Quirk's Blog

Developing a chat bot-driven engagement strategy

Editor’s note: Brian Heikes is vice president of product at 3Cinteractive, Boca Raton, Fla. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Is your brand developing a ChatBot strategy?”

Marketers and customer service professionals are now paying a lot of attention to chat bots. Chat bots are now becoming a pervasive part of a brand’s digital toolkit.

Bots are being talked about as the next evolution of messaging interaction between brands and consumers. The excitement, of course, is the fact that bots have the potential of driving a real-time, one-on-one interaction that is highly intelligent and conversational. This messaging channel has the potential to lead to a new form of conversational commerce, where brands can elevate their ability to engage with consumers on a more personal level. In order to successfully execute on this, bots will need to have intelligence on the person they’re conversing with as well as sufficient capabilities to assist that person with the task they need to complete – otherwise bots will quickly turn into the next version of the hated voice response systems that are blockers to customer service at many companies.

Messaging Messaging applications are becoming a significant strategy for brands simply because it’s how consumers are communicating today. According to an article in The Economist, over 2.5 billion people have installed at least one messaging app on their smartphone, and messaging has replaced phone calls as the communication medium of choice for Millennials. Because of the penetration into consumers’ daily lives, these platforms now provide an outstanding medium through which brands can reach their customers.

While bots hold amazing potential, this interaction channel remains in its infancy. Companies considering the development of bots don’t yet know the true ramifications and response from consumers who may be wary of talking to a computer on an individual level. The big question is how to cut through the hype to ensure that the bots developed for your brand exceed the expectations of your customers to provide an experience that surprises and delights them.

If your brand is planning a bot strategy, here are some important considerations to keep in mind:

Conversational commerce is now

Conversational commerce has been very much in the news lately. Messaging platforms, artificial intelligence and virtual assistants (all of which are critical components to a successful bot play) have been widely discussed, particularly at the recent Google I/O conference. What’s more, Facebook announced that it is opening up its platform to commercial messaging (via bots) and provided numerous tools to enable brands to develop their own entries. Both of these announcements have created lots of buzz and new excitement. But let’s not forget that there can also be plays that are simpler and more direct – such as ReplyYes, that recently raised $2.5 million after announcing that they sold over $1 million in vinyl records via text message. The larger context here is that by adding context and enabling direct and timely action, messaging becomes the evolution of brand-consumer engagement in the persona of bots.

The medium shapes the message

It’s important for brands to understand the components of driving successful engagement via messaging. Successful efforts will be optimized for the channel – which for messaging applications, means mobile first. This means designing a messaging-specific experience as opposed to simply shrinking down the Web or taking your RSS-news feed and sizing it to fit on a smartphone device. Think of your design strategy for use of pictures, navigation, conversation (typing and swiping) and access to other aspects of the brand’s mobile content. Additionally, the entire experience should be able to be successfully completed within the messaging application. Many early bots are delivering part of the experience in messaging and then linking off to a store page to finalize the transaction – however a more engaging experience allows the customer to complete all steps as part of the conversation. This may require an initial setup process (e.g. storing a card on file, entering shipping address, etc.), but the longer-term benefit is a delightful customer experience. Consider the Domino’s pizza ordering experience – just tweet a pizza slice to @Dominos and in 30 minutes get your default pizza delivered to your door.

Excelling at the bot experience

Conversational commerce, like most messaging engagements, must be permission-based. Text messages are regulated by Telephone Consumer Protection Act; Facebook requires review and approval; and other messaging services also require customer opt-in. Compliance in a messaging environment is critical, and failure to follow best practices can lead to penalties, fines or loss of customers who are dissatisfied with your approach. This can make or break your brand in many cases.

The bot experience must also be relevant and engaging. Personalization, beyond just inserting <First Name> in to the message, is key, and fortunately the ability to be personalized is what is driving much of the bot discussion recently. Customer data compiled from other channels should be used to help establish a successful interaction. However, this data must be used appropriately in the conversation. As an example, if you already have data on location and shopping habits, don’t ask a customer to type in that information during the welcome part of the conversation, which can be perceived as annoying. Customers know that brands have data about them, and they expect them to use it.

The customer, not content, is king

Due to compliance restrictions, most bot engagements will begin with the customer initiating contact. Because of this, marketers need to have a strategy in place to turn that initial reactive contact into a positive experience that extracts permission for ongoing pushed interaction. Marketers must learn to predict how these interactions take shape and focus on serving the customer’s needs first, as opposed to the brand’s needs, otherwise, consumers will quickly opt out of the program. This means that the conversation strategy should be up front with consumers on what they can expect from the bot – be that advertising, customer service or information delivery. No matter which path the bot takes, a successful conversation will enhance the relationship with the brand, ultimately leading to increased engagement.

