Quirk's Blog

The real draw of mobile wallets

Editor’s note: Richard Snoxell is a research director in the tech and financial team at U.K.-based market research agency, Marketing Sciences Unlimited. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “For customers, the real draw of mobile wallet is … not mobile payments.”

We have been closely monitoring U.K. consumer sentiment toward mobile wallet on a quarterly basis for 18 months now as the disruptions in the financial tech sector gather pace. As addition to brand trust, in this blog we also take a look at the features which would drive consumer uptake of wallet – and it’s still not mobile payments.

Snoxell_Figure1 More on that later; let’s start by looking at brand trust. We see that PayPal continues to maintain a trust figure around the 40 percent mark. This is unchanged over 15 months and is partly thanks to its heritage in this sector, and users feeling reassured by the way PayPal places a buffer between a user’s bank details and the recipient. There has also been consistency in second place for “my own bank” (nobody likes bankers but most still trust their own bank), with Visa and MasterCard in third and fourth place, respectively. However, the one brand we have seen consistent upwards movement with is Apple.

Apple Pay launched in the U.K. in July 2015 but it has taken several months for the Apple logo to start appearing on a significant number of contactless payment terminals in retailers; and personally I haven’t heard staff promoting it yet – but that’s understandable as so few people have an iPhone 6 or 6s (and staff would have to spot that too). However, the release of the iPhone 6s has coincided with increased Apple Pay advertising by financial institutions and retailers in the long pre-Christmas push so it will come more to mind as we move into 2016.

The impact of this has been a slow but steady improvement in brand trust for Apple as it begins to make its mark in the sector. Trust in Apple has increased from 18 percent in May 2014 to 24 percent in September 2015.

In that same period Samsung has hovered around the 12-to-13 percent mark. Compared to iPhone owners, users of Samsung mobiles tend to be less evangelical about its products and on average slightly less techy. Also, Samsung owners who are interested in mobile wallet will also soon need to decide whether to throw their financial eggs into a Samsung Pay or Android Pay basket, a choice that iPhone users do not have to make. Despite the fact that Samsung Pay will be potentially usable in more outlets thanks to its support of the older magnetic stripe payment technology (in addition to contactless), I expect improvements in Samsung’s trust rating will be harder to come by, even if Samsung Pay is a hit. Both services are expected to launch in the U.K. in the coming months but no dates have been announced yet.

Digitizing loyalty cards and vouchers will drive uptake

The features in a mobile wallet app that will drive uptake will be genuine value-add services that consumers don’t currently have – the ability to digitize your physical loyalty cards and vouchers and so save space – and never forget to use them. This trumps by some way the convenience of mobile payments in a physical store environment. As part of the iOS 9 release for the iPhone 6 and 6s in September, Apple Passbook has been revamped as Apple Wallet, additionally bringing in the non-payment features as described above to users. This latest version of the software has also made the biometric fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 6 and 6s twice as fast as before.

However, as discussed previously, it may be in-app purchasing that truly drives uptake of Apple Pay, by speeding up online purchasing and removing the need to log in to your account at each retailer (and remember each password).


What is also interesting is looking at the jump in the contactless payment limit from £20 to £30, and comparing this to a scenario where this artificial limit is removed. There is a tiny bit more reticence in making a £30 payment than a £20 one but there appears to be a committed group of around one fifth of users (21 percent) who are simply comfortable with the idea of using their smartphone for a contactless payment just like they would with their plastic payment card.

Finally it’s also worth noting that smartwatches will definitely play an important role in the future of mobile payments. Around one in 10 of those surveyed said they would use a watch rather than a phone for payments, if they owned both. This rises to 15 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds. One of the advantages of a watch is that once on the wrist and paired with the smartphone (in the morning, say) it is then ready to use for the rest of the day until removed from the wrist – unlike the smartphone which usually has to be securely unlocked each time. Now that’s genuinely convenient.

Posted in Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Data Privacy, Market Research Findings | Comment

Pope Francis: learning from the one man brand

Editor’s note: Erin Winters is vice president of marketing strategy at research company Acxiom, New York. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “The Pontiff of brand.”

pope hat vectorIt’s been an exciting fall for some brands, and a stunning failure for others. I’m not referring to our beloved Gecko or Budweiser’s golden lab. (That first example needs no brand recognition.) I digress. I think you know where I’m going: The Pontiff of Rome. Truly, he occupies the most elevated brand plane these days, and against that backdrop of our presidential election, the contrasts have been both fun to watch and sad to consider. Today, let’s consider the Pope Francis brand.

So – the pope, or as known to some “The Rock.” Indeed this moniker was first given to the pope (seriously, look it up) but for entirely different reasons. I myself am a lapsed Catholic but as we’ve all seen recently, this pope’s appeal (his brand) extends far beyond the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world (lapsed or otherwise). Why is that?

Regardless of your politics, let’s consider the following:

  • Pope Francis exudes authenticity;
  • he leads by example;
  • has unparalleled recognition across the world;
  • from the size of the crowds that came out for his visit to the states it’s fair to say he delivers on value; and
  • “The Rock” is off the charts on the trust factor.


People trust Pope Francis means what he says and says what he means. Isn’t this the Holy Grail (forgive the term – I couldn’t resist) for brands. To go beyond simply establishing ephemeral preferences for your brand’s SUV, cola, credit card perks, shoe department etc., to creating an emotional connection that not only establishes loyalty but a visceral feeling that they feel compelled to share. Now let’s bring it to the promised land, imagine THESE customers are social influencers. You’ve now recruited your customers as your top evangelists. Pope Francis has excelled in the social sphere, and it’s an important consideration because we know marketers can’t do this alone. Ah, so much opportunity here for metaphor.

