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I attended IIeX (Insight Innovation Exchange) in June 2013 where the message was all about dramatic change coming and coming fast. A sort of “innovate or die” message. I expected CASRO’s annual conference to take almost the opposite view. After the first day I am pleased to say that while the view from CASRO is more measured, there is little doubt that change is coming.

From the opening remarks the focus has been on change. Not how to avoid it, but how to embrace it. IIeX presented the opportunity to see how new methods are being used and lots of sessions on new products and services that offer both opportunity and threat to the status quo. CASRO is less specific and focuses more about how to think differently, how to recognize opportunities and how to innovate to stay relevant. In the end, however, the message is clear…you must innovate.

This should come as no surprise to researchers. Whether you do product development as we do, or virtually any kind of research, we advise our clients on how to change to meet the demands of the market. Why then should we expect to be any different in our own business?

So, while I expected the two conferences to present distinctly different views, I am pleased to say they are presenting complementary views.   I walked away from IIeX with lots of ideas on how to apply some great new tools. Thus far I have grown in confidence that I’m on the right track and I have new ways to look at the innovation process. It has already helped me refine my thinking and caused me to want to accelerate change in my company.

We’ll see what the next two days of CASRO hold in store. Ideally I will be glad to have been at both IIeX and CASRO and have a hard time saying which one was the most valuable. One thing I can say, however, is this: while my friend Lenny Murphy has done an outstanding job leading the call for change in this industry, CASRO still outshines IIeX when it comes to food and drink.  

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I'm 5'5" tall, and my neck hurts. No, not all the time, just when I fly. And why does my neck hurt? Simple. Most economy-class seats have stationary bump-out head rests. Now, I’m not quite sure why these headrests bump out like this, since travelers of differing heights will surely experience them differently. My particular problem is that I’m just tall enough to get the back of my head to the bump-out...which means that when I place my head against it it pushes my entire head forward and down. So my neck hurts.

My best solution so far is to buy a neck pillow and wear it backwards. This helps to prop up my chin, but the bump-out and the neck pillow are in a constant battle for supremacy, and usually the bump-out wins.

So what does this have to do with research? Plenty. I wanted to know if other airline passengers would get excited by the prospect of an adjustable headrest to accommodate their needs. Of course, everyone would be happy with something designed just for them, so we tested it alongside other potential cabin improvements to see where it would land.

CABIN IMPROVEMENTS TESTED:
Adjustable headrest to accommodate any size traveler
Denser seat cushions for added comfort
Folding foot rests to elevate your feet
Lumbar support built into the seat backs
More leg room than in a standard exit row seat
Roomier seats - 2 inches wider than most domestic airlines
Seats recline 5 degrees further than other airlines' seats
Tray tables with non-slip surface - better for gripping beverages

 

We surveyed our intrepid online research panelists, limited the pool to those who fly, and applied our Message Test Express™technique, which is a tournament-style method of having respondents make choices from a list of items. MTE delivers rank ordering with a numeric value so you can see not just how they ranked, but how close they were in the order.

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Please don’t judge me for this, but I’ve watched at least half a dozen episodes of America’s Got Talent this summer. It is easy viewing with a variety of acts from daredevils to singing and dancing, and features celebrity judges adding sarcastic asides. But what struck me is how the show’s format points to the essential weakness of rating scales and the strength of choice questions.

In the early “audition” shows, acts come on and perform for a few minutes. The judges then critique them and ultimately vote “yes” or “no”. If two judges vote “no” the act is done. Otherwise the contestants go to Las Vegas for the next round.   Now while “yes” or “no” is in fact a choice, it is really nothing more than a disguised rating. The reason is there is no constraint. They don’t have a limit on how many people go forward. This is like reading a list of features and asking respondents which ones are important to them (anyone who has done market research knows the answer to such questions is generally “everything is important”).  

Once in Vegas the hard work begins. This season about 120 acts made it there, but only 60 are needed for the competition. So the judges had to decide which 60 would get to the next stage. To do this they picked 30 acts that they thought were good enough to go on and 60 that they wanted to see again to pick the other 30. The remaining 30 were called in and summarily told that they were done (so yes, they flew them to Vegas just to tell them this). Frankly I’d been surprised by many of the acts that got to go to Vegas, so I wasn’t surprised by the choices.  

