Quirk's Blog

Providing the in-store experience online

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

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

Getting personalonline

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

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

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

Déjà view

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

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

It’s in the basket

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

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

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

Posted in Consumer Research, Retailing, Shopper Insights | Comment

Has U.S. private label growth plateaued?


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

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

Private label in Europe

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

Private label in the U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line

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

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

The sugar shift (and why labels are so important)


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Who are “Yummies?”

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

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

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

Three strategies for attracting these men

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


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

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

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


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

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

Big data is everywhere.

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

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

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

Q: What is big data in simple terms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Will big data replace surveys?

A: No. Here’s why:

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

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

Important takeaways

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

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

Researchers, don’t be afraid to change

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

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

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

The challenge of the new

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Liberation in practice

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

Time to change

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

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

Stand and deliver

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

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

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

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

Taking the leap into the future of surveys

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

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

But man, do we have a way to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably best to start now.

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

Why ad campaign testing is so elusive

Editor’s note: Ben Proctor and Kerri Norton are insights strategists at New York research firm Miner & Co. Studio.

A combined 15 years of ad campaign testing. Work on ads that have launched some of the biggest entertainment properties of the past decade … ads that have redefined some of the nation’s leading providers of media and technology. So, do we call ourselves experts? Not even close.

481331431The reason is that campaign testing remains one of the most elusive aspects of market research. Let’s be honest – if anyone had figured it out, they would be the only research shop in existence and their clients would have no competitors after putting everyone else out of business.

But, we have learned a thing or two in our years behind the curtain. Here are some of our favorites and how they’ve led to our approach to campaign testing.

• Most important is understanding the additive quality of campaigns. Many times, clients want to find and use the TV commercial that scores best in perhaps dozens of rounds of ad testing. And that’s understandable. But the problems arise when the digital team is testing their banner ads in a separate vacuum. And the outdoor team is testing their billboards without knowing that TV commercials are even in development. It’s a new era of new technologies and channels for getting the message out there. In reality, people experience a campaign that spans all of these channels, so it’s important to get a read on a campaign that spans all of these channels.

While we understand the importance of testing individual ads and do it often, a key component of our testing is a campaign walkthrough. Whether a rich online survey, a qualitative assessment where we literally walk people through each phase of a campaign as they would experience it in reality, or a geo-targeted mobile survey that pings people as they move past various campaign elements after the initial launch, we want to measure not only impact but also cohesion. An amazing poster can be little more than artwork if it doesn’t connect back to the rest of the campaign. A groundbreaking TV ad can become a hindrance when all of the outdoor spreads a completely different message. We don’t want to see this happen and that’s why we use various methodologies to understand the whole.

• Norms – some clients live by them, some clients never want to hear about them. We try to think about something a bit different – benchmarking. If we’re able to create a rich enough set of norms that’s on-target with the exact type of content we’re looking at, we’re happy to use them. But things have changed. Even a TV ad is no longer just a TV ad – it’s an experience in and of itself. In a lot of ways it’s nothing like the TV ads from five or 10 years ago, so using data from five or 10 years ago to inform current norms may not be the best approach.

With benchmarking, we look for the best comparative tool that’s going to give us the strongest sense of how well our client’s ads are driving consideration and ultimately action. Sometimes this means norms. Sometimes it means a social media analysis to look at volume, sentiment and engagement (there’s a big difference between a post that’s been retweeted a million times and one that has created a million sparks of unique, thoughtful discussion). Sometimes it means comparison alongside ads from competitors to see whether the message is overshadowing the competition or getting lost in its wake. By thinking about each campaign individually and assessing each client’s particular goal, we use unique benchmarks to get a truer sense of how the campaign will perform in reality.

Furthermore, while norms make us feel “safe” about what we’re putting out there, they many times keep us from taking risks to create truly innovative campaigns that breakthrough. And while “innovation” is sometimes hard to measure in a quantitative survey, as consumers don’t always know how to rate something they haven’t seen before, it makes a unique and mixed approach to campaign research all the more important.

• Mixing monadic and sequential. Whoever came up with monadic testing is a genius. In most cases, people see a single piece of advertising for a single product at one time, so testing a single piece of advertising on its own makes a lot of sense. Of course, however, we can hit a roadblock.