It goes beyond brand loyalty. Pope Francis could teach marketers a lot about acquisition marketing. Think about how much he’s extended the reach of his brand in less than three years. He’s been incredibly smart and intuitive in his approach. It’s as if they brought him in to save the brand, and like all those brought in to save a brand, Pope Francis understands you cannot simply shore up loyal customers – you must expand the brand by acquiring new customers that look different from your base. Pope Francis has built a bigger tent but one with a concrete foundation and features that are not malleable. The latter is important because it’s nearly impossible for a brand to have mass and deep appeal in equal measure. A brand must put a stake in the ground, and while that stake can expand it must have its limits. Yes, the pope’s brand has expanded and feels very much “Big Tent” but he has focused his time, good works and passion on a limited set of issues that matter across the globe, which allowed him to create that bigger tent. He’s passionate and focused. What a winning combination for any brand.

Also, Pope Francis is a savvy purveyor of his audience and the times. He clearly understands how to curate his message based on the audience, channel and with a laser focus on the Zeitgeist. He not only curates the message, he represents it. Think about it, the pope declined to live in the posh papal residence, opting to co-habitat with the clergy in a simple residence. So back to curating, Pope Francis understands the message he sends to the U.S. Congress on the environment and immigration, and his manner of communicating it (large crowd, grand environment) will be vastly different than how he speaks to migrants from Syria or those living in the Favelas across Brazil.

Marketers should be taking note of this one man brand, and how he’s achieved platinum status, without sacrificing reach. That is a marketer’s dream, to have a well-defined and loved brand that resonates across different audiences. Even those brands that cater to a supposed niche audience – e.g. BMW – must understand that the way to appeal to a suburban upper middle class father of three is vastly different then what might appeal to a 20-something Silicon Valley female tech entrepreneur. The key is to appeal to those different audiences with a message that feels highly personalized. The pope has perfected this, and the most amazing feat is that he makes it look effortless. Think about it, consumers don’t want to feel like they are being marketed to, they want to feel that visceral connection. They want to feel like they made the choice in loving your brand. So with the exception of the few brands that know how to tell us what we want (only Apple comes to mind), the rest of us marketers must figure out how to drive brand appeal by creating personalized, meaningful and highly valued connected experiences with our audience(s).

When you have a U.S. congressman crying on the podium or stealing your glass to savor your backwash, you’ve arrived!

Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Research | Comment

Q&A: Is your Web site speaking your customers’ language?

Editor’s note: Christine Crandell is technology evangelist and chief customer strategy consultant at New Business Strategies, San Francisco Bay area. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Latest customer-centricity battleground is the Web site.”

Know Your CustomerWeb sites are big investments for any organization. Often perceived as the face of an organization, the goals of corporate Web sites range from educating, selling to engaging customers or simply chest thumping on how totally awesome the company thinks it is.

Just about everyone feels they have a voice when it comes to their organization’s Web site – marketing, sales, customer service, product marketing, the CEO, the board, etc. The focus frequently shifts from consciously defining how the Web site supports and enables the buyers’ journey to appeasing a committee of interests. That’s too bad because according to KoMarketing/Huff Industrial Marketing, respondents indicated that they will visit a vendor Web site three-to-five times before making a purchasing decision.

The ineffectiveness of most Web sites is driven by digital marketing being slow to evolve their content marketing strategy to align with customer preferences. Web sites should be speaking the customers’ language and solving their problems instead of what most do which is broadcasting corporate brand messages and selling products and services by using internal language.

Five years ago 95 percent of Web sites were comprised of collateral and product/service pages. Today, according to Lionbridge, that should be less than 50 percent. The other 50 to 75 percent should be storytelling, challenge/pain solving content marketing and enabling tools and information for key moments of truth.

To dig further into the role that Web sites should play in customer-aligned marketing, I sat down Clint Poole, VP of global marketing, of Lionbridge.


Christine Crandell: Do Web sites still matter?

Clint Poole: Today’s best Web sites serve as the backbone of a well-structured digital ecosystem whose components are meant to manage all of the desired customer/audience digital actions, from engagement to conversion. The Web site itself should serve as the definitive source for educational and meaningful content that is re-distributed across multiple digital channels in the sub-formats that make it relevant to the buyers’ preferences for those channels. The Web site should serve as the hub.

The educate vs. sell angle is a massive one. Content that educates and entertains is much more likely to be linked to brand-centric or persuasive content. Customer-valued content gets you in front of new audiences with an element of credibility and social proof that can have massive viral effect. The above factors increase your Web site traffic which increases the size of your engaged audience which leads to conversions thereby increasing your opportunities and ultimately translating into increased sales and revenue.

Where have marketers gone astray?

There is reluctance to change or at least the lag time to change. Over the past decade marketing professionals have become entrenched internally as they became overwhelmed with the complexities of the new marketing technologies and engagement channels. Culturally, the function has lost its focus on customer intimacy that used to be its core competency. We continually hear from marketing leaders that they are driving “back to the fundamentals” of marketing, which includes developing an understanding of their buyer’s needs, preferences and perceptions of a brand.

For consumer marketers this is a challenge because their customers don’t necessarily want to have a relationship with the brand. That requires marketers to focus on analytics to drive conclusions and big data analytics have not been perfected to a point of prevision.

For B2B, marketing measurement is just getting to a point of maturity where marketers can truly measure the influence of multiple touch points across a buyer’s journey. They are still looking at the overall map versus truly understanding the buyer moments that matter and focusing efforts on those critical interactions.

You believe that Web sites should follow customer journey maps and engage in educational storytelling. How can marketers operationalize that advice?

The key is in the application of a new Web site strategy where the purpose is to educate and engage through content that is meaningful, relevant and interesting to the buyer. This requires a finite understanding of the preferences of your target audience at each stage of their customer journey and creation of content that matters at each and every moment. It’s a matter of prioritizing which moments on the customer journey are most critical because there are too many moments to treat them all equally and buyers are too overwhelmed with messages to absorb everything.

Personalization tools are driving the tactical application of right content at the right time but getting it right is tricky. Personalization can be a powerful lever when real insights about a buyer’s pains are addressed through content and delivered at the right place and the right time with the help of tools that leverage digital body language and other knowledge about your visitor.