The key here was that unlike the early rounds…they now had a constraint. As with Max Diff (where you have to pick winners and losers) and Conjoint (where you are constrained by the mix of features and levels), they now had to make real choices. In this case, many were not hard (though telling 10 year olds they are done can’t be easy…even if they clearly are not good enough).   The 60 remaining acts were not all great (many were not even good in my opinion), but they were far better than the 60 sent packing.

From here the tournament becomes more like our proprietary Bracket™ technique. Performances are compared to each other with some getting to move on (and perform against other winning acts) and some being done. In the end only one act will win…the one that is most popular among the dedicated fans of the show. This is exactly how good market research should work…force hard choices to drive the best product, message, segmentation solution or price using pricing research.

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Tagged in: Choice Market Research
The Economy of Food at Sporting Events
Image source: www.sports-management-degrees.com

As we learn to make sense of ever expanding amounts of data into simple recommendations, we would do well to think about presenting data in a better way. People often make the mistake of describing themselves as either a “numbers person” or a “picture person”, but in reality we all possess two sides of the brain. …right (images) and left (analytics). I read an article this week which makes the point that the best way to drive understanding is by presenting analytical data in a visual way. This engages both sides of the brain and thus helps us to quickly internalize what we are seeing.

We might be tempted to say that data visualization is easier said than done (but then what isn’t?). We might also be tempted to say that most market research data isn’t that interesting. I tend to disagree.  

Just last week I exchanged some emails with Sophia Barber of Sports-management-degrees.com. She pointed me to a great info graphic about spending on food at sporting events. It is colorful and comprehensively covers a lot of data. If you are a “numbers person” you might try paging about halfway down where all of the underlying data are presented in stark form. My bet would be that even the staunchest numbers person will get more from the combination than from the dull recitation of facts.  

Of course, both food and sports are relatively interesting topics, but what if the topic isn’t fun and interesting? I still say that results from even highly analytical studies (things like conjoint, discrete choice, pricing studies and so on) can be made more memorable and more interesting through the simple addition of pictures and I mean pictures that go beyond simple graphs and charts (which are often as dull as a list of numbers). Doing so drives the point home faster and with that makes our work more relevant.  

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My favorite feature of Quirk's Marketing Research e-newsletter is Research War Stories. In one issue this spring, Arnie Fishman reported that he had an unexpectedly high result when he asked research participants whether they eat dog food "all the time." He framed the question by asking how often they ate each of a variety of "exotic foods," including rattlesnake meat and frog kidneys, among others.

This got us thinking that maybe you'd get a different result if you asked just about dog food rather than about dog food amongst other crazy types of foods. So, being the researchers that we are, we designed a monadic design experiment to see what would happen.

Using Arnie's same framework of exotic foods, we asked one group of our online research panelists how frequently they eat dog food. On the next screen we asked the same question about rattlesnake meat. They always saw dog food first, so they had no other stimulus when they answered the dog food question.

We asked another group of panelists about dog food, rattlesnake meat, frog kidneys, gopher brains, and chocolate covered ants all on the same screen. We hypothesized that this group would be more open to admitting to eat dog food when grouped with these other items rather than just being asked directly about dog food.

Well, we were wrong about that – none of the folks asked about dog food alone admitted to eating dog food all the time, and 1% of those asked about dog food amongst the other exotic items did so (not a statistically significant difference). The percent of folks in both groups saying that they "never" ate dog food was the same as well (96%). So in our experiment, the "framing" of the question had no bearing on the response.

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Pricing Research in Context

Posted by on in New Product Research

My last blog about pricing research was still fresh in my mind when I read an excerpt of Craig LaBan’s recent online chat. LaBan is the Philadelphia Inquirer’s restaurant critic and offers insightful reviews and information for foodies in the region. I was intrigued by the discussion of how Federal Donuts charges different prices at the ballpark than in their stand-alone restaurant locations.

Our clients typically look for answers to how to price their products either alone or bundled. But I personally have yet to have a client ask me how to price a product differently based on the situation or context. There is good information to be had on this topic: in “Contextual Pricing: The Death of List Price and the New Market Reality” the authors point out that the pricing scheme for Coca Cola includes air temperature at the point of sale. But what tools are available to the market researcher for exploring situation-based pricing?

At its simplest level, we can ask consumers what they’d be willing to pay given a certain situation (such as in an airport or on an airplane). By using a monadic design in which similar groups of respondents are asked about a single price point, we can compare across the groups to see what the various “take-rates” would be.

