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What’s Working (in marketing)?


From the greatest to the least, every company makes mistakes in marketing, sometimes costly mistakes.  As marketing researchers, helping companies avoid mistakes and make good decisions pretty much sums up the purpose of our existence in this world.  Recently in an effort to stay true to this cause I channeled my inner boy scout and embarked on a “service project” of sorts.  

Utah AMAFor the past two years I have volunteered as a chapter officer for the Utah Chapter of the American Marketing Association.  There are ten of us, volunteers who manage this chapter of two-hundred or so marketing professionals.  Once a month the chapter meets to network and hear from selected speakers who are experts is various areas of marketing.  My job, as the chapter officer over marketing research, has been to work with the other officers to plan our monthly meetings and respond to any research requests.  However, the research requests have been fairly infrequent.  When I signed on two years ago, I was hoping for a steady flow of requests from people yearning for answers to the marketing world’s deepest secrets, but what I got was only an occasional satisfaction survey request.

Wanting to provide something of greater significance, I decided to undertake a research project that I thought would be of value to chapter members or, at the very least, help me feel like I was making more of a contribution.

Knowing that there were a lot of talented marketing professionals in the Utah AMA I decided to select a few and ask if I could interview them.  As a result I was able to spend about 45 to 60 minutes with twelve of the Utah AMA’s best and brightest, simply asking what was working at their company in six key areas related to marketing:

  • Social Media
  • Search Marketing
  • Traditional Advertising
  • Branding
  • Customer Retention
  • Innovation

At the end of each interview I also asked each of them what they saw as emerging marketing trends for 2014 and beyond.  All interviewees were C level or VP level marketers at their respective companies and all were members of the Utah AMA or had some tie-in with the Utah AMA.

In the end, I was able to compile a collection of valuable and practical marketing “advice,” for lack of a better word, that I garnered from these one-on-one interviews.  Although the final report may not be chuck full of endless never before heard of insights (though I do believe there are a couple of those), it fulfills its purpose, which was to simply offer examples and  first-hand perspectives of a few solid marketing strategies that are working well at different organizations.  Of course, what works for one company may or may not necessarily work for another, but being aware of the tried and true can often lead to new ideas and enable the development of a framework or outline that can be built upon. 

You can find and download the report by clicking below.  At 23 pages, it isn’t necessarily a quick read, but I’ve peppered it with enough highlighted quotes and pictures to make it fun and easy to flip through if all you have is a couple of minutes.  Enjoy!

Download the Marketing Report

Our Market Research Techniques Might Not Be Gimmicky Enough


We all know what a gimmick is; namely "a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or business" or "a unique or quirky special feature that makes something "stand out" from its contemporaries. (From Google Search)."

The other day, my 14-year old son got roped into a gimmick.  As parents, my wife and I could see it coming but we followed it through so that my son learned the life lesson.  A few weeks ago, we received a direct-mail piece from a local car dealer.  It was a scratch card that had nine boxes and when you scratched them, you uncovered what you "won" if three of the boxes were the same on the card (and if you'd go into the dealership to speak with someone to collect it).  It so happened that when we scratched our card, the value $25,000 or a new car appeared.  My son was excited...oh the things you could do with $25,000...I was obviously very suspicious...and didn't want to go to the dealership.  We went to the dealership.

On arrival at the dealership, with scratch card in hand, we were almost immediately accosted by a salesperson.  My immediate response to them was that we were NOT there to buy a car, but to collect our $25,000.  My son was so excited (and I was somewhat chagrined to ask about it).  It was then that we uncovered the catch.  In miniscule letters on the card, almost too small to see, and certainly not noticeable, the card said that if a nine-digit number on your card matched the nine-digit number that they had drawn, then you'd win the amount you scratched (or in our case $25,000).  We'd been duped (well my son had been duped but I'd expected something like that).  He was embarrassed, I was embarrassed, and the salesperson was kind of a jerk that we weren't there to buy a car (boy did he escort us through quickly).  Needless to say, we walked out without $25,000 or a new car.