Popular belief is that content is king and should live in the Web site. You disagree, why?

We believe the complexities of buyers’ preferences require a brand to consistently distribute the same message and content via multiple channels simultaneously. As such it can’t simply live on the Web site in isolation but needs to be part of a well-designed content publication strategy that maps buyer preferences and effective formats for specific channels. Each of the digital channels plays a specific role and those roles are maturing.

Blogs were once the posting ground for short-form content that marketing couldn’t justify publishing on a Web site. Blog posts were perishable content that fueled social and was often focused on engagement; not on more serious product content. Today, most marketers realize that the main goal of all digital channels is to build relationships and trust. In response, blog content is slowly shifting in tone and length and we are seeing blogs trade quantity for quality.

What are best practices to assemble the right digital properties to build engaging, endearing and enduring customer relationships?

We’re in the age of the consumer which means customers expect effortless, exceptional experiences every time they interact with your brand. If they don’t get it, you risk losing more than a sale. You risk losing trust, brand loyalty and a profitable long-term relationship.

Providing exceptional customer experiences is the new competitive differentiator. And since most buyers initially interact with companies through Web sites, mobile apps and social platforms, the race is on to ensure quality experiences across those and all other customer touchpoints.

My advice is to start by getting to know your customers through persona development, buyer process/journey maps and intelligence based on behavior. Because only when you truly understand your customers’ needs can you coordinate touchpoints to provide consistent, seamless experiences that foster enduring relationships.

Personalization is key. Today’s consumer expects the right content at the right time on the right channel – and in the right language. Which means brands must now scale and adapt experiences to meet the needs of their various global consumers.

It is clear that Web site localization (including multilingual SEO, social media, marketing campaigns and more) is a business imperative; however there is still work to be done. We saw this in our recently released State of Web Localization Survey and were surprised to see nearly 40 percent of respondents are still without a strategic approach to Web site localization. The cost of not localizing can be counted in lost opportunities and percentage of lost global market share.

Where do you start? With a strategy that delivers locally relevant content, consistent messaging – and exceptional customer experience on a global scale.


Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research Techniques, Media Research, Social Media and Marketing Research | Comment

Push MR vs. pull MR

Editor’s note: Terry Vavra and Doug Pruden are partners at research firm Customer Experience Partners and authors of Insights, a weekly marketing and loyalty e-newsletter. Vavra is based in Allendale, N.J. Pruden is based in Darien, Conn. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Should we abandon push MR and adopt pull MR?”

The terms “push” and “pull” have been referenced in marketing discussions and textbooks for some time. Technically the terms mean:

Push marketing: traditional marketing practices in which content is directed toward consumers generally through the mass media (advertising, direct mail and collateral materials are all examples).

Pull marketing: a relatively new perspective in which consumers self-select and seek out information about a product or brand.

The influence of the Internet

City Buildings on Grey Modern Tech & Communication BackgroundArguably, the Internet was the greatest impetus for the evolution toward pull marketing. But we shouldn’t disregard the fact that the typical consumer has become far more sophisticated than his or her counterpart of 25 years ago. While the Internet is a great facilitator, consumers might have been ready to ‘take over’ the flow of information even without it. Accepting this radical redirection, a recent article in the GreenBook Marketing Research Newsletter proposes that marketing researchers “understand the paradigm shift in consumer behavior that continues to rapidly proliferate: people are increasingly ignoring push marketing and embracinginbound or pullmarketing.

The inference? Adopt pull marketing research.

Hold on! Are we trying to monitor opinion or please respondents?

We find this conclusion unnerving. It suggest a lack of understanding of the importance of random sampling; randomness being the key to interpreting a survey’s results as representing any population. Instead, it seems pragmatically driven to accept whatever form of information collection is easiest and will be most embraced by respondents. It can’t be denied that:

  • fewer and fewer people are willing to participate in spontaneous randomized surveys these days;
  • more and more organizations are openly recruiting participation through offered links or and other public placements; and
  • online ads or blog postings routinely ask for volunteers for online polls  we wonder how many such polls are reported as research results.


Yes, this is the reality. But recognizing the practices exist shouldn’t compel us to modify our research methods. The acceptance of such practices shouldn’t be extended to an endorsement of their correctness!

Theory-based marketing researchers have worked to come to peace with this evolution of practice. However, there is no real accommodation in scientific sampling theory to allow potential participants in a survey to self-select themselves. Doing so transforms a true scientific survey into a mere straw poll among a group who can’t be ascertained to be representative of any body of customers except themselves.

Some constructive suggestions to cope with the evolving customer
An alternative strategy to cope with today’s far lower cooperation rates with true marketing surveys is to substantially change our survey practices, by:

  1. shortening our information objectives to two or three major learnings, thereby keeping surveys down to three-to-five minutes in length;
  2. impressing consumers with the responsiveness the research community gives survey results, thereby encouraging future participation;
  3. creating survey questions and scales that are coherent, easily understood and easily answered;
  4. thinking carefully before asking a question – is it truly critical or just a nice to know issue (Need we bother respondents to answer or is the information available through observational sources?); and
  5. rewarding survey participants with something of value – not necessarily a monetary gift but something that will be appreciated. An inexpensive though often overlooked way to reward participants (in certain types of studies) is to offer them a copy of the findings (sanitized, of course).

Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Survey Development | Comment

Q&A: How Xerox is leveraging research to enhance customer experiences

Editor’s note: Seth Grimes is founder of Washington, D.C. – based IT strategy consultancy, Alta Plana Corporation. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Language use, customer personality, and the customer journey.”

A bit of pseudo-wisdom often mis-attributed to industrial engineer W. Edwards Deming says, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” I’d put it differently and say, “You can’t manage – or measure – what you can’t model.”