Discrete choice could be employed to vary both the context and the pricing – in that way multiple situations could be tested along with multiple price points. (My colleague, Rajan Sambandam will be speaking about Behavioral Conjoint at the Insight Innovation Exchange NA event in Philadelphia in June.)

I’m not sure how Federal Donuts arrived at their pricing decision – it could very well be that the ballpark charges more rent and that factor alone determined their pricing. But when all other factors are equal, determining how much to charge can have important financial consequences.

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Big news today as Ron Johnson, CEO of J.C. Penney “resigned”. He did so following a series of decisions designed to make the staid Penney’s brand more hip. Sadly, thus far these changes have chased away existing customers without attracting enough new ones to turn around the store chain’s long decline.

Johnson’s decisions, like those of his mentor Steve Jobs, were made from the gut…no need for any market research. Jobs of course had an almost magic touch. Carefully choosing the markets to enter, when to do so and producing products that were seen as cutting edge. Often his decisions were seen as counter intuitive (such as the opening of retail stores in the Internet age), but time and time again he was proven to be right. So, why didn’t it work for Mr. Johnson?

First, Mr. Jobs was producing products for Apple, not J.C. Penney. Apple was known as a producer of fine computers that were easy to use (intuitive is a word often used). Some of the luster came off that reputation when Jobs left the company, but when he returned there was little doubt what Apple stood for and the types of products to expect. From the moment he returned he looked for places where that reputation (intuitive electronics) might find a market. Mr. Johnson, by contrast saw the J.C. Penney reputation as a problem and looked to change it…a far tougher task.

Second, Jobs often had success by leaping into relatively new markets and then using the power or Apple design and engineering to dominate it. He didn’t create the first digital music player, but he created one that was intuitive and he backed it up with a legal way to buy digital music. He could do this without giving up the existing Apple business (computers). Johnson needed to focus resources on shoring up the flailing store chain…perhaps if he’d had the luxury of creating small J.C.Penney Boutiques it would have worked.

Third, I am reminded of something that I once heard the legendary Warren Mitofsky say with regards to flawed sampling, “Results will be right until they aren’t”. Mr. Jobs was not always right. He left Apple the first time a failure (one could argue that others were at least as much to blame), started a new company that was largely a failure and then started his run, first at Pixar and then his triumphant return to Apple. He was clearly brilliant and had incredible vision, but he was not always right.   Of course, it goes without saying that not everyone has the same skills (me included).

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Market Research in the Toilet

Posted by on in New Research Methods

market research in toiletI read an astounding fact this week, “More Indians have used a mobile phone than a toilet”. It seemed absurd to me that a relatively new technology would outpace an old (and very useful) one. I came to realize that the absurdity was mainly due to the fact that I couldn’t imagine a world without either device and it struck me that this is an example of what ails the market research world.

The fact is that Indians have not chosen the cell phone over indoor plumbing. The former is widely available (because cell phone infrastructure is relatively easy to build) and the latter is not. So it wasn’t a choice of toilets over telcom, it was a choice of having a cell phone or not having one. Those who got the phones have begun to find uses for it that go far beyond the obvious. For example, fishermen call in while at sea to find out which port is offering the best price for their catch, thus maximizing their profits.

In Market Research we are often blinded by our experience. Instead of viewing new market research technology for its potential, we view it through the lens of what we know. When web data collection arrived, many didn’t see the opportunities it offered and instead defensively dismissed it as being inferior to existing methods and only offered the benefits of being “cheap and fast”. After more than a decade, it amazes me how many still hold this belief.

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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    @Dave: thanks for the comments. I recently saw a post on Facebook that said something like this: "If someone came 30 years from
  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Well done Rich... I am in the middle of writing a paper for ESOMAR Congress this september in Istanbul on the subject of toilets a

For years now, my colleague Jessica would solicit donations to the American Cancer Societythrough its annual Daffodil Days® campaign. Each year I'd give Jessica my donation and a few weeks later I'd receive 10 daffodil buds. I'd arrange them in a vase in my office and watch as they opened up into beautiful blooms over the course of a few days. And in doing so I'd be reminded that my donation is being used to find ways to eradicate cancer and help people in need.

It was announced that this year would be the final year for Daffodil Days®.

product optimization daffodils

I have to admit, my first thought was not, "how will I donate to ACS now?" My first thought was that something was being taken away from me! Which, of course, irritated me. My second thought was that I'll have to look for another way to get daffodil buds next spring. And then it dawned on me that by cancelling the daffodils promotion, the ACS could be losing a long-time supporter.

