Quirk's Blog

Hearables: technology for your ears

Editor’s note: BenArnold is executive director, industry analyst with The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y., research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Hearables take headphones well beyond music.”

headphonesIn the past, consumers had pretty simple requirements when buying headphones – the sound needed to be good but not great. We dealt with wires, clunky designs and foam covered ear cups as we listened to music at home or on the go. Today’s buying criteria are much different. Shoppers place a larger emphasis on sound quality, mobility and of course design. Headphones have become more specialized, aligned with different listening occasions like travel, gym and office use. In fact, many consumers own multiple pairs – 2.1 on average, according to NPD’s Headphone Ownership and Applicationstudy. Features like Bluetooth, in-line mics, volume controls and moisture resistant materials have come to the forefront, adding convenience as well as a new element to the user experience. All of these factors have contributed to continued growth in the headphone market, which, according to our group tracking service, grew 7 percent (units) in 12 months, ending in February.

But just as new features are making headphone use more convenient, a new crop of products are looking to add another dimension to personal listening. Enter the hearable. While not a great term in my opinion (it doesn’t really describe anything) hearables, similar to wearables, are technology for your ears. Music listening is a component of the experience but not the entirety of it. The idea revolves around adding features to personal listening devices like headphones that can change what’s being heard, provide audible data or feedback of some sort, or result in a biological response from the user.

Don’t we just want headphones that will reliably play “What does the fox say?” when we queue up the song on Spotify? Sure we do. But just as sensors, apps and constant Internet connectivity have transformed the way we use mobile phones, the same could occur in audio listening devices. One of the best examples is Doppler Labs’ Here wireless ear buds. Described as an active listening system, Here’s ear buds have microphones built-in allowing the wearer to alter the sound of their surroundings. A companion smartphone app offers settings that control what is heard through the ear buds, giving the user the ability to tune out a crying baby on a cross-country flight or turn up the low talker at dinner. Here doesn’t currently play music stored on a smartphone but it can alter how live music is heard, allowing for control of elements like bass, reverb and flange. To test Here I recently used a preset in the app to make the acoustics of live music in a concert hall sound like that of Carnegie Hall.

Here’s main use case is unique among the early field of hearable devices but other products are looking to use their positioning on and around the ears to add unique features as well. Sony’s Smart B Trainer headphones add a personal trainer to workouts providing real-time audible feedback and encouragement in addition to tracking runs and selecting a playlist based on the user’s active heart rate. The Bragi Dash, like Here, is a wireless ear bud that tracks and provides feedback on workouts in addition to playing music via a 4GB built-in hard drive built-in. And rumors continue to swirl around new wireless headphone products that will streamline access to popular personal assistant apps like Google Now and Siri, aiming to make it easier to execute Web queries and other commands on-the-go without pulling out a phone.

Aside from new offerings, companies have also begun studying the biological response to audio stimuli through technology. Last fall, Skullcandy announced the Human Potential Lab, an initiative aimed at understanding how audio input impacts the body’s physiology and psychology. An effort like this has obvious applications for athletes but could also benefit the everyday headphone user. For instance, NPD’s research shows a third of owners wear their headphones at the office and 41 percent listen to headphones while traveling. Could a better understanding of how the body responds to different types of audio make an office worker more productive or a skittish flier calm on a plane?

New features and technologies are changing the way consumers use headphones, providing growth to this mature product category. Buyers are still looking for great sound and sleek designs, but developments in the hearables space have helped demonstrate that headphones are capable of even more. New sensors, Bluetooth capabilities, Wi-Fi connectivity and companion smartphone apps are helping to create a more versatile future for the category – one that will become even more important as other personal technology products like drones and virtual reality demonstrate the need for unique audio experiences. The term hearables may not ultimately endure but it’s clear headphones are quickly becoming a launching pad for innovation.


Posted in Business and Product Development, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Innovation in Market Research | Comment

How Facebook reactions are changing social research

Editor’s note: Annette Smith is technology development manager at market research firm FlexMR, London. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Will Facebook reactions be a turning point for social research?”

likeSince Facebook’s like button was introduced in 2009, it has not only become one of the platform’s best known features, it has also become a standard feature across nearly every website and app out there. It has become the easiest way to casually acknowledge something friends have posted, subscribe to updates from pages and feeds from brands and to demonstrate personal taste on top of showing appreciation for the latest video of a cat doing a back flip off a bird table. Just click the little blue thumbs up and the job’s done.

Moreover, the ability for users to like has provided essential data fuel for Facebook’s algorithms used in the targeting of content (whether purely social or paid advertising) in its News Feed.

sadBut there are problems with likes. For example, in late 2015 my house was flooded and I posted pictures of the chaos destroyed by Storm Desmond. My brother clicked “like” on the pictures and I nearly revoked his Christmas present entitlement; in reality (and in the interests of familial relations) I have to concede that this was an act of acknowledgement and possibly support rather than an indication he was glad we’d temporarily installed an indoor paddling pool.

