Quirk's Blog

Distinguishing MROCs from panels and social network communities

Editor’s note: George Dichiaro is a vice president and senior research consultant at research firm Market Strategies International, New York City. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Let’s MROC and roll: Online communities for qualitative research.”

Market research online communities, or MROCs, to use the punchy acronym, are currently one of our fastest growing qualitative research tools. They are often described as online focus groups or bulletin boards on steroids.

Market research online communitiesHowever, since the term was coined several years ago, there is still a lot of confusion about MROCs. A source of this confusion is that MROCs is a fairly ambiguous label and open to interpretation. As a result, we’ve thrown around a lot of vague and evolving nomenclature. People have said to me: “Can we do a panel?” “Wouldn’t it be cool to tap into a social network community?” And my personal favorite, “What we really need is an ad hoc, longitudinal open network community – kind of like a panel.”

The problem with using the word panel to describe an MROC is that it leads many to think about a traditional, large panel of thousands of members who are periodically tapped for either quick-read or in-depth quantitative surveys. The panel has no end-point and is sometimes also used to find respondents for either online or in-person qualitative research. Community and social network also mislead since they are currently buzzwords that too easily conjure up social media research, such as language and trend analytics and other social listening tools.

There are three critical components that distinguish MROCs from panels and social media/network communities:

  1. It’s a closed community. A limited number of people (maybe 50-150) are invited to participate based on specific recruiting criteria – bringing together like-minded individuals to discuss and learn about things that are highly relevant to them, thereby creating an intensely engaged community.
  2. Participants’ involvement lasts for a finite period of time, usually four-to-12 weeks. Each week they are given assignments, which can take the form of blogs; forums; missions in or outside the home; diaries; photos and videos; reactions to stimuli; or anything else that helps to meet the objectives of the research.
  3. It’s marked by three-way communication. Community manager → participant; participant → community manager; and participant → participant. The community manager starts by setting the rules and the tone of the community, then makes personal connections with participants and gives assignments. Critically, the manager encourages community members to interact with each other until it becomes an organic community of opinions and ideas that takes on a life of its own.


MROCs are here to stay and use will continue to trend upward. The benefits cannot be ignored:

  • MROCs save research dollars and time in the long run. In one MROC, we can cover several objectives that would have otherwise required several separate focus groups or online bulletin board projects.
  • Because of the long term, iterative nature of the research, it is possible to delve and probe much deeper into key areas of interest. Participants, researchers and clients benefit from the incubation of ideas and hypotheses over time that allow for more follow-up and greater insights.
  • The range of research needs addressed with MROCs is wide and varied – from early stage A&B exploration to concept evaluation to ideation to user experience/product assessment to path-to-purchase to persona development. MROCs can also be used as a precursor to quantitative research as well as a source for follow-up, in-person qualitative research (e.g., ethnographies) with selected community members.
  • The MROC platforms available to us are getting increasingly sophisticated, which allows researchers to more effectively explore consumers mind-sets with seamless tools and more creative assignments.


So let’s roll with MROCs … or whatever you want to call them!


Posted in Consumer Research, Data Collection/Field Services, Ethnographic Research, Innovation in Market Research, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques, Online Surveys and Research, Qualitative Research, Research Communities | Comment

Sephora takes on the subscription box space

Editor’s note: Nikki Baird is managing partner at Retail Systems Research, Denver. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Subscription boxes go mainstream?”

I like subscription boxes. In the interests of full disclosure, I subscribe to Loot Crate and to Stitch Fix. I was an original subscriber to Goodies, a food-based subscription started and subsequently shut down by Walmart. I’ve contemplated Birchbox, and also finding another food box to replace Goodies but haven’t had enough time to put into research to decide if Birchbox will really send me things I’d use. And the food box scene is so complicated now that I just haven’t overcome my inertia to jump in.

Inertia. I think that’s an important part of subscription boxes’ success. Once they get your credit card, as long as they keep sending you cool stuff, you basically set it and forget it.

There are a ton of start-ups in the subscription box space. You can get dog toys or kid toys delivered monthly. You can get meals for two or four delivered weekly. Cosmetics, clothing, gluten-free, vegan – if there is a tribe of some kind out there (Loot Crate serves the geek tribe), then there is probably a subscription box for it.

makeupHowever, Sephora changed the game. By my count, they’re the first major retailer to get in on the subscription box service, with their brand on the box (Walmart did it first but you had to dig around to figure out that they were the company backing it).

Sephora’s entrée into the space signifies either that subscription boxes are here to stay, or that they have jumped the shark.

I’m not convinced that subscription boxes have peaked yet. Sephora is well-positioned to succeed in the cosmetics category of subscription boxes: they already do a brisk business sending shoppers samples; they know a lot about their shoppers and about products they might like; and they have a large existing customer base to market to.