What is your bot’s personality?

The purpose of the bot is to have a unique conversation with each customer. And since the bot is essentially representing your brand, you must determine how you want to be perceived by the customer. Personality and capability is key here. Will your bot be very technical (consumer electronics discussion), or perhaps filled with outdoor wittiness (travel and vacation discussion)? Marketers should be prepared to design the right interaction into their bot to enhance the personality so that it represents the brand accordingly.

Measurement will determine success

Like any successful customer facing strategy, measurement is critical. Is your bot creating engagement? How are customers responding, and what are their actions? When do customer engage most with your bot? What are the outcomes? And how do they interact with your brand immediately following their bot experience?

Bot-driven engagement represents a great opportunity for brands and marketers to enhance their messaging and mobile strategies. While they are not designed to fully replace communication strategies for brands, they represent the next iteration of businesses can bring technology. The right bot strategy will enhance the brand and strengthen its relationship with customers and stakeholders, which ultimately drives revenue.


Posted in Brand and Image Research, Consumer Research, Data Privacy, Innovation in Market Research, Market Research Techniques, Millennials | Comment

How to combat low survey participation

Editor’s note: Dan Rangel is director of research solutions at Chicago-based market research firm Survox, and president of the Great Lakes Chapter of the Marketing Research Association. This is an edited version of a piece that originally appeared here under the title, “How to reduce respondent fatigue and improve response rates.”

empty roomI don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that taking surveys is probably not on most people’s bucket list for life achievements. Nonetheless, as a career market researcher, I find today’s diminishing response rates and overall public apathy for surveys very disconcerting.

But best practices in combating low participation do exist. Through years of field experience spanning multiple industries, I have learned that success today starts with offering what people expect: choice, convenience and a positive experience.

Phone-based surveys – live interviews (CATI) or automated (IVR) – reach all demographics including seniors, rural and select socio-economic groups – and provide a convenient means to engage respondents. Research shows that IVR is particularly effective for experience measurement programs where phone contact information is readily available, target respondents are less tech-savvy and/or Web access is problematic.

I’m currently working with a national retailer that is monitoring quality of service delivery and overall customer experience via an outbound IVR program. Of the 170,000 customers serviced monthly, the retailer has been able to collect 25,000 completed interviews each month, achieving a 13 percent engagement rate, proving IVR to be an effective tool to measure customer satisfaction.

Minimize sample to maximize results

A second best practice is to target who you recruit to the survey. If your goal is to collect feedback monthly about each of your stores or each of your agents, then you only have to invite enough customers to provide a representative distribution of respondents. You can minimize the requests and still get the valuable insights without overusing the same folks time after time – making the experience fresh.

Make it easy

Offering respondents choice and convenience leads us to a third best practice: give them a choice of Web + phone – live or automated. In order to take convenience a step further, respondents can start a survey on the phone, and if necessary, stop and later complete the survey on the web.

Antidote to respondent fatigue

Making it easy and convenient for the respondent to participate can also contribute to a better overall experience. For business, surveys done properly can be a positive branding touchpoint, in addition to being a source for collecting valuable customer insights. It’s important that the survey experience does not overwhelm the respondent, thus contributing to respondent fatigue.

Which brings us to another best practice: implement contact frequency rules to eliminate over-surveying of the respondent.

Choice. Convenience. A positive experience. People have come to expect this as the norm – whether in purchasing products and services for home or office, in-person or on the Web. We should not be surprised that they expect no less when it comes to participating in surveys.

Posted in Consumer Research, Market Research Best Practices, Survey Development | Comment

Forget the budget: survey explores summer shopping habits

Editor’s note: Phil Ahad is vice president at market research firm Toluna QuickSurveys, Washington, D.C.

sandlesWe generally associate the summer season with activities like barbecuing, sunbathing and vacationing, but it is also a peak shopping season for consumers. In fact, consumers say they tend to spend the most money shopping during the summer months (28 percent) over the winter/holiday months (26 percent).

Nearly 1,000 consumers were polled about their shopping habits to uncover where, how and what they plan buy this summer.

And apparently summer activities come can come with a hefty shopping price tag. It tends to be less about the cost of products associated with summer activities and more about consumers’ lax attitudes about sticking to a budget during the summer when it comes to summer spending. Considering summer is often considered a more relaxed time of year, it’s not shocking that people will let their guards down when it comes to the swipe of their credit cards as well. While 53 percent of respondents have a set budget for summer shopping, 89 percent admit they would spend more than the intended budget.

