Quirk's Blog

Brands, consumers and the GMO controversy

Editor’s note: Emma Diehl is an engagement writing specialist at market research firm CivicScience, Pittsburgh. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “GMOs and ‘I don’t knows’: consumers’ thoughts on the latest GMO study.”

Nutrition Label Rubber Stamps Organic Natural Non GMO foodFrom organic to sugar-free and natural, we’re constantly analyzing the labels on the food we choose to eat. And, as a recent FDA labels show, food is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize or label.

Another wrinkle in food labeling is the oft-mentioned, but controversial, GMO. GMOs have been hailed with both criticism and praise for the potential risks or rewards of genetically altering an organism. Many of the foods we already consume have been genetically engineered in some way or another but speculation and debate over the safety of this practice wages on.

When a definitive study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops,” we decided to ask readers about their sentiment toward GMOs.

The question, “A new report came out saying GMO crops don’t harm human health. What are your thoughts on GMOs?” was answered by 1,974 U.S. adults from May 18, 2016 to May 20, 2016. The results are as follows:

GMO consumer survey results

The controversy of this issue is apparent, as responses in favor and against GMOs are identical. That being said, the majority answer, 47 percent, indicated that many are not familiar with the risks or rewards of genetically modified food. A recent study from the University of Florida yielded similar results. With so much information circulating around GMOs, people are confused or misinformed on the topic.

Those who answered undecided on the topic were more likely to be women living in the suburbs. Men are much more likely to agree with the study that GMOs are not harmful. Women are more likely to be skeptical of the claims, or disagree with the claims overall. Overall, parents are less likely to agree with the study.

What does this mean for GMOs? The results of the survey indicate confusion and a general lack of understanding on the topic. Seeing as GMOs are already prevalent in our foods, it would benefit the FDA and brands to explain the benefits and cite these studies to educate and allay consumers’ concerns.

Given that women were more likely to be skeptical of the study or undecided on the issue could be a detriment to brands. Women are more likely to be the primary shopper for families, and with that buying power, brands who don’t use GMOs could easily influence purchases. On the inverse, if brands selling GMO foods kick started education, they might be able to create advocates out of informed female shoppers.

Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Food/Sensory Research, Market Research Findings | Comment

Is your brand facing strong headwinds?

Editor’s note: Joel Rubinson is the president and founder of Rubinson Partners, a New York-based marketing research consulting firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Dear research supplier … why can’t you tell me why my brand sales are declining?”

headwindsWhen clients experience sales declines for a brand, the supplier who runs the brand tracker is likely to misdiagnose the cause because most trackers have a huge blind spot. Brand trackers assume that it is the brand that is in motion when in reality, it is usually the world moving around us to which the brand is failing to adjust.

World in motion analysis is missing from almost all the trackers I am asked to review.

Brand in motion. Certainly brand tracking metrics have value because sometimes it IS your brand that is motion … changed logo, brand name, new ad campaign, ad investment mix and levels, product formula, pricing, etc. For example, when Tropicana changed its package and sales immediately dropped 25 percent that was definitely brand in motion. Struggling brands often kill advertising in fourth quarter to make profit goals. Then, brand equity declines … that self-inflicted wound is ‘brand in motion’ too.

World in motion. Due to incredibly rapid changes in how we consume media, shop, the values we hold, pace of life, and the economy, the world is ALWAYS in motion … creating misalignments which you can turn into competitive advantage if you are agile. If not, you’ll lose relevance. Looking at aggregate brand metrics will chronicle your decline and you’ll think that strengthening a certain attribute will turn things around but in reality the cause is more fundamental.

Examples: Facebook stock has increased four times since it figured out mobile, which Yahoo has not done and its stock keeps sliding. Facebook has billions of app downloads and is the easiest way for an advertiser to achieve broad reach on mobile and to create multi-screen marketing campaigns. And so Yahoo continues to lose advertiser interest not because the stories aren’t good, or the sports scores are hard to get but because changing media behaviors are not in its favor.

Think about travel. If you asked me 20 years ago which names first come to mind when I think about booking a vacation, I would have said Liberty Travel. Today it would be one of the online sites. Their brand salience declined not because of a bad commercial or high package prices but because the world changed how it shops for travel; the world went online and Liberty Travel is still committed to physical stores and 800 numbers.

I’m sure Yahoo and Liberty Travel would have seen declines in top of mind awareness, brand equity, attribute ratings, etc. but those are artifacts of not keeping up with a world that is in motion.

Starbucks is a great example of adjusting to, and even causing, world in motion. They totally get mobile and social. Starbucks has created its own compelling sub-culture. Metrics on app use and social media conversation are just as important as attribute rating trends for what they are trying to accomplish.

Measuring your brand in relation to a world in motion

The guidance system deliverable should have a world in motion section, fueled by diverse data streams that reflect brand performance in context. What are the big changes in media, shopping, culture, etc. and does your brand play well in those spaces that are growing? Brand and communications performance metrics should include integrating surveys with tagging solutions and digital data from your DMP so you know the changing ways you can reach audiences of value and what communication approaches are working.