Flash forward a few weeks...Turducken

Discovery Research Group just exhibited at the Advertising Research Foundation's Re:Think 2014 conference in New York.  We shipped our booth to New York, caught a very early morning flight on a Sunday and headed for the Big Apple.  On arrival, we navigated our way to the expo hall and got our first look at our "new neighbors".  On one side of us was a segmented online panel (catchy names and all); and on the other side of us, a neuro measurement company (yep they were answering your business questions by measuring brainwaves).  Across the aisle was an eye tracking company; next to it was a Mobile Research company that was measuring opinions from people in Europe and Asia via video.

It all brought about a really interesting question for me.  Are traditional research companies like Discovery Research Group gimmicky enough?  

It used to be that market research conferences were filled with a million online panels; now 50% of all market research is conducted online.  Now these conferences are filled with a million neuro/brain/eye/physio companies, social media platform providers, or mobile technology solutions.  The online panels are less noticeable, while these suppliers have almost overrun the conference circuit.  Is there a place for us...and "what the heck" this a prognostication of things to come?  

I found it really interesting to hear the social media platform providers try to differentiate themselves from each other (my Twitter feed is bigger than yours).  The physiological market research companies literally "trashing" on each other (eye tracking is not as accurate as brainwave tracking because...) and the mobile companies that all sort of looked the same (look how flexible I am).  Is there still a place for a good market research company that utilizes both traditional and new market research techniques in this fast paced evolving world of market research technology?  I think there is, but here's why.

I started to have conversations with our booth attendees about how "non-gimmicky" we were.  Discovery Research has been conducting market research for over 25 years and plans to continue for many more.  That said; we conduct a lot of text analysis and dashboarding in the market research space (both are considered "new market research" processes.)  We are highly involved with evaluating social media data (which is just text analysis anyway).  And, almost every online survey we program is skinned for mobile.  But, we still do an awful lot of surveys and focus groups.  We are a traditional market research company that blends new and traditional techniques into an approach that is aimed primarily at uncovering the insights needed to answer business questions, regardless of what that technology or technique is.  We are market research technique agnostic.  We will use whatever technology is available to us in order to answer business questions, tell the story, and provide the insights.  

There is a place for us in this "new" "gimmicky" world of market research that focuses its attention on whatever's new and shiny.  Don't get me wrong, mobile's here to stay and the evaluation of online content is really a burgeoning part of our industry (and our business).  I'm not sure what to say about the medicalization of market research (I guess the jury's still out on that one for me.)  Would we ever use physio-market research to answer a business question...absolutely...if it were appropriate?  We'd consider just about any research technique if it was the best (and most accurate) way to answer the business question.  That's the difference and is actually the core answer to our business question.  When these new and gimmicky techniques have evolved and they aren't gimmicky any longer, I'm sure they'll be adopted into the traditional market research company's toolset (much as the online survey was).

At the end of the day, most of us work every day conducting market research that follows pretty standard rules using pretty standard techniques.  Are we "gimmicky" enough?  I don't know, but whatever we're doing seems to work.  And, we're not pigeon-holed into one specific technique or methodology.

How Things Go Viral


When I was in 5th grade I brought a small yo-yo to school.  Smaller than any other yo-yo my classmates had ever seen… they were fascinated.  I wasn’t a yo-yo wizard, but I could make my small yo-yo do just about anything an average sized yo-yo could do.  At recess kids gathered around to watch and give it a try.  A couple of days later a few of my friends showed up to school with small yo-yo’s of their own.  Soon more followed, and before long anybody who wanted to be one of the cool kids in the 5th grade had a small yo-yo.  The craze quickly spread around Morningside Elementary resulting in new rules and restrictions on where and when yo-yo’s could be used.  Since then I have been unsuccessful in creating a fad or craze of any other type.  Not that I have tried, or really even want to, but I look back at that experience with a degree of wonder.  Why is it that some things catch on like that?  Is there a formula or recipe for making something go viral?

I recently came across a book that looked like it might hold the answer to this question and solve the mystery of my yo-yo fad that has been tumbling around in the back of my mind for more than 30 years now: Contagious – Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger.