Let’s say we show an ad to 400 people on a given weekend and get crystal-clear feedback that couldn’t be a better road map for moving forward. The next weekend, we test our new ad with 400 people. But they are different people. And now it’s snowing and everyone is angry. And in the middle of the week, some competitor released an ad that looks an awful lot like what we’ve come up with. The comparison is far from apples-to-apples.

Our way to combat this is to pair monadic studies with sequential studies. By testing single ads in isolation in one survey, but also testing a variety of ads against each other in another, we help to minimize the pitfalls of each approach and come up with an answer that has a bit more clout (and a lot more reality) behind it.

All of this is to say that there is no single answer when it comes to campaign testing. With clients rolling out marketing efforts that include TV ads, YouTube mini-movies, digital banners, mobile games, static posters, lenticular posters, animated posters and much, much more, we can’t rely on a single methodology or technology to give us all of the answers. Campaign testing works best when there’s not a set template. Mixing quant, qual, social media and desktop research is key to our approach. And, moving forward, our next project will likely require us to find a completely different way to mix them than we have in the past.

We hope this gets others talking about how they tackle campaigns because, face it, the research community is a small one. If we didn’t have each other to bounce ideas off of, we’d be spending our days staring at the wall.

Posted in Advertising Research, Market Research Best Practices, The Business of Research | Comment

Qualitative recruitment in a digital world

Editor’s note: Lisa Boughton is director and co-founder of U.K. fieldwork agency Angelfish.

A quick glance at the hot topics setting tongues wagging on market research forums suggests that while researchers are discussing how to harness the power of big data or maximize the utility of online communities, few are talking about the benefits of using digital and social media to recruit respondents for qualitative research.

187458884Robust recruitment is the bedrock of market research, so it may come as no surprise that there has been significant resistance to the use of digital technologies in recruitment. Clients are concerned about quality control, about the importance of the personal touch and about the need to comply with rules on good practice. Despite these issues, the potential for digital recruitment in qualitative fieldwork has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past few years, with innovations that are starting to challenge conventional thinking that could directly improve the quality of the market research we carry out.

At Angelfish, we specialize in digital recruitment so we know what a powerful tool it can be but we also draw on a heritage of conventional market research practice to create a combination of the old and the new. For example, a “killer argument” for digital recruitment is the ability to reach and recruit fresh respondents – the lifeblood of good-quality market research – through channels such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Used effectively, digital recruitment can create a steady stream of new respondents that would not be financially feasible through proactive street recruitment or a print campaign. Digital channels can also be highly targeted, allowing the quick recruitment of respondents in any location or among those with an interest in a specific topic area which may be otherwise inaccessible via street or telephone recruitment.

Critics of digital recruitment rightly point out that the use of digital channels alone removes the personal touch. Without the ability to engage and motivate potential respondents, there is always the danger of a high dropout rate.

One answer is a hybrid of digital and traditional approaches. This involves using digital channels, such as prerecruited panels, social media and approaching forums to reach out to potential respondents and providing an online screener to register interest, thereby removing any recruiter bias and boosting quality. The next step is to follow up with a phone call to validate a respondent’s answers and ensure accuracy, countering the danger that respondents may be more likely to provide false answers online. Crucially, this call also helps to build a personal rapport that helps to ensure levels of over-recruitment are no different to traditional methods. By contacting every respondent personally, this approach enables deeper attitudinal profiling and also adds a new level of robustness to the validation of recruited respondents.

A key benefit of digital recruitment is the ability to use the power of social media in a highly targeted way, to focus only on the target demographic. With the right in-house knowledge and infrastructure, social media can be targeted at those in a specific age range, gender, geographical location and interest level of the topic in question with excellent response rates. Facebook and Twitter have massive potential, with many posts reaching up to 20,000 eyeballs overnight and bringing in excellent response rates across all manner of topics.

Speed is often cited as a key benefit of using digital technologies, and recruitment is no different. In establishing the feasibility of a study, panels and social communities can be polled very quickly to find out vital information. In live projects too, it is possible to identify issues with a screener within as little as 24 hours, allowing time for changes to the screening criteria before it’s too late to recruit new respondents. Volume here is vital too as larger screened sample sizes deliver greater confidence in the data. Where responses from street recruitment may be quite small and can be slow to materialize, digital recruitment can deliver 300+ people applying for a project overnight with a detailed analysis of screened out respondents by the following day.

