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Truth or Research

Posted by on in New Research Methods

respondents telling truth in surveysI read an interesting story about a survey done to determine if people are honest with pollsters. Of course such a study is flawed by definition (how can we be sure those who say they always tell the truth, are not lying?). Still, the results do back up what I’ve long suspected…getting at the truth in a survey is hard.

The study indicates that most people claim to be honest, even about very personal things (like financing). Younger people, however, are less likely to be honest with survey takers than others. As noted above, I suspect that if anything, the results understate the potential problem.

To be clear, I don’t think that people are just being dishonest for the sake of being dishonest….I think it flows from a few factors.

First, some questions are too personal to answer, even on a web survey. With all the stories of personal financial data being stolen or compromising pictures being hacked, it shouldn’t surprise us that some people might not want to answer some kinds of questions. We should really think about that as we design questions. For example, while it might be easy to ask for a lot of detail, we might not always need it (income ranges for example). To the extent we do need it, finding ways to build credibility with the respondent are critical.

Second, some questions might create a conflict between what people want to believe about themselves and the truth. People might want to think of themselves as being “outgoing” and so if you ask them they might say they are. But their behavior might not line up with reality. The simple solution is to ask questions related to behavior without ascribing a term like “outgoing”. Of course, it is always worth asking it directly as well (knowing the self image AND behavior could make for interesting segmentations variables for example).

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big league research conjointWhile there is so much bad news in the world of late, here in Philly we’ve been captivated by the success of the Taney Dragons in the Little League World Series. While the team was sadly eliminated, they continue to dominate the local news. It got me thinking about what it is that makes a story like theirs so compelling and of course, how we could employ research to sort it out.

There are any number of reasons why the story is so engrossing (especially here in Philly). Is it the star player Mo’ne Davis, the most successful girl ever to compete in the Little League World Series or perhaps the fact that the Phillies are doing so poorly this year or maybe we just like seeing a team from various ethnicities and socio-economic levels working together and achieving success? Of course it might also be that we are tired of bad news and enjoy having something positive to focus on (even in defeat the team fought hard and exhibited tremendous sportsmanship).

The easiest thing to do is to simply ask people why they find the story compelling. This might get at the truth, but it is also possible that people will not be totally honest (for example, the disgruntled Phillies fan might not want to admit that) or they don’t really know what it is that has drawn them in. It might also identify the most important factor but not make note of other critical factors.

We could employ a technique like Max-Diff and ask them to choose which features of the story they find most compelling. This would provide a fuller picture, but is still open to the kinds of biases noted above.

Perhaps the best method would be to use a discrete choice approach. We take all the features of the story and either include them or don’t include them in a “story description” then ask people which story they would most likely read. We can then use analytics on the back end to sort out what really drove the decision.  

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Rita’s Italian Ice is a Pennsylvania-based company that sells its icy treats through franchise locations on the East Coast and several states in the Midwest and West.

Every year on the first day of spring, Rita’s gives away full-size Italian ices to its customers. For free. No coupon or other purchase required. It’s their way of thanking their customers and launching the season (most Rita’s are only open during the spring and summer months).

Wawa, another Pennsylvania company, celebrated 50 years in business with a free coffee day in April.  

Companies are giving their products away for free! What a fantastic development for consumers! I patronize both of these businesses, and yet, on their respective free give-away days, I didn’t participate. I like water ice (Philadelphia’s term for Italian ice) and I really like coffee. So what’s the problem?

In the case of Rita’s, the franchise location near me has about 5 parking spots, which on a normal day is too few. I was concerned about the crowds. On the Wawa give-away day, I forgot about it as the day wore on. That made me wonder what other people do when they learn that retailers are giving away their products. So, having access to a web-based research panel (a huge perk of my job), I asked 485 people about it. And here are the 4 things I learned:

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In my previous post I applauded Matthew Futterman’s suggestion that two key changes to baseball’s rules will produce a shorter, faster-paced game, one that will attract younger viewers. While I may not be that young, I’m certainly on-board with speeding up the game. I believe that faster-paced play will lead to greater engagement, and greater engagement will lead to greater enjoyment.

In some sense this is similar to our position on marketing research methods. We want to engage our respondents because the more focused on the task they become, the more considered their responses will be. One of our newer tools, Bracket,TM allows respondents to prioritize a long list of items in a tournament-style approach. Bracket™has respondents make choices among items, and as the tournament progresses the choices become more relevant (and hopefully more enjoyable).

Meanwhile, back to baseball. The rule changes Futterman suggests are very simple ones:

Once batters step into the box, they shouldn't be allowed to step out. Otherwise it's a strike.

If no one is on the base, pitchers get seven seconds to throw the next pitch. Otherwise it's a ball.

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Recently I had lunch with my colleague Michel Pham at Columbia Business School. Michel is a leading authority on the role of affect (emotions, feeling and moods) in decision making. He was telling me about a very interesting phenomenon called the Emotional Oracle Effect – where he and his colleagues had examined whether emotions can help make better predictions. I was intrigued. We tend to think of prediction as a very rational process – collect all relevant information, use some logical model for combining the information, then make the prediction. But Michel and his colleagues were drawing on a different stream of research that showed the importance of feelings. So the question was, can people make better predictions if they trust their feelings more?