In Contagious, Jonah provides example after example as to why things catch on, why they go viral, why with little or no advertising, something catches fire.  He breaks it down into six key reasons (S.T.E.P.P.S.):YoYo

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

Social Currency – This is about making people want to share your message because it makes them look good for doing so.  We look good if we share something that is remarkable.  Things that are remarkable are unusual, extraordinary, humorous, novel, surprising, extreme, or simply interesting.  They are worthy of remarking about.  We share what is remarkable with the hope that it will make us look interesting, smart, or cool for doing so.  In essence, we are going for the halo effect, to use a marketing term.  

We also like to look like insiders.  Like we have special access to something or know privileged information.  Block something off with a velvet rope and everyone will want to go there.  Sell out of something and everyone will want it.  If you have privileged access to something that is perceived as scarce or exclusive, it makes you feel special, unique, or high status.  You want to share it because it makes you look good.  Most do it subtly, bragging isn’t cool, but we find a way to let people know of our awesomeness.

Triggers – Triggers are cues that make people think about your product or service—they remind.  Social Currency may get people talking, but triggers keep people talking.  The best triggers form links to our common every day environment.  Jonah gives an example of how in 1997 the candy company Mars noticed an unexpected uptick in sales of its Mars bar.  The company hadn’t changed its marketing in any way or done anything special.  What happened?  The Mars Pathfinder mission happened.  NASA’s Pathfinder probe landing on Mars generated an enormous amount of news and interest.  The media attention acted as a trigger to remind people of the Mars candy bar and sales increased.  In another example Jonah shares how boring Cheerios is mentioned more frequently on Twitter than exciting Disney World, simply because the everyday act of eating breakfast makes people think about Cheerios more than Disney World.

Emotion – We share things that arouse a lot of emotion in us, positive or negative.  High arousal positive emotions include “awe” (an amazing YouTube video of someone singing the national anthem), “humor” (“Charlie bit my finger!”), and “excitement.”  Negative high arousal emotions include “anger” (Can you believe this!) and “anxiety” (“Tonight on the ten o’clock news, the hidden health hazard that is in 40% of homes.”)  However, low-arousal emotions like “contentment” and “sadness” decrease sharing.  No one wants to be a Debbie Downer.  We want to share something that will reflect positively on us.

Public – Seeing other people do something makes people more likely to do it themselves, the keyword here being “seeing.”  If it’s built to show it is built to grow.  This is called “social proof.”

If something is observable, it is more likely to be discussed.  Jonah talks about how when Apple first introduced the iPod, there were a lot of competing digital music players, almost all with black headphones.  Apple made their headphones white.   The product advertised itself.  It offered visible social proof of who was using it.  LiveStrong wristbands stood out against almost anything people were wearing because they were yellow.  “I voted” stickers allow people to make their private act of voting visible to the public, providing a reminder that it’s election day, others are voting, you probably should too.

Practical Value – People like to pass on useful, practical information—news others can use, and saving money is perhaps the most practical thing we can pass on.  However, no one wants to sound like an ad or look like they don’t know what a real deal is.  This means any money saving deal needs to be a strong one, and the best way to enhance the value of any deal is to put it in perspective.  Deals are evaluated, not in absolute terms, but by relative comparison.  How does it compare to what we already know—our reference point. 

Practical Value is also more easily shared if it is simple.  Topics that are short (unlike this blog post), focused, easily digestible (i.e. numbered lists), and attractively packaged catch fire easier.  The more narrow the content, the better.  Lots of people are interested in football, but because so many people are interested in it, no one person likely comes to mind when you come across related content.  However when you come across an article about a specific team, you might think of a friend right away who is a fan and share it.  You practically feel obligated to do so because it is so relevant and uniquely perfect.  Practical Value = Relevance.

