quoted were not "real" scientific polls. Wolf's point was that because the Internet polls being referenced were from a self-selected sample their results were not representative of the population in question (likely voters). Of course, Wolf was correct, and it made me smile to hear this debated on national TV.

A week or so later I heard an even more, in-depth consideration of the same issue. The story was about how the race was breaking down in key swing states. The poll representative went through the results for key states one-by-one. When she discussed Nevada she raised a red flag as to interpreting the poll (which has one candidate ahead by 2 - % points). She further explained it is difficult to obtain a representative sample in Nevada due to a number of factors (odd work hours, transient population, large Spanish speaking population). Her point was that they try to mitigate these issues, but any results must be viewed with a caveat.

Aside from my personal delight that my day-to-day market research concerns are newsworthy, what is the take-away here? For me, it reinforces how important it is to do everything in our power to ensure that for each study our sample is representative. The advent of online data collection, the proliferation of cell phone use and do-it-yourself survey tools may have made the task more difficult, but no less important. When doing sophisticated conjoint, segmentation or max-diff studies, we need to keep in mind that they are only as good as the sample that feeds them.

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Recycling market researchIn my previous blog, we determined that people with access to recycling services don’t necessarily recycle. And men were far less likely to recycle regularly than women.

One problem potential recyclers face is there is no federal standard for what is collected and how. Services vary from one contractor to the next. Items deemed recyclable in one municipality may not be the next town over. As a general rule, bottles, cans, and newspapers are curbside-recyclable. Also as a general rule, prescription drugs, electronic devices, CFL bulbs and batteries are not – they shouldn’t go in the trash either - they require special handling.  But does the average consumer know this? We asked our online panelists who have access to recycling services how they believe their trash/recycling haulers would like them to handle certain items. And here’s what we learned:

  • Knowledge of recycling the Big-3 (glass bottles – aluminum cans – newspapers) is quite high. At least 80% of our panelists with access to recycling services know each of these should be recycled as opposed to trashed. And men and women are equally knowledgeable.
  • Word has spread that electronics do not belong in the trash. But our consumers are divided as to where they should go – 35% believe their contractor wants them in their recycling bin while just 46% believe electronics require special arrangements.
  • When we get to other items, things get a bit murky:
    1. Our panelists are as likely to believe that batteries can go out in the trash or recycling (45%) as believe batteries require special arrangements (41%). The rest aren’t sure.
    2. 19% aren’t sure what to do with compact fluorescent light bulbs.
    3. 22% believe that prescription drugs can be put out in the trash. 17% aren’t sure.
  • Meanwhile, some items that are traditionally “trashed” make consumers take pause – 26% of our consumers believe their hauler wants them to recycle linens and towels.

Focusing solely on those who say they recycle, women are more likely than men to know what goes where…

Recycling Market Research part2

Ladies, you may want to re-think having your gents handle the trash and recycling - or give them a quick lesson on what you've learned!

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Do Americans Recycle Enough? - PART I

Posted by on in Consumer Behavior

access to recycling utilityAccording to Economist.com, Americans aren’t doing a good job of recycling.  There is actually a shortage of materials from recycling facilities that could be used to produce new products. The author posits that there are a variety of reasons for this, including simple access: “a quarter of Americans lack access to proper bins for collecting recyclable material, and another quarter go without any curbside recycling at all.”  But I think it goes beyond access, and I surveyed our intrepid online panel of adult consumers to find out.


A little over a quarter (28%) of TRC’s panelists say they do not have residential recycling service. Increasing awareness and access for rental properties would certainly make a dent: renters are more likely to say they don’t have it (44%) than homeowners (19%).


But what if you are aware and have access?  Does that mean you’re recycling?  Not necessarily.  Only 75% of those who could be recycling are doing so on a regular basis (usually or always). There’s no difference between renters and homeowners with recycling access as far as how often they recycle. But there is one key difference between those who regularly do and those who don’t: gender. Women are far more likely to say that they recycle regularly (84%) than men (62%). I’m not sure why there is a gender disparity, but we’ll explore how knowledgeable men and women are about recycling in my next blog.

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new product pricing research ebayI’ve become a huge fan of podcasts, downloading dozens every week and listening to them on the drive to and from work. The quantity and quality of material available is incredible. This week another podcast turned me on to eBay’s podcast “Open for Business”. Specifically the title of episode three “Price is Right” caught my ear.   
While the episode was of more use to someone selling a consumer product than to someone selling professional services, I got a lot out of it.
First off, they highlighted their “Terapeak” product which offers free information culled from the massive data set of eBay buyers and sellers. For this episode they featured how you can use this to figure out how the market values products like yours. They used this to demonstrate the idea that you should not be pricing on a “cost plus” basis but rather on a “value” basis.
From there they talked about how positioning matters and gave a glimpse of a couple market research techniques for pricing. In one case, it seemed like they were using the Van Westendorp. The results indicated a range of prices that was far below where they wanted to price things. This led to a discussion of positioning (in this case, the product was an electronic picture frame which they hoped to be positioned not as a consumer electronic product but as home décor). The researchers here didn’t do anything to position the product and so consumers compared it to an iPad which led to the unfavorable view of pricing.  
Finally, they talked to another researcher who indicated that she uses a simple “yes/no” technique…essentially “would you buy it for $XYZ?” She said that this matched the marketplace better than asking people to “name their price”.  
Of the two methods cited I tend to go with the latter. Any reader of this blog knows that I favor questions that mimic the market place vs. asking strange questions that you wouldn’t consider in real life (what’s the most you would pay for this?”). Of course, there are a ton of choices that were not covered including conjoint analysis which I think is often the most effective means to set prices (see our White Paper - How to Conduct Pricing Research for more).
Still there was much that we as researchers can take from this. As noted, it is important to frame things properly. If the product will be sold in the home décor department, it is important to set the table along those lines and not allow the respondent to see it as something else. I have little doubt if the Van Westendorp questions were preceded by proper framing and messaging the results would have been different.
I also think the use of big data tools like Terapeak and Google analytics are something we should make more use of.  Secondary research has never been easier!  In the case of pricing research, knowing the range of prices being paid now can provide a good guide on what range of prices to include in, say, a Discrete Choice exercise. This is true even if the product has a new feature not currently available. Terapeak allows you to view prices over time so you can see the impact of the last big innovation, for example.
Overall, I commend eBay for their podcast. It is quite entertaining and provides a lot of useful information…especially for someone starting a new business.

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