Quirk's Blog

Auto dialing poses legal challenges as Americans ditch the home phone

Editor’s note: Abby Willman is the director of government and public affairs for CASRO, Port Jefferson, New York. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here the title “Rise in mobile phone-only homes poses legal challenge for auto dialing.”

Research needs to discern black and white in the considerable gray areas of the TCPAcell phone

Do you have a home phone? If so, you’re part of a rapidly shrinking majority. Two in every five American homes have only cellular phones, according to the June 2013 National Health Interview Survey. As Americans abandon landline telephones in favor of their smarter and more portable counterparts, research faces many new challenges. One of those challenges is complying with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which is the primary federal regulatory framework that places restrictions on unsolicited calls.

What the law says: It prohibits, absent consent, virtually all non-emergency calls or texts made with an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) to cell phones. TCPA defines ATDS as “equipment which has the capacity (a) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (b) to dial such numbers.” TCPA’s restrictions on calls made to landline phones is limited to commercial telemarketing and does not apply to non-commercial calls, such as those for survey research.

What it means for research companies: TCPA means research companies cannot use ATDS to make calls to cell phones unless the participant has given “prior express consent” for ATDS calls to his or her cell phone.

The gray area: The TCPA definition of ATDS raises questions about what existing technology runs afoul of the law and what technology falls outside the TCPA definition. Additionally, the “prior express consent” requirement leaves questions as to the duration and breadth of any consent given.

Is it time for a change? Courts across the U.S. have been taking on issues raised by the TCPA, including developing new interpretations of the regulation. For example, courts have wrestled with defining ATDS in real world terms, and they have explored what constitutes “prior express consent” under the law. There seems to be a trend to limit the definition of ATDS and to expand the breadth of “prior express consent,” but the courts’ rulings have not been consistent. In addition, a number of business and public interest groups have asked the FCC and the courts to apply more reasonable interpretations of the regulations that meet the realities of growing cell phone use.

Posted in Telephone Interviewing, The Business of Research | Comment

Brands, it’s time to get social

Editor’s note: Cat Nunnery is the client success director at Bazaarvoice. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “Encouraging social sharing.”

Social media provides a wealth of personalized content, harnessing this is one of the most popular marketing strategies to drive conversion. For some brands, there is already a healthy stream of user-generated content coming out of social media. For others, there is a need to encourage this social activity:

  1.  More people talking about your brand and products leads to more brand awareness as friends and followers view the content.
  2. Well-crafted campaigns feature two-way interaction between the brand and consumers, which fosters engagement and brand loyalty.
  3. A higher quantity of brand mentions means more content to curate and put to work on category and product pages to drive online conversion.

Long-term messaginghashtag

Short-term campaigns keep brands top-of-mind, increase brand followers, and engage users with the message. A user contributes to the brand’s content library and amplifies their content message when he or she posts about a campaign in social media.

It is best to think about short-term campaigns through the lens of long-term messaging and communication strategies.  A consistent message, one that works with a year-long campaign that highlights each season or holiday, resonates more with fans. It is also better to promote one hashtag throughout the year instead of a unique hashtag each month. Fans can commit one hashtag to memory and use it consistently, enabling you to track a growing library of content throughout the year.

Many brands do not need to create the conversations or the hashtags. Always start by researching the content that is already out there. How are people talking about your products? Are there nicknames and hashtags your fans are already using that you can utilize? In addition, where are they talking? What channels resonate with your fans and create the most natural environment for the kind of content you want to see?

Category and product hashtags

Some brands might not have native content yet. If you are one of these brands, it is time to get creative. Start the conversation by asking people to share their favorite thing about a product. Keep hashtags short, sweet and easy to recognize. Encourage rich media like photos of the product in action, or short Instagram/Vine video product demonstrations.

If you have hundreds of products, you will not be able promote individual hashtags for every single product. Instead, you can take a categorical approach, promoting tags like #brandboots and #brandflats. Promote the hashtags on category pages, packaging and in-store when relevant.


Social media contests are popular and can be a great way to engage your customers. They are fun to execute and have the potential to engage new audiences in conversations on social that they would not have joined otherwise. They can link to a secondary objective like gaining new social media followers or growing your e-mail database, but their primary value lies in gathering content.

Contest hashtags should be unique without being too long or obscure. If a brand chooses a common hashtag like #selfie or even the name of the brand, it will be next to impossible to determine which posts were a result of the contest and which were unrelated. A unique hashtag is the cleanest way to qualify a post as a contest entry, but if the hashtag is too long it will discourage users from entering.

The simpler the contest entry rules, the more engagement a brand can expect from its fans. Contests that require multiple steps to enter, especially inauthentic gimmicks like posting a brand-chosen image or canned brand mention to the user’s feed can expect lower engagement overall. To get the most entries, keep the rules simple and the content as natural as possible. A general rule of thumb is to make content requests that are reasonable for your audience and reflect their lifestyle.


Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Public Opinion/Social Research, Shopper Insights, Social Media and Marketing Research, Storytelling, The Business of Research | Comment

Selfie: the next big thing in respondent feedback

Editor’s note: Jason Jacobs is a mobile solutions engineer for Confirmit, N.Y.