What’s in the summer shopping cart

Summer is activity filled, and it is also the primary season for home improvements and the time of year when people tend to both the inside and outside of their homes. The result: during the summer months, consumers fill up their in-store and online shopping carts with all the goodies needed for summer activities and home care alike. The specific summer-related products purchased between Memorial Day and Labor Day are:

  • summer clothing like bathing suits and beachwear (66 percent);
  • beauty products like sunscreen and aloe (59 percent);
  • gardening and landscaping products (50 percent);
  • outdoor party products like plates and platters (42 percent); and
  • pool products like floats and chemicals (25 percent).


In the summer months, shoppers tend to get up with sun! Thirty-seven percent of respondents prefer to shop in the morning hours during the summer, over only 11 percent who shop later in the day. Warm weather also gets people out of the house. Only 7 percent of people will exclusively shop online, while 34 percent will exclusively go in-store. As for where they’re headed, 45 percent of consumers tend to shop at the same retailers over and over because they are familiar with their products and prices. Less time searching through unfamiliar aisles and for great deals means more time outside enjoying all the activities – and chores – summer has to offer.

Methodology: This study received 885 completes from respondents and was run with SmartSelect, which relies on statistical matching rather than probability sampling, and weights on age, gender, region, ethnicity, race and education.

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

8 tips for successful sampling

Editor’s note: Susan Frede is vice president of research methods and best practices at Cincinnati, Ohio-based market research firm Lightspeed GMI. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Sampling best practice: probability versus nonprobability, redux.”

A dozen years ago a debate raged in the marketing research community over the switch from probability sampling methods such as telephone RDD to nonprobability sampling methods as are typical with online access panels. In the interim years, most clients moved to online samples but there are still some that cling to probability methods. However, we now see the quality of probability samples being questioned because of low response rates for RDD. In an interesting twist, the very same techniques that nonprobability samples use to weight and model data now often need to be done on probability samples to account for nonresponse bias.

In early May, Pew Research Center published a report entitled, Evaluating Online Nonprobability Survey. Pew fielded a survey to nine online nonprobability samples from eight different suppliers. The survey included 56 measures including 20 benchmarks with comparison data obtained from high quality government research. Results were also compared to Pew’s American Trends Panel (ATP), which was recruited via random digit dialing (RDD) in early 2014.

My company’s basic premise is to pull an appropriate sample using the right variables for a particular client. Sampling should be customized for each client based on their expressed objectives and needs.

Digit 8Here are eight sampling best practices:

  1. Understand the objectives and analytic plan for the research is so an appropriate sample is built.
  2. Regardless of objectives/analytic plans, at a minimum balance the outgoing sample on age, gender, region and income/social class. Additional variables may be needed based on the objectives and analytic plan.
  3. Be cautious with too much interlocking of quotas. The basic recommendation is to only interlock age and gender. When more is interlocked it creates a level of complexity that is very hard to deliver against.
  4. Instead of interlocking, if a subgroup is particularly important (e.g., Hispanics, African Americans, young adults, males, etc.) consider splitting the sampling by those subgroups to make sure the subgroup is truly representative. For example, instead of building a single sample, two samples might be built – one for males and another for females.
  5. Set survey quotas for key variables. This should generally be age and gender plus one other key variable.
  6. Be cautious with short field periods. At a minimum I would recommend a two to three-day field period, and for more academic research might go to at least seven days.
  7. Don’t be afraid to weight data. RIM weighting is the recommended approach. Before weighting on non-demographic characteristics carefully think about the implications.
  8. Remember not all sample sources aren’t the same so devise a sampling plan that allows the sample blend to remain fairly consistent for the life of the project.

Posted in Market Research Best Practices, Sampling | Comment

When “not sure” is a survey option

Editor’s note: Joe Hopper is president of Chicago-based market research firm Versta Research. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Don’t know is not an option.”

Question markA perennial debate among survey researchers is whether respondents should be allowed to answer “don’t know” or “not sure.” In fact, this is something I have wrestled with (and argue about) at work almost every day.

My approach is generally to not allow them. I have seen strong evidence in our own work that a large majority of don’t know responses reflect an unwillingness of respondents, not an uncertainty. This is borne out by a larger body of literature on survey research. Jon Krosnik, a professor and expert on survey methods at Stanford University, wrote (way back in 2002):

“Many people who report attitudes in surveys do not have deeply rooted preferences that shape their thinking and behavior. But offering a no-opinion response option does not seem to be an effective way to prevent reporting of weak opinions. In fact, because many real attitudes are apparently missed by offering such options, it seems unwise to use them. This is because the vast majority of NO responses are not due to completely lacking an attitude and instead result from a decision not to do the cognitive work necessary to report it.”