To answer this question they ran a series of experiments. As we researchers know, experiments are the best way to establish a causal linkage between two phenomena. To ensure that their findings were solid, they ran eight separate studies in a wide variety of domains. This included predicting a Presidential nomination, movie box-office success, winner of American Idol, the stock market, college football and even the weather. While in most cases they employed a standard approach to manipulate people’s feelings of trust in themselves, in a couple of cases they looked at differences between people who trusted their feelings more (and less).

Across these various scenarios the results were unambiguous. When people trusted their feelings more, they made more accurate predictions. For example, box office showing of three movies (48% Vs 24%), American Idol winner (41% Vs 24%), NCAA BCS Championship (57% Vs 47%) and Democratic nomination (72% Vs 64%), weather (47% Vs 28%) were some of the cases where people who trusted their feelings predicted better than those who did not. This, of course, raises the question of why? What is it about feelings and emotion that allows a person to predict better?

The most plausible explanation they propose (tested in a couple of studies) is what they call the privileged-window hypothesis. This grows off the theoretical argument that “rather than being subjective and incomplete sources of information, feelings instead summarize large amounts of information that we acquire, consciously and unconsciously about the world around us.” In other words, we absorb a huge quantity of information but don’t really know what we know. Thinking rationally about what we know and summarizing it seems less accurate than using our feelings to express that tacit knowledge. So, when someone says that they did something because “it just felt right”, it may not be so much a subjective decision as an encapsulation of acquired knowledge. The affective/emotional system may be better at channeling the information and making the right decision than the cognitive/thinking system.

So, how does this relate to market research? When trying to understand consumer behavior through surveys, we usually try to get respondents to use their cognitive/thinking system. We explicitly ask them to think about questions, consider options and so on, before providing an apparently logical answer. This research would indicate that there is a different way to go. If we can find a way to get consumers to tap into their affective/emotional system we might better understand how they arrived at decisions.

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Market Researchers are constantly being asked to do “more with less”. Doing so is both practical (budgets and timelines are tight) and smart (the more we ask respondents to do, the less engaged they will be). At TRC we use a variety of ways to accomplish this from basic (eliminate redundancies, limit grids and the use of scales) to advanced (use techniques like Conjoint, Max-Diff and our own Bracket™ to unlock how people make decisions). We are also big believers in using incentives to drive engagement and with more reliable results. That is why a recent article in the Journal of Market Research caught my eye.

The article was about promotional lotteries. The rules tend to be simple, “send in the proof of purchase and we’ll put your name in to a drawing for a brand new car!." The odds of winning are also often very remote which might make some not bother. In theory, you could increase the chances of participation by offering a bunch of consolation prizes (free or discounted product for example). In reality, the opposite is true.

One theory would be that the consolation prizes may not interest the person and thus they are less interested in the contest as a whole.  While this might well be true, the authors (Dengfeng Yan and A.V.Muthukrishnan) found that there was more at work. Consolation prizes offer respondents a means to understand the odds of winning that doesn’t exist without them. Seeing, for example, that you have a one in ten million chance of winning may not really register because you are so focused on the car. But if you are told those odds and also the much better odds of winning the consolation prize you realize right away that at best chances are you will win the consolation prize. Since this prize isn’t likely to be as exciting (for example, an M&M contest might offer a free bag of candy for every 1000 participants), you have less interest in participating.

Since we rely so heavily on incentives to garner participation, it strikes me that these findings are worthy of consideration. A bigger “winner take all” prize drawing might draw in more respondents than paying each respondent a small amount. I can tell you from our own experimentation that this is the case. In some cases we employ a double lottery using our gaming technique Smart Incentives™  tool (including in our new ideation product Idea Mill™ ). In this case, the respondent can win one prize simply by participating and another based on the quality of their answer. Adding the second incentive brings in additional components of gaming (the first being “chance”) by adding a competitive element.

Regardless of this paper, we as an industry should be thinking through how we compensate respondents to maximize engagement.

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Even Economists Are Gamifying

Posted by on in New Product Research

Gamification as a means to understand consumer choice is a relatively new idea for research (and controversial in many circles), but it is not new everywhere. For example, one sociologist, Dmitri Williams, has been studying economic behavior using gamfication for four years. His experiments were based on the online fantasy game EverQuest II, which involves thousands of players selling millions of virtual items every month. In essence it is a fantasy economy that works like a real economy.  

Professor Williams theorized that this provided an opportunity to observe the choices players made without fear of the Hawthorne effect (some people give different answers when they know they are being watched).   It also allowed him to set up test and control groups and observe what happens when, to take a simple example, prices go up (if you guessed “people buy less” you win) and to look at gender roles. He saw applications in many fields, not the least of which being testing the impact of various government intervention options before implementing them in the real world.

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