Track the changing ways that people experience your brand. Fiona Blades, president of MESH Experience says, “By continuously capturing people’s experiences in real time, we saw for one client a new pattern of which touchpoints influenced brand preference at each stage in the path to purchase. The percentage of people going in store to research or buy their big ticket item has halved in two years.”

Social media offers its own unique insights. Rob Key, president of Converseon says, “Using machine learning, from the vast, unstructured social conversation we can now extract opinions, trends, cultural values even focusing on only those consumer segments you market to. Ensuring alignment with these power trends is critical for your brand to stay relevant.”

Coca-Cola has publicly said that its ambitions are to win an increasing share of popular culture (about 50 seconds into this video). That is a great goal for any big brand which means marketers need to not only measure the brand but to measure culture as well, which rarely makes it into the 20-minute survey!

If your brand faces a headwind, it is probably from you standing still while the world is rotating under your feet. Create a guidance system around multiple data streams to inform the client how to maximize their relevance to a world in motion.


Posted in Brand and Image Research, Marketing Best Practices | Comment

Summer-specific mobile marketing strategies

Editor’s note: Margie Kupfer is vice president, marketing at marketing firm 3Cinteractive (3C), Boca Raton, Fla.

Man using mobile smart phone outdoor in summerSummer is one of the best times for businesses to get new customers. Millions of people are out on vacation, which means there are more opportunities for spending than on regular working days. This, in turn, represents an opportunity for brands to offer exciting promotions, discounts and sales to bring in new customers who are out to shop for summertime fun.

As part of a strategy to target consumers, brands are considering more mobile marketing campaigns for the vacation season. More people will be outside their work or office environments, relying heavily on their mobile devices and smartphones for connectivity and engagement. As mobile usage continues to rise, brands that leverage this channel in their marketing efforts will reach and capture new and existing customers directly in the most effective way.

Many brands that will profit the most out of the summer season typically include clothing, travel, tourism, airline, entertainment and local retailers. For instance, Expedia has increased its mobile advertising during summers, as it expects more business with people increasingly using smartphones to book flights and hotels during the vacation season.

Launch new offers to push mobile-driven sales

Brands that do not have a mobile app, or at least a responsive mobile Web site, are driving away a number of potential customers to their competitors who are hungry to capture summertime market share. Several top-level brands have released summer-specific offers and incentives for mobile users to encourage more participation and build mobile traffic. For example, 7-Eleven launched a multichannel summer campaign using a combination of SMS, mWeb, social media and mobile advertising aimed to drive in-store traffic for their guests constantly on-the-go. Naturally, the strategy is to build themed campaigns that playfully engage with consumers in vacation mode as a way to connect and build mind share.

Social media channels to boost sales

Social media integration with mobile gives users the ability to quickly share their precious summer experiences. Even if a portion of products or offers get shared, brands get an increase in impressions, which may lead to additional sales generation. Conducting research on the best way to share summer content on social media has become a reliable way for brands to acquire and engage their customer base. Most recently, one of largest summer campaigns, “Share a Coke,” features a new social sharing opportunity that lets fans scan lyrics on specially marked bottles, then record a video to share on social media.

Eighty-three percent of consumers say they trust friends and family recommendations more than any other form of advertising. Offering sharable content enables customers to share mobile moments on their desired social channel, which in return, promotes your products and services through powerful word-of-mouth marketing.

Connect promotional deals with customer demographic and current trends

Personalizing messages boosts purchases, app opens and other conversions by 27.5 percent. By associating offers with the latest trends and events, brands can go a long way toward connecting with customers. Today, it is possible to conduct research and create targeted mobile moments for different kinds of customers based on their preferences, demographics and event interests, making it personal to each individual.

What’s more, mobile strategies should also be integrated into traditional marketing. Brands flying banners above the beach should tweak their banner messaging to also include CTAs that direct beach-goers to text a specific code for additional promotions. By staying in tune with what consumers are interested in at the moment, marketers will be able to create more targeted content that will be more effective.

Use geographic location and time to focus marketing efforts

It is no surprise that during the summer consumers will flock to the fun, tourist destinations. If your business has more than one location, try and focus your marketing efforts on the location that will be the most popular during the summer season. If one store is near a lake or beach and one is in the middle of the city, the location near the water may be the better bet.

Not only is location important but the time of day in which you focus your mobile marketing is vital. During the summer, it is more likely that people will be on vacation and not stuck in their offices, with kids out of school as well. That means that mobile marketing campaigns can be expanded beyond typical work-week hours.

Timing is everything

Think about the timing when planning your marketing strategies. Summer is usually about three-to-four months long. Make sure that the promotions you are sending out make sense on the summer timeline. For instance, in early August, you probably won’t want to send out coupons for a water park or discounted swimwear as people are typically winding down their summer and preparing for the school year. Back-to-school shopping is the second largest shopping season of the year with more than half of shoppers using smartphones while shopping to get price comparisons, inventory availability or directions. Busy parents rely on mobile to tell them where to head for the best deals – this is where brands can step in by offering timely promotions, personalized coupons and targeted updates straight to their customers’ mobile devices. Walmart previously launched a successful back-to-school campaign where using proximity targeting was 1.5 times more effective than when location targeting wasn’t used.