Put mildly, likes are a bit of a blunt implement. For as long as the feature has been around, there have been calls for a counterpart “dislike” button. However, Facebook has shied away from implementing such a feature, likely fearing that individuals could be trolled and brands disappointed by malicious (or even genuine) disliking of posts and pages. So what to do?


To this end, in 2015 Facebook announced not just one new way to show emotion to its repertoire but five. This meant that users – initially in trial areas of Ireland and Spain – could not only click like but also love, haha, wow, sad and anger (a sixth emoticon, yay was booted out as it did not translate well across tested markets). A set of shiny new buttons represents each of these reactions. For simplicity, users will still be presented with the traditional thumbs up button but on hovering over it (when using a mouse) or pressing and holding using a touch screen device the user will be presented with the full emotional spectrum (well, those which can be expressed in six icons).

Marketers across the world rejoiced that rather than working with a binary like/no like, they would be able to track reactions (for that is what Facebook has called them) in a much more nuanced (Mark Zuckerberg’s word) way.


However, there are still some issues around the implementation of reactions which may be of concern to marketers, market researchers and user experience professionals.

  1. That users are initially presented with the like button and have to take further action to display other reactions. This is a concern to the researcher analyzing data as users may have clicked like because they feel it is the most relevant of the six reactions or they may simply be unaware that the other reactions exist. Based on previous Facebook feature roll-outs, we can expect context-specific alerts and guidance for users on this feature which may alleviate these effects. But we still have to expect that just clicking ‘like’ might be the easiest option and consider weighting any analysis accordingly.
  2. How you subscribe to a page’s feed is less obvious than at present. This is already somewhat more complicated in Facebook than, for example, Twitter – in Facebook one can friend or follow users, like pages (to subscribe to them) and like posts and content posted by friends and others. This is a somewhat confusing mixture of affiliation, affirmation, acknowledgement and content management for the user. With the various options I’m saying something about who I am, what I like and what I see as well as interacting socially. How will someone use the new options to control what they see? I might click angry on a page or post I strongly disagree with but will this mean that I see more of this page or type of content? I probably won’t want to if I’m angry but then again, this could offer users a chance to receive updates from a page they find problematic in order to interact with them without having to like the page when they manifestly don’t.
  3. The spread of the six reactions is not scalar or evenly distributed. Like and love we can reasonably assume are positive. Haha is more problematic – we may use it to express amusement and delight at that video of that cat doing the backflip; on the other hand, it may be used to mock our newly launched product or in a highly ironic way at someone’s post. Wow is equally problematic: when we click wow are we impressed, surprised, delighted, shocked or confused? Do we categorize these reactions as positive or negative? Really, we can’t without context. Then there are two negative emotions: sad and angry. These allow the more empathetic reactions that many users have been campaigning for when requesting a dislike button. But when using the angry reaction, are users expressing anger at the post or content itself or sharing the outrage of the individual or brand posting? This means that anyone carrying out an analysis of brand engagement, content performance and reaction to new features will need to do some careful thinking about user intention when trying to categorize responses as positive or negative.

I have used anger to title this section of my post. But am I really angry? I think that is may be a little strong. Facebook’s reactions are likely to give more data for market researchers and social media marketers to work with but consideration needs to be given to the challenges outlined before we can totally love this.

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

Were brands too hasty in dropping Maria Sharapova?

Editor’s note: Kristopher Hull is digital director, Americas at TNS.

Tennis ballIs this the era of zero-tolerance in sports sponsorship? After the announcement that five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova was dropped by all major sponsors following a failed drug test, marketers are under more pressure than ever to scrutinize how their brands are represented by individuals and the potential impact of their own sponsorship deals.

There is no doubt that sponsorships and endorsements are still big business in the sporting world, as Sharapova reported to have earned a staggering $23 million from endorsements, dwarfing her $6.7 million earnings from tennis.

Yet we are also seeing a new era in sports sponsorship, with brands adopting a zero-tolerance attitude toward scandals. Perhaps understandably in this age of instant news, brands are responding to crises straightaway to avoid the risk of association with the sportsperson under fire. We are seeing bold statements issued within just hours of the news breaking about the brand’s disappointment and the need to cut ties. In the past, brands have taken a more considered attitude in waiting to see how the story would play out or have waited for the news to pass.

Nike was the first to cut ties with Sharapova, demonstrating the importance of striking a balance between an instant, knee-jerk. reaction and responding quickly with a clear point-of-view about sport and fair play. Tag Heuer was another major sponsor who, following the announcement, decided to not renew their sponsorship contract, along with Porsche who suspended their three year contract with the athlete. Evian claimed to still be investigating the situation.