Fad or not, I do know that subscription boxes have to manage things very carefully if they want to avoid becoming a footnote in the future of retail. Specifically they need to:

Find a tribe. Subscription boxes do best when they focus on curation and personalized selection. A box that is too broad in scope will have a much harder time staying relevant across a large enough audience, and a box that is too narrow in scope will not find enough subscribers to support its model. Many of the food boxes do it well – chocolates, vegan or healthy eating. Even Goodies, may it rest in peace, did a reasonably good job in providing snacks that both appealed to a large audience but also had the feel of something relatively curated.

A tribe is important for reaching suppliers. An ideal situation is to find a tribe that has both a strong set of potential subscribers and a large enough set of suppliers who are very interested in reaching that group. If you can combine a set of suppliers who are willing to negotiate, either by providing exclusives or subsidizing samples or product costs in order to promote trial, and a set of passionate customers who are willing to pay something to get a curated box of samples or products, you’ve got the makings of a decent business model. It’s possible to do it without getting suppliers to subsidize but that side of the equation certainly helps.

Stay relevant. Loot Crate box openings in my household resemble a wolf pack circling dinner. My children have even learned that you can check online to see when the next box is coming without having to be on the e-mail list. And check it they do. On the day that the black box arrives, they scramble over each other to be the first to get to it. Should this event occur when one of us is not home (most often me), woe to you – you get the comic book. Everyone else makes off with the good stuff. However, while there have been many occasions where the contents of the box have felt like excellent value for the money, there have been a few times when the box was a miss – either we apparently aren’t that much of a set of geeks to know the science fiction property that was celebrated by the box, or the collection of magnets, blow-up crowns and stickers just didn’t feel like it was worth the price of admission. It’s okay to miss one every once in a while but too many and there will be subscriber churn – definitely a bad thing for boxes.

Be supply chain savvy. This is probably the biggest deal for boxes. Subscription companies know how many boxes they need to send out in any given month but they must secure the products to fill those boxes in enough time to order the right quantity, receive it and pack it into boxes. The supply chain operations of subscription companies look more like handling a December 23rd rush every month than a traditional direct commerce retail operation.

I suspect – but don’t know anything special – that this was the demise of Goodies. Every once in a while we would receive something odd – like a straight-up coupon to redeem in store – because the company wanted to send out a product that wasn’t easily shippable (for example, because it required refrigeration) but couldn’t. The coupon was challenging because most of the products Goodies sent out were not yet available in my local stores. Sometimes the Goodies item preceded store distribution by months. So a coupon just became a slip of paper that was easy to lose.

And then the boxes started coming more irregularly. And then the company missed a month. And then the fateful e-mail came – the company was shutting down.

Solicit – and use – customer feedback. One interesting element of Goodies’ business model was that they asked for a lot of feedback. Customers collected points for taking quizzes about the products. They asked questions across a standard set of categories – packaging, flavor, perceived healthiness, etc. And then they also solicited ratings and reviews. Theoretically, this information was used to provide a more relevant set of product samples to subscribers but it was also possible to provide direct market research back to the supplier of the product – another potential way to monetize the subscription audience.

Stitch Fix, for which I receive a box every quarter, also asks for feedback. They’re trying to refine fit and also provide input to help stylists make choices that minimize returns (a complication most subscription boxes don’t have to deal with). Subscribers get bonus points for sharing their Pinterest account with the company (if you follow me on Pinterest, that is why my activity level on the site has spiked – people have been warning me for years that it’s a time-suck of epic proportions, which I have resisted until Stitch Fix tipped the scales). I am sharing a lot of information about myself – sizes, body measurements, access to social media – all in the interest of helping Stitch Fix pick things I will like.

But I have to say, it’s sort of like throwing slips of paper into a well. I have no idea what happens to my feedback after I give it. I don’t get any feedback or communication from my stylist. I don’t even know if I have the same one quarter to quarter, or if that’s all a front to make me feel better about sharing that information. The use part of customer feedback is so important. If customers share information, they want to know that it’s being used – and used to their personal advantage, not just for the company’s. It’s not enough to say, “Thanks for the feedback.” Subscription services need to provide at least some transparency about how that feedback has changed things.

I like to discover new things. I like to be surprised, and I like to try. Subscription boxes, like flash sales in many ways, check off a lot of those boxes. But like flash sales, I don’t know that subscription boxes will take over the world. However, it seems there are enough people like me out there to definitively add subscription boxes as a permanent part of the retail landscape – and one that in the future won’t be limited to just start-ups.

Posted in Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Data Collection/Field Services, New Product Research, Shopper Insights | Comment

The truth about aging privacy laws and MR

Editor’s note: Jennifer Glasgow is a global privacy and public policy officer at Acxiom, a Little Rock, Ark., research company. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “The good, bad and ugly of aging privacy laws.”

PrivacyMost of our privacy laws in the U.S. and Europe date back at least 10 years, some go back 20 or more. This is true for both the private and public sectors. With the U.S. Congress focused on other more pressing matters – such as cyber-security – and Europe continuing its five-year long effort to modernize the 1998 Data Protection Directive, the result is a growing gap between effective regulation and the world we actually live in.