Mobile marketing campaigns for summer are not solely for B2C brands. B2B marketers should assume that their audiences are making purchase decisions during the summertime, especially if they’re in an industry where summertime is prime season for inventory stock-up and budget planning. B2B brands should always test different times for summer campaigns.

Brands that think strategically about their use of mobile during the summer will be the ones that come out with higher engagement, stronger customer connection and larger sales at the end of the season.

Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research | Comment

Could advancing technology eliminate variable supply costs?

Editor’s note: Jake Wolff is managing director, The Americas, at market research firm Cint’s New York office.

One of my favorite parts of the insights world is the idea sharing culture we have created. Whether it be through blogs, LinkedIn, conferences – or conversation among colleagues, clients and competitors – there is a path to understanding what is front of mind for those we know and trust to be ahead of the curve. Right now a lot of the conversations I have been a part of center around efficiency. It’s a broad topic that touches the insights space and specifically the supply chain relationships in multiple ways. The good news is there are plenty of improvements to be made.

Cost ManagementOne key driver of inefficiency that I see being solved in the near future is incidence rate (IR)-based pricing. Whether it be engineers developing algorithms to connect project statistics to perceived value, project managers pulling levers in systems or even in the case of some transactions where a project stops with required PM and sales back and forth – too much time and effort go into a project ending with both sides feeling a fair correlation between IR and CPI was achieved. For what many of us make into a complex issue, the core of the inefficiency is simple: current supply methods struggle to match the right answer with the right question and someone needs to fit the bill of the extra work. The resulting issue has been a pricing pressure and change in buyer behavior toward current pricing models, when in reality this doesn’t hit the root of the problem.

So what needs to happen for an efficient supply chain to exist without the need for IR-based pricing? For now, I’d like to focus on two specific areas that should have massive benefits.

The first: changing the perception of what a viable respondent pool looks like. As platforms bring new technologies to a space previously dominated by expensive, inefficient sourcing methods, we will see the available respondent pool grow to essentially anyone who can get online. I firmly believe within 24 months we will see a tech platform with access to 100 million plus active global consumers. It will only multiply from there.

The second major swing is event-triggered targeting. Insight seekers will begin to take advantage of the new tools available to them: viable mobile solutions, beacons, cookies, social media, enhanced access to their customer base, etc. They will no longer need to sit in a room and come up with a cluster of profiling attributes that come together and give them what they think makes the proper audience. Instead they will use technology to track the digital journey of both customers and non-customers, grabbing real time insights at key points in the process. The data will be more relevant as researchers will be tapping into the right person in real time, and the pricing will have nothing to do with how statistically unique that person is compared to the general population.

When you combine these factors among others, it is viable to imagine technology eliminating the need to have varying supply costs. This would enable the entire supply chain to operate in a more efficient, transparent and fluid environment.



Posted in Market Research Best Practices, Research Industry Trends | Comment

The impact of survey design on respondent honesty

Editor’s note: Alex Wheatley is research innovator at research firm Lightspeed GMI, London. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Survey confession: the impact of survey design on honesty.”

There are many questions that are difficult to answer:

  • “Have you considered an affair?”
  • “How many vegetables do you eat a day?”
  • “How often do you go to the gym?”
  • “Have you lied to your boss?”


Four drinksWhen it comes to a question like, “How much do you drink?” it can be hard enough to be honest with ourselves let alone a researcher! Fortunately, the anonymity and context of online research puts researchers in a unique position to secure honest answers to sensitive questions. This is no easy feat. When we ask a question there are many hurdles we must overcome to reach an honest answer.

Some of these hurdles are unique to online research. If we ask someone, “Which of these [blank] do you own?” there’s an array of biasing factors that can impact our responses:

  • Acquiescence bias creates over-claim simply because we like to say yes.
  • You may have owned an item in the past or plan to buy one, that’s basically a yes … right?
  • You could be curious to see what questions come up if you click yes on something you like.
  • You’ve got something close.
  • Oh no – the dreaded miss-click.
  • I’ll lie, I’m sure my answers will still be interesting for them.


Moreover, in any context there are a plethora of barriers to the truth that aren’t unique to survey research and go beyond simple questions of ownership. Some questions are embarrassing to answer, some are tricky to put a number on and others can be hard to remember.

In a survey these issues can be further exacerbated by privacy concerns and the desire to get through the questions quickly. Whatever the issue, the result is the same – researchers cannot take an honest answer for granted.

Lightspeed GMI conducted a multi-nation project to look at the best means of securing honest answers. By experimenting with different methodologies and observing in the data the amount of confessions the team elicited, we were able to evaluate which tactics produced the most honest responses.

The findings divided the issue into three main categories: questions we’re scared to tell the truth about; questions we lie to ourselves about; and questions we want to lie about. Each category presents its own set of issues.

1. Questions we’re scared to tell the truth about.

When you ask someone a sensitive question that they might be scared or embarrassed to answer, the determining factor in whether they feel comfortable giving you a truthful answer is your relationship with them. In a survey you only have one opportunity to build a rapport that puts your respondent at ease, and that’s the introduction.