Models can be formal or practical, exact or imperfect, descriptive, predictive or prescriptive. Whatever adjectives describe the models you apply, models should derive from observation with a strong dose of considered judgment and aim to produce usable insights. Among the most sought-after insights today are individuals’ attitudes, emotions and intents.

Scott Nowson is global innovation lead at Xerox, stationed at the Xerox Research Centre, Europe. He holds a Ph.D. in informatics from the University of Edinburgh and works in machine learning for document access and translation.

Nowson has consented to my interviewing him about his work as a teaser for his presentation at the up-coming LT-Accelerate conference – which I co-organize – taking place November 23-24, 2015 in Brussels. His topic is customer modelling, generally of “anything about a person that will enable us to provide a more satisfactory customer experience,” and specifically of language use, customer personality and the customer journey.

Seth Grimes: You’re the global lead at Xerox Research for customer modeling. What customers, and what about them, are you modeling? What data are you using and what insights are you searching for?

Chat live blue square buttonScott Nowson: Xerox has a very large customer care outsourcing business with 2.5 million customer interactions per day, wherein, among other things, we operate contact centers for our clients. So the starting point for our research in this area is the end-customer: the person who phones a call center looking for help with a billing inquiry, who uses social media or Web-chat to try to solve a technical issue.

We’re interested in modelling anything about a person that will enable us to provide a more satisfactory customer experience. This includes, for example, automatically determining their level of expertise so that we can deliver a technical solution in the way that’s easiest – and most comfortable – for them to follow: not overly complex for beginners, nor overly simplified for people with experience. Similarly, we want to understand aspects of a customer’s personality and how we can tailor communication with each person to maximize effectiveness. For example, some personality types require reassurance and encouragement, while others will respond to more assertive language in conversations with no “social filler” (e.g., How are you?).

We learn from many sources, including social media. However, we can also learn about people from direct customer care interactions. We are able, for example, to run our analyses in real-time while a customer is chatting with an agent.

There are customers in this sense – individuals at the end of a process or service – across many areas of Xerox’s business: transportation, health care administration [and] HR services, to name just a few. So while customer care is our focus right now, this individualized precision is important to Xerox at many levels.

Your talk, titled “Language Use, Customer Personality, and the Customer Journey,” concerns multi-lingual technology you’ve been developing. Does your solution apply a single modeling approach across multiple languages, then? Could you please say a bit about the technical foundations?

There are applications for which only low-level processing is required so that we may use a common, language-agnostic approach, particularly for rapid-prototyping. However, for much of what we do, a greater understanding of the structure and semantics of language used is required. Xerox, and the European Research Centre in particular, has a long history with multi-lingual natural language processing research and technology. This is where we use our linguistic knowledge and experience to develop solutions which are tuned to specific languages, which can harness their individual affordances. There are languages in which the gender of a speaker/writer is morphologically encoded. In Spanish, for example to say “I am happy” a male would say “Yo estoy contento” whereas a female would say “Yo estoy contenta.” We would overlook this valuable source of information if we merely translated an English model of gender prediction.

On this language-specific feature foundation, the analytics we build on top can be more generally applied. Having a team that is constantly pushing the boundary of machine learning algorithms means that we always have a wide variety of options to use when it comes to the actual modelling of customer attributes. We will conduct experiments and benchmark each approach looking for the best combination of features and models for each task in context.

Is this research work or is it (also) deployed for use in the wild?

The model across the Xerox R&D organization is to drive forward research, and then use the cutting edge techniques we create to develop prototype technology. We will typically transfer these to one of the business groups within Xerox who will take them to the market. Our customer modelling work can be applied across many businesses within our Xerox services operations, although as I mentioned customer care is our initial focus. We are currently envisioning a single platform which combines our multiple strands of customer focused research, though we expect to see aspects incorporated into products within the next year. So the advanced customer modelling is currently research but hopefully running wild soon.

How do you decide which personality characteristics are salient? Does the choice vary by culture, language, data source, context (say a Facebook status update versus an online review) or business purpose?

That’s a good question, and it’s certainly true that not all are salient at one time. Much of the work on computational personality recognition has dealt with the big five – extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism (as opposed to emotional stability), openness to experience and conscientiousness. This is largely the most well-accepted model in psychology, and has its roots in language use so the relationship with what we do is natural. However, the big five is not the only model: Myers-Briggs types are commonly used in HR, while DiSC is commonly referenced in sales and marketing literature. The use of these in any given situation varies.

We’re currently undertaking a more ethnographically-driven program of research to understand which traits would be most suitable in which given situation – adapting to which traits (or indeed other attributes) will have the most impact on the customer experience.

At the same time, in our recent research we’ve shown that personality projection through language varies across data source. We’ve shown that the language patterns which convey aspects of personality in, say, video blogs, are not the same as in every day conversation. Similarly in different languages, it’s not possible to simply translate cues. This may work in sentiment – you might lose subtlety but “happy” is a positive word in just about any language – but just as personalities vary between cultures, so do their linguistic indicators.

How do you measure accuracy and effectiveness, and how are you doing on those fronts?

Studies have traditionally divided personality traits – which are scored on a scale – into classes: high-scorers, low-scorers and a mid-range class. However, recent efforts such as the 2015 PAN Author profiling challenge have returned the task to regression: calculating where the individual sits on the scale, determining their trait score. We participated in the PAN challenge, and were evaluated on unseen data alongside 20 other teams on four different languages. The ranking was based on mean-squared error, how close our prediction was to the original value. Our performance varied across the languages of the challenge, from third on Dutch Twitter data to tenth on English – on which the top 12 teams scored similarly, which was encouraging. Since submission we’ve continued to make improvements to our approach, using different combinations of feature sets and learning algorithms to significantly lower our training error rate.

Is there a role for human analysts, given that this is an automatic solution? In data selection, model training, results interpretation? Anywhere?

