Quirk's Blog

What Whole Foods risks by relying on demographics to define new chain’s consumer base

Editor’s note: Jake Sedlock is vice president of client development at research firm CivicScience, Seattle. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Pack up the old timers – we’re off to the new whole paycheck!”

My wife calls me cheap. I prefer “thrifty” or “careful.” I can’t be the only father in America who grimaces every time I see a Whole Foods bag on the kitchen counter. Perhaps the Whole Foods executive committee finally heard my silent screams of agony when they decided to green-light the lower-cost Whole Foods concept. But, the Whole Foods execs did announce that the stores would be hip, cool and high-tech. I just hope during the design phase they are thinking about me too.

Hark! The unmistakable marketer’s siren call to Millennials.

Whole Foods is in a pickle because the hip-but-costly chain can’t simply say it wants the new stores to appeal to “people likely to buy groceries in stores” because it doesn’t play to Wall Street or reinforce its brand positioning. While both are very relevant concerns, designing for the marketing industry’s darling, the Millennial segment, could be exclusionary – which is ironic because it appears Whole Foods has realized it needs to be more inclusive.

To be successful, the aisles of New junior Whole Foods lite Millennial edition (NJWFLME) can’t be solely populated by app-obsessed “youngsters” attracted to accoutrement such as reclaimed wood floors, the hushed buzz of carefully aimed LED track lighting and sleek, satin-black shopping carts.

NJWFLME must attract people like me – the Gen X/Boomer straddle generation (did I just coin a new segment?) – and give me reasons to pull my car (a car that I own outright and is not part of a smartphone app car sharing consortium)  onto new, freshly paved parking lots.

Creating an entirely new brand and shopping experience may seem drastic but desperate times must be requiring desperate measures in the hallways of the Austin, Texas Whole Foods headquarters. Desperate times are clearly illustrated by data we have on Whole Foods that indicate a brand losing differentiation and strength. What’s surprising is how long it took to get to this point: the company must have seen it coming for years.

I know this because we have been tracking consumer attitudes toward Whole Foods since 2012. Take a look at the trend line for both Adults 35 – 64 (top chart) and Millennials (defined here as 18 – 34, bottom chart) over the past three-plus years:

The trend line for adults 35 – 64 (top chart) and Millennials (defined here as 18 – 34, bottom chart) over the past three-plus years

I don’t have the specific insights Whole Foods used to commit to its new significant strategic shift but the two charts above are clear harbingers of the loss of Whole Foods brand power, which is accompanied by loss of pricing power and in the end, foot traffic. Clearly, both groups, Millennials and adults 35 – 64 (straddle generation!), are increasingly neutral about the brand and not nearly as favorable to the brand as they were when we started tracking them in 2012.

Clearly the company has a problem with both segments – so why launch the hip, cool and high-tech NJWFLMEDid Whole Foods look closely at who is cooking and therefore probably buying groceries?

Think about the segment I alluded to above – people likely to buy groceries in stores – when you review the next two charts. CivicScience asked the U.S. consumer how they usually prepare (or don’t prepare) dinner every night:

Adults 35-64 are much more likely to be cooking than Millennials, so without a doubt, that group is going to be buying more groceries:

Adults 35-64 are much more likely to be cooking than Millennials

Now, another interesting tidbit that could tantalize an upstart grocer is how many people each of these segments typically cooks for. We questioned the U.S. consumer about the number of people each tends to cook for when they cook dinner:

Number of people each of these segments typically cooks for

The data indicates Adults 34-65 would need heavy-duty bearings on their shopping carts for their extra grocery load, given they are more likely to cook for more than one.

So, should NJWFLME invest in micro-location-based shopping apps, screw some flat panel displays onto those sheik shopping carts and ensure the aisles are stocked with products tuned by the trendiest Millennial taste-makers? The company should be attuned to what is hip, cool and high tech across a broad demographic rather than the demographic group it is likely paying close attention to.

And anyway, it won’t be long before those Millennials are reaching for their bifocals and wondering why all these grocery stores are so darn dark inside …


Posted in Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Market Research Findings, Marketing Best Practices, Millennials, Shopper Insights | Comment

Why anticipatory design could change MR

Editor’s note: Leslie Townsend is CEO and Co-founder at research firm Kinesis Survey Technologies, Austin, Texas. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Choice is overrated: How anticipatory design will change the market research industry.”

Business person walking around confusion and chaos on a straight easy pathStand back … it’s not about responsive design any more. According to an article published by Fast Company, the next big thing in the marriage of design and technology is to reduce the number of choices people have to make by introducing anticipatory design.

Technology has undeniably revolutionized the way we live and do business. However, in almost every industry great digital design has put users in control and has effectively increased the number of decisions we have to make, resulting in decision fatigue causing shorter attention spans.

Anticipatory design has the potential to provide products, services and experiences that eliminate needless choices from our lives by making them on our behalf, freeing us up to focus on the ones we really care about.