Our research found that the key to getting people to answer sensitive questions is to engage them emotively and firmly with a powerful introduction. The most successful approach for us was one which broke down our key messages of trust framed within the challenge: “Can you answer our questions as if no one was listening?” and followed by the pledge, “I promise to tell the truth!”

While we’re not suggesting every survey should have a pledge, this approach was much more effective than a traditional introduction because it didn’t make respondents question why we were asking a sensitive question.

2. Questions we lie to ourselves about.

The self-deception at play when you ask respondents to make an observation about their behavior is not something that a strong rapport can solve. In fact, our research found the barriers to truth here are not necessarily a matter of honesty or deception at all.

The biggest obstacle respondent face when trying to make an accurate self-observation is simply calculating the value. We get the most truthful data when we break down the task to make it simple for the respondent to evaluate, by giving a time frame rather than burdening the respondent with ambiguous task of averaging.

3. Questions we want to lie about.

When asking questions which might tempt respondents to actively lie, we go beyond the truth-invoking powers of a strong rapport. Instead, we need to ask the question without them realizing we have asked it.

We received the most truthful responses to our tablet ownership question when we disguised the question by asking it less directly. Asking instead if they wanted a tablet first; then if the respondent said yes, asking if this was to replace an old one; and finally, if they said no, asking if this was because they already had one. Our research showed that while we should ask our question in a less direct form, we must remember to still ask it directly. Avoid the temptation to use a question format that does not force an answer as component-based selection biases strongly influence data.


Posted in Consumer Research, Market Research Findings | Comment

Improving patient compliance and attitudes toward pharmaceutical companies

Editor’s note: Dawn Slown is research director, life sciences division at research firm Market Strategies International, Livonia, Mich. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Are PAPs the panacea for what ails pharma companies?”

PillsSixty percent of Americans suffer from a chronic disease, making the need for affordable treatment options critical. Even with health insurance, sufferers struggle to manage their condition as prescription costs continue to rise and shift to the patient. The repercussions of this trend cascade through the patient-provider relationship, which now includes insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Market Strategies International recently conducted a study of more than 1,000 adults age 18 and older to understand the impact of rising prescription costs in three key areas:

  1. intentional prescription non-compliance;
  2. consumer attitudes toward health care providers, health insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies; and
  3. consumer awareness and enrollment in patient assistance programs (PAPs).

What we found is a huge gap between needs and value as well as a strong indication that PAPs may be the panacea for improving compliance and attitudes toward pharmaceutical companies.

To comply or not to comply

When speaking to patients who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, four of five take medication to treat their illness. In general, compliance improves with age but only half of patients age 18-24 take their recommended prescription.

What is driving this non-compliance? Millennials cite affordability, fear of side effects and pick-up inconvenience as the top three reasons. Among Baby Boomers, non-compliance is limited to affordability and fear of side effects.

What is at risk? Patients can expect their chronic condition to worsen, comorbid diseases to increase and, in worst-case scenarios, some may die. Additionally, non-compliance perpetuates financial concerns because health care costs increase when a condition isn’t being managed properly. According to an article in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, avoidable health care costs due to non-compliance are estimated at $100 billion to $300 billion in the U.S. annually. This staggering number is representative of between 3 percent and 10 percent of total U.S. health care costs.

Consumer attitudes toward providers, insurance and pharma

Health care practitioners who provide personal care, like doctors and nurses, receive the highest rating with three of four consumers having positive impressions. As we move away from that close relationship, ratings go down. For example, the opinion of hospitals and pharmacies is still positive but not at the same level doctors and nurses enjoy. As we move even farther away from that closeness, opinion ratings drop further. Intuitively, this may be due to less personalization and face-to-face interaction.

For example, consumers feel very little positivity toward health insurance providers or pharmaceutical companies. On average, one in three consumers have a favorable impression while a comparable number have a negative impression. This negativity may also be a result of the large gap between consumer needs and the perceived value pharmaceutical companies deliver. This gap demonstrates that consumers feel pharmaceutical companies lack a vested interest in their care or a desire to be a partner in dealing with chronic illness.

The need-value gap

How large is this need-value gap? The difference between consumers’ stated needs and pharmaceutical performance is 60 percentage points, on average. In other words, what consumers want most from pharma is what they perceive pharma to be doing the least. Specifically, consumers want pharma to:

  • behave ethically and provide affordable medications that have minimal side effects; and
  • provide financial assistance for medications.


The table below reveals significant gaps across many key attributes:

Table 1 Need-value gap

Top patient assistance programs

While there are usually several options available for financial prescription assistance depending on the brand and situation, less than one-third of patients have used any of the programs and another one-third have never even heard of these services. In the mind of the consumer, the most popular assistance is the use of physician samples. While not truly a patient assistance program, patients view samples as a method for lessening the financial burden of their prescription costs. Medication co-pay cards are also popular with patients. With both, awareness and knowledge of these options is primarily driven by the doctor’s office.

Among consumers who are not currently using specific PAPs, free medication had the biggest impact on compliance with 44 percent stating they would be a lot more likely to take their prescription. The remaining three assistance options (samples, co-pay cards and coupons) have similar levels of “a lot more likely” and “no change” in medication compliance.

