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We recently conducted an online survey on behalf of a national food brand in which we displayed various images of a grocery store’s shelf space and asked consumers to select the product they would purchase from among those shown on the shelves. This project was successful at differentiating consumer choice based on how the products were packaged, and gave our client important information on package design direct from their target consumers.

That project got me thinking about how shelf space is a limited resource, and in some cases purchase decisions are influenced as much by what’s not on the shelf as by what’s on it.

For example, my Yoplait Fruplait yogurt has gone missing. And I blame you, Greek yogurt.

Fruplait is a delicious (to me) yogurt-fruit concoction that’s heavy on the fruit. There are four single servings to a pack and there are four fruit flavors from which to choose.

I had a wonderful relationship with Fruplait up until the time Greek yogurt started hitting the shelves. With Greek yogurt muscling in and shelf space at a premium, suddenly, the number of flavors in a given store was reduced. Then some stores stopped carrying Fruplait. Now, none of the four stores at which I typically shop carries it at all (it’s still available at some retailers).

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message testingI’ve written before about how much I detest our industry’s aversion to change, but today I’d like to be positive and talk about how we can change while not selling out the principles that should drive market research. Here are five that I’ve used in coming up with new solutions.

  1. Focus on What Is Important and Dump the Rest – I’ve always been a custom researcher and so I tend to want to cover every nuance of an objective before deciding that I’ve done my job. The trouble with this is it can lead to higher budgets and longer schedules. Fine if the issue is a long term strategic goal, but unworkable in a world where clients are making decisions faster than ever before.

  2. Set a Budget – Now this might sound like a cart before the horse issue, but I have found it is easier to be true to point 1 if you start off by establishing your budget. Let’s face it, who has not had a client say that they want to accomplish some set of objectives but only have a very limited amount to spend? When that happens we realize that we’ll have to compromise and we come up with something that might not get into every nuance, but that does help the client make a better decision. In determining your budget you should start by thinking about the cheapest you could imagine doing it for and going well below that (I’d start with half). You might not be able to achieve it but the lower you start the more it will help you to avoid issues discussing in the first point above.
  3. Set a Time Frame – Identical logic to number two. We’ve all had crash projects that had to be achieved in a ridiculously short time frame and we generally figure out a way to accomplish them. Here again, look at the fastest you’ve ever done something in the past and see if you can figure out how to cut that time in half.  
  4. Talk to Clients and Prospects – This is basic. There are unfulfilled needs out there. Some are things the client side researchers can tell you right off (“I’d really like it if you could…”) and some are things they don’t think about because they assume they can’t be done. So have conversations about both. For the things they can articulate, ask them exactly what they would need to fulfill that. For the things they can’t articulate, ask them how a new service would be applied to their business (if at all). The answers here will help you create new ideas and refine the ones you have. Most important it will inform on items 1-4 above.
  5. Never Stop Doing Good Research – Faster and cheaper doesn’t mean bad. Obviously a thoughtful collaborative custom research effort will provide superior market research…but if the time or budget don’t allow for it, then the “superior” research is useless (either too late to help or too expensive to do in the first place). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deliver reliable results…just that you need to understand (and make your clients understand) the limitations that result from the compromises you had to make.

At TRC we recently launched Message Test Express™. The product developed out of a phone call with a prospect who complained that he couldn’t do effective quantitative message testing because time did not allow it. From that conversation we set budget and timing criteria and then tried to figure out how we could help him to do effective message testing within those parameters. As we worked through our plan we went back and got feedback from him and other clients to make sure we were on the right track. Finally, we figured out how to include some advanced methods (we used our proprietary Bracket™ prioritization tool to provide individual level utilities for each message) and useful tools (such as a highlighter tool, heat maps and specialized word clouds) that maximized the reliability and usefulness of the results.

Doing all of the above is no guarantee that the product will be a success (too early to know if Message Test Express™ will be), but I believe they are a good foundation for creating one. Of course the alternative (not trying to innovate) will surely lead to failure.

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I'm 5'5" tall, and my neck hurts. No, not all the time, just when I fly. And why does my neck hurt? Simple. Most economy-class seats have stationary bump-out head rests. Now, I’m not quite sure why these headrests bump out like this, since travelers of differing heights will surely experience them differently. My particular problem is that I’m just tall enough to get the back of my head to the bump-out...which means that when I place my head against it it pushes my entire head forward and down. So my neck hurts.