With the adoption of mobile technologies reaching new heights, the abilities and capabilities for researchers are ever expanding. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the world now has some type of mobile device and that over 20 percent of the globe now owns a smartphone. In America alone it is somewhat comical that if you put 100 Americans in a room you could count 103 phones!

This penetration and adoption of mobile devices has a direct impact on so many areas and industries and has been particularly beneficial in the area of research and data collection. Not only can mobile devices collect traditional qualitative and quantitative feedback from respondents, but the ability to capture multimedia adds a new dimension to your data.selfie

Capturing multimedia is something many of us do on a daily basis. Whether for social media, for the purpose of sending to our friends and family or to capture a memory of a certain occasion, we are likely familiar with using our phones to record our lives. We have also likely been in a situation where we wanted to take a photograph of ourselves but didn’t have someone nearby to take the photo. We resorted to flipping our camera around, extending our arms outward and taking what is referred to as a “selfie.”

This past year can really be known as the “Year of the selfie” with the world selfie making its way into the dictionary just months ago. This year the record was also set for the most re-tweeted photo ever with the famous Oscar selfie. Selfies and traditional photos have a unique ability to show a person’s feelings and experiences in a way that textual or numeric responses can’t. The power of people taking pictures of themselves has great potential for researchers or for anyone looking to collect respondent feedback. Not only can we ask for written feedback from respondents, but we can ask them to show us their thoughts and experiences using their device’s camera.

An example can be brought from retail stores wanting to collect consumer opinions and to gather real user-generated content but eliminate some of the cost of doing so. Asking consumers for their opinion on styles and preferences is the first step to learning from shoppers but asking for them to capture themselves with their favorite items in a photograph is the next level. Stores can take these photos and use them as user-generated content in their stores, on their Web site and on their social media pages. The stores also benefit from learning what items shoppers are looking for and from driving excitement and engagement to their brand. Consumers benefit from having their “15 minutes of fame” and knowing that their feedback is being listened to. In this example everyone wins.

This of course is not limited to retail environments and can be used to record all sorts of insights. Travel companies are asking clients to record their destinations to showcase to new travelers. Builders are using this technology to photograph their progress on construction projects. Advertisers are taking portable devices to remote locations in lesser developed countries and capturing photos of potential promotional space. The scenarios for a successful program are endless as is the power of multimedia capture.

Here are three things to keep in mind when planning for a successful program:

Stage 1: Define what your goals are and what you are trying to accomplish. This can be a financial goal, an increase to consumer retention or just an overall benefit to brand awareness. Regardless of what the specific goal is, it is important to have this outlined and defined before you begin your program.

Stage 2: Listen to your respondents and listen to what people are saying. Once you have information coming in, the task is to make sense of all that data. This can be textual data, numeric responses or multimedia but the key is to understand what people are telling you. There are multiple ways to read and interpret your data but we often find that through the creation of online dashboards with graphs, charts, trend analysis and text analytics you are able to view the complete respondent profile and get the best picture for all your data.

Stage 3: Act on what your data is telling you. Perhaps your customer experience is lacking or your product line is outdated. Maybe your business moves too slowly and doesn’t meet the demands of your consumers. Looking at your data properly can help you act appropriately and better your business.

The overall key behind this strategy is to truly collect the best information that you can and drive results that really matter. Enabling your respondents to interact with you through multimedia allows them to share more about what drives them and allows you to build the most complete respondent profile and gain the greatest insights.

Who knows? Maybe selfies are more valuable than we think.

Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Innovation in Market Research, Qualitative Research, Quantitative Research, Research Industry Trends, Retailing, Shopper Insights, Social Media and Marketing Research, The Business of Research | 1 Comment

Providing the in-store experience online

Editor’s note: Andrew Phipps is the global director of online retail for GfK. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “Converting browsers to buyers.”

We all recognize that the rise in ownership of connected devices is driving the growth of e-commerce. With more and more people turning to their mobile devices to research and make purchases, online transactions are forecast to reach $25 trillion by American Express. But can the online environment ever truly match the experience of buying in-store? We think it can.

Getting personalonline

Stores have the differentiating benefit of a branded personal service – although perhaps not all of them are maximizing this advantage to its full potential. That human element allows stores to compensate when something goes wrong and to add personality to the buying experience. Online retailers have tried to offer the personal element with online chat, but this often feels clunky and obtrusive.

All the elements of service come into sharper focus when buying without the sales associate. E-tailers need to provide the perfect experience, from browsing to adding to the basket, to the checkout and delivery. One mistake and a potential customer will simply begin another search. On the street or in the mall that’s not so easily done.

How can you combat this promiscuous behavior? The Amazon Mayday button is a prime example. Kindle users who need help can tap the Mayday button to be connected to a real Amazon expert live on the screen, within a 15 second response time. Not every brand can offer this level of support, but customers transfer their expectations from one brand across to others quickly, so be warned!

Déjà view

Shoppers are creatures of habit: they like to shop in places they know. In the virtual world this kind of loyalty is hard to win and easy to lose – especially when any number of competitors are just a click away.