Free medication? Sign me up!

Let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t want free medication to treat a chronic condition? If the effort and cost to get a needed medication was minimal, of course compliance would improve. However, “free medications for all” is not a reality since pharmaceutical companies are not entirely philanthropic. Despite the good they can do, pharma companies must also earn a profit for shareholders. When pharmaceutical companies share the burden of patient expense – and patients actually use those avenues to pay for medications – attitudes toward pharmaceutical companies will likely improve.

First things first

Pharma companies have an excellent opportunity to improve consumer attitudes by increasing awareness of all PAPs, which, in turn, would likely lead to better patient compliance among those who suffer from a chronic disease. Of course, proactive communication is a huge component of this – pharma companies must educate consumers that they are working hard to lower costs and remove barriers to medication if they want to see a significant boost in consumer opinions.

Does this mean PAPs are a panacea for patient compliance and consumer attitudes? No, not entirely. But the study indicates that these efforts would go a long way toward curing some of what ails pharma companies.


Posted in Customer Satisfaction, Health Care Research, Market Research Findings | Comment

Neuroscience tricks behind Instagram’s new logo

Editor’s note: Darren Bridger is a marketing consultant and author of Decoding the Irrational Consumer and Neuro Design: Neuromarketing Insights to Boost Engagement and Profit.

New Instagram logoInstagram has launched a new logo. Early reactions are dividing fans but I believe it will become well-loved in the long run as it uses some clever neuroscience tricks to appeal to our subconscious minds.

Logos, particularly those of mega-popular apps like Instagram, become a familiar part of our lives. Changing them carries the risk of losing all that mental capital. Giants of the Web don’t have a physical presence, like shop fronts; the logos and visual look have to do all the work. Logos have to appeal to us, be comfortable to look at and emotionally engage us. To get that level of global appeal, with a design that might have to last years, it’s not enough that a logo just appeals to us consciously, it must also have appeal to our subconscious minds.

Instagram's old logoInstagram’s old logo, the one that looked like an old camera, was an example of a design aesthetic – skeuomorphism – that’s now falling out of favor. Skeuomorphic logos look like their real-world counterparts. For example, address books that look leather-bound, note apps that look like lined paper. These probably played a role in acclimatizing users to the world of smartphone apps, making them feel comfortable with ditching real-world objects in favor of using smartphones for almost everything. Now that people are comfier with that, design can move on.

The new design is flatter, slightly more abstract and as someone who applies neuroscience research to designs, Web sites and packaging, I recognize in it three familiar techniques:

1. Visual saliency

The new Instagram logo has what neuroscientists call high visual saliency. This is a quality of images that grabs our attention and makes us look at them. One of the drivers of visual saliency is high levels of color contrasts in an image. The thick white line of the camera on the logo against the rich colorful background creates high levels of eye-catching visual saliency.

2. Propositional density

The logo also has another important quality: high propositional density. This is when a design is able to convey a lot of meaning with as little detail as possible. Images with high propositional density are easy on the eye but intriguing to the mind. Or, more specifically, intriguing to our subconscious mind. Designs that are simple on the surface appeal to our brains as they feel familiar (something we like) but simplicity alone can be boring.

The logo depicts a camera, but in the most minimal way, with just a square, a circle and a dot. However, true to its earlier logo, it’s not a contemporary camera, it’s an old style 1970s/80s Polaroid-type camera, carrying connotations of nostalgia, childhood, family photos and so on. It’s overlaid on a color-array background. The colors are redolent of light, filters and being warm colors (notice that they haven’t used any cold colors) they convey energy and excitement. They also look like a sunset, a time that film-makers call the magic hour, when some of the best photography can be done. The sunset also carries connotations of the evening, nights out, fun, etc. Of course, most of these associations will be triggered subconsciously, as most people won’t stop to think too hard about the design consciously.

3. The power of curves

Lastly, the logo is curvy. Research shows that, with some exceptions, people generally prefer curvaceous designs over ones that are more angular. Curves can make a design feel approachable, friendly and even cute.

With more companies adopting neuro-research and thinking into creating their designs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Instagram’s new logo is the product of this type of testing and development.


Posted in Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Neuromonitoring | Comment

Travelers of the future: How online travel agencies can attract consumers

Editor’s note: Lena Tjosvold is senior consultant at market research firm Antedote, San Francisco. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Read for takeoff: Three trends for riding the wave with travelers of the future.”

Travel It feels like everyone is constantly on vacation – filling up our Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook feeds with the minute details of their flight paths, what they are eating and the amazing adventures they are enjoying. Taking “brag-cations” has become so ubiquitous that you are probably starting to wonder how people in your network have both the time and the money to do so – and when your next vacation is!

This should be only good news for online travel agencies (OTAs), as 90 percent of travelers have online touchpoints for research or booking, up from 58 percent in 2006, according to a study conducted with high-end Chinese travelers by GfK. Furthermore, this trend is moving into mobile – by the end of 2016, the majority of online travel bookers from the U.S. will use their mobile device to book their travel according to e-marketer’s estimates of digital and travel research and booking.