Of course this does not apply to questions for which respondents may truly have no basis for answering. So as researchers, we must carefully think through every question and decide whether “don’t know” is a reasonable response, or just a lazy one. There is also a risk that requiring substantive responses will turn away respondents who are otherwise willing to help. If those respondents are your customers, you can instead give them the option to skip questions if they want.

Here are two general recommendations:

  1. If the survey is fielded among research panelists, or if respondents are being paid to provide input, require an answer to every question and avoid don’t know options, except on specific questions where “not knowing” makes good sense.
  2. If the survey is among your own customers who are simply offering the favor of their input, allow them to skip questions. Make sure to word or structure this without calling attention to the fact that skipping a question is an option. And again, only offer don’t know or not sure options on specific questions where “not knowing” makes good sense.


Posted in Market Research Best Practices, Survey Development | Comment

Privileged, techy hipsters? It’s time to retire the Millennial caricature

Editor’s note: Madison Cuneo is an analyst at Portland-based market research firm Market Strategies International. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “A researcher’s perspective on what ‘Millennial’ really means.”

The term “Millennials,” describing today’s youngest generation to reach adulthood, is thrown around a lot. When you think of Millennials, do you think of privileged hipsters with a knack for tech? If so, let’s take a step back. It’s time to admit that the Millennial has become a caricature. This might produce some great entertainment (like this SNL skit), but it’s not helpful to those trying to glean real information about generational groups. We’ve got to understand that Millennials are not a clique of hip, white 20-somethings with rich parents; they’re America’s largest and most diverse generation, and when it comes to analyzing them or any other age cohort they deserve a fair shake.

The perils of generational caricatures

Why has the Millennial become such a cartoonish character? A big part of it is a human need to organize, contain and make sense of the complexity in any group as large as a generation. Perhaps another element is juvenoia, a fear for the well-being of youths that can taint the way we interpret their actions and forecast their future. We’re desperate to classify and fix the youngest generation that has come of age; the generation Hipster Millennial Girl on Technology Tabletwe’re hanging our hats on to fix a lot of things: government, renewable energy, climate change, ethics in public and private sectors, as well all the “isms” (sexism and racism, to name a couple). We demean them, and at the same time announce that they can solve our problems. But this caricature of Millennials, and indeed a flat view of any generation, points to an incomplete understanding of how and why researchers look through the generational lens at all.

It seems journalists have been fascinated by Millennials for years, as they often are by the youngest adult generation. Many readers will remember that Time magazine cover story in 2013, the “Me me me generation,” but you’ll have to think a little further back to recall Time’s 1990 “twentysomething” cover story on Generation X. It’s an entertaining exercise to hypothesize about “kids these days,” but articles on the topic often don’t paint a complete picture. Millennials are not the only example, but they are the most recent and the easiest thanks to their prevalence in online media.

Most articles have characterized Millennials as college-educated, upper-middle class young people, but that doesn’t describe many of the more than 75 million people born since 1980. One in five Millennials are poor. Roughly three quarters have not earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Still, this personality is perpetuated because people often prefer melodramatic claims to more complex explanations. Further fueling the fire, marketers try to pin down the characteristics and desires of a generation to court its buying power. Business interests often fuel a shared desire to understand generational cohorts, but do not necessarily drive enlightened research.

A thoughtful approach to grouping generations

Examining generations can be an interesting exercise, though it is often conducted poorly in mainstream media. When approached thoughtfully, grouping by generations allows researchers to employ an approach called cohort analysis, tracking a group of people born at a similar time over the course of their lives. When looking through the generational lens, a researcher must be extremely cautious to qualify her terms, set careful parameters and examine her assumptions. Aside from focusing on an easy slice of the Millennial population (the aforementioned privileged college students), some journalists attribute key features of Millennials as unique to their cohort, when in reality these features apply to other generations as well.

A thorough researcher may tease out three possible effects on a generation: cohort, life cycle and period. Pew Research provides a great overview of these, but here’s a synopsis:

  • Cohort effects. Generally, when journalists write about what makes a given generation unique, they point out cohorteffects – differences that are the byproduct of the “unique historical circumstances that members of an age cohort experience, particularly during a time when they are in the process of forming opinions.” However, characteristics of a generation are often misidentified as a result of cohort effects when, in actuality, they represent other influences that are not unique to the generation in question.
  • Life cycle effects. Also known as age effects, these are simply differences that occur because of the relative age of two groups or their relative positions in the life cycle. For instance, younger individuals are much less likely than older people to vote and be politically engaged. According to Pew, “This may be because they are less informed about politics or feel they have less at stake in political or policy debates. As people age, they vote at higher rates and their level of political engagement rises.”
  • Period effects. These have an impact on all generations at the same time, when events, circumstances and broader social forces “simultaneously impact everyone, regardless of age.” A striking example occurred directly after 9/11 when, for a limited time, there was an immediate rise in patriotism across all generations.