In a world of 24 hour media, brands feel pressured to immediately distance themselves – often before they have all the facts.

These brands have been criticized for being too quick to drop Sharapova as they are less hasty with their male athletes. It can be argued that it’s a hasty decision from Nike as they have previously stood by Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick and even Oscar Pistorius during troubled times.

Nike was criticized for not taking the events with Woods more seriously, with the chairman and co-founder Phil Knight telling SportsBusiness Journal, “When his career is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip but the media is making a big deal out of it right now.”

Analysis from TNS around the Woods’ scandal in 2009 found that Accenture took the biggest hit in terms of its brand equity – the first major sponsor to cut ties with golf superstar – while Nike continued to back the sportsman.

According to TNS Media Intelligence data, Woods appeared in 83 percent of Accenture’s advertising, or about $41.5 million worth of the firm’s overall media outlay, and only 4 percent of Nike’s ad efforts, which TNS pegs at $75.2 million through the first 10 months of this year.

Consistency is the key for any brand’s positioning. Nike continues to sponsor American sprinter Justin Gatlin who has failed drug testing twice, leaving some question as to why Sharapova has been dropped so quickly. This might be explained by the increased pressure for brands to disassociate themselves from certain allegations, as well as the changing landscape, where social media can make controversies catch fire much faster, forcing brands to (over)react quickly to avoid getting caught up in the storm.

This forces us to ask the question: Had Woods’ controversy happened in today’s climate, would it have led to a similar outcome? What we do know is that Nike has only immediately suspended its relationship with Sharapova and not terminated it outright.

The popular growth of companies such as athletic footwear brand, New Balance and sports clothing company, Under Armour, has bridged the gap when it comes to brand competition in the sports market. This means that big brands such as Nike and Adidas are forced to be more careful when managing their relationships with personalities to ensure their reputation is upheld.

It’s standard practice for sponsors to put out an initial holding statement when any sort of crisis develops involving athletes, teams or competitions. However, with the added impetus on brands to react, the cut-throat industry of sports sponsorship continues. Marketers need to consider even more carefully the delicate balance of risk and reward when it comes to future sponsorships.




Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Shopper Insights | Comment

Sales of connected toys in Europe have slumped

Editor’s note: Frédérique Tutt is toys global industry analyst at The NPD Group, Lorient, France. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Where is Europe’s next Furby?”

toy binAfter the record-setting success of Furby, the robotic pet that communicated and ate with the help of an app, sales of connected toys in Europe have slumped, down 18 percent year-on-year in 2015.

Obviously, a phenomenal success like Furby, which topped European toy markets in 2013 and 2014, sets up difficult year-on-year comparisons. But Furby was also successful in the U.S. and Canada, and in those markets, connected toys were up 82 percent in 2015.

So why isn’t Europe buying connected toys?

Price is possibly part of the answer as connected toys tend to be more expensive. On the other hand, high-end toys (€100 or higher) are a growth segment, so price doesn’t entirely explain it.

Another reason may be that connected toys are not widely stocked at mainstream toy stores in Europe. This might be linked to retailers being cautious in reaction to concerns from some consumer groups about data privacy and from parents that are worried about too much screen time for their kids. However, since Internet sales of toys continue to soar in Europe, determined buyers are fully capable of finding what they want online. Perhaps there simply has not been an overarching popular concept post-Furby, and European consumers haven’t been wowed by a new connected toy.

But they will be – and most likely soon.

Whether we like it or not, toy trends often spread from the U.S. to Europe, and in the U.S., the connected toy segment is booming thanks in part to toys such as Meccanoids from Spin Master, Sphero’s BB8 and Anki Overdrive. And in looking at the aisles of the New York toy fair in February 2016, there are many more to come.

In other words, the important question isn’t if there will be other connected hits in Europe but rather what they will be, when they will erupt and – of course – which retailers will be smart enough to stock them first.


Posted in Consumer Research, Market Research Findings, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

3 insights for the international coffee shop market

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Friend is consumer food services strategy analyst at market research firm Euromonitor International, Santa Monica, Calif. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Coffee shops around the world: three key insights for 2016.”

Coffee shop blur background with bokeh image.2015 and early 2016 have been dynamic times for global specialist coffee shops, with consistently growing demand for modern café experiences driving rapid innovation and growing competition in the category all over the world. With the launch of Euromonitor’s 2016 edition of consumer food service data from 54 global markets, here are three key insights for operators looking to stay ahead of the international coffee shop market.

Coffee shops are the fastest growing restaurant category

In 2016, specialist coffee shops were the fastest growing major restaurant category in terms of global sales, increasing 9.1 percent from 2014-2015 according to Euromonitor International data. This bests the international restaurant industry as a whole, which grew at 5.7 percent, and was stronger even than global fast food, at 5.8 percent, despite historically being one of the primary drivers of chained restaurant growth worldwide.