Stories – Narratives are inherently more engrossing than basic facts, according to Jonah.  People will share a story about how their dog got sick after eating a certain type of dog food so other dog owners can avoid the same fate.  We learn through stories.  The story of how Jared lost almost 100 pounds eating at Subway was interesting and entertaining enough that people shared it even when they weren’t talking about weight loss.  People learned all they needed to know about Subway through the story.  “That’s the magic of stories,” says Jonah.  “Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.  People can talk about the product or idea without seeming like an advertisement. “

Stories can be discovered, as was the case with Jared and Subway, but they can also be created for the purpose of sharing.  However, when trying to create a good story it is vital to remember that more important than getting people to talk is what they talk about.  If the story is unrelated, it’s useless.  This is often the case with an entertaining commercial we see, maybe even share, but then can’t recall what was being advertised.  The brand or product benefit must be so key to the story so people can’t tell the story without mentioning it.

So back to my yo-yo example, perhaps not all six reasons came into play perfectly, but enough for it to catch on.  The yo-yo was remarkable because it was unusual and different (Social Currency), every time the recess bell rang it was yo-yo time (Trigger), the size evoked a sense of awe and amazement (Emotion), every recess it became very noticeable (Public), it was relevant to my friends who were always looking for something new and fun to do at recess (Practical Value), and it gave them something to talk about “Kevan has this cool super small yo-yo.  Check it out” (Story).

#MarchMadness - Who has the loudest fans (socially)?


At Discovery Research Group, we love the NCAA Basketball tournament.  We have employees that are located in several states so it adds real flavor to the games.  We sponsor our own employee based bracket, talk smack at the "water cooler," and follow our own brackets as they succeed or fail miserably.  In the past we've even given out a prize for the employee, client, or family member with the least amount of success.  It's a lot of fun.

There are really great sporting events all over the world, from the Olympics to the World Cup, or the US based Superbowl to the Baseball World Series, they all generate quite a bit of social media buzz that's a real blast to "listen" to.  Discovery Research has our own proprietary technology that gives us the ability to "grab" the online social media content around just about any subject imaginable.  We like to do it for big sporting events.Duke

One of the coolest parts about the NCAA tournament is the fan support of the college teams.  The fans are crazy.  When I walked into the office this morning, I wondered who the "loudest" online fan was (i.e. which program was getting the most online buzz)?  

This sort of measurement can become unmanageable if you open up the "fire hose" too wide or include the kitchen sink, so we limited the content feed to two things, 1) Content from the last 24 hours (and most likely the last few hours because if there's enough content on the subject via Twitter - Twitter caps it), and 2) The Twitter hashtag #MarchMadness.  With more time, we could have gone a lot wider, a lot longer, a lot bigger, a lot... (insert word here) to really run a hugely robust test.  I wanted it quick and dirty (and frankly I didn't think about it until I walked in this morning).  Here's what I found.  I like word's a cool one for the hashtag. 


So when it comes to the teams, there are some winners and losers.  My coworkers are going to think I stacked the deck.  Here are the top-10 teams by volume of mention:


That's right; the Duke Blue Devils came out on top as the socially loudest fans.  Not surprising given the picture above.  And the list of the losers, those that didn't have any fan support:

Arizona State, Connecticut, Delaware, Eastern Kentucky, George Washington, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Oklahoma, Providence, Tulsa, UCLA, UL-Lafayette, UMASS, and one of our hometown locals Weber State. 

Will fan support predict the winner of the tournament, of course not (I wish - Go Duke).  Will Western Michigan have a successful run because their fans know how to use Twitter (I'm sure they hope so), probably not.  In fact, this list probably would have changed depending on when the "snapshot" was taken.  I've said this before, but online social content and social media research is not particularly good at predicting "other people's" (a team's) competitive outcomes, but it sure is fun to look at.

As one of my friends and coworkers said, "Good luck and may the basketball ever bounce in your favor."  Now go watch some games.

A Researchers Experience with Google Consumer Surveys


Jupiter is big.  With a diameter of 88,694 miles it is roughly eleven times wider than the Earth.  Comparing the diameter of Jupiter to the diameter of the Earth is like comparing the 2013 revenue of Google to the 2013 revenue of Nielson (the largest player in the marketing research industry, according to the Honomichl Top 50).  To continue the analogy, GfK (another Hinomichl) would be roughly the width of our moon, and Discovery Research Group, not sure, we’d probably be the width of that asteroid Bruce Willis blew up in the movie Armageddon years ago.

