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Rich Raquet

Rich Raquet

President, TRC


Rich brings a passion for quantitative data and the use of choice to understand consumer behavior to his blog entries. His unique perspective has allowed him to muse on subjects as far afield as Dinosaurs and advanced technology with insight into what each can teach us about doing better research.  

TRC-Market-Research-Made-GRIT-top-50

We’ve been on the GRIT list of most innovative research companies for five years now. I’m proud of that achievement and of the fact that we’ve moved up 10 places in those five years (many much larger firms rank lower or not at all). I think the key point for me to share though is that we don’t innovate to make the GRIT list, but rather GRIT simply recognizes what is a way of life at TRC. 

TRC was founded in 1987 at a time when more than half of all phone interviews were done using hard copy paper and pencil forms and almost no one had a PC on their desk. From the start, every TRC employee had a PC on their desk from interviewers through our top executives. To do this we installed what was, at the time, the largest PC network in the world (PC World Magazine wrote an article on us). From there we adopted digital recording technology so we could quantify quality, and then went on to become very early adopters of using the internet to do surveys.

Beyond data collection, we innovated in techniques. Over the years we created techniques like asymmetrical key driver analysis (which doesn’t assume that all features will have the same positive and negative impact) and Bracket (a more efficient way of doing ranking exercises). We also applied things that we learned from our many academic partners such as Smart Incentives (a gamified incentive aligned method for ideation within quantitative surveys).

We continue to come up with new ways of driving insights. Some are improvements on existing methods (such as better ways to do Discrete Choice) and some are applying new tools to better understand what drives consumer behavior (such as text analytics).

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market-research-now-for-post-coronavirus
 
Despite all of our collective struggles and the terrible individual tragedies that are currently happening, we are a resilient country...we will come through this. We will not, however, come through unchanged.
 
Forty years after World War II, my family found over 200 rolls of toilet paper in my grandfather's house. My grandmother said it was because it was in short supply during the war, so every time he went to the store since then he picked up an extra roll or two. This is a classic example of event-driven behavioral change. 
 
 

Why do I think there will be a boom? 

 
This is an event-driven downturn. History suggests that event-driven recoveries are swift. Firms that are not prepared will struggle to keep up with the changed marketplace. How do you prepare for changes like my grandfather went through?
 
It will be important to understand how your customers will be different on the other side of this tragedy. 
 

Possible COVID-19 triggered market challenges and how research can help

 
1.With the forced trial due to shortages of some goods, is your brand in peril of losing previously loyal customers to competitors? 
2.Or conversely, how can your brand retain any newly acquired customers long term? 
3.Is there a new channel and/or pricing model for your category given the new digital reality?  Can you develop it first? 
4.Have priorities when making purchase decisions changed significantly from before the crisis?  Will it be long term or temporary? 
 
Here are two case studies showing how research can help navigate significant shifts in the market:
 
Clients have chosen TRC Market Research as their custom, consultative research partner to navigate big changes. We have deep expertise solving complicated problems. We can also easily pivot to quick, affordable agile solutions when needed, especially when you need short term tactical feedback during this crisis. While customers will change, you still need to understand their current feelings, even if it provides only temporary tactical guidance.
We believe in custom solutions.  We are available to talk through your firm’s specific challenges and give our impartial opinion? 
 
 
 
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market-research-now-for-post-coronavirus
 
Despite all of our collective struggles and the terrible individual tragedies that are currently happening, we are a resilient country...we will come through this. We will not, however, come through unchanged.
 
Forty years after World War II, my family found over 200 rolls of toilet paper in my grandfather's house. My grandmother said it was because it was in short supply during the war, so every time he went to the store since then he picked up an extra roll or two. This is a classic example of event-driven behavioral change. 
 
 

Why do I think there will be a boom? 

 
This is an event-driven downturn. History suggests that event-driven recoveries are swift. Firms that are not prepared will struggle to keep up with the changed marketplace. How do you prepare for changes like my grandfather went through?
 
It will be important to understand how your customers will be different on the other side of this tragedy.
 
 

Possible COVID-19 triggered market challenges and how research can help

 
1.With the forced trial due to shortages of some goods, is your brand in peril of losing previously loyal customers to competitors? 
 