From a business perspective, the name of the game is consolidation as Expedia and Priceline together own 95 percent of the market share following their acquisitions in recent years. This is spurred by the need for volume to make up for the small amount they make on every transaction. Their shared scale gives them enhanced negotiating power with their travel partners. The individual OTAs appear untouched by the holding companies to keep brand loyalists on board and keep their business models differentiated. For instance, when Expedia acquired Travelocity in January 2015 for $280 million in cash, it was a stated strategy that they would leave the Travelocity brand intact – with Expedia’s brand spokesperson quoted as saying, “The Travelocity team will be part of the Brand Expedia group within the Expedia, Inc. family allowing it to tap into Brand Expedia’s scale and expertise while still maintaining a strong independent brand.”

However, from a consumer point of view, it can feel like there are too many places to start looking. The number of startup options is overwhelming as well, with Hipmunk, Skiplagged, Hotel Tonight and others all trying to reinvent how we book and experience travel. The plethora of choices available to help you make your choices can stop you in your tracks before you even start exploring your next trip. Consumers often resort to being price-driven (rather than brand-driven) since they can’t make sense of all the places to look.

Given this competitive climate, how can OTAs make meaningful, differentiated stakes in the ground about why to go with them?

Future traveler trends lend themselves to provocations of how OTAs to ride the wave to win with the traveler of the future:

  • Travelers are looking for more ways to discover and explore their next travel experience before they book to make sure they are making the right choice for them – while also feeling like they are getting a unique experience that hasn’t been done a million times before.
    • How can OTAs extend the enjoyment of the travel experience to booking by making discovery and exploration a thrilling part of process rather than a price-driven item on the to-do list?
    • How can OTAs share a bit of the experience to come while keeping some of mystery of what is to be discovered (akin to what a movie trailer is to a full-length feature)?
    • What is the potential for interactive video content and virtual reality technology that can immerse travelers in a travel experience before any money is put on the line?


  • There is also a shift toward seeking a more authentic and localized experiences while traveling (this is in stark contrast to the cookie cutter, consistent experiences that ruled the early stages of travel).
    • How can OTAs tie meaningful local experiences into their suggestions and offerings?
    • Could offering homestays, connections with local peers and experiences that can’t be found in guidebooks give OTAs a unique edge in the market?
    • What is the potential for AI-enabled digital assistants to develop highly personalized travel plans without the time commitment on the part of the traveler?


  • Travelers are looking for vacations that help them escape from their daily lives, and the mental escape is just as – if not more – important than the physical escape.
    • How can OTAs offer peace of mind regarding the traveler’s home life while they are on the road (for instance providing services to assure travels that their home is secure)?
    • What are options for helping travelers mentally escape from their work obligations in this age of always-on connectivity?


While the travel booking market is saturated in terms of number of players, OTAs can cut through the competition by innovating from a consumer benefit point-of-view. Meaningful differentiation can arise by understanding the core needs travelers have today and tomorrow, then ideating on how your business can solve for these needs to fit into their lives. The outer bounds of consumer wanderlust are yet to be seen — and the potential for growth within the travel industry is immense.


Posted in Consumer Research, Market Research Findings, Market Research in the News | Comment

Rising consumer health awareness leads to growth of malt-based hot drinks in India

Editor’s note: Virginia Lee is senior beverages analyst at market research firm Euromonitor International, Chicago. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Health positioning leads to strong growth of malt-based hot drinks in India.”

hot drinkThough malt-based hot drinks originated in the U.S. and the U.K., consumers in these countries now infrequently consume these beverages. However, these drinks remain highly popular among middle- and upper-class consumers in many countries that were formerly British colonies. The British Army brought Horlicks to India at the end of World War II for nutritional fortification. Since that time, makers of malt-based hot drinks have taken advantage of rising health awareness and incomes to position them as health food drinks that can aid physical health and mental functioning. The focus on functional health benefits has allowed India to become the world’s largest market for malt-based hot drinks with $1.1 billion U.S. in 2015 retail sales, with room for additional growth. By 2020, India is expected to account for 47 percent of global malt-based hot drinks retail volume sales, up from 41 percent in 2015. Marketing initiatives such as age segmentation, combined with continued growth in GDP and population, are expected to contribute to an 8 percent retail volume CAGR for malt-based hot drinks for 2015-2020, up from the 7 percent CAGR for 2010-2015. India’s success with malt-based hot drinks represents a situation where a product category that has been around for decades is expected to grow faster over the forecast period than during the review period, due to the combined forces of greater income and nutrition knowledge.