This means it is vital to give customers reasons to be loyal. Offer incentives to return and to shop, and provide consistently excellent service. Delivery that customers can control has become a major selling point – and people don’t expect to pay extra for it. Clever retailers are using this as a way to encourage checking out because it has a monetary value. Services such as UPS’s My Choice UPS and DPD’s Predict not only give consumers better information but offer more control over delivery times. But with a major TV ad campaign in the UK airing at the moment people will become increasingly aware that timed delivery is not only possible – but free – so they will come to expect it from every online retailer.

It’s in the basket

The biggest challenge faced by all retailers is how to convert more browsers into buyers. In the online world we have the benefit of data throughout the purchase journey that can provide useful clues as to why people haven’t checked out. Retailers need to constantly analyze their abandoned baskets and understand where it happens in the customer journey so they can start to fix it.

One approach is to offer a prompt when items are added to the basket, providing a time bound offer to encourage buying in the next five minutes such as a free gift, money off a future purchase, free delivery, etc. Time bound baskets aren’t a new idea, they are being used by some online retailers already, but the idea of positive encouragement and incentives could certainly be applied more widely.

Retailing online is more than offering competitive prices. Delivering the excellent service to compete with the experience in-store definitely requires investment. Even where prices are keen, retailers need to consider the lifetime value of a returning customer – not just one sale – and focus resource on keeping and up-selling those people, as well as attracting new customers.

Posted in Consumer Research, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

Has U.S. private label growth plateaued?


Editor’s note: Kory Grushka is a partner at Works Design Group, Pennsauken, N.J. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “The Eurofication of private label?”

Most people in the packaging community are aware that the U.S. private label market has outperformed the market for national brands in recent years. That said, many experts predicted more dramatic growth in years to come and private label growth has slowed to some degree. So, where is the private label industry headed? Will we see continued expansion with more advanced product and packaging development? Will we see the U.S. consumer products market look more like Europe, where private label brands are often just as prominent as their national brand competitors? Or will the status quo continue with private label growth only at a moderate pace? We will take a close look at these questions as well as some other trends and relevant topics relating to the private label market as a whole.

Private label in Europe

The European retail industry has historically been fairly consolidated (particularly in the U.K.) with a handful of large conglomerates exerting outsized control over the market. With more power in the hands of retailers, the European private label industry has become a dominant force and a model for other regions of the world. As a point of reference, private label accounts for over 50 percent of consumer product sales in the U.K., while that number is well under 20 percent in the U.S. The European private label market has been a trendsetter for other regions around the world with extremely high consumer perception and innovative product development, packaging and design. For instance, European retailers pioneered the three-tier private label structure (i.e., value, national brand equivalent and premium tiers) that has become prominent in many retail markets around the world. In addition, European retailers such as Tesco (U.K.), Carrefour (France) and Lidl (Germany) were early to the game in offering private label products in niche categories such as organic, gluten-free and pet food, among others.

Private label in the U.S.

In contrast, the U.S. retail market is relatively fragmented and in any event private label brands have long been underfunded afterthoughts. Copycat designs predominated in the U.S. private label industry where retail packaging was intended to mimic the packaging of national brand competition. That said, these trends have changed in recent years. Large retailers such as Walmart, Target and Safeway have made significant investments to create distinctive and diverse private label portfolios and that movement is trickling down to smaller regional players. U.S. retailers now invest heavily in packaging and design (and even innovation) to set their private label offerings apart and many large U.S. retailers have adopted the three-tier structure that was pioneered in Europe. The recent recession has spurred dramatic growth in the private label market and private label sales have grown almost 20 percent over the last three years. Still, private label sales grew only 2.3 percent in 2013 and the dramatic growth seems to have hit a proverbial glass ceiling according to a recent report by IRI. Nevertheless, the recession undoubtedly had dramatic and lasting effects on consumer perceptions and, accordingly, on the budgets of many retailers around the country.

What will not happen in the U.S. private label market

Many experts have looked at the huge private label sales numbers in Europe and drawn parallels to the U.S. market, while identifying tremendous growth potential in the U.S. market. Just a few years ago many experts predicted that private label market share would grow to 25 percent or even 30 percent and up in certain channels within the next five to 10 years. As it now stands, those numbers seem unrealistic. While we may (or in all likelihood, will) experience modest growth in the coming years, the private label market does not seem primed to explode in the near future as many predicted. Further, while many large U.S. retailers have adopted a three-tier private label structure with fulsome portfolios, many smaller regional retailers are only now starting to experiment with private label products and, outside of the large national retailers, relatively few of the regional players will have diverse portfolios of multi-tier structures.

What will happen in the U.S. private label market

If there is one certainty it is that there will be a great deal of change in the U.S. private label market in the coming years. It seems likely that the private label market will experience slow yet steady growth for the foreseeable future. More and more retailers will build tiered, diverse private label structures while bolstering their portfolios in niche categories (organic, natural, gluten-free, deli, etc.). The market will continue to evolve from copycat to distinctive branding, design and packaging, and many large retailers will continue to focus on private label product development and innovation. In some cases we may even see private label brands being first to market with product and design innovation.