2.Or conversely, how can your brand retain any newly acquired customers long term? 
 
3.Is there a new channel and/or pricing model for your category given the new digital reality? Can you develop it first? 
 
4.Have priorities when making purchase decisions changed significantly from before the crisis? Will it be long term or temporary? 
 
 
Here are two case studies showing how research can help navigate significant shifts in the market:
 
Clients have chosen TRC Market Research as their custom, consultative research partner to navigate big changes. We have deep expertise solving complicated problems.
 
We can also easily pivot to quick, affordable agile solutions when needed, especially when you need short term tactical feedback during this crisis. While customers will change, you still need to understand their current feelings, even if it provides only temporary tactical guidance.
 
We believe in custom solutions.  We are available to talk through your firm’s specific challenges and give our impartial opinion.
 
 
 
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6 Tips to Help Your Business Survive COVID-19

Posted by on in Coronavirus

6-tips-to-help-your-business-survive--COVID-in-market-research

The current Covid-19 crisis has gotten me thinking about all of the big challenges that we have faced at TRC. These include:
•    A flood that destroyed our Headquarters
•    A fire that destroyed our biggest call center
•    Three recessions of varying depths
•    Transformational industry changes such as the move from phone to web

We’ve persevered for over 30 years through these and other challenges. I thought it might be helpful to share some of what I learned as a result. Hopefully it will help others navigate the very challenging current business environment.

1. Have a plan.

Of course if you don’t have a plan you’ll more or less have to make it up as you go along. But let this be the last crisis that you haven’t planned for. With each challenge our plans have gotten better. You have to think through even unlikely scenarios. For example, you might have had a plan for people to work from home but did you think through whether your systems can handle that kind of load or whether it can be sustained over a long period of time?   

2. Reassure your staff.

My business’ most important asset is our staff. I’m lucky to work with really talented and smart people. Thing is, they are smart enough to recognize trouble and talented enough to have other options on where to work. Providing them with honest communication on where things stand and what you are going to do is critical. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your credibility will carry you far. I’m proud to say that more than half my staff has been with us for 20+ years. That doesn’t happen if you lose credibility.

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Business-during-COVID-market-research

I’ve been really impressed with the way our company and our clients have reacted to this crisis. First and foremost, we’re taking precautions to slow the spread. We, as well as our clients, moved quickly on things like suspending travel, replacing in-person qualitative with on-line approaches, and working from home. So far this has kept our staff and our clients free of the disease and allowed us to tirelessly meet our clients’ rapidly evolving needs and deadlines.

I’ve also been impressed by the way our clients have reacted from a business standpoint. With all the scary news and panic buying, it is impressive that our clients have reacted to the crisis seriously and thoughtfully. While it might seem insensitive to talk about business issues in a crisis like this, the reality is that we need a thriving economy for the well-being of everyone.

Every recession is different and this one is perhaps the most different of all. It came on more suddenly and was driven not by economic factors like inflation, commodity prices or financial institutions collapsing. With that said, such downturns are not unprecedented. They are referred to as “event driven” recessions. Unlike normal recessions, the event driven variety tend to be short lived with fast recoveries. According to the Goldman Sachs article the stock market typically takes just 15 months to fully recover from an event driven recession as compared to over 100 months for a structural one (such as the financial crisis of 2008). It is important to understand that while it takes 15 months to get back to where the market was pre-bear market, the recovery starts much earlier than that; it might have already started.

 

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU BE DOING RIGHT NOW? 

Simply put, even as the crisis grows you need to plan for the upsurge to come. In the short term, you need to understand what consumers are thinking and when that thinking will change. Most critically, you need to understand how to connect and the tone your audience will accept from you so you don’t alienate them. Longer term you need to understand how this recession will change behavior. We do so many discrete choice conjoint studies that I tend to think in terms of “features”…so what product and service features will change forever due to behavioral changes? For example, more on-line usage is a no-brainer given the success of this extensive national experiment in remote working.