Those interested in analyzing generations should also keep in mind that generations are subjective age cohorts. While these categories are roughly delineated by historical events and are frequently used, this does not make them the best lens for all applications. Firstly, there can be considerable variance within generations. We’re used to the established generations that can span 15 or 20 years, but breaking these up into smaller age spans, or age spans gauged on specific events, can yield more meaningful insights. Secondly, if points of difference are driven by life cycle rather than cohort, then using simple age groups rather than cohorts may provide a more meaningful view. Thirdly – as cool as the groups Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X sound – consider whether other demographics are more applicable. Don’t fall into the trap of using generation as a proxy when key differences are really driven by other factors such as diversity (ethnicity), education, income level or other factors.

Attractive yet unproductive sound bites

Generations are big and nuanced. They are complex enough that distilling them into sound bites is attractive but ultimately unproductive. This is why many individuals chafe at their generational label. Millennials are an easy example. I can’t forget the reaction of a friend, born on the cusp of the Millennial generation, when I pointed out that she belonged to my cohort. She heaved a long sigh that sounded a lot like “ugghhh.” I winced at her resistance to being grouped with me and my peers but couldn’t blame her. We can take solace that in time this identity will be less of a pain point – as soon as the next generation comes of age, and the media locates its new target (good luck, Generation Z). After all, George Orwell had a point: “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

Posted in Consumer Research, Demographics, Market Research in the News, Millennials | Comment

The value of online reviews

Editor’s note: Sara Spivey is CMO of social media SaaS company, Bazaarvoice, Austin, Texas. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Why reviews do still matter – now, even more.”

Customer ratingsRecently, a study by the University of Colorado at Boulder caused quite a stir in the digital advertising, commerce and media worlds about the relevance and value of online reviews.

Bart de Langhe, author of the study and professor of marketing at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business states, “The likelihood that an item with a higher user rating performs objectively better than an item with a lower user rating is only 57 percent.” He continues, “A correspondence of 50 percent would be random, so user ratings provide very little insight about objective product performance.”

The study’s basic premise is that since the average person has a hard time evaluating the objective quality of a product (without multiple alternatives and extensive side-by-side testing as is done in Consumer Reports), in-market shoppers may rely instead on price or brand as better cues for quality. It also states that “average user ratings lack convergence with Consumer Reports scores are often based on insufficient sample sizes, do not predict resale prices in the used-product marketplace and are higher for more expensive products and premium brands.”

Finally, it concludes: “Consumers’ trust in the average user rating as a cue for objective quality appears to be based on an illusion of validity.”

While many of our expert findings align with some key components of the report, it’s important to clarify what all this means to the consumer, brand or retailer, and share some deeper insights.

  • Multiple information sources add to consumer confidence. Even though the study says people are more likely to evaluate a product they feel strongly about and that feedback may be disproportionate – in other words, moderate opinions may be underrepresented online in favor of reviews by product lovers and haters – we have found that shoppers who interact with reviews are 104 percent more likely to buy. And if they see both reviews and consumer Q&A, that likelihood jumps to 166 percent.
  • Seventy-one percent of people read consumer reviews before making a purchase. As older and younger generations adapt to and use more online media (PC, tablet or mobile) they are more likely to research online what they buy offline – whether it’s roofing materials or running shoes. Then, once in-store, they may see a poster or print ad featuring some of the same online review information or star-ratings that further influences their buy. Nielsen reported that consumers are more likely to take action based on online consumer opinions (70 percent) over anything other than personal recommendations (84 percent).
  • More volume is better. This one is fairly self-explanatory. The higher the review volume and average rating, the more orders our Internet retailers receive.
  • Seven out of 10 U.S. consumers have questioned the trustworthiness of reviews across the Web. The study goes on to state that 5 percent of reviews are fake and are posted by employees, competitors, consumers who receive incentives or someone who has never used the product at all. We also found that 44 percent of U.S. consumers said they would be more trusting of reviews if presented with a trust mark and an accompanying description of anti-fraud policies.
  • There is great benefit to both five-star and one-star reviews. In keeping with our core value of authenticity, we believe that when consumers read reviews – however positive, negative or average – they gather more detailed information that helps tailor their shopping decisions to their individual needs and desires. For example, they might learn more about an exact size, fit or shade in a shoe or whether a hotel room is safe and clean (vs. luxurious and spacious).
  • No matter what your generation, reviews matter. Although 51 percent of Millennials don’t want a parent’s or peer’s help and actually prefer product reviews from people they don’t know, 66 percent of Boomers still tend to trust the advice of people they do know – such as friends or family members. Today, we’re holding more computing power in our pockets than used to be on most mainframes. And for many in developing countries, the smartphone will be their first computer and sometimes their only device with an Internet connection. And in less than two years, our smartphone may be our only computer.