How will this anticipatory design translate to the market research industry?

To start, anticipatory design could affect how we design surveys. Anticipatory designed surveys would be increasingly shorter as many panelists’ answers would be predetermined. A well-designed survey already needs to be tailored to each panelist based on his or her previous responses and personal preferences through conditional logic. With anticipatory design personalization may extend well beyond this reach: the ability to pre-populate data where known; show most frequently selected choices first; and reach to external data sources such as social media, web analytics and even geolocation data to offer answer choices are all moving into the realm of possibility for the data collection platform of the future.

In order to achieve the level of convenience promised by anticipatory design, data must be collected, analyzed and then repackaged in the form of predetermined selections which could cause serious concerns around panelist and data biases – not to mention the privacy and security nightmare it could create!

Panel management and community
While panel management is already increasingly automated, there may be ways to use anticipatory design within this function. Again, much of the advances may come at the risk of response bias. In terms of panel management, anticipatory design might best come into play under more algorithmic means such as scheduling invitations to fit specific individuals patterns and determining if panelists are likely to download apps or engage in longitudinal research based upon prior responses and patterns.

We certainly don’t have the answers yet but two things are clear:

  1. In the future, the best interface will be no interface at all and the best decisions will be made without having to make them (but according to your personal preferences and goals).
  2. As design and technology advances continue to merge into increased automation, we in the market research industry will need to start having some serious conversations about advancing our own products and services while upholding the integrity of our data.


Posted in Behavioral Research, Consumer Research, Innovation in Market Research, Market Research in the News, Market Research Techniques, Panels, Survey Development | 1 Comment

Capturing emotional responses? Innovative tech vs. self-reporting

Editor’s note: Amy Maret is Senior Associate Researcher  at Chadwick Martin Bailey, a Boston research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Could wearables mean the end of jet lag?”

What if you could hop off a seven hour flight from New York to London feeling refreshed and entirely free of jet lag? That’s the question British Airways has been trying to answer for years. From enhanced entertainment and meal offerings to carefully-designed lighting and noise reduction measures, many of the recent updates to British Airways’ fleet have been centered on creating the perfect customer experience in a notoriously tricky industry.

British Airways The innovation (tested last summer) is the Happiness Blanket. The blanket is embedded with LEDs and connected via Bluetooth to a headband containing sensors that read electrical fluctuations in the wearer’s neurons. According to the promotional video released by the airline, if brain activity indicates that the wearer is calm and relaxed, the surface of the blanket turns blue. If the wearer is stressed or anxious, the blanket turns red. While not a standard feature on flights, the airline used the blankets to gather data to improve inflight services.

As a researcher, this opportunity for seemingly effortless, real-time data collection piqued my interest. I see a lot of potential in the ability to capture passengers’ emotional responses to various aspects of the flight experience as they actually experience it. If they had access to accurate emotional response information, flight attendants could find ways to tailor services to accommodate the needs of passengers on an individual level, and data collected across countless flights could provide useful information about what the airline is doing right overall and where they need to improve. With a bit of additional demographic and psychographic information on each passenger, the airline could create marketing campaigns and promotions around the specific experiences and emotional reactions of different subgroups.

We know just how much emotions matter. We repeatedly find that the emotional impression left on a customer after an interaction with a brand is a major driver of customer satisfaction, likelihood to recommend and even future purchase intent across all types of industries. British Airways – by focusing on helping passengers step off its planes feeling satisfied – is creating a subconscious connection between its passengers’ positive emotions and its brand. You can bet that the next time I need to book a flight, I would first look to the airline that got me to Europe feeling refreshed and relaxed, rather than the one that left me dehydrated and drowsy.

However, the Happiness Blanket certainly has its drawbacks as a research tool. Based on the information provided about the blanket so far, it seems that there is no way to tell – on a more detailed level – what emotions the passengers are experiencing, which would have serious consequences. The blanket supposedly turns red when the wearer is anxious or stressed and blue when he/she is calm or relaxed, but there are so many more emotions on the spectrum that are not acknowledged by this system. For example, if two people’s blankets show red, one may be because a passenger is feeling unsafe and afraid on the flight, while the other passenger is enjoying the adrenaline rush of watching an action movie. If you were to ask those two passengers how they felt after their flights, and whether they would choose to fly with the airline again, you would get two drastically different answers. If British Airways intends to use this data to make real, impactful changes to its service, they will need to find a way to capture nuances like this or they could misinterpret the data entirely and make poor business decisions as a result.

This example provides a basic illustration of why we find that self-reporting is the most accurate way to collect data on something as subjective as emotion. While biometric solutions can sometimes provide a basic emotional read, self-reporting provides a more dependable, and much less expensive, way to get at the discrete emotion being experienced. The only way for the flight attendant to tell the difference between two red blankets would be to ask the passengers how they are feeling. Only then could they properly tailor the service to each person’s experience.