JupiterMy point is that when Google announced it was invading the marketing research universe with Google Consumer Surveys back in 2012, many of us may have felt like the Death Star was rounding the planet on its way to destroy the rebel base.  So big and so capable, Google presented an obvious concern.  Two years later, the Death Star may still be out there, with all its technological potential, but based on my experience with Google Consumer Surveys, it doesn’t pose much of a threat, at least in its current form.

About a month ago a new client came to us asking for consumer feedback on several different versions of a logo they were considering for their new startup.  I proposed a fairly comprehensive research plan, which they promptly turned down stating that it was outside of their budget.  They then told me what their budget was and asked what they could get for it.  My first thought was nothing, at least nothing that would give them anything meaningful, but then I thought about Google Consumer Surveys, ran the numbers, and decided that we could at least give them something instead of nothing, and so the experiment began.   

My client was okay with the limitations of Google Consumer Surveys, as I explained them, but since this was my first foray into their universe, I wasn’t fully aware of all the limitations until I actually wrote and programed the survey.  The following is some of the good, the bad, and the ugly that I encountered during this process:

First the good:

  • The interface of the Google Consumer Survey platform is simple and easy, colorful and intuitive.  Pick one of ten question types, replace the text, upload your pictures, and your good to go.  You can build a survey in minutes.
  • Looking at results is just as simple.  They are straight forward, graphical, include the margin of error, and you can easily see how responses are trending while the survey is running.  With the click of a mouse you can compare the results of different demographic cohorts and geographies, switch between percentages and counts, and easily share results.
  • With prices ranging from .10 cents to $3.50 per complete, depending on the number of questions, Google Consumer Surveys is very affordable.  We were able to stay within our client’s budget.

The bad:

  • Exporting your data is easy, but if you want it in any form other than .csv, you’re out of luck.  Also, expect to spend a fair amount of time converting the text of the responses to numeric outcomes if you want to run any type of meaningful analysis on the data.  Even with a short survey, this ended up being a tedious and time consuming process.
  • Have a lengthy survey?  Sorry, ten questions is the max.  Participants encounter your survey request when they want to gain access to information that they may otherwise have to pay for, like premium news sites or entertainment content.  In order to get to the content, they must take the survey.  Because of this, they won’t take the survey if it is too long, so Google keeps the length in check.
  • You can target demographically and geographically, but the targeting is “inferred.”  This means that while you can specify that you want a certain age group or gender, there is no guarantee that that is what you will get.  Targeting is based on browsing history and uses the same algorithm Google uses for targeting ads.  Google does allow for one multiple choice screener question, but if you choose to use it on some other question, you can’t also choose to target by age, gender, or geography.

The ugly:

  • Don’t plan on being able to add any logic to your survey.  No skip logic, no display logic, no validation, nothing beyond a straight up question.
  • Ten question options is a little deceiving, you really have more like four: Different versions of multiple choice, star rating, image comparison, and open-end.
  • You can have a maximum of only five options for a multiple choice question.  My client had nine different logos to compare (four unique styles and nine different color combinations), making it impossible to display all of them at once.  I had to break it up into one question on style, showing the four style options, and one question on color.  However, for the color question I had to make it an open-ended question and instruct the participant to type in “red”, “blue”, “green”, etc. because there were six color options.  This ended up working out in the end, but I’m sure it came across as being unprofessional and a little weird for the participant.      

There’s more to my bad and ugly list, like a limit of only two open-ended questions, and a max of 175 characters per questions, (this sentence has 175), but I’ll stop for now.

I really like Google.  Chrome is my browser of choice.  I have an Android phone and Gmail account.  Whether it’s YouTube, Maps, Google+, or Drive, like millions of others, I interact with Google in some form or fashion several times a day.  If Google decides to put forth the effort to developing Google Consumer Surveys into something more, as a "hard core" researcher I’ll embrace it, but until then, the product has a long long way to go to becoming a legitimate survey research tool for the masses of market research providers.

