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A former colleague of mine used to tell us to “torture the data until it confessed”. In other words, don’t just stop your investigation at the first finding. But rather, keep poking, prodding, flipping and coercing until you feel you’ve uncovered all the data has to give. Ah…images of Jack Bauer doing his thing flash through my mind just thinking about our own data “torture” sessions.

All kidding aside, what my colleague was really trying to say was spot on. I’m sure we’ve all known researchers who habitually stop at the first find. They rarely take the time to consider different ways of looking at data, of considering the message within.

The Nobel Prize winner and the intellectual godfather of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, has summarized a lifetime of research in his recent book Thinking, Fast & Slow. In the next few blog posts I will be drawing upon some concepts that he espouses and link them up to research to see what practitioners can take away from his four decades of work.

This post goes directly to the title of the work; fast and slow thinking. This is the foundation of his work. He and his great collaborator Amos Tversky, (who passed away and therefore could not receive the Nobel) see human thinking in two forms that they call System 1 and System 2. More aptly they could be called “automatic” and “effortful” systems, but Fast and Slow is a good shorthand description. According to Kahneman’s description,

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations”

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  • Irfan kazi
    Irfan kazi says #
    Thank you it was insightful..

movieticket_3dglasses3D is all the rage in Hollywood and is coming to a TV set near you if it isn't there already. 3D@Home Consortium lists no fewer than 20 movies planned for theatrical release in 2012 that will be offered up in 3D. These include Men in Black 3, Star Trek 2 and The Ring 3D.

But is Hollywood's push toward 3D the result of consumer demand? Holly McKay reporting for FoxNews.com says that less than 50% of the box office earnings for Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, Green Lantern and Cars 2 in 2011 were from 3D showings.

But how does 3D fit in as a draw relative to the other decisions a potential movie-goer makes? Does 3D motivate an American adult to select a movie to see on a given day?

Apparently not.

You Think Researchers Have It Tough?

Posted by on in Healthcare

For the past few years MR blog posts have been dominated by posts questioning the future of Market Research or talking about just how tough it is to be a researcher in the new millennium. A recent discussion on Linkedin about the threat from DIY is a good example. If you read my blog frequently you know that I see the industry evolving, not going extinct. In any case, at TRC we do a great deal of research about Health Insurance and so I know that as challenging as research is, it is nothing compared to what the health insurance industry is going through.

First off, I'll ignore issues that have been with the industry for decades. More often than not they don't sell to the folks who use their products (most insurance comes through employers) and they often don't sell to the folks who pay the bills (a majority of insurance is sold through independent brokers). While some research clients don't expose us to their internal clients, we are nowhere near as separated from the folks who use our work as health insurance firms are.

Tagged in: Brand Market Research

blackswanThe Black Swan is a book that was published a few years ago and generated much publicity and at least some controversy. It occurred to me that there are lessons market researchers can learn from that book, particularly about the relationship between qualitative and quantitative data obtained from a survey format. The idea is that the framework used to analyze such data is different from that used for directly obtained qualitative data through methods such as IDIs and focus groups. Understanding the difference between quantitative and qualitative frameworks for data analysis (and in particular, the difference between statistical and managerial outliers) can help derive more value when the qualitative data are collected in a regular survey. But first, let's take a detour.

A Brief Tour of The Black Swan

In his informative (and entertaining) book, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that real data are either distributed normally (from "mediocristan") or not (from "extremistan"). The former are characterized by data that follow the traditional normal distribution (or bell curve). The majority of the distribution is near the middle surrounding the average and as we venture further out the number of observations becomes increasingly scarce. It is a distribution that defines many phenomena in the natural world. In fact, basic statistics shows that with a reasonable number of observations most distributions start approximating the normal.

Market researchers are fighting each day for a seat at the decision-making table. More and more "research professionals" are being bypassed by smart people with access to good tools, a hotly-debated topic within our community and perhaps a harbinger of what's to come in terms of when and how client- and vendor-side researchers get to contribute advice and ideas.

And yet too many researchers believe the value of market research is self-evident, and that the challenge facing our industry is really more of an obstacle caused by "everyone else." I see this train of thought emerge frequently on Twitter, or within any number of blogs and MRX-related posts.  It typically gets expressed along these lines:

Netflix screwed up. McDonald's screwed up. Coca-Cola screwed up (multiple times). If only they had done research!  A (name any large dollar amount) disaster that could have been averted with a $100,000 investment in listening to the customer. Silly companies.

Folks, it's hard to get better without humility.

Tagged in: Market Research
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Great post. Research needs to have impact on decision making - and demonstrably so. For suppliers, it's difficult to get all the a

Give Thanks for the Unknown

Posted by on in Market Research

1620 mayflower rockThis month here in the States we will be celebrating our biggest secular holiday, Thanksgiving.   Traditionally, the holiday is thought to have started when early settlers to the "new" world, the Pilgrims, sat down to have a meal to celebrate the harvest with the Native American's who had befriended them. As we begin to close out 2011 in an industry facing an uncertain future, I was struck by the similarities between those early settlers and market researchers today.

On the surface the story of adventurers seeking a better life is a bit different than the story of boring market researchers seeking to survive, but I disagree.

thanksgiving turkey dinnerLater this month, those of us in the United States celebrate one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. Officially, Thanksgiving is a post-harvest celebration that was brought to the Americas by European settlers in the 16th or 17th century (depending on which historian you believe). Unofficially, it's the day where families and friends gather to feast, take naps and watch football. Oh my, even as I type this my mouth is watering...turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, peas and the like, with chasers of pumpkin, apple and other assorted pies. All delicious, but I particularly love eating turkey on Thanksgiving.