An example of how some regulators are trying to deal with the situation can be found in the recent sharply divided FCC Declaratory Ruling on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which set forth new statutory and policy pronouncements on all types of calls or text messages for informational or marketing purposes. While some clarification is provided by the FCC ruling, other aspects of it raise interesting questions. There will no doubt be appeals for reconsideration as the ruling is further analyzed.

For those who are interested, an excellent summary of key areas where many were looking for clarification can be found on TCPA’s blog.

In the TCPA situation, the Declaratory Ruling stated that “little or no modern dialing equipment would fit the statutory definition of an autodialer.” But, the agency said: “[W]e do not at this time address the exact contours of the autodialer definition or seek to determine comprehensively each type of equipment that falls within that definition that would be administrable industry-wide.”

The ruling dealt with such basic issues as what equipment falls within the definition of an autodialer and is thus subject to provisions in the law. Sounds scarily similar to the ongoing debate about the definition of personal information and thus what is and is not subject to various privacy laws.

This is but one of many examples of how poorly privacy laws are aging as we move into the world of big data and the Internet of Things. When updating the laws proves to be too big a hill to climb, regulators have approached these issues in two ways. First they have looked for ways to use Congressional intent, rather than a strict reading of the law, to establish more reasonable regulations. Second, they have published guidance for the industry, like the FTC has through workshops and whitepapers, and encouraged the development of industry best practices and self-regulatory codes of conduct.

The later has proved to be much more workable for industry. We are seeing more and more examples of best practices and enforceable codes of conduct step into fill this growing gap. Of course, organizations like the Direct Marketing Association and the Digital Advertising Alliance have had broad enforceable ethical guidelines and codes of conduct for some time that have proven very effective with both their membership and the industry as a whole. More recently we have seen emerging guidance from industries like automotive for the smart car.

While what the industry is already doing is working very well, it is not nearly enough to cover the huge chasm that grows every day between sound guidance and what is technologically possible. Every organization should be encouraging, even pushing, their trade groups to be more aggressive in updating and creating new guidance for the industry. We have a window of opportunity right now that we should not let pass us by. While some may say there is no great urgency as long as Congress is distracted with other matters, it should be acknowledged that development of good codes of conduct take years to accomplish and the challenges that need to be tacked today get more and more difficult to satisfy.

Now is the time to be aggressively working on the rules for tomorrow because tomorrow will be here before we know it. And remember that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.


Posted in Market Research Best Practices, Market Research in the News, Market Research Techniques, Qualitative Research, Quantitative Research, Research Blogs and Communities, Research Communities, Research Software, State of the Research Industry | Comment

Last-minute back-to-school consumer insights

Editor’s note: Phil Ahad is vice president at Toluna QuickSurveys, Washington, D.C.

Education, Back to School, Shopping.Fifty percent of consumers typically start thinking of back-to-school shopping when they start seeing advertisements, which is perhaps why most brands begin talking yellow school buses, pencil sharpeners and fall fashion (Oh my!) before we’re allowed to wear white for the summer. Consumers are, however, slow to actually take action: 33 percent of them say they do their actual shopping between August and September.

Of those shoppers, 60 percent plan to spend between $100 and $699. For this large pool of money-spending procrastinators, below are insights marketers can use to reach them this year.

When purchasing a back-to-school items for their children, a quarter of parents (25 percent) allow their children full input in the decision making process of what to purchase, and another 52 percent say they allow moderate input from their little ones.

Ensure ads appeal to both generations. For the one who will be breaking out the credit card, focus on savings, safety features and practicality. For the one saying yay or nay, highlight the cutting-edge nature of the product – yes, children want cutting edge pens and notebooks. No need to share that much hasn’t actually changed since their parents were in school!

Finding a happy medium can be tough but if done successfully, sales will follow.

Forty-nine percent of consumers say they don’t typically start thinking about back-to-school shopping until they start to see those advertisements to remind them. Though most likely it’s more of an out of sight, out of mind situation. But once alerted, 53 percent of consumers say that they will do one-to-five hours of research to ensure they’re getting the bang for their buck. What they see influences what they research online: 78 percent of parents say the advertisements their children see on TV and social media influence their personal taste.

Draw on your early research and make your deals widely known among consumers – important mediums include TV, Web and social media. If you can reach consumers there, they’ll be more likely to pop in your store for their back-to-school shopping.

In-store trips still a must

According to a national poll, most back-to-school shopping will take place in the store. As much as consumers might like to avoid parking spot searches and food court tantrums, they will inevitably make their way to your brick and mortar. This is true of all major categories: clothing, supplies, food, etc.

A recent survey asked consumers if they plan to buy in-store or online. The breakdown is as follows: buy:

  • Clothing and accessories: 73 percent say in-store, 21 percent say online.
  • School supplies (paper, pens, binder, calculators, etc.): 81 percent say in-store, 15 percent say online.
  • Dorm room accessories: 31 percent say in-store, 14 percent say online.
  • Food: 82 percent say in-store, 8 percent say online.
  • Backpack: 56 percent say in-store, 22 percent say online.
  • Text books: 37 percent say in-store, 33 percent say online.