Social media also has the potential to become a live recruitment and interviewing platform itself. Twitter is being used in increasingly sophisticated ways for live research. For example, in a recent project conducted by Angelfish, live complaints to businesses via Twitter were intercepted and the customer contacted at the moment of discontent to better understand their feelings and reaction to their poor customer experience. This research would not normally have been possible without access to customer service call centers to access the live complaints.

While digital methods offer many advantages for successful recruitment of market research respondents, the key to success is to use a combination of old and new approaches depending on the target group required. Not everyone resides in this purely digital world and there is major scope for using technology to support existing recruitment techniques to make them more effective. For example, using online screeners during street recruitment can increase the speed of data return. Another method is using LinkedIn to identify business professionals in a particular industry and then posting a good old-fashioned letter to their desks, avoiding the e-mail fatigue and social media overload that can hamper a busy professional life.

In conclusion, it’s critical to build a recruitment campaign that suits the required target and gives the best chance of reaching them quickly and effectively. There is, however, no doubt that the additional use of digital recruitment methods, correctly combined with traditional techniques, can hugely increase the range of available weapons in the qualitative recruiter’s arsenal. In the ongoing fight against shrinking timelines and budgets in the fast-paced world of MR, this can only be a good thing for researchers and field managers.

Posted in Market Research Best Practices, Qualitative Research, Research Recruiting, The Business of Research | Comment

10 new skills that marketers must learn

Editor’s note: Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson are co-authors of The Digital Marketer: 10 New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric. For more information click here.

467133313Marketers have been gulping down change for the last decade. Low-cost and ubiquitous communications technology has rapidly changed human behavior, causing seismic shifts in marketing philosophy, practices and careers. At its core, marketing is still about creating and keeping customers, but the “how-to” questions for accomplishing this have changed considerably.

As challenging as it is to be a marketer during one of the most rapidly changing business environments in history, both our customers and our businesses are benefiting from the disruption. The numerous changes that digital has ushered in are forcing us to move away from our traditional producer-based strategies and tactics, to focus on meeting our customers’ needs and desires. Organizations that have grasped the new reality and are redesigning the way they engage with their prospects and customers are discovering a new source of competitive advantage: remarkable customer experience. Successful companies are becoming customer-obsessed, creating highly relevant experiences that engage and delight their customers on a regular basis, across the entire customer journey. Think Amazon, Marketo, Warby Parker, IBM, USAA and L.L. Bean.

Myriad new tools and skills are making this new level of customer-centricity possible, including: combined big and little data and analytics; marketing automation; design thinking; customer journey analysis; converged media strategies; public and private social communities; software integration; location-based technology; content marketing; and near-field communications technology. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

While much complexity remains, we are now entering an age of refinement. This is not to imply that innovation will stop, or that the pace of business will slow, or that those who are on top of the heap today will be there in another 20 years, or even two months from now. There is change ahead but the innovation on the horizon builds upon the seismic advances that have already transformed the business landscape, rather than disrupting it on the scale we have seen during the past decade. Shakeouts, consolidations, bankruptcies and initial public offerings will be plentiful as the market integrates and matures.

Marketers still have work to do to be successful in this next phase. Indeed there are 10 new skills that marketers must learn – now – to be able to compete on the basis of customer experience.

1. Marketers are becoming experience architects, able to design and deliver relevant experiences around products, services and places. To do so, marketers need to think holistically, designing integrated experiences across the entire customer journey, from upfront customer acquisition to customer service, retention and collaboration, and across multiple channels. Knowledge of design thinking and customer journey analysis help us build effective interactions as these disciplines help us more deeply understand our customers, the context surrounding their needs and desires and how they experience our brands at all stages of their journey with us. A basic understanding of the tenets of the emerging field of behavior science helps us orchestrate the conditions that are likely to induce a target behavior and create enduring habits around our brands.