Perhaps even more notable is the fact that this growth was consistent across all world regions, including those that are considered emerging market regions as well as those that are highly mature. Western Europe for example, despite seeing just 1.5 percent sales growth in the industry as a whole, and negative growth in some similar categories like traditional cafés, recorded 10.8 percent in specialist coffee shops driven by growing interest in chained café concepts and increasing acceptance of modern, international coffee-drinking culture as a whole.

Largest growth opportunities in Asia

While all regions will see strong growth in the category, Asia Pacific will be home to the largest sales increase in specialist coffee shops, totaling over $3.7 billion U.S. dollars in new value growth from 2016-2020. This is as compared to North America, at $3.3 billion (U.S.) in growth, as well as another $1.7 billion (U.S.) from Western Europe over the same period.

As much as $2.2 billion (U.S.) of this growth will come from China alone, where Starbucks is leading the charge for a rapidly growing, Western-style tradition of drinking premium takeaway coffee and socializing in coffee shops. Many smaller Asian markets will see impressive growth in the category as well. South Korea will contribute another $715 million (U.S.) in new specialist coffee shops growth from 2015-2020, driven in large part by local chains rather than international brands alone.

Competition is growing quickly, leading to rapid diversification

The move toward a highly diversified playing field is a global phenomenon. Though Starbucks and McCafe are some of the only chains to have achieved a truly broad presence in terms of geographic coverage, a number of international brands are now taking steps toward becoming viable multi-regional competitors. The U.K.-based Costa Coffee has made significant progress toward a presence in Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific and the Middle East, while Japanese chain Doutor Coffee has begun expanding across other Asian markets like South Korea and Taiwan. South Korean chain Caffe Bene has cast its net even wider, expanding into China and the U.S., capitalizing on its ties to Korean pop-culture entertainment and targeting markets where interest in Korean entertainment is growing.

Top 10 Global Specialist Coffee Shop Chains by 2015 Sales (in U.S. dollars mn)

Brand Operator 2015 Sales 2015 Outlets
Starbucks Starbucks Corp $21,095 22,557
Costa Coffee Whitbread Plc $1,809 3,036
McCafe McDonald’s Corp $1,462 5,044
Doutor Coffee Shop Doutor Nichires Holdings Co Ltd $718 1,108
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf International Coffee & Tea LLC $520 925
Caffe Nero Caffe Nero Group Ltd $442 683
Tully’s Tully’s Coffee Corp $440 605
Ediya Espresso Ediya Co Ltd $361 1,240
Caribou Coffee Caribou Coffee Co Inc $311 522
Gloria Jean’s Coffees Retail Food Group $303 666

Competitive dynamics in the coffee shop market are changing at the local level as well. In emerging markets, this has meant an increasingly large number of brands competing for share, many of which are going to creative new heights to differentiate themselves. In South Korea this has manifested in the form of a vast array of themed cafes, from mango desserts to cookie decorating or cats, whereas in Western Europe many coffee shops have been experimenting with adding alcohol offerings to bring in evening traffic. Likewise, more traditional bars/pubs have even been experimenting with adding coffee offerings and breakfast or lunch menus, resulting in a blurring of the definition lines between beverage-based concepts and even greater competition for coffee and tea occasions.

In developed markets competition has been increasing too, though in a slightly different form. In the U.S., competition has become a regional and even city-level game, with large numbers of independent, third-wave cafés and boutique chains like Blue Bottle Coffee and Intelligentsia popping up to compete with larger brands. Over the long-term, this kind of movement toward a highly diversified, highly fragmented and most of all highly competitive global coffee shop market is only expected to continue. Operators all over the world have all taken note of the rapidly growing demand in coffee shops, and everyone is looking to get in on the opportunity before it’s too late.


Posted in Consumer Research, Market Research Findings, New Product Research | Comment

11 mistakes to avoid when running an online MR community

Editor’s note: Stephen Cribbett is founder and CEO of research firm Dub, London. This is an edited version of a piece that originally appeared here under the title, “10 mistakes to avoid when running your first research community.”

Ghost town1. Creating a virtual ghost town

When your research community launches and the first person to arrive finds a community devoid of people, conversations and any life forms, they’ll be experiencing what’s referred to as a virtual ghost town. It doesn’t sound very inviting, does it? It can be intimidating and off-putting – after all, nobody wants to be the first person at a party.

That’s why you need to establish some energy by seeding content from the very beginning, and sometimes even before the community has launched to participants. You do this by seeding content prior to the launch and making it visible to participants during the early stages of the community.

2. Failing to welcome and brief participants

Eager to begin the research activities, researchers can sometimes forget the critical importance of establishing rapport and warming up participants. You need to welcome them when they arrive, learn a little bit about them as individuals by encouraging them to express themselves and tell them about what is expected.