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TRC-is-GRIT-TOP-50-market-research

For the third time, we've been recognized by GRIT as one of the 50 most innovative market research firms in the world. I'm humbled by the endorsement that our clients and peers have given us. It is especially gratifying since we are smaller than most of these firms and don't have the budget that they do for promoting themselves. It got me to thinking about what it is about TRC that overcomes these disadvantages.

Obviously, I could point to innovations we've developed like Bracket™ (a better way of ranking lists of items), Smart Incentives™ (using gamification to drive respondent engagement), advances in conjoint (too long to list here) and our agile suite (rigorous quantitative economical and fast solutions). I know the amount of time we put into developing these and the value they have delivered, but what I hear from clients is that this is only part of what makes TRC special.

Clients consistently tell us that they appreciate working with senior researchers who seek to find the solutions not to a research problem, but to a business problem. When their problem demands a solution such as the ones above, they value it, but they know that our goal is not to dazzle them with the latest tools we have come up with, but rather to do so by getting them the answers they need.

For example, in the last year we have had two clients in very different industries (CPG, Healthcare) come to us with very different problems (sorry I can't share that). To solve both of them we used an old technique (Multi-Dimensional Scaling or MDS). This tool was not designed to solve the problems they had, but by breaking the problem down it was clear to us that it was the right tool to do so. In both cases this solved their business challenge and in one it allowed us to do so at a fraction of the anticipated budget.

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Conjoint-rational-irrational

I’m a big fan of Russ Roberts’ podcast Econtalk. While technically about economics he covers a variety of subjects with his guests and it always gives me something to think about. Recently he welcomed Mary Hirschfeld of Villanova University to talk about her book “Aquinas and the Market”. She challenges some of the fundamentals of modern Economics.

Economists typically see “rational” behavior as one in which a person attempts to maximize their wealth. This leads to the behavioral economic principles that see choices that don’t maximize wealth as “irrational”. For example, an unemployed baseball fan catches a multi-millionaire player’s 500th home run ball. The baseball is likely worth tens of thousands of dollars so if the fan gives it back to the player that is deemed “irrational”.

Dr. Hirschfeld might see this differently. She feels that economics itself is irrational…it fails to recognize the value of non-monetary aspects of a transaction. The fan might think the player actually deserves the ball more than the fan and thus puts value in doing the right thing…returning the ball to its rightful owner.

She repeatedly makes the point that wealth is a means to an end and that focusing on it will not maximize your value as a human being. The rational human thinks about what they really need materially, spiritually and emotionally. They can then make the trade-offs necessary to maximize their overall well-being. They might decide that teaching math in a disadvantaged area, even though they will make less, is a better fit for them than say taking a job on Wall Street.

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customer-lifetime-value-pricing-research

I was reading Russell Perkins blog (Russell and his firm Infocommerce group help clients develop product strategy and new product development) about the use of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) in Relationship Scoring. He takes note of a new trend to apply CLV across all customer touchpoints.


As researchers the concept of CLV is something we are quite familiar with. It seeks to take into account everything known about a customer (these might include factors ranging from past purchase and payment behavior to things like credit score, income or level of education) in order to determine the value that customer is likely to bring over their lifetime.


Relationship scoring then uses this to determine how the customer should be treated. High value customers are given opportunities from better customer service to special offers. Is this idea really all that new?  


In many respects it is not. Long before advanced algorithms firms recognized that some customers were more valuable than others. For example a good butcher knew how important each customer was and provided perks to them (like setting aside the best cuts of meat).

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statistics-in-market-research-
Last week I was watching the CBS morning news and they had a story about a new study that indicated that your attitude toward gym class as a child shaped your attitude toward exercise your entire life. After watching the story I am convinced that it is another case of causation being confused for correlation.
 
The basics were that kids who reported loving gym class were far more active decades later than kids who reported finding it stressful (“I was always picked last”).  I don’t doubt this correlation. My problem is they spoke of a need to make gym class more inclusive so that all kids grow up to exercise more. In other words, if we can take the stress out of gym for kids who are not good at sports, we can get them to love exercise more. I’m not sure achieving the first part of this is possible and I’m even more certain that even if we do it will not alter future behavior. 
 