Our view, on both the research and commercial fronts, is that people will always be key to this work. Data preparation for example – labelled data can be difficult to come by when you consider personality. You can’t ask customers to complete long, complex surveys. One alternative approach to data collection is the use of personality perception – wherein the personality labels are judgments made by third parties based on observation of the original individual. This has been shown to strongly relate to “real” self-reported personality and can be done at a much greater scale. It also makes sense from a customer care perspective: humans are good at forming impressions, and a good agent will try to understand the person with whom they are talking as much as possible. Thus labeling data with perceived personality is a valid approach.

Of course this labeling need not be done by an expert, per se. Typically the judgements are made by completing a typical personality questionnaire but from the point of view of the person being judged. The only real requirement is cultural: there’s no better judge of the personality of, say, a native French speaker than that of another French person.

Subsequently, our approach to modelling is largely data-driven. However, there is considerable requirement on human expertise in the use and deployment of such models. How we interpret the information we have about customers – how we can use this to truly understand them – requires human insight. We have researchers from more psychological and behavioral fields with whom we are working closely. This extends naturally to the training of automated systems in such areas.

We will always require human experts – be they in human behavior, or in hands-on customer care – to help train our systems, to help them learn.

To what extent do you work with non-textual data, with human images, speech, video and behavioral models? What really tough challenges are you facing?

Our focus, particularly in the European labs, has been language-use in text. For our purposes this is important because it’s a relatively impoverished source of data. Extra-linguistic information such as speech rate or body language is important in human impression-making. However, one of our driving motivations is supporting human care agents that establish relationships with customers when they use increasingly popular text-based mediums such as Web-chat. It’s harder to connect with customers in the same way as on the phone, and our technology can help this.

However, we are of course looking beyond text. Speech processing is a core part of this, but also other dimensions of social media behavior, pictures etc. We’re also looking at automatically modelling interests in the same way.

Perhaps our biggest concern in this work is back with our starting point, the customer, and understanding how this work will be perceived and accepted. There is a lot of debate right now around personalization versus privacy, and it’s easy for people to argue “big brother” and the creepiness factor, particularly when you’re modelling at the level of personality. However, studies have shown that people are increasingly comfortable with the notion that their data is being used and in parallel are expecting more personalized services from the brands with which they interact. Our intentions in this space are altruistic – to provide an enriched, personalized customer experience. However, we recognize that it’s not for everyone. Our ethnographic teams I mentioned earlier are also investigating the appropriateness of what we’re doing. By studying human interactions in real situations, in multiple domains and cultures (we have centers around the world) we will understand the when, how and for whom for personalization. The bottom line is a seamless quality customer experience, and we don’t want to do anything to ruin that.

Posted in Behavioral Research, Big Data, Business and Product Development, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Data Privacy, Innovation in Market Research, Market Research Techniques, Research Communities, Social Media and Marketing Research | Comment

Translating social wisdom into lessons on community engagement

Editor’s note: Rachel Belinky is community strategist at market research firm Ipsos SMX, Cincinnati. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Leveraging social wisdom for better community insights.”

As market researchers we intrinsically understand the importance of engaging consumers in every stage of the product life cycle, from ideation and co-creation through concept testing, marketing and innovation. Consumer engagement is particularly crucial when it comes to market research online communities (MROC’s), where ongoing relationships are often the most influential factor in determining depth of participation and quality of insights.

Social media iconsLook no further than some of the largest and most buzzworthy social networks to see how the idea of relationship building continues to guide innovation. In his town hall Q&A addressing Facebook’s new “empathy” feature, Mark Zuckerberg said the feature would be less about up or down voting, and more about the ability to “express empathy.” Why? Because “… your friends and people want to be able to express that they understand and that they relate to you.” And in a recent Advertising Age article, Pixlee CEO Kyle Wong advocated that brands form “advisory boards” made up of top influencers, rather than consumer focus groups because this “not only helps develop deeper relationships with your top influencers, it also allows you to truly understand and leverage the creativity of how customers use your products, leading to co-creation.”

Engagement-based community practice hinges on relationship building, both among members (“peers”) in the community and between members and the community manager. But how do community managers establish trust and ongoing engagement with participants, while at the same time maintaining high standards in research design and moderation? The answer lies in leveraging some basic tenets of social media – combined with qualitative techniques in online moderation – to establish unique connections.

The importance of trust in the context of an online research community

The level of trust that is built throughout the course of a community lends itself to deeper insights and increased compliance. Community respondents are more likely to provide an honest and detailed response (compared to traditional qualitative studies) and more compliance (compared to traditional quantitative studies). If a stranger asks you to do something, you are less likely to oblige than if a friend of yours asks you. The same principle applies to community vs. other traditional methodologies.

Furthermore, an insight, more often than not, has an emotional component to it. For instance, someone might think that a woman colors her hair for the first time because she wants to change her look, when in fact, her reasons may be much more emotional than that. Maybe she wanted to become the woman she always dreamed she could be or she wanted to stop being defined by everyone else’s perceptions. In order to get to a deeper emotional insight, you have to ask questions that warrant a personal explanation. You can’t expect to receive an introspective response by asking, What was the reason you first colored your hair? Instead, you may provide an example of the type of response you are hoping to receive from members, or share one of your own personal stories so that people feel comfortable being just as open and honest as you were with them.

Lessons from the deadly sins of social media

In addition to seeking inspiration from specific social networks, we also regularly apply the larger tenets of social media in our daily moderation and activity planning to enhance engagement. Take some of the “deadly sins” of social media – those committed by people on social networks who don’t typically have a large following or very much content engagement. Let’s see how just three of these social media sins can translate into a lesson on community engagement:

1. Mundane subject matter

You ate Wheaties for breakfast? Walked the dog? Stuck in traffic? Bored at work? These posts are not funny, thought provoking or clever, and are often posted with way too much frequency.

How does this translate to community engagement? Make the content interesting by using creative methodologies or your unique voice to make the topic or the way in which you ask the questions more engaging. And don’t overburden your members!