No one wants to wait in line for hours, especially this particular group of shoppers who have put this task off to the very last minute. Think experience. Every shopper should have easy access to a store representative to make them feel special and taken care of. If budgets are tight, focus on what takes place in-store, not flashy online banners or celebrity endorsers.

Methodology: This study surveyed 1,000 respondents over three days and was run with SmartSelect, which relies on statistical matching rather than probability sampling, and weights on age, gender, region, ethnicity, race and education.


Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

8 steps to improve your customer satisfaction program

Editor’s note: Terry Vavra and Doug Pruden are partners at research firm Customer Experience Partners. Vavra is based in Allendale, N.J. Pruden is based in Darien, Conn. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Improve the effectiveness of your customer satisfaction program.”

In the past we’ve pointed out many of the challenges we all face in trying to use customer feedback to set the most efficient and effective strategies for improving the customer experience. It seems only fair to revisit the topic, this time with eight constructive suggestions for improving how you measure the satisfaction of your customers.

1. Create an action plan: No customer ought to be contacted – nor any data collected – without a process in place to act on the insights to be gained from the process. This means creating a disciplined response process. Going under the title action planning, processes: pre-assign measured items to manager-owners (who have operational control over the measured performance issue and will be charged with making any improvements customers suggest); help stipulate realistic goals for improvement; and measure progress toward these goals on a periodic basis.

2. Conduct a census: When a satisfaction questionnaire is distributed to only a sample of customers, it fails to communicate the business’s desire to hear from all of its customers. While packaged goods manufacturers may be hard-pressed to conduct a census, for producers of durables, specialty items, and services, a total census is not only achievable, it’s highly desirable.

3. Measure continually: A satisfaction process that is conducted on an event basis (only sporadically) sends multiple messages – all detrimental. Employees may be trained to perform especially well during measurement periods, only to relax in off-times. Employees may also question how truly committed management is to customer satisfaction if it is only measured occasionally rather than continuously.

4. Drive the questionnaire with your database: Far too many satisfaction programs are conducted isolated from the customer database. This results in a demeaning, typical first question: “Which of our products do you use?” Not only does this question unnecessarily add to the length of your questionnaire, but it also conveys the strong image that your organization has absolutely no idea about individual customer’s history with your brand. Admitting such ignorance it undoes the relationship-building objective of the satisfaction initiative.

5. Disaggregate your results: Reporting average scores not only hide low scores, it also turns attention away from the percentage of truly delighted customers. And need we remind ourselves, there is no average … it’s an imaginary median. It’s far better to report scores of extreme outcomes (both delighted and disenfranchised). That way the goals of minimizing dissatisfaction and maximizing satisfaction are: clearly identified, easily prioritized and readily tracked.

6. Communicate your findings: The communication of satisfaction results is a broad field with many options. The ideal is to communicate results not only to employees but to customers as well. By involving customers in the reporting process a business validates its process. It demonstrates that the collected information is actually being analyzed and hopefully is to be acted upon.

7. Celebrate results: Results shouldn’t be rolled out in a punitive way. Even poor results can be announced in a way that coaches improvement. After all, the tonality of a satisfaction report will influence exactly how employees begin to feel about the total process.

8. Solve problems raised by individual customers: Don’t treat the process as simply a data-gathering exercise. Respond to those customers who identify real problems. Provide them a solution to the problem or concern they’ve voiced. This simple action closes the loop on an otherwise suspect outreach.

Indeed, if properly practiced, satisfaction surveys can better align a business to the highest priority needs and wants of its customers making the conduct of its business a win-win situation; with both the business and customers benefiting.


Posted in Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques, Marketing Best Practices, Shopper Insights | Comment

The public perception: branded vs. generic medications

Editor’s note: Patrick Lao is a senior research director in the Life Sciences division of Market Strategies International, Hartford, Conn. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Living in a generic world.”

“Generic medications are not as good as branded medications.”
“If it costs more, it must be better.”
“If I switch from a branded drug to its generic version, I risk treatment failure.”

With seven in 10 US adults taking at least one prescription medication, and where eight out of 10 prescriptions written are for generic drugs, it has been common to hear these comments from patients and even health care professionals. But according to new independent research from Market Strategies International, these prevalent myths appear to be dying out, and Americans now feel right at home in a world dominated by generics.

According to our study, the majority of U.S. adults now believe that generic medications are just as good as branded medications. Consider the statistics in the infographic below:

Majority of U.S. adults adults now believe that generic medications are just as good as branded medications.

This should not be too alarming to most pharma marketers out there though. In my experience conducting market research over the years, patients’ willingness to pay for a branded medication tends to vary not just by their ability to pay but also by the condition they suffer from, the severity of their symptoms and their physician’s opinion.