As more and more of us shop offline or online and connect – whether via smartphone, tablet or PC – we immediately expect to find best prices, locations, sizes, colors, styles and see what others are saying about a potential purchase rather than wait to read the next issue of Consumer Reports. We want instant information – both in-store/offline and online. Every review does matter.

Posted in Advertising Research, Consumer Research, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research Findings, Market Research in the News, Shopper Insights | 1 Comment

Choosing a market research methodology

Editor’s note: Louisa Thistlethwaite is research quality manager at market research firm FlexMR, London. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “How to choose a market research methodology.”

Choices Businesses are increasingly challenging market research to deliver insight with impact, which supports decision making and provides clear direction. Unfortunately, market research is often criticized for failing to live up to these expectations. It can often tell managers what they already know (or feel). I would argue that part of this problem lies in the perceptions stakeholders have around methods and the approach to selecting methodologies.

When it comes to choosing a market research methodology, for many the starting point is the seemingly simple question, “Qualitative or quantitative?” Once this has been decided, it is followed up with a consideration of budget, audience, stakeholder needs and the significance of the business issue. These finer points are the defining factors in isolating which particular qual or quant method is the best fit.

On the face of it, this might feel like a perfectly valid approach – after all you have to start somewhere, but I wonder if this actually gets research off to the best start?

The problems posed

For me, the problem with approaching research in this way is the mind-set it creates. This either/or thinking of qual or quant, traditional or new methods, stifles creativity in the research design process and thereby dictates that we stick with what we know.

To find something new and interesting, sometimes a creative approach is required – this could be the fusing of different methods or simply looking beyond surveys, interviews and focus groups to other less tried and tested tools.

Every method has its own merits that should be judged in terms of meeting the research objective. Jumping straight into a decision about qual or quant discounts a whole host of other options, without any consideration of the benefits they might bring or the perspectives they offer. The risk here is that preconceptions, lack of awareness or misunderstanding of a method cause valuable opportunities to be missed.

Indeed, the range of methods and tools for generating insight are more numerous than ever and many do not fall cleanly into a discrete category. Take a smartboard for instance. This is an excellent vehicle for understanding customer reaction to a concept in rich detail yet it also has a strong capacity for yielding statistical insight when combined with sentiment tagging – a facet that can easily be overlooked by a stakeholder who is reportedly not interested in qual.

The other significant issue with approaching research in this way is that it fails to put objectives at the heart of the design and decision-making process. Objectives should always provide a clear steer to the method employed – with methods being selected based on their fit and ability to deliver relevance to a research objective.

This means assessing benefits and limitations in reaching the objectives. Beginning with a decision on qual or quant places the cart before the horse, so to speak, and is an example of objectives and methods progressing independently of each other. The danger here is that you have a vague or imprecise notion of how the method informs the objective which could result in data that is difficult to interpret, or misses the mark altogether.

Starting at the end

So what is the best way to proceed? When devising a research methodology, begin with a consideration of the research objectives but more specifically the endpoints of the research. Research is rarely done for the sake of it, there is always a question or decision prompting it. Be clear on what this is from the beginning and don’t be tempted to shy away from it.

Work back from this point asking questions about what you are trying to achieve in real terms. For example, what is already known about the issue? In what specific areas is understanding lacking? What is preventing this decision being made now – the missing puzzle piece? Consider the ideal role of participants in the process. Do you want them to collaborate with you, or indeed each other, to discover and generate? Or, do you need them to evaluate rather than create? Are you looking for gut reactions or a considered response? What resources or stimuli can you share with them?

Picturing the end point makes it much easier to identify the steps necessary to get there. Answer these sorts of questions and you will find objectives become more focused, instead of broad and ill-defined. It is at this point that you are ready to start considering methodologies. Having clarity of objectives allows you to build a more tailored methodology that fits the requirements. Budgets are not wasted collecting data that is of little relevance or won’t be used. It can also speed up the research process; each method is identified as feeding into the objective in a particular way – when it comes to analysis time is not wasted searching for the right piece of data.

This process also opens up the door to creativity. By fully understanding what you are trying to ascertain, you are in a better position to judge the efficacy of a new method and have confidence in its ability to deliver the outcomes you require. One method rarely meets all objectives; with this process you are better able to identify how methods can be combined to achieve the necessary result.

Research buyers (and suppliers) – listen up. What I have described here might seem like a lot of work before the actual work has even begun. But the time spent is invaluable and will go a long way to ensuring insight that is on target and drives action. This does not have to be an individual process, indeed making this a collaborative approach between client and agency will undoubtedly yield the greatest gains. Dedicated researchers are programmed to do this, and to guide non-researchers through this process.


