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knowing enough to make the right decisionSometimes as researchers we get too hung up on knowing everything.   We get frustrated by interesting findings that can't be explained with the available data and this can cause us to miss important insights. I suspect that the proliferation of available data will do little to help fill in the blanks...in fact, it might make the problem worse. A simple exercise in text analytics highlights this point.

There are now an array of tools available to help quantify and understand massive amounts of text.  For example,  at one of our conferences last year, Oded Netzer of Columbia University presented an amazing tool that analyses message boards and other online forums to learn about specific markets (slides can be found at:  http://www.trchome.com/research-knowledge/conferences/437). Tools like these provide a rich and valuable source of data, but insight can also be gleaned from far more simple approaches.

Tagged in: Statistics Text Mining

Quick. What kinds of data are needed for a successful segmentation?

Well, most clients I talk to about segmentation excitedly lead with the data they already have..."we have a TON of data...yes, yes, we can get it all...what's the rule for what data are good for segmentation and which aren't?...how do we tie it all together?...we really do have a lot, (sheepishly) do we really need it all?".  This focus on their data issue is quite understandable. Companies have spent a lot of time, money and resources getting their data house in order, and darn it they need to leverage it somehow. While, in fact, there really is a lot of valuable information in the data that many companies already have, it isn't always enough. In fact, I would argue that in some instances it only provides half the answer.

istock_000000237809xsmallThe recent New MR Virtual Festival on presenting data had a number of really useful and interesting presentations. Mike Sherman’s presentation, “Less is More: Getting Value (Not Just Reams of Data) From Your Research” led to an interesting exchange that I think highlights the change in thinking that Market Research must make.

Mike reiterated the point that many have been making…we need to focus our reporting on the key things we learned and not waste executives’ time with a lot of superfluous information. In addition, the report should not just summarize the data, but rather it should synthesize it. He gave an example of a data set with these facts:

  • · Jim broke his knee
  • · A burglar broke Jim’s car window
  • · Jim got a speeding ticket.

A summary of these data might be “Jim’s knee and car window were damaged and he got a speeding ticket”.

A synthesis of that data would be “Jim has been living dangerously”.

mrmwsignI really enjoyed my time last week at Merlien’s Market Research in the Mobile World 2011 – a great place to meet and exchange ideas with the people and companies working to make effective mobile research a reality. We discussed the nitty-gritty of mobile survey applications, and the big picture of mobile adoption around the world. Taking it all in it’s hard to argue that mobile won’t play a major role in the future of the market research industry, both in the developed and developing worlds.

Here’s the thing, though. Most of the conversation during the conference focused on the “what” of mobile research – how to reach people, or whether or not to keep surveys short(er). Very little was said about the “so what,” even though that’s where we as research professionals can earn respect and remain relevant.

Tagged in: Market Research
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Great points Mike; I agree that once we nail down some of the practical methodological issues the real point is how can we use the

Companies across a wide range of industries focus on improving customer satisfaction as a way of increasing loyalty. Still, there is evidence to show that increasing customer satisfaction does not always result in increases in repurchase. So if your company happens to be in one of those situations you could be wasting money trying to improve customer satisfaction - money that could be usefully spent on something else. What defines "those situations" where the relationship between customer satisfaction and repurchase is sketchy? In a recent issue of the Journal of Marketing, three academic researchers Glenn Voss, Andrea Godfrey and Kathleen Seiders, propose that the kind of product category (luxury or necessity) plays a crucial role in this relationship along with customer, relationship and market characteristics.

shopping cart image smallI was shopping for groceries with my 12-year old son the other day -a quick trip to the store that qualified us for the express check-out line. On the way out he said to me:

"It must be more fun to work the express line, because you can really learn things about people."

Well spoken young researcher.

Look into full shopping carts and you'll see a lot of the same things - milk; eggs; orange juice; the ever-popular banana. With our shared national culture, neighborhoods built around people from similar socio-economic backgrounds, and good old fashioned peer pressure we're all alike in many ways. Except for where we're not, and that (to paraphrase my son) is the fun part.