My personal experience provides an example of this. During the worst allergy season on record last spring, my symptoms became so severe that I found myself reaching straight for branded Claritin. I knew the store-brand generic had the same active ingredients and was likely equivalent to Claritin but, at that moment in time, I really wanted the medication to work and didn’t want to take chances. In hindsight, if my allergy symptoms weren’t that severe on that day, I would have probably chosen the less expensive, store-brand generic.

This anecdote may not be a perfect analogy for choosing a branded prescription medication over a generic substitute (i.e., a non-brand). In my example, I’m essentially choosing between two known brands, Claritin and Walgreens Allergy – Claritin just happens to have much stronger brand equity for me when it comes to allergy remedies.

Which brings us to another interesting finding: One in four Americans still believe that the company that originally made the branded medication could do a better job of manufacturing the generic version.


Generic version vs. branded perscription medication

I’d like to posit two potential reasons that may be driving this lingering perception:

  1. The ability of a product brand (or corporate brand) to connect with patients and build trust on a differentiated, emotional level may have lasting effects on brand loyalty.
  2. Patients are not familiar enough with generic drug manufacturers to compare them with brand-name companies, which lead them to assume that generic drug manufacturers may not be held to the same standards.


I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.

There have been recent reports in the media about generic versions of Concerta found to be lacking in efficacy, and about impurities found in generic Lipitor that inhibited the drug’s therapeutic effect. These headlines make it easy for the average consumer to jump to the conclusion that generic drug manufacturers must not be held to the same quality standards as branded-drug manufacturers.

This perception holds true not just among some patients but also among some physicians. Back in 2011, one peer-reviewed study found that half of physicians expressed concern over the quality of generic drugs. During a recent qualitative study, I asked physicians if they would hesitate to prescribe a new medication that is particularly vulnerable to damage if exposed to moisture. We heard a few of them say they would have no concerns about the quality of the product because it is manufactured by a reputable company.

The truth is there are no differences in mandated manufacturing and quality standards between generic drug manufacturing and branded drug manufacturing. The main problem is that the FDA can’t seem to keep up with policing generic drug manufacturers. In their defense though, the FDA has taken considerable efforts over the past few years to crack down on violations. For instance, this past July the FDA issued an alert prohibiting Emcure Pharmaceuticals from importing generic drugs manufactured in their plants in India. But what the average consumer may not know, as our survey findings suggest, is that Indian drug makers like Emcure are actually marketing partners to large multinational drug makers such as Pfizer, Inc., Roche, Novartis and Sanofi. Without knowing this, consumers in large part will continue to have the preconception that branded and generic drug manufacturers are separate entities and are held to different quality standards.

What does this mean for patients?

The fact that the majority of Americans have embraced the use of generic drugs is generally a good thing for patients regarding their health care costs. Lowering their out-of-pocket costs allows them to access their medication more easily and can, in part, help increase adherence leading to better outcomes. Payers and policymakers also get to lower overall health care costs when patients switch to a generic medication, which are typically 80 percent -85 percent less expensive than the original branded medication. This amounts to significant savings totaling billions of dollars each week, according to the FDA.

But given the recent reports of quality-control problems and manufacturing violations among generic drug manufacturers, patient advocacy groups and legislators need to push for more funding to allow for better regulatory oversight of generic drugs, more site inspections and more frequent testing of their quality and safety.

What does this mean for pharma marketers?

As patients become increasingly accepting of generics, this could signal a stiffer patent cliff once branded products lose exclusivity and create greater urgency for pharma marketers to plan accordingly. Many brands have countered this so called patent cliff by offering co-pay cards and coupons.

The increasing acceptance of drug substitution by patients also poses a challenge to pharma marketers whose branded product faces competition not from automatic generic substitution but rather from therapeutic substitution – that is to say, when a branded prescription medication is substituted with a generic therapy from a different therapeutic class altogether. This is exceptionally maddening to the physicians who have voiced in research that their knowledge and wisdom is superseded, sometimes at a risk to patients. One doctor talks about writing a prescription for an Angiotensin Receptor Blocker (ARB) because of specific non-hypertensive cardiovascular risk factors in a high-risk patient, and the patient instead receives an ACE-inhibitor at the pharmacy, thus undermining some of the secondary effects the physician had hoped for. That is one of many examples.

Our findings also show that of those who received a generic medication at the pharmacy when they were expecting a branded medication, two in five said they accepted the substitution without further discussion. As payers continue to impose tiered co-pays and step-edits to encourage the use of generic therapies, it is likely that therapeutic substitutions both in the physician’s office and at the pharmacy counter will become more prevalent.

  • Patients should feel empowered to ask questions so they understand their treatment options.
  • The pharma industry should enable dialogue between physician, patient and insurer about therapeutic substitution and the implications for that patient.


These discussions between patient and provider will become increasingly important as more biosimilars enter the market, and third-party payers decide whether biosimilar substitution should be allowed without a patient’s knowledge or consent.

Study findings are based on a nationwide sample of 1,000 consumers, and we have uncovered a few surprising differences in their perceptions of generic drugs based on age, income and race/ethnicity.


Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Health Care Research, Market Research Findings, New Product Research | Comment

Jet.com: The line between smart marketing and irritating

Editor’s note: Paula Rosenblum is co-founder and managing partner at RSR Research, Miami. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Adventures with Jet.com.”

It all started innocently enough. I was driving around with my spouse and I mentioned newly-launched shopping site Jet.com. Neither my spouse nor I had ever visited, and the name was met with a blank “What the heck is that?” stare.

As most of you probably know, Jet.com is meant to be the Amazon.com killer. Its valuation six months pre-launch was pegged at a somewhat astounding $600 million. The company has enjoyed what seemed to be a ton of press – much of it pretty negative. Robin Lewis in particular wrote a wildly critical piece on Forbes, in which he basically said the investors in Jet were toking on some pretty sweet weed. Not my style but the point was taken.

This led me to wonder: Jet is widely talked about among retail insiders … but how much does the general public really know?

I decided to take an informal poll among my eclectic mix of Facebook friends. For such a seemingly well-publicized venture, very few people had even heard of Jet.com, and those who had heard of it were mostly part of the consulting or investment community. Those insiders I just mentioned – but more investment or tech analysts than actual retailers.

What are the specifics? Of 199 respondents, a total of 34 people had heard of Jet. Only two of the 34 people had seen an ad for the site, others had read about it in various online publications. Approximately 20 of those people are part of the investment/consulting community. Respondents varied in age from their late 20s (Millennials) to their 60s (Boomers). In other words, it’s fair to say that among this respondent pool, across all age brackets and geographies very few consumers had heard of the service.

This prompted me to write a piece for Forbes about the poll and where I reported “You should be hearing about Jet.com in various marketing campaigns soon. The company has dedicated its first $100 million for an outdoor ad campaign in eleven cities. Based on responses to my Facebook poll, they might want to raise that number quickly.”

When the poll was over, I posted a link to Jet.com on my Facebook page and thanked everyone for participating. That’s when things got a little wonky.

I started getting private messages saying things like, “Look what I just got” with a link to a Jet.com banner ad. I personally had also visited the site, and even signed up for it. Ever since, I’ve been literally barraged with retargeting banner ads. Ironically, the most frequent place I’ve seen them is on Forbes, and also (incongruously) in the fitness app, myfitnesspal.com. No products offered, no description … just a big purple banner exhorting me to come “shop purple.”

irritated man on laptopIt hit a fever pitch when I received a PM from a former colleague and former director of marketing at Voltari, Jeff Buddle. It’s important to note that having worked for several digital marketing company, Jeff is not ignorant to the ways of advertisers. Excerpts follow:

“I went to Jet.com after you mentioned it and am now getting re-targeted ads every day. They’re straddling the line between smart marketing and irritating.

“I’d recommend (from my ad tech perspective) that they scale back impressions. And change their creative! It’s just a … banner ad. If you click through, it doesn’t explain anything … as far as I can tell you end up on their home page. And, “Shop Purple?” I’m colorblind. I can’t see purple.”

Boom! There are so many lessons to learn here. I’m pretty mortified that I subjected a couple hundred people to a barrage of retargeting, and fascinated that no one checked to find out if purple was a good color. Sure it’s a signature color but not if it looks gray. And Jeff had another good point. What exactly was the call to action in all those banner ads? Remember purple? We have stuff for you?

One thing I did learn is that Scott Friend, Founder of Profitlogic (now called Oracle Retail Markdown Optimization) is on the board of Jet. Scott’s an old friend and one of my first clients from my AMR days, and I’ve set up some time to speak with him. I have a couple of goals for the call. One is to understand how the pricing algorithms Jet uses to determine order pricing will help them to become profitable. Another has become a need to understand the rationale behind all the re-targeting.

I have another thing I should probably do – and that’s to apologize to the 200 people who took my poll and might have visited Jet. And to let them know that it all winds down after a few days. It has for me. I went to a travel Web site to jog my memory on the name of a town I visited when I went to the Amazon rain forest in 2012. So now, shop purple has been replaced by exhortations to visit the Amazon. As if. Once was enough of that!

Jeff’s message is really important. It’s important to modulate, moderate and have clear calls to action in our outreaches to consumers. The line between interesting and annoying is a fine one. Which side of the line is your company on?

Think about it this way: One reason Jet.com’s launch might have gone unnoticed is that the week before the site’s launch, Amazon.com held its first Prime Day event. A clear call to action, it dominated social media and the popular press. It’s a Harvard case study in free marketing. Creativity is really important. We can ALL learn from that.


Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Market Research Techniques, Marketing Best Practices, Shopper Insights, Social Media and Marketing Research | 1 Comment

Tips for avoiding social media analysis disaster

Editor’s note: Tiffany Tran is a market researcher at social media technology firm, Infegy, Kansas City, Mo.

social networksAs social media data continues to be a highly sought after source to derive insight from, more and more market researchers will be required to report, incorporate and deliver impressive accurate findings.