When I told my colleagues about the Happiness Blanket, they kept asking the same questions: How long can the novelty of the blanket sustain its use? Couldn’t it be a bit awkward to have your emotions broadcast to the entire cabin, especially in a situation as sensitive for many people as flying? Maybe it would make more sense to get rid of the blanket aspect entirely and just send the data directly to a computer. That way, the flight attendants could still monitor the data for in-flight use, and it could still be captured for future analysis, but passengers wouldn’t be disturbed by the constant color changes on their (or fellow passengers’) blankets. However, getting passengers to agree to have their brainwaves monitored by an airline could prove a challenge, and with the inaccuracies of this method of data collection, it may not even be worth the investment. Although the idea of being able to read passengers’ emotions directly appeals to me as a researcher, self-reporting is still the only way to capture reliable data on the subjective emotions of customers.

So, is the Happiness Blanket just a clever publicity stunt designed to promote recent enhancements to British Airways’ First and Business Class cabins, or is it a sign of true dedication to research and customer feedback? So far, it seems like the company has primarily been using the Happiness Blanket to attract attention, get consumers engaged with the brand and show why the company thinks its flights are better than its competitors’ flights. If British Airways is truly trying to capture useable information on their passengers’ reactions to its service through the Happiness Blanket, they’ll also need to ask them.

Posted in Behavioral Research, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Data Processing | Comment

Target’s lesson on balancing brand image and consumer relationships

Editor’s note: Rushan Theuni is account manager for research firm Ipsos, Chicago. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “#LillyforTarget: A lesson in balancing brand image and brand relationships.”

There I was in my local Target on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying a browse – sans husband and baby – when I overheard the following:

Customer: “Do you have any of the Lilly Pulitzer stuff left?”

Store clerk: “It sold out in like 10 minutes.”

TargetI’m not very familiar with Lilly Pulitzer. In fact, my introduction to the brand was via Target’s beautiful, colorful, fun, happy ad campaign that made me want to pirouette around the room. Despite my lack of familiarity, the ads completely worked on me and made me want to own some of the fabulous floral merchandise. Consider this: if they worked on me, imagine the effect it had on those who adore Lilly Pulitzer. I’ve since done my homework and learned that Lilly Pulitzer is rather sought after but due to its price point it is out of reach for some. On the other hand, we have Target.

In recent years, Target’s brand image has taken a bit of a beating and Target has lost both share and equity. Many industry analysts have spoken about needing to restore the “Tarjay cache” and how a collaboration of this magnitude could do just that. Through this collaboration, trusty, reliable Target was promising to bring Lilly Pulitzer within reach of many, and while this may have been a brand collaboration for Target, for consumers this was like winning a small lottery with Target dishing out the winning tickets. It is safe to say that Target had a great deal more invested in this collaboration and stood to lose much more than Lilly Pulitzer.

On April 19 some queued outside stores before they opened, while others woke up early to shop online from the comfort of their homes. Alas, not everyone’s story had a happy ending as the collection sold out within minutes. If you weren’t one of the lucky ones, you missed out. The demand from online shoppers was so great that it proceeded to “break the Internet” – or at least Target.com – which had to be taken down within 10 minutes of the collection becoming available. Both in stores and online, excitement soon turned to frustration and disappointment as many consumers were unable to purchase any of the floral wonders. As has become customary in the age of social media, consumers took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustration and disappointment, directing this largely at Target.

Now, some have suggested that this was all part of Target’s grand plan to create buzz, make the brand relevant again and restore its tarnished brand image. After all, when Target collaborated with Missoni, a similar outcome occurred. However, this begs the question: was it a success? Well, it depends on who you’re asking. From a financial perspective, all of the merchandise sold out within minutes so I think it’s fair to say that it was a financial success. From a consumer perspective, the few who were able to fill up their carts and get a solid ROI by selling their investments on eBay would probably agree that it was a success. However, judging by the social media backlash, it seems that far more felt short-changed. Target later admitted that the collaboration was meant to last a few weeks and the fact that it didn’t means that many were let down. Events that led up to their tarnished image such as the outcome of the above-mentioned Missoni collaboration and the more recent data breach, left many consumers feeling disappointed and vulnerable. While the intention of the Lilly Pulitzer collaboration many have been to restore the positive Target brand associations, the fallout may have had the opposite effect, reinforcing the negative instead.

@Target we’re breaking up

It’s important to remember that brands don’t just talk to consumers: this is a reciprocal relationship and consists of two parties. Like all relationships, consumers’ relationships with brands have their ups and downs, and typically when we are disappointed and let down by the other party, we get angry, argue, make up or walk away. Unlike human relationships, our brand relationships are somewhat one-sided with the brands doing most of the hard work, always striving to be meaningful, relevant, top-of-mind, valuable, etc. Consumers, on the other hand reward brands with loyalty, love, recommendations and money. Judging by the outcome of #LillyforTarget, Target and its consumers are in the throes of a rough patch in their relationship. The Lilly Pulitzer collaboration had all the makings of a huge success, with an almost too successful campaign that created immense buzz and was poised to restore some of the “Tarjay cache” image but fell short in the execution and ultimately damaged both brand image and the brand’s relationship with its consumers.