If you had the time to dig through a person's cart (and if she LET you look through her cart) you'd come...

The Optimism Discount

Posted by on in Consumer Behavior

half_full smallA recent Time Magazine article talks about the Optimism Bias -- the phenomenon of people being eternally optimistic about the future. This can be shown in various ways including how people wildly overestimate things like personal life expectancy, marriage solvency, career prospects, etc. In this context "bias" doesn't mean something inherently bad. There is good reason to have an Optimism Bias as it leads to concrete positive outcomes like better health and longer life, not to mention inspiring us and making life generally better.

Tagged in: Consumer Behavior

The 2012 Presidential Election season is upon us. I don't know about you, but other than the barrage of commercials, the thing I like least about political campaigns is the terrible abuse of numbers. Combined with the current debate on the debt limit and we have the makings of a tsunami of misleading or outright incorrect statistics.

A  few weeks ago, Megan Holstine started a discussion about a Senator using a totally made up statistic. Sadly for him, he quoted a number that was far from accurate, but also one that was easily verified. His defense was that he didn't intend the statistic to be taken "literally".

Makes me wonder if perhaps we've got it wrong.  Think of the possibilities for us if we stopped taking numbers literally!

In my last post I talked about the survey as a conversation with the consumer. But recently it hit home that the survey is a conversation with our clients too. One that - paradoxically - is becoming increasingly more difficult to have as technology improves.

That's because nothing's impossible anymore in contemporary survey execution. Want elaborate skip logic? No problem! Want algorithm-based quota control? Sure thing! Want pop-up instructions and Flash file tours to illuminate complex product concepts? Bring it on.

Want to put all this into a document that your clients can comprehend? Good luck.

Tagged in: Market Research

Predictably Irrational

Posted by on in Choice

A few weeks back we decided to get a new TV. As a researcher I started doing my due diligence checking out a variety of sources. Our old TV had been around since the early days of HD and was a CRT to boot (though still HD - c'mon what do you think I am!). So I was really looking forward to buying something that weighed considerably less, took up a lot less space and looked a lot cooler. It was fun going through the various attributes - 760/1080, LCD/Plasma, LED backlighting, HDMI connections, Internet Apps, 3D! It's been a while since my engineering days when I studied the innards of TVs, and the technology has certainly evolved remarkably since then.

I narrowed my choices down to a few brands primarily based on the screen size that would fit the space, and really started focusing on a Vizio  model. As you may know, Vizio has become a real player over the last few years. Initially they competed on price, but more recently have made a splash with features and quality. Some of the reviews I saw online in fact, put Vizio near the top of the rankings. I was particularly taken by the Vizio Internet Apps (VIA) which makes it absurdly easy to get internet content directly on your TV. I was really looking forward to the Netflix app. Not being a current subscriber, the ability to stream so many movies simply and directly through my TV was huge. The price was very competitive too, so we decided to go with Vizio.

The purchase was made through Costco online and the TV arrived about a week later. After upgrading some accessories, I started connecting it. The process was very easy. The remote was simple and elegantly designed. Best of all it had a slide out QWERTY keyboard (a big hit with the kids) to access Facebook, Twitter, etc. The onscreen instructions for set-up were very easy to follow and the whole thing took very little time. Then we sat back to enjoy the content and that's when the trouble started.

The picture started shaking, froze and blanked out. Just for a few seconds. That's normal when connecting new devices, I assured everyone confidently. Then it happened again. And again. Uh oh!  When it didn't do any of this, the HD somehow became SD. I was getting very concerned, so I called Vizio's customer service. The rep tried a few things but nothing changed. He said they could send a repair person over "in 5 to 7 business days". Meanwhile I had unhappy kids at home and can't watch the Phillies or the NBA Finals. That did it. Off we went TV shopping again, but had decided to eliminate Vizio from our consideration set.

The rational part of me said the glitch in that one TV was very unlikely to be repeated again. Vizio has been tested by expert reviewers and gets high marks. The predictably irrational part said I would be a fool to buy the same TV again. Guess who won? So this time I bought a Panasonic from Best Buy after grilling the sales associate with endless questions. The TV worked beautifully right out of the box. It has the Internet apps I coveted, but the Vizio certainly had more features and flexibility. But no matter.