Avoid diving into the research without helping participants feel comfortable in their new online environment, encouraging them to open up and express themselves, making certain that they understand that there is no right or wrong answer.
To facilitate this, consider using ice-breaking activities such as an open discussion containing the following question(s):

  • What do you always carry with you in your bag?
  • Who do you most admire in life and why?
  • What can’t you live without?
  • When did you last do something for the first time?


When new participants come into the research community and see the answers to these questions, it gives them a head start in getting to know the other respondents, to establish common bonds. Make sure the moderator or community manager also answers the ice-breaker question when introducing it, so that the members can get to know him or her as well!

3. Not sharing the purpose and objectives

Both the community and the individual tasks and discussions that you are launching need clear explanation. The more you can clarify the objective of asking a question or setting a task, the more likely you are to get a great response.

Trust leads to greater openness and expression from the members, which means you are more likely to uncover unexpected insights in your research. Transparency with regards to the community mission will be vital in order for you to accomplish this endeavor.

4. Not being flexible with time and structure

Structure is important but rigid adherence to pre-determined tasks can be your enemy. You want to leave enough in your agenda to allow members to touch on further topics, since this can lead to interesting ideas and themes bubbling up to the surface. Remember to build in time to explore these unanticipated topic areas.

5. Designing your research like a focus group discussion guide

Focus groups (synchronous) and research communities (asynchronous) are two very different creatures, with different ways of engaging people through different tasks.
Unlike focus groups, research communities allow members to share experiences, thoughts and feelings as they emerge, as well as reflect on them thereafter. Because these differences have to be taken into account, don’t make the mistake of taking a focus group discussion guide and applying it to your research community – it won’t deliver the results you want and will leave you uninspired.

6. Peaking too soon

The energy and excitement around the initial launch of a community can sometimes result in it peaking too early, with moderators losing focus or getting distracted with other work commitments as time passes.

Be on guard against this, even for relatively short communities. Working to establish solid relationships within the community early on can help keep things going strong and lead to productive discussions.

7. Not getting to know your chosen community platform

When it comes to selecting the best and most appropriate market research technology, spend time doing your due diligence and learning how it works. You don’t want to make the common mistake of assuming the technology can do something it can’t.

Once you’ve made your choice, make time to experiment or run trials. Give yourself time fully understand its capabilities and how far you can push the tasks.

8. Expecting too much of your members

Avoid cramming in too many tasks and discussions because, ultimately, it will over-load members who will quickly lose interest and slope off. Always try to take a step back and ask yourself, “Would I be prepared to do this myself?” or “Would I be able to achieve this in the allotted time?”

9. Thinking, “If I build it, they will come.”

Simply building a research community is not enough. Communities are organic, living things that require time, effort, intellect and resources in order to be successful and reveal the insights that you need.

Take the community through its life stages, investing in people and relationships along the way. When obstacles come – and they will – try to see them as opportunities and be confident that you can always find a way to work around them.

10. Not being prepared for the volume of data

Many first-timers end up underestimating the amount of data they will collect, and then don’t have a good plan in place for how to analyze and report on that data. So my top tip is to formulate hypotheses, and be prepared for rolling analysis techniques and tools.
On a typical basis you should seek to commence your analyses halfway through the community. If you have resources available, consider how to combine efforts and work together as a team.

11. No plan in place

You can’t launch your community on day one and then wait until day two to figure out what to do! Be sure to know how the next few weeks or months will play out. What will your role and input be? Only then can you manage client expectations. Community planning requires a careful balance. Although you should look to avoid over-planning and preparing, I do recommend having a loose framework to utilize your members time effectively.

The welcoming phase is crucial, demanding effort and energy, so having early activities set up and ready to roll will make your life so much easier, leaving you time to concentrate on planning and re-shaping further activities in the light of feedback that you gather.


Posted in Consumer Research, Data Processing, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques, Online Surveys and Research, Research Communities | 3 Comments

The role of emotional impact in lowering ad skip rates

Editor’s note: Tom Ewing is senior director, BrainJuicer Labs at London-based market research agency BrainJuicer. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Ad skipping and how to avoid it.”

New online behavior brings new challenges for advertisers. How to get seen, how to get shared and increasingly, how not to get skipped. Ad skipping has always been with us, of course. If you flipped the TV channel when an ad you hated came on or got up off the couch at the commercial break, you were skipping as surely as you are when you frantically hunt for that tiny “X” to click. But like a lot of behaviors in the digital age, skipping is now easier and quicker. What can be done about it?

It’s worth clarifying what I mean here. I’m not talking about ad blocking, where people never see the ads in the first place. Skipping ads is a different thing: it’s when someone starts watching an ad but doesn’t finish. At some point, usually very quickly, they stop it.