There are some short-term solutions that would go a long way to smooth things over with these disgruntled consumers, and would be a first step towards rebuilding the relationship and trying to reinforce some of the positive associations. Target really should consider bringing Lilly Pulitzer back for a short time. Judging by the first round, it will likely sell out quickly but consumers will know that they were heard and that Target is trying to do something to remedy their concerns.

Brand building isn’t something that you do once and then forget about. If you do it successfully the first time, you’ll have a committed base of consumers who love your brand and play a big role in its success. These consumers, knowingly or unknowingly, invest part of themselves into that brand and their relationship with it. Disappointing them has great consequences but they will often forgive your mistakes. If there is a lesson for Target to learn, it is not to ignore the impact of brand image on brand relationships. While the Lilly Pulitzer collaboration may have helped to restore a tarnished brand image, what ensued certainly damaged the relationships that many consumers have with Target. True success is synchronizing the two, and ultimately building a stronger image and stronger relationships.

Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

New to MR? Advice for conducting and using research

Editor’s note: Michaela Mora is president of Relevant Insights LLC, a Euless, Texas, research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “10 key pieces of advice on how to do and use market research.”

 1.	Know the difference between business problems and research problems, and frame them wellThe 2015 MSMR Alumni Research Conference that took place in April at the University of Texas in Arlington, opened with a presentation by Susan Schwartz McDonald, president and CEO of NAXION. During the presentation, Schwartz tried to summarize her experience doing market research in 10 key learnings. I found myself nodding at each point because she described what many professional market researchers (myself included) have experienced.

I kept thinking that these nuggets of wisdom should to be shared with those coming to the market research field either as providers or users, so I have summarized them here:

  1. Know the difference between business problems and research problems, and frame them well. Business problems are not the same as research problems. Research questions exist in the context of business problems and should provide answers to solve them. The research question – such as, which product is preferred – can be used to solve business problems, such as which product should be invested in and where the growth opportunity are for the business,among others. Both providers and users of market research need to understand the business problem to frame the research questions correctly and provide relevant answers.
  2. Do not waste resources to research what is already known.Fear and internal politics have been behind a lot of market research done to validate what’s already known. There is knowledge in the organization that sometimes is discarded and new research is requested as part of a cover-your-ass strategy. Believe me, I’m all for using research for hypothesis validation but some questions do not require additional research.
  3. Work hard to become a professional market researcher. With easy access to online survey tools, may individuals outside of MR believe that no special skills and knowledge are needed to work as a market researcher. However, as Schwartz said, “Amateurism has contributed to cynicism about survey research.” There are a lot of bad surveys out there producing garbage data just because those designing them don’t have the most basic knowledge about the principles of market research. If you are new to the field, please find training or hire professional market research to help you.
  4. Focus on the input more than on the output when it comes to developing tools. Our field is extremely sensitive to the garbage-in-garbage-out principle. Unfortunately, there is a race to develop tools that can capture, process and present data often based on concerns more about the output than the input. For example, I have met many clients who believe user-friendly online survey tools equate to good surveys. The tools may have many features to develop good surveys but the tools don’t write the surveys themselves. Market researchers are responsible for that, and designing good surveys seems easier than it is. Badly designed surveys, as Schwartz said, make your tools look bad.
  5. Look to minimize measurement biases. All market research methods are susceptible to what is called the observer effect in which the measurement of a phenomenon is affected by the measurement itself. A simple example of this can be found in the order in which we ask questions, as each question can potentially prime the response to the next, and the results can be very different when the order is changed. This is why we have to be cognizant of the advantages and disadvantages of different data collection and analysis methods to minimize measurement errors.
  6. Ask questions people can answer. It has become a trend to despise survey research under the belief that people can’t articulate what they want, can’t remember behaviors, etc. The things is that people can provide useful information only if you ask questions they can really answer, and many surveys have questions that don’t allow for that. Some clients, due to budget constraints, short timelines or simply a lack of knowledge want to use surveys for everything, but this method is not a good fit for all types of business and research questions. Again, knowledge of market research principles and methods is needed to select the best approach and design the right types of questions in order to provide useful and relevant information.
  7. Be aware of the difference between statistical significance and practical significance. Focusing on statistical significance can be misleading if we don’t take into account the practical significance of the results. Take market segmentation for example. A solution can uncover significantly different but very small segments that would be enormously costly to reach. Sometimes, clients only want to do research in certain niche segments without understanding them in the context of the general population, missing invaluable insights into the practical significance of targeting such segments. If you find statistically significant differences, it doesn’t always mean they have practical value.
  8. Don’t fall in love with any one market research technique. This is probably the most dangerous kind of love in the market research field, often driven by level of comfort and knowledge of the many different tools available to market researchers. We need to be open to trying new techniques as the business and research problems dictate, without ignoring others proven useful in the past. Each research approach, qualitative or quantitative, provides different types of insights. As Schwartz said, “Research fashions come and go but what you need is a whole wardrobe.”
  9. Don’t discount what your customers say when statistical models don’t agree with them. We know that adding more variables increases model fit, so use hold-out samples for validation and be aware of over-fit models. I agreed when Schwartz said that customer insights are only as trustworthy as your data and your willingness to hear bad news. When things don’t match, check your math and your intellectual honesty.
  10. Use market research to learn how to think like your customers. Users of market research are not exempt from confirmation bias. As Schwartz advised, “Don’t look only for answers but seek to develop empathy.” We need to be aware of this bias and recognize when our interpretation of the results are driven by preconceived ideas, and it is robbing us from really understanding our customers. We need to use market research to walk in our customers’ shoes – to really understand where they are coming from – in order to provide products and services that are relevant to them.