I don’t see how you can eliminate the anxiety about gym class without eliminating the physical activity. Sure you could eliminate picking teams and save that humiliation, but once the games begin the kids who are poor at sports will continue to feel anxiety. Even if you simply make it an exercise class, the kids who are out of shape will stand out. Short of one-on-one classes I don’t see how you can fix the problem.
 
Doing so is also not likely to make us more active as adults. The kids who were not good at gym were not good for a variety of reasons but likely they either lacked the natural talent OR more likely the interest in sports that the athletes had. Gym class wasn’t the cause of this! If there had been no gym class I would bet that the kids who didn’t like gym class would still be less active than those that did (those who loved it and/or were good at it). I’d point the “causation arrow” backwards….if you love sports as an adult you probably liked gym class.  
 

Statistical Principles Should Be Explained

It is easy to forget that we have to play a role in explaining statistical principles in our reporting and not just when doing sophisticated work like Discrete Choice Conjoint, Max-Diff, Segmentations and Regressions. Our direct clients likely understand causation and correlation issues, but it is important to know that their internal clients may not. Clear justification for pointing the “causation arrow” must be provided in reports and presentations. Just as important is knocking down attempts to point the arrow based solely on correlation. Otherwise they may walk away with a completely false assumption and not double back with researchers to validate it.  
 

Can You Project Results to the Population? 

This study is also useful in highlighting another common mistake made by internal clients. I was telling an old friend about the study and he said “that can’t be right, you hated gym class and you are far more active now than when we were kids”. Imagine me in a focus group telling my story of how much I hated waiting to be picked for a team and how my memory of that humiliation caused me to exercise more and more as an adult. The internal client stands up and says “That’s how we make people healthier…more humiliation in gym class!” In that case, someone will be in the room to point out that one person’s story is not projectable to the population…but that’s another blog. 
 
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advanced-market-research-methods-and-candyAt TRC, the most popular spot in the office is our snack shelf. It features an array of sugary, salty and carb heavy treats. The contents vary and are determined by one person (Ruth, who stocks the shelf) with influence from the rest of us (based on past usage and suggestions). Sometimes the shelf has exactly what you’re looking for. Other times, not so much. But what if instead of relying on Ruth’s powers of deduction we were to use research to figure out the optimal shelf configuration?  We’re researchers, after all. 
 

Start out with Incentive Alignment 

We would start out by using our Idea Mill™ product to generate ideas on which snacks people want to have. It uses incentive alignment and gamification to bring out the most creative ideas and provide direction on the favorites. It is likely that this will create too long a list of ideas (the candy shelf is only so large) and while we can toss out ideas that are not feasible, we believe it is best not to toss out ideas just because you personally don’t like them (I’m looking at you Mr. Goodbar). Far better to get more consumer input…this time to narrow the list. 
 

Go beyond Simple Ratings, Employ a Choice Method

We could ask our folks to rate all the suggested snacks and then use that to figure out which ones should make the cut. Ratings might be good enough to eliminate some things (my guess is that despite what people claim, healthy snacks would bite the dust), but among popular snacks (like different types of pretzels) we are not likely to see clear differentiation.
 
A choice method like Max-Diff could help but if the list was long it would require a lot of work on the part of our employee respondents. A method like our proprietary Bracket™  would do the job in a faster and more engaging fashion while still finding clear winners and losers.  
 

Find a Combination of Flavors that Would Please the Most People 

Stocking the winners would therefore make the most sense…but would it please the most people?
Currently the shelf features five types of M&M’s (original, almond, caramel, dark and strawberry nut). If dark chocolate was the least preferred it might get cut. But what if those who like almond, caramel and strawberry nut also liked original, but those who like dark only liked it. For situations like this we can take the results of the Bracket™ (or Max-Diff) and use TURF  to find the combination that would please the most people.   
 

Find the Best Position on the Shelf with Discrete Choice Conjoint 

Of course, another factor is positioning. The shelf is only so large. M&M’s can be dispensed from any size canister (in fact Ruth has one that spins so that it can dispense three types) while Pretzels tend to come in large bins that take up a lot of room. In addition, not all of the snacks cost the same. In an effort to keep our expenses and waistline under control we follow a strict budget. Might I trade off having greater quantity of a lesser snack in exchange for an expensive favorite? 
 