2. Poor quality media

Posting out-of-focus pictures of soupy-looking casseroles that no one would ever want to eat is not doing anyone any favors. A homemade culinary experiment may not taste as horrendous as it looks but based on the quality and composition of the picture shared, you couldn’t pay me to take a bite.

How does this translate to community engagement? Images are an incredible source of engagement, whether for research activities or personal images you may choose to post for engagement. Be very thoughtful when choosing your images.

3. Never responding to others

Nobody likes to participate on social media if it’s not actually “social.”

How does this translate to community engagement? When a member tags, private messages or directly e-mails the support mailbox, it’s the community manager’s job to respond to them as soon as possible. No one likes to be kept waiting and no one wants to feel like they are being ignored. Make responding to your members a priority.

Balancing engagement and objectivity

As we’ve seen, sharing personal stories and photos is one of the most effective ways of creating an engaging environment in a community. This goes for the community manager as well, who should strive to be seen as an actual person rather than just someone behind a screen simply asking people to participate in research. Sharing more of who you are offers the opportunity for your members to connect with you in all sorts of ways, developing a stronger relationship and more trust.

But as all researchers know it’s also paramount to remain objective to obtain quality insights. To remain objective and neutral when probing in research activities, one rule we swear by is the “if at all” or “if any” rule.

If a member says that she doesn’t like a specific shampoo brand and would never use it again, you might ask, “How, if at all, could this brand improve their product to make you interested in purchasing it again? Your responses are always so detailed, @NameOfMember – don’t let me down now!” or “In what ways, if any, could this brand make their products more relevant to you? And please be as detailed as possible, @NameOfMember – you’re always incredibly insightful and I would love to know what you think!”

Not only are we remaining neutral in our questioning, we are also reaffirming to the members that we are reading what they post and value their contribution in the community.

Ultimately community is all about creating an environment where people are encouraged to express themselves and have the ability to relate to others. Market research online communities are no exception. Building trust and relationships allow for a more open and honest dialogue with consumers. Combined with best practices in qualitative moderation, it’s a win-win environment for generating better, faster and richer insights.


Posted in Consumer Research, Market Research Techniques, Online Surveys and Research, Public Opinion/Social Research, Qualitative Research, Research Communities, Social Media and Marketing Research | Comment

How the digital generation is changing qual

Editor’s note: Lisa Boughton is director at Angelfish Fieldwork, a Cheltenham, and U.K.- based marketing research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Millennials and qualitative market research: The generation changing everything.”                          

Social TechnologyEveryone is talking about Millennials; it seems to be the buzz word of the moment for market researchers the world over but does anyone actually know what it really means for us? How can we tap into the Millennials market that we are told holds the key to the future of marketing if we don’t know what we are trying to tap into?

So firstly, let’s look at what Millennials are. Similar to their predecessors, the Baby Boomers and Generation X, they are an age demographic, that reached young adulthood around the 2000s and are viewed by many as an essential demographic in modern day market research. Growing up in this time makes them unique as they experience the world in a very different way to those who came before them.

They value health, well-being, sustainability and ethical treatment. Unlike those who came before them they are living, able to make choices rather than just surviving and with the advent of the Internet their choices and opinions are formed and shared for the world to see.

Seen as a truly digital generation, they were amongst the first to fully embrace digital technology, with the majority of Millennials being early adopters of tech. Connected by a vast network of social media, they are collaborators rather than passive consumers, engaging and interacting rather than merely reacting. With what is seen as a non-traditional approach to life, optimistic outlook in the face of diversity and unique sense of self, there are endless lessons that qualitative market researchers can learn from this remarkable demographic.

Because of Millennials, market research has taken a major shift to the digital side; it is where they reside in their work life and down time therefore digital media plays a vital role in reaching them. You must engage with them on their level, give them substance and value. You need to understand what makes them tick, makes them happy, makes them angry and what their passions are. By involving Millennials, you will find your route to them, through a partnership and cooperation. With their shared love and familiarity with technology, they are the best subjects to test new apps, tech and gadgets to quickly receive honest feedback and suggestions.

As digital natives, their impact on market research is wholly unquantifiable. With a great understanding and competency for the ever evolving technologies, and acceptance of new platforms, it seems that qualitative market research is firmly going online. Engaging Millennials on their own turf is key and market research methodologies such as MROCs are really beginning to gain traction as the methodology of choice to engage this generation in a qualitative market research setting. This new technique allows for greater control than ever before. By directly selecting and controlling the engagement with your ideal demographic you can increase insight in a time frame to suit … which these days is always yesterday.

Market research online communities are becoming the forefront in market research for a number of reasons but it is so popular with Millennials due to their very nature – tech savvy and extremely reliant, they are trusting of all things digital and wary of the more classic methods. Short attention spans resulting from constant engagement and a desire to share opinions, content and solutions means that online is the premier way to reach and understand this fascinating demographic.

So what does all of this really mean for qualitative market research?

Well, to put it simply, Millennials have thrown everything that traditional marketers thought they knew, out of the metaphorical window. As the largest demographic, this is not set to change any time soon. They are the present and future of consumer behavior and research conducted now will pave the way to the marketing of tomorrow.

With the shift to everything digital, it is inevitable that market research online communities will continue to make up a large chunk of the qualitative market research market. By nature Millennials are big believers in collective experiences in which they can contribute and have their voice heard, making face-to-face research less of a default option. By using this type of platform it enables engagement through a language Millennials are much more familiar with.

And we should thank them for this shift in our qualitative market research behavior. With easier access to participants through online channels, market researchers can improve their reaction times to trends and current affairs, which is priceless in a world that just won’t wait.


Posted in Brand and Image Research, Consumer Psychology, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Quantitative Research | Comment

10 guidelines for asking good questions

Editor’s note: Editor’s note: John Holcombe is founder of Wellspring Insights & Innovation, Miami, Fla. and blogger at TheInsightsGuy.com. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Asking good questions: the most disruptive technology we have.”