...
Tagged in: Choice

Bee a Good Researcher!

Posted by on in Market Research

bee_smallResearchers are sometimes described as busy bees but I had no idea that the opposite is literally true till I heard this NPR report on honey bees . Apparently they are wonderful market researchers!

Here's the back story. Cornell Professor Thomas Seeley is a biologist who studies swarm intelligence. Effectively he studies the idea that a group can be smarter than the individuals in the group. Replace "group" with "crowd" and of course the idea is familiar to us as the Wisdom of Crowds. But can such behavior really occur among animals too? Professor Seeley has spent 30 years studying bees and he thinks the answer is emphatically yes. That brings us to the bees-as-market-researchers hypothesis.

Tagged in: Market Research

I recently had the pleasure of attending a talk by Vicki Morwitz, Professor of Marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. Vicki spends a lot of time trying to understand how the mere process of surveying people can lead to changes in their behavior - sometimes for an organization's good; sometimes not. She spoke at TRC's Frontiers of Research conference, and as part of her presentation she showed the audience data from an exercise on fruit grouping (or, if you prefer, the grouping of fruit).

Turns out that people who are first exposed to questions with very detailed answer options (e.g., given 9 different colors with which to describe their eyes) will go on to create more narrowly focused fruit categories. In contrast folks primed with more broadly constructed answer categories (e.g., given only 4 different colors) build fewer categories.

Her purpose - to demonstrate how questions asked early in a survey can affect responses later in the survey in a way that can change results. A (perhaps) unintended consequence - getting me to take stock of my role as a research practitioner.

Tagged in: Choice
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    This is one of the better pieces of advice I've ever read about how to create better surveys. The best respondents are the ones w

Overthinking It

Posted by on in Choice

In his book on the neuroscience of decision making, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer talks about the case of a patient who has damaged a part of his brain (specifically the orbitofrontal cortex) and is hence terminally unable to make any decisions. Every single decision, no matter how trivial, seems complicated to the point where it cannot be made. This is generally not a problem for most normal people, right? In fact, the accepted wisdom is that people are quite good at taking somewhat complicated decisions and simplifying them (in many cases rather efficiently) and moving on with their life.

Now there is new research from our friend Oded Netzer at Columbia and his colleagues Rom Schrift and Ran Kivetz that shows that not only do people simplify, but sometimes they also complicate the decision-making process unnecessarily. They studied this through a variety of experiments, many designed to rule out competing explanations. Let's talk about one of those to understand what they did.

Tagged in: Choice

People Don't Do the Math

Posted by on in Miscellaneous

I was on a call recently working through the details of a complex discrete-choice task. Specifically we were debating how best to apply price prohibitions - restrictions on the design that would prevent certain "monthly" and "one-time" prices from ever appearing together.

Rest assured our thinking was all very logical. We needed to put controls in place because who in their right mind would ever choose an option where a low monthly rate, coupled with a contract, quickly added up to more out of pocket costs than would accrue by skipping the contract and paying a (slightly) higher up-front fee. That's when the client's client chimed in:

"People don't do the math," said the man who spends little to none of his time conducting surveys.

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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    I've always just simply relied on including whatever prices simulate the actual prices consumers will see. Whether the price opti

A new book attempts to make behavioral economics interesting and approachable by couching it in the world of sports. Personally I try to avoid books on economics, but I did find a review quite interesting. Not only did it help to explain why the Philadelphia Flyers lost the 1980 Stanley Cup, but it also helps to illustrate the limitations of crowd sourcing and the reality of Asymmetry in key driver analysis.

Behavioral economics studies the role of emotion in economic decision making (something marketers need to master). In application it can help to explain the illogical decision making of shoppers. A classic example of this is when someone spends $1000 on a product they don't need thanks to a price cut of say $200. They will often focus on what they saved ("I saved $200!!!) and not on what they spent or the actual need.