Businesses are faced with product optimization decisions all the time – what will happen if I remove a product, service or distribution channel from the market? Will customers be lost? What will the short- and long-term effects be?

My Evening with Daniel Kahneman

Posted by on in Consumer Behavior

Okay, so it wasn’t really just the two of us – there were a few hundred others involved. Still, it was a very memorable evening that I think is worth sharing.

The day started innocently enough. I was heading out to Yale for a guest lecture in the MBA Marketing Research class taught by Jiwoong Shin as I have done for several Spring semesters now. I like this trip a lot as it allows me to catch up with many of my friends in the Yale Marketing Department. One of those is Shane Frederick and I had emailed him to see if he was around. He replied asking if I was attending Kahneman’s lecture. I had no idea that Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and godfather of behavioral economics was giving a lecture there. The day was already getting better! I quickly changed my Amtrak ticket to a later time and told Shane I would come by his office so we could walk over.

My guest lecture went off very well with the students asking plenty of interesting questions. Then I had lunch with Zoe Chance who is doing some very interesting work with leading companies, applying ideas from behavioral economics. After a couple more meetings, I went to see Shane and we walked over early knowing there would be a big crowd. And we were glad we did, as the auditorium was overflowing by the time the lecture started.

Daniel Kahneman (Danny to his friends) was introduced by another notable person from Yale, Professor Robert Shiller (yes, he of the Case-Shiller Index you may have heard about during the housing crisis). Shiller talked about the widespread impact of Kahneman’s work, especially after the publication of his best seller Thinking, Fast & Slow. Trying to find Kahneman’s connections to Yale, Shiller pointed out that two of his coauthors (Shane Frederick and Nathan Novemsky, both in the marketing department) were at Yale.

And then it was time for Kahneman to speak. His humility, thoughtfulness, and eloquence came through pretty much from the first few words. He started by saying that he doesn’t do university speeches anymore since he is not actively doing any research (he is retired), but could not say no to Bob Shiller. Most of his recent speeches have been about his book, and there had been so many that as a consequence he seems to have forgotten everything else he ever did (laughter!). And that, he said, makes sense because as he points out in the book, we like things that are familiar (more laughter!).

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A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she’d taken a web quiz to tell her which presidential candidate best lined up with her stand on the issues. She was outraged that the web site thought she would vote the way it did. I’m not surprised (by the outrage, not her choice)…it is a case of a badly applied choice technique.

Basically the quiz worked by asking a series of questions to see where she stood on the issues. It then aligns her choices against the stand taken by the candidate (if you want to try one, here is one from the GOP Primaries this year). In essence it is a Configurator. Instead of building the perfect product for you (as you would with a Configurator) you build the perfect candidate. There are a couple of problems with this application.

First, Configurators allow you to build the ideal but generally don’t give a clear idea of what choices you might make if that ideal were not available (our proprietary Texo™ helps overcome that issue). In politics it is not unusual for voting decisions to hinge on a single issue and unlike products you can’t decide to add or subtract an important feature.  

When we dropped my daughter off for her first year of college a few weeks back my parting words were “Be true to yourself”. I thought this reflected both my accepting that my influence on her was now very limited and my hope that whatever good I’ve done should be put into practice. It strikes me that researchers too should heed the advice.

Our industry has changed and continues to change. Many of the old rules either no longer work or can’t be easily applied to the new tools at our disposal. So how can we apply what we know? A philosophy like “be true to yourself” allows us to do just that.

Personally it has allowed me to accept that representative sampling is no longer the most critical rule (it can’t be in a world where truly representative sampling is too slow and costly). It doesn’t mean I take any respondents I can get…care in trying to get as representative a sample as we can remains important. It just isn’t a stone cold requirement of quantitative research.  

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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Nice article, thanks for the information.
environmentProtecting the environment is in our collective best interest. Certainly, that’s a given, but people individually don’t always act in their long-term best interests (as behavioral economists posit) so why do we think companies would do so?

Turns out, employers are doing a lot to conserve and protect the environment and natural resources – at least according to TRC’s online panelists we surveyed this spring.