Focus Groups and Focus Group(ies)


Whether online or offline, the focus group is, and will continue to be a staple of the market research industry now and for years to come.  Focus groups are a form of qualitative research that basically explores different subjects, perceptions, opinions, beliefs, attitudes, etc. through a guided conversation in an interactive group setting.Focus Group

Focus groups, their technological methods, and what is expected of the moderators and participants (focus groupies) have really evolved over time (when's the last time you recorded a session using a VHS).  Really, pretty much anything is fair game in today's focus group.  I have an industry friend who's actually built outdoor sheds in her facility (notice sheds...plural) so that the shed(s) can be viewed and tested by research participants.  In our Salt Lake facility, we haven't built any sheds but we have seen a WIDE potpourri of subject matter come through the doors ranging from traditional subjects like insurance, healthcare or finance products, all the way to groups around extreme sports, fish oil, beds (fully set up beds), and a myriad of other products.  Really, just about any sort of product, service, or subject can be discussed and tested.  And, it's a REALLY FUN research method for both focus group participants and the companies who are conducting the focus group.  

I'm always watching for media about the market research industry.  I ran across this video this week.  Maybe you've seen it; it's a focus group with Will Ferrell, a bunch of kids, and Michelle Obama.  Take a look: 

Focus group moderators and organizers of focus groups really have their challenges when conducting groups.  They have to keep everything organized, on track, focused, and moving forward in a way that allows companies to gather the most information possible in a one to two hour period of time.  Here are some best practices on how to effectively execute your next (or first) focus group:

  • Have a clearly defined purpose, and list of goals you want to accomplish in your focus group.  Don't throw in the kitchen sink.
  • Organize, organize, plan, plan, and plan.  Don't do things at the last minute.  If you're constructing a life-sized model of a car in someone's focus group facility, know how you'll get it there, how you'll set it up, and if it'll fit.
  • Recruit and screen the right people, with the right characteristics, and the right knowledge. Also, make sure that you confirm that they're (the focus groupie) planning to attend (contact the participant the day before the group so you have time to replace them if you have to).
  • Know your subject (or make sure your moderator is facile with the subject), but be neutral and unbiased in your conversation.  Don't assume you understand what someone means because of what you know (not what they've said); if it's unclear at all, ask for clarification.  No moderator comments like...that's dumb, why would you say that? 
  • Encourage participation by all the attendees, don't let one person dominate the conversation or someone sit in the background without a comment.  Some people are more comfortable in settings like this than others; don't let that one person run over everyone else in the conversation.
  • Keep things moving, don't get hung up.  Focus groups encourage a natural flow of topics, don't move through the focus group topics abruptly to slowly or quickly; relax and "keep it real".
  • Check the Tech.  Focus group facilities most often take care of the technical aspects of the focus group for you.  Check it in advance so you know everything's working the way you plan and have a conversation about how and when they'll get the deliverables to you.
This list could go on and on.  Here's a focus group video (from the Academy Awards a while ago), it sort of illustrates some of these suggestions.  

All in all, I strongly believe that if you plan in advance, follow the plan, and execute accordingly, you'll have great success with focus groups as a research method for your business.  Focus groups, when moderated correctly, will give you a lot of information in a short amount of time in a way that will really help provide you with actionable business insights.

For all of you that have done a million of these, what are your suggestions?  What would you add?

I Love (Market Research) Technology...Always and Forever


I'm really a nostalgic person.  I'm not sure why.  Growing up in my small Idaho town, I was SO BORED.  I couldn't wait to get out of there to the big city (Salt Lake...quite the metropolis).  I wouldn't want to move back "home" now, largely because of the -25 degree temperatures, but visits there definitely bring back...something...that I really enjoy.  It's a little hard to explain.Route 66  

I enjoy a good road trip; like to drive down Route 66 (even have my desktop background set to pictures from the highway) and see the largest vacuum museum or the biggest can of spray paint; enjoy trips to the Redwood Forest and the Gulf Stream Waters; and really seem to enjoy Disney(land) because it's flashback to an earlier and simpler era.  Every era has its problems but something could be said for that time when we weren't all so...technologically connected...and we actually had to (wanted to) talk to each other. 