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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
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Blame it on Phone Surveys

Posted by on in Market Research

This is my thesis and I don't have quantitative data to support it. I'm going more on experience than anything else, so feel free to disagree with me. The thesis is that the dominance of phone surveys through at least the last two decades of the 20th century has changed market researchers' thought patterns in ways we are not fully aware of. This has resulted in sub-optimal behavior when it comes to designing research studies. Let me explain a bit more.

The telephone is an aural medium which naturally has restrictions that a visual medium does not have. When you have to ask someone about the two Presidential candidates, aural media work fine. When you ask to rate their satisfaction with a product again it works fine. But what happens when you have to ask about the importance of various features in a new product? Since it is an aural medium, the number of ways of asking the question is very limited. The easiest way to do it is to provide one feature at a time and ask for a rating. But this does not allow any comparison between the features and certainly does not allow trade-off methods to be used.

Tagged in: Market Research

We all love great charts.

Well, perhaps it's more accurate to say that we all like looking at great charts. Infographics and other fetching examples of visual display are passed around among researchers like irresistible candy-coated treats, and yet let's face it - most market research-related charts stink, providing limited information in a not-so-thoughtful or (dare to dream) artful format.

There are lots of reasons why our charts end up this way, and for sure I've contributed my share of the mediocrity. I realize that not every study has the immediacy, the intrigue, and the rich data of an event like the recent tsunami. I also know that often we're pressed for time and have limited tools at our disposal. But communication of results and actionability of results go hand in hand, and lamenting the evils of PowerPoint won't help us communicate better anytime soon. It's the coin of the realm, so we better make the most of it.

Don't panic. CASRO's government affairs committee isn't warning this will happen and I don't have any evidence that it will. The point of the question is along the lines of "necessity is the mother of invention".

For example, over the past 15 years we have seen a move away from phone data collection and toward the web. Initially the focus was on cutting costs and ensuring the quality of the data were the same. As the industry embraced web, however, we began to use all kinds of innovative techniques that we simply could not do on the phone (or by mail for that matter). So, as we face a future with more and more access to data, I thought it would be interesting to think about what we would do if our traditional tools were simply taken away and we had to go cold turkey.

A good place to focus is Satisfaction research, which is already showing signs of decline. According to Inside Research (February, 2011), spending as a percentage of all MR has dropped in Europe (from 18% in '06 to 13% last year) and is stagnant at best in the states (11% last year which is in line with 12% in '09 and 10% in '08). I suspect this decline is not an indication that firms no longer care about satisfaction. More likely it reflects cheaper data collection methods and a realization that it need not be measured as intensively as in the past.

So in a world with no traditional MR, how will firms measure and impact satisfaction?

 

Can the Truth Wear Off?

Posted by on in Market Research

 

In a very interesting article in The New YorkerJonah Lehrer asks the question can truth Wear Off? So, what is “truth” and what is “wearing off”? In this case truth is that which has been proven by the scientific method (i.e.) experimentally. As the psychologist Jonathan Schooler discovered, experimental effects he had shown very clearly started disappearing into the dreaded land of non-significance over time. That is the “wearing off” part. And it wasn’t just Schooler. Others have seen similar phenomena where published studies when replicated over time have effectively lost their potency. This is a particularly troubling problem for medical science and is practically seen in the number of drugs that are retroactively pulled off the market. As the medical researcher John Ioannidis has shown, there can be substantial harm to society from wrong (but well publicized) results living in the memories of doctors who continue prescribing those drugs or treatments (hormone replacement therapy and daily low doses of aspirin) even when they have proven to be ineffective or harmful. So, the question is, how do effects disappear over time?

Tagged in: Market Research

Ads About Nothing (Relevant)

Posted by on in Advertising

They look beautiful on screen or on a page. Almost like watching a short, artsy film. But it is an ad and though you know who it is for, it doesn’t say anything about the positive attributes of the product. American Express is particularly good at this. Are such ads useful or a waste of money? Two of our friends at Yale, Dina Mayzlin and Jiwoong Shin investigated this phenomenon and came to some very interesting conclusions.

Tagged in: Advertising

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