Separately, the rise of e-commerce will likely strengthen private label growth in the medium and long term. While only 1 to 5 percent of consumer product sales are currently attributable to online transactions, some are predicting those numbers to exceed 25 percent in the next five to 10 years. What is more, many e-tailers have plans in the works to enter the private label game. For instance, FreshDirect.com recently introduced two private label brands and Amazon is rumored to be building a private label line of consumer products as well. While these developments will not have an immediate impact on the private label market, it is not unreasonable to expect that e-tail private label sales will become a factor together with the emergence of e-commerce as a viable sales channel.

Another significant trend that will bolster the growth of the U.S. private label market is the continued emergence of deep discount retailers such as ALDI. Deep discounters are very prominent in Europe and in most cases a majority of their products are private label brands. ALDI has very aggressive growth plans. It intends to open approximately 130 new stores per year (a 62.5 percent increase from its current growth rate) while growing its current stores by 50 percent in five years. Moreover, we will likely see more entrants in this market segment, as Lidl (a large German deep-discounter) plans to enter the U.S. market with an aggressive growth strategy starting in 2015.

Bottom line

The U.S. private label market has grown significantly in recent years and will likely see continued (albeit measured) growth. The recession has created seemingly permanent changes in consumer perceptions and spending habits with respect to private label brands. While the growth rates may not be astronomical in the near term, the private label industry is growing and building a very formidable base thanks to changed consumer preferences, retailer focus on brand building and the emergence of deep discounters, among other factors. Smaller retailers should start to follow the large players’ lead with tiered structures for their private label portfolios and highly differentiated brands in niche categories. They should (and will) forget the copycat era and think in terms of building brand equity with engaging packaging, product innovation and promotional activities around their private label products. Bottom line is that the retail environment will not mirror Europe in the foreseeable future but private label is building a foundation that will continue the transformation of the industry for years to come.

Posted in Brand and Image Research, Packaging Research, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

The sugar shift (and why labels are so important)


Dr. Debbie Parker is the associate director, sensory expert at research company Marketing Sciences. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “One lump or two?”

Sugar consumption and its effect on public health is an ongoing debate in the media. Currently deemed as public enemy number one, no food or drink is safe from the in-depth exposé of the demon sugar hiding within. Even fresh fruit, juices and smoothies that we all thought were healthy contain ‘horrifying’ levels of sugar according to the press. So it was with great interest that I attended a FDIN Sugar & Sweeteners Masterclass to hear a variety of speakers review the evidence regarding sugar and its contribution to global health and economy. Public perception, shopping habits, sugar ‘hidden’ in food and drink, what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the sugar and sweetener world and the consumer and industry’s responses to the issue were all topics for the speakers.

I admit that there were some eye-opening moments. Finding out that my ‘healthy’ breakfast bar contains as much sugar gram per gram as a packet of cookies was one of them (guess what my breakfast consists of now!). The amount of ‘hidden’ sugar in foods was a surprise but the use of sweeteners is also controversial. It was interesting to see data presented by Mintel demonstrate that products labelled low sugar and sugar free were recognized by consumers to be 20 percent healthier than products labelled light or diet, whereas in reality they all contain sweeteners instead of sugar. In fact an omnibus survey we ran back in 2012 followed by consumer mini-depth interviews also found that many did not make the connection that choosing diet or sugar free options meant they were effectively choosing sweeteners, even for those who claimed to dislike the idea of sweeteners.

When prompted with artificial sweeteners most people spontaneously thought of tabletop sweeteners for tea and coffee, such as Splenda. Artificial sweeteners were also readily associated with certain categories such as carbonated soft drinks but not with processed foods and ready-made meals. While 31 percent of consumers said they would actively avoid artificial sweeteners because they are believed to be worse for health than sugar, most were uncertain what actually makes artificial sweeteners ‘bad’ for you. Consumer perceptions of the health risks of sweeteners appeared to stem from the media rather than directly from medical professionals.

Within sweeteners, aspartame and saccharin were the most commonly spontaneously named. Many consumers could not distinguish between sweeteners but a few made some basic distinctions: Aspartame was viewed negatively and as a risk to health, whilst sucralose was seen more positively and appeared to be more natural. Overall though, sweeteners had artificial and chemical associations. This indicates that sweeteners derived from more ‘natural’ origins would have more appeal and the sweetener Stevia was considered to be the most natural sweetener option.

Possibly the most telling conclusion from the Masterclass day was from the final speaker, who after trying for several years to reformulate his granola product to have 50 percent less sugar by substituting various sweeteners without success finally settled on simply using less sugar in the product and serving it with fruit and yogurt! Or alternatively, he suggested simply making the portion size smaller!


Posted in Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Food/Sensory Research, Omnibus Studies, Shopper Insights | Comment

Premium brand? Don’t miss out on the Yummy market

Editor’s note: Chad Hinkle is a consumer behavior consultant for Insights In Marketing. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “Beyond “Yummy”: How premium brands can capture 20% of men.”

“Young.” “Big spender.” “Passionate.”  Marketers everywhere dream about the day they hear these words used to describe their consumer. Premium brands were recently introduced to such a consumer target: the young, urban male – better known as a “Yummy.” “Yummies” have been talked about in several news articles (example here) and the interest in this target continues to grow.