Some of you will be surprised that I listen to country music every now and again (hated it when I was young...probably because the cowboys in my town were, well...mean...and smelly...and mean.)  As an adult, I've figured out what they liked about country music.  Most of you probably know who Miranda Lambert is.  Her most recent song is called Automatic and stakes the claim that there was a simpler day that was better, "back before everything became Automatic."  Here's the song if you're interested.  


Would I go back to that simpler time?  There are things that I like(d) about it...really liked about it.  But I don't think I would.  As Kip, from Napoleon Dynamite (one of the best movies ever filmed in rural Idaho) said, "I love technology...always and forever."


It's kind of a mix up in the mind.  I'm nostalgic, but love my technology.  Rather than reduce my level of nostalgia, it has made me MORE nostalgic as it's given me access to see, right away, the things I'm nostalgic era...a place...a song...a person...a person at a time...all available to me almost immediately.

I was speaking to someone I met from the market research industry yesterday.  We were chatting about how dramatically market research had changed in the last 15 years.  He was onsite to do some focus groups and we were talking about how the process had evolved.  It used to be that you'd have a list or a panel, you'd call them to do a survey to see if they qualified for the focus group (and if they wanted to participate), then you'd call them again to remind them to come to your office for the group.  The group video was taped on VHS...something that seemed like it "rocked" at the time, but seems so grainy now (we're recording in HD).  

Now, our groups are recruited through combinations of our panel - distributed via e-mail, online, social media, online classifieds, online ads, etc.  Phone is almost the last resort.  That needle in the haystack isn't as hard to find as it used to be.  And, if you have to, you don't really need to get the participants all onsite because you can complete that focus group online (more to come on that subject in future posts).  The audio and video is available in seconds (if you can transfer the huge file size fast enough over the internet).   

This industry associate's first interaction with our company was in the early to mid-nineties.  He used us to field a bunch of telephone surveys that they don't conduct any more because their customers are available online.  Though there's still a place for telephone surveys (even according to him) because sometimes you can't reach people in any other way, the "easiest" method is often the best.  For him, it's an online survey.  The cool part of this is the continued evolution of the market research tools...past online.  The online world has given us access to a whole lot of text (social media, social web, online survey open ends, etc.) that can also be evaluated (and feels qualitatively nostalgic though it's technologically driven).

If you follow this blog, you'll know I attended the combined MRA Chapter's Vegas Conference last week (may be my favorite industry conference).  It was amazing how "text" focused this conference was this year.  It occurred to me that these silos that we've established for ourselves in our history...quantitative vs. qualitative; full-service vs. data collection; market researcher vs. insights provider; really doesn't matter anymore...they're crumbling down around us.  What does matter is our ability to answer questions in whatever way makes the most amount of sense and is the easiest.  Qualitative research outputs quantitative data and vice versa, researchers are providers of answers not data collectors and full service providers, heck...we've even seen Google get into the mix with Google surveys.  

I guess the point is that sometimes those nostalgic traditional research methods (like phone surveys and focus groups) are in fact the best approach to answering business questions and sometimes they aren't.  Sometimes it takes a different - more technology driven tool (like text analysis and social web gathering or online communities) to answer the question, and sometimes it doesn't.  As long as you have the actionable insights, the story, and the answer to your business question, the method silo or the avenue of generating the answer really doesn't matter.  In fact, they're sort of like technology increasing nostalgia; they really just support each other.