“We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” – Bono

Question Mark I recently read an article about a new market research technology/method that “gathered better insights” than other technologies or methodologies. What a bunch of nonsense. No matter the technology or methodology you are using, research gathers only quantitative or qualitative observations (data points, facts, opinions, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, stories, experiences, feelings).

From these we need to create context and develop insights and the most disruptive tool we have as researchers is the human question.

Have you ever noticed that great listeners also ask great questions? Great innovators and creatives also ask great questions.

Questions have a dark side, too. We’ve all experienced this – in board meetings, political exchanges, in a survey or the observation room of a focus group facility – when questions are blocking strategies: questions can be evaluative, judging, full of bias and agenda. Questions can be used to prevent the flow of ideas, to test, trap or expose. They can be used to humiliate – or on the other end of the spectrum – to kiss some major butt.

Asking good questions can help us understand an issue or point-of-view different from our own; good questions can help us be more empathetic and insightful listeners.

Ten guidelines for good questions

  1. Engage people. Care. Questions must be non-threatening. When a respondent is concerned about the consequences of answering a question, there is a good possibility that the answer will not be truthful. For example: “Why are you a [blank]?”would be a threatening question to many. The simple question, “Why?” is often threatening in and of itself – it makes people defensive.
  2. Don’t be biased. Good questions should not expect a certain state of affairs. Defer judgment and don’t assume anything.
  3. Don’t support an agenda. Good questions produce variability of response. Bad questions look to confirm something or test a subject.
  4. Do not express emotions. I saw a post on LinkedIn recently that asked, “Why do Americans hate planning?” What a bad question – it breaks all of the rules.
  5. Avoid jargon and vague words. Adjectives (e.g., most, least, majority) are frequently used in question yet they mean different things to different people. Similarly, using technical jargon produces confusion.
  6. Ask on only one dimension. No “double-barreled” questions. You hear these all the time on talk shows. The interviewer asks the actor “Do you like working on the set? What was your favorite set?” Skilled actors can quickly choose which of the two questions to answer; with regular folks, stay in one dimension.
  7. Use humor carefully. Humor is a great way to approach difficult topics and to build trust. Self-deprecating humor can work, too.
  8. Explore. Yes or no questions should be avoided. Questions that open up endless possibilities should be used. “What are all of the reasons you got into the nonprofit field?” for example, is a good example of a question that follows all of the guidelines here. Want to engage someone and show you care? Ask, “Will you please share with me the story of your life?”
  9. Clarify. Let’s face it, we’re all biased. So make sure you understand what they are truly talking about by asking, “So what I hear you saying is …” often.
  10. Use the power of silence. Want someone to elaborate, open-up and tell you more? Say nothing at all and engage with your eyes. You’ll be amazed at the nuggets that come up when people feel compelled to fill the gaps of silence.

Good questions go hand in hand with empathetic listening. Highly emphatic people have a voracious curiosity but they are not out to interrogate others – they genuinely want to understand the world inside the head of the other person. They don’t interrupt and they use the power of silence.

As Studs Terkel said, “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

In other words, if your questionnaire or discussion guide feels like an inquisition rather than a conversation, you need to reconsider the types of questions you are asking.


Posted in Consumer Research, Interviewing, Market Research Techniques | 2 Comments

Connecting consumer preconceptions and advertising engagement

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

Why is it that some individuals choose to engage with a particular ad while others ignore it all together? That’s the million-dollar question. Creators of advertisements strive to ensure that their ads secure the attention of the widest possible swath of consumers within their target audience. With that said, not all consumers are created equal when it comes to the likelihood of engaging with a specific ad for which they have exposure opportunity.

Kraft Mac & CheeseThis important yet little-researched area within the field of in-market advertising effectiveness involves evaluating how pre-existing consumer brand experiences and beliefs affect engagement with advertising. Generally, individuals who already admire a brand will be more likely to engage with ads for that brand. It makes sense that this would be true – individuals who are already considering shopping for a BMW are more likely to engage with BMW ads than individuals who are not. The phenomenon stands true for less considered purchases as well: Tide detergent customers watch Tide commercials and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese fans pay closer attention to Kraft Mac & Cheese ads. It’s reinforcing to hear (via TV or video) how smart you are for considering buying a BMW, for your choice of Tide or Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

In connection with this dynamic, most advertisers and researchers realize that you can’t presume advertising impact by comparing brand metrics between those who have seen your ads with the same metrics among those who haven’t. Predictably, brand metrics will be stronger among the ad-aware but this is generally discounted – with the reason being the aforementioned phenomenon.

This phenomenon is called selective perception. The strength of selective perception varies by brand as well as by the particular creative approach employed in the ads for that brand. Depending on whether a brand has a frequency or loyalty-building objective, or an awareness, trial, market share expansion strategy, selective perception can be positive (in the former case) or a hurdle to be overcome (in the latter case).

It’s important to be able to measure and understand the relative degree of selective perception for a particular campaign to determine the success in communication and persuasion beyond the brand’s base of user fans. So how does one measure how consumers feel before engaging with ­– or ignoring – an ad to which they have exposure opportunity in the real world?

One method is to utilize longitudinal design research – interviewing the same panel of consumers before and after an advertising campaign runs in-market. In the pre-wave, researchers survey a target audience sample before the campaign appears in-market – collecting brand usage and preference data for a range of brands within a product category. In the post phase, researchers question the same respondents on what advertising they have viewed recently. Researchers then compare advertising recall among respondents who were brand users or fans in the pre-wave versus those who weren’t.

Perhaps you’ve discovered strong selective perception for your brand’s campaign – maybe brand fans are twice as likely as non-fans to engage with the TV executions within the campaign. But to achieve its marketing objectives, this advertising campaign needs to engage non-fans as well. A closer examination via qualitative research or by employing new biometric measurement approaches can help to illuminate particular elements within the ads that are of interest to non-fans. Additionally, brands can initiate additional research to identify the types of triggers that will cause non-fans to engage with ads for their brand. These insights can be used to ensure that non-fans are engaged by the brand’s campaign – to learn something new and to perhaps change their way of thinking or even their purchase intentions.