According to HSBC a Yummy is driven by psychological and social trends, preferring to display social status earlier on; gets into the act of shopping; and wants to show off his money through conspicuous consumption. All this has led some to estimate that there will be a “nine percent increase in luxury brand spending over the next year.” (Source)

Missing from the conversation has been an estimate of the size of the Yummy market.  We estimate that 36 percent of men 18-34 years old have these Yummy characteristics.  And, we believe these characteristics are shared by a subset of men over 34 years old.  In essence, we think the opportunity for premium brands is larger than anyone has identified.

Who are “Yummies?”

It appears that Yummies are a viable target for premium brands. Our data would suggest that of these men:

  • 85 percent are employed (versus 71 percent of all other men)
  • 61 percent are working to be wealthy (versus 32 percent of all other men)
  • 62 percent are driven by other’s recognition and admiration (versus 36 percent of all other men)
  • 58 percent use shopping as a way to feel better (versus 18 percent of all other men)
  • 57 percent say have they have a lifestyle that impresses others (versus 31 percent of all other men)

Critically, these men pay more attention to advertising than the rest of their male counterparts, making any communication missteps especially costly. Choosing the right strategy and communicating it effectively are the only way premium brands are going to attract and retain this target.

Three strategies for attracting these men

  • Embrace competitiveness: They tend to look at life as a zero-sum game and are extremely competitive. Tap into this by demonstrating that your brand is superior to your competitors or support their personal competitive endeavors. Gatorade’s “Is it in you?” campaign did this well. It associated great feats of athletic ability with its brand, challenged the buyers who were questioning whether or not they have the competitive drive necessary to accomplish their goals and intrinsically linked the message to Gatorade.
  • Advocate uniqueness and individuality: These men pride themselves on their individuality. Communicate that your brand and the people that use your brand are free-thinking, unique and uncompromising forces that challenge the status quo. By associating with your brand they are displaying to the world that they proudly show off their individuality. Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign strongly advocates for this kind of uniqueness and individuality. With lines like “the last time he flirted with danger, danger got clingy” and “he once got a standing ovation from a juror’s box,” Dos Equis’ spokesman embraces his uniqueness and individuality. This strategy is continued on Dos Equis Web site with weekly, biweekly and monthly challenges all encouraging consumers to complete the challenges to “build your own legend.”
  • Link your image to your brand experience: Less price sensitive than other men, Yummies spend their money on premium brands. Premium to them is most often linked to the brand’s high price and quality. Show them specific elements of your product that demonstrate your attention to detail and quality. Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” pledge has embraced this strategic direction. Described as “serving the very best sustainably raised food possible with an eye to great taste, great nutrition and great value,” the strategy promotes a brand experience unlike any other major fast food provider.  Their brand image is evident in their sourcing strategy, products and retail experience.


Premium brands need to pay attention to these men.  They represent an interesting and influential strategic opportunity.  But attracting them requires insights to go beyond mere data and facts, no matter how advanced or sophisticated.

Posted in Business and Product Development, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Demographics, Lifecycle/Lifestyle Research, Millennials, Retailing, Uncategorized | Comment

Q&A: Big data and its meaning for marketing researchers


Editor’s note: Greg Mishkin is a vice president of research and consulting at Market Strategies International, Livonia, Mich. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “Answers to the four most popular big data questions.”

2013 was the year of big data, although not always in a good way. We saw some of the largest privacy breaches in history affect major brands like Target, Facebook and Adobe, as well as government related snafus (Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Federal Reserve Bank) impact hundreds of millions of people. The public now understands that we are leaving a data trace with every cell phone call we make, Web site we browse, debit card we swipe and security camera we pass. No matter where you stand on whether our data are being used responsibly, one thing is absolutely clear…

Big data is everywhere.

In addition to what we leave behind, we willingly offer our data in exchange for valuable benefits:

  • We pay up to $100 to give the government detailed personal information in exchange for faster access through TSA PreCheck lines at the nation’s airports.
  • We install connected thermostats that know when we are home, away and asleep, enabling companies to learn about our daily routines.
  • We wear devices like Google Glass and Fitbit to track and share our activity with friends.
  • And don’t even get me started on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Flickr, etc.

With this trend comes an insatiable demand for big data analytics. Marketing research used to focus on asking people how satisfied they are with a service or whether they prefer Product A or Product B. But businesses want to know more about their customers than what they are willing or able to reveal in a survey. Today, businesses want to predict the future and they are turning to big data to feed a new breed of predictive analytics. Here are a few of the questions I hear most frequently from clients:

Q: What is big data in simple terms?

A: In simple terms, big data is data so large and complex that it cannot be effectively analyzed using previously established systems, processes and resources. One of the easiest ways to understand it is by the three Vs: volume, variety and velocity.

Volume means that big data is big. Big data analyses do not typically look at hundreds or thousands of rows of data, but rather billions and trillions of rows, so forget desktop spreadsheets!

Variety means that big data analyses often bring together lots of different types of data from different sources in ways not done before. Sometimes the data are structured with clearly defined rules and logic, and other times they are unstructured (like streams of comments from Twitter or Facebook). As a result, the data are usually messy and require a fair amount of cleanup.