2014 Vegas #MRX - Everything You Need to Know about Text Analysis

Chris Robson, one of my favorite research analysts presented a very interesting presentation on text analysis. Even as a guy involved in text analysis, I learned a few things. He opened with "Time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana."...first seen on a bathroom wall. What do you focus on here? Do you focus on time flying or fruit flies? What is text analysis? A set of linguistic, statistical, and machine learning techniques that model and structure the information content of textual sources. We conduct text analysis on an existing corpus. A compilation or collection of text. From there we start to break things down (documents, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, etc.) Here's a typical text analysis workflow: 1) Extract content of interest / strip noise 2) Build paragraph/sentence tree 3) Tokenize 4) Remove/Code profanity 5) Identify POS (parts of speech) 6) Remove stop-words 7) Stem 8) Apply dictionaries 9) Code content Text analysis is fun! It lets us view how sentences, and text is connected grammatically. Once you understand it's grammatical parts, you can start to understand it's numerical frequencies and patterns, applying math to it. Language becomes math. Context is hugely important in text analysis. Text is messy and complex. Your ability to do this well depends on your libraries. Text analysis has become so important in some organizations that they are altering the survey research that's being done. In the future more and more of our data will be unstructured. The tools are getting better and the techniques are becoming more widespread. It's Chris' assumption that on some level and at some point in the future, everyone will be doing text analysis.

2014 Vegas #MRX Conference-Integrating Traditional #MRX and Big Data

Big data is the "word of the day." Gregory Mishkin of Market Strategies International said that it was the "thing of 2013". I do believe it will likely span past 2013 for a few years. The question he asks in this presentation is how you integrate big data with traditional research? Is it possible? The answer is yes, it's possible but it's not as easy as you think. Here are some items and pitfalls that you need to consider when trying to blend traditional research with your big data sources: #1) Staffing - You have to have strong marketing scientists that can analyze this data, but there is a learning curve. The data sources aren't as clean as you'd like. Find data scientists and teach them how to manage the "challenges" of big data sources. And, you'll need more people than you think. #2) Infrastructure - Many people jumping into this space underestimate the infrastructure needs from both a hardware and software standpoint. Look out and build for the future, you'll be there faster than you think. #3) Client Management - Don't believe the assurances. The data, when you can finally get your hands on it, will be difficult to work with. It's messier than you'll ever think it's going to be. Don't over promise because it's going to be harder than you think. What can go wrong will go wrong. Find a champion for your executive champion. #4) Project Management - Have specific milestones and don't allow projects to "creep" in scope. Without them, big data projects become far too "big". You MUST define what defines success and avoid biting off too much. When you can bring traditional research together with the big data you can uncover things that you never would have seen or imagined before. You can build decision trees, apply heuristics that drive the trees in ways that improve the customer experience, and retain customers.

2014 Las Vegas #MRX Conference - Sales and Marketing for #MRX

I've been waiting a long time to hear Steve Henke of Harpeth Marketing speak. He's made a name for himself teaching market research companies how to sell and market. It's no new statement that market research companies are very poor at marketing themselves. Pretty odd given the industry we're in. Here are 6 reasons that people don't have a sales and marketing process and suggestions for improving on them: Reason #1: You're not thinking, you're just doing. You must plan and execute and follow reason #2...measure. Reason #2: You can't manage what you don't measure. Your sales and marketing efforts must be measurable. If nothing else, use the HDYHAU (How did you hear about us). Reason #3: You have a minimal or poorly managed sales effort. If you haven't created a sales plan; focused on hunting AND farming (business development and client management); shown the love for your largest clients; get your PM's to sell Reason #4: You have no lead nurturing in place. Lead nurturing takes time. Marketing is about getting potential clients to know you, love you, trust you. The real hope is that you can move them through the sales funnel. Some nurturing tactics might be (email them; provide content to clients; clip articles and send them along; make phone calls; social media). Reason #5: You don't have the money. There are a ton of free options, but you still need to plan execute and measure. Set aside some time to deal with this. Things that are easy to do, are also easy not to do. Here are some free ways to market (Content marketing, Get active on social media, become a student of the industry, include marketing on email signatures) Reason #6: You don't really know your clients. Do you understand who your clients are when you get past the top 3? Do you understand their needs? When you look at your top-20 clients, what are the commonalities between them...if you understand those commonalities than you understand your ideal client. Are you doing client satisfaction studies or an "End of Year" survey? As an executive, pick up the phone and call a client once per week. Reason (#7-#12): Not doing the "little things" so things fall through the cracks; Skipping "old school" marketing; Not differentiating your firm; Your messaging doesn't resonate with your audience - what makes us unique is...; Giving up too soon; Not all marketing is marketing. If you keep doin' what you're doin''ll keep gettin' what you're gettin'...
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