Those that are new or are unfamiliar with analyzing social media data will more than likely make at least one or both of these mistakes — misrepresenting data and forcing the data.

Misrepresenting data is simply stating something of significance when it really isn’t that significant, while forcing the data means jumping to an assumption without further investigation.

To help avoid these mistakes with social media analysis, here are four things that market researchers can put into practice.

Know the differences between sources and posts. The number of sources shows how many people are uniquely talking about the search topic while the number of posts is showing how often the search topic is coming up. An analyst may mix the two up or acknowledge only one number and not the other.

For example, when looking at eight million posts discussing the Olympics and saying eight million people were talking about the games one week prior is incorrect. However, if one were to say that there were eight million mentions online about the Olympics one week prior to the games instead, that would be deemed correct.

Set an “at least” percentage to hit. Setting an “at least” percentage says that in order for a variable (search query) to be deemed as significant, it must be at least 5 percent of the total sources/mentions. The percentage is developed based on the number of sources or mentions that are being focused on.

Determining a solid sample number with social media data can be difficult sometimes because it remains arbitrary to the analyst. Use your best judgment and ask honestly what a good sample size would be based on the number of sources/posts presented. If there is a sample of 100,000 sources, one may go with 5 percent (at least 500 sources) or 15 percent for a sample of 100 (at least 15 sources), since 5 percent may be too low in the second instance. Setting this tip in place when analyzing social media data will help bring more relevant insights.

Ask, “How did I get this answer?” Take the time to walk through your methodology. Talk through each query and break down why that particular query is built the way it is. You might be pleasantly surprised at how you arrived at your answer or maybe even realize something went wrong. Always record your methods, queries and filters that were applied so that you can always revisit them if you need to.

Understand and take into account channel bias. Recognize that certain social media platforms – and the Internet in general – have user bases that are skewed toward particular opinions. To avoid biased conclusions, make sure the collection of data is coming from a diverse set of channels. If heavily focused on one channel, take note and be aware and transparent about the possible biases. Twitter, for example, will have a different kind of audience than Pinterest.

By implementing these tips into the research process, both analysts and market researchers can prevent making simple mistakes that often happen in social media research. Mistakes can range anywhere from missing the mark at a new client pitch to losing thousands of dollars if clients are given incorrect data from the beginning.

Posted in Market Research Techniques, Social Media and Marketing Research | Comment

Your checklist for approaching sensitive research topics

Editor’s note: Sabrina Sandalo is the marketing manager at San Francisco-based strategic insights and innovation consultancy Antedote. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “9 tips when approaching sensitive research topics.”

Let’s talk about personal hygiene. Or sex. How about death and illness?

Researchers know too well that not all topics are easy to talk about, and there are certain topics of conversation that people will naturally shy away from because they are deemed too personal, stressful, sacred or deal with a fear of stigmatization.

In our work, we have dealt with a variety of highly personal, sensitive topics from personal care (hygiene, body image, etc.) to health and wellness (illness, psychological disorders, aging, etc.). We know that dealing with these topics takes patience and experience to truly get the most out of your conversations but still respect and protect the consumer.

Here are our top nine tips when approaching sensitive research topics.

1. Use online platforms so respondents can feel a little more anonymous in their sharing. Even if you are doing in-person work, starting out online can act as a perfect warm up, allowing respondents to share more while hiding behind their screen. Start with private online activities and then slowly transition to online group discussion to get respondents more comfortable sharing with others. We prime our consumers with exercises, from questionnaires or virtual collages, warming them up for the actual face-to-face time and ultimately allowing for deeper, richer and more focused conversation.

A relaxed living room setting to do the group talk2. Consider the environment. Traditional conference-style tables and chairs can feel rather cold and uncomfortable. Consider starting with a happy hour with appetizers and wine, then moving into a relaxed living room setting to do the group talk.

3. Set up the conversation. The beginning of the conversation is crucial. Spend ample time talking about the flow of the day before getting started and answering any questions. Help set their expectations to put their minds at ease by using phrases like “there are no wrong answers” and “we don’t know what we are looking for.”

4. First, talk about something else. Don’t just dive right into the sensitive topic. Asking, “How do you feel about the way your skin looks?” is obviously never a good starter. Instead begin by talking about how the behavior plays out in a different, less sensitive category first, then work your way to the intended sensitive topic.

For example, if the topic being studied is uneven skin tone, which can become a sensitive discussion due to its associations around aging, personal care and cleanliness, you can begin by first talking about the same behavior in a more comfortable scenario, such as stain/removal in household care. You can facilitate the conversation around removing stains from clothing, sheets or whitening teeth – then tactfully move into skin. Respondents are more likely to talk freely about a less personal topic first, so it’s a good way to start out.

5. Allow them to educate you. Don’t assume you know everything. Leave all assumptions and preconceived notions behind. Ask for them to teach you about what is going on. What do they hope for from products? What is it like to be them? What do they wish people knew? You be the student and let them be the teacher.