For these kinds of questions a discrete choice conjoint is the answer. We can include a variety of candy types and constraints related to the room they take up as well as cost. Simulations can then optimize how to spend our candy budget.  
Despite our love of research and wide array of tools though, I think in this case they would be overkill (we have a very small population of around 40 employees). So I think we’ll stick with Ruth’s instincts. I never go wanting….
 
Tagged in: Conjoint
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Half life-Market-Research

I heard a great episode of the “You Are Not so Smart” podcast in which Sam Arbesman talked about his book called “The Half Life of Facts”. This book has nothing to do with “truthiness”, “fake news” or any accusation that someone is or is not a liar, but it does provide some context for the world we live in.
 
The book’s title is taken from a scientific term (the time it takes an isotope to lose half of its radioactivity) and the notion that as we learn more, some things we took as “fact” will turn out to be wrong. Newton’s laws, for example, were supplanted by Einstein. The point of the book is not that we shouldn’t bother learning facts, but rather that we should be open to the possibility that they might be wrong. Modern medicine acknowledges that they don’t know everything and that some things they “know” will prove to be false. At the same time, they must treat patients based on what is known or thought to be known.
 
It got me thinking about our business. What is the half-life of facts here? You might be tempted to take comfort in the fact that things like margin of error have not changed. While technically true, this ignores that academia is facing a crisis of confidence over statistically significant findings that don’t hold up in subsequent studies. One cause for this is they run lots of cuts of the data and look for anything statistically significant and then build a rationale for that finding. They ignore that with so many cuts of the data they are likely to find some statistical noise. Don’t we run the same risk with each additional banner we run?
 
There is a known problem with Discrete Choice Conjoint that is often ignored. If you have a product made up of say 8 features each with three levels and 1 with 150 the importance of the feature with 150 levels will be overstated by the model. Still, the model will run, utilities will be calculated and a simulator can be constructed…all of which provide a sense of precision that is not warranted. A researcher who knows about it will guide the client either by changing the design OR by putting the results into their proper perspective. There are many other ways that a complex model like this can produce skewed results and I have little doubt more will be found in the future. 
 
This is not to say that we can’t trust results. Doctors have to treat patients based on what is known today and we must do the same for our clients. The important thing is that we have to acknowledge we have things to learn. As researchers that should be easy for us…
 
Tagged in: Conjoint
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GRIT-TOP-50-report

I appreciate that we are once again in the GRIT 50 Most Innovative Research Agencies. Innovation has always been important to me and so I am quite gratified when I see our efforts being recognized. What I don't know is how people are defining innovation.

I think as an industry we sometimes label things as innovative that are not while failing to recognize some things that are genuinely innovative. In my view, innovation requires that we provide something of value that wasn't available before. Anything short of that may be 'interesting' but not 'innovative'.

I would put things like neuroscience or most AI into the "interesting" category. There is a lot of potential but so far little so show in terms of tangible benefits. Over the years at TRC we've had many ideas that showed promise, but ultimately didn't prove out (my favorite being "Conjoint Poker"). Ultimately it is the nature of innovation that some things will never leave the drawing board or 'laboratory', but without them there would be no innovation.

On the other side, I think ideas that save time and money are often not viewed as innovative unless they involve something totally new. I disagree. If I can figure out a way to do the same process faster and/or cheaper then I'm innovating. It may not look flashy, but if it allows clients to do something they couldn't otherwise do it is innovation.

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Tagged in: Pricing Research

nouns-vs-verbs-in-market-research

I’ve written many times about the importance of “knowing where your data has been”. The most advanced discrete choice conjoint, segmentation or regression is only as good as the data it relies on.  In the past I’ve written about many ways that we can bias respondents from question ordering to badly worded questions and even to push polling techniques. A new study published in Psychological Science would seem to indicate that bias can be created much more subtly than that.
 