Nearly three-quarters of our panelists who are employed full or part-time told us their employer was actively doing at least one of five activities related to conservation and energy preservation. The larger the employer, the greater the participation. While we can't project our findings to corporate America as a whole, this is certainly encouraging news for our planet.

what increases attention paid to adsAdvertisers and researchers do a lot of testing to determine how effective their advertising is prior to launching a campaign or message. We look for ways to get inside consumers’ heads, and as technology improves, we are afforded interesting glimpses into how consumers process information and make decisions. As my colleague Rajan pointed out in his blog different areas of the brain lead to different types of decision-making. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman posits that human thinking can be classified into two forms, System 1, which operates automatically, and System 2, which requires mental effort (I paraphrase). Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide asserts in his blog “Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.”

With all of this exciting work being done in the field of neuroscience and behavioral economics, I wondered what kinds of answers we would get if we simply asked consumers directly what they think motivates them in considering advertising. Do they believe they respond to characters like the Geico gecko? Or is it really just a function of what they need at the time?

In Thinking, Fast & Slow, Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman (click here previous post about Thinking, Fast & Slow) talks about the two selves people have: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The terms are self-explanatory and vacations are a good way to think about them. The part of us that is enjoying the vacation is the experiencing self, while the part that is reliving it later (sometimes years later) is the remembering self. Neither one may be more important, but the emphasis we place on one or the other could determine our behavior. So, for example, you can enjoy the vacation or take plenty of pictures to relive it later, depending on the self that is more important. A way of finding out which self is more important is to ask ourselves whether we would go on a certain vacation if we could only enjoy it, but not take any pictures (or video, etc).

low response rateA recent discussionon Linkedin pondered whether MR is having its own global warming crisis in the form of an ever dwindling respondent pool. As always, this brought on arguments that response rates need to be improved, quality enforced and of course talk about how much we have slipped as an industry since the good old days. Some blame clients for this (they demand speed and lower cost without concern for quality!) and some blame researchers for not holding clients’ feet to the fire.   It struck me that this is yet another case of researchers not viewing things from a client perspective.

market research conference 2012Well, another conference is over, perhaps our best ever. A great roster of speakers, a room full of engaged attendees and a great location was a terrific formula for a memorable conference. Some highlights from the various sessions:

Lenny Murphy, Editor-in-Chief of the Greenbook blog opened with a wide sweep discussing the waves of changes rocking the market research world. Pulling from the GRIT survey, his discussion with emerging and established players, as well as his itinerant investigation, he was able to convincingly make the case that change in the MR industry is happening. Now. He talked about emerging technologies such as mobile, social media and text analytics and how academic expertise was a key to unlocking a future of new ideas. It was a perfect set-up for the group of academic presentations that were to follow.

daniel-kahneman-thinking-fast-slowIn his opus Thinking, Fast & Slow, Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman (click here for previous post) relates a story from early in his career when he was leading a team to develop a curriculum and write a textbook on judgment and decision-making in high schools. He had assembled a group of experts and after working diligently for a year they had completed an outline of the syllabus and written two chapters. One fine day when discussing procedures for estimating uncertain quantities, it occurred to him that he should get an estimate from everyone on how long he thought this whole project would take. Being the clever psychologist that he was, rather than ask the group to guess publicly, he asked each person to make a confidential prediction. The mean was about two years and the range was about half a year on either side. In other words, the group was very consistent in its prediction.  

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.

buffet sign panel studyOn a trip to Las Vegas in November 2011 I was twice presented with an option to move to the head of the line – for a price. I could take advantage of “early check-in” by paying $25. And I could get my buffet breakfast right away without waiting in line, again for a small fee. The buffet sign struck me as peculiar, since the 4 people ahead of me didn’t really constitute much of a “line”. I snapped a photo.

The concept of express fees is nothing new – Universal Florida, for example, has offered its ExpressSM Plus Pass for years, affording visitors to skip the regular lines, and as a result experience more attractions during their visit. But the express fee is spreading beyond the domain of the theme park.  You can even pay to bypass the long security lines at the airport now, if you’re so inclined.

This got me thinking...who’s in such a rush?  And, even more important, who’s willing to fork over some cash so they won’t waste any more time waiting? We put that question to the test with a small web survey among members of TRC’s online panel.

Among the general population of adults, paying for speedy service is a somewhat polarizing notion. While about half of our survey takers are neutral on the concept, 1/3 are pro and 1/5 are anti. We asked about specific situations as well. Paying for early hotel check-in has nearly twice as many fans (23%) as paying for premium seating at a movie (12%) or paying to jump the line at a warehouse store (13%).

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