So if you want to tackle skipping a lot rests on the first few seconds. This poses a particular challenge if you believe – as we do, with plenty of evidence – that what makes advertising effective is its emotional impact. If you feel nothing, you do nothing – but someone who skips an ad is never going to get the chance to feel anything! How should an ad use its opening seconds to make an emotional promise that takes you through to the rest of it?

This is an area where advertising researchers are increasingly coming together and sharing their findings, since it affects every one of our clients. For instance, Google, who as owners of YouTube have a tremendous amount of data, recently published “The first 5 seconds,” which takes a sensible, pragmatic approach to the problem. And there are no hard and fast rules.

But some things still work better than others. What’s fascinating about the Google research is that several of the principles it identifies as discouraging skipping are also just plain good practice for creating emotional ads. Reducing the brand footprint in the first few seconds lowers skip rates, for instance, just as reducing heavy-handed branding and messaging throughout an ad leaves more room for emotion to work its magic. And smiling people make an ad harder to skip – they also are likely to make a positive first emotional impression.

So some of what prevents skipping should also build positive emotion. But other techniques familiar to emotional advertising don’t fare so well. For instance, a lot of great emotional ads take the viewer on an emotional journey – building up negative emotion before resolving it into happiness. That kind of complex storytelling is vital for generating flux, the emotional dynamism of an ad which is strongly associated with the chance of it being shared.

But if only the first few seconds count, that kind of complex storytelling may fall flat. It could be that in the future we will see two distinct approaches to advertising. One, aiming to be shared, changes emotional direction a lot to tell an intense, rollercoaster ride of a story. It risks being skipped, but those who do watch are a lot more likely to pass it on. The other approach, aiming simply not to be skipped, aims for fun and happiness from the beginning, and keeps more viewers but with a lower chance at virility.

We are currently running experiments to get a better handle on the emotions surrounding skipping. But we already can find in our databases ads which epitomize these two approaches. Let’s take two dog food ads from our FeelMore50 list – both five star, highly emotional commercials. Purina’s “Puppyhood,” the most emotional ad we tested last year, is a good example of the quick build in emotion approach – it very rapidly introduces its dog and human heroes and hopefully cuts off the desire to skip. You hear a bark in the fourth second of the ad, bang on time!

Pedigree’s “First days out,” on the other hand, takes a much slower-burn approach, building up its story of ex-cons redeemed through dogs and gradually turning negative emotion around. Its moody intro does nothing to avoid skipping but those who make it through are well rewarded with a highly emotional payoff. It scored highly on flux, and indeed was a viral sensation in Brazil.

Both approaches have their risks. The slow-burn option risks losing valuable viewers. The quick-fire happiness option can leave the rest of the ad on a downhill slope – and might also tempt advertisers to sucker viewers in with feeling and then hit them with rapid and tedious message-based claims.

The beauty of emotional advertising, though, is that it is extremely adaptable. As ad skipping becomes the norm, the best creatives will work out ways to get the best of both worlds – a big feel good hit at the beginning, and a nuanced slow-build story below the fold. Like many a change, skipping looks like it might be a disaster but can just as easily become a big opportunity.


Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research | Comment

Why marketers are still using SMS to connect with consumers

Editor’s note: Brian Heikes is vice president of product at 3Cinteractive, Boca Raton, Fla.

person texting on a busy streetThere are so many different ways people can use smartphones today, including apps, e-mail, music and social media. That being said, it might be surprising to hear that 97 percent of smartphone owners still use text messaging according to Pew Research’s most recent analysis of smartphone use. This remarkably high figure illustrates that basic communication remains a key driver of behavior even as the number and complexity of potential distractions continues to increase.

This is a driver as to why businesses look to leveraging text messaging to communicate with their users. SMS marketing is a universal way of communicating with customers and has proven to be a reliable and personalizable medium. What’s more, SMS is ubiquitous across all platforms and any type of mobile device, allowing businesses to reach their customers regardless of if they’ve purchased the latest device or if they are using a basic prepaid handset. Combine this with the fact that everyone carries their mobile device with them at all times (even to the point of sleeping with them) and you’ve got a recipe for success.

From a marketer’s perspective, more than 90 percent of people read a text message within three minutes of receiving according to VentureBeat, making this one of the most effective marketing tactics. Even the popularity and proliferation of e-mail marketing can’t even come close to those results.

Is SMS still relevant for retailers?

At a time when many retailers remain unsure about how to leverage the smartphone for other aspects of their business, text messaging continues to evolve with new uses and opportunities being deployed in-store and beyond.

Walmart now leverages SMS as a personal in-store concierge, allowing customers to text a certain code in order to receive real-time information on the product’s location and any deals currently offered. The brand also uses SMS for e-receipts, enabling customers to receive purchase receipts directly to their mobile device. Customers who pair their device with an account online may also gain access to their complete order history.