6. Have them share with one another. Set up forums or focus groups as a safe place for discussion. If everyone in the group is dealing with the same sensitivity, they may even enjoy exchanging tips, suggestions or empathizing with one another.

7. Use metaphors. Bring in visuals. It’s easier to talk about sensitive issues in the abstract. Allow them to point to visuals or draw pictures to describe how they feel.

8. The power of stories. People tell stories every day. Encourage them to share stories about the topic they are dealing with as opposed to just answering the question. Stories can get deeper and open up new conversations you wouldn’t even think to have had.

9. Be prepared to share yourself. Traditionally moderators are trained to keep themselves out of the conversation but to encourage sharing on sensitive topics, sharing something about yourself helps to build rapport and open the conversation. Just keep the self-sharing to a minimum so you’re not influencing them but rather showing that you can relate. Making them feel connected will generate a better conversation.

Posted in Consumer Research, Interviewing, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques | Comment

Are today’s college students more stressed out than those in the workforce?

Editor’s note: Miguel Conner is marketing director at Chicago-based research firm qSample. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Are college students more stressed out than ever?”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

This famous quote by Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities, has been applied to many periods and demographics of western society. It surely seems appropriate to our college days – that intense period of personality formation and testing that paves the way for so many futures.

Understanding college students (and Millennials) is vital. Our campus universe initiative is utilized for varied studies from both academics and businesses. After all, Millennials are expected to reach $200 billion in spending by 2017, with a total of more than $1.4 trillion in spending power. It will be the largest consumer generation in U.S. history. Beyond buyer muscle, today’s young adults will be our politicians, celebrities (beyond social media) and parents.

AStressful day for a college studentnd right now they appear to be stressed out in their college role.

Our recent study found that 65 percent of college students admit to being extremely stressed out during the semester/quarter. But what else is new, right? Or is it, perhaps, really new?

To find out more about the college lifestyle, here are some of the other takeaways from the study conducted in early July, with a sample of more than 300 respondents:

One tell-tale sign of college students coping with stress is the fuel intake that assists in managing limited time: caffeine. When asked about their daily consumption of caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, pills, etc.), this was the breakdown:

  • one-to-two cups/doses: 52 percent;
  • three-to-four cups/doses: 15 percent;
  • five-plus cups/doses: 3 percent; and
  • don’t consume caffeine: 30 percent.


Considering that the national coffee intake of the average adult is three-to-four cups a day, one could gather that college students are not exactly desperate for that extra energy to get an edge on daily tasks.

Outside of coffee drinking, leisurely eating is another factor in stress and time management. When it comes to eating out for lunch, only 31 percent of respondents said this happened on a daily basis. Thirty-nine percent said they ate off campus once or twice a week, with 22 percent eating off campus once or twice a month. Fifteen percent claimed they never visited restaurants while the semester was in full swing.

A theory exists that college students play video games to manage stress but that also doesn’t seem to be apparent. The study found that 56 percent of college students don’t play video games at all. Only five percent admitted to playing video games on a daily basis, with 38 percent playing a handful of times a month.

As for getting rest, college students seem to be enjoying enough of that in order to deal with higher education. Seventy-four percent stated they get five-to-seven hours of sleep a night, although only 15 percent are enjoying the classic eight hours of sleep. But the characteristic sleep-deprivation known in universities looks absent: only ten percent stated they get two-to-four hours a night.

The idea of being tied to chains to academia is also not present. Thirty-six percent of college students admitted to going to see friends or family at least once a day, while 20 percent enjoy social events once or twice a week and 28 percent are social once or twice a month. Only 16 percent find themselves only visiting friends or family during holidays or between semesters/quarters.

From this preliminary analysis of the study, it appears that college students are no more stressed out than older generations and today’s workforce. Perspective is everything, as they say. Being in the belly of the academic beast has always seemed like the worst of times. That is until sleep, friendship and good food changes that to the best of times.

Social media seems to be a best of times aspect, a way to decompress for anyone in society. The study broke down the preferred social media channels for college students.

  1. Facebook: 50 percent
  2. Instagram: 22 percent
  3. Snapchat: 12 percent
  4. Twitter: 6 percent
  5. Pinterest: 2 percent
  6. LinkedIn: 2 percent

One can easily assume that the LinkedIn percentage will rise once they’re done with college.

A last and interesting takeaway from the study is the preferred apps of college students during the semester/quarter: the smartphone camera app (25 percent). This could enforce the notion that college students are embedded in the me, me, me generation – that snide term branded to Millennials.

On the other hand, the second favorite app for college students was the weather app (24 percent). This may indicate they have the same preoccupation as those in the job pool as they negotiate the day. This is enforced by how map apps like Google Maps are in third (18 percent). They have places to go and weather to deal with.

Wherever they go, college students will definitely remember their “best/worst times” that is college, with both the belief and incredulity.

For those of us reminiscing about our college days, this is what we might be thinking right now: Where in the Dickens did all the time go?

Posted in Behavioral Research, Consumer Research, Market Research Findings, Millennials, Shopper Insights | Comment