In the end, Schwartz said it is our mission as market researchers to interpret, integrate and extrapolate. We need to interpret the results in the context of the business problem and help clients make decisions. By the same token, clients need to be open and consider market researchers as partners by collaborating and providing business insights that only someone inside an organization may have, otherwise interpretations are made in a vacuum, integration would not be possible and extrapolations can be simply wrong.

Posted in Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques, Marketing Best Practices, Online Surveys and Research, Research Communities | Comment

Why companies don’t invest in research

Editor’s note: Alan Nazarelli is president and CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research firm, San Jose, Calif.

InvestmentMarket research is often the stepchild of the marketing process. We frequently encounter companies where it is seldom given much thought. I recently visited a 12-year-old San Francisco Bay Area company that had never done any formal research. They had never bothered to find out who was buying their product – age group, gender, etc. – despite the fact that they spend a lot of money on media advertising.

Why do so many companies shoot in the dark? What are some of the reasons market research is not better embraced and used, especially among technology companies?

Here are some reasons, speculations and anecdotes from years spent calling on and working with technology companies, distilled into three main themes:

1. Market research done badly: Many times poorly executed research that yielded low payback and poor outcomes is to blame. When marketing executives at a firm have a bad experience, even at a previous company, they are often soured on marketing research. As a result they shy away even when they encounter a problem market research can solve. As market research practitioners, we need to ensure we execute projects well and keep with the quality standards of our industry. Every poorly executed project reflects on the industry as a whole. Every poorly recruited focus group participant who gets in when he should have been screened out is a blight on our collective reputations.

I was recently called in to re-do a project for a long-term client. The previous vendor did not have the ability to deliver on its (over-)promise, which was to recruit C-level executives in mid-market firms for a series of site visits. In almost every case, a lower-level manager was recruited instead. The recruited manager was “coached” to say he represented the C-level executive. In one instance, the manager asked if the interview could take place at the coffee shop around the corner because he didn’t want his boss to know he was getting paid for the interview! In this case, the client was willing to spend money on research again (albeit a smaller budget) but such experiences cause many firms to avoid market research activities altogether.

2. The proliferation of big data. The presence and availability of big data is an impediment to doing primary market research. Here’s why: Many companies mine transactional and telemetry data for trends and insights. This is particularly true of companies that practice with a lean start-up mentality. The telemetry and transactional data are invaluable sources of insights. What they fail to do, however, is explain the “why” behind the observed transactional patterns. Moreover, the failure to understand the customer and their journey beyond the transaction creates blind spots that impact marketing. I have written about the concept of a research triangle that is central to our work in research design. There are three facets to customer-facing data and insights-primary research, social sentiment and big data. Focusing on just one or two of these components yields to an incomplete comprehension of buyer behaviors, motivations and drivers.

3. Education and access: The last factor is education and access. I have to admit this oversight by industry players can play in your favor. Over the years, we have spoken to a lot of companies who have never been called on by our competitors or even had an idea that the type of services we and our industry offer were even available. Many market research executives hate to make sales calls. Sometimes founders from academia feel that cold-calling is beneath them. As professionals, they deserve to be found and wooed to accept assignments. As research practitioners, I feel we need to be evangelists and champions for our work. The industry practice is to preach only to the converted. Many companies who could use market research are therefore left in the dark on what market research can do for them. These companies often end up with misperceptions, a lack of education and limited access to the valuable services our industry provides.

Posted in Big Data, Market Research Best Practices, Marketing Research Resources, Research Communities, Research Industry Trends, The Business of Research, Training/Research Education | 1 Comment

BBC’s The Fall: What researchers can learn from a psychological thriller

Editor’s note: Staci Schweitzer is senior consultant 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, “What researchers can learn from BBC’s The Fall.”