Unless a brand is able to identify the selective perception dynamic, it can be a mystery as to why, despite its strong copy testing or broad-based in-market tracking results, a campaign is failing to generate the trial or expansion of household penetration that the advertising is charged with achieving.

The selective perception phenomenon is present across many media types beyond TV and video, and is even more prevalent in digital and online consumer-brand interactions. Further, we know that having engaged with an ad for your brand in one medium, a consumer may be more inclined to notice ads within the same campaign in other media. As such, an understanding of selective perception across media types can lead to superior insights about how to make the overall campaign work harder for your brand.

It’s a relatively simple matter to evaluate and diagnose the selective perception dynamic for a particular campaign. Researchers who don’t attend to this practice are missing important insights that can be highly actionable to the advertisers whose campaigns we are helping to optimize.


Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Data Processing, Market Research Techniques, Research Industry Trends, Retailing, Shopper Insights | 2 Comments

Audi: Betraying the brand promise

Editor’s note: Rob Stone is CEO of Market Strategies International, Atlanta. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Brand betrayal.”

AudiWe’ve been part of many brand positioning engagements, from the development of new product brands to the re-positioning of corporate brands. Positioning poses some of the most thorny – and rewarding – challenges to marketers and researchers. Of all the headwinds brand positioning can face, the stiffest is getting true buy-in across the organization. While marketing groups should typically lead positioning efforts, their enthusiasm is a necessary, not sufficient, condition for success. Start to worry when other key organizational stakeholders – especially product teams and sales/distribution – aren’t in the room. As recent headlines teach us, billions of dollars of equity are on the line.

Positioning isn’t just a marketing veneer or a tagline. It needs to be an organizational north star, the core strand of DNA that not only embodies your differentiated value to the marketplace but also shapes every aspect of the business – from product design to marketing communications to customer experience at the point of sale. The companies that nail it, like Apple, drive enormous brand premiums in the marketplace. Among other brands that have built their success around disciplined adherence to savvy positioning strategy, I would have added Audi … until the September 2015 reveal of the 2.1 million Audi cars that have software at the center of the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Sorting through my mail, I found a promotional offer to test drive a new Audi. I was struck by their tagline – which has transformed itself from a masterpiece of branding execution to an exercise in executing your brand, virtually overnight: “Truth in engineering.”

Truth in engineering has been an apt summary of Audi’s brand promise, implying that a superior driving experience (both in performance and finish) is a natural expression of scientific devotion to pure engineering. That appeal to authenticity has been perfectly pitched, especially for a cohort of Millennials entering the luxury category, and it’s resulted in stunning sales performance. Earlier this year, Audi recorded its 52nd straight month of record U.S. sales. While I don’t drive an Audi, it was the runner-up in my last purchase process, in part because of the deep chord their positioning strikes for me. Ordinarily, I might have responded to the test drive promotion – but, in this case, it was that bold claim that prompted a bitter laugh and a quick trip to the recycling bin.

If building a business rigorously around a coherent positioning strategy offers a great path to success, betraying the fundamental promise of that positioning threatens to unravel success even more quickly. While details of the recent Volkswagen diesel scandal continue to unfold, the most current accounts cite that any cars using the firm’s Type EA 189 engines – including the Audi A3 – are affected. Nothing could be further from the concept of truth in engineering than a car engineered to fraudulently defeat emissions inspections. This has undercut the company’s marketing claims that its new diesel products successfully combine environmental protection and performance. The scandal couldn’t put a dagger in the heart of the brand’s claims more perfectly if it had been cooked up by one of Audi’s competitors.

And that makes it a perfect example of a company that forgets that brand positioning needs to be baked into its operational DNA. Marketing strategy needs to be an expression of a brand’s fundamental truths, not an external façade. In an organization that truly lives the positioning of truth in engineering, can you imagine an engineer observing to his boss, “You know, I think I can trick emissions testing?” It’s even worse to contemplate the possibility of senior management, who should embody brand principles for their teams, championing the idea of fraudulent engineering from the top. At the root of the diesel scandal is not only a failure of business ethics but also a failure of brand discipline. For a critical moment, the brand forgot who they are.

The road to redemption

The question will be how well and how quickly Audi can rebound. It’s had significant help thus far from the media coverage, which focuses almost exclusively on Volkswagen, its corporate parent. In the American market, most consumers know that Chevrolet is a General Motors marque, but fewer know Audi’s parentage. The more interesting question is, among those who are aware, how much permission is there for redemption? It would not, after all, be the first time a company recovered from a gaffe – even one that touched upon its core brand promise.

You may not remember the uproar surrounding Intel’s floating point unit (FPU) bug in late 1994. Some processors in its Pentium line were found to return infinitesimally small errors in certain calculations. Because the vast majority of users would never notice the issue (Byte magazine estimated that only one in nine billion floating point operations would produce an inaccurate result), Intel’s initial policy was to replace processors only for users who could demonstrate they had been affected. With core brand pillars of technology (strike one, based on the FPU itself) and safety (strike two, by insisting consumers retain a processor with known flaws), Intel’s response did not measure up – and elicited immediate criticism. But deviation from brand promise did not last long. Within a month of the problem hitting the mainstream press, Intel promised replacements for anyone who asked, returning to its long-term brand pillars.

It’s too early to see how much impact the diesel scandal will have on Audi. In these days of nimble crisis communications, we can expect that Volkswagen will work quickly to create a sense of transparency in its investigation. The more fundamental task, for whoever takes on Martin Winterkorn’s job, will be to reinstate a sense of mission in the employees, restoring truth in engineering and truth in brand.

Posted in Advertising Research, Brand and Image Research, Business and Product Development, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research in the News, Public Opinion/Social Research, Shopper Insights | Comment