2. Marketers are combining big and little data with powerful analytics to gain proprietary insight into customers and to enhance brand experience. Insight derived from new fields of information and combined data streams deepens our understanding of our targets, prospects and customers and builds a dynamic context and predictive component for our interactions. This ability is critical, as relevance is rapidly becoming essential to being found by potential prospects, and to sales, ongoing engagement, advocacy and collaboration.

3. Marketers are scaling creative, personalized communications across channels and throughout the customer journey using marketing technology platforms. Today’s marketing automation tools are evolving rapidly and are quite powerful. Embedded predictive analytics identify more qualified prospects and sophisticated lead-scoring techniques based on real-time behavior steward prospects through the customer journey in a customized fashion. Closed-loop analytics make it possible for companies to accurately trace pipeline, sales and after-sales customer activity back to the originating marketing and sales initiatives. Quantifying marketing’s impact on revenue validates our role and often facilitates greater alignment between marketing and sales.

4. Marketers are employing rich content to tell and catalyze stories. Content fuels engagement throughout today’s customer journey. A steady stream of relevant content is also essential to make effective use of marketing automation. Knowing how various types of content resonate with our prospects and customers and being able to contextualize our interactions across our customers’ preferred channels with the appropriate cadence helps us break through the noise.

5. Marketers are identifying relevant social networks, building authentic presences and often creating our own digital communities to better connect with our customers. Social media has multiplied the number of possible touchpoints with our prospects and customers and has transformed static one-way messaging into dialogue. Successful companies are becoming transparent and responsive, engaging with constituents publicly and in real-time to build brand awareness, generate leads, engage customers and foster advocacy. Many companies are also establishing their own private customer communities to foster co-creation of products and services.

6. Marketers are adopting converged media strategies to augment our brands’ reach and credibility. The delineations among paid, earned and owned media are blurring as marketers incorporate customers’ content into our own content, as professional bloggers are paid to create content for our blogs and as sponsored content populates social media news feeds and publishers’ sites. With organic reach waning on platforms like Facebook, marketers must be able to evaluate the variety of emerging paid media options for extending reach and determine their usefulness for our brands.

7. To build loyalty, marketers are proving a brand’s allegiance to customers, rather than asking for the reverse. Loyalty erosion is pervasive and despite their name, many existing loyalty programs do little to foster loyalty. The best way to create loyalty is by delivering a remarkable and consistent customer experience. Loyalty programs that augment the customer experience, by automating payments or loyalty points, have a much higher chance of being utilized. While we often measure loyalty program adoption, utilization is the name of the game, as it generates proprietary data that can be used to further enhance our customer experience.

8. Marketers must be agile, able to test ideas, read customer behavior and make adjustments in real time. Expectations for continual customer engagement, rapid proliferation of new platforms, the rise of behavior-based communication and shorter development cycles requires that marketers become more agile and responsive than we have been in the past. Answering the call, marketers are testing young ideas and potential improvements to programs in real markets and designing marketing programs in smaller components that can be tested, combined and recombined to for maximum flexibility.

9. Customer experience is a systems-level opportunity, requiring marketers to be able to lead a highly synchronized, ecosystem-wide effort. Building relationships with our prospects and customers involves integrating multiple – and often siloed – groups within our own organizations and across our broader ecosystems as multiple functions support each of our customer interactions. To realize the customer experience advantage, marketers must be able to inspire these multiple moving parts to work together toward customer-obsession.

10. Marketers must proactively manage their careers, regularly nurturing their networks, skills and creativity. Resourcefulness is essential in today’s marketplace and responsibility for being on the cutting edge has by providing unprecedented access to people, events and discussions shifted to each of us as individuals. The Web has simplified this task, although it does come with the risk of being overwhelmed. Nurturing our creativity requires additional care, often requiring an intentional emptying, rather than a rush to take more in.

* * *

While marketers still have a lot of change to digest, in the near term, we will have the opportunity to chew a little more thoroughly. As we savor each new marketing morsel that the last decade has put on our plate, we will discover and enjoy new flavor combinations, spark our creative juices and build more productive relationships with customers whether they are already seated the table or just coming through the door.


Posted in Big Data, Brand and Image Research, Consumer Psychology, Customer Satisfaction, Marketing Best Practices, Shopper Insights | Comment