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Cindy Reisner

Cindy Reisner

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Every corner of our world, and every type of business, has been impacted by COVID-19.  
 
In market research, we have seen in-person qualitative projects (focus groups, one-on-one interviews, etc.) move to online platforms. Like business meetings, school classrooms, and social events, research conversations have been able to take place virtually thanks to the Internet. There is a proliferation of tools at our disposal to continue our work under new parameters. Research technology providers have shared many success stories under this “new normal,” and I have experienced them first-hand as a moderator.  

 

How the nature of the qualitative research conversations had to adjust 

 
The past few weeks have reminded me that these interactions truly are “conversations” and not just information gathering sessions. While quantitative surveys depend on consistency and objectivity, qualitative engagements require active listening and adaptation to individual participants. Truly hearing someone involves understanding their state-of-mind.  
 
Regardless of the research topic, it feels appropriate to touch on respondents’ experiences – medical and social – before asking for their input. Jumping right into moderator guide content feels like ignoring “the elephant in the room.” 
 

Specific Examples

I have interviewed both physicians and consumers during this crisis and unless a respondent leads the conversation in another direction, I have generally started with an informal check-in to acknowledge the unusual situation we’re all experiencing.
 
 - I’m starting consumer interviews with questions like “First of all, how are you feeling, and is everyone around you okay?” or “Before we get too far, how have you been doing with everything going on in the world right now?”
 
 - With physicians, I might begin with something like “I’m sure things have been very different for you lately. Is there anything you need me to know about what’s happening with you or your practice at this time, before we get into our questions?”
 
Most participants and their families are healthy; many are concerned about jobs, and all are facing the disruptions caused by stay-at-home orders. By addressing the challenges they articulate (“I understand, and I’m hearing that from others as well” or “I am sure that’s difficult, and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me at such an unusual time”), I can both establish the important context around interviews during this crisis and also then move beyond it to the actual interview content.  
 

People long for interaction

Shelter-in-place requirements surely play a role in maintaining pre-Coronavirus research response rates.  Interview targets have time and flexibility, and an honorarium is as valued as ever, if not more.  But there is another facet for many: isolation is lonely. Participating in a market research discussion is an opportunity to “meet” someone new. Many of us miss that type of interaction, but for someone living alone or without much social engagement, being a respondent has additionally compelling value.  
 
Of course the objective for any moderator is to explore a research question and provide answers to our clients. We are not in this business to become friends with respondents. But in this unprecedented time, we should be sensitive to participants’ mindset and motivations. As always, we are asking them to open a window into their world by answering our questions. For now, we might also be opening a kind of window for them to look out from.
 
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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “picture?”  Possibly one of the most widely repeated phrases ever: “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  It’s trite, but it seems to me that the triter a statement, the truer it’s likely to be.  While we can argue the number (and it’s probably not 1,000), we can agree that a single image may communicate far more than a single word.
 
Our world relies on images to convey meaning efficiently. Think of directional street signs, public restroom doors, and Ikea instructions. As technology has matured, we have become a society educated in icons: just look at your cell phone’s home screen and you’ll see universally understood symbols that navigate to your phone, text messages, emails and countless other functional tools. That navigation would be much more difficult if it were based on words.

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As researchers, we are always interested in understanding consumer choices. We ask respondents to rate importance, rank priorities, and trade-off among complex configuration scenarios. We discuss and make our own trade-offs in terms of design simplicity, project cost and informational objectives. And sometimes we try new approaches.

Anyone who reads the news is aware that there is a whole new consumer product category on the horizon: marijuana is now legal for medical purposes in over 30 states and for recreational use in at least 9 of those states (as of this writing). In partnership with NJ Cannabis Media (www.njcannabismedia.com), we took the opportunity presented by this new consideration dynamic to test a new choice evaluation strategy.

Essentially, we were interested in understanding the roles of 4 factors in adult recreational-use marijuana purchase decisions. A constant sum exercise (allocation of 100 “importance points”) among self-reported current and potential users yielded the following priority distribution:

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Tagged in: Pricing Research

Catalog coverIf you open your mailbox today, chances are that there will be a catalog in it. Even with the explosion in online purchasing, paper catalogs continue to be an important part of the retail marketing mix. Whether they spur traditional mail- or telephone-ordering or, more often now, online purchasing and even foot traffic in brick and mortar stores, catalogs remain critical for retailers. They not only show consumers what is available, but they also serve as an important branding tool.
Even if the recipient does not open or thoroughly review a catalog, its cover, its size and the kind of paper it is printed on can all telegraph meaning about the sender's brand.
But isn't there much more to be gained if the consumer does open the catalog?

How Can Marketers Maximize the Likelihood that a Catalog Is Opened?

Based on an online survey among a panel of consumers nationwide, TRC estimates that the average household receives 3.7 catalogs per week.  That is nearly 200 in the course of a year!
So how can catalog marketers break through the mailbox clutter and inspire consumers to look at what is actually inside their materials? We asked our national panel about some factors that influence their decisions to open (or not open) a catalog they receive. A key learning is something catalog marketers would certainly confirm: targeting is critical. Product interest and perceived need account for a large share of the decision to open a catalog, so getting the catalog to the right person is of course essential.
But once the catalog is in the right mailbox, it is clear that what the recipient sees on its cover will be important in whether or not the catalog is opened. First and foremost is the specific offer (sale, percent off, etc.) highlighted on that cover. Cover imagery also plays a role, particularly if the brand is familiar to the recipient.  
Take a look at the accompanying chart, and note that we asked some respondents to think about catalogs they might receive from familiar companies, while others considered catalogs from companies they had not heard of before. All of those answering had indicated earlier in the survey that they receive and open/look through catalogs in a typical week.

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Leveraging Consumer Research in Catalog Cover Selection

Knowing that the cover can be so important in whether a catalog is opened, TRC believes it is well worth it to devote resources to ensure that the right cover is used. While some catalog marketers will test multiple covers prior to full mail launches, it is impractical to test more than just a few. Those few are typically selected from among a broader set – based on “gut feel” or simple preferences on the part of the design team.
But what if there was an efficient, consumer data driven method to select a “winning” cover from among a broad set of candidates? TRC has developed just that method: our approach leverages our proprietary Bracket™ survey technology to submit a large number of cover designs to a tournament-type evaluation that yields rankings and relative distance across the entire set of designs. An even more streamlined approach, Message Test Express™ or MTE™, can provide similar insights for up to 16 cover designs – in around a week and for a cost of approximately $10,000.  
Considering the volume that any catalog must compete against in the typical recipient’s mailbox, isn’t it practical to maximize the likelihood that the catalog will be opened? Concise, consumer-driven metrics on likely success have been shown in our experience to be superior to “gut feel” evaluations and are certainly more affordable than in-market testing of even a small number of options. Why risk missing a great opportunity by overlooking an optimal cover execution?

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