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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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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

Air Travel Trade-offs

Posted by on in Market Research

Doesn’t it seem like air travel has become more of a hassle recently compared to a few years (or a decade) back? Even leaving aside stricter security after 9/11 there appears to be more complaints about air travel these days. How much truth is there in these complaints? Let’s look at the possibilities, namely competition among carriers, new TSA rules and weather.

 

Tagged in: Consumer Behavior

I come to you, as is the tradition, with glad tidings for the New Year.

I do this in the midst of a lot of doom and gloom talk about the industry and our future. At CASRO's annual meeting, Simon Chadwick talked about "Do it Yourself" (DIY) research continuing to grow with no end in sight. A recent LinkedIn thread asked if there was a better word for 'survey' that wouldn't carry the negative connotations. The MR Heretic calls their site "Market Research Deathwatch" with constant warnings about engaging respondents better or destroying our industry. Add in the worst couple years the industry has ever faced and purchasing departments increasingly viewing us as commodities and you have the makings of glad tidings indeed!

 

When you go out to buy something how much importance do you place on the brand name? Not only does this vary from person to person but also from category to category. Yet the vast majority of brand related research has focused on understanding the importance of brand within categories, not across. That may be understandable from a brand manager’s perspective because he is in charge of just that brand. But while a company may sell a single brand a consumer makes purchase decisions across a spectrum of categories. The importance she places on a brand in a particular category is therefore contextual. Understanding this issue of Brand Relevance in Category (BRiC) and its implications is what three researchers set out to do in a large scale multi-product, multi-country study. Here’s what they did.

Tagged in: Brand

Yes, I admit it. This is a self-serving post. But when compelling research crosses one’s eyes one is forced to write a blog post. In this case the compelling research comes from Natalie Mizik under the intriguing title of “The Theory and Practice of Myopic Management”. How can I pass that up? In this research Natalie sets out to show that myopic management (i.e. cutting marketing and R&D expenditure for short term gain) is financially bad for the firm in the long run. She proves her main point but also makes a couple more so let’s take a look at what she has cooked up.

 

Tagged in: Market Research

For the past few weeks, there are two big debates raging in our office:

  • Will the configurator eventually replace conjoint in all its forms?
  • Was it the right call to trade Donovan McNabb to the Redskins?

On the surface the only thing connecting them is that we are a choice focused market research company located just outside of Philly, but in reality they are both the same debates...namely, when is it time for the superstar to move on and allow a new star to take charge? In both cases, the answer will depend on your needs and your perspective...in other words, there is no answer that everyone will agree with.

Some variation of conjoint (discrete choice, adaptive, etc) has been with us now for nearly 40 years. It has proven to be a very effective means of understanding the consumer's thinking process...especially when it comes to developing new products. At the same time, it is not without its flaws.

You know them, right? The friends you log into Facebook to check out. They always have something interesting to share and you like to see what it is. That process is one way of measuring influence in social networks and a rather good one at that, according to recent research by Michael TrusovAnand Bodapati and Randy Bucklin. They set out to identify influencers in a social network and did so using some interesting data and analytics. Here’s the story.

Tagged in: Social Media

Putting Money and Mouth Together

Posted by on in Market Research

Ever heard of a Commitment Contract? No we are not talking about marriage. A commitment contract is one where you commit to doing something and sign a contract. If you don’t do what you committed to, the terms of the contract go into effect. The terms are set up in such a way that you could end up paying a penalty if you fail to honor the contract. In other words the incentives are aligned to elicit a specific behavior. The kicker is that you set up the contract and the penalty.

How to Make Better Ads

Posted by on in Advertising

When you leaf through a magazine what of advertisements make you stop? It is not an easy question to answer as so many variables are usually involved. To tackle this question a group of researchers used unique eye tracking data and innovative measures of visual complexity and were able to develop recommendations for making ads that are more attention-getting.

Tagged in: Advertising

During times of upheaval do people naturally choose what is familiar or don’t they? The notion of “comfort food” seems to imply that when faced with trying situations people take comfort in certain old favorites that, well, comfort them. This is conventional wisdom and as we know researchers like to question said wisdom. That is what Stacy Wood set out to do and her findings offer interesting implications for marketers.

Tagged in: Consumer Behavior Food

A few months back I wrote about the dangers of tying results from satisfaction surveys to compensation. The feedback I got was mixed, so I decided to do a quick survey to see what the public thinks.

Of the 72% who were asked to do a follow-up survey after some type of transaction, about 1 in 6 (16.1%) were told by their sales rep what rating to give. While 1 in 6 is alarming, the reality is probably worse because those that do try to influence responses do so repeatedly. My personal guess is that more compensation is impacted the more likely it is that customers will be asked to answer in a certain way.

Unknown Unknowns

Posted by on in Rajan Sambandam

Let’s pick a topic. Any topic. How much would you say you know on that topic? More than average? How much do you think you need to learn in order to become well-versed on that topic? Not a whole lot? You just may be experiencing what is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is a mental bias that seems to afflict people who are unskilled or not very knowledgeable. They routinely make poor decisions because their lack of competence itself denies them the ability to realize their lack of competence. It happens to a lot of us in certain areas like personal financial planning.

Tagged in: Psychology

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