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Frontiers of Research 2013 Conference Roundup

research conference may13 2013We just wrapped up another of our client conferences and it was another successful day for all concerned. This conference stood out for the level of interaction between the speakers and the audience, a testament to the speakers, their topics, and the keen interest that practitioners have in these topics.  

The first speaker was Olivier Toubia from Columbia University. Olivier is a true leader in the area of innovation research and teaches an MBA course called Customer Centric Innovation. He gave a quick round up of four important questions that he has been able to address through his research – how to motivate consumers to generate ideas, how to structure the idea generation process, how to screen and evaluate the ideas and how to find consumers who have good ideas. By taking us through a variety of studies (including surveys and experiments) he was able to answer these questions and provoke a lot of interesting thoughts from the audience.

Next up was Vicki Morwitz from New York University. She uses surveys extensively in her research and is a leader in understanding the impact that survey responses have on subsequent behavior. She was able to present evidence about the unintended effect that surveys have on respondents, something that should be of interest to all marketing research firms and indeed all marketers. In some cases surveys have a positive impact in that they increase future purchasing behavior, but said Vicki, should be used with caution as overt efforts to influence consumers do not seem to work.

Vicki’s presentation was followed by TRC’s own Michael Sosnowski who discussed the idea of doing more with less in a mobile world. He talked about the increasing numbers of survey respondents who are attempting to get at surveys using their smartphones and why we as researchers should be aware of that. He questioned the conventional wisdom that mobile phone surveys should be short and simple and showed examples of more complex choice based surveys (using TRC’s Bracket) can be conducted on mobile phones and how it provides results similar to an online survey. We may not be ready to do conjoint studies on mobile phones, he said, but neither should we artificially constrain ourselves to extremely simple data collection. Using good design and sophisticated analysis it is possible to get good quality information from mobile surveys.

Following Michael was Joydeep Srivastava from the University of Maryland an old friend of mine from my graduate school days. He is now a leading consumer behavior researcher who has done especially interesting work in the area of pricing. His specific interest is in partitioned pricing (such as charging a separate price for shipping) and he was able to enlighten the audience with the results of his experiments. For example, he was able to counter the myth that charging a separate shipping price and then providing a price discount to offset it would stave off any damage to the company. On the contrary, it actually reduced the purchase likelihood compared to not providing a discount. This, he said, was because of people’s unwillingness to pay for shipping in the first place and the explicit reminder of it with the offsetting charge.      

The last presentation by Doug Chung from Harvard started off in rousing fashion with a video of the pivotal touchdown throw that made Doug Flutie’s name a legend in Boston College. Doug’s topic was the Flutie Effect – the importance of collegiate athletics performance on college admissions. Combining data from different sources and running a complex discrete choice model, he was able to show that even after controlling for a variety of factors, collegiate athletic success does in fact translate into an increase in admissions. The impact is higher among students with lower SAT scores but is still clearly felt across the entire spectrum. His research showed the usefulness of choice modeling in untangling a difficult, yet popular question.

Overall it was another interesting conference that brought together a variety of ideas for the audience and all indications are that it was a stimulating day. Unlike many other conferences where the presentations can be short and many with little time for reflection, the audience was really able to spend time on each topic, question the presenter, follow-up during breaks and leave with the satisfaction of new insights that they would not otherwise have had. It’s hard to ask more of a learning experience.    

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