Posted in Innovation in Market Research, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques, Qualitative Research, Quantitative Research | Comment

How virtual reality is changing the way you conduct research

Editor’s note: Simon Jones is a U.K.-based UX specialist for market research firm GfK. This is an edited version of a post written by Jones that originally appeared here under the title, “Virtual reality in UX research brings you closer to your customers.”

One of the challenges that organizations face is how to gain a deeper understanding of customers. As researchers, one way to deliver this understanding is through storytelling. We go to great lengths to convert our insights into digestible snippets. Recent advances in virtual reality (VR) have given us a new set of tools to provide a richer, more immersive story that allows you to visit the environments that your customers experience your products in.

Recently, I was in Mexico City observing a series of ethnography sessions to understand how people interact with products and services. Ethnography is designed to explore people’s needs and experiences in a much richer way than can be achieved through surveys or phone interviews.

As a researcher, I translate these observations into insights so that organizations gain understanding of their customers’ environments – how and where they use the product or service. Of course there are a number of tools that do a good job of this (photos, reports, presentations and video), but we are always looking to incorporate the latest technology if it will deliver better data or a better client experience.

A UX game-changer: the cardboard camera

You may or may not have heard of Google’s cardboard headset, a low-cost smartphone-based introduction to the seemingly limitless possibilities of VR.

While we have been playing with this cardboard headset for some time, in December 2015 came a game-changer: the Cardboard Camera app. With this app, you can convert a panoramic video of your environment into a fully immersive 360-degree photo for use in VR. Sound is also included in this experience because it is converted from a video.

Cardboard Camera app visuals

These are the visuals found on the Cardboard Camera app page in the play store.

A quick, simple and powerful immersion

VR screenshot

This is a screenshot of how VR looks on a phone, featuring an image is of a busy street in Mexico City that I took.

The process of taking the photo is non-invasive, takes approximately 20 seconds and is fully 3D (unlike a lot of 360-degree photos which, though impressive, are nothing more than a 2D photo overlaid onto a sphere). This app is able to simulate real depth – like you’re actually there.

And that’s the point.

If you had the resources, I’m sure you would love to send your entire product or service teams to meet your customers. This would increase exposure hours and allow a deeper understanding of the challenges they face.

Of course, ignoring skewing effects of finding participants willing to invite an entire team into their homes, budgets would never extend that far. So we must find alternatives, other ways to immerse teams of people in your customer’s world beyond taped footage on a camcorder. The Cardboard Camera app single-handedly opens that door. It is a sign on the front gate saying, “Welcome to my home, this is who I am.”

Google Cardboard headset

I took this photo at an insights exhibition, showing a client “visiting” a participant using one of our Google Cardboard headsets.

Beyond cardboard: experiencing your customer’s challenges in real-time

The power of a smartphone and a piece of cardboard is inspiring. As the technology advances, we must be able to see its potential. For researchers, we are aware of the usefulness of streaming services in usability lab sessions; entire teams of designers, developers and business-owners can watch in real-time how customers interact with their digital products. With VR, observation can now be extended outside the lab – to ethnography sessions and beyond. New VR cameras, 360-degree streaming services and headsets are cropping up almost weekly, so your teams can now visit willing customers and experience their challenges in real-time.

People watching VR content together

A photo I took of a group of people watching VR content together. The technology I have used to date does not facilitate group streaming events, but this is how it might look.

These technologies can enhance exploratory research in any industry with digital and physical products, services and full customer experience processes. However, VR’s reach can extend even further.

Place yourself in the shoes of those who design retail experiences, buildings, crowd flows, exhibitions or any physical product. Until recently, research and early prototypes have been largely screen-based, or VR tech has been costly and not viable for smaller research budgets. But now, participants can be truly immersed, connected and challenged in this environment and the cost is within reach of most budgets.

Using VR in research: There’s no turning back

For UX researchers, virtual reality is not just a flash in the pan. As the interactive abilities of the technology extend to hand, head, eye and body movements, the potential for building and testing environment prototypes will only increase. VR has some compelling and tangible uses that can truly enhance the way you experience customer research.

Posted in Ethnographic Research, Innovation in Market Research, Market Research Best Practices, Market Research Techniques, Marketing Best Practices | Comment

Lithuanian grocery retailing landscape prepares for Lidl’s entrance

Editor’s note: Jekaterina Smirnova is a research analyst at t the Vilnius, Lithuania office of market research firm Euromonitor International. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “Should Lithuanian grocery retailers wait in trepidation of Lidl’s entrance?”