Dr. Michael Reifen-Tagar and Dr. Orly Idan determined that you can reduce tension by relying on nouns rather than verbs. They are from Israel so they were not lacking in “high tension” things to ask. For example, half of respondents were asked their level of agreement (on a six point scale) with the “noun focused” statement “I support the division of Jerusalem” and the other half with the “verb focused” statement “I support dividing Jerusalem”.   
 
Consistent and statistically significant differences were found with the verb form garnering less support than the noun form. Follow-up questions also indicated that those who saw the verb form were angrier and showed less support for concessions toward the Palestinians.  
 
Is this a potential problem for researchers? My answer would be “potentially”. 
 
The obvious example might be in published opinion polls. One can imagine a crafty person creating a questionnaire in which issues they agree with are presented in noun form (thus garnering higher agreement from the general public) and ones they disagree with in verb forms (thus garnering lower agreement). It is unlikely that anyone would challenge those results (except for those of you clever enough to read my blog).   
It might also be the case on more consumer-oriented studies, though it is unclear whether the same effect would be felt in situations where tension levels are not so high. In our clients’ best interest, however, it makes sense to be consistent and with that eliminate another form of bias.  
 
Tagged in: Consumer Behavior
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conjoint-modern-market-research-In my last blog I referenced an article about design elements that no longer serve a purpose and I argued that techniques like Max-Diff and conjoint can help determine whether these elements are really necessary or not. Today I’d like to ask the question “What do we as researchers use that are still useless?”
 
For many years the answer would have been telephone interviewing. We continued to use telephone interviewing long after it became clear that web was a better answer. The common defense was “it is not representative”, which was true, but telephone data collection was no longer representative either. I’m not saying that we should abandon telephone interviewing…there are certainly times when it is a better option (for example, when talking to your clients customers and you don’t have email addresses). I’m just saying that the notion that we need to have a phone sample to make it representative is unfounded.
 
I think though we need to go further. We still routinely use cross tabs to ferret out interesting information. The fact that these interesting tidbits might be nothing more than noise doesn’t stop us from doing so. Further, the many “significant differences” we uncover are often not significant at all…they are statistically discernable, but not significant from a business decision making standpoint. Still the automatic sig testing makes us pause to think about them.
 
Wouldn’t it be better to dig into the data and see what it tells us about our starting hypothesis? Good design means we thought about the hypothesis and the direction we needed during the questionnaire development process so we know what questions to start with and then we can follow the data wherever it leads. While in the past this was impractical, we not live in a world where analysis packages are easy to use. So why are we wasting time looking through decks of tables?
 
There are of course times when having a deck of tables could be a time saver, but like telephone interviewing, I would argue we should limit their use to those times and not simply produce tables because “that’s the way we have always done it”.  
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new-product-research-car-grilleI read an interesting article about design elements that no longer serve a purpose, but continue to exist. One of the most interesting one is the presence of a grille on electric cars. 
 
Conventional internal combustion engine cars need a grille because the engine needs air to flow over the radiator which cools the engine. No grille would mean the car would eventually overheat and stop working. Electric cars, however, don’t have a conventional radiator and don’t need the air flow. The grille is there because designers fear that the car would look too weird without it.  It is not clear from the article if that is just a hunch or if it has been tested.
   
It would be easy enough to test this out. We could simply show some pictures of cars and ask people which design they like best. A Max-Diff approach or an agile product like Idea Magnet™ (which uses our proprietary Bracket™ prioritization tool) could handle such a task. If the top choices were all pictures that did not include a grille we might conclude that this is the design we should use. There is a risk in this conclusion.
 
To really understand preference, we need to use a discrete choice conjoint. The exercise I envision would combine the pictures with other key features of the car (price, gas mileage, color…). We might include several pictures taken from different angles that highlight other design features (being careful to not have pictures that contradict each other…for example, one showing a spoiler on the back and another not). By mixing up these features we can determine how important each is to the purchase decision.  
It is possible that the results of the conjoint would indicate that people prefer not having a grille AND that the most popular models always include a grille. How?
 
Imagine a situation in which 80% of people prefer “no grille” and 20% prefer “grille”. The “no grille” people prefer it, but it is not the most important thing in their decision. They are more interested in gas mileage and car color than anything else. The “grille” folks, however, are very strong in their belief. They simply won’t buy a car if it doesn’t have one. As such, cars without a grille start with 20% of the market off limits. Cars with a grille, however, attract a good number of “no grille” consumers as well as those for whom it is non-negotiable.
 