Selected Countries: 2015 Per Capita Retail Volumes for Malt-Based Hot Drinks and Total Hot Drinks

Country Malt-based hot drinks (kg) Total hot drinks (kg) Malt-based hot drinks as percentage of total hot drinks
India 0.2 0.4 50.0 percent
Malaysia 1.1 2.5 44.0 percent
Singapore 1.2 3.0 40.0 percent
U.K. 0.1 2.8 3.6 percent
U.S. 0 2.7 0.0 percent

Source: Euromonitor International

A large youth population and growing awareness of health and wellness support growth of malt-based hot drinks

In addition to health-oriented marketing initiatives, growth of malt-based hot drinks in India has been aided by a young population, growing knowledge of health and nutrition, and an increase in income. India has one of the youngest populations, with 29 percent of the country aged zero-to-14-years-old in 2015, compared to 26 percent for the world. The number of children aged zero to 14 grew by 1 percent from 2010-2015 in India and is projected to grow by 0.5 percent from 2015-2020. Growing health awareness and incomes have helped to increase demand for malt-based hot drinks among middle- and upper-class Indians. Greater access to the Internet has contributed to increased health awareness in India. The Internet has expanded Indians’ knowledge about health and nutrition, including about the importance of micronutrients for children’s development. This increased health knowledge is supported by stronger purchasing power due to the rise in India’s GDP and gross incomes. The more educated classes have become willing to spend on health-oriented products such as malt-based hot drinks; vitamins and dietary supplements; and sports nutrition.

Makers of malt-based hot drinks focus on function, not flavor

Wider Internet access has helped malt-based hot drinks companies expand their marketing beyond traditional advertising and event sponsorship, to offer nutrition and education tips on their Web sites. The Indian Web site for Horlicks, the leading malt-based hot drinks brand in the country, appeals to ambitious parents by offering an Educational Corner that provides video lessons on subjects such as biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. The online lessons reinforce Horlicks’s claim that consuming it leads to better concentration in children. By positioning malt-based hot drinks as a health food drink to be mixed into warm milk, manufacturers in India have been able to grow volume sales of a product that is considered to be old-fashioned in the U.S. and the U.K. In contrast to its functional positioning in India, the Horlicks U.K. Web site appeals to consumers’ nostalgia by highlighting the brand’s history from its 1873 invention to war ration to present day. Producers of similar beverages, such as chocolate-based flavored powder drinks and RTD chocolate flavored milk target children by focusing on its rich, chocolatey taste. In contrast, makers of malt-based hot drinks in India target adults by focusing on its ability to address nutritional deficiencies and to improve physical and mental performance. In India, the functional claims made by malt-based hot drinks are similar to those made by toddler milk formulas such as PediaSure, supplement nutrition drinks such as Ensure and sports nutrition such as Muscle Milk. The focus on function instead of flavor has allowed malt-based hot drinks retail volumes to grow at a faster rate from 2010-2015 than all other hot drinks categories, excluding instant coffee and tea bags, black (standard, specialty).

Age segmentation likely to grow future sales of malt-based hot drinks

Though India has a growing youth population, manufacturers are likely to use age segmentation to reach beyond the five-to-14-year-old base. The number of Indians aged five-to-14, the main consumer base for malt-based hot drinks in India, is expected to grow by 1 percent from 2015-2020, down from 2 percent for 2010-2015. To keep growing demand for malt-based hot drinks, GlaxoSmithKline has already extended its Horlicks family brand through a Junior Horlicks for children aged one-to-three-years-old (1995), a Horlicks Lite for diabetics (2005) and Women’s Horlicks (2008). Its 2014 relaunch of Mother’s Horlicks for pregnant and nursing mothers with a new taste, combined with TV commercials and in-store promotions, contributed to a 10 percent off-trade value sales gain for Horlicks in India, leading to $528 million U.S. in sales in 2015. The company’s Boost brand is currently aimed at six-to-18-year-old boys with Cricket World Cup champions M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli representing the brand. By adding a Boost variant with more protein, it is possible that Boost could appeal to active men aged 15-25 and compete against sports nutrition products. Marketing for Mondelez International’s Cadbury Bournvita currently focuses on how its combination of vitamin D, vitamin C, iron and other vitamins and minerals enhance the nutritional power of milk for growing children. Given the rigors of school exams and college, it may be possible to introduce a Cadbury Bournvita for teenagers and college students with vitamins A, B-1 and B-6 for stress relief.

Relatively low per capita volume figures show strong room for growth in India

A look at per capita retail volumes for malt-based hot drinks shows room for continued growth in India. In comparison to other former British colonies where malt-based hot drinks are consumed, India has a relatively low per capita volume consumption of these drinks. India’s 0.2 kg of per capita retail volume sales of malt-based hot drinks in 2015 is a fraction of Singapore’s 1.2 kg of sales, Malaysia’s 1.1 kg and Hong Kong’s 0.5 kg. Positive drivers for future growth of malt-based hot drinks in India include continued growth in GDP, income and population, as well as the rising interest in health and nutrition matters among Indians.

At the same time, malt-based hot drinks are likely to see more competition from RTD flavored milk drinks that offer more convenience. Retail volume sales of dairy only flavored milk drinks are expected to see a 15 percent CAGR for 2015-2020, outpacing the projected 8 percent CAGR for malt-based hot drinks. Given the stronger prospects for flavored milk drinks, some malt-based hot drinks brands may want to extend themselves into a RTD flavored milk drink format. The Boost brand, as it is associated with physical fitness, may lend itself to being a post-exercise RTD option for teenage boys.