Some of the largest pharmacy chains in the world leverage text messaging to drive user actions with significant positive results for their business. Customers are reminded when it’s time to renew their prescriptions, notified when their prescriptions are ready and prompted to return to the store if they forget to pick up their medicine. This program has helped pharmacy chains decrease their customer wait times with fewer calls to the pharmacy, while increasing positive customer feedback. It has also resulted in the decline of abandoned prescriptions, generating millions of dollars in incremental revenue.

The expanding power of text

Aside from business use, Americans can expect to leverage text messages to stay abreast of the 2016 Presidential election. While there are plenty of mobile apps that will provide round-the-clock news updates but many consumers are starting to turn to SMS for real-time information.

During the recent Super Tuesday primaries, many consumers leveraged SMS and opted into services such as Purple, an SMS-based service that follows the election and provides updates to people who have opted in. Users say it’s an unobtrusive way to get real-time updates on the status of their favorite candidate.

Purple is an example of a growing trend of chat bots that extend the communication power of text to expose additional services and data. While the concept has been around for a while (I can recall creating several on AIM almost 10 years ago), it is really gaining steam this year.

A role in public safety

Another less commercial reason for the use of text messaging comes in the form of safety. As a recent example of the reliability and speed of SMS, the Government of Victoria in Australia has plans to transfer its emergency parent communication system to an SMS message-based format. This will replace other forms of communication, which included letters sent home with children or individual phone calls in the event of urgent emergencies.

This follows moves by colleges and school systems in the U.S. who already rely on text to communicate safety and weather related events.

With all the talk of new ways to use a smartphone, you’d think text messaging would slowly sunset into the background. However, just the opposite is taking place, with businesses, organizations and consumers finding new ways to leverage text messaging. Even younger audiences who are extremely peculiar in their selection of the ways in which they use their mobile devices continue to leverage text as a way to communicate regularly. As such, it’s important for brands and organizations to conduct research to better understand how to leverage text messages in any of its forms (such as SMS, MMS, OTT or the emerging RCS standard).


Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research, Market Research Findings, Promotion Research, Shopper Insights | 1 Comment

New ad campaign? Speculation is no substitute for solid consumer research

Editor’s note: Jeri Smith is president and CEO of Communicus Inc., a Tucson, Ariz., research firm.

ad campaignsFor advertisers who spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns, the first few months of a new campaign are full of hope, stress and uncertainty about how it’s actually going to work in-market. Ad agencies encourage clients to push the envelope, and most advertisers understand that big wins come from taking big risks with the creative. But big disasters are also sometimes the result of big risks – explaining the high level of anxiety.

From the very first day, apprehensive advertisers scour the data for clues as to how the new campaign is being received. Is there buzz about it on social media? Is the chatter positive or negative? Is it being shared? And, heaven forbid, is the advertiser getting pushback from offended individuals or groups? What about the trade? Do they like the campaign? Is there a sense that sales are picking up?

Of course, none of this can substitute for solid, quantitative consumer research. But how soon can research provide solid insights on in-market campaign performance? It’s relatively easy to launch a survey that will indicate whether consumers are engaging with the advertising, and if they are getting the message. This research can provide reassurance if the numbers are good but many researchers struggle at this early stage to answer the, “How high is up?” question.

A tough question to address is whether the campaign has the potential to build the brand. For most advertisers, marketing mix and other sales-based analyses require many months of data, and thus cannot provide the immediate feedback that advertisers crave. As such, these analyses aren’t generally part of an early feedback toolbox.

In-market brand tracking is rarely a leading indicator because of campaign wear-in. In the early days, as campaign awareness is just starting to take hold, most of those in the target market have yet to see the campaign. Therefore, overall brand-tracking numbers will not reflect changes that are just beginning to occur among the small subgroup who become aware of the ads. This is why experienced researchers are uncomfortable promising that their clients or internal advertising constituents will know within the first couple of months from the brand tracking as to the overall potential of the new campaign to build the brand.

Some advertisers have found early in-market research that focuses on those who have been exposed to, or actually engaged with, the ads in the early days can provide insights. One approach is to identify and interview a sample of consumers who have known exposure opportunities, and to also interview a control sample of similar individuals who have not had such exposures and compare brand KPI’s across the two groups. This can provide useful insights but usually only looks at one ad at a time. As such, the potential of measuring the campaign’s ability to build the brand across multiple ads, in a cross-channel fashion, is typically not possible. For campaigns that are designed to build the brand for the long term, ad-by-ad methodologies may not do the new campaign justice.