Conjoint might also find that the size of the grille or alternatives to it can overcome even hard core “grille” loving consumers. Also worth consideration that preferences will change over time. For example, it isn’t hard to imagine that early automobiles (horseless carriages as they were called originally) had a place to hold a buggy whip (common on horse drawn carriages), but over time, consumers determined they were not necessary (or perhaps that is how the cup holder was born :)).
 
In short, conjoint is a critical tool to insure that new technologies have a chance to take hold. 
 
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market-research-without-biasThe Economist Magazine did an analysis of political book sales on Amazon to see if there were any patterns. Anyone who uses social media will not be surprised that readers tended to buy books from either the left or the right...not both. This follows an increasing pattern of people looking for validation rather than education and of course it adds to the growing divide in our country. A few books managed a good mix of readers from both sides, though often these were books where the author found fault with his or her own side (meaning a conservative trashing conservatives or a liberal trashing liberals).

I love this use of big data and hopefully it will lead some to seek out facts and opinions that differ from their own. These facts and opinions need not completely change an individual's own thinking, but at the very least they should give one a deeper understanding of the issue, including an understanding of what drives others' thinking.

In other words, hopefully the public will start thinking more like effective market researchers.

We could easily design research that validates the conventional wisdom of our clients.

• We can frame opinions by the way we ask questions or by the questions we asked before.
• We can omit ideas from a max-diff exercise simply because our "gut" tells us they are not viable.
• We can design a discrete choice study with features and levels that play to our client's strengths.
• We can focus exclusively on results that validate our hypothesis.

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Tagged in: Conjoint
3 mistakes-conjoint-in-new-product-research-pricing
Discrete Choice Conjoint is a powerful tool for among other things conducting pricing and product development research. It is flexible and can handle even the most complex of products. With that said, it requires thoughtful design with an understanding of how design will impact results. Here are three mistakes that often lead to flawed design:

 

Making the exercise too complex

The flexibility of conjoint means you can include large numbers of features and levels. The argument for doing so is a strong one…including everything will ensure the choices being made are as accurate as possible. In reality, however, respondents are consumers and consumers don’t like complexity. Walk down the isle of any store and note that the front of the package doesn’t tell you everything about a product…just the most important things.   Retailers know that too much complexity actually lowers sales. Our own research shows that as you add complexity, the importance of the easiest to evaluate feature (normally price) rises…in other words, respondents ignore the wealth of information and focus more on price. 
 

What to do:

Limit the conjoint to the most critical features needed to meet the objectives of the research. If you can’t predict those in advance, then do research to figure it out. A custom Max-Diff to prioritize features or a product like our Idea Magnet (which uses Bracket) will tell you what to include. Other features can be asked about outside the conjoint.  

 

Having unbalanced numbers of levels

Some features only have two levels (for example, on a car conjoint we might have a feature for “Cruise Control” that is either present or not present). Others, however have many levels (again on a car conjoint we might offer 15 different color choices). Not only can including too many levels increase complexity (see point 1), but it can actually skew results. If one feature has many more levels than the rest, the importance of that feature will almost certainly be overstated.  
 

What to do:

As with point one, try to limit the levels to those most critical to the research.  For example, if you are using conjoint to determine brand value you don’t need to include 15 colors…five or six will do the job.  If you can’t limit things, then at least understand that the importance of the feature is being overstated and consider that as you make decisions.  
 

Not focusing on what the respondent sees

Conjoint requires a level of engagement that most questions do not. The respondent has to consider multiple products, each with multiple features and make a reasoned choice. Ultimately they will make choices, but without engagement we can’t be sure those choices represent anything more than random button pushing. Limiting complexity (point 1 again) helps, but it isn’t always enough.   
 

What to do:

Bring out your creative side…make the exercise look attractive. Include graphics (logos for example). If you can make the choice exercise look more like the real world then do so. For example, if the conjoint is about apparel, present the choices on simulated “hang tags”, so consumers see something like they would see in a store. As long as your presentation is not biasing results (for example, making one product look nicer than another) then anything goes. 
 