One of the most important and anticipated events in grocery retail in Lithuania is the opening of German global discount supermarket chain, Lidl, in the local market. Some expect that Lidl will change the grocery retailing landscape in Lithuania completely, with its entry the subject of much discussion in Lithuania. Is Lidl really such a threat to the leading grocery retailers in Lithuania? The company has been registered in Lithuania since 2002 and, for more than 10 years, there have repeatedly been press stories popping up about Lidl’s plans to enter the fray in Lithuanian grocery retailing. However, it was only in 2015, with the start of construction work on Lidl stores that it became evident that the grand opening was just around the corner. The first of 15 stores opened on June 2, 2016. Even though Lidl is a new brand in Lithuania, it is well known and eagerly anticipated by consumers.

The only discounter in the local market

On the one hand, the Lidl concept of focusing on lower prices is appealing to Lithuanian consumers, especially when considering the increasing levels of shopping in Poland and consumers boycotting leading grocery retailers for several days in May due to high prices. Thus far, the discounter concept has not been successful in Lithuania – so it will be entirely up to Lidl to spearhead the concept of discounters in the local market and to build positive quality associations in Lithuania. Those discounters that had tried to expand into Lithuania at some point in the past, for example Supernetto and Cento, eventually withdrew again as price – an important factor influencing consumer behavior – is not the only major consideration for consumers.

In 2015, Lithuania was among the few European countries with no discounters at all. Quality, service and assortment also play a huge role, meaning that consumers, rather than just picking a low-cost store, prefer to visit a retailer with an extensive selection of products and that quite often offers known and respected brands at a discount. Discounts play a very important role in influencing customer choice, and Lithuanians tend to look for the best deal instead of being loyal to one chain. All leading retailers in Lithuania have their own loyalty cards, which allow members to benefit from special discounts or collect bonuses. In total, there were more than four million active loyalty cards for the leading grocery retailers in 2016. To date, Lidl has only run trial loyalty schemes in Scotland but it might have to consider doing so in Lithuania as well.

Another factor that might limit the Lidl performance is that only around 20 percent of products sold in Lidl stores will be Lithuanian, which is low, bearing in mind that Lithuanians are relatively loyal toward local food, which is perceived as being of higher quality and more natural. On the other hand, consumers in Lithuania are becoming more open to private label products, which is an important factor for a retailer that sells a majority of private label goods. Furthermore, in its assortment, Lidl has different lines of private label products, including ones targeted at those consumers who are not driven by price alone.

Consolidated competitive landscape

Lidl is entering an oligopolistic market, which could be described as very competitive. In value terms, 71 percent of grocery retail in Lithuania was owned by four retailers in 2015 – Maxima LT, Palink, Norfos Mazmena and Rimi Lietuva. Maxima is the clear leader with a 36 percent value share. The biggest chains in Lithuania operate close to 700 stores, have well-established brands and compete by investing in marketing and price cuts. The leading companies will definitely not be willing to give up current market share and will take action to withstand the competition from the newcomer. Back in 2015, when it became clear that Lidl was planning to enter the local market, increasing activity was observed among the leading grocery retailers, as they actively promoted falling prices for the most popular products. Maxima, for example, launched personalized discounts for its loyalty card users. Furthermore, the leaders continued their expansion by opening new stores. In 2016, retailers actively started to launch buy-one-get-one-free-type special offers. Through marketing and expansion, leading grocery retailers are working to continue to attract consumers as well as to maintain existing customers’ interest in their stores.

According to its initial plans, Lidl wants to expand to reach 25-30 outlets, which will only account for a share of around 1 percent of modern grocery retailers (excluding forecourt retailers) in terms of outlets. Moreover, based on value sales, Lidl does not hold a leading position or have a value share of more than 11 percent in any European country. In Eastern Europe (excluding countries where Lidl is not present), Lidl held a 6 percent value share of total grocery retail in 2015, with its share growing year-on-year. With 25-30 outlets in Lithuania, Lidl could hold a 3 to 4 percent value share of grocery retail.

Lidl development in Eastern Europe

Lidl’s entrance

It looks like Lidl has thoroughly prepared and will show a lot of fighting spirit. To date, only in Norway has Lidl left the market after an unsuccessful entry – in other countries its number of outlets varies from more than 3,000 in Germany to around 50 in Slovenia. Despite not yet having opened its stores in Lithuania, the chain has already been trying to build a strong image as an employer. Furthermore, marketing campaigns featuring one of the most famous Lithuanians, basketball player Arvydas Sabonis, have already started to prepare customers for the grand opening. Due to this media coverage, consumers are already aware of and interested in visiting the new store. Whether they remain loyal to it will depend on Lidl’s adaptation to local specifics and the perceived value.


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