Posted in Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Food/Sensory Research, Market Research Findings, Shopper Insights | Comment

The future of virtual reality and health care market research

Editor’s note: Huw Davies is qualitative services manager at U.K.-based research firm Gillian Kenny Associates. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Could Google Cardboard be the future of healthcare market research?”

Cardboard virtual realityTraditional market research has many benefits, but as we know there are drawbacks. For health care market research in particular, bringing all participants to a singular place can sometimes present a physical challenge as respondents might be ill or have limited mobility. In addition, physicians and other health care professionals often have hectic schedules that make it difficult for them to appear in person.

That’s where virtual reality (VR) could offer a huge leap forward. Imagine your respondents never needing to leave the comfort of their own home or office, as VR becomes the standard of the future. But can it really replace face-to-face health care market research?

Exploring the possibilities

We may be fast approaching the point where VR affords researchers the same tone of voice, facial cues and body language opportunities as being physically in front of the respondent. That’s because even though VR has been around for a good while now, recent technological advances, and the innovative approach of some of the world’s biggest tech companies, means it’s now more effective and accessible than ever.

Take Google Cardboard for example. This simple viewer turns a smartphone into a VR headset using just one piece of cardboard folded to enclose the device. It’s easy to use, and a relatively cheap option for researchers. You could buy and send it to health care market research respondents, or respondents can easily download the template and make their own. As it becomes more widely accepted and accessible VR could be a part of everyday life. (Find out more about Google Cardboard here.)

Other big companies are continuing to explore the possibilities of VR. Facebook recently paid $2 billion for VR developer Oculus, while HTC Vive combines a VR headset and laser guidance to allow people to have a truly interactive experience. Sony is soon to launch its PlayStation VR to enhance its gaming, and Microsoft HoloLens is set to change the face of personal computing by offering the world’s first see-through holographic computer viewed using smart-glass headsets. These devices could offer a whole world of potential and opportunity for future market research.

Imagine the possibilities for health care market research, not just from a virtual reality perspective but from augmented reality and live streaming as well. Researchers have the potential to watch a patient and doctor consultation live, or could even view a surgeon using the latest devices first-hand.


Oculus Rift is a headset that makes you feel like you’re actually in the room, the doctor’s office or anywhere else you might want your respondents to be, while Oculus Gear VR turns Samsung smartphones into VR headsets. Like Oculus, Microsoft HoloLens also has a huge range of possibilities when applied to market research. All these headsets have applications that will transform how we interact with the world, in entertainment, on the Internet, playing games or simply carrying out everyday tasks. So it’s not a huge leap to imagine a time when it’s possible to get great market research insight and data the same way.

Computer-simulated environments could have advantages over focus groups, concept tests and other laboratory approaches, as consumers can test and respond to an unlimited number of products, or set up and alter tests at the touch of a button. You can even create an environment with a realistic level of variety of similar products and use eye-tracking and motion monitoring to measure every aspect of a respondent’s interaction with them. All these possibilities may in time be adaptable to offer respondents fully immersive 3D virtual testing equipment that allows health care market researchers to recreate the atmosphere of anything from a hospital to a focus group room – quickly and inexpensively.

Virtual doctor visits

In health care, VR’s greatest potential surely lies in how it could affect doctor-patient interactions. Health care professionals have already been embracing alternatives to in-person visits for some time, whether it’s 24-hour nurse lines, e-mail consultations or live video chats with physicians. VR technology could be even more effective than those options in providing patients with a realistic way of conferring with their doctors.

The benefits of this kind of VR consultation would be numerous. People who feel ill wouldn’t be forced to leave the house to see a doctor. They wouldn’t have to expose others to anything contagious that they might have. People on medications that might compromise their motor skills wouldn’t be trying to get behind the wheel to visit the doctor. Doctors and nurses could have more flexibility in their schedules.

Of course, before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to remember the limitations of VR. To what extent can a physician examine a patient using it? It will have to be determined exactly what kinds of check-ups a doctor can manage through VR and what symptoms can be accurately detected virtually. When in doubt, it will always be best to do an in-person exam. However, for follow-ups or common illnesses with an easy diagnosis, the virtual visit to the doctor could be something commonplace in the very near future.

So it’s all good?

We need to be wary of thinking virtual reality is without disadvantages. There are issues that need to be addressed in order for it to produce clear, relevant research. For example, how do you get a respondent to behave naturally and give honest, unbiased answers when they’re using a device that could leave them disorientated, or even a little frightened? It might possibly produce physical effects, such as a heightened heart rate or faster breathing that could adversely affect their answers. This is especially concerning in health care market research, where you may already be dealing with participants who have pressing health concerns.

Furthermore, we have to understand that it’s not a natural environment likely to produce real-life responses. Respondents also need to be trained to use the technology correctly. Can VR ever really replicate the subtleties of eye contact and other visual cues available when sitting face-to-face? Will a potentially vulnerable patient feel the same ease as they would in the physical presence of a warm, caring human being?

All in all, the onset of more advanced, next-generation VR is an exciting prospect and one that could revolutionize the way to carry out our work in health care market research. We’ll just have to keep an eye on how and when the technology matches our ambition – and avoid any pitfalls it may bring.


Posted in Consumer Research, Health Care Research, Innovation in Market Research | Comment