Another approach is to survey a sample of consumers and determine, via direct questioning, which ads within the campaign they have seen. At first glance, it seems like a comparison of brand KPI’s among those who’ve seen more or fewer of the ads, or none at all, could provide good ad and campaign level insights. However, there’s a catch here, too. Namely, the selective perception phenomenon – that dynamic by which those who already prefer, or are otherwise connected or predisposed to your brand are more likely to engage with your ads than are those who don’t already have these connections. Of course those who engaged with the Cadillac ads have higher purchase consideration for Cadillac than those who did not engage with the ads. They were thinking about buying one, so they perked up when Cadillac ads came on their screen. It’s the chicken and egg problem, and researchers who fail to take this into account will vastly overstate the early impact of the campaigns that they study in this fashion.

What’s the solution? It’s two-fold. First, advertisers need to be able to identify the small group of consumers who their advertising has reached in its early days. To provide early insights, we cannot afford to wait until this group has become large enough to affect the overall target population. Then, we must determine ways to track the changes that have occurred among this small group and monitor how brand KPI’s build as more ads are seen. With this data set, we can then answer questions about how well the campaign will perform as it takes hold in-market, and what media and ad mix will provide the best boosts for the brand.

The challenges are not insurmountable. But as campaigns move more toward cross-channel, and as advertisers strive to be as different as possible, the demand for solid, early in-market campaign feedback will grow. Researchers who step up to the plate will earn the sincere gratitude of anxious advertisers and their even more anxious ad agency partners.

This article was inspired by a topic that was thematic at the ARF Re!Think 2016 conference.


Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research, Survey Development | 1 Comment

Using research and bold new ideas to increase market share

Editor’s note: Lara Kudryk Traska is a consultant at research firm SpencerHall, Baltimore. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Ahead of the curve or way off track?”

With trends coming at you faster than ever before, how do you get ahead of what consumers will want in the next few years? If you work for a large company with multiple initiative gates to pass and several levels of management that need to sign-off on any new product, it can seem especially tough to prove a concept that is just on the cusp of consumers’ consciousness.

Take a 70 to 80 percent failure rate for new products within their first year of launch – coupled with the pressure for immediate ROI – and it’s easy to understand why there’s a hesitation to take a risk on a truly new product. Meanwhile, small start-ups pop up overnight with bold new ideas grabbing market share and generating buzz. How do you know when you’ve got an idea that’s ahead of the curve and worth pursuing vs. one that’s a passing fad or a footnote in the initiative graveyard?

Traditional market research may not look far enough into the future. Five years ago consumers couldn’t tell you that today they’d be taking rides in strangers’ cars (Uber), paying companies to send them samples (Birchbox) or putting kefir and coconut oil in their grocery carts. And if you showed these concepts to a group of women in a focus group, they’d likely have had a less than encouraging response. So what are we to do?

What’s happening outside of your category?

GMO free label vectorTake a good look outside your product category. What societal trends are shaping consumers’ expectations and priorities? What behaviors are changing? Your idea may be something they’ve never seen before but if it fits with these larger consumer trends, you’re heading in the right direction.

Look outside your country. Just as Korean skin care trends and Europe’s focus on non-GMO foods have been influencing what’s happening here in the U.S., you may find that you are onto a global trend that hasn’t hit yet.

What are those on the leading edge doing and saying?

Find those small pockets of passionate, leading-edge consumers who are either already using something similar or are prime targets for your idea.

If they’re using something similar, what are they saying? What do they love about it? If it’s a totally new product, give them a prototype to try and watch what happens. How do they use it? What do they love and not love about it? What does it supplement or replace?

Engage with them in their environment, whether that’s in-person in their kitchen, at the store or in a small group with their friends, or virtually through online discussions, videos and journals. Learn what matters to them and the language that they use to describe their experience.

Get the language right

Eventually, every idea needs to be able to be communicated in a concept or on a package. The insight needs to connect, the benefit needs to be relevant and meaningful. The reason-to-believe needs to be believable.

Having immersed yourself in the world of your most passionate consumer makes this so much easier to get right. Allow the time to fine-tune the message and the language so the idea also carries through to those outside this core group.

From novelty to nutritional powerhouse

Several years ago, we worked with a large food manufacturer looking to develop healthy fruit-based snacks to fill its five-year initiative plan.

One scientist was intrigued about the nutritional benefits of chia seeds. Today, chia can be found in cereals, beverages, every kind of snack imaginable. But back then? Chia was nothing more a novelty “pet” that needed constant watering. But chia fit with the burgeoning superfoods trend, health food junkies were mixing it in their smoothies and everyone was looking for new sources of omega-3s.

It was exactly the type of ingredient that was on the cusp of breaking into mainstream consciousness. All it needed was a simple explanation of what it was, a compelling articulation of what benefits it offered and an insight that captured why it all mattered.

So if fermented skin cream, amino-acid beverages or insects as a sustainable source of protein seem like they might make for a great new product concept for your brand, don’t be afraid to explore it. Just know that your research plan will have to be as forward-looking as your ideas.


Posted in Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Psychology, Focus Groups, Innovation in Market Research, International Research, Marketing Best Practices, New Product Research | Comment