These are three of the most common design errors, but there are of course many more. I’m tempted to offer a fourth, “Not working with an experienced conjoint firm”, but that of course would be too self-serving!
 
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3-tips-for-30-in-new-product-research

TRC is celebrating 30 years in business…a milestone to be sure.  

Being a numbers guy, I did a quick search to see how likely it is for a business to survive 30 years. Only about 1 in 5 make it to 15 years, but there isn’t much data beyond that. Extrapolation beyond the available data range is dangerous, but it seems likely that less than 10% of businesses ever get to where we are. To what do I owe this success then?  

It goes without saying that building strong client relationships and having great employees are critical. But I think there are three things that are key to having both those things:

Remaining Curious

I’ve always felt that researchers need to be curious and I’d say the same for Entrepreneurs. Obviously being curious about your industry will bring value, but even curiosity about subjects that have no obvious tie in can lead to innovation. For example, by learning more about telemarketing I discovered digital recording technology and applied it to our business to improve quality.

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new-product-resesarch-development-inventorA few times a week I get the privilege of talking to an inventor/entrepreneur. The products they call about range from pet toys to sophisticated electronic devices, but they all have one thing in common…they want a proof of concept for their invention. In most cases they want it in order to attract investors or to sell their invention to corporate entities.   
 
Of course, unlike our fortune 500 clients, they also have limited budgets. They’ve often tapped their savings testing prototypes and trying get a patent so they are weary of spending a lot to do consumer research. Even though only about a third of these conversations end up in our doing work for them, I enjoy them all.
 
First off, it is fun educating people on the various tools available for studying concepts. I typically start off telling them about the range of techniques from simple concept evaluations (like our Idea Audit) to more complex conjoint studies. I succinctly outline the additional learning you get as the budget increases. These little five to ten minute symposiums help me become better at talking about what we do.
 
Second, talking to someone as committed to a product as an inventor is infectious. They can articulate exactly how they intend to use the results in a way that some corporate researchers can’t (because they are not always told). While some of their needs are pretty typical (pricing research for example), others are very unique. I enjoy trying to find a range of solutions for them (from various new product research methods) that will answer the question at a budget they can afford. 
 
In many cases, I even steer them away from research. For many inventions something like Kickstarter is all they need.  In essence the market decides if the concept has merit. If that is all they need then why waste money on primary research? My hope is that they succeed and return to us when they have more sophisticated needs down the road.
 
Of course, I particularly enjoy it when the inventor engages us for research. Often the product is different than anything else we’ve researched and there is just something special about helping out a budding entrepreneur. The fact that these engagements make us better researchers for our corporate research clients is just a bonus.   
 
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new-product-research-floating-grilleI recently heard an old John Oliver comedy routine in which he talked about a product he'd stumbled upon...a floating barbeque grille. He hilariously makes the case that it is nearly impossible to find a rationale for such a product and I have to agree with him. Things like that can make one wonder if in fact we've pretty well invented everything that can be invented.

A famous quote attributed to Charles Holland Duell makes the same case: "Everything that can be invented has been invented". He headed up the Patent Office from 1898 to 1901 so it's not hard to see why he might have felt that way. It was an era of incredible invention which took the world that was largely driven by human and animal power into one in which engines and motors completely changed everything.

It is easy for us to laugh at such stupidity, but I suspect marketers of the future might laugh at the notion that we live in a particularly hard era for new product innovation. In fact, we have many advantages over our ancestors 100+ years ago. First, the range of possibilities is far broader. Not only do we have fields that didn't exist then (such as information technology), but we also have new challenges that they couldn't anticipate. For example, coming up with greener ways to deliver the same or better standard of living.

Second, we have tools at our disposal that they didn't have. Vast data streams provide insight into the consumer mind that Edison couldn't dream of. Of course I'd selfishly point out that tools like conjoint analysis or consumer driven innovation (using tools like our own Idea Mill) further make innovation easier.

The key is to use these tools to drive true innovation. Don't just settle for slight improvements to what already exists....great ideas are out there.

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