My best solution so far is to buy a neck pillow and wear it backwards. This helps to prop up my chin, but the bump-out and the neck pillow are in a constant battle for supremacy, and usually the bump-out wins.

So what does this have to do with research? Plenty. I wanted to know if other airline passengers would get excited by the prospect of an adjustable headrest to accommodate their needs. Of course, everyone would be happy with something designed just for them, so we tested it alongside other potential cabin improvements to see where it would land.

CABIN IMPROVEMENTS TESTED:
Adjustable headrest to accommodate any size traveler
Denser seat cushions for added comfort
Folding foot rests to elevate your feet
Lumbar support built into the seat backs
More leg room than in a standard exit row seat
Roomier seats - 2 inches wider than most domestic airlines
Seats recline 5 degrees further than other airlines' seats
Tray tables with non-slip surface - better for gripping beverages

 

We surveyed our intrepid online research panelists, limited the pool to those who fly, and applied our Message Test Express™technique, which is a tournament-style method of having respondents make choices from a list of items. MTE delivers rank ordering with a numeric value so you can see not just how they ranked, but how close they were in the order.

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Please don’t judge me for this, but I’ve watched at least half a dozen episodes of America’s Got Talent this summer. It is easy viewing with a variety of acts from daredevils to singing and dancing, and features celebrity judges adding sarcastic asides. But what struck me is how the show’s format points to the essential weakness of rating scales and the strength of choice questions.

In the early “audition” shows, acts come on and perform for a few minutes. The judges then critique them and ultimately vote “yes” or “no”. If two judges vote “no” the act is done. Otherwise the contestants go to Las Vegas for the next round.   Now while “yes” or “no” is in fact a choice, it is really nothing more than a disguised rating. The reason is there is no constraint. They don’t have a limit on how many people go forward. This is like reading a list of features and asking respondents which ones are important to them (anyone who has done market research knows the answer to such questions is generally “everything is important”).  

Once in Vegas the hard work begins. This season about 120 acts made it there, but only 60 are needed for the competition. So the judges had to decide which 60 would get to the next stage. To do this they picked 30 acts that they thought were good enough to go on and 60 that they wanted to see again to pick the other 30. The remaining 30 were called in and summarily told that they were done (so yes, they flew them to Vegas just to tell them this). Frankly I’d been surprised by many of the acts that got to go to Vegas, so I wasn’t surprised by the choices.  

The key here was that unlike the early rounds…they now had a constraint. As with Max Diff (where you have to pick winners and losers) and Conjoint (where you are constrained by the mix of features and levels), they now had to make real choices. In this case, many were not hard (though telling 10 year olds they are done can’t be easy…even if they clearly are not good enough).   The 60 remaining acts were not all great (many were not even good in my opinion), but they were far better than the 60 sent packing.

From here the tournament becomes more like our proprietary Bracket™ technique. Performances are compared to each other with some getting to move on (and perform against other winning acts) and some being done. In the end only one act will win…the one that is most popular among the dedicated fans of the show. This is exactly how good market research should work…force hard choices to drive the best product, message, segmentation solution or price using pricing research.

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Tagged in: Choice Market Research

My favorite feature of Quirk's Marketing Research e-newsletter is Research War Stories. In one issue this spring, Arnie Fishman reported that he had an unexpectedly high result when he asked research participants whether they eat dog food "all the time." He framed the question by asking how often they ate each of a variety of "exotic foods," including rattlesnake meat and frog kidneys, among others.

This got us thinking that maybe you'd get a different result if you asked just about dog food rather than about dog food amongst other crazy types of foods. So, being the researchers that we are, we designed a monadic design experiment to see what would happen.

Using Arnie's same framework of exotic foods, we asked one group of our online research panelists how frequently they eat dog food. On the next screen we asked the same question about rattlesnake meat. They always saw dog food first, so they had no other stimulus when they answered the dog food question.

We asked another group of panelists about dog food, rattlesnake meat, frog kidneys, gopher brains, and chocolate covered ants all on the same screen. We hypothesized that this group would be more open to admitting to eat dog food when grouped with these other items rather than just being asked directly about dog food.

Well, we were wrong about that – none of the folks asked about dog food alone admitted to eating dog food all the time, and 1% of those asked about dog food amongst the other exotic items did so (not a statistically significant difference). The percent of folks in both groups saying that they "never" ate dog food was the same as well (96%). So in our experiment, the "framing" of the question had no bearing on the response.

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