The REAL Mobile Opportunity

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

Sometimes it seems like the future of quantitiative mobile research has already been determined.

onlinemobilesurvey- Real-short surveys, 5 to 10 questions long.
- Simple-response controls like big radio buttons.
- Small screens = small tasks = limited data sets.

At a time when clients, budgets and timelines are demanding that we do more with less, mobile quant would seem to do a pretty good job with the "less" part of things. If we're being honest that makes us primary researchers a little nervous, and prone to think of mobile as an interesting but ultimately niche methodology.

 

The change is a comin'

But I'd wager that the current definition of "short" and "simple" will change over time as more consumers come to live fully mobile lives, and mobile devices become an increasingly "best" way to reach people for feedback. Conventional wisdom says ask only 5 to 10 questions and use the simplest of instructions, but how can that be the end of the story when people - right now - are browsing, shopping, and buying on their Smartphones?

Thoughts on TMRE 2011

Posted by on in Conferences

tmre_banner_250x250_nodisI recently came back from the 2011 The Market Research Event (TMRE) conference in Orlando, the biggest marketing research conference of the year. There was plenty to like, not the least of which was the scale of the event. Rarely, if ever, do we get to see an exclusively market research event that is so big. Kudos to IIR for putting it together.

The highlight of the event for me was the Keynotes, of which there were eight. I couldn't catch all of them, but my favorite was Sheena Iyengar from Columbia, author of the best seller The Art of Choosing (and sister-in-law of my friend Raghu Iyengar from Wharton). In a beautifully choreographed and clear presentation, Sheena (who is blind) talked about the problem of plenty in consumer choice and ways to avoid it for both sellers and buyers. The Keynotes were all held in a massive room and very entertainingly emceed by Cayne Collier, an actor and improv artist from Second City Chicago. Discussions with a variety of people indicated that the Keynotes were the favorite part of the conference for many.

Tagged in: Market Research
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  • Ed Olesky
    Ed Olesky says #
    Thanks for the comments Rajan! I agree with you, though I do think TMRE did a fairly good job reporting on the NGMR Disruptive In

As I sat down to write I realized that this is not a simple question. Consider the conventional meaning of necessities (defined as must-haves) and luxuries (defined as nice-to-haves). Which category market research falls into may depend on the eye of the beholder.

Researchers (or more accurately research sellers) may want to think of themselves as producing necessities rather than luxuries. But in the consumer world necessities are also generally commodities and often sold based on price. Researchers of course want to be seen as producing something valuable, something that is worth a premium -- in other words, a luxury.  So, which is it?

Now let's look at it from a research buyer's perspective. The buyer may think of research as a necessity, something that is indispensible for making good business decisions. But in keeping with the popular perception of necessities, perhaps they feel that more than one company can provide it and are hence unwilling to pay much of a premium for it. This view would support the many research sellers who complain about the commoditization of research.

I Look at Data From Both Sides Now

Posted by on in A Day in a (MR) Life

caddie and golferI was watching the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational and my 14 year old son came in to the room.  I told him the established narrative. After a difficult two years Tiger Woods had returned to golf, but not before firing his long time and very loyal caddie.   Most saw this as just plain nasty on Tiger's part.  

I then told him how another golfer, Adam Scott, hired the caddie and was now on the verge of winning the tournament. I summed it up by saying that justice had prevailed.

He didn't even miss a beat before asking me, "Did Adam Scott fire his caddie so that he could hire the caddie Tiger fired?"

I don't follow competitive golf closely enough to know the answer. Worse, I had not even considered that the narrative "Tiger mean/Adam good" might be a bit off.  

A good lesson for any analyst to learn.

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The 2012 Presidential Election season is upon us. I don't know about you, but other than the barrage of commercials, the thing I like least about political campaigns is the terrible abuse of numbers. Combined with the current debate on the debt limit and we have the makings of a tsunami of misleading or outright incorrect statistics.

A  few weeks ago, Megan Holstine started a discussion about a Senator using a totally made up statistic. Sadly for him, he quoted a number that was far from accurate, but also one that was easily verified. His defense was that he didn't intend the statistic to be taken "literally".

Makes me wonder if perhaps we've got it wrong.  Think of the possibilities for us if we stopped taking numbers literally!

In my last post I talked about the survey as a conversation with the consumer. But recently it hit home that the survey is a conversation with our clients too. One that - paradoxically - is becoming increasingly more difficult to have as technology improves.

That's because nothing's impossible anymore in contemporary survey execution. Want elaborate skip logic? No problem! Want algorithm-based quota control? Sure thing! Want pop-up instructions and Flash file tours to illuminate complex product concepts? Bring it on.

Want to put all this into a document that your clients can comprehend? Good luck.

Tagged in: Market Research

Bee a Good Researcher!

Posted by on in Market Research

bee_smallResearchers are sometimes described as busy bees but I had no idea that the opposite is literally true till I heard this NPR report on honey bees . Apparently they are wonderful market researchers!

Here's the back story. Cornell Professor Thomas Seeley is a biologist who studies swarm intelligence. Effectively he studies the idea that a group can be smarter than the individuals in the group. Replace "group" with "crowd" and of course the idea is familiar to us as the Wisdom of Crowds. But can such behavior really occur among animals too? Professor Seeley has spent 30 years studying bees and he thinks the answer is emphatically yes. That brings us to the bees-as-market-researchers hypothesis.

Tagged in: Market Research

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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  • 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.

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

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

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