Velocity means that big data comes in fast and changes quickly. I have worked with large data warehouses that receive more than 25 billion rows of new information each day! This type of data analysis requires processes that can incorporate newly-generated data quickly and efficiently.

Big data can come from customer data, social media data or the “Internet of things,” which includes data resulting from Internet-connected products (e.g., Web browsers, cell phones, GPS navigation and connected cameras, cars and thermostats). Market Strategies is currently working with data as diverse as call detail records from mobile phones, smart energy meters, financial services transactions and gambling patterns, just to name a few.  The point is that every aspect of your customer’s life leaves behind a data trail and, when analyzed correctly, these trails can lead to immense knowledge.

To effectively analyze big data you need an infrastructure that has been specifically designed to handle it (e.g., SAS, Hadoop or Teradata) along with specially trained data scientists. Many people are surprised to learn that while big data looks at more data than most people can wrap their head around, it is almost always riddled with holes. As Nate Silver tells us in his book, The Signal and the Noise, “Data-driven predictions can succeed – and they can fail. It is when we deny our role in the process that the odds of failure rise.” To increase the chances of success people with industry and data domain expertise need to fill these holes – not machines.

Q: If my company is just starting to consider using big data in our marketing research, what would be most useful to include?

A: There is a trend to replace the term “big data” with “small data.” Most organizations are sitting on an enormous amount of untapped data and should look to their own networks for transactional data that can help build a more holistic view of their customers. The data are often siloed across disparate teams and have not been combined because the task was deemed too difficult, expensive or nebulous. But impressive ROI can be found when data are combined into a single warehouse and integrated with existing and new data points from traditional marketing research sources.

At our firm we take clients through a two-step process to identify and document the goals of big data integration and to review existing qualitative and quantitative research, as well as internal databases. The first step involves one-on-one interviews or a roundtable discussion with all key stakeholders to create a shared vision of success. The second step involves a series of information-sharing meetings to dig into all of the existing internal data and other research to determine what has worked, what has not and what prior work can be repurposed.

Often there is so much excitement to get started that clients want to skip these initial steps or complete them in a cursory manner. However, doing so can prove fatal to the overall project. Without taking the time to build a thorough analytical plan there will not be a solid road map, and the likelihood of success is greatly diminished.

Q: What about privacy? Are we even allowed to use the data we collect from our customers?

A: Based on the public debacles that unfolded last year, privacy is a hot topic. As each situation is unique, there can be no hard and fast rules; however, there are best practices to consider:

  1. Different industries have specific legal regulations for the collection and use of customer data. This is especially true in health care (HIPAA), financial services (RFPA) and telecommunications (CPNI). Most organizations in these industries have internal or external counsel they can turn to for industry-specific advice. Big data analytics can be accomplished safely and effectively within these environments as long as methodologies are created with the regulations in mind.
  2. It is always important to remember the court of public opinion. Before using your customers’ personally identifiable information, ask yourself if using it is in the best interest of the customer. When you are conducting research to improve the customer experience, it is clear that this use benefits the customer. I like to use The Wall Street Journal test. Simply put, ask yourself what would happen if the details of the proposed action became a front-page headline: Would the negative fallout outweigh the positive benefits?

Big data can be scary and intimidating to the public and it is critical to consider the impact to your customers and stakeholders. By applying The Wall Street Journal test, companies can tweak their big data projects to minimize risks. It is important for companies to have an experienced partner who appreciates the inherent hazards associated with big data analytics and is able to keep them safe while gaining the most value from the data.

It is equally important to ensure that your efforts comply with your company’s established privacy policies. If they do not, change the methodology to comply with the policy or update the policy if it is outdated. The bottom line? When big data research is conducted appropriately and ethically, there will be no need to hide it from customers or regulators.

Q. Will big data replace surveys?

A: No. Here’s why:

Big data analytics does a really good job of telling us what our customers are doing, who they are doing it with, where they do it and when they do it. However, it does a pretty awful job of telling us why our customers do what they do. Understanding the why behind the actions is critical to marketers since they are tasked with finding ways to change customer behavior. A marketer is focused on how to get people to buy more of their stuff and less of their competitors’ stuff. Without fully understanding the why behind their actions, marketers are left to guess which strategies and tactics will actually motivate customers.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a place for both big data analytics and traditional marketing research. By skillfully integrating the two, researchers can understand what their customers are doing, why they are doing it and, most importantly, how to change their behavior. Read our complimentary white paper on this topic to learn more.

Important takeaways

  • Big data is everywhere and here to stay.
  • Big data will continue to fundamentally change the way companies look at their customers and their businesses.
  • Big data analytics can be intimidating to the public so we must be mindful of how customers and stakeholders might perceive this work.
  • While big data analytics is real, it is not the panacea that many “experts” portray it to be.
  • Integrating big data analytics with traditional marketing research allows marketers to understand what their customers are doing, why they are doing it and most importantly what can be done to influence or change their behaviors.

Posted in Big Data, Data Privacy, Research Industry Trends, Social Media and Marketing Research, Text Analytics, The Business of Research | Comment

Researchers, don’t be afraid to change

Editor’s note: William C. Pink is senior partner, creative analytics at research company Millward Brown. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title “Liberating research: a manifesto for change.”