I’ve just started watching season one of BBC’s The Fall on Netflix, and I’m obsessed. No, it’s not just because of the beautiful Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson – this show is intelligently written and gorgeously filmed in a way that immediately sucks you into the psychological thriller storyline.

The plot follows a serial killer of professional brunette women (Dornan) and the Detective Superintendent brought in to track him down (Anderson), but it’s not just a game of cat and mouse. The story closely tracks the personal lives of the main characters, allowing the viewer to speculate on emotions and motives based on the characters’ actions, words and professed beliefs – not entirely unlike ethnographic research. It got me thinking: what can we, as researchers, learn from my new favorite show?

Take a step back and think about your own camera angle. The show puts the viewer in an almost voyeuristic POV at times – the opening shot in the first episode is through a bathroom door, watching Anderson clean the bathtub from behind. The angle of view affects how we perceived the story and the characters. It can set us up for fear, skepticism or trust; it can influence us to see motives as predatory, ruthlessly ambitious, altruistic or loving.

As marketers, we view consumers from a structured, purposeful angle; yet as researchers, we need to be open-minded enough to suspend judgment and hold back on making assumptions until we have all the evidence. When walking into a room, consider the angle you’re viewing from – how is your viewpoint throwing your perception of the situation?caricature

Your consumer is not a caricature of herself. In the show, the psychotic serial murderer also is a grief counselor who loves his children and who you genuinely start to root for when he’s in a bind; the bad-ass lady lead detective is undeniably qualified and seen as the expert who can rule any room (or sexual relationship), who also deeply empathize with victims and suspects.

This is one of the most amazing, groundbreaking parts of the show: the characters are displayed as real, complicated and sometimes utterly unpredictable humans. It sounds obvious, yet think of how often, in society, we  create caricatures instead of characterize – summing up people as predictable, one- (or two or three) note personalities instead of rich, complicated and deep-feeling humans.

As researchers, we often have to understand people quickly, capture their motives, habits and behaviors and make recommendations based on predictions. This doesn’t mean, however, that building caricatures is ever a shortcut for understanding character.

Real life means beliefs and intentions change rapidly, and you have to keep up. The Fall’s detectives have hunches and inklings that seem immediately important but sometimes they’re red herrings – and sometimes, by the time the evidence is uncovered, it’s not relevant anymore. Humans are fickle, emotional creatures, and we’re constantly changing our minds and adapting to the world around us. The job of the detectives – like researchers – is searching, identifying the patterns and keeping up as the case evolves.

As a researcher, you are going to see cues, clues and indications that seem to fit together into an immediate perfect solution but when that solution is pressure-tested, it may just not work anymore. And that’s OK. Solving any problem isn’t about knowing where to put each piece as its handed to you – it’s about being flexible and truly open to an evolution of hunches and ideas.

Posted in Behavioral Research, Consumer Research, Ethnographic Research | 1 Comment

Q&A: How Carlsberg Group is driving results through shopper marketing

Editor’s note: Rayana Pandey is editor at Marketing magazine, Singapore. The following is an edited version of an interview with Priyadarshini Sharma, international brand director for premium brands , Asia at Carlsberg Group, presented by Marketing magazine and originally published here under the title, “How Carlsberg drives results through shopper marketing.”

For Carlsberg, an increasingly restrictive marketing environment has meant that targeting shoppers at point of purchase has been high on the agenda for a long time. Priyadarshini Sharma, international brand director for premium brands at Carlsberg, talks to Marketing magazine about the effectiveness of strong shopper marketing-led initiatives.

Marketing: What was the impetus for Carlsberg investing in shopper marketing?

Priyadarshini Sharma: There are certain regulatory challenges around alcohol marketing that make shopper marketing even more crucial to Carlsberg than it might be for traditional FMCG companies. As markets around the world go dark [meaning above the line advertising or communication is not permitted] it’s important for us to be able to talk to our consumers in the only forum where we can reach them – in-store. This is why Carlsberg has been focused on shopper marketing for many years – even if it wasn’t formally called shopper marketing – the impetus was always there to talk to consumers where they make the purchase decision.

How difficult is this compared to the usual way of TV advertising?

The biggest challenge is that one doesn’t have the luxury of storytelling, and we need to find a way to distill our message to the simplest yet most effective level. It’s relatively easier to “tell a story” via TV ads – you have 30 seconds, audio visual aids and the ability to give a voice to your message. In an in-store or on-premise environment however, you have less than five seconds to intercept a shopper on a mission, hold their attention and close the sale with your message.

When you need to plan your communication by starting with what you will say at the point of purchase, you’re forced to look at the creative development process in a different way, whereby everything from insight development, to agency briefing, to creative qualification doesn’t follow traditional FMCG routes.

What are the biggest pitfalls of reorganizing marketing around shoppers?

