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what am i supposed to doYes, it is a rather important issue and can be approached in a variety of ways. My purpose with this post is not to provide a comprehensive answer, but look at one specific solution based on what I recently read. The book is Thinking, Fast and Slow, the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman's excellent summary of a lifetime of research. He is perhaps the most accomplished psychologist around and could (among other things) justifiably be called the intellectual godfather of behavioral economics. It is always worth listening to what he says and in this particular case, it seems to me there is a nugget that applies to making quantitative research more actionable.

How to Be Happy by Spending Money Wisely

Posted by on in Consumer Behavior

It is that time of year when many people's thoughts turn towards buying gifts for loved ones. More generally it is a time when thoughts related to money and happiness occupy our attention. When thinking of ways to spend money either on oneself, for loved ones or even for complete strangers wouldn't it be nice if there was some actual research to provide data-based guidance on the topic? As it happens, there is. Researchers Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia, Daniel Gilbert of Harvard and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia have identified, through their research, eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Follow them as you will to enhance your life.

Tagged in: Psychology

webcamAs researchers it is critical that we ensure our data accurately reflect the thinking of the market....in other words, getting to the truth. This is complicated by several factors including limitations of a questionnaire, respondent's lack of attention and the fact that people don't always know what they really want or need. While careful design and methodology can help to minimize these issues (at TRC we believe in using choice questions and shorter surveys) and the use of other data (which can establish the facts), it is impossible to eliminate them.

Technology such as eye tracking, bio metrics and facial recognition software can be applied to neuroscience to help us understand more about what respondents are thinking. The trouble is they are often expensive (sometimes getting the whole truth isn't worth the price) and slow down the research process (sometimes a faster less complete answer is better than a slow one). The limited data available also make it difficult to draw good conclusions. An outstanding presentation at the ARF's 75th Annual Conference showed this quite well.

Is Cybercrime a Huge Problem?

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

cybercrimeCybercrime is a fear for just about everyone, from individuals fearing identity theft to large corporation guarding sensitive data. The question is, how valid is this fear?   It is a question that was raised recently in an Economist article and it makes it clear that politicians are not the only ones who misuse and abuse numbers.

Claims have been made that cybercrime is bigger than the drug trade and that it costs a trillion dollars annually. Most of these figures come from firms who specialize in preventing cybercrime...in other words the same folks who will benefit if people feel the need to protect themselves from cybercrime. These figures are generally not questioned, either out of numerical ignorance or the belief (probably correct) that big numbers scare people and help to sell newspapers (or in today's world web hits).  

Market researchers are fighting each day for a seat at the decision-making table. More and more "research professionals" are being bypassed by smart people with access to good tools, a hotly-debated topic within our community and perhaps a harbinger of what's to come in terms of when and how client- and vendor-side researchers get to contribute advice and ideas.

And yet too many researchers believe the value of market research is self-evident, and that the challenge facing our industry is really more of an obstacle caused by "everyone else." I see this train of thought emerge frequently on Twitter, or within any number of blogs and MRX-related posts.  It typically gets expressed along these lines:

Netflix screwed up. McDonald's screwed up. Coca-Cola screwed up (multiple times). If only they had done research!  A (name any large dollar amount) disaster that could have been averted with a $100,000 investment in listening to the customer. Silly companies.

Folks, it's hard to get better without humility.

Tagged in: Market Research
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Great post. Research needs to have impact on decision making - and demonstrably so. For suppliers, it's difficult to get all the a

Give Thanks for the Unknown

Posted by on in Market Research

1620 mayflower rockThis month here in the States we will be celebrating our biggest secular holiday, Thanksgiving.   Traditionally, the holiday is thought to have started when early settlers to the "new" world, the Pilgrims, sat down to have a meal to celebrate the harvest with the Native American's who had befriended them. As we begin to close out 2011 in an industry facing an uncertain future, I was struck by the similarities between those early settlers and market researchers today.

On the surface the story of adventurers seeking a better life is a bit different than the story of boring market researchers seeking to survive, but I disagree.

thanksgiving turkey dinnerLater this month, those of us in the United States celebrate one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. Officially, Thanksgiving is a post-harvest celebration that was brought to the Americas by European settlers in the 16th or 17th century (depending on which historian you believe). Unofficially, it's the day where families and friends gather to feast, take naps and watch football. Oh my, even as I type this my mouth is watering...turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, peas and the like, with chasers of pumpkin, apple and other assorted pies. All delicious, but I particularly love eating turkey on Thanksgiving.

The REAL Mobile Opportunity

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

Sometimes it seems like the future of quantitiative mobile research has already been determined.

onlinemobilesurvey- Real-short surveys, 5 to 10 questions long.
- Simple-response controls like big radio buttons.
- Small screens = small tasks = limited data sets.

At a time when clients, budgets and timelines are demanding that we do more with less, mobile quant would seem to do a pretty good job with the "less" part of things. If we're being honest that makes us primary researchers a little nervous, and prone to think of mobile as an interesting but ultimately niche methodology.

 

The change is a comin'

But I'd wager that the current definition of "short" and "simple" will change over time as more consumers come to live fully mobile lives, and mobile devices become an increasingly "best" way to reach people for feedback. Conventional wisdom says ask only 5 to 10 questions and use the simplest of instructions, but how can that be the end of the story when people - right now - are browsing, shopping, and buying on their Smartphones?

Thoughts on TMRE 2011

Posted by on in Conferences

tmre_banner_250x250_nodisI recently came back from the 2011 The Market Research Event (TMRE) conference in Orlando, the biggest marketing research conference of the year. There was plenty to like, not the least of which was the scale of the event. Rarely, if ever, do we get to see an exclusively market research event that is so big. Kudos to IIR for putting it together.

The highlight of the event for me was the Keynotes, of which there were eight. I couldn't catch all of them, but my favorite was Sheena Iyengar from Columbia, author of the best seller The Art of Choosing (and sister-in-law of my friend Raghu Iyengar from Wharton). In a beautifully choreographed and clear presentation, Sheena (who is blind) talked about the problem of plenty in consumer choice and ways to avoid it for both sellers and buyers. The Keynotes were all held in a massive room and very entertainingly emceed by Cayne Collier, an actor and improv artist from Second City Chicago. Discussions with a variety of people indicated that the Keynotes were the favorite part of the conference for many.

Tagged in: Market Research
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Thanks for the comments Rajan! I agree with you, though I do think TMRE did a fairly good job reporting on the NGMR Disruptive In

As I sat down to write I realized that this is not a simple question. Consider the conventional meaning of necessities (defined as must-haves) and luxuries (defined as nice-to-haves). Which category market research falls into may depend on the eye of the beholder.

Researchers (or more accurately research sellers) may want to think of themselves as producing necessities rather than luxuries. But in the consumer world necessities are also generally commodities and often sold based on price. Researchers of course want to be seen as producing something valuable, something that is worth a premium -- in other words, a luxury.  So, which is it?

Now let's look at it from a research buyer's perspective. The buyer may think of research as a necessity, something that is indispensible for making good business decisions. But in keeping with the popular perception of necessities, perhaps they feel that more than one company can provide it and are hence unwilling to pay much of a premium for it. This view would support the many research sellers who complain about the commoditization of research.

Numbers That Don't Add Up

Posted by on in Better Graphics

In my last blog I talked about a simple chart on Morning Joe, which was presented by Steven Rattner. I submitted that when we see data presented in the media or especially by politicians, we should judge it in terms of how a researcher would have presented the same data (because of course researchers are free of bias...well let's leave that for another blog). I gave Mr. Rattner a pass last time, but his presentation of a chart on infrastructure was misleading and would only have pleased a client who wanted misleading data to prove a point.

In this case he presented a chart showing infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP . It showed a massive drop from the high in the 1950's to the low of today. The chart had a y axis that went from 0% to 1.5% which made the drop easier to see. Nothing wrong with that (assuming those viewing the chart understood that it was not based on 0-100%).

A  few blogs back I talked about how the political season would bring on a rash of misuse and abuse of numbers. I've had my ears open for examples and a couple that came up recently got me to realize that a more nuanced view is necessary here. The real rule should be that pundits and politicians should be held to the same standards as we are by our clients. Namely, the numbers should help in the decision making process...not mislead or confuse the facts.

In the next two blogs I'll use some charts presented by Steven Rattner on the Morning Joe television program. For those of you who don't know, Mr. Rattner was the President's Car Czar. While this probably means he comes with his own bias, I have generally found that when he presents data he does so in a pretty fair way.

two_dollar_billMy seven year old son gets a $2 per week allowance. He doesn't really do anything to earn this money. Rather I give him (and his brother) an allowance to teach them how to save for things that they want. Implied, and in fact part of the bargain, is that they can't hassle me for Pokémon cards, or Wii games, or anything else they "need", because they have their own money. Well, about a month or two ago my seven year old mandated that I start paying him with a $2 bill. Yikes! Where was I going to get even one $2 bill, let alone one every week?

As we consider my situation, let's juxtapose something we've all been hearing for 10 plus years now. The brick and mortar (fill in the blank) is antiquated, and on its way to irrelevance. The Internet is the way that EVERYBODY is going to shop for and do EVERYTHING! Heck, I've heard it so many times and for so long that I agree with it, which is odd since the only items I consistently buy online are books, DVDs and music.

center 4 neural decision makingRecently I was invited to attend a neuroscience conference at Temple University in Philadelphia, organized by their Center for Neural Decision Making, along with MIT and the University of Michigan. It turned out to be a very interesting experience with excellent speakers, great interactions and a terrific panel discussion. Some highlights:

  • Michael Norton of Harvard spoke with humor about the sensitive topic of racial paralysis. This is the tendency of people to refrain from making any decisions when faced with a situation where they could potentially be perceived as racist. His approach used data from experiments, surveys and neural imaging, a nice way to triangulate the results.
Tagged in: Neuroscience

esomar logoLast time I talked about how we as an industry worry about response rates and respondent engagement either too much or for the wrong reasons. This time, I'd like to expand on that point by picking up on a comment made by Joan M. Lewis of Procter &Gamble.

The second day of the ESOMAR CONGRESS conference featured a panel of big research buying clients. They talked about the things they wanted and were not getting. Two big areas were boiling data down to as few charts as possible and to help them drive innovation and change. Both are related. In essence, don't give me a 100 page report or a chart with 100 numbers on it. Boil it all down and tell me what to do!

Tagged in: Reporting
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    In his book "Never Confuse a Memo with Reality: And Other Business Lessons Too Simple Not to Know", Richard A. Moran has the follo

esomar logoTwo other topics that came up a lot at ESOMAR were respondent engagement and representativeness.   Personally, I think discussions of the former are often misguided and discussions of the latter are a waste of time. Not that I oppose engaging respondents or high response rates, just that I'm practical enough to recognize that neither will happen without a good business reason for them to happen.

With regards to response rate, the boat has clearly sailed. Surely this is clear now that huge research buyers like P&G suggest moving beyond focus on response rate. I suspect they, like me, would love higher response rates, but they have come to realize that it isn't going to happen. The massive increase in the number of surveys being done (I get one every time I take my car in, and I was just handed on here on my plane trip back from ESOMAR) has caused the public to tire of doing them. Add in that improving response rates involves greater costs (more attempts, mixed modes, higher incentives) and greater time. 

magical_eyeThere's a lot of discussion today about the researcher as story-teller. Most of it has to do with the choices we make as analysts - what to focus on and what to discard; all important stuff.

Ultimately, however, we have to step up and tell those stories and good visual display is critical to that effort. Too often we fall short of effective in this area, and that's a problem. Market Researchers are fighting everyday for respect, but we'll never get it if we can't communicate the good (or bad) news we have to tell about brands and products and customers. To quote "Information Is Beautiful" author David McCandless from a recent interview in "Research:"

...everything you create now design-wise is competing with everything else that everyone ever looks at. So market research stuff is looking worse and worse as time goes by, because the web and good design are becoming more and more of a daily experience for people.

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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Thanks for this very good advice. I've often talked about the need for the market researcher to stand with one foot outside the m

Time For More Game Playing in Market Research

Posted by on in Conferences

I'm on the plane heading back from ESOMAR. I found the diversity of opinions and ideas shared there to be both interesting and thought provoking. Over the next couple blogs I'll share my thoughts on what I got from the event.

First off, gaming; no subject divides researchers more. Several presentations showed tests that used game elements to engage the respondents. One effort by MSI created a sort of fantasy backdrop in which players answered questions to get things they would need on their game quest. The idea was to engage respondents and with that get better data. Sadly, the results didn't back that up at all. Results did not vary much (specifics are available on the ESOMAR site), but respondents who did it were more engaged. At the same time, response rates were lower (loading time put some people off and some had no interest in the game). Easy enough to theorize that the mistake here was that the game was a sort of reward for doing the survey, but not related to it. As such, it does little to engage the respondent.

talking_webPrior to my current tour at TRC I was a partner at a small data mining boutique that had a simple objective: support the sales and marketing goals of our clients by helping them stem attrition. While the goal may have been simple, how we set out to do this was not. See, we took upwards of 30 months of time-series data on all of their customers and applied some mind-numbing statistical techniques that identified patterns in the data that preceded an eventual behavior. In most cases that behavior was a customer terminating their relationship with our client. Once our system identified the patterns that preceded attrition, we would then continue to feed it customer data each month and it would dutifully output a list of customers that were likely candidates to attrite. In addition, for each customer on this golden list we provided the prediction "trigger", or the thing that they did that was responsible for the system flagging them as a high-risk customer.

chessIn a recent post, my colleague Bob Hull reported that many of his clients start talking about segmentation by emphasizing all the data on their customers they already have. Bob pointed out that such demographic and behavioral data can often answer "what" questions, what customers do and what they look like, but to understand "why" customers do what they do, and how apparently similar customers differ from one another, survey research to collect attitudinal and needs-based information is necessary. 

In segmenting business markets, we have found another major advantage of including attitudinal and need-based information in segmentation studies. Very likely, a company's competitors have demographic and behavioral data similar to what the company has.

Tagged in: segmentation

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