172587879I have previously argued that big data is not replacing research, it is liberating it. Researchers are liberated from generating a new survey for each new learning occasion; instead, ongoing big-data assets can be leveraged for many topics, allowing subsequent primary research to go deeper and fill in the gaps. Researchers are liberated from needing to rely upon bloated surveys and instead can keep surveys short and focused on those variables that they are ideally suited for, resulting in better data quality.

I stand by that argument, and we have many examples of forward-looking brands adopting this approach for their research programs. However, we still see far too many brands clinging to research practices that are out-of-date. For example, the default approach remains to ask each survey respondent all possible questions. Building research in this manner is convenient and comfortable but it does not encourage consideration of alternative sources of insight.

The challenge of the new

This hesitation should not be surprising; well-established behaviors and practices are hard to change. As any observer of human behavior will tell you, the best predictors of an individual’s future decisions are his or her past decisions. In other words, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. When we examine our actions and decisions as researchers who study consumers, brands and marketing effectiveness, we see that far too often we are still acting like the proverbial old dogs. I say this not to offend but rather to ignite a movement throughout the research community to revisit our first principles of design and data quality. Liberated research can only deliver to its highest potential and promise if we actually liberate ourselves from practices that are not working. Otherwise, we risk bringing about our own obsolescence.

Let’s talk about specifics. What do we need to do in order to liberate research?

Shorter surveys. First, we need to stop burdening consumers with long surveys. The evidence is overwhelming that shorter surveys yield better data quality and better consumer engagement. In a recent example, Kantar, TNS and Millward Brown collaborated on parallel studies for the same consumer target. The first study matched the historical design and took over 25 minutes to complete. It was built to ensure a completed data set of respondent-level information for each consumer. The second study was purposefully designed to be much shorter, taking around 12 to 13 minutes to complete. Each consumer was asked only those questions deemed core to understanding the category and meeting the primary analytic objectives.

The results were startling. For one product category, 3.5 times more attributes were identified as important in the shorter survey than in the longer survey and the average level of endorsement for brands in this product category was 31 percent in the shorter survey, compared to 17 percent in the longer survey. In effect, the contextual differences of the survey environment generated very different results and consumers were willing to share more information in the shorter survey.

Shorter is better. Yet, we are very slow to reduce the length of our questionnaires for fear of giving up information that we are used to having. How many competitive brand sets are lingering to ensure consistency with the past, even though we know the past is not a reflection of the current market? Why do we cling to information generated by a long survey that is familiar and comfortable but potentially inaccurate?

Elimination of redundancy. Second, we need to stop asking consumers redundant questions. What makes questions redundant? When consumers give the same patterns of response to multiple questions. Data reduction techniques have existed for years to detect this but how often are we implementing those findings by removing redundant content? Taken further, data reduction techniques provide a line of sight into the themes that consumers perceive. Given the maturity of many markets and categories, we expect to see very stable themes emerge from our analysis – themes of product quality, corporate reputation, consumer motivation, etc. These themes are typically few and rarely change. However, we often see 20 questions reduced to only two themes in consumers’ minds. In that case, why are we continuing to ask all 20 questions? If, year after year, we see so few themes emerge from so many questions, then we are missing key opportunities to optimize our questionnaire designs.

We know redundancy only increases consumers’ frustration levels and reduces the quality of their responses. The bottom line is that we are running suboptimal research designs by keeping the status quo. We should remove redundant questions without hesitation.

Meaningful measurement. Third, we must ensure that we have the most consumer-friendly and accurate mechanisms for capturing relevant insights about what matters, even if this means changing the historical measurement system and implementing a better, more appropriate measurement system for today.

Every day we work with brands to improve their measurement programs. This ranges from linking different data assets for new perspectives on old phenomena to utilizing the latest protocols for survey design and measuring brand equity. We bring our data and new learning to the table and our clients share their category-, brand- and market-specific experiences. Our conversations typically revolve around how to bring our collective expertise together for improved market measurement. However, at some point, clients often worry that implementing changes to their measurement programs will result in changes to historical trending – and this is usually when the air deflates from the progressive tires.

* * *

Of course, giving up historical trends from a long-built and well-invested data asset is a tough pill to swallow. It is difficult to explain to executives that we are making changes to a research instrument and losing comparability to history, even though we are quite good at devising statistical protocols to preserve trends and can make the old data act like the new or calibrate new results to match the old. The fundamental point is that we must opt to change. Trend maintenance should not be our first principle of design; we should abandon instruments and approaches that may have been suboptimal in the first place.

Liberation in practice

Millward Brown’s framework for understanding brand equity is an example of the benefits of this kind of thinking. First, we designed the framework so it can be asked quickly, averaging about three minutes per consumer, and we only ask the questions that consistently link to behavioral success across categories and markets. Second, we designed the question format to mirror the competitive context that consumers experience in their daily lives. This is done through a design called “associative scale and rank.” For the key dimensions in the model, the consumer positions each brand on a 0-10 scale and overlays all the brands on that scale to give a relative ranking. This provides the sensitivity of leveraging a full scale for each dimension while being much more consumer friendly and engaging than a separate assessment of each brand, so we get the information we need quickly and accurately. Most importantly, our brand measurement framework serves as connective tissue across research solutions and data assets. The new model is designed in a short, engaging, repeatable and standardized manner that can be implemented across a range of research scenarios.

Time to change

This brings us back to why we want researchers to embrace the opportunity the modern data landscape provides and liberate themselves from lengthy, single-source surveys. To suggest that this is a necessary step to effectively utilize mobile devices for surveys is valid but misses the essential point: Shorter, focused surveys are better surveys. If we properly frame business problems and think about them from a research-program mind-set, then we will be empowered to enjoy the benefits of liberated research. What business problems can only be answered by having all the information from the same individual in one survey? What learning objectives can be better addressed across a suite of connected research solutions? Which questions are redundant and repetitive?

Of course, we raise the stakes when we remove the security blanket of asking each consumer about all the pieces of the business puzzle. This requires clarity of planning and purpose but it is a challenge that we should embrace. The evidence shows that we are kidding ourselves if we think that analyses of long surveys with poor-quality data can provide accurate stories and actionable recommendations.

Stand and deliver

That is why I see this as a manifesto for change for the research community. We know what works: shorter surveys that respect consumers’ limited availability in a time-pressed world; research tools that engage consumers in a dialogue using everyday language; and research solutions that encourage participation, not frustration.

We can no longer reasonably claim, “I don’t want to rock the boat,” as an excuse for not rethinking research designs that don’t meet these criteria. The boat has already been rocked.

As an industry, we talk a lot about moving from backward-looking insights to research with foresight and forward-looking actionability. I endorse and hope to amplify those goals in this post. With shorter surveys run as part of a larger research program that includes both big and small data assets, we will be well-positioned to deliver on those goals. But if we don’t actually speed up our implementation of shorter surveys and move away from bloated, historical survey designs, our talk will simply be hot air.

Posted in Market Research Best Practices, State of the Research Industry, Survey Development, The Business of Research | Comment

Taking the leap into the future of surveys

Editor’s note: Katrina Lerman is senior researcher and corporate videographer with Boston research firm Communispace.

I have seen the future of surveys. And it’s glorious.

But man, do we have a way to go.

470933185When a recent project for one of Communispace’s hospitality clients involved a request for a slightly younger sample to complement their community audience, our consultants immediately thought of Google Consumer Surveys. The low cost and fast turnaround meant we could provide added value without missing a beat. Given my familiarity with the tool, I was asked to advise the team on the modifications needed to run the existing survey through Google’s “survey lite” platform.

At first glance, the survey didn’t look so bad: 15 questions, mostly single-select voting. (It’s worth noting that, while 15 questions might sound like a lot to someone outside the industry, Communispace, like most partners, routinely receives surveys twice this length from clients. Knowing that the future of customer engagement involves moving away from this model, we encourage shorter, more engaging questionnaires. But we also must operate under the realities of our clients’ needs, which, for the most part, are still tied to legacy models.)

From my past experience, I had to recommend against including detailed open-text questions, as Google’s respondents are not generally willing to put the time or effort into thoughtful answers (and certainly nothing as detailed as we have come to expect from community members). But I told them that the voting questions would be no problem, we agreed on screening criteria and sample size, and I went off to program the survey.

An hour later, I was eating my words. Or, more precisely, I was deleting them. A lot of them. To my astonishment, not a single question could be programmed into Google Surveys as originally written. The flowery text soared past Google’s character limits on questions (175 max; 125 “recommended”) and answer options (44 max; 36 “recommended”). Even knowing there were fairly strict limits, I was still shocked; the survey had failed my initial “eye test” – badly.

Gone was the conversational introduction that kicks off most of our surveys. Gone were the long “e.g.” lists and flourishing adjectives. By the end, my survey was a linguistic shell of its former self. But it fit into the software’s restrictions – and without compromising the fundamental purpose of each question.

The entire experience was eye-opening. While we typically think of strong, descriptive writing as a way to make surveys more engaging, this paradigm does not necessarily hold up in a mobile world. Twitter didn’t evolve alongside the mobile Web by accident. To a writer like me, the idea that, in the future, brevity will be valued over facility is both terrifying and disheartening.

But as my evening spent editing showed me, working within character limits requires its own set of skills. I found myself replacing commas with slashes, throwing around slang with indiscretion and eschewing prepositions altogether. Though I began my task annoyed and exasperated, by the end I felt exhilarated and liberated.

In a sense, language and length have become a luxury – dare I say, a crutch? – in the survey business. Not sure if you captured everything? Add another question! Does that wording make sense? Add a longer description! What if they forgot the previous question? Show it again!

It’s become clear that surveys need to evolve for a mobile world. Soon enough, if you’re not reaching respondents on mobile devices, you won’t be reaching them (a representative sample, at least) at all. And in the world of mobile, speed and substance trump style. That means shorter surveys filled with shorter questions – the right questions. Based on my experience, and that of others, we have a lot of work to do to get there.

Probably best to start now.

Posted in Innovation in Market Research, Market Research Best Practices, Mobile Interviewing, Quantitative Research | Comment