I believe that the danger lies in having a pendulum approach to marketing. We have seen the tendency where companies either put consumers at the heart of their marketing (ignoring shoppers), or only base their marketing on shoppers, thereby missing out on truly heart and mind-opening consumer insights which create affinity for the brands. The secret lies in having a balance, keeping in mind how your path-to-purchase works and leveraging the right insights for each touch-point.

The other thing to understand is that consumer and shopper behavior is not the same thing, even if you’re referring to the same person. Often in the beer industry in Asia – where the consumer and shopper usually is the same person – there may be a belief that one size fits all. However, this can be a pitfall because influencing consumers when they are in shopping mode requires an understanding of what drives their decision-making. For example, having a movie star in your ads may generate the right imagery for your consumer but when they are buying the beer at the supermarket, they need a reminder on the price or chilled availability rather than just seeing the movie star on a poster.

Can you tell us about particularly striking examples of shopper marketing campaigns failing?

Rather than campaigns failing, I believe it’s usually execution that fails. So even if the marketing team has uncovered a true shopper insight and devised the best creative to fit this, if they don’t take into account the context within which it will get executed, it can lead to failure. I’ve seen many examples of great creatives which get pasted in a dark and dingy corner of a bar – this is an example of failed execution rather than failed campaigns.

The other thing to be mindful of is that we need to behave like one brand – otherwise you can risk confusing the consumer and shopper and diluting your brand equity. I have seen examples of brands trying to build a premium imagery in their advertising or consumer communication but their shopper execution comes across as cheap or tacky due to excessive discounting or poor quality in-store execution. This is a big example of shopper marketing failing to support the brand.

Do you think that the days of traditional campaigns – i.e. those that used TV ads as their starting point – are over?

No. We should always start with the objective – there are situations when it would still be relevant to start with the big idea or above the line engagement before you can filter messages down to the store level. This would be true, for example, in the case of breakthrough technology where we need to create broader awareness and excitement – even before consumers come to the store. Of course, the shopper piece would still be integral to the overall marketing plan – just the starting point would be different.

That said, the world of marketing is evolving very fast and the boundaries between the traditional stages of the path-to-purchase are blurring. This means that what would have traditionally been considered a consumer engagement touchpoint (i.e. digital media) is now also a shopper touchpoint. So now, more than ever, things cannot work in isolation. The only rule for marketers today is to have your consumer and shopper insights aligned with your brand’s equity at the heart of any messages you put out – and keep the messages simple and engaging.

Posted in Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Product Research, Promotion Research, Public Opinion/Social Research, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

Qualitative research and the hero’s journey

Editor’s note: Lynne Van Dyke is principal at market research and consulting firm KS&R, Syracuse, N.Y. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Ideation and the hero’s journey.”

I love action movies. They don’t require a lot of higher-order thinking, and I am spared the angst of a romantic comedy. The action hero is a good guy – adept at one-liners, skilled in overcoming problems and ultimately victorious. While my husband complains that it’s obvious what is going to happen to Sylvester, Arnold and Liam, I embrace the predictability of the hero’s journey.

The hero’s journey is an archetypal narrative structure to describe the hero on an adventure. It was introduced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949. This pattern is found in books, TV shows and movies. You know it … think Star Wars and Harry Potter. The hero begins in his or her ordinary world, receives a call to adventure, meets a mentor, crosses the threshold into the unknown, finds allies, confronts enemies, faces tests, encounters a major ordeal, has a setback and is ultimately victorious.

The hero’s journey is a great innovation tool that can be coupled with storyboarding in qualitative research to help participants define and describe the path toward a goal – and the ideal experience along the way. (The example below shows a storyboard created by married Millennials tasked with creating the ideal house hunting experience.)


How it works

Participants work in small groups. Each group receives a:

    • storyboard with a start frame and an end frame;
    • persona sketch of the target market customer – consisting of two-to-three sentences profiling the hero to give context but not narrow participants’ thinking or create false impressions; and
    • a big idea starting point that is the driver of the journey.


Participants work together to create a narrative that describes and explains:

    • the hero’s train of thought (to reveal his/her goals, wants/needs and expectations);
    • what the hero says;
    • what others around the hero say (internal and external to the company);
    • scenarios/circumstances that the hero finds himself in;
    • pain points, frustrations and barriers; and
    • key moments and advisors, services, products and tools that help the hero to succeed.


To ensure that the vision and journey portrayed on the storyboard are meaningful and powerful, here are a few tips for the facilitator working to help participants:

  • Adhere to the ground rules: facilitators should be fun, permissive, non-threatening and withholding of any judgment/criticism. Embrace the unexpected – no idea is too out there or insignificant!
  • Think about and record the touch points, moments and events of the experience: triggers, decisions, actions and changes in functional/emotional states (who, what, when, where and why).
  • Identify and describe what needs to be true or what would solve problems and overcome barriers (sentence completion for “I wish…” and “It would be great if…”).
  • Draw talk, thought and heart bubbles to indicate what is going on inside the hero’s head and his or her reactions and emotional state. Simple iconography like smiley faces and angry faces make the story come alive.
  • Make sure that the journey has a happy ending! What does success look like? What does it really mean? What are the functional and emotional benefits?


Posted in Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research Techniques, Millennials, Qualitative Research | Comment

Why retailers still benefit from in-store surveys

Editor’s note: Danni Findlay is director of retail research at Marketing Sciences Unlimited, Winchester, U.K. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Why do retailers need to listen to customers ‘in the moment’ of purchase.”

We have been told that living in-the-moment is the best way to focus on the issue in hand, concentrating on what we are doing now.

This idea of mindfulness has led me on to think about some of our customer experience and retail work at Marketing Sciences and the values of doing in-the-moment research – face-to-face in a store with the customer or at a laptop when consumers shop online – as opposed to a piece of research completed (usually online)a few days later.

In a store with the customer By speaking to a customer in-the-moment you are likely to get closer to their real opinion of what happened during that experience, on that day and at that time. Questioning that is further removed from the experience is more prone to be cluttered by subjective matters of perception, values and other unrelated memories.

We have done research that shows a time delay on customers noticing the impact of a change to an in-store experience when they are interviewed via an online survey rather than in-store. The length of the time delay depends on a number of things including the type of retailer and how often the consumer visits the store. Changes will be seen more quickly for stores consumers visit often (such as supermarkets) and much more slowly, sometimes negligible, for stores visited less frequently (clothing or DIY retailers, for example).

The type of question also has an impact. If it is seen to be a more objective question, such as whether the customer noticed something (yes/no), then results can be picked up much more immediately. More subjective questions already linked with individual perceptions – for example, what it means to be clean or if something is a good value – do not see a change as quickly.

We know that customers, when surveyed online, need to see an improvement more than twice before they’ll change their perception of a brand. However, when they are interviewed in the store on the day of visiting, consumers are more likely to say, “Actually that was quite good today, and it isn’t usually.”Once a customer has left the store, any notion of that experience relies on memory of some sort. As time moves on, memory of the visit becomes more of a perception. While it is useful to understand a customer’s perception of your store (as that has a big role in whether they choose to visit you next time they have the need), we need to look carefully at what questions we are trying to answer.

If we are asking customers to notice specific improvements to a store and we are not interviewing at the time, we may need to be more objective in our questioning rather than relying on changes emerging from the more value-laden concepts we sometimes ask customers to comment on. If we are tracking, all retailers will have the same level of time-lag and we can allow for this in our interpretation.

This is not to undermine online research at all. In fact we conduct online research for retailers in different sectors and our studies do pick up these changes in context. It is important to understand the role for each method to determine what would be most suitable, as well as affordable.

A quick note on cost: online is often seen to be much cheaper than face-to-face leaving in-the-moment research looking less affordable. However, while this is certainly the case for some studies, in-store surveys for very tailored or tactical research can make finding a sample of interest easier (customers who are using the right stores on the right days). Very few online panels, or even customer databases, are large enough to speak to a sample of customers who have had a very recent and specific touch-point with the store in question. Even a customer’s own perception of whether they have been to a store in the past two months is affected by their perception of time.

Some clients worry that having interviewers in the store might affect the customer experience, as managers and staff may gear up when an interviewer is in store. Such corrective action suggests that they know they are not offering the best service possible and, depending on the questions we are asking, it is also possible to ask customers if this is the experience they usually have at this store. A very interesting finding when it is not.

Some retailers provide the invitation in-the-moment – via the means of an online survey link for vouchers or rewards at a later date. But the reality of this is that you may not complete the survey a few hours, days or (if you are anything like me) weeks later as you were engrossed in painting the room you bought the brush for.

Would it be different if the consumer had a terrible experience? Probably. Or a very good one? Maybe. But I doubt the consumer would storm through the door with the receipt feedback-form in-hand … or even try and access it on a smartphone in the parking lot trying to alleviate the stress before hitting the road!

The other benefit of in-the-moment research is that we can stop a selection of customers who, as long as the questionnaire is kept short, would answer about their trip when perceived as less effort than processing an online survey.

Avoiding biased consumer responses

If we rely only on those customers who choose to give us their opinions, we may be getting a biased view.

Reviewing negative feedback is a great way to improve but it needs to be put in context otherwise companies would spend all available time and budget trying to pacify every customer. By stopping a random selection of customers in-the-moment and using the advances in technology that allow researchers to flag any particularly negative scores about real (and current) experience and accompanying with verbatims to add real flavor.

I remember at the advent of online research people talked of the death of face-to-face interviewing. While many studies have moved in line, there are still a great number that have not. I put this exaggerated death down to the fact that online research is great for some things but cannot overcome the reliance on memory that in-the-moment research provides.

In the words of Proust:

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” 

Posted in Behavioral Research, Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Interviewing, Market Research Techniques, One-on-One Interviewing, Online